Sunday, February 7, 2016

My Walt Disney World Tips and Tricks

I wanted to share the tips and tricks I learned from our Disney World Trip.

We chose February to go to Disney World, because it is an off peak season.  You can use either of these link to know which dates are the best to go:
You will want to select crowd calendar.
We also chose February because the weather is cooler.  The girls were able to wear tights and a a jacket in the mornings.  We went once before in May and it was HOT!
I would think October, November, January, February are the ideal months to are in school and weather is cooler.

We did Disney on a budget.  I have heard of many families spending $8,000-10,000 on a trip to Disney World.  I knew up front that we wanted to spend around $3,000-4,000.  I like to keep a budget, so each year, we have a set amount of money that we designate for vacations.  We usually take one big trip and a few little trips.  Disney World was our big trip this year.  I told our travel agent up front that my budget was around $3,500.  Our total amount due to Disney was $3,153.  That was for seven nights of hotel, seven days of food, transportation from airport and to/from parks, six days of park tickets and memory maker photo package.

We were at Pop Century.....a value resort, so it was nothing fancy, but the pool was nice and you don't spend much time in the rooms.  If you want to spend a bit more, I had several people recommend Port Orleans, The Wilderness Lodge, The Polynesian and Grand Floridian.  I have also had several people tell me that they wish they had spent less on the hotel rooms, because they were always at a park or the pool.

In addition to this, we also spent around $800 on things for the trip, Disney shirts for girls, activities for girls on plane, airport parking, souvenirs, adult beverages, etc.

We had Southwest Airline points, so we flew for free, but you can get great deals on Southwest airline direct flights to Orlando.  I have seen them for as low as $59 each way.  

In my book, an eight day family vacation for four under $4,000 is a win.  

Disney has travel agents that THEY pay to help families plan their trips.  Disney pays 100% of the fees for the trip planning.  This is really a no brainer.  I used a lady named Annie Murray in Houston and know of several other people that are Disney Travel agents.  Please message me if you would like their contact information.  Annie was such a joy to work with.  She booked all of our character meals six months out.  She also got each of my eighteen fast passes.  This was three per day for the six days we were in the park.  I was very flexible on what we rode, so just told her to pick any three that she thought the girls would like.  I can't even tell you how much time and energy it saved me to let her help me plan the trip.  We had several phone calls and quite a few emails sent back and forth.

I really recommend to get the meal plan.  My friend, Leigh Ann, had advised me to do this and it was huge.  I would estimate that we spent close to half of what we would have spent if we had paid for breakfast, lunch and dinner in cash.  This is mostly because the character meals are quite expensive.  Several of our dinners would have been around $200, but we just used our dinner meal credits.

Disney offers several meal plans.  We did the "Disney Dining Plan", which was around $1,000.  It included one snack, one fast service meal, one sit down meal per person per day.  We also each got a mug that we could refill unlimited times while we were at the hotel.  We did not spend any additional money on food other than I brought two boxes of protein bars and breakfast bars.  

Meal Plan Break Down each day:
Breakfast..........We used one snack for my Starbucks coffee and one fast service meal for Clint and girls breakfast.  The fast service meal came with a coffee, a breakfast sandwich and a pastry.  Clint had coffee and sandwich.  The girls shared the pastry and drank water or a juice.  All of the restaurants gave free ice water.  I brought a protein bar for myself.  

We used two adult and one child quick service meals for lunch.  These meals are lots of food.  It comes with an entree, a dessert and a drink.  Ava and Olivia were able to share one lunch each day and had food left over.

We used four sit down meals each evening for dinner.  Each of us got an entree, side, drink and dessert.  

Our Meals were:
- Chef Mickey......Mickey, Minnie, Daffy, Donald, Pluto, Goofy......this buffet was NOT good.  I would find an alternate meal that these characters attend.

- Cinderella's Castle.........this one is the only complicated meal, as it takes double the credit, but it works its self out.  This is WORTH it.  The castle is amazing inside.  Your kids will get photos and autographs with Cinderella at the entrance.  While they eat, Snow White, Aurora, Belle, Jasmine and Ariel come to the tables and meet each family.  The princesses are stunning and take the time to sign autographs and photos.  They also talk to the girls a bit which is very sweet.  The food was pretty tastie.

- Akershus........this is in Epcot and is a bit of a repeat from Cinderella's castle.  Your kids will get a photo and autograph with Belle at the entrance.  While they eat, Snow White, Ariel, Marry Poppins and Princess Aurora come to the tables and meet each family.  They also sign autographs and photos.  If your children are REALLY into princesses, which mine are, it is fun to get a second meal with them.  If they are not, I would choose something else.

- Hollywood & Vine.......Disney Junior Character Meal.  The characters that come around are Doc McStuffin, Jake the from the Neverland Pirates, Handy Manny and Sophia. I only did this meal for Olivia's sake.  It is more for the two to four year old age range.  The food is a buffet and was just okay.

We originally signed up for only character dinners.  However, our understanding is that you either pay for characters or quality of food.  If your meal does not have characters, the food is served off a menu and more high end.  We were ready for some delicious food rather than more character meals by the end of the trip, so we changed our last two dinners.  We heard the best restaurants are at The Polynesian and The Grand Floridian.

-Grand Floridian Cafe.........was delicious.  They serve steaks, sea food, chicken.  The other restaurants at Grand Floridian are supposed to be good as well.

-Kona at the Polynesian was wonderful and the atmosphere is very resort like.  I had sushi, saki and chocolate cake for dessert.  This was my favorite meal of the trip. 

Ohana at the Polynesian Resort is the only place we did not get to eat that I wish we could have.  It is supposed to be excellent food, plus Lilo and Stitch come as well.

For Quick Service meals, you can eat at your hotel or throughout the park.  We usually just stopped in when we saw something that looked good.  The only exception is Be our Guest at the Beast's Castle.  It is a quick service lunch, but you will need to try to make a reservation before hand. I highly recommend this.  The food was great and atmosphere nice.

SNACKS:  You can use your four snacks per day as you wish.  We found a cute candy/dessert shop in each of the parks and each of us picked out a treat in the afternoons.  They have amazing options..........caramel covered apples, huge cupcakes, bags of candy, chocolate ice cream.  It was a fun way too cool off each afternoon.  

ITINERARY:  My travel agent gave me a rough itinerary for each day.  Our fast passes usually started around 10:30 - 11am.  If you are an up and at it family, you can arrive at the park when it opens and avoid the crowds and wait times.  We were trying to keep the trip a bit more relaxed, so although Olivia and I were up by 7:15am most mornings.........Clint and Ava slept in until 8:30/9am.  We would then all get ready and catch the Disney Bus from our hotel to the park around 9:30.  When we arrived at the parks around 10/10:30am, we would head straight to Starbucks.

We would then do two Fast Pass Rides.
Have lunch around 1/1:30pm
Do a Fast Pass Ride after lunch
Once your three fast pass rides are used, you can keep going to the kiosk to get more, only one at a time.  So once you use your forth, you go to a kiosk and get a fifth and so on.  We usually got one or two additional fast passes in the afternoons.

This is specific to MAGIC KINGDOM:

Festival of Fantasy Parade is at 3pm and it is a must see.  Find a good spot to watch it.  Just ask a Disney employee to help you find a spot and get to that spot around 2:45pm.

Dream Along with Mickey show is at the Castle at 10:35am, 11:40am, 1:10pm, 2:05pm, 4:20pm and 5:15pm.  Get there 20 minutes before and you can sit at the foot of the castle.  My girls loved it and in that spot, you are so close to the princesses and characters.  All of the princesses and princes come out......along with Minnie, Mickey, Pluto, Donald and gang.  It was super cute.

Most days we left the parks for the hotel around 4/4:30.  We were tired and the girls wanted to swim at the hotel.

One night we stayed for the night festivities at Magic Kingdom and it was so worth it.  If you have little ones, I would not recommend doing this every night, but it is pretty spectacular.

Main Street Electrical Parade at 9pm
Star Light, Star Bright Light Show on the Castle at 9:45pm 

Wishes Night Time Spectacular Fireworks Show at 10pm

As for the Magic Kingdom rides, my girls favorites were:
Under the Sea
Peter Pan's Flight
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train......for Ava, Olivia was scared.
Thunder Mountain Railroad....for Ava
Splash Mountain......for Ava - this was our third favorite roller coaster
It's a Small World.....whole family liked
Space Mountain is AWESOME if you like roller coasters.  It was a top two roller coaster for Clint, Ava and me.

Fairytale Hall is AMAZING!  You can meat Elsa and Anna.  You have to book this fast pass in advance of your trip.  Also, see Repunzel and Cinderella while you are there.  It was our only chance to meet Rapunzel.

Playgrounds outside of Thunder Mountain.......Olivia played on these while Clint or I rode roller coasters with Ava.  She loved love loved it.  I think it was her favorite part of the day.

Enchanted tales with Belle........this was one of my favorites.  It is a little play in her cottage.  The kids can partake if they like and both of my girls wanted to play a part.

This is specific to EPCOT:
We had breakfast at a cute cafe in France of the World Showcase.

Then, we spent our first two hours doing rides and shows at the front of the park.
Test Track is AMAZING.  Must be 40", so Olivia couldn't do it.  We did rider swap, so Clint and I both got to do it with Ava.
I've heard Soarin a great ride, but it was closed during our trip.
We enjoyed Turtle Talk with Crush.......cute show and it gets you out of the heat.
The Seas with Nemo and Friends.

After this, we spent the rest of our day exploring eleven countries in the World Showcase.  We visited Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, the United States, Japan, Morocco, Franks, United Kingdom and Canada.  The countries make a circle around a lake, so it is easy to just go in order.  You wonder from country to country getting food and drinks and going in shops.  The kids can get a passport or little bear and have each country stamp it.  This was the most relaxing and enjoyable day for Clint and I.  Each country had signature drinks and snacks.........ummm Yes!  That was just what we needed.  They also had princesses and characters scattered througout the park.

This is specific to HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS:
Olivia was not feeling well this day, so I can't really do this park justice.  It was crowded and our least favorite day.  
Toy Story Midway Mania ride is very very cool.  
The Disney Junior live show was cute, but Ava was too old for it.
Clint and Ava did the Tower of Terrror and both loved it.
My favorite part of this park was the Frozen Sing Along.  It was so well done.  It is a can't miss!!

We left right after lunch, so these are things we didn't get to try that I heard were good:
Beauty and the Beast Live
Lights, Motors, Action Extreme Stunt Show
Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular
Voyage of the Little Mermaid
Muppet Vision 3D
The Great Movie Ride

This is specific to ANIMAL KINDGOM:
This park was cool and laid back.
Our favorite things was the Kilimanjaro Safari.
Go to the Festival of the Lion King for sure........very cool show.
Expedition Everest........was our other number one roller coaster.  Clint, Ava and I thought it was the best!
They have cute characters throughout the park and the waits aren't long to meet them.

We missed Finding Nemo the Musical, but I heard it is cute.

If you have an older and a younger, add these to yoru Fast Pass.  So, if Clint and Ava were riding a roller coaster, they would tell the person at Fast Pass counter that they needed a rider swap.  They would give them a ticket that I could use.  Then, I would go with Ava and she got to ride all the roller coasters twice.

This was worth every penny.  I just downlaoded our photos and we got 559 photos.  It costs $149, but they have photographers all over the park.  They take photos in front of the parks and in cool locations.  They are also at charcter spots and take photos of you on the roller coasters.  I had them take a family photo and then photos of teh girls at all the well known locations.  We took a family photo at the entrance of each park which are my favorite photos from the trip.  It was so nice not to bring my nice camera and we dind't ONCE have to ask a stranger to take our photo.  I was not shy at all about asking them to take photos since we had paid for it.  

I would still take your iphone, as the photographers are not at the character meals or at the hotel.

I made both of the girls their own airplane gift bag.  I got Melissa & Doug travel marker color sets, coloring books, makers,  stickers, snacks.  I spent around $20 each and gave the girls at the airport.  They were ecstatic and actually used them at the hotel as well.  When Olivia woke up early, she would get her bag and work on art. 
We rented a double jogging stroller for eight days and got insurance for $100.  I liked this option, because I didn't have to lug our stroller around the airport.  It was at the hotel waiting for us when we arrived and we left it with them the day we left.  I liked the insurance becuase I never once had to worry about it getting stolen.  The girls are four and six and they spent 90% of the trip in the stroller.  It helped me to feel like the girls were safe.  They were contained in the stroller, so I didn't feel like they could be taken or get run over.  There are lots of people on motorized scooters and some of them just drive where they want to drive.  I was nervous about the girls walking in front of one of them.  We wrote our phone numbers on Olivia's leg in pen in case she got lost.  Ava knows both of our phone numbers.  We told them to just find a Disney employee if they ever didn't see us.  

I bought the girls five Minnie Mouse shirts online or at Target before the trip.  I got them for less than half of what they were at the parks.  I also bought the girls an autograph book that hold pictures on one page and a place to sign on the other.  I recommend this over the ones that are just signed, as Ava looks at hers from our Disney Cruise all the time.

I purchased the girls a silver princess necklace and Minnie mouse watch before the trip, as I assumed souveniers would be over priced, but the park gift shopes were reasonable.  Each girl got $100 to spend as they liked.  They each chose a stuffed animal, a necklace, a glass slipper for their dressar at home, and a disney pin.  Basically, they got one thing in each park, which was fun for them. 

We were in Orlando for eight days.  We did parks for six days.......Magic Kingdom 3 days, Epcot 1 day, Hollywood Studios 1 day and Animal Kingdom 1 day.  We could have done without that third day at Magic Kingdom, but adding an extra day of tickets is very inexpensive once you purchase the first day.

My advice is to not try to squeeze in open to close.  It is exhausting at the parks and people are everywhere.  The girls begged to swim EVERY SINGLE DAY by around 3pm.  They were tired of the parks and just wanted to chill out.  We did this half of the days.  The trip is about our family and having a good we didn't really care about missing out on things here and there.

The hotel next to ours had a playscape and one evening Clint played on it with the girls for over an hour.  I heard them laugh and scream during that hour more than any other hour on the trip.

At the end of the day, it is about spending time as a family and making memories together. 
That kind of some up our experience.  I hope this helps you and I am more than happy to answer any specific questions.  Just leave a comment or message me.

P.S. If you are in a place where you can't take a vacation right now, I can guarantee you that your kids would be happy to do something simple in town.  Our girls get giddy over Chuckee Cheese or the zoo or even going to the park.  It really doesn't matter if you take them to Yogurt Planet for $5 or Bali for $10, is about spending quality time as a family and making sweet memories together.  


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