Friday, March 29, 2013

My Walt Disney World Tips

Here are a few things that I felt worked out well for us. These are for me to remember for next time and I hope they can be helpful to others as well!

1. Plan well to maximize your time

I loved these:

The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2013 and its companions: and the Lines app.

I bought this book about 6 months before our vacation. I had tried to read older versions and there is no way that would have worked. The information in the 2013 edition is very up to date and accurate. I kept it on my nightstand to read and reread at night before bed. When you buy the book you also get a discount subscription to which allows you to access even more plans than are in the book and allows you to tweak them or to create your own. You can also download the Lines app with your subscription. This enables you to have your created plans on your phone and also a list of wait times that are real time. The Lines app also had all the park times and show times listed which is good because when we were there it seemed like the park opening hours were a little different than normal. 

I loved creating plans to see what we could all realistically fit in a day but it is important to remember that the plans are a guideline. We had days where we could check off each item in the plan in order and other days where we were totally off. At the very least it had the attractions down that we wanted to do that day because it is very easy to be like, "uh...what do we do next??" when you are in the parks. And in Disney, time is money!!  

It is so important to have at least some sort of plan so you can maximize your time at the parks. Maybe it is my teacher mentality or my type A neurosis kicking in but I felt like all the prep work I did was like studying for a big test....that paid off with a well planned and fun vacation.

Here are some of my other favorite sites for planning: 
(I LOVE tom's photos!) 

2. Get to the parks when they open (or earlier).  
This is a big, big tip. To maximize your time you need to arrive at the parks before they open. It takes a long time to get to the parks (if you are driving or waiting for a bus) and to park, then walk, then get in the gates. We usually left our condo about an hour before we wanted to actually be in the park. We did a great job with this on this trip, even arriving at Hollywood Studios before they opened and jumping on rides before their official opening time.  The only day I felt cranky was when we got a late start on the day a park opened at 8 a.m. Call me neurotic, but it works. 

3.Get a good stroller.

This is huge if you have young children. 

I was orginally going to rent a stroller from the parks but at the last minute I rented one from kingdom strollers and it was one of the best decisions I could have made. They delivered it to our condo and we used it for a whole week for $50. This is less than it would have cost at the parks and plus we had it wherever we went (parking lots or downtown disney). We chose a Baby Jogger City Mini and it was awesome. My husband and I are both tall and it was great for us. I actually want one for myself!  

You also want to mark your stroller. We did with a green scarf and it helped us many times find it in the sea of strollers. At the end of the trip even Michael could help us spot it. 

If you are staying in one area of the parks for a while, just leave your stroller parked and let your kids walk if they are able. We did this in Tomorrowland and old Fantasyland when we went on several attractions in a row in those areas. However when we were in Tomorrowland we left it for at least an hour...maybe more...and they had totally moved it across the road and we could hardly find it!  I thought it was funny but never panic because they will almost always move your stroller. 

We also kept all important things in Scott's crossbody backpack that I got on amazon for about $15. It was really comfortable to wear and he wore it pretty much the entire trip. We kept non-important things in the stroller like jackets and our food. 

4. Consider brown bagging it.   
We are not normally a family who takes lunches with us when we go places but we were trying to save money on this trip and I thought this would be an easy way to do so. We spent about $140 on groceries which provided us with about 10 meals and lots of snacks for the trip. We always took a meal with us to the parks, usually a turkey sandwich, chips, fruit and cookiesWe would get free ice waters from the parks and call it good. Bringing our lunch also helped us maximize time during mealtimes- we didn't have to decide where to eat, what we wanted, where to sit, wait to get food, have Michael behave while we ate....etc, etc. We also took tons of snacks like granola bars, fruit snacks, juice boxes, fruit, goldfish and cereal to tide us over between meal times. I'm not sure we could have done this if we didn't have a stroller but it worked out well for us. We did splurge occasionally at the parks on a treat or a pop. 

We did plan some special meals for the nights we were there with the whole family- at 'Ohana in the Polynesian, Sci-Fi Drive in at Hollywood Studios, and Boma in the Animal Kingdom Lodge. These meals were pretty expensive and added up fast so if you are not doing the dining plan (which we weren't since staying offsite) it is hard to justify dining like this all the time. We also enjoyed some meals out with the restaurants nearby our condo like Cracker Barrel, Pizzeria Uno and Chilis takeout so don't worry....we weren't eating turkey sandwiches the whole trip!

 5. Get your dining reservations early 
We didn't book our reservations at the recommended 180 days out because I thought that was crazy. I booked at 100 days out and still got good times for 'Ohana and Crystal Palace but couldn't get in to Be Our Guest. If you know you are going, try and book as far out as you can!  
 At 'Ohana- had a 5 p.m. reservation right when they opened so we had minimal waiting (and also saw their cool little opening show).  Reservations later in the night can result in lots of waiting.
6. Use photopass and the photographers 
I was originally dead set against buying the photopass CD. I thought it was a rip off and I could take all the pictures myself. Well....towards the end of the trip I started to get tired of taking pictures (shocking, right?) and I actually liked the photos the photopass photographers were taking. I could see them almost instantly on my photopass account and some were really good. In hindsight I wished I would have had them take more with my camera and just more in general. I always felt like I was bothering them to ask them to take my picture is their job.  They were always happy to help us out. 
I did end up taking my dSLR with me to the parks. I was also on the fence about this but I am so glad I took it. The reason why I have a good camera is so I can take (hopefully) better photos of my family- why wouldn't I want that on vacation also? I carried it every day with my new Rapid Strap. You can kind of see it in the above phoot. I barely noticed it was there at all and it never got banged around. I loved having it handy to grab a quick shot here and there. I thought I would take more with my iphone but only had a handful from rides and things. Scott did a really good job of taking photos with his iphone and I loved seeing things from his perspective. Here you can see us in action-ha!

I just used my 18-55mm "crappy" kit lens on my camera for the trip. I really needed it because most photos I took were in the 18-30 range. In the future I would maybe like to get a nicer lens somewhere in this range but at this point in time I just can't justify spending that kind of money. I did miss the f/1.4 on my nice 50mm lens for low light shots!

And finally, don't be afraid to get in the picture. I am notorious for this and trying to get better. I didn't always look my best but I am happy to see photos, especially ones where I am with my whole family. I don't want Michael to look back on his trip and wonder where his mother was the whole time! :o) 

7. Lodging
We stayed at Wyndam Cypress Palms in Kissimmee. We had a one bedroom condo. It was really nice and it worked well for our family. The best part was that there was laundry! 

If you are staying somewhere with laundry, do laundry. This helped us save on packing as we wore each outfit twice. I also took along a pop up hamper (from my college days-yikes) which helped us corral dirty clothes in the condo.

Here we are waiting for an early morning pickup- still dark out:

 Here is a silly photo of Michael but a shot of our little condo kitchen:

9. Know Yourself and your family
You may have noticed that we totally skipped Epcot on this trip. It was a conscious decision that we made because we wanted to maximize our time at the Magic Kingdom. If I had all the time in the world, I would have still done 3 days at Magic Kingdom and tried to do Epcot in 2 days. I love Epcot and we even took a trip there at Christmas years ago but I just didn't think we could do it all this time. I am looking forward to doing it next time! 

You need to be realistic about what you can and can't do. Our first day at the parks we stayed for 13 hours with no break. It was fine because we watched lots of shows and were sitting a lot. But on other days we needed the midday break. We did get more tired the longer our trip went on and also started getting less rest at night. One night I think we only slept for 6 or 7 hours, which is way less than a normal nights sleep for our family! I loved taking a long break on our big Magic Kingdom day because going back at night felt like a whole new day. I would love to go sometime and stay until midnight or 1! Many people say that the real fun happens after dark. 

We also decided to go to Disney 5 days instead of original planned 4 because this was actually cheaper than doing something else like renting a car to go to the beach or going to Universal or SeaWorld. Do you see that genius Disney marketing?  

8. Put on the mouse ears      
Remember, this a vacation. You are spending some awesome time with your family and making memories. Have a great time!

Be clear with expectations and the plan but also be flexible. I think this was the smoothest trip I had ever been. Yes, I sometimes get cranky on trips but this time I was really only a grump one time (at least I hope so!!) and it had to do with plans not working out the way I expected them too. However, overall I felt like we did a good job knowing our plan in advance so we could execute it smoothly-talking it over at dinner or the night before.  The iphone app helped, especially keeping my husband in the loop. He would love to log in and check off what we had already done for that day so he knew what was next (he was the designated stroller pusher). 

Also don't be afraid to step back and savor the little moments. Some of my favorite parts were not the "big" things you think of but the little things. I have never seen Michael smile so big before this trip! It really is magical.  

 We had a great time and can't wait to go back!

Walt Disney World, we'll see you real soon! 

All the trip recaps: 
Day 1: Travel and Arrival Day 
Day 2: Hollywood Studios
Day 3: Animal Kingdom
Day 4: Magic Kingdom
Day 5: Rest Day and Downtown Disney 
Day 6: Magic Kingdom
Day 7: Magic Kingdom 

Other Disney posts:
Disney Photo Books 
Disney Blast From the past 2007
Disney Blast from the past 2006
Disney 2014

Please feel free to leave a comment if you've stopped by! :o) 
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