Thursday, March 18, 2010

Daisy's Top 10 Disney Tips

I have one last post that I wanted to share about our trip before I move on from all things Disney. Here are a few things I found helpful in planning and executing a successful trip.

1. Guide Book:I found The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World to be an invaluable resource. Its 850 pages look intimidating, but it really is the be-all and end-all of Disney knowledge. It has chapters on hotels, dining, and each of the parks, each ranked and rated. It has reader tips as well as the "unofficial" tips. It even has "touring guides" that will help you see the park more efficiently. If you are a planner, and want to be completely informed as you make decisions, this is the book for you!

2. The Dining Plan: Purchasing the "Magic Your Way" dining plan was a great choice for our family. We went with the Magic Your Way Plus dining plan. It included a full service meal (sit-down restaurant), counter service meal and snack for each night we stayed in the hotel. It was nice because we prepaid for all our meals, so we didn't feel the pocketbook pinch when the check came for each meal. Disney food is expensive, and it was nice knowing we didn't have to worry about how much we were spending, because it was already all paid for. Some meals use two table services, but it worked out fine for us. We planned each meal before we left, so we knew how many counter services or table services we were using each day, to make sure that no meals got left behind. We did have an excess of snacks, which we used up on our last day with some muffins and croissants for a last morning breakfast. It was also nice because we could let our kids have special treats that we usually by-pass when we are out on family outings, like that $4 ice cream Mickey Mouse treat. It made sense economically too, the price came to $40 per day for an adult, $11 per day for the two older kids (KK was free, so she split with the older kids, or got a "complimentary" plate of food at some restaurants). This is a bargain, considering that just for a table service meal (appetizer/main/dessert/beverage) it cost about $30/adult $15/child. Counter service meals (main, dessert, beverage) were about $15/adult and $6/child. Snack items (ice cream, water, fruit, popcorn, coffee, etc.) were about $4 each. It was plenty of food, you definitely won't feel deprived!

3. Groceries: We ordered some snack and breakfast items to be delivered to our room when we arrived. It was convenient because we could get the kids up in the morning, get them dressed and fed, and not have to worry about finding somewhere to eat while in the park. The snacks were individual bags of pretzels and some of those PB crackers and cheese crackers. We also had a case of water bottles delivered which Ed and I grabbed a couple each day so we didn't have to pay for water in the parks. We had ordered a styrofoam cooler with our groceries, which we ended up not really needing because our room already had a refrigerator (I had read somewhere that they usually charge $15 for fridges, so I figured we could buy the $6 cooler, fill it with ice each day and it would work fine). I brought along the kids' thermoses, which I filled with ice and water from a gallon jug each morning. I also had an insulated lunch bag from home that I put Ed's and my water bottles in to keep them cool throughout the day. I packed all the water bottles and snacks in a bag each morning that I put in the basket of our stroller once we got through security at the parks. We used Garden Grocer.

4. Stroller: I know you can rent a stroller daily at the parks ($15/day for single $30/day for double), and some people love this option, but I felt we could buy a new stroller and leave it there for that price. I brought our stroller that has a handy toddler bar in the back where N could ride if he grew tired. It was great having it in the airport to lug all the carry-on bags and backpacks to the gate. I also can't imagine renting a stroller and having to carry your bags and kids into and out of the park each morning and evening. Some of the shuttle stops were quite a hike, and N really needed to ride on the back by the end of the day, when we were leaving the parks at 9 pm.

5. Character Meals: We loved the character meals! It was really the only way to efficiently see all of the Disney characters. As we ate each character would come to our table for a picture and give the kids an autograph. The park lines to see the characters were usually 20 minutes to as much as an hour and a half long. There was no way that we would have been able to spend that much time in line to see each character. We did get lucky a few times in the parks, and were able to meet a character with little or no wait. But the bulk of our character meetings were at the meals we booked. We booked 4 meals, and met Cinderella, Snow White, Belle, Jasmine, Sleeping Beauty, Mickey (twice), Minnie, Donald, Goofy (twice), Pluto (twice), Chip, Dale, Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, and Eeyore. Some character meals are really hard to get into, such as Cinderella's Royal Table where you get to eat breakfast in the castle. Last time we went I called exactly 90 days out (the earliest you could make reservations at the time) at exactly 6:58 a.m. for 6 days in a row and never got through in time. All the reservations were filled. This time I was determined to get a table, so I used a...

6. Travel Agent: Our travel agent was great. She was able to get us into the highly sought after Cinderella breakfast our first morning in the park, an hour before the park opened so that we didn't miss any time for the rides, and we were done eating by opening time so that we were first in line for the rope drop in Adventure Land. She also booked our rooms and the dining plan and a couple of other meals. Best of all, she was free! We used Small World Vacations.

7. Schedule: Once I read through the guide book, I had an idea of where we should go each day, and where we wanted to eat. This is where my organization might be more than what you yourself might want or need. I wrote out rough times, confirmation numbers for meals, and attractions we should do at the park for each day of our stay. It was a rough guide, and we often deviated from it, but it was a good general plan and helped us to see where we should be, how many meal credits we were using each day and when we had to leave in the morning if we wanted to take advantage of early morning magic hours.

8. Magic Hours: These are extra hours the park is open, either in the morning or at night for the enjoyment of resort guests. Each park has a different day of the week. Some people try to avoid the parks with magic hours, but as much as possible, we utilized them. We figured that our kids are up anyway, and it was nice to get an early start to the day. We could go on rides with little to no wait before the rush of the general public filled the parks.

9. Resorts: I definitely recommend staying in a Disney resort. You get the advantage of Magic Hours, but the bigger advantage is the shuttle system. Each resort has a shuttle that picks you up and takes you to and from the park, near the front entrance, so you don't have to drive, pay $14/day for parking, or schlep your kids and bags through a parking lot. Another advantage is their "Magic Express" that picks you up at the airport, claims your checked bags and brings them to the hotel for you, and then on the return trip home checks your bags at the hotel and takes you back to the airport. Plus, on top of all this, it's just fun to stay at a Disney property with all the cute touches like the Disney themed rooms,Mickey Mouse soap, and of course the fun pools!

10. Kid's Guide to the Magic Book: We got this tip from Ed's brother's family. They found these books and used them when they went last year. They are great! They have a section for each park with a picture of each attraction, and a place to mark if the kids liked it as well as what they liked. It also had a place in the back for autographs, and the daily schedule. It was a neat way for the kids to remember the rides they went on, and what we did each day. It also was a nice way to pass the time if they were waiting for grownups to ride something they weren't interested in, or at meal times. You can only order the books online, they aren't in normal books stores.

That is all I can think of now. Do you have any tips of your own to add to my list?


Amy from Occupation: Mommy said...

Oh, oh, I have one!

#11: Be sure to check your safe before you leave ;)

The Family K. said...

Now I'm all set when it comes time for us to make our own mecca to Orlando one day. Thanks for sharing the tips.

daisy said...

ha-ha Amy! (but I guess I opened myself up for that one!)

milleretown said...

This is awesome Daisy! Thanks for the tips!!