Disney World can be OVERWHELMING to the first time guest (in my case, it has been overwhelming the 1st, 2nd and 3rd visit), but it doesn’t have to be that way. My good friend and this week’s Smarty Mom has done her homework and has devised a plan that will guide your day for smooth sailing. I tried it and it totally works! Smarties, she researches and researches ahead of time and not a minute is waisted on waiting…waiting…waiting in those long unbearable lines. I am excited to introduce to you my secret weapon, Jay Peters.
Smarty Mom: Jay Peters
Smarty Mom Stats:
Married to: Chris Peters
Children: Mary Chandler (5 ½ ) and Barnes (3 ½ )
Neighborhood: Providence Plantation
Hometown: Clifton, Virginia
Alma Mater: The University of South Carolina (Go Gamecocks!)
Occupation: Mommy of two amazing kiddoes, wife to an Awesome husband & Senior Sales Pharmaceutical Representative
Tell us briefly how your love for Disney began.
You name it, I had it. From the books to my first Winnie the Pooh Bear. I was hooked at a very early age. I even had a Mickey Mouse record player.
What was your favorite memory of Disney World?
I remember being about 3 or 4 and my parents riding Peter Pan with me over and over. I couldn’t get over the fact we were “flying” with Tinkerbell. It was truly magical. As I watched my own 3 year old daughter try and pick up the gold glitter they have embedded into the concrete around the ride to throw it over her own head and then try and jump up so she could fly I cried with happiness and pure joy. Watching her truly believe in the story and think it was possible for her to fly once she sprinkled herself with pixie dust I find myself asking, when is the last time I believed something magical could happen? Well done Disney, well done. Here is my credit card. Charge what you want. It is worth every penny.
How did interning for Walt Disney World change your life? I remember it being the most coveted business internship at the University of South Carolina.
I was one of 11 students out of 350 they chose for the summer internship program from USC. It helped me get my first 2 jobs as that internship is ALL the interviewers wanted to talk about. I also met two of my lifelong best friends that summer.
Smarties, are you ready? Fasten your seatbelt. Here are Jay’s secrets….
Websites to visit:
Best time of year to visit the park(s):
Best times to visit are the off peak season. Hard to believe that Disney World has an off season, but they do and trust me it is worth checking into…. September, October, November (not Thanksgiving week), early December, January. It’s not unbearably hot and you get to experience all of the beautiful seasonal decorations. If you go in December, they have Santa at the front entrance. He is fantastic. It is Disney, so of course; he is fantastic.
Helpful hint about planning
When to take your child: My favorite age is to start right before they turn 3. As in the week before they turn 3 so you don’t have to buy them a 300.00 park hopper ticket…My child was so tall I was worried they would stop us and not believe she was still 2. I made my husband go to our safety deposit box and make a copy of her birth certificate…. They never asked how old she was but I was ready.
I print off the month I am looking to go and pick a week that is estimated to be the least crowded (all from a very detailed calendar put together by one of the above websites). Once I have chosen the week, I then plan out each day and what park we are going to visit. I go with the websites recommended of which day will be the least crowded. I never visit a park that has an extra magic hour (for guests staying on a Disney property you get an extra hour in the morning or in the evening). More hours = more, bigger crowds! With two small children, my only concern when picking a time to visit Disney is the crowd level.
Character Breakfast & tips on Making Restaurant Reservations:
Once I have every day planned out for my trip, I will then plan out what days we want to do a character breakfast. If we are going for several days, we usually do (2) character breakfasts in the Magic Kingdom and (1) in Hollywood Studios. We typically schedule a breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table and Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom and the Hollywood and Vine Restaurant with Jake and the Neverland Pirates in Hollywood Studios. If you are staying on Disney Property, you can book at 6:00am 180 days before your trip starts for the whole week in one setting through www.Disneyworld.disney.go/com/. Make sure you have your account set up with your credit card on file and your hotel reservation linked before the 6am go time. At 5:55 am have your computer all ready to go with your first restaurant pulled up, the amount of people you have with you and the date you want to eat. **This is where it pays to be organized!** Have your calendar out with the days you are going to each park all set up so you know what restaurant to try and get each day. At 6:00am hit search. Once you secure the first spot, move quickly to the next – it is amazing how quickly these reservations get gobbled up! Some of the places have your pre-pay (this is why I mentioned earlier to make sure you have your login account set up – it pays to have your cc on file). This way you can move faster! The money slot is 7:55 – 8:00 am. **Off season, the park opens later at 9:00am. If you have a reservation that is earlier than 9am you are allowed in the park before it opens. It’s the perfect time for a photo opportunity in front of the castle (NO photo-bombers!) Breakfast typically ends at 9am and you are in line for a ride before anyone else gets there! It is TOTALLY worth it!!
If you are staying off property. You can book your restaurant 180 days of each day you will be visiting a Disney Park. Meaning, you will have to get up and do this fiasco every morning you want a reservations 180 days out versus all the days at once before the whole trip.
Eating at the Park (when you don’t have a reservation – snacks, quick bites, etc)
My children are 3 and 5 years old. Breakfast is the only meal they would be awake enough for during this trip and they looooove breakfast food (muffins, waffles, pancakes, etc.) I am very realistic about Disney and small children. Our choice is never to do the dining plan, even if it is free (see lodging details on why the free meal plan will never be an option for us), having to be at a specific place at a specific time (other than character breakfast) adds a lot of stress to the trip. My children like to eat when they are ready to eat and they don’t like to eat a lot of food that Disney sells. I don’t like to wait in line with a crowd or buy $30.00 worth of food they will never eat. Key to eating stress free in Disney World for our family — We bring a ton of food! We pack all kinds of snacks like pretzels, crackers, goldfish, breakfast bars, apple sauce pouches etc. in gallon see through ziplocks and throw them in the bottom of the stroller. (YES BRING A STROLLER, your kids will get tired and want you to hold them….and you can store things you buy or bring. It is a win-win!) The see through bags are key as they seriously speed up wait time at the security check point at the entry of every park. If they can see what is inside the bags, they don’t have to be opened and I can toss one to the kiddos and they can pick out a snack when they are hungry = no wait time. As for meals we pack a small fabric cooler with sandwiches, milk cups, cut up fruit, cheese sticks or Chick fil a nuggets and feed them a meal as we walk to the next ride or we will grab a seat on a bench and eat = no lines. See a theme here? Disney will let you bring in all the food.
A few helpful tips
1. Lunches, snacks, drinks (I freeze water bottles the night before and use them to keep the food cool and then I always have cold water during the day;
2. Rain ponchos (bought at the Dollar Tree beforehand);
3. A gallon zip lock bag with change of clothes for the kids (again zip lock so security can see what is in them);
4. Portable cell phone charger;
5. Sunscreen (I lather us up before we leave the hotel) this is for touchups;
7. Baby wipes (Me and my kiddoes are spillers);
8. Balloon that we buy at the grocery store before we get to the park to tie onto stroller. This way we can spot our stroller a mile away in the sea of never ending strollers at Disney; and
9. Glow in the dark everything. The Dollar Tree sells… this is perfect for night time fun.
Disney Photo Pass
Buy it! You will never regret the amazing images that will be captured. It touches my heart to watch my daughter experience the Magic of Disney World. *If you buy it before you go, it’s about $50.00 cheaper.
Season Pass vs. Tickets
Being the Disney fanatics we are, we plan to go every year. It was almost $700.00 cheaper to buy the season pass for the 4 of us and go before the 12 months was up. So, we got 2 trips out of the passes vs. buying park hopper passes for 4 people for 7 days each visit. When you renew the passes you save another couple of hundred dollars. (Plus let’s be honest, this was my ploy to be able to go more than once a year… My husband doesn’t like for things to go to waste. Trip #3 is coming up for 2016…) With the season pass, you get free parking if you stay off property and you get the photo pass for free on each visit!
If you are staying on Disney property you can make your fast pass selections 60 days in advance. If you are staying off property, it’s 30 days. Again, Disney has made this a race to see who can click the fastest. At 11:55 pm on day 59, I’m logged into my Disney account, with a plan for what rides I want and on what days. At 12:00 on day 60, I’m clicking away. Because we are always at the park an hour early, if the park opens at 9am they usually open the main gates at 8:45am, we do several rides right away without hitting lines. But remember, this isn’t in the summer when crowds are in peak season. Due to this, we don’t start using our fast passes until around 10:30am when it gets more crowded.
Rides to get in ASAP
1. Peter Pan (we ride it several times in a row this ride will have a 2 hour wait mid-day)
2. Mine Train (if you don’t have a fast pass for this ride run as fast as you can to do first or you will wait over an hour, I won’t be because I can’t handle that, but if you want to ride it you will)
3. Space mountain
4. Winnie the Pooh
5. Pictures with Anna and Elsa: If you don’t have a fast pass for Anna and Elsa or Mine Train you need to pick one of these to do first on different days. Both are doable without too long of a wait if you get there ASAP when the gates open.
**As for the money shot with Anna and Elsa my husband runs to get in line as I follow as quickly as I can with a double Bob stroller and (2) 45 pound kids inside. He is from up north and can move through a crowd like it’s a contact sport. Very effective but embarrassing for a southern Kappa Delta lady. As I cut in front of 100 people in line by the time I park the stroller repeatedly saying, excuse me, my husband is up front, I thank the lucky starts for his athletic ability and the fact he is willing to take one for the team to do this ON EVERY TRIP. (I have found the key to this is to never make eye contact.) To be honest I think it’s because he can’t handle waiting in line either.
1. Killimanjaro Safaris. We run to this for a first ride and do it again around 11 with a fast pass.
The rest is up to you. We never have much waiting in Animal kingdom. We do spend a fair amount in the Boneyard playground. It’s fantastic and my kids need to just run sometimes. With the major expansion coming with Avatar World coming in 2017, I expect this to change. This spring Disney will also be launching the new nighttime show which I’m super excited to see.
To be honest we usually skip this. Not sure we will be able to much longer when the new Frozen ride opens…But remember, Epcot has beer……
1. Toy Story Mania. Get there early and RUN to ride it and get a fast pass for later that day. If you don’t get there first or have a fast pass forget it…I hope your husband is like mine and manage his way through a crowd- Good luck!
2. We don’t ride the big rides so that’s all we need a fast pass for.
Pictures with the princesses:
We do the breakfast at the castle so that covers 5 or 6 of them. Anna and Elsa (see above).
With very young children, I let them dictate our schedule. They can only do so much; I can only put up with so much. We get to the park every day about an hour before it opens. Parking and getting to the front gate can be a work out. Disney makes a huge deal out of the park opening and they do a show for it at each of the parks. It’s really well done. We leave everyday around 1 to head back to the hotel for naps. Lunch is usually eaten in the stroller on the way to the car and is finished in the car. Right to bed as soon as we get to the hotel. I nap with them or I will sit on the patio or in the living room and read a book and rest up. If we have decided to return to the park after nap time, I repack the cooler for dinner. We always rent a (2) bedroom condo/suite with a full kitchen so I will cook and pack the food up. If we do head back to the parks it is only for another hour or 2. This is much easier when we stay on property at Bay Lake Towers because we can WALK back to Magic Kingdom. If it’s a trip and we are at the Sheraton, to be honest, some nights we just go back to the pools at the hotel. I try and mix it up so they can do a later night and then an early pool night. Dinner for Chris (my husband) and I – he will go out and get us sushi or some kind of good take out and a great bottle of wine while I put the kids in bed. I have no interest in eating in the parks…We sit on the patio and enjoy a leisurely dinner and head to bed early to start over the next day. By taking long naps and breaking up our days my kids have never had a breakdown at the park and we all enjoy each and every day. Some kids can push through, mine can’t and this plan works beautifully for our family.
I would not enter this park without one. Period! I don’t want to carry all of our stuff nor do I want to carry a 45-pound child around the park. EVER!
I don’t do well on public transportation. It’s the waiting that I can’t handle. Part of the deal my husband made with the season tickets is that we had to drive from Charlotte to Orlando. I balked at first; but, it’s doable. From Charlotte is about 9 hours. IPad’s are the key in the car. That way we have our own car to get to the parks each day. When we did fly, we rented a car. I want my own car (rented or personal) at all times. I do not want to depend on hotel provided transportation (with all of our stuff, the stroller, waiting, crowds…it’s just a better fit).
Here is a recap of Smarty Jay’s list of Disney favorites:
Favorite on property hotel: Bay Lake Tower
Favorite Character meal: Breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table and the Crystal Palace
Favorite off property hotel: Sheraton Vistana Resort Villas, Lake Buena Vista
Favorite time of year to go: Late Fall, winter, never on a holiday week or marathon weekend.
Favorite place to book a hotel: DVC Rentals from David’s Disney Vacation Club Point Rentals:
dvcrequest.com (it literally is almost half the price of booking through the resort and its suites)
Favorite full service Disney travel agent: Tami Schaefer at Dream Builders Travel. If the stress of planning this trip is overwhelming Tami knows as much as I do and will do everything for you.
Favorite Disney Book: The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World
Favorite website to help with choosing the best time of the year to travel to Disney World:
http://wdwprepschool.com and http://easywdw.com
Well there you have it Smarties! Who is ready to start planning their trip to Disney? Thanks Smarty Jay for all of your amazing TIPS!!