& Jen P:
So I think it’s time to take the plunge! I’ve only been to Disney once – and I was 10. Now, nearly 3 decades and 2 kids later, my husband and I are toying with the idea of planning a trip down there in the Feb/March timeframe (definitely before the spring-breakers invade!). Jake will be 5 so we’d like for him to experience Disney while it’s still so magical. I can’t wait to see the look on his face when he meets his idol, Mickey Mouse. And Ryanne would only be 8 months … very portable (ride/nap in a stroller) vs having to worry about a toddler running around. We’re also hoping to take advantage of some great deals since the economy has turned south.
But the whole thought of planning a Disney trip completely overwhelms me!!! I recently did a Google search on “planning a Disney trip” and found that there is SO much information out there… I don’t even know where to begin! That’s where you all come in … I KNOW there are plenty of Smarties out there with some great tips to share … or better yet, lessons learn of things to avoid! I know NOTHING about Disney, so consider me a blank slate …
– Where is a good place to stay?
– Are there better days of the week to go than others?
– What’s the ideal number of days in the Park?
– Which parks are best for little kids (5-years and almost 1)?
– Any tips on ways to save money? (I know “Disney” and “economical” don’t really go hand in hand, but I’m guessing many of you have some super Smarty ideas here!)
– What activities should we sign up for?
– Are there any good online resources for panning a trip?
Any advice is welcome … please share your own Smarty tips or experiences in the Magic Kingdom.
Jen P here! OK, so I’m totally hijacking Tracy’s post, but she asked for advice, and well, we just got back from Disney last week, so here goes:
I consider Disney World a rite of passage for all parents. We planned our Disney trip a while back and tried to be strategic about crowds. So we decided to go the week after Thanksgiving and it worked out to our advantage (although Monday was still a bit crowded due to leftover Thanksgiving visitors). I would recommend going way before Spring Break and remember, Spring Break pretty much covers March and April. Or wait until after Thanksgiving but before Christmas. You will have Chamber of Commerce weather and the least amount of crowds (if there is such a thing at Disney World!).
When I first set out to plan my Disney trip, I too was completely overwhelmed and canceled my first attempt back in the spring. Actually, this was all because I missed out on the breakfast and/or tea at Cinderella’s castle since this thing books out 4 months in advance, literally to the minute! So I tried again for our trip last week and missed it again. So we chose a character breakfast instead. That was great – actually, the best food we had in the park and the Mickey Mouse waffles (available at all Disney breakfast restaurants) are to-die for!
We stayed on Disney properties at the Disney Caribbean Beach Resort. It was pretty basic, inexpensive (thanks to my friend who somehow hooked me up with a Disney employee discount!) and perfect for this trip since we were in our hotel room from 10:30p until 8a ( 2 1/2 year old twins stayed at my in-law’s house – very good strategy here!). We had to use the Disney busing system and I have to say, I was less than impressed. If it operated like they advertise, then the buses are supposed to come every 20 minutes, which is perfect. However there were two different times where we had to wait in excess of 45 minutes for a bus, plus a 15-minute bus ride. Next time, which won’t be until the twins are old enough to ride roller coasters, we will definitely stay on the monorail system (however not the Contemporary – this place is true 70’s vintage and has not been remodeled since I was born!). This is the ticket, especially if you are there for a short trip (3 days or less). I can’t imagine staying longer than 3 days – you and your kids will get plenty of Disney in 3 days!
Disney tickets to the park cost a FORTUNE – this is where we spent the most money so be prepared. However, one of my Smarty friends and avid-Disney goers just informed me that Disney is currently running a special in Jan/Feb – something like, buy 4 days and get 3 free? You may want to look into that. To try and minimize spending a zillion dollars while in the park (because trust me, these Disney marketers are brilliant and they route you through a gift shop every where they can!), we set up guidelines before we entered the park. The girls were allowed to pick out one small thing on the 1st and 2nd days – it had to be within reason and something that they could carry throughout the park. This worked well – we spent maybe $50 total on treats for the girls. You could bring your own Wal-Mart/Target Disney toys in and give them to your child each day, but I thought it would be extra special if they picked out their own authentic Disney toy, only available at Disney World. Funny thing about that was that Isabel was determined to pick out a Webkinz unicorn and I flat out refused. We could get that thing anywhere! So she settled on a Lady dog from Lady in the Tramp!
Extra Magic Hours are key. If you are staying on a Disney property, they have “magic hours” where you can use the park exclusively. Plan on getting to the park when the magic hours first open and hit Fantasy Land immediately. Here you will need to quickly familiarize yourself with the Fast Pass system. This allows you to make a reservation (1 per hour) on popular rides and if you come during your reservation, you can go right to the front of the line. You should try to Fast Pass Peter Pan and Pirates of the Caribbean. You wait in line at another ride and send your hubby off to fast-pass – works beautifully! By the time you finish the ride, you will exit and should be off to the ride you have a Fast Pass for. You will also want to Fast Pass Splash Mountain, Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain. This will save you a TON of time.
Roller coasters – many rides have a 40″ – 48″ minimum height. We rode everything except my petite Isabel could not ride Space Mountain or Mt. Everest/Yeti in Animal Kingdom. She is a thrill-seeker and was really bummed out.
Parade/Fireworks – this was my favorite part of the trip but plan accordingly. We seriously almost got crushed b/c people were pushing from all sides of the crowd. Plan to arrive at least 30 minutes early and stake your spot. Remember, you have to be on or behind the red line for the parade. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you get there. There will be sidewalk cops everywhere policing this law. The parade truly was magical and the fireworks too. Definitely worth all the trouble.
Princess/Disney characters – I was extremely disappointed in the lack of characters walking around the park. I grew up going to Disney and I have fond memories of Mickey tickling my ear from behind or bumping into Goofy. Not the case at all anymore. Every character has a designated time/location and you have to wait in a LONG line to talk to them, well actually, to just get a signature. Disney has marketed this quite well and they try to getcha with collecting the character pins and autograph books that are super expensive. We waited for 2 hours to meet the princesses and the fairies (since I failed my girls on the tea at the castle!) and that was kind of annoying to me. Here we were, waiting in line again and again just to smile, take a photo and get an autograph. It all seemed pretty forced to me, but the girls were totally content with the process. We bypassed the Bibbitty-Bobbitty Boutique – am I a terrible mom?! We saw little girls in princess costumes and updo’s everywhere and my girls were unphased. I was sure that would cost a small fortune so we just avoided it. I figured if they really felt slighted (which they didn’t even notice), then I would treat them later on to an updo at Libby-Loo’s or Sweet ‘n Sassy when we got back to Charlotte!
Food – you have to plan your dinners in advance and make reservations. There is no lolly-gagging at Disney World – everything you do must have a strategic plan involved. We planned an evening at Downtown Disney which was pretty fun. We ate at the Rainforest Cafe (kinda pricey but cool atmosphere – actually, it was pricey because it was the first meal where I could sit down and enjoy an adult cocktail so I may have gone a little overboard!). Downtown Disney has great shopping, Cirque de Soleil and good restaurants “off campus” so it was a nice change of scenery. Smarty tip: you can bring in snacks and drinks to the park. Drinks might be a pain b/c they are heavy. But don’t be afraid to pack granola bars and trail mix. We ate only two meals a day and brought in snacks. We did not buy the dining package. I feel like we came out ahead since we didn’t eat that much. Who has time to eat in that place?! It was go, go, go!
The third day, we went to Animal Kindgom – this was CRAZY crowded for a Wednesday. I think it’s always crowded because of school field trips. The safari was cool. Mt. Everest was the scariest roller coaster I have ever been on. But overall, I was not that impressed with the park. I truly believe that you can get a much, much better animal safari experience at our own Lazy 5 Ranch in Mooresville.
OK, sorry to write a book! Do share your experiences!!
P.S. Don’t forget to register for the Paper Twist Smarty Giveaway:
Paper Twist is giving one lucky Smarty the perfect mommy package, valued at $195. You’ll be organized, dressed in a sassy tee and ready to send out a darling thank-you note from you and your precious child. Click here to enter – contest ends at 11pm on Wednesday, 12/17.