Alrighty folks. I am jumping in full force and providing everything I know about the Wonderful World of Disney! I seriously feel like there needs to be a college course over WDW .... there is so much info! I want to recap our trip in stages, so I can help any of you out wanting to plan a trip of your own. So get ready for a week dedicated solely to Disney World!
* Decide WHEN.
We chose the first of May simply because that's when everyone could take a week off of work. We didn't know when planning, but we chose a great time to go. School isn't out yet, so the crowds aren't bad at all, and the weather was in the 80's almost the entire time. It was seriously ideal!
Stay away from the hot summer months - June thru August, simply because it's super hot and super crowded. Easiest because your kids are out of school, but that is when everyone goes.
I hear September and October are great months to go, too.
There are some Disney websites you can pay to become a member of, and it will give you crowd calendars and whatnot. That would be very useful for planning. My friend is a member and showed me that our week in May was one of the lowest crowd weeks of the year. We lucked out!
* Find a Disney College of Knowledge Travel Agent - They're FREE!
We had an EXCELLENT travel agent named Jackie and she handled all the difficult/confusing stuff for me. I basically told her what we wanted to do and when we wanted to do it and she made all of the arrangements for me! Mommy's of little ones don't have time to figure all this stuff out. :) She was an enormous help and made the planning stress free and answered every little question I had. She had so much insider information and made things SO easy on us. She was even texting me while we were on vacation reminding me of things and making sure everything was going smoothly. She truly turned into a friend!
Visit her Facebook page and she will help you out with booking your resort, making your reservations, and she sends you everything you'll need before your trip in the mail. She's truly THE BEST!
* Book Your Resort.
Disney World Resorts are THE way to go. We'd never done this before, so it was a whole new experience for us. It just adds to the magic of being there ... you know? When you book, also snatch up a dining plan as well. This will save you lots of money and just makes life easier. (They also have offers going at times that offer FREE dining plans. So, look into that and snag that if you can.)
I was floored by how well Disney took care of us the entire time we were there. From the moment our plane landed, they did the rest. After we checked our luggage from Tulsa, we never even saw our luggage again until it arrived to our room in our resort. We didn't even have to pick it up from the airport! They did it all. Amazing.
(The boys' luggage. My mom ordered them the exclusive luggage [only found in the park] before we left and she packed all new clothes and goodies for them. She is the best and so much FUN.)
The Magical Express is waiting for you at the airport and whisks you away to the magic as soon as you hit town. Let me also mention that the day you are leaving to go back home, you check in for your flight and check your luggage AT THE RESORT and then they take you back to the airport. I can't tell you how great this is for people with small children. We didn't have to lug around our suitcases at all. Again, we checked our luggage at the resort and never saw it again until we hit Tulsa. Plus, we had our boarding passes ready to go. Huge perk!
(I didn't take this photo, but I just love it. I stole it from google images.)
There are so many resorts to choose from, ranging from all prices: Deluxe Resorts, Moderate Resorts & Value Resorts. The Deluxe Resorts are hooked onto the park by monorail (amazing convenience), and the others are further away and you hop a bus to get to the different parks (easy peasy, and worth the saved money, in my opinion). We stayed in a value resort and ... well, I can't even tell you how much we loved it. I can't imagine ever staying anywhere else when we go back we loved it so much. It. Was. AMAZING! I want to do a whole blog post of it's own because it deserves it. So, stay tuned!
- Another perk of staying in one of their resorts is that any time you purchase something in the parks, you can have it sent straight to your room instead of hauling it around. Yes! Life made easier!
* Dining Plan.
I was so confused on how all this worked. What's a dining plan? How do I use it? What? Huh? I'm confused?! When you arrive to your resort and check in, you get your Key to the World. It acts as your room key, your ticket to the parks, and your dining card (if you purchased a dining plan) - they swipe it whenever you get food. With our dining plan, we each had per day:
1 snack (basically anything under $5)
1 quick service meal (fast food type stuff - ex. sandwich, chips, drink, & dessert)
1 table service meal (buffet; or appetizer, entree, dessert & drink)
So basically, you don't need to carry money around with you. You simply order your food, swipe your card and go! The table service meals are the nice, sit down meals ... it's great to have at least one of those per day. (Some days, we did two - like a character breakfast and then a nice dinner.) We liked using those at night so we could all gather together around our table, eat, and recap our day. Great time of refreshment!
We had so many "snack" credits left on the last day that we went to our resort gift shop and loaded up on fun cookies, candy and other snacks.
My boys with some of their "snacks" as we watched Fantastmic! at Hollywood Studios.
* Restaurant Reservations.
We knew we wanted to do several character meals, so we booked those first (they're the hardest to get in to). Then, I got some input from some friends and booked the rest of the meals. I'll blog about our restaurant choices, too, and what ones we'd do again. We had a party of 10, so the reservations were a complete lifesaver. We never had to wait for a table at all!
* Order a Photopass Plus Card
Sometime before two weeks before your visit, order a Photopass Plus card. (I ordered mine 3 months in advance just to be safe.) This thing is AMAZING! They'll send you your PPP package and then when you get to the park, you trade your voucher for a card. Whenever you see a photographer in the park, you give him your card and he/she takes professional pictures for you. You don't have to worry about capturing that "great shot" in front of the castle, etc. with your own camera. Some people don't bring a camera at all - they just use the Photopass Plus card.
Each photographer takes 5+ photos each time they shoot, so you end up with TONS of photos. And they'll take as many shots as you want. There's no limit! And there are photographers ALL over the park. When you get home you have 14 days to claim your photos and they're yours. I'm still waiting on mine to arrive (I ordered the CD), and I can't wait to share! LOVE LOVE this thing. All of our "family" shots are on there.
Everyone but my Mom was getting irritated with me because I made everyone stop to take pictures each time we passed a photographer. Hahahaha....! I love a good photo!
*NOTE: Photopass Plus is different from the regular Photopass. Get the plus. It's new and it's wonderful. MUCH easier than the other.
*TIP: Snap a pic of your Photopass Plus card number on the back as soon as you get it. If you lose your card, but have your number, you're good.
* Plan Your Days.
We spent four days in the parks, so trying to figure out where we would spend each day was tricky because they needed to coordinate with which park our restaurant reservations were in and other appointments we had. We ended up doing it like this:
The day we arrived we checked into our resort and explored that for awhile. Then jumped on a bus to Downtown Disney. Super fun place. Great shops and restaurants.
In the parks:
Days 1 & 2 - Magic Kingdom. (This has the most for small kids, and is just plain amazing ... so we spent two days there so we could try to see as much as possible. We still missed a lot. Oh, it's simply magical.)
Day 3 - Hollywood Studios. (LOVE this one. It's not as crowded, super awesome, and is just great fun.)
Day 4 - Epcot. (Wished we would have had at least another day at Epcot simply because there is so much to see.)
We didn't bother going to Animal Kingdom. I haven't heard amazing things about it, and I kind of feel like a zoo is a zoo at this point. Ha! If I had it to do over again with an extra day, I would still skip Animal Kingdom and spend an extra day in Epcot. Ideally, I would like two days in each park!
(The last day, we rented a car and booked it to the beach to spend the day there. We thought it would be great to end our busy week with a leisurely day by the water. It was so much fun.)
We had Park Hopper Passes, so that we could jump from park to park if we wanted to. We ended up never doing that, but it was good that we had the option. We had planned on hopping back over to Magic Kingdom Friday night for the electrical parade, but ended up staying longer at Epcot. I recommend Park Hoppers definitely, though.
But absolutely plan out your days before you get there. And then each night that you are there, grab a map and route out your next day - that way you don't just wander around aimlessly ... and you'll get to see and do more.
* Fast Passes.
Our package came with 3 fast passes each for each day. USE THEM! Choose the most popular rides with the longest lines, go grab your fast passes and then come back at the time it tells you to. You get to skip the lines and get straight on when it's time to come back. These were lifesavers for some rides! This also saves so much time where you can go ride other rides and see more things.
(The Little Mermaid Ride)
With two 3 year olds and two infants, strollers were a must. I looked up the strollers you can rent at Disney, and they look like this:
Those look like the most uncomfortable torture traps known to man. Huge, unwieldy, hard .... there is no way a baby could sleep in that thing. And, it is $27 a DAY. Plus, they have to stay in the park. Obviously.
So, I looked up stroller rental companies and found Kingdom Strollers. LOVE!
We rented two Bob strollers for the small babies. They were $12 per day, comfort deluxe, and pushed like a dreamboat. Also, they deliver it to your resort free and pick it up the day you leave. Amazing! We had a wheel go flat one day, gave them a call, and they came right over and put a new wheel on.
Ezra slept like a champ in it.
We originally thought Levi would want to walk the whole time (he's doesn't like riding - he prefers walking), but after realizing we had 4 days of non-stop walking, we snatched him up an umbrella stroller in a store in Disney World. The umbrella stroller was a breeze hauling on and off the busses. The Bob, not so much, but it worked and I wouldn't have wanted to do the week without it.
Levi's umbrella stroller. (With a Mickey pretzel snack!)
I definitely recommend using a stroller rental company, and we loved Kingdom.
* Food For Your Room.
Since we were staying in the resort and not renting a car until Beach Day, we used a grocery delivery service to bring milk, water, food, and snacks to our room. Loved it! We can't go on vacation without scooby snacks in our room! :) It was a $12 delivery fee (cheaper than renting a taxi and trying to find a grocery store), and we didn't have to worry about trying to find milk for the babies all the time. We used Garden Grocers, ordered the groceries online before we left, and the food was delivered to our room!
Also, our Bob came with an insulated bag, so we loaded it down with drinks and water for the park.
* Book Activities in Advance.
There are several fun "experience" type things for the kids, depending on if you have a little boy or girl.
Book them in advance.
There is the Pirates League for little boys (girls can do this, too, of course), where they get dressed up like a real pirate. We did this and it was an absolute blast. More on that later.
If you have a girl, you must do the Bibbidi-Bobbidi Boutique where you get made up like a princess! My niece is the only girl in the family and she's only 5 months old, so we didn't do it, but it is too cute for words!
After you book your resort you'll have a My Disney Experience username/password. You can use it online to plan out your days and/or download the app. It helps you see everything and has lots of good information on there.
WDW Waits is a great app. It tells you the wait times at each ride in each park. I still have it on my phone and occasionally check it and pretend like I'm still there.
Some websites I found super useful for my planning were:
Okay - so I think that is all of my planning advice. I'll throw in some other tips I learned along the way as I blog the rest of the week!
I may need to reference this myself again in a couple years. I am officially DISNEY OBSESSED.