Aug 4, 2009

Disney Vacation Tips - Part 2

Today I'm finishing up my post of Disney tips! Again, feel free to jump in and leave your own tips in the comments section!

5. Bring a backpack! At first, I was a little skeptical of Jason wanting to lug around a backpack all day in the hot weather. But looking around at everyone else in the parks, we definitely would have been in the minority if we DIDN'T have a backpack! The best things we put in there were water bottles. Easy access at any time of the day to water we didn't have to pay for! We also carried around these awesome little creations which Jason found for everyone at Wal-Mart before we left:

They're little fans attached to a water bottle so you can spray yourself down and cool off at any time! He also found a fun, handheld version for Camryn which she loved having to fan herself. We also carried snacks in case anyone needed something before a meal or snack break, sunscreen, wipes, ponchos, chapstick, hand sanitizer, a travel first aid kit, and a small medicine holder with some basic meds (Advil, Immodium, and Tums). Your bag will always be opened and checked as you enter each park, so just don't bring anything questionable!

6. Bring a poncho. Just go ahead and invest in one and have it with you. You can always expect a little shower at some point in the Florida summer weather.

7. Since I covered the Disney Dining Plan in the last post, I'll throw out some money saving tips as well. There are lots of way to save on food at Disney. You can always bring a picnic lunch and snacks into the park. Just remember your bag will be checked as you enter the park, and you'll have to carry the food around all day. I've been told about a couple who buys a double cheeseburger at quick service places in the park, pays an extra 20 cents for another bun and makes another hamburger out of the extra patty. This couple also invests in the refillable mugs which you can refill throughout your stay with soft drinks, coffee, or tea at most of the resorts to your heart's content. There are only a select few places in the parks that allow free refills with your mug. We packed breakfast foods for each morning and refilled our cooler with ice each night to have breakfast in our room - breakfast bars, cereal, muffins, OJ, etc. We found this easier than trying to be ready in time to go downstairs and deal with big crowds during breakfast, plus make it to the park by the time we wanted to each morning. All of this to say - you don't have to do the dining plan. There are ways to cut corners on food; it just takes a little extra work! If you search online, there are tons of tips out there for how to save money on food.

8. Park Hoppers - I could go either way on this. Park Hoppers allow you to enter and reenter all four parks on the Disney property as often as you wish during your stay. You would buy a Park Hopper in place of individual park tickets for specific days of the week. Buying individual tickets is not so bad, though, in my opinion - even thought we had a PH, we planned to do one park each day and found more than enough to keep up busy for the entire day. Our PH did come in handy, though, on the last day, which we designated as our free day. We knew we wanted one day to go back to any park or parks we wanted to revisit, and the PH allowed us the freedom to do that. I personally would not recommend park hopping all over the place each day. You waste too much of your time waiting for buses and traveling. However, if you want to spend one full day at one park and then head over to another one for dinner or a fireworks show, it's completely worth it.

9. Get a good stroller if you're taking kids. Although you can rent one of Disney's strollers, we found it easier to have our own rather than paying a daily rental fee plus having to put up with the hassle of getting one each morning and returning it each evening. Get a good lightweight stroller with decent storage for water bottles, souvenirs, etc. However, be forewarned - you don't want to load your stroller down with tons of souvenirs for two reasons: 1) you have to leave your stroller parked outside of most rides (there is always a huge sea of strollers outside of each attraction!) Although we didn't have any problems with people messing with our stuff, you don't want to buy that big, expensive item only to have it stolen or accidentally taken by someone who mistakes your stroller for their own. 2) When you're boarding buses, trains, and monorails, you need to be able to quickly fold your stroller and hold it at your feet or in your lap. If you are bogged down with the stuff you've stored in your stroller, you are also going to have to find a place for all of those things in your lap plus your kids! Disney transportation can get crowded and your kids often end up on your lap along with everything else you own!

10. Speaking of souvenirs, take advantage of this neat Disney perk: Walt Disney World Resort hotel guests can have packages or souvenirs purchased throughout the resort and parks delivered to their hotel! No lugging around your souvenirs all day long! Simply have them sent back to your hotel for you.

11. Pick the right time of the year. I know most families have no other choice but to go in the summertime. Just be prepared that it will be HOT, it will be crowded, and you will have to wait in lines. If your schedule is flexible enough that you can go during an off season, do it! The weather will be nicer, the rates will be cheaper, and you will find the crowds are much more manageable. We have friends who went last January, and she told me they walked right on and off rides. Sounds a whole lot better than a hour and 45 minute wait for a Nemo show, huh? :)

12. If you plan to participate in the Disney Dining Plan, it is an absolute MUST that you make Advanced Dining Reservations. If you have a Dining Plan, Disney allows you to make dining reservations up to 90 days before the first day of your trip. Yes, this does mean you have to research and plan in advance, but if you don't, you simply will not get to eat at the most popular places if you are going during peak season. You just won't. Reservations for character dining experiences and special seating for fireworks shows go like greased lightening, so decide where you want to eat and make your reservations as soon as possible. Our trip began July 19, so by April 17 I had emailed our travel agent our preferred restaurants and dining times so she would be ready to make our reservations on April 20 (the 90th day out). Perfect example: Our reservations for the 50's Prime Time Cafe were around 6:05 pm. When we waiting to enter the restaurant at 5:45 pm, there were two ladies in front of us trying to get in without reservations. The hostess told them the next open time she had on the schedule was for 9:00 pm! They were shocked, because they had tried to get in the day before and were told the same thing. You MUST have dining reservations if you want to be able to eat at your first choice restaurants! Quick service places do not take/require advanced reservations.

13. Consider a travel agent. This is not a must, but it sure made our lives easier. We used Small World Vacations, and they were great. Again, I was a little skeptical when Jason wanted to go through a travel agent, because I was convinced we would end up paying more that way. So, once we got booked and had our final quote from the travel agent, because I'm hardheaded, I actually called the Disney reservation line myself and asked for a quote for the exact vacation our travel agent planned for us. Turns out, there was only about a $40 difference in what the travel agent booked for us and what Disney quoted us directly (and although I don't recall 100%, I think the travel agent's quote was actually less)! Plus, our travel agent handled all our dining reservations for us once I emailed her what we wanted without one of us having to spend long amounts of time on the phone with Disney trying to make them ourselves. Additionally, when Disney extended their stay 4 nights, get 3 nights free deal to include the dates we were going, our travel agent was right on top of it, worked the deal into our package, and sent us an email letting us know she was saving each family around $200!

14. Have a daily plan. And, if you are going during peak season, then for goodness sakes, have a daily plan! Every night, the adults (minus me sometimes, since I was often on Camryn duty!) would sit down with the park map, the show schedule, and even the Birnbaum's book and decide what the plan would be for the next day. We determined what we wanted to ride, what we wanted to see, and what order we planned to do everything in. That allowed us to do things like get Fastpasses for the more popular rides, see shows at certain times, know when/where we would break for lunch, and fit everything into our day! Don't be that family who is standing around in the middle of the park looking at the map and trying to get everyone to agree on where you should go next. You'll end up standing in longer lines, will likely end up backtracking, and will have a harder time fitting everything in that you want to accomplish.

15. GO LEFT! That was our running joke the whole week, but a tip that worked for us. When you are entering the parks, start by doing the attractions/rides on the left side of the park. Most people gravitate to the right, so you find longer lines and crowds at those rides. If there are two lines, choose the left one. When you are going through the turnstiles to enter the park, find the leftmost one that is open and head for that one. GO LEFT and you'll move faster!

Well, that's it! That's all of the Disney wisdom I have to impart! Again, anyone is welcomed to add other tips and words of wisdom you may have! Although incredibly LONG, I hope this has been helpful!


Brandy said...

Thanks for all the good advice Heather! I can't wait to take Madilyn when she grows up.