Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Takeaways: My Tips for Disney World

So what were my lessons learned about Disney World?  I'll try to summarize it here:
  • Because of the 180 day reservation rule, you really need to start planning a Disney World vacation seven to 12 months before you go.  Can you do it with less time? Absolutely, but there are some things you won't be able to do.
  • Figure out how you are going to allocate your time roughly between each of the four parks early on; it can help guide you with deciding where to stay.
  • Don't worry about trying to see it all.  It might take a month to see and do everything. Prioritize what you want to see, and don't be afraid to skip anything in favor of repeating things that you know you'll enjoy.
  • If you live around the Omaha area, consider skipping Animal Kingdom entirely. Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo has much better animal attractions than Disney World, so why spend your time there versus spending times at other attractions that you cannot experience at home?
  • Trying to figure it all out?  Pick up a copy of the Unofficial Guide to Disney World. It has in depth reviews of all of the rides, resorts and restaurants.  It's a huge read, but better than anything else I found.  Their "" companion web site and "Lines" app for your iPhone are great resources for planning your trip. How regimented you allow yourself to be on your trip is up to you, but these sites will give you the best information on what are most popular attractions and how to get to squeeze as much into your trip and minimize the boring waits.
  • When it come time to pick a place to say, pay attention to the transportation options between a resort you are considering and the various places you want to go.  (Hint: you may need to allow an hour or more just to get from point A to point B with Disney transportation.)  It will vary, so choose carefully.
  • You can save money staying at a non-Disney resort, but you'll likely spend even more time dealing with transportation, and you may not be able to get reservations or FastPass reservations for the most popular meals and rides (Cinderella's Royal Table, Frozen, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, etc.) since on-site guests get first crack at those.
  • Like most hotels, Disney resorts list capacity by assuming two people per bed. That may not work for your family, so it's handy to have this list of resorts that have more than two sleeping surfaces in some rooms: Animal Kingdom Lodge & Villas, Art of Animation, Bay Lake Tower, Beach Club, Contemporary, and Grand Floridian.  Some of these are suites that can hold 6 to 9 people.  Disney World does not offer rollaways, so don't expect that as a solution.
  • A really good site with in depth reviews of Disney accomodations is . I'd take all of their conclusions with a huge grain of salt; the author has specific recommendations based on their own itineraries that may - or may not - match your needs.
  • Decide what's important to you: each resort has a different "theme" with different amenities. Do you want a bigger pool?  A more kid-attractive design?  Do you want to be closer to the parks you are going to visit more often? (Pay close attention to that one!)  Do you want to spend as little as possible?  Again, it's your money and your vacation.  You make the decision.
  • Give a Vacation Club rental some consideration.  You can get a better accommodation for less money.  We did, and don't regret it one bit.
  • Apply for the Disney Visa card, even if you have a really good cash-back credit card. Some restaurants and most souveneir stands offer a 10% discount if you use your Disney Visa.  Plus, there are exclusive meet-and-greets (WITH NO LINES) with Disney characters available.
  • Don't get the Disney Dining Plan.
  • That last one may surprise people.  Years ago, the Disney Dining Plan apparently was a good deal for most people.  Now that it's so popular, Disney doesn't feel the need to price it as such, and now it's rarely a good deal for most people.  There are exceptions, especially for folks who would happen to eat exactly as the plan calls for if the plan didn't exist. In researching it, I've found that the majority of people end up spending more with the plan than they would have if they just paid ala carte.  That's especially true if your kids are 10 years old and still prefer kids meals; 10 year olds pay adult prices, even if they are fine with chicken nuggets at each meal.
  • If you see an ad for "Free Dining", look to see what other discounts are available so you know how much you are paying for that "free" dining plan.  (Hint:  it's never free, and still probably not a good deal.  The Mouse usually wins.)
  • Price your trip seperately from park tickets; I bought our tickets from ParkSavers and saved about 10%.
  • Don't be afraid to "Park Hop" especially if you are a first time visitor. Disney offers a new "express transportation" option which takes you directly from one park to another without stopping for security.  We "park hopped" three times on our trip (not using the express option), going to a different park after supper than we started the day at.  It's reassuring for a first time visitor to be able to switch parks if you find that your plans aren't working out for you that day.  
  • If you can be at the park when it opens (commonly referred to as "rope drop"), you'll probably be able to cram in an afternoon's worth of fun into the first hour the park is opened.
  • Making it to "rope drop" can be a challenge when you stayed up late the night before watching fireworks.  So try to pace yourself and remember, you aren't able to see everything.  Set your priorities.
  • To get moving early in the morning, consider eating breakfast in your room as you get ready.  Pop-tarts and breakfast bars can be quick breakfasts.
  • Grocery delivery to your Disney resort is a great way to save time and money versus buying breakfast at the Disney counter service locations.  Garden Grocer is the longtime standard, but Publix now offers delivery via Instacart.  The Instacart/Publix solution has MUCH better prices and selection than Garden Grocer.  Some people like Amazon Prime, but that won't help you with perishables like milk, juice and fruit.
  • I hate buying bottled water, as I consider it wasteful. But Orlando's city water tastes and smells awful due to it's high sulfur content.  It's safe to drink, but you might consider buying water with your grocery delivery.  Some people also prefer to use the flavoring concentrates or packets to hide the taste.
  • If you are taking a week or more for your trip, some people suggest taking "rest days" where you don't go to a park.  But with Fastpasses and the relatively low cost of adding days to your park ticket, I think "rest days" are wastes of time.  Instead, plan for lighter days.  Sleep in, grab some Fastpasses for late morning/early afternoon, then head back to your room for pool time and an early bedtime.  This is also a great way to get FastPasses for both Soarin' and Frozen by turning Epcot into two half-days on your schedule.
  • If you don't have the dining plan and are heading back to your resort in the late afternoon, order in supper via restaurant delivery from outside the World.  Yelp is a great source of finding restaurants that deliver.  Here's a list that I had:  Giordano's and UNO for delicious Chicago-style pizza, Chevy's for Tex-Mex, Chili's and Bahama Breeze for burgers and traditional casual dining.  It'll cost you less and the food will certainly be better than what Disney has to offer.
  • If your kids want to see the Disney characters, your best bet can be a character meal. It'll cost you dearly in terms of time (90 minutes) and money, but you (a) have to eat at some point and (b) you'd spend all that time (and then some) waiting in line for a meet-and-greet anyway.  I didn't notice a big different in terms of character interactions at any of our character meals, but I did notice a difference in food quality.  (Tusker House dinner is awful.)  Check the menus before booking.  A lot of people like character breakfasts, but the morning is also the best time to check out the rides before the lines get ridiculously long.
  • It's expensive, but you might want to pay for Disney's PhotoPass before you head to Orlando.  (You save $20 if you buy it three days before you arrive.) Disney photographers are available everywhere to take your picture, and you'll get amazing pictures you won't get any other way (like the above picture from Seven Dwarfs Mine Train).  Yes, you can take selfies, but these are better...and who wants to spend their vacation staring at a phone screen?
  • While you are waiting in line for an attraction, use the Lines app to gauge what attractions you might do next; it'll show you both Disney's announced wait times as well as what their metrics actually predict.  It'll even suggest whether you are better off waiting or not.
  • Your phone battery probably won't survive the day at Disney.  Bring along portable batteries and charging cables so you can give your phone a boost during the day. That might also mean you need extra chargers at night to recharge everything. Disney hotel rooms do not have alarm clocks, so plan to charge your phone on the nightstand next to the bed.
But did we have a good time?  The kids had a blast; in fact, my son asked me when we could go back as the bus pulled away from Disney World.  So we'll probably go back in a couple of years, though this time, probably split with a four day Disney Cruise, leaving from Port Canaveral, which is about an hour east of Orlando.

The Disney World Trip Report

  1. Planning a Disney World trip
  2. Where to stay at Disney World
  3. Waiting in Line at Disney World
  4. The Magic Kingdom
  5. My Takeaways & Tips for Disney World

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