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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Top Ten Tips for Walt Disney World

Though going to Disney World twice doesn't make me an expert on "all things Disney", I thought I would share with you some tips that have helped our family. If you have any tips, I would love to hear them, too....just in case I get the opportunity to go back some day!
1. EXTRA COSTS
Be aware of extra costs that can add up during your trip to Disney World. Parking at Christmas time was $14/day. Storage lockers can be rented for $12/day, but after returning the key you can get $5.00 back. Most airlines charge for checked bags, so look up the prices online before you head to the airport.
During the year before our Disney trip, our children put any money they received in an envelope with their name on it.  Little by little that money added up, so that when it was time for the trip, each of them had saved up quite a bit of cash to take on their trip.  They were allowed to spend their money on souvenirs and on gifts for others.  The youngest needed a little guidance in spending his, but not much.  In fact, he came back with half of the cash he had taken!  I would have thought he would want to spend it all, but he didn't.
Santa helped the kids with their money, too.  He left gift cards to Disney in their stockings.  This made it possible for all of them to return with some of their saved cash.

I mentioned before that on saving money for our trip we saved change.  Little bits and bits of change can add up quickly into money for your trip! 
Other extra cost things would be:  Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique where little girls get a princess makeover.  See the Disney website for costs and for information about booking a makeover.  Last time I looked the prices ranged from $50 to $250.  There is also a dress-up plan for boys.  They are made into pirates and other characters.  Lots of fun for little ones, I'm sure!

2. FOOD AND BEVERAGES
Guest staying at a Disney resort can buy a dining plan, which is customizable to meet your families' needs.  For others who are staying off-park, food costs can add up quickly.  I mentioned in yesterday's post that we took sandwiches to the park every day.  Some days we would eat them early and some days we would eat them late, but either way, it saved lots of money by taking them.  We also took snacks and water.  I'm pretty sure that any soft drinks or juices in plastic/paper containers are okay - just not glass or metal.  Your food and water can be stored in the locker - ready and available at any time. 

While we were at Disney World, there was a promotion going on where some restaurants had 30% off during certain hours of the day.  We planned many meals around that schedule to get the discount.  Also, some of the restaurants would give receipts with 20% off of merchandise at certain stores during morning hours.  We took advantage of that savings, as well.  Disney doesn't offer deals like that often!  And one more tip: some restaurants in the parks allowed free drink refills when keeping that paper cup.  We did that a few times because options included lemonade and Gatorade-type drinks.
3.  CHARACTER MEALS
Character meals are not cheap, but they are worth the money.  We have done character meals at Chef Mickey's (Mickey and friends), the Crystal Palace (Winnie the Pooh and friends), and Cinderella's Royal Table (6 Disney princesses).  If doing character meals, be sure to book early.  Reservations can be taken 180 days before the desired date.  The character meals often include a portrait package (Cinderella's Royal Table) with the meal.  The characters also come to your table,  so your children can get autographs there instead of waiting in long lines at the parks.  You can also take pictures using your own camera at the character meals.  At Chef Mickey's the portrait package is separate from the meal price, but the picture comes in a special folder.  The cost is somewhere around $25.00.

4.  DON'T SKIP THE SHOWS
Of course the rides at the Disney World parks are lots and lots of fun, but be sure to take time to see the shows, too.  You will not be disappointed in any of them, plus it gives you an opportunity to rest your tired legs!  I wish I had worn a pedometer because I'm certain we walked 10 - 12 miles each day we went to the parks! 
 Our favorite shows are "Nemo" at Animal Kingdom and "Beauty and the Beast" at Hollywood Studios. There are also stunt shows, magnificent parades, and random entertainment at various times. One of the funniest things was a mime show in the Italy section of Epcot. It was just two guys performing on the street and everyone gathered around to watch. Very entertaining!
5. PACKING FOR THE TRIP
If you are renting a house or condo with a washer and dryer, only pack a few sets of clothes per person rather than lots and lots of clothes.  This cuts down on packing and utilizes the appliances you've already paid for.  Also, even though you'll be wearing the same things over and over, you won't be seeing anyone you know at the parks, most likely, so no one will know....and I'll never tell!

Also remember that if you are planning to purchase souvenir t-shirts, that will count as one of your outfits.  There's no need to pack too much. 

Our first trip we actually mailed a box of clothes in advance.  It was easier because our four children were younger and not able to take care of their own luggage, plus we were having a family wedding the weekend we were leaving and it was easier to get it done in advance.
This trip we didn't mail clothing in advance, but did mail some food and the Christmas decorations I mentioned in yesterday's post.  Of course, nothing would have to be mailed at all.  It just depends on your particular needs.

6.  BE PREPARED FOR THE SEASON
During our summer 2008 trip, it rained every afternoon at Disney World. We bought cheap plastic ponchos and used them daily, but the only problem was that they began to sour in the hot, humid air. This time we didn't get ponchos in advance because of it being winter. We didn't need them. Of course you can purchase ponchos at Disney World, but you'll be paying quite a bit extra for them. I did notice that Target near Disney World had some that were Disney themed. They weren't the cheapest like we used before, but they weren't too high, either. They might not sour as soon, either, which is a huge plus!

7.  DRESS ALIKE
For our days at each of the parks, we planned to dress alike for our Christmas vacation trip and our 2008 trip.  There are several reasons we do this:  #1:  Spotting family members is a lot easier when everyone is dressed in the same colors or styles.  (The goofy hats you may have seen in the pictures above made our kiddos pretty visible, too!) #2:  Packing is also a whole lot easier when all packing so much of the same thing.  You can decide one thing to wear and everyone else just follows suit for that particular day! #3 And my favorite reason is that when everyone matches, then everyone coordinates for family pictures!  I took almost 2,000 pictures, so the picture-taking is important to me!
My sister made our family matching Mickey head t-shirts for Christmas.  I can't tell you how many compliments we had on those shirts.  She could sell them!  My husband almost sold his and would have if the price had been right (just kidding!).  We saw family groups with matching tees that were so cute.  Also, at Downtown Disney, there is a Design-a-Tee store where you can design your own t-shirt.  Prices range from around $17.00 to $35.00.  Shirts are ready in about an hour.  Our children did shirts of their own, which was a lot of fun.  I saw several family groups that had made matching shirts at that store.  They would say "________ Family Christmas" and then "Disney World 2010".  Very fun!

7.  GET UP EARLY OR STAY LATE
During peak seasons, get to the parks early.  On Christmas Day, we arrived at the park at 6:30 a.m.  We were riding rides at 7:00 a.m. and by 8:00 a.m. had ridden several rides multiple times.  It was so neat being able to take pictures of Cinderella's Castle with NO ONE around!  Many resort guests go early and stay late.  Disney offers extra magic hours for their resort guests, which is a benefit of staying at the resorts versus renting a home or condo.
If you would rather, go to the parks late. Many of the rides may be less crowded later on, but be aware that the more popular rides may still be long. There is a fast pass option where rides can be booked for later on in the day, but for the most popular rides those ride times can be taken up before noon.
During times such as Christmas, there is always the possibility that the parks will close because of their full capacity.  This happened to us on our last day to go to Magic Kingdom.  When we got there, we were told it was closed.  I was really, really disappointed knowing it was our last day.  They encouraged us to go to Epcot and even gave us a free parking ticket, but since we didn't buy a Park Hopper option that would allow us to go to more than one park a day, we didn't go into Epcot.  Instead, we hopped on the Disney buses and went looking at Disney resort hotels - just for fun!  That was kind of neat and lasted a few hours.  Finally, Magic Kingdom opened back up and we were on our way to enjoy our last day at Disney World.

8.  STAY LONGER
During both of our trips to Disney World, we've stayed 10 nights.  The first trip we went to the parks for 7 days, but this time we went 8 days.  At first my husband got tickets for only 7 days, but added another day when we got there.  Now, for six of us....how much do you think that 8th day cost us????  ONLY $30!!!  FOR ALL SIX OF US! Yes, one more day at a Disney park for only $30 dollars total. So, even though it will cost a little more to stay longer, it really isn't that bad at all, and the time spent getting lots and lots of time at each of the park, is well worth it.

9.  COMPARE FLIGHTS
When booking flights, begin checking early.  I'm pretty sure that flights can't be booked until it's 300 days until your trip, but begin then by looking at prices.  One thing that I've found is that sometimes it's cheaper to purchase one way tickets instead of booking round trip flights.  That's how I've booked both of our trips, anyway.

I only made one mistake in our flight schedule but it was a big mistake.  A month before our trip, I received an email from Expedia telling of a flight time change.  As I looked, I noticed that it said for the airport:  Dallas.  The DFW airport says DFW, so I looked further.  I had us leaving out of DFW, but returning to Dallas Love Field - two airports.....several miles apart!!  OH, NO!  What to do? What to do?

My husband called Expedia, but it would have been $150 per person to change the flight - too much for us to want to pay.  A shuttle from Love to DFW would have been $85.  Not too bad, but still money that didn't need to be spent.

Well it just so happened that one of my husband's brothers and his wife moved to Plano this past summer, which isn't too far from DFW airport. We asked if they were going to be around during our trip and they were.  They drove us to the airport, kept our Expedition, then parked it at the other airport the day we were going to return!  Cost?  $11.00.  A much, much better plan and a mistake that actually saved us money.  I like that!  I'll have to remember that mistake :).

10.  BE FLEXIBLE
This tip may very well be the best bit of advice I can give you.  You must be flexible in your planning.  You may spend hours and hours planning and charting your course, only to find that something has to be changed when you arrive at Disney World.  Maybe your plan is to get to Magic Kingdom at 8:00 a.m. and stay until after the fireworks show, which begins at 10:00 p.m.  That makes for a very, very long day.  It's likely if you have young children that they will be really tired by the end of that long day.  It's even worse if it's hot and humid.  It drains you.

Instead of staying all day, maybe it would be better to leave for a few hours in the afternoon.  I've heard that many resort guests do take afternoon breaks.  Maybe instead of going early, you sleep later one morning and eat a big breakfast before heading out to the park around noon.  Sometimes that extra rest is much-needed by everyone.  Disney World is a vacation, but it's crammed-full-of-activity-vacation, so you'll be tired.  In fact, I would like a Christmas break this week to recuperate from our trip last week (it's not gonna happen, though!).
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So there you are.  My "Top Ten Tips for Disney World."  Please let me know of any tips you might have.  Also, if you would like more information about Disney World - with a lot more insight than I can give, please visit my husband's cousin's blog:  Dad's Guide to WDW.

A friend passed along another great website where you pay a minimal fee to get lots of help for Disney vacations:  http://www.tourguidemike.com/

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Awesome were newbies. And I like people's advice as opposed to WDW advice

 
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