January 6, 2009

Disney 101

Hi friends :o)

I have had SO many people ask me for Disney tips that I am going to put a link under "Sites to See" of this post that I did awhile back. Keep in mind that I wrote the post with a specific family in mind, and I will gladly help with any specific ages, etc. if you need me to. Email me at ashley61985@gmail.com if you need my help! I'm also going to include some emails I recently wrote to a few families. So if you or someone you know needs Disney advice, direct them there and/or email me. Obvious note: I'm NOT an expert, I've just been often. There are people out there that know psychotically much more than me. I just give my best advice to anyone who asks!

Here are some recent emails I've written (remember, they are family-specific and can/should be altered).

Email with 3-year-old girl in mind:
I have a lot of people ask me for Disney help, and since every person's kids are a different age, I just write a new email every time :o) So since this isn't a "generic" pre-written email, it may be a little random as thoughts come to me. But here goes!

-My first thought: You are SMART to go in January!!!! (Off season!) This will make your experience so much better!

-Best websites:
www.mousesavers.com (Discounts and tips on saving some money)
www.allears.net (Great info for researching, advice, and planning)

-My favorite planning book is The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, by by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa. They are so thorough, and cover every imaginable topic. I have been to Disney MANY times, but when my husband and I recently went, I read this to refresh my memory and get some new knowledge. They even include touring plans that make the most of your time and cut out so much waiting time....worth the whole book! I seriously recommend that you buy this and read it!!!!!!!!!!!

-I don't know where you are planning on staying. My family has stayed on Disney property and off, and there are pros and cons to each. However, with a 3 year old (what a FUN age!), I would probably recommend staying on property, purely for convenience. Getting to and from the parks are easier, etc.

-I don't know if you are planning on "park hopping", doing one park per day, or just sticking to Magic Kingdom. If you're going to be at Disney for several days or so, it's wise to get a Park Hopper ticket. Especially with a 3 year old, you'll want freedom to go back and forth to different parks in the course of one day. For instance, if Bailee HATES Animal Kingdom (just a random example), you can always high-tail it back to Magic Kingdom (which she is garaunteed to LOVE).

-Speaking of the different parks, I'm not sure how much you know. I will abbreviate to make things easier:
MK-Magic Kingdom
AK-Animal Kingdom
DHS-Disney Hollywood Studios (used to be MGM)

-Magic Kingdom is going to be your home base with Bailee at her age and based on her likes right now (Princesses and Minnie Mouse are in abundance!). You know her better than anyone else, but a special thing that you can do is Bippity Boppity Boutique, which does makeovers on little girls....precious! They have different price tiers, I believe. But you do need to make a reservation for that. Also, a Princess character dining experience is a must. Here is a website to check out: http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/wdw/experience/expListing?id=CharacterExpListingPage

I personally think that you HAVE to dine in Cinderella's castle for at least one meal. Even if you can't get into a character dining experience (you definitely won't have a problem 180 days out, though), eat there for dinner. It's worth the money, trust me. Just to experience dining in the castle is awesome. And even if it's not a full character experience, if you eat there for dinner, the price includes a picture package with Cinderella. Note: you have to pay in full for this at the time of booking. Obviously, I think you should try to get in for a Princess breakfast or lunch first....Bailee will flip out! Here's the website:

You really can't go wrong in MK. Seriously, everything will be awesome for her. The one ride I would avoid would be Snow White's Scary Adventures....I still don't go on it. There's a lot of emphasis on the Witch for some reason, and she pops out at scary times, and it terrifies kids. Trust me, you're not missing out on anything by skipping this ride. If you need a break and need to sit and rest, visit Country Bear Jamboree and Hall of Presidents. They are in climate controlled buildings, and offer pretty comfy seating. Good place to regroup!

DO NOT MISS PhilharMagic!!! It's a 3-D show that will tickle all of you to death....it's so awesome. That's the best attraction in MK. Carousel of Progress can be skipped if you and your husband aren't interested. Visually, Bailee may find it interesting, but she will most likely be bored by it.

Take advantage of Fastpass when you can. The book does a good job of explaining this. The main ride that has long lines is Peter Pan's Flight, so get a Fastpass for this. If you're not familiar, Fastpass is a voucher that allows you to come back at a certain time and bypass the line. You can only use one set of Fastpasses at a time (meaning you can't hold Fastpasses for more than one ride at a time). It's awesome!

-I love eating at Pinnochio Village Haus for fast counter-service food. You can sit and watch people going on the "Small World" ride. It's fun! Always try to eat at "off" times....early lunch, early dinner, you get the idea.

-General note: if you want to eat at any specialty restaurants that aren't fast food, MAKE RESERVATIONS!!!!! This will save you time and headaches. Just pick a few by browsing the website that you think Bailee would enjoy and book them. You will thank yourself. This goes for any park.

-I'm not as familiar with AK, but I know that kids tend to enjoy the "zoo-like" feel. They have a safari that's fun, and some good shows, like Lion King and Finding Nemo.

-Epcot is going to be the park that Bailee likes the least (at least that's my prediction). They have a few kid-oriented rides, but honestly, you won't want to spend a lot of time at this park. Walking around World Showcase can be interesting, but with a 3 year old, you have to make that call. Do your research on that park and pick and choose a few things to do, but I would spend your time in other parks. That's just my opinion though!

-DHS is fun, because it has Playhouse Disney stuff, a Little Mermaid show, and a Beauty and the Beast show. There are also roller coasters for you and your husband, if you're interested. Speaking of, Disney has a parent switch program that allows you all to wait in line, but the parents get to switch off so one can ride while the other waits with Bailee. Just FYI!

-In general, going with a little 3 year old girl that loves Princesses and Disney in general is going to be such a wonderful experience. Do your research on the weather....Florida can be unpredictable, and you need to be prepared for many climate changes. I definitely think you should read the book I mentioned above and definitely make dining reservations. Top priority would be getting a Princess Dining reservation....that will truly be priceless. Let me know if I can help with anything specific---just email me questions as you think of them! Hope I've helped a little!

Ashley L :o)

Email with 7-year-old boy in mind:

-First of all, two websites you need to look at: www.mousesavers.com and www.allears.net . All Ears is good because it has a ton of information that's pretty easy to sort through. Mousesavers is more discount oriented, but it's good to take a glance and see what's out there.

-Since you're staying at the All Star Sports resort, renting a car isn't absolutely necessary. They will offer shuttle service to the parks, etc. Obviously, they will not offer service to Sea World, and you're at the mercy of their schedule. Disney transportation is generally pretty good. However, when my family went back in 2004, we stayed at a hotel (not on Disney property) that offered shuttle service and really disliked it. We liked the freedom to drive our own car to the parks. You need to figure out how you're going to get from the airport to the hotel, and how you'll get to Sea World if you decide to go. You might be able to get away with renting a car for just a day (I'm not sure about this?) in order to go to Sea World, and use Disney transportation to go to the parks. Here is the Disney transportation link: (keep in mind you might have to make reservations in the next few days)

-Okay, so you'll get to your hotel around 2:30 on the 13th. Have you bought your tickets? If so, how many days are they for, and are they Park Hopper? This will affect planning. If you haven't bought them yet, we used www.undercovertourist.com, which offers discounted park tickets (but it's legit...our tickets worked perfectly!). I just looked at the website and it looks like you could save about $14 off the gate price for a 5 day Park Hopper ticket. Here's the link:
I would hurry and buy your tickets. The website outlines its shipping policy, and I think if you were to order them today, they would ship them tomorrow or Wednesday. If in doubt, you could pay for quicker shipping. I think this is worth the money to avoid standing in long ticket lines the morning of your first park visit. You'll just have them in hand! Let me know if you have questions about this.

-I'm not going to count the 13th as a park day. Honestly, here's what I would do. I would get there, get settled in, look around the resort, rest, and if you want something to do, go explore Downtown Disney. It's free to get in, and it's a great shopping district with some fun stores. This is where you could do your souvenir shopping. They have the largest Disney store there in Downtown Disney. I wouldn't try to cram a park into the 13th. You'll be too tired, and you need to save your energy for the next few days.

-As far as parks go, I think you should visit all 4 (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Studios, and Animal Kingdom). My family doesn't go to Animal Kingdom, but it's because we're just older and aren't huge zoo people. Animal Kingdom is great, I've been there one time, and if Cole would like it, you should go. You need to look at Disney's website and see if AK is something Cole would like. More on that later. You can basically do a park a day, but there are ways to mix it up. For instance, my family doesn't go to AK. We do MK, Studios, and Epcot for 3 days, and then do a "recap" day where we park hop and repeat things we want to do. Kurt and I recently did this as well, but we ended up park hopping almost every day. Trust me, you'll want that option.

-You're going during low season (yay!). Pack carefully. You do not want anything that would remotely get uncomfortable. I wore tennis shoes every day. No denim---it will rub your legs too much (in my opinion). Pack for different weather options. There was one day when Kurt and I had to go back to the hotel and layer on more clothes...it was just a fluke that day, but I'm really glad we brought something just in case! Check www.weatherchannel.com and just give yourself options.

-Take a backpack (no purses, etc). We kept our cameras, lightweight jackets, a few snacks, umbrella, and ponchos (just in case) in there. Just keep things in one place. Shan should carry his wallet in his front pocket (not in the backpack and not in his back pocket). Keep your tickets and fastpasses in his wallet so he can easily whip it out when you need it.

-As far as parks go, here's the general rule of thumb: You need to be at the gates about 20-30 minutes before the park actually opens, so plan accordingly. There is always at least one or two rides per park that people will flock to. GO TO THESE RIDES FIRST.
MK: Space Mountain Roller Coaster
Studios: Aerosmith Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, but most of all Toy Story Midway Mania (our FAVORITE!)
Epcot: Soarin'
Animal Kingdom: I would assume Expedition Everest Roller Coaster

Here's what you need to do. When the parks open, immediately go to the most popular ride. You need to briskly walk, do not sightsee. More than likely, you'll get right on the ride or you'll barely have to wait. After you ride the ride, you can either ride it again (depending on the line) and/or get a Fastpass for a little later. A Fastpass is awesome. You insert your ticket, and a little voucher will pop out, telling you when to return to the ride to bypass the line. The one catch: you can only use one set of fastpasses at a time. Meaning you can't have a set of fastpasses for one ride and get another set for another ride. Make sense? I'm telling you, the popular rides are insane.

MK: Magic Kingdom is Fantasy based. It's more kiddie rides, but they're still fun. Peter Pan's Flight always has a long wait...I'd get fastpasses. Disney's PhilharMagic is awesome...it's a 3-D show and the wait is hardly ever long. Thunder Mountain Railroad is fun, Cole will like it. Unless you want to get wet, don't do Splash Mountain.

Studios: Toy Story Midway Mania is insane at Studios. Kurt and I were blown away. You need to ride that immediately first thing, get a set of fastpasses, then run to Aerosmith and Tower of Terror (they're right next to each other). Obviously, read up on these rides and make sure you think Cole can handle it. They can be stomach-turners! Studios is a pretty easy park to manage. It's smaller than the others, and you should be able to make good use out of fastpasses. Do NOT miss Fantasmic--the show at the end of the night! It's so awesome. People start lining up pretty early....I would ask and see what they recommend on that particular day. My guess is that you could get there 30-45 minutes early and be fine. Sounds excessive, but you don't want to miss seats to this show!

Epcot: This park is more educational-based, but it's still enjoyable. There's a lot of walking at this park. I would immediately go to Soarin' first thing and ride and/or get fastpasses. I think Cole will really like this ride (you and Shan too!). Mission Space is an intense ride, and if any of you are prone to motion sickness, don't do it! They have a mild version and Kurt did it and was fine. Just something to look into! Do everything in the front part of the park (Futureworld) first. World Showcase is in the back part of the park, and you can really look at that at your leisure. There are a few rides/shows in some paviliions, but it's mainly fun just to look at what other countries would look and feel like. This would probably be the park that Cole will be the least interested in. But you still need to go!

Animal Kingdom: I'm really no help on this one! I know they have a safari, where you drive through and see animals on some really pretty land. I've also heard the Nemo and Lion King shows are great. Expedition Everest is apparently a great roller coaster. I would suggest you do that first and get a round of fastpasses if you want to do it again. Sorry I'm not an AK expert!

-As far as food goes, we've never done the meal plan, but I've heard it's pretty user friendly. However: you REALLY REALLY need to make advanced reservations for any restaurant you're wanting to eat in, unless it's quick service. Here's what you need to do: Map out what days you ideally want to be in what park (ex: Sunday, Magic Kingdom, Monday, Epcot, Tuesday, Studios, Thursday, AK) and then pick one (maybe two) meals per day that you want to eat at a special place. Lunch is sometimes cheaper, but we always eat dinner in restaurants. You also will get the most out of your dining plan if you eat at sit-down places. Here are some good ones:

MK: Cinderella's Castle (might be hard to get into, but have them try to search all the days of your vacation and you might get in), Tony's has good Italian food

Studios: 50s Prime Time is a lot of fun, and Sci-Fi Drive In has a great environment.

Epcot: My daddy's favorite Mexican food ever is at the Mexico pavilion! (San Angel Inn). It's great food, and an awesome environment.

Ak: No clue! Sorry!

Call 1-407-WDW-DINE to make reservations. They're very nice. Just go day by day and see what they have available in the restaurant you want. You might have your meal at a weird time, but that's ok. Kurt and I had dinner at 4:30 one time! The environment is worth it. It is SMART to make reservations, trust me. So many people don't get to eat in fun places because they didn't plan ahead. This is my big tip!!!!! But I would call in the next day or two.

As far as character dining, every park should have at least one option. For character dining, it's sometimes a good idea to go to a hotel because the crowds tend to be less and there's more room (not as crowded). However, it's convenient to go somewhere within the park. Here's a website:

That's all I have time for now....please read over this and let me know if you have other questions. I will have internet access the whole time I'm gone, so don't worry about contacting me...I'll write back and give you tips! I hope this helps :o)

xo, Ashley L.

Happy Disney Vacation!

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JanMary said...

Great advice. Brought back some memories of our trip 3 years ago in January '06.

We are going to Disneyland Paris for the first time next month, and staying IN A DISNEY HOTEL - we usually self cater, no matter where we holiday, so kids are almost as excited about that.

Blogged a couple of days ago about how we told them about this surprise trip.

I would love to have gone to Disney enough to be an expert!!!

Katrice said...

This, my friend, would be so much easier for me if you just did it for me and told me when to show up and how much to pay....
Sad...I have an education, consider myself smart enough and how overwhelming all of this sounds. I'm just not a PLANNER of trips...so much easier to just show up. I guess this intimidates me!

Ashley said...

I'm sorry it's intimidating :o/ My main reason for doing this was to get the info I've typed all in one place. In my opinion, Disney is only enjoyable if you do your research and PLAN beforehand. Some people are wired to do this (me) and some people just want to show up (you)! But I'm here to answer questions if people need it. Don't stress though...it's doable!

Tiffany said...

Wow! Thanks for the tips! I'll be comming back when we do decided on taking the kids!

Becky said...

This is great! I never would have found you, but last night, I did a post asking for pointers for our possible trip in May and a reader directed me to you!

Thank you - I will be checking back (bookmarking this)! It sounds like there is so much to do that it might get a little overwhelming if your adventures are not thought about and planned (to some degree at least) in advance.

Becky said...

btw...since I just discovered your site, I wanted to tell you congrats on your new addition to be! How exciting.

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