Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Disney World Recap in Words

We've been talking about a Disney World trip for about 2 years, and finally decided that this was the year!

I began my planning by re-reading La Yen's guide to How to Take Your Family to Disney World and Not Kill Yourself.  This was far more helpful than most of the ridiculous advice I found online.

Here is a rundown of the good, the bad, and what I would do differently.

We chose to buy a package deal which included the hotel (on-site), park tickets, and most of our food.  I LOVED this because it was all paid in advance, and mostly because I didn't freak out every time one of my kids wanted a $4 popsicle.  I thought the price was totally reasonable (aka cheaper than expected) for the entire deal.  We stayed at a "Value" resort: All-Star Movies, and it was totally fine.  Not luxurious, but very clean and spacious enough for all 4 of us.

The Best Parts of Disney World:
  • Everything was CLEAN.  The parks, the hotel grounds, the pools, the rooms, the buses - CLEAN. 
  • There were bathrooms everywhere.  Good when you have 2 kids with questionable bladder capacity.  
  • I loved not having to drive all over the place.  The bus system makes it easy to get in & out of the parks. 
  • The meal plan.  We bought the plan which included 1 Quick Service meal, 1 Table Service meal & 1 snack for each day at the hotel. They could be used all over the hotels & parks, so there was no need to search out a certain restaurant or dish.  This was also great for me because I didn't have to worry about how much we were spending per meal, and I didn't get irritated when the kids wanted a snack or to each get their own meal.  I have no idea if we actually "saved" money by buying the plan, but it took away a lot of stress for me, and that was invaluable.  This also allowed us to do some fun things like Character meals without worrying about the cost..... because I would NEVER pay $100 for my family of 4 to eat at a buffet - even if Mickey, Donald, Daisy & Goofy were all there.  
  • The hotel was not crowded.  The pools and common areas were always occupied, but never near capacity. 
  • The weather was fabulous.  Sunny and 82 every day.  Yes, it was a little sweaty around 2pm, but still great.
  • The people watching was exceptional.  
  • Makeovers: J went to The Pirate's League for a Pirate Makeover on his birthday.  It was RAD.  He got to choose his 'look', received a new pirate name, and walked away with a bandanna, eye patch, medallion, earring, sword, sash, and scroll.  There was a pirate parade later in the day, and then pirate "lessons" with Captain Jack Sparrow.  M got a Princess Makeover at the Bippity Boppity Boutique at Downtown Disney.  Hair, makeup & nails, and she was sent home with 2 polishes, a makeup palette, faux hair, a tiara & sash. 
  • The "Cast Members" were super-friendly & made the kids feel special.  When M had her Princess Makeover & wore her Aurora costume to the park, they went out of their way to say "Hi Princess!".  Our bus driver even admonished the passengers to be on their best behavior because a princess was on board. J wore a "Happy Birthday" button on his big day and tons of people wished him happy birthday.  So, so great.   
The Less Great Parts of Disney World:
  • The crowds.  HOLY CROW you guys.  It was crazy busy.  I seriously thought we were dodging a bullet by planning this trip 2 weeks before Spring Break/ Easter.  I did not take into account that colleges might have early Spring Break.  Chalk it up to a rookie mistake, but there were TONS of teens/ early college age kids.  And LOTS of high school groups.  This meant long lines for EVERYTHING in the parks. And by long lines I mean that Soarin' at Epcot had a FastPass return time of 5pm for a pass picked up at 11am.  Or you could wait a minimum 85+ minutes for the standby line.  Um, NO THANKS.  
  • The food was adequate, but not as good as I expected. For example: I heard great things about the Crystal Palace buffet, but was wholly unimpressed by the food.  On the other hand: DOLE WHIP PINEAPPLE FLOAT.  GET ONE (or 2, like I did).  
  • The bus schedule was puzzling.  Supposedly they run every 20 minutes, but there were multiple times when we waited 45+ minutes to go to one of the parks.  I will say that we never waited more than 10 minutes for a bus to pick us up from the parks.  
  • Everything was great at our hotel/ resort except that the beds are only double in size.  Fine for the kids, but a bit too close for comfort for Mom & Dad (especially because Mom likes to build a pillow fort for extra coziness).  
  • Restaurant reservations were hard to come by, especially for other resort locations (ex: Ohana at Polynesian Resort).  Using the Table Service meals requires a reservation 99.9% of the time.  A reservation also means we were locked into a time to eat - good & bad when you have small children & are trying to maneuver the parks on a bus schedule.  On the flip side, we did get to try some meals we would not have enjoyed without the Dining Plan.  I HIGHLY recommend both the Tusker House breakfast at Animal Kingdom & the Biergarten at Epcot (oompa music!).  
  • Internet connectivity was awful.  To connect at the hotel was $10/ day, so we didn't do that.  3G in the park was terrible.  I'd say we could actually get online about 1 out of every 7 or 8 times we tried (by phone).  
What I Would Do Differently:
  • Focus on Magic Kingdom & Animal Kingdom only.  Hollywood Studios seemed too "old" for our kids (4 & 8), and we weren't interested in a bunch of shows/ live performances.  I think Epcot might be neat, but we didn't get there until the last day, and by then we were really, really tired of the crowds.  I will admit that lunch at the Biergarten (Epcot) was excellent - the food & the music were great, and both of those were even a big hit with the kids.  
  • Bring a stroller.  J just turned 4, and is a little guy.  The crowds were so massive that it was overwhelming at times (for all of us).  I think a stroller would have been nice so that we could more easily navigate the crowds and keep an eye on him.  If you have kids that are 5 - possibly even 6 - or under, bring an umbrella stroller (you have to fold it up to take it on the bus). If you rent one at the park, you'll shell out $15 a day ($31 for a double).    
  • Break up the day.  We had the most fun when we hit the parks at opening time, went back to the hotel around lunch time to eat & swim, then returned to the parks in the evening.  Our very best day was Thursday, after 10pm at Magic Kingdom.  After the first Electric Parade & fireworks, the park emptied out.  We were able to do more from 10:30pm-1am than at any other time.  The lines were short, we had a great view for the 2nd Electric Light Parade, and we even got to see the Storybook Princesses (Aurora, Belle, Cinderella) in less than 30 minutes.   
Overall Tips:
  • If you're driving to the park, bring a cooler & pack it with water, snacks, and breakfast foods.  The hotels all have ice machines, so we had no problem keeping things refrigerated.  Florida water is GROSS.  It smells rank and tastes worse.  In the parks water is at least $2.50 for a small bottle, and when you multiply that by 4 or more people.... you do the math.  We took it one step further and brought our refillable bottles which we topped off from gallon jugs stored in our cooler.  We also brought muffins and milk for quick, easy in-room breakfasts.  
  • Bring a backpack to tote around your necessities.  We had a big camera, water, snacks, sunglasses, and even jackets that we tucked into a medium sized backpack.  Yes, by day 5 I hated that thing, but it was still better than trying to juggle an overpacked purse + all that other stuff (because you know you're bringing it all with you one way or another).  
  • Don't forget to pack a basic first aid kit.  My must-haves included sunscreen, Motrin, bandaids, neosporin, and moleskin.  By the last day I had a large, painful blister on the bottom of my pinky toe and that moleskin was a lifesaver.  
  • If you're going to be there for multiple days, bring either your most comfortable sneakers, or multiple pairs of sneaks.  I was astonished by how many women were tottering around on platform sandals. 
  • We bought autograph books for both the kids & managed to get a bunch of character signatures.  We had the books in advance & I'm glad we did - it avoided a lot of "I want thats" at the park (because let's face it, they would have seen other kids doing it & lost their minds).  BE PREPARED.  Have the book & pen ready to go, and then remind the kids that they already met Mickey/ Goofy/ Chip & Dale & don't have to do it again.  
  • Have a "Getting Lost" plan with the kids.  We sat them down & talked about what to do if we were separated.  It wasn't complicated, but everyone felt better knowing what to do if it happened.  Here was ours: a) Don't run off.  Stay in the same spot.  b) Look around for Mom & Dad.  c) If a few minutes goes by & you don't see Mom & Dad, look for someone with a name tag.  We also bought them lanyards with plastic pouches to keep their park pass & a slip of paper printed with our name, address & cell phone #. 
  • The "Key to the World" cards can be used to charge purchases back to your room (our adult passes could do this, but not our kids').  Snacks on the meal plan can be found all over the park - just look for the DDP symbol next to the item you want.  Be SURE to specify that you want the item rung as a snack.  If you don't it may be charged to your card & then at checkout time you'll be irritated when you are reminded that you spent $8 on cotton candy & a lollipop for your cranky children.  


Ashley said...

Looks like y'all had a blast!!!! I'm so glad - and LOVE your recap, as usual! One day I can't wait to go to Disney World, with or without kids - I heart that place (I lived in Tampa when I was little and we'd go a lot). So excited that y'all made it happen - residency or no residency!

And really, your recommendations and recaps are my favorite!

Glad your back safe and sound and are hopefully rested ;)

Megan said...

Thanks for the tips! We don’t have any kids yet but I am totally saving this for when we do!

Laura said...

Thank you so much for your tips. They have been great to read. We are leaving for our first Disney trip in one week. We are so excited!

Drew said...

We have a Disney trip planned next month so these tips will come in handy

Izza said...

Thanks for sharing your Disney experience! Will be there this summer :) Reading your post made me more excited to take my vacation in the Magical kingdom especially now that I won't be bringing stroller along knowing about Disney World stroller rentals. Moms would surely enjoy too. Thanks!

Ruthie Girl said...

Your mom sent me here. Love the water bottle idea and the autograph books. Now to get ready for my 4.5 kids.