A Place to Stay: I am a big fan of staying on property. Can you run to the corner store if you need to? No. (OK, you can take a taxi if you have to, but the resorts have most anything you really might need). Is it the cheapest way to go? Again, no, but I personally think the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. The bus system is so easy to use, and the Extra Magic Hours are priceless. Plus, there is something special about being immersed in the experience. On this trip we stayed at the All-Star Music resort, and it was perfectly suited for our needs. We did not spend any real time there except to sleep. And that was a good thing, because the dining area was swamped. One of the other All-Star Resorts is remodeling their dining area, so all those guests were using ours. Crazy! That was the only real downside to this resort. Oh, and even though all rooms at DW are now supposed to have fridges, we didn't. There's been a problem with the compressors in the fridges, and they are in the process of swapping them out, so we did not have one in our room. A bit of a bummer, but not a huge inconvenience for us.
Transportation: We flew into Orlando, and used the Magical Express Transportation. It was easy, free, and got the job done. The bus transportation in the park was just fine. The only hiccup was Wednesday night when we - and about 9,000 other people - left the park near closing time. We waited for about 45 minutes for a bus, and that was the longest all week.
Food: We were fortunate in that we were able to book a package that gave us a free dining plan for all but one of our days at DW. My family also chose to pay the upgrade to the Table Service plan (1 Quick Service, 1 Table Service, 1 snack), and I booked dining reservations exactly at the 6 month mark. Even doing so, I was not able to secure a table at all the restaurants we wanted to eat at, BUT we did end up trying a few places that ended up being super cool. I would highly recommend the Tusker House at Animal Kingdom, Whispering Canyon Cafe at The Wilderness Lodge (particularly if you have kids 10 and under), and we LOVED the Akershus experience at Epcot. If we had NOT scored the dining plan, I would have placed an order with Garden Grocer & had food delivered to our room. I imagine this would have taken care of breakfast, and either lunch or dinner. Most of the meals at the parks are large enough that you can share or have your own & take the leftovers with you. We have opted for the meal plan for both our trips, and I like it because I don't have to penny pinch and get stressed about who did or didn't eat their food.
Water: Florida water still tastes like pennies soaked in bleach, so we opted to bring Brita water bottles with us. I paid $16 for 2 bottles that had filters in the lid, so we simply filled them from water fountains throughout the day and snapped them to our backpacks with carabiners. Easy!
Crowds: The November crowds were night and day different from the March crowds we experienced in 2012. Funny thing, when you don't go during Spring Break, there aren't as many people! We literally did not wait for more than 10 minutes for anything (except the bus on Wednesday night). Were there crowds? Yes. But far, far more manageable for this introvert.
Tickets: This was our only major hiccup. We were able to use the new Magic Band system which is replacing the previous Key to the World. Like KTTW, the Magic Bands are meant to be used as your room key, dining plan, park tickets, charge-to-your-room, etc. Due to our travel dates and the free dining plan package, our group actually had 2 separate reservations - one for the first night at DW, and one for the remaining 5 nights. Apparently having these 2 back-to-back reservations activates a glitch in the Magic Band, and we had problems nearly every day. For the first 3 days our tickets wouldn't work, then the room key stopped working, then the dining plan wouldn't show up, then some bands would work & others wouldn't..... it was very frustrating. And it seemed that each time we had someone "fix" the issue, it would trigger a different problem. I think this is a neat system, and when it worked, it was very convenient. But after spending at least 6 hours of my vacation trying to get these issues resolved, I was frustrated.
FastPass+: One of the extra cool things about the Magic Bands is that you can go online and book FastPasses for up to 3 rides or events each day. This is called FastPass+, and is still in Beta. I had never used the FastPass system before, but you can believe that I had us fully booked the day I had those Magic Bands in hand. I liked that you could choose in advance, and you had a set time to return - it satisfied the planner in me. And I also appreciated that you didn't have to hustle everyone in your party to that particular ride in order to obtain your FastPass. We were able to easily do some rides/ attractions that had major wait times, such as the new Belle experience in Fantasyland, and seeing the Princesses in Fantasyland. A 10 minute wait was far preferable to 60+ minutes.
Planning: I spent A LOT of time looking at schedules, Pinterest, wait times, reading blogs, checking the Disney Moms Panel, etc. 6 months in advance I laid out a schedule of what parks we would be in each day, when our reservations were, and any special events we wanted to take part in. I feel like this absolutely enhanced our visit. We tried very hard to be at each park at or shortly after opening (especially when there were Extra Magic Hours), and this allowed us to do a few extra things we wouldn't have been able to do otherwise such as participate in the Jedi Training at Hollywood Studios and get FastPasses for Soarin' at Epcot. We had expected to cut our days up and take a rest in the afternoon at our hotel, but the kids are a bit older now and had better stamina. But of course, I think we were all wiped out at the end of the day!
Packing: I was pretty proud of my packing on this trip. For the kids, I chose outfits each day & bagged them in Ziploc bags with underwear & socks. They each brought Keens and sneakers to trade. For me, I planned my wardrobe so that I could mix and match almost every piece. I was extremely worried about how my ankle would do with so much walking/ standing, but everything went great. I packed sneakers and Birkenstock Gizeh sandals and had NO problems. I made sure to trade off every other day and I also used Blister Block preemptively. Here's my best tips:
- Trade your shoes. Don't pack one pair of sneakers or sandals and think you will be good.
- Use Blister Block. Lightly coat your feet. You'll thank me for this. Pack moleskin just in case.
- Pack layers. It wasn't nearly as warm as we thought it would be (one day was 64 and windy!), and layers were necessary.
- Bring a power strip. We had a handful of devices to charge each night, and it was nice to have them all in one place instead of scattered through the room.
- Go to the Dollar Store and buy ponchos to bring with you. You may or may not need them, but if you do, you will feel good about not paying $9 a piece for them.
- If you have more than 2 kids, consider renting a stroller for your trip. The DW strollers are pricey - $30/ day for a double, but there are several companies in Orlando that will rent you a decent double stroller, deliver it to your resort, and charge you less than it's costing you to park your car at the airport. You DO have to fold down any stroller to get it on the buses. (Note: we did not do this ourselves, but we saw many, many rented strollers in the parks).
Spending Money: Although we are not big souvenir people, with kids and Disney, you know that the "I Wants" are inevitable. This trip we took a different approach. We made it clear that whatever the kids wanted to do or buy, they would have to pay for it. Our kids chose to save their money (including the all important birthday money) and we spent about 9 months talking about ways to earn money, chores, and how much things cost. We also made the deal that we would match what they saved (up to a certain $ amount). When we got to the park, they knew that if they wanted something, they would have to use their own money. It was GREAT! M was responsible for managing her own funds, and we helped J understand how much things cost & how it would take away from what he had saved. And when he wanted to buy a $12 balloon, Mom didn't have to say No. Yes, I still cringe when I think of a $12 balloon...... but I will also always remember the joy that beamed out of his face as he clutched his balloon and declared "Mama! I am So Happy!!!". **See first picture for evidence of a $12 balloon in all its glory. He named it Red Eye Mickey.** Fortunately both kids also came home with money left over.
Park Supplies: I carried a small backpack each day, and Hub carried his empty Camelbak pack. We filled our packs with cameras, wallets, snacks, water bottles, phones, personal supplies (sunscreen, bandaids, ibuprofen, lip balm, neosporin, blister block, etc.), and lastly - a few things to keep kid #2 occupied. I downloaded a couple of new games onto my phone, but I also made sure to have a few matchbox cars and a small activity book with crayons. There were a few times when we were waiting to meet up with people, or standing in line to see princesses, and the activity stuff definitely came in handy.
Any other tips I should have known about?