Thank you Carrie!!
Carrie, Matthew, Lucas, Derrick and Natalie
What we learned on our Disney vacation:
1. Autographs: We decided we weren't going to seek any characters out. If we happened upon them, the boys had their autograph books signed. This trip, we had bought them Disney autograph books, along with monogrammed ears, ahead of time and they were delivered to them in our room when we arrived. The boys thought that was WAY cool. The last trip, three years ago, I had bought them small spiral notebooks from Target. They used these as autograph books and I took a picture of them with each character. Then, when we got home, I scrapbooked the signature with the picture into the Creative Memories 7x7 Disney book. Either way works great.
- We got Buzz and Woody at Hollywood Studios. They are in an air-conditioned room, across from Toy Story Mania. I'm glad we got their picture/autograph there. We could get both at the same time, AND it beats waiting for Buzz in the heat at Magic Kingdom, outside the Buzz Lightyear-Space Ranger Spin ride.
- Mickey and Minnie are in the Judges' Tent in Mickey's Toontown Fair. When we walked in, the line was huge, but we only waited MAYBE 10 minutes. There are a few rooms, each housing a Mickey and Minnie, so the line moves fairly quick.
- Another good, consistent place to get characters is at the Epcot Character Spot. This is where some of the more major characters are-Pluto, Goofy, Mickey, etc. You can see in the window who is in there, then decide if you want to wait.
2. At Magic Kingdom, always head to Adventureland or Tomorrowland first. Why? Because Fantasyland is SUPER busy until late afternoon. We found there was little to no wait in Adventureland anytime of day. We rode Aladdin's Carpets, the Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc. multiple times before moving to other areas of the park. Fantasyland is least busy during the parades. One evening, during the Summer Nightastic Parade, we hit Fantasyland and Tomrorrowland and rode many rides, several times, while the parade was going on.
3. Fastpass, fastpass, fastpass! You'd be amazed what you can do in the time of a fastpass. In the hour we had to spare before our fastpass was valid for Space Mountain, we did AstroOrbiter, Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, and got Chip and Dale's autographs. In the hour we had to spare before the Kilimanjaro Safari Ride in Animal Kingdom, we waited in line (20 mins) for the Festival of the Lion King, which is a 30 min show, and made our way back. It's great to just walk right up and get on the ride with your fastpass.
Lucas and Matthew blasting off!4. Stay in a Disney Resort. I can't stress enough the convenience, pleasant atmosphere, and flexibility this can add to your trip. We stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge-Jambo House. Some of the benefits:
- First, buses run constantly to the different parks from your resort. This is great when you want to go back to your room to relax or do the pool before heading back to a park for the evening.
- Each resort has a nice playground and more than one pool.
- Also, ours had two FREE crafts a day-from 10 am -11 am and 3 pm -4 pm. The boys made fun pirate masks during one of the craft times.
- We had to have a room that guaranteed a pack and play and a refrigerator, which is partially why we chose this resort. Also, we had the option of a room with bunk beds, perfect for the boys, along with a queen size for us.
- Build in a day of your vacation to just enjoy the resort-the pool, crafts or other activities, and then maybe go to Downtown Disney for the evening. We didn't do this and wish we had.
5. Dining Plan is THE way to go! We had Quick Service Dining. It was AWESOME. The Quick Service Dining Plan only added about $300 to our package and was good at all Quick Service Dining locations (basically restaurants where you don’t sit down to order). You will get a brochure with all the names in it from your hotel when you check in, if you ordered the plan. When you factor in that you can get any meal off the menu, which could range from $8 to $13 (give or take on either end) and it counts as one meal used, you save a ton there alone, not to mention snacks.
- We had 48 meals to play with for the week. We often got adult meals, and shared them as a family.
- We were able to eat breakfast at our hotel the last two days with our meals left on our dining plan.
- Each adult meal comes with a bottle drink at most places-some it's a fountain cup. So, we'd "bank" the bottle of Coke or whatever, and drink it later at the park or in our room, because we also received refillable mugs. We'd fill these at the pop fountain in our hotel, and take them to the park with us everyday.
- I thought we were paying for convenience at first, but when she rang up our first meal at Pizza Planet, I was happy to give her my Quick Service Card, as opposed to $45 dollars out of my pocket. Right then I realized how much of a steal the dining plan is, if we were going to pay between $30-$40 a meal.
- We had 8 snacks left on the last day and cashed them out for the ride home. It was so great to be at the parks and not schlep around a cooler (which we did last trip) and when the kids ask for a drink, a smoothie, an iced lemonade, mickey ear ice cream, etc., we can let them have those treats without worrying that we are paying about $15 for snacks for everyone. We also had 48 snacks to play with, too. It was fabulous!
- Next time we do Quick Service Dining, we are going to plan a bit more carefully. For example, we'll spend our dinner meals maybe in Mexico or Italy in the World Showcase at Epcot, instead of a place that has burgers and chicken nuggets, just to give a little more variety.
- Also, there's a great sandwich-Panera/Jersey Mike's type- restaurant in Downtown Disney called Earl of Sandwich. It was fabulous and took our Quick Service Dining plan as well.
Matthew and Lucus at Epcot.
6. Take or buy (because they would make cute souvenirs) a beach towel to give extra shade on the stroller. We put the sunshade on, and then draped the towel over it so her little feet were covered, too, when we were waiting in the sun for the parade. Make sure your stroller reclines, too. Also, take the best umbrella stroller you can find, or that you have. I saw so many parents struggling with jogging strollers, or Gracos in and out of the buses or through the crowds.
7. Buy Disney gift cards at Giant Eagle if you participate in fuelperks. If you plan far enough in advance, you can buy hundreds/thousands of dollars worth and use them to pay for your resort and park tickets online (and get a discount or even free gas from Giant Eagle). We bought them for souvenir money for the boys. It worked out great.
8. We allowed the boys to only choose one souvenir, and the rest we chose. Otherwise we would have come home with a car of toys. They included jibbitz for their Crocs, Pluto hats, as well as Mouse ears and Christmas ornaments.
Lucas and Matthew with their Mickey Mouse Ears.
9. Take the DS or PSP - these were lifesavers while waiting in line for rides or on the bus ride.
10. Don't be afraid to stop and ask others to take your family's picture. If we hadn't done this, we wouldn't have any of the five of us.
Carrie and Natalie in Minnie's kitchen.
To read more about Carrie and her family's Disney vacation or their daily adventures, here's a link to their family blog.
Do you have any tips and advice to add? Do you have a place you frequent for vacation that you could share tips and advice? Or local day trips? Please let us know!