Visiting the Mouse House
October 21, 2009 1:40 PM   Subscribe

We're visiting Mickey Mouse down in Orland December 15-21. We've been spending weeks now working out our reservations and special events tickets, but we still have some extra time left over. Any mouse-ear-types that can give us a tip on something really special to do that might not be mentioned on an official website?

We've managed to get tickets for Mickey's Christmas party, Epcot Illuminations and Candlelight processional (with the dinner package and special seating) and Cinderella's table. We even got the Brown Derby dinner package and reserved seating for Fantasmic over at Hollywood Studios. My daughter's birthday is the 17th, so we also got some special birthday stuff for her that evening.

We've been doing all the research on special magic hours, and this certainly isn't our first visit -- I just don't want to miss out on anything.
posted by thanotopsis to Travel & Transportation around Orlando, FL (19 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly i think you have gotten all the special things to do during christmas at disney.

Just make sure you get her its my birthday pin or something similiar.
posted by majortom1981 at 1:49 PM on October 21, 2009

As you know, you should go to all the extra magic hours possible. It's especially useful to be there early in the morning, because lines just keep getting longer all day. Afternoons are the busiest.

If you can catch the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the Contemporary hotel, it's quite lovely; you can then stick around and watch the electrical water parade. If you eat at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, they have a few pairs of night vision goggles which you can use to watch the animals nearby at night (for free).

You can reserve a meal with an imagineer 30 days in advance; these are supposed to be fantastic. The behind the scenes tours are also generally excellent. (They're all very expensive, of course.)

Don't forget to get the special Free On Your Birthday gift, either a gift certificate or fast passes for you and your group for the day.
posted by jeather at 1:56 PM on October 21, 2009

There's so much to do at WDW that even if you just went to the parks, you'd still feel like you're not even scratching the surface.

It would help, though, to know the ages of everyone going so I could suggest things that are teen or tween or toddler or baby specific.

Also, what resort are you staying at? There's often cool stuff to do that's resort specific.
posted by inturnaround at 2:01 PM on October 21, 2009

You're probably already aware of it, but the Unofficial Guide is really an excellent resource. I value the fact that the book will tell you if something is not good, instead of just sugar-coating everything. The time tables for buses and noise levels for hotels are also good information.

I highly recommend trying to book dinner at the California Grill, atop the Contemporary Resort. If you manage to get dinner reservations somewhere in the vicinity of 7-8pm, you will be in a great spot to see the fireworks display over the Magic Kingdom. They dim the lights in the restaurant and play the fireworks show audio.

The "Behind the Seeds" tour at The Land pavilion at Epcot is very interesting if your daughter happens to be gardening or science-minded.
posted by Fleebnork at 2:24 PM on October 21, 2009

Response by poster: Our kids are 17, 14, 7 and 1.5 (2 boys, 2 girls, in that order). We're doing California Grill for the birthday dinner on the 17th, as my kids and wife are vegetarians, and of all the places to eat, CG seems to have some of the best veggie fare.

We're on the deluxe dining plan, and we've managed to reserve enough for 13 of our 18 dinners apiece. We'll probably change that around before we show up there, however, as we're discussing our itinerary almost daily.

You know that commercial where the kids can't go to sleep because they're too excited to go to Disney, and then they cut to the parents' room, and the mom and dad can't go to sleep either? Yea, that's us.

Thanks for the book link, Fleeb. I have a Amazon gift certificate burning a hole in my pocket -- just found what to spend it on.

Inturnaround: We're staying at my aunt's time share at Old Key West. They've got a communal activity area and boating available for local activities, but that's all I could really see from their website.
posted by thanotopsis at 2:29 PM on October 21, 2009

I've found the Passporter just as (if not better) than the Unofficial Guide, especially if you're someone who likes to have all their information in one place. For example, there's plenty of places to input your reservation numbers, flight info and planned itinerary for the day. It's always helped me plan well.

I'll try to write more later.
posted by inturnaround at 2:43 PM on October 21, 2009

You're welcome! I always recommend the Unofficial Guide. It also has handy timetables for when the best times are to hit certain attractions, if you want to try to min/max your wait times for rides.

The Old Key West resort has a ferry boat over to the Downtown Disney shopping area, which is a good place to go on your first day/evening if you don't want to waste a day's park passes on a half day or less. I suggest getting dinner at House of Blues. Their catfish beignet appetizer is really good!
posted by Fleebnork at 2:47 PM on October 21, 2009

I was at WDW a few years ago around the same time you'll be there, and one of the things that my boyfriend and I really enjoyed was just taking a morning to visit all the Disney hotels and take in the decorations. Each place really goes all out (when we were there, the Grand Floridian had a life-size gingerbread house). The parks do as well, obviously - each one has a gigantic Christmas tree.

You don't mention it, but if you guys are into animals at all, and have the time, I'd also spend half a day at the Animal Kingdom. The three big ones there (for me at least) are the safari, the water rapids ride, and the yeti ride (which was still being constructed when I was there, but I've heard great reviews).

I'd also recommend getting the Hidden Mickeys book, especially for the little ones (although I thoroughly enjoyed it at 21). It gives lists of all the "Hidden Mickeys" around every park, hotel, etc. Example: in Epcot, in the Norway area, there's a boat ride called the Maelstrom. At the loading dock area there's a huge mural on the of the vikings is wearing Mickey Mouse ears.

Also, just to get you even more excited...the Mickey's Christmas Party was one of the most fun things I've ever been to, and they couldn't even have the snow on Main Street because it was raining. The boyfriend and I spent a couple hours having dinner, going on rides (the Haunted Mansion at night, during a thunderstorm = awesome), and getting completely drenched in the rain. As we were heading out, completely exhausted, we stopped in front of the castle to rest for a minute. All of a sudden, all the lights in the park go out except the castle lights, and a voice comes on the loudspeakers. Christmas music starts playing, and fireworks explode right above us. It was magical.
posted by DulcineaX at 2:58 PM on October 21, 2009

Seconding Hidden Mickey hunting (with or without the book, try this site for some tips) and Downtown Disney. Lots of stuff to see and do there that's often off the radar of most Disney guests. I recommend DisneyQuest and La Nouba, the Cirque du Soleil show for some alternative fun in Mouseville. Also, the Rainforest Cafe is a must-see.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 3:00 PM on October 21, 2009

Don't bother with any of the what to do when books. I checked out a huge selection of them (out of curiosity), and found them poor to middling. (I have no opinion on hidden Mickeys.)

Downtown Disney is in two parts, the Marketplace (with the flagship store) and the West Side, with the ex Pleasure Island in the middle. Disney Quest, which I also recommend, is in the West Side half. Taking the boat there is lovely, but it's quite a long ride, since it stops in Saratoga Springs in the middle. You will probably prefer to take the bus, which is much faster and less windy. (One boat ride might be very nice.)

Old Key West trick: Phone up the resort and ask if you can stay in buildings 23-26, second choice 27-29. This means you are the first dropoff, but you can walk easily to the Hospitality House to be the last pickup. This is a really big help in the mornings and in the evenings both. I cannot overstate the pluses of staying in those buildings. (You will, I assume, be taking the buses everywhere. If you're not, you should be.) As your aunt is a member, you ought to be getting free internet (bring one network cable per computer if you bring any, there is no wifi and only one cable is provided but there are lots of outlets). You can also rent dvds for free.

If you purchase things, always take advantage of the hotel delivery option.

Ask to sit at the front for a monorail trip. You might have to wait -- there's often a little line -- but it's fun for the kids.

Depending on what you're doing for passes, it may be as little as a few dollars a person to get the ability to go on site for your first or last day as well as all the others. It's generally worth the money to do this if it's only a few dollars, even if you just go on for an hour or two. Your older teens are old enough to go anywhere on their own (if they are together, for the 14 year old anyhow). They're anal about checking ID so you do not need to worry about alcohol.

Animal Kingdom: go immediately to Everest. You can ride once or twice, depending on lines. Then go to the safari ride (I forget the name) -- you don't want to do this too early because the animals won't be out yet, or too late because (a) lines and (b) it can get too hot. After the safari ride, you should do one of the walks, the Kali rapids, then the other walk. The Nemo show can be missed. You should not miss the bird show. I am told that if you like chai, it's very good there.

MGM: you have two groups, families of small children who go to the (fun!) Toy Story ride, and familes of big children who rush to the fast rides. Both of these get filled up quickly, so you want to go to one and get fast passes for the other two as quickly as possible. If anyone is artsy, there's a "how to draw various characters" thing near the Little Mermaid show. This is also fun. Don't miss the Honey I Shrunk the Kids Playground for the smaller two.

MK: you need to go to Space Mountain or Splash Mountain first, then get Fast Passes for the other. Haunted Mansion should be left to the evenings.

Epcot: start with Soarin' or Test Track, fast pass the others. Go to the countries as soon as they open. Don't forget to check when the shows at the different countries are. If you have a source of good French pastries anywhere near you, do not wait forever for their pastries, get them at Norway instead.

Note: generally half the party waits in line for one of the two rides while the other half runs to get FPs and meets them in the line. They will let you trade off a child who is too young.

You should always have Fast Passes and get new ones as soon as you're allowed to. If you have extras, just give them to someone as you leave. You're almost always allowed to go in after your time slot, but never before. It's best to go at the very end of a time period (the minute before they let everyone else in -- they run on 5 or 3 minute schedules, depending), and it doesn't matter when in your hour long slot you go.
posted by jeather at 4:41 PM on October 21, 2009

MGM. Go to the drive in place for some much needed peace and quiet. You can sit, get a shake and chat while the kids are strangely quiet mesmerized by the drive in trailers they show and the dim lighting.
posted by beccaj at 4:51 PM on October 21, 2009

Oh and check out the meal plans. I think it can really be worth it.
posted by beccaj at 4:52 PM on October 21, 2009

Let's see. I think the best thing an experience Disney traveler can do is stop and smell the roses. There is so much detail at Disney World that you can't possibly absorb it all on vacation. I've been a couple hundred times and still find new details.

For the holidays there's an extra layer of details added to everything:

I recommend hotel hopping to see all the marvelous lobby displays. Most are made of gingerbread and are tied to the hotel's theme.

Each country in EPCOT has their version of Father Christmas do a story time with their particular celebrations.

EPCOT's tree lighting ceremony is a great way to kick off the evening and usually features the Voices of Liberty.

Disney's Hollywood Studios has the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights. Each year the show gets a little better. Plus it's snows!

This is a great topic for my blog, so I hope you don't mind if I steal it.
posted by IndigoSkye at 5:06 PM on October 21, 2009

Response by poster: Wow, some real gems here, folks. You cannot imagine how much I love WDW, and this thread is just getting me to count the days until we leave.
posted by thanotopsis at 5:36 PM on October 21, 2009

It might seem deceptive, but Coral Reef restaurant in Epcot is a slightly hidden gem, has one of the largest kids' menus I saw (including macaroni and pizza), and is veggie friendly for adults. I had this amazing vegetable risotto when I went there (though it seems on offer is a mushroom lasagna now, but you can also ask for something else when making your ADRs - the chef might make something especially for you). I thought the food and experience were amazing.

Plus, the back wall is a giant aquarium.
You really can't beat that. People dive in the tank sometimes and wave to the kids. Each table also gets a fish spotting guide. Try to get seated on the middle or lower level, but there are curved booths for families on the top level that face the aquarium wall and are great for kids.
posted by cmgonzalez at 5:52 PM on October 21, 2009

Oh, and Old Key West is a bit more 'adult' than some DVC resorts, but there's still a lot of family activities available, from sports to boating, to pools onsite. Since you have it, you may take advantage of some downtime hanging out at your resort. They often have movies, activities, and stuff planned. There's a bit more info on the resort here.
posted by cmgonzalez at 5:56 PM on October 21, 2009

The Polynesian Resort across for the Magic Kingdom is a great place to watch the fireworks. Go outside and sit on the beach. They even play the music from the fireworks show so you get the full experience.

Before (or after- not exactly sure) the fireworks there is a parade on the water of floating, light-up boats. It's not the best parade at Disney by any means but it's something most people do not see.

Enjoy your trip! Disney at Christmas is beautiful.
posted by mmmbacon at 5:48 AM on October 22, 2009

Okay, I just came back. Some specific and more recent suggestions (but take me seriously about which building to request).

In one of the Innoventions Plazas at Epcot (the one on the Test Track side), there is something called Sum of All Thrills, where you design a roller coaster track and a robot arm moves you in the track. This is lots of fun and has weirdly short lines. The options are much milder than they seem (I chose all the wildest options, as high and fast as possible, and it was certainly more mild than Rock n Roller Coaster), so bear it in mind when designing it.

Rides you should make an effort to do at night: Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain, Peoplemover (with the lights it's lovely to see the Magic Kingdom); Kali River Rapids (bring ponchos).

Rides to ask for specific seats in: Soarin (row 1, you don't need to be in the centre); Everest (first or last); Big Thunder Mountain (last), Safari thing (last). If you can be in the front for Pirates of the Caribbean it's also fun.

If the candy art show is on at Epcot (Japan pavilion), it's remarkable. Put your small children out front for free candy. The free shows are all generally fun. There is some Kim Possible thing for kids that your 7 yo may enjoy at Epcot.

The "how to draw some character" at Hollywood Studios runs on the :00 and the :30. If you get there about 10 minutes in advance (you can walk in through the store), you get there before everyone who just finished one lesson runs back in to do the next.

Christmas Party: be sure to catch the Tomorrowland show in particular.

The buses do not run between the parks and Downtown Disney. It is best not to go directly from one to the other; if you decide to do so, from Epcot or HS walk to the Epcot resorts and take the bus from there, from MK take the monorail to a MK resort etc. It is best to do it from Epcot.

Even if you have a car and drive to the parks, do not drive to MK.
posted by jeather at 1:16 PM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

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