DisneyWorld planning
June 15, 2010 6:57 PM   Subscribe

We will probably be taking the kids to Disneyworld this winter during a planned trip to Florida. What do I have to plan in advance?

I don't mean lodging, etc but I know that there are breakfasts with Princesses.. what else is there?? I assume you have to reserve those kinds of things in advance so I want to know what there is cool to do at Disney that I'd have to book ahead of time.

I've never been there with kids so any tip is welcomed!
posted by beccaj to Travel & Transportation around Florida (21 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
How old are your kids? All girls? Coming between Thanksgiving and New Years? After New Years? Only doing Disney? How many days? Planning on staying in a Disney owned hotel?
posted by Jazz Hands at 7:09 PM on June 15, 2010

One of the fun things you can do for first-time visitors (or anniversaries, birthdays, etc.) is to get a Celebration Button. This will get you (or your kids) special attention from the characters in the parks, which can make for some cool photo/video ops.
posted by miratime at 7:11 PM on June 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend getting a copy of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, which will answer all your questions in greater detail than you might have thought imaginable.
posted by grouse at 7:14 PM on June 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are several great websites and books for planning trips to Disney World. AllEars.net has a good planning guide. Book-wise I recommend The Unofficial Guide to Disney World, which is exhaustive in its coverage and also has extremely useful suggested itineraries for making the most of a day in a park.
posted by jedicus at 7:16 PM on June 15, 2010

I cannot recommend planning your trip with Tourguide Mike enough. You'll know the day you can book your character meals for the kids, any shows you want to see, and get a totally personalised park itinerary based on exactly what you want to do with no lines, whatever the time of year.

Seriously, it puts the "magic" into Magic Kingdom.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:41 PM on June 15, 2010 [4 favorites]

For as much as it's going to cost, make sure your kids are old enough to remember it. I'm nearly having to physically restrain my wife to keep her from buying a trip to take our two year-old grandson. I'd say at least five, but that's just me.
posted by ob1quixote at 7:50 PM on June 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

To more directly answer your question, you'll want to make reservations for any meals that you can. WDW doesn't strictly honor specific reservation times, so leave a little extra time to get there early for meals.

This is where the aforementioned Unofficial Guide will be an excellent resource. It contains a wealth of information regarding every restaurant, character breakfast, busy times, etc.
posted by Fleebnork at 8:32 PM on June 15, 2010

Number one piece of advice: stay on Disney property in order to take advantage of Magic Hours (which let you in one hour before the official start time. They also let you stay later but you probably won't be doing that w/kids).

In the Magic Kingdom, take advantage of the early start time and run don't walk to Splash Mountain. It's an amazing ride and the line will go forever after 10am or so.

In terms of reservations,the above comments handle it pretty well. Just be sure you understand the Fast Pass system for reserving rides. Be aware that in the afternoon and evening the parks are jampacked. Our family had no compunctions of being there first thing in the am and then heading back to our hotel after lunch, we then returned in the evening and avoided most of the insanity.
posted by jeremias at 8:50 PM on June 15, 2010

Thirding or Fourthing the Unofficial Guide. It will lay out all the options you'll have about visiting the parks and the secondary/tertiary attractions. As for when you need reservations, well that is a function of what you want a reservation for and when in winter you are going. For example, the time around Christmas to New Years is crazy insane and you need to start booking now. Also crazy popular things like dining with the characters in Cinderella's castle is always popular so advanced planning for that kind of thing is also advised. Note that there are other places to eat with characters and the Princesses so don't feel the need to pay the extra surcharges and expensive prices to eat in Cinderella's castle.

Also note that while there are relatively quiet periods in terms of crowds in Winter, Disney does tweak their deals like offering free dining plans to guests. What this does is make it harder to get dinner reservations for some of the more popular restaurants at the popular times. So with that in mind that necessitates planning ahead if you had your heart set on a particular place to eat at a particular time. With that said, you know your kids so I suppose there is a chance that a sit down meal would be lost on them and they'd rather be on the go and eat smoked turkey legs.

Have fun.
posted by mmascolino at 9:32 PM on June 15, 2010

DisUnplugged, DisBoards

Stay on property. Make all of your dining reservations 180 days in advance. Take advantage of all Extra Magic Hours. Bring an autograph book. Visit TouringPlans to choose which park on which day.

Get to the parks at rope drop. Every morning. Get Fastpasses for the major attractions.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:51 PM on June 15, 2010

Some of the shows can be a lot of fun - and they often sell out in advance. Hoop De Doo Revue is one such event. Definitely get priority seating for your sit down meals, that makes a huge difference (the restaurants in Epcot are the best, in my opinion - along with Ohana at the Polynesian.)

Don't miss Fantasmic or Illuminations.
posted by visual mechanic at 10:46 PM on June 15, 2010

+1 staying at a disney property. the extra hours in the parks is key!
posted by maulik at 11:56 PM on June 15, 2010

The current DisBoards wisdom is to avoid the Extra Magic Hours - now that there are 20some Disney resorts, the parks fill up like crazy - but staying on property is worth every penny for the transportation system. If you're staying elsewhere in Orlando, some hotels have shuttles to Disney and then you can use the buses/boats/trams to get from park to park.

You can make reservations for the princess breakfasts and things before you finalize your travel plans, and should do that now - some of them will charge a fee to your credit card but all are fully refundable if you cancel 24-48 hours in advance. Having breakfast in Cinderella's Castle is almost worth the exorbitant price.
posted by Flannery Culp at 3:31 AM on June 16, 2010

I think on the first trip, staying on property is a great idea - it makes it very easy and helps you get into the Disney spirit. However, I am now a huge fan on staying in a rental condo. You can have breakfast and dinner on your own - helpful for both cost savings and accommodating specific food preferences - and it's also nice to have the space to spread out, as opposed to being crammed in a hotel room. I used VRBO to find our last place, a 3BR/2 BA in a somewhat tired condo complex about 10 min from everywhere.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 4:09 AM on June 16, 2010

I'd also +1 ob1quixote's observation about the appropriate age. I think five is an ideal time to start, from both a memory and stamina standpoint. Suggest waiting, if possible, until they don't take or need a nap daily.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 4:11 AM on June 16, 2010

The other huge plus for staying on Disney property, in addition to the extra park hours, is (if you're flying in to Orlando) the "Disney Magical Express" to and from the airport. They mail you special tags for your luggage before you go, and then when you arrive at the airport they pick up your luggage for you and deliver it to your hotel. So instead of waiting around at baggage claim, you just get right onto the bus to your hotel and start having fun. You can also arrange to take the bus back to the airport at the end of your trip. It's a brilliant service, I highly recommend it.
posted by dnash at 4:53 AM on June 16, 2010

Word of caution to anybody checking out DarlingBri's tourguide mike recommendation above - They appear to have been hit with a security problem recently, and going to certain pages on the site (specifically http://www.tourguidemike.com/tour/index.asp) will cause pieces of malware to be pushed down to your system. For reference, it's this issue.
posted by um_maverick at 6:58 AM on June 16, 2010

We just got back from taking our 3 yo son on his first Disney trip so here is some relatively recent advise/comments:

1 - Check to see if Disney is still offering the included meal plan IMMEDIATELY. That will save you $$$. The food is pretty good so no worries about eating crappy "regular" park food.

2 - You have to be at least 38inches to ride the bigger rides. Make sure you check on the Disney site so you know before your kids get to the park what they can and cannot ride.
There are still TONS of rides for those under 38 inches, there is no shortage!

3 - For about $100 you can pre-purchase ALL of the pictures the disney photographers take. We bought it (it was in an email disney sent out after booking), came out with 200+ pics and they pretty much all came out great. These were the only family pics we got. Just make sure to take full advantage of it. The disney staff will take pics using your own camera so don't think this is the only way to get family pics.

4 - Stay on the property. We did the All-Star toy story resort. Looked like a howard johnson on the inside but we were only there to sleep so I have no regret not upgrading the hotel.

5 - take your time and enjoy. The magic kingdom is huge, we hit all the disney parks but we did 2 days at the magic kingdom and did one day park hopper for mgm and epcot. MGM was probably my favorite park. We arrived in the afternoon and did downtown disney the first day and departed in the afternoon so we were not rushing to leave.

7 - While you probably know that by staying on the property disney takes care of your luggage when you get off the plane so all you have to do is get on the bus to the hotel but if you check out early enough (i think three hours) you can check in your bags at the hotel and they will take them to the plane for you so all you have to do is get on the bus to the airport.

8 - walking all day was too much for my son so the strollers we rented were well worth the price! My wife originally wanted to bring a stroller from home but there is no way you want to be messing with a stroller on and off the buses... Renting them was about 15/day but you got a discount if you reserved in bulk rather than buying day by day.

9 - we did 2 special activities for my son that were worth every penny. He's in a pirate phase so we did the pirates league and the night time fireworks pirate cruise. The pirates league is in the magic kingdom and is where they get dressed up and "become" pirates - black eye and scar makeup, sword, bandanna... my son LOVED IT! The pirate cruise is at the epcot hotel and you get to meet captain hook and mr smee and go out and see the fireworks at the magic kingdom from a boat. Before you get on the boat you have a meet and greet with hook and smee and have snacks and refreshments. You go out on the boat with a pirate who tells stories, jokes, and trivia questions that the kids get prizes when answered (they have enough prizes for all). When you get back Peter Pan is waiting for you. This was SO MUCH FUN BUT be warned - this is a LATE NIGHT. After getting back to our hotel and bath time it was midnight when my son made it to bed. These we booked a month or so in advance.

10 - Breakfast with the characters was EXPENSIVE so while we originally planned on it we opted out (that and the only time we could reserve was like 730am) and did the pirate cruise instead . The cruise was expensive too but paying that much just to eat food while mickey was jumping up and down I think we got more out of the cruise than the breakfast. Regardless all extras (non-ride or show stuff) you'll want to reserve in advance but don't worry you can still cancel, just check the cancellation date.

I guess it's about time to get back to work so memail me if you have any specific questions. You guys will have a blast! I can't wait to go back again (2 more years, we're waiting till my 1yo is 3 for us all to go back again).
posted by doorsfan at 7:51 AM on June 16, 2010

If you want Princesses, the Norway restaurant is a great way to go and easier to get into than the Castle. It wasn't too terribly expensive by Disney standards, and there were, I think, five or six Princesses who came by our table (I have my photo with Ariel framed now!). Everyone I was with (three adults, no children) liked the food well enough. Plus, Princesses! Lots of Princesses!

There's also the Princess-makeover Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, but we didn't try that one. :)
posted by lysimache at 5:35 PM on June 16, 2010

I recommend tourguidemike - Unofficial Guide gives you an overview & tons of info, but I don't think you necessarily need to know 80% of the info they give you. Unofficial Guide's tours are good, but they don't do as much to explain why & how you plan your day. Ex: if you arrive at 9:10 am & follow the Unofficial Guide tour on a busy day, you're going to be miserable. But if you've truly imbibed TGM you know what to do if you arrive early & what to cut if you arrive late. Also TGM has terrific recommended parks chart each day. The Unofficial Guide has them also at their website touringplans.com but they aren't nearly as good (in part because they only rate but TGM gives an explanation of why, & does morning & afternoon separately, & does more updates as Disney changes things). Unofficial Guide website touringplans.com does have a fantastic android app, so you can check & see what other users are reporting live for wait times. That's such valuable info that it's worth a subscription for the android app alone.

TGM gives good (but somewhat outdated) info about how to structure your trip & why. But the best parts to me are the forums so if you subscribe don't miss the forums. I don't know if it's because only paid subscribers can access or some other reason, but the TGM forums are far far better than disboards for example in terms of accurate & helpful info. If for example you pick out everything you want to see at a park, you can post there, & someone will help you figure out how to see precisely those rides. Or tell you are crazy & to cut a couple of things. Or how to add in the new rides on those outdated plans.

Other than TGM, best advice I have is that if you try to do everything you'll be miserable. Take it easy, & pick the things you really want. If you want table service restaurants, you'll have to call & book in advance, not just for the princesses. But none of the meals are life changing, so plan what you want to see & do first then fit in the dining to logical places where it fits. Eating in the castle is really lovely, but Akershus in Epcot is much easier to book & much more reasonably priced for princesses.
posted by rks404 at 7:50 PM on June 16, 2010

Do monitor the discounts, but don't worry too much about finding free dining or some very specific promotion. After watching all the different Disney promotions come & go for a couple of years, I've noticed they all work out to be somewhat equivalent, whether you're getting free dining, or buying 4 nights & getting 3 for free, or getting a gift card. Something in the neighborhood of 20-30% off of the rack room rates for the values, 25-35% off the moderates & 30-40% off the deluxe. And off property is really nice too. Mousesavers.com is a good place to monitor rates, & Windsor Hills is a good place to rent an off property house or townhome.
posted by rks404 at 7:55 PM on June 16, 2010

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