Curly Crafty Mom: Disney Vacation - Planning Tips for a Better Trip

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Disney Vacation - Planning Tips for a Better Trip

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Today I am going to share with you several categories of tips that I hope will help you when you plan your own Disney vacation. I spent a lot of time researching Disney tips online and this has been our second Disney trip in the last year so I have some real world experience as well. Feel free to read now or to pin this post to read later, it is all good information that you can use at any time.

If you want to see photos from our trip and our trip story, please scroll down to the bottom of this post and I have a link for each day of our trip.

Planning
1. Touring Plans. We used Touring Plans.com to do a lot of our Disney planning. Our travel agent had a free account we could use, but we decided to buy our own account since the cost is minimal. This site is great to use after you book, it has 'Touring Plans' you can use for each park, but I created my own Touring Plan off of one of theirs and saved it with a unique name. I loved that they have plans set up for parents with young kids, parents with tweens, adults and seniors. I used the one set up for parent with young kids, then personalized it to suit our tastes. What the plan does is it helps you get the most out of your day, it tells you which Fast Passes to get first and which rides will be best suited for you and your kids. This website is so valuable and even better yet it lets you print your Touring Plan for each park. I put in all of our dining reservations, deleted and added rides, etc. Touring plans also has crowd levels, show times, rope drops (when the park opens), etc. There is even an app, so while we would finish rides or shows, I could check off things on my phone while we were at the actual park! So cool!

2. Dining Reservations and Special Activities. Book these as soon as you book your trip, this is so important to do in order to get the best times or even availability at the place. We booked through a travel agent, so she took care of this for us... she booked all of our dining reservations (we did the Disney dining plan) and the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and Pirates League. More than likely, you will not be able to get into restaurants that take reservations the week of your trip if you wait until the last minute.

3. Special Outfits. Order your special outfits for your children at least 2 to 3 months before the trip, especially if you are using Etsy. I sort of waited until the last minute and ordered several outfits a month before the trip, thinking there wouldn't be any problem getting them done in time. It is important to ask the seller if they can finish the item in time for your trip by a personal message and it also causes a lot less worry to just order those special outfits early so you aren't waiting by the mailbox for them to arrive.

4. Shipping Snacks and Drinks to Hotel. We shipped a large flat rate box to our hotel filled with snacks and drinks and it saved us a lot of money. It was so easy, you just write on the box the address of the hotel and when you should be arriving. Most hotels have a refrigerator in their room and you can store the drinks in there.

5. Stroller Rental. We used Kingdom Stroller rental in Orlando to rent a one child stroller for our trip. They delivered it to our hotel and picked it up at the end of the trip. What was wonderful is the stroller came with a cooler and a rain shield (perfect for those spot showers). Their prices are so much better than the theme park stroller prices and the strollers are sort of like 'jogging' strollers with one wheel in the front and two in the back, which made it so easy to maneuver. They even label the stroller with your name on it. What is wonderful about Disney, too, is that they have designated areas for 'stroller parking' with people actually tending to and guarding the strollers for you! Also, with the Disney strollers, you have to leave them at the park, which would mean you'd have to carry your child out of the park to the bus stop and then from the bus stop to the hotel (which is more walking than you'd think!).

6. Ponchos. It rained off and on during our trip, which can be common in Florida. I picked up 4 of the $1.00 ponchos in the dollar spot at Target and it saved us so much money. The regular Disney ponchos are $8.50 each, but they are a little better quality. For the kids ponchos, I tied a knot in the bottom of them so they didn't drag on the ground. These things were life savers during the trip!


Disney Dining Plan
When we went to Disney last November for the Wine & Dine half marathon, we did not order the Disney dining plan. For one, we didn't have the kids with us and two, it was a short trip and we booked it ONE month before we left, so all of the good reservations were already gone. Were we upset we didn't get it? No. We really didn't know what we were missing out on and since we booked late all of the Disney resorts (yes, ALL of them!) were sold out, too.

Recently, for our July trip, we decided to try out the Disney dining plan and we loved it! I honestly did not think it would be enough food, figuring it includes 1 $5.00 and under snack, a Quick-Service meal and a Table-Service meal. Since we mailed drinks and snacks and packed even more snacks, we usually left the $5.00 Disney snack for a snack inbetween lunch and dinner.

We also found that ordering 2 Quick-Service meals and splitting them between the 4 of us was the best way to go for breakfast AND lunch. Our hotel (Animal Kingdom Lodge) would let Brian go get 2 breakfasts to go for 2 Quick-Service meals and then he would get extra plates and we would split the 2 meals and eat them in our hotel before we left for the park. The breakfast included a Mickey waffle, a bisquit, bacon AND sausage and scrambled eggs plus juice. We did this again for lunch (on some days) and would just dine somewhere that we all agreed we would enjoy the food at. This took some extra planning on my part, in that I did review all of the lunch options and which would satisfy all of us. So, yes, I had our lunches planned out before we even left!

The Quick-Service lunch includes dessert! Sometimes it was a cookie, sometimes it was a HUGE cupcake or sometimes even more. It was an awful lot of food.

We would always see the total of our lunch BEFORE they would clear it out due to our Disney Dining Plan and for four to eat it was usually around $53.

Now, for some of the Table-Service (sit down) meals, they would take TWO Table-Service points for that one restaurant if it is EXTRA nice. They did this at Hollywood & Vine, because we got the Fantasmic (pyro, lights and fireworks show) package with it. It really is a bummer that they take two table services for these, but they really are extra special.

Would we do the Dining Plan again? I think so! It is nice to have ALL your food paid for before you even leave on the trip! All we really had to pay for was the junk souvenirs we bought the kids!


Disney Transportation
Disney Magical Express is not an extra cost. It's included with staying on-site at a Disney resort hotel. Here is what it consists of:
1. Put special YELLOW Animal Kingdom Lodge (or it'll say which hotel you are staying at on it) tags on luggage. Arrive at airport, check luggage and its GONE. Like magic, it will arrive in your hotel room in approx. 3 hours after you arrive.

2. Get off plane in Orlando, find Disney bus, get on. Watch a check in movie and Disney cartoons on bus while it stops at 3-4 hotels (one of them will be yours).

3. Check into hotel. Get any packages you mailed with juice/snacks/Disney mail and get your stroller if you rented one from an outside company. Go up to room. Relax.

4. When its time to go to a park, just find the correct park station outside the hotel and wait for the bus. It will take you right to the park! Parks are 10-30 minutes away. You must carry your stroller on the bus with you, they have no storage for it under the bus, which kinda bites.

5. When its time to leave a park, find correct hotel station and a bus will pick you up and take you back to your Disney hotel.

6. Last day? Check your luggage with new tags AT your hotel! They take your luggage from there and it magically appears on the luggage retrieval belt after you arrive back at your home airport! ITS SO EASY.


Our Hotel: Animal Kingdom Lodge
I have always wanted to stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, ever since it opened. So, that is where we stayed. :) We upgraded our room to a Safari View and actually had views of the animals on the grounds from our balcony! It was so neat to sit out there every morning and see them!

What we loved about Animal Kingdom Lodge (there was nothing to not love):

1. Option for bunk bed in our room, yes!! The kids slept in the bunk bed and we had our own queen bed!

2. Safari View (optional, but so worth it)

3. You could walk directly into the pool and they offered FREE life jackets for the kids and towels. Lots of life guards. There was a nice little kiddie slide that the kids enjoyed and the pool was heated. They also had two hot tubs, a shallow kiddie pool and bathrooms that were nearby.

4. Lots of kids activities at the hotel, cupcake decorating, child care, movies, campfire/smores, coloring books with Crayola crayons, etc. 

5. Boma - we ate here for one of our Table-Service meals and this was one of my favorite meals of the trip. Its a buffet and there is food with an African flair and even American food. Brian and I both got their wine trio, which was awesome. They had several soups made from scratch and a pecan encrusted salmon that I tried (had never tried salmon before, but this looked too good to pass up!) that I just loved. I would definitely come back here!

6. When we bought souvenirs from the parks, they arrived in our room the next day. 

7. The lobby was HUGE and beautiful. There was a bridge, a little nook for the kids to watch Disney cartoons, a huge area on the floor where kids could use crayons and paper and do etchings, lots of need little artifact galleries on each level, etc.


Epcot
1. This is the perfect park to see if you do not have a full day or if you are flying in this day. We did this park the first day and got almost everything done and we did not get there until 2 p.m. There isn't as many rides and you can wander around the World Showcase (all of the countries) and see what you want of it... really, the World Showcase is more for the adults than the kids in my opinion... but, if you have a couple of hours to wander around it with the kids, then I say you did really good!

2. Must See Rides.

Mission Space - This was my sons favorite ride and he is 7. There is a green and an orange level on it and the green is a lot tammer. He did the green twice and the orange once, just because the orange is a lot busier. Autumn and I walked around and even saw Snow White (her first princess) while the boys were on their ride.

Soarin' - You'll want to get a Fast Pass for this ride and you'll probably only get to ride it once, it is pretty popular. I was a little nervous to get on this ride with my 4 year old daughter as it does take you up into the air (you're soaring on a glider above California!) and it said it has some drops, etc. This ride is pretty tame and not once did my stomach get squeamish, it is wayyy tamer than a log flume if I had to compare it to something. You have to take your shoes off and put it in a basket under your chair, but that is just because it lifts you up into the air.

Spaceship Earth - This ride never seems to have a line and it was the first ride we took the kids on when we got there. I would say its def. the classic ride to go on at Epcot.

Living with the Land - I really enjoyed this ride and you get to see Disney's greenhouses where they actually use the crops for your meals at the parks. We even saw a Mickey shaped pumpkin.

3. German Pavilion, World Showcase. If you have a electric train lover, there is a huge electric train display outside the German Pavilion.

4. Fab Five. Make sure you see the fab five characters for photographs and autographs, we saw Mickey, Minnie and Pluto... usually they have Goofy and Donald Duck, too!

5.  Club Cool - This is neat to check out at Epcot, they let you sample several different sodas from around the world! Its free and they give you little cups to put the samples in.

6. Dining at Epcot. Since we didn't arrive here until 2:00 p.m., we had a Quick-Service dinner at the Katsura Grill. We split chicken teriyaki meals with the kids, there was A LOT of food and they even gave us extra teriyaki sauce for free. I thought the food here was just OK, probably my least favorite place we ate at on the entire trip.


Magic Kingdom
1. We did Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and Pirates League at the same time and since we had appointments BEFORE the park opened, we got to by pass the HUGE line of people to get in and walked right in. See the photo of Cinderella's castle at the top of this post? See how there aren't any crowds? Yes, we got photos by the castle without any crowds! I took Autumn to the BBB and Brian took Nathan's to the Pirate's League. It saved us time and worked out perfectly. Then, Autumn and I road Its a Small World two times with no wait while the boys finished up. 

Some tips on the BBB is that they do not have any princesses or photo staged areas inside the boutique, I had to take Autumn outside and take photos of her by the castle. I bought a dress for Autumn at ToysRUs and brought it with us on the trip, I did not want to pay for a $200 package that included a dress! We did hair, nails and makeup for $65 and she got to take two bottles of nail polish and all of her makeup home with her! You'll also want to bring an outfit for her to change into if you think her princess gown may get uncomfortable or hot later on in the day. 

Also, you should tip and if you do you will need to do it by cash, they do not accept tips on your credit card. I only had a $20 in my wallet, so I found this out the hard way. As for the Pirates League, they have several different face paintings they can do, I would have your son select one that is more simple... it really does become a mess if it starts to sprinkle or rain later in the day and the simpler ones seem to hold up much better. You might want to bring some makeup remover wipes (baby wipes or a wet napkin will work, too) as they put eyeliner and makeup around my son's eyes and it started to bother him/burn later in the day, so we took it off.

Expect a lot of extra attention from workers as they love to make comments to your Princess and Pirate!

3. Must See Rides.

I am going to just list these off... Its a Small World has always been a special Mommy and Daughter ride, Dumbo ride is nice and it even has a little play area with buzzers like they have at the restaurant so the kids play while you wait and Nathan's favorite was Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (a roller coaster). Make sure you check out the new Fantasyland, too!

4. Dining at Magic Kingdom. We had lunch at Cinderella's Castle and it was one of my favorite meals of the trip! First we got a photo of all of us (with free prints included!) with Cinderella downstairs, then we came upstairs for lunch and saw several more princesses as they stopped by our table for a photo and autograph. They had a great selection of food for adults and kids and Nathan got a sword and Autumn a fairy wand to take home. Both kids also got a wishing star and were told to make wishes after dinner. I loved the desserts here, Nathan got a cupcake and Autumn ice cream and they were given sprinkles to decorate them with! Such a special and magical lunch! It was wonderful too that it was right after Autumn got made into a princess, she looked beautiful in the photos with the princesses!

We also had dinner at Be Our Guest, which felt to us as more of an 'adults' place for dinner. The adult food was good, BUT they did not have very many good kids options... so, the kids did not really eat their meals, but devoured their desserts. :( We did get to see the Beast afterwards for photos, but his hands were too big for autographs. They do let you drink wine at this restaurant and its the only restaurant in the Magic Kingdom that does this...

5. Electric Parade and Fireworks.  We loved this, but we started looking for a spot to sit 30 minutes prior to the show and if you do not have a spot an hour prior, its going to be hard to find a good spot! We did find one, thankfully, but it was to the side of the castle. Disney has a new light show that they display on the castle and it is so magical in that they can morph the castle into different things with the lights from the projectors. They did not have this last November, so it was really neat to see! 


Animal Kingdom
1. Animal Kingdom is another great park to do on a day when you don't have as much time or if you feel like sleeping in a little.

2. Must See Rides: Once you arrive here, the first ride I suggest you get a Fast Pass for is the Kilimanjaro Safaris. This is a safari ride where you get up and close to giraffes, elephants, etc. It is really neat and when we went in November we were so close to a giraffe that I could have reached out and touched him if I wanted to! 

Expedition Everest - My crazy 7 year old son decided he wanted to go on this ride and he did! I went on it last November and I thought that it was pretty scary and I have been on a lot of roller coasters, so I was a little nervous for him to go on it. But, he loved it and I was glad he got the experience. This roller coaster goes forward and then you see the tracks torn up due to the Yeti monster and then it goes backwards!

It's Tough to Be a Bug! - This is a show, but it was really neat! The bugs actually spit on you (water spurts out of the seat in front of you) and you feel the bugs squirm underneath you (your seats moves)... it is just really realistic, so realistic that my poor daughter was a little scared! Aww!

DINOSAUR - Board a time rover on this ride and let me tell you this is ONE BUMPY and quick ride. My 4 year old was old enough to go on this and she did,  but it sort of scared her when one of the dinosaurs lit up, looked at us and roared. I had never seen her eyes get bigger! Poor thing! She did not cry on it, though, but I think she was happy when she got off it!

4. Dining at Animal Kingdom. We had breakfast at our hotel and then we had lunch at Restaurantosaurus, which I saw gave the kids sand buckets for their kids meals with the fries on the bottom and burgers on top! So cute! They had a huge burger toppings bars here, too, with lots of delicious and interesting toppings. Then we had dinner back at our hotel.


Hollywood Studios 
1. We did Hollywood Studios the last day of our trip and this was the theme park that I felt we got the least done at! The crowds were pretty crazy here and this was also the day we got the most rain.

2. Must See Rides. If you want to do the Jedi Training, you need to arrive at this park as soon as it opens and you need to send one adult over to the Jedi Training sign up (they have to answer a few questions, like if the child can follow directions) and one adult over to the Toy Story Mania! ride. We got the 5:00 p.m. Jedi Training slot and all the morning ones were filled already and that was getting in line right when the park opened! The Toy Story Mania I got a Fast Pass for 2:30 p.m., because it filled up so quickly. These are the two biggies at Hollywood Studios that you must sign up for ASAP upon arrival.

Lights, Motors, Action! - This is a really neat stunt show and you even get to see Lightning McQueen!

Beauty and the Beast - While my son was training for his Jedi, Autumn and I went and saw this musical and she finally got to see the yellow princess (as she calls her). It was beautiful and just perfect for a 4 year old! Then, we got back just in time to see Nathan fight Vader on the stage!

Star Tours - Autumn was too scared to do this, but Brian and Nathan went on it and it was a stimulator ride, which they said was pretty tame, but neat. It empties out into a store and Nathan built a droid to take home and Autumn got a Princess Leia Polly Pocket set.

There were a lot of others rides, etc. that we wanted to see, but we just ran out of time. :(

3. Dining at Hollywood Studios. We had lunch at Pizza Planet, right after we saw the Muppets show. I tried to vary up our lunches a bit on this trip and we hadn't had pizza yet! There was even an arcade inside this place!

We ate at Hollywood & Vine for an early dinner (4:00pm!) and we also got our Fantasmic tickets, which were included in this 2 ticket Table-Service meal. I know they do character breakfasts and lunches here, but for dinner it is just a buffet and no characters since you get those Fantasmic tickets. I really thought the buffet at this meal had a lot of good options for kids and I even enjoyed a lot of it, too. They even had a create your own pasta station.

4. Fantasmic Show - This was a great finale to our last night at Disney. Since we had tickets for dinner for the show, we had special seats for the show. We had to arrive an hour prior to the show starting, but the time passed quickly and we had bought our last Disney Dining Snacks prior to going in so we all ate those. This show was just amazing, click on my Hollywood Studios post below if you want to see some photos. There is pyro dynamics, fireworks, water, stunts, lights, etc. in this show. They even had a huge boat go by with ALL of the Disney characters and princesses on it! Just amazing!


I know this post includes just the tips, but if you want to see photos and the story of our trip, please check out the Disney posts from our trip below:


Our Disney Vacation Day 1: Animal Kingdom Lodge and Epcot



Our Disney Vacation Day 2: Magic Kingdom



Our Disney Vacation Day 3: Animal Kingdom and Boma



Our Disney Vacation Day 4: Hollywood Studios and Fantasmic



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