Happy Monday, friends! I hope your day was full of coffee and positive thoughts for the week. How else is one to lament the end of a weekend? We’ve been home from Disney slightly over a week, and I was already on disney.com this weekend buying Mickey Mouse shirts because they were offering free shipping. And I’m speeding through the book I’m reading, so I can move on and read the Walt Disney biography I bought. Needless to say, I caught a bit of the Disney bug while we were there. The place is actually magical, you guys.
I learned a lot about Disney logistics while planning for and spending a week there. While you can find great information on disney.com and the My Disney Experience app, a lot of my best advice came from friends who’d already been or from Pinterest. Also, beforehand, you’re so busy thinking about dining reservations, fast passes, and other major plans, it’s easy to overlook smaller details.
When we were there, little things came up throughout the week I didn’t expect or didn’t know to even think about. Within the first five minutes of arriving at the resort, I opened a ‘Notes’ page on my phone and began taking notes so I could share some helpful information with others once I returned. On the blog today, I’m offering a few tips and tricks you won’t find on the My Disney Experience app.
Don’t forget your Magic Band PIN number: Apparently, I established a pin number last October when I was at a blogging conference held at Disney. The pin remained with my account. I had no idea what the pin was because I created it based on something related to the conference so my fellow bloggers could remember it. Before my family could even get breakfast on the first day, I had to find a concierge and create a new pin. Yea, that was a great. I learned later that I could have changed it at check-in or on the website prior to arriving. You can also create different pins for various family members or turn off pin numbers for children.
No need for beach towels: We wasted room packing beach towels for the pool, but the resorts have tons of pool towels right there at your fingertips, so save the space and leave the beach towels at home. Unless you’re planning to actually go to a Florida beach, that is.
Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary and Magic Kingdom on Day #1: When planning out our week, I decided we would go to Magic Kingdom on day #1 and that we would begin our day dining with all the characters at Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort. I did this for several reasons. With the boys having never been to Disney World, I wanted to start the week out with a bang, and let me tell you, breakfast at Chef Mickey’s was super banging! The characters dance, sing, hug, all kinds of things. Also, the boys wanted autographs so I figured if we knocked out Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, and Pluto in one fail swoop within the first hour of day #1, we wouldn’t waste Fast Passes or wait in long lines for character meet and greets during the rest of the week. Plan worked perfectly. The characters ensure they come to every single table, so both boys got all the main autographs. Everyone knows the iconic image of Cinderella’s castle, so I wanted to begin the week with Magic Kingdom and see all the of the traditional sights and ride the nostalgic rides on the first day. Lastly, Brooks was very intrigued with the monorail, but you can only ride it if you’re on a Magic Kingdom property, so if you dine at the Contemporary (which is a MK resort), you can park in that lot but ride the monorail to Magic Kingdom. I would suggest using this plan or a variation of it, especially if it’s your family’s first time at Disney World. If it’s not your first time, I can totally see rearranging the week in other ways.
Gratuity is not included in table service dining: This was a biggie! We had the Disney Dining Plan (which I highly recommend), so I thought we could just scan one of our Magic Bands after each meal and be done with it. This works for quick service meals and snacks, but not for table (sit-down) meals. My husband and I spent an inordinate amount of time paying for our first table meal because we were confused. The waiter brought us a ticket with the full amount of the meal. We were like, ummmm…When he came back, I told him we had the dining plan and he said, okay, no problem. He was very patient with us. Then he brought the bill back with a space for us to write in the tip. I had no idea why I thought tip would be included, but I did. And so you can budget correctly, table service tips ranged from $15-$40 depending on price of menu items and any additions of appetizers or alcoholic drinks. With seven table service meals, that can add up. You live and learn. Next time I will know.
Can only fill rapid fill resort mugs at Disney resorts not the parks: If you purchase or receive a Disney Resort refillable mug, just know that you can only fill them up at Disney resorts and not at the parks. You can take them into the parks, but you can fill them up anywhere, so you may not even want to lug them around. I’m not sure it’s worth getting them for the kids, but it was for my husband and me, when considering how much coffee I drink and his love for soda. If you’re resort package or dining plan comes with a mug, awesome! But if it doesn’t, do the math and see if it’s really worth it.
Send postcards: I mentioned sending postcards to some folks back home and both boys said, “What’s a postcard?” I can’t have my children not know what a postcard is, so we bought a book of Disney postcards. The boys wrote the cards and we sent them to friends, family, and their teachers. My sister and I used to send postcards all the time when we traveled as kids, so I hope we can continue that tradition with the boys.
Magic Band safety: First names are written on the inside of Magic Bands, but that’s it. Before heading into a park on the first day, I wrote my first name and cell number inside the boys’ Magic Bands. I told them if they got separated to find a mom with kids or a Disney cast member behind a register and show that person the Magic Band and tell him or her to call me. My older son knows my phone number, but I told him to have the adult call. The boys looked terrified, but I made them repeat it back three times. The reason I said behind a register is because I get paranoid that crazy people fake working at establishments so they can abduct kids. I know Disney is very strict with their uniforms, their training, and everything else, so this is highly unlikely, but I figure if someone is actually behind a counter ringing up customers, that person must truly and officially be a Disney employee.
Fast Pass priorities: I failed to get my Fast Passes the exact day my window opened which was not good. I waited three days and then was never able to get Seven Dwarfs Mine Train or Frozen, BUT all was well for several reasons. One, I don’t have girls so the Frozen thing wasn’t a huge deal. From going to the conference last fall, I knew Epcot would clear out with young children during their late night Magic Hours (EMH), and that we could ride Frozen then, which we did. I really wanted to get a FP for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train because it’s such a cute ride and one of the roller coasters my five-year old could ride. It ended up working out, though. We rode it during late EMH as well. We still had to wait about 30 min. but that was nothing compared to the 90 and 170 minute long lines during the day. My advice is get your Fast Passes the exact day they open up just to make sure you don’t have any little broken hearts in your family. And just FYI, I had zero trouble getting all the other Fast Passes I wanted by waiting several days after my window opened. Other Fast Pass priorities at Magic Kingdom are Peter Pan’s Flight, Thunder Mountain, and the Jungle Cruise. There’s no need to Fast Pass It’s a Small World or Barnstormer. Stay tuned for additional posts in the coming weeks solely about Fast Passes and rides at each park.
Bring your go-to First Aid supplies: Several bizarre things happened while we were there, and I was thankful I had all my favorite remedies to treat everyone. With us being from frigid North Carolina, Case got a weird heat rash on the first day. Then one night, he fell off the bed and slammed his lip on the night stand. Poor child. I also had some significant indigestion considering I’m typically a clean, healthy eater, and I was having all types of fun eating Mickey pretzels, Mickey waffles, Mickey ice cream bars, and well, you get the picture. Some items in my go-to First Aid bag are: Ibuprofen for both children and adults, band-aids, sunscreen, coconut oil, Aquaphor, Silvadene cream, band-aids, a thermometer, and my favorite essential oils (Peppermint, Lemon, Digize, Lavender, Tea Tree, Frankincense, etc.)
Fill souvenir mug with coffee at resort so you don’t waste a “snack” at Starbucks: This tip is mostly for coffee-obsessed people like myself. I would get up early and fill up my souvenir mug with coffee then fill it again at breakfast. And by the way, Disney resorts have great coffee. As a bit of a coffee snob who requires very strong coffee, I was impressed. I carried my mug into the park each day and when I was finished with my coffee, rinsed out and dried the mug in the bathroom, then stuffed it in my backpack. Otherwise, you’ll have to spend a hefty price or waste one of your dining plan snacks at Starbucks to obtain your morning coffee.
Re-usable water bottles: Similar to the tip above, we filled up our four re-usable water bottles each day at the resort before leaving. If you have the dining plan, quick service eateries will either fill up your water bottles again or give you a bottle of water.
Awesome ice: Not much to say here other than I love the ice at Disney. It’s like Chick-fil-A ice. Just thought you should know.
It’s hotter than you think it will be: I didn’t pack very well for the weather. Even though I saw on my weather app that it was going to be 75 every day, I still packed more pants than shorts for the boys. When it was 30 degrees at home while I was packing, it was just so hard to fathom how hot it would truly be down there. To make things work, I washed some of the boys’ clothes in the sink like the old-timey days. Worked just fine, but it would’ve been nice to have what I needed in the first place. With that being said, mornings and evenings are still chilly during Florida winters. Not freezing, but chilly. I had a little fleece jacket for each of the boys which was plenty as far as keeping them warm early and late in the day.
Disney pin trading: A friend of mine told me about Disney pin trading before we went, and thank goodness she did! Our older son is a true collector and loves collecting all types of things. He also loves looking up prices, figuring out if something is authentic, and trading with other collectors, so Disney pin trading was right up his alley. To begin, each child needs a lanyard and some pins to start with. At that point, they’re ready to trade and/or buy new ones to add to their collection. We had a lot of great conversations with Disney cast members and other pin traders.
Mom and Dad need Disney Gift Cards too: It was suggested that friends and family get the boys Disney gift cards for Christmas and their birthdays (both birthdays are in January), so by the time we left, both of them had $100 worth of gift cards and let me tell you, this was amazing. We told them once their money was up, that would be it. No more souvenirs. So not only did this eliminate them constantly asking us to buy them stuff, but they really had to think hard about what was important enough to spend money on. I decided, however, that I wanted some gift cards of my own. There were a few really cute shirts and ears I wanted, but I didn’t want to spend money on them. I also felt guilty buying a glass of wine or beer here and there, considering how pricey they were. Next time we go, Mommy and Daddy are going to ask for a few gift cards too so we can do a little splurging ourselves.
Portable charger: Because you’re gone from very early in the morning until late at night, be sure to tote around a portable phone charger. This is much easier than trying to find an outlet or a charging station.
No food during indoor shows: The amusement park closest to us is Dollywood, so we are there often. At Dollywood, you can take food (popcorn, cotton candy, drinks, etc.) into the shows and snack while you’re watching. You can’t do this at Disney. We made that mistake and had just bought lemonade ice right before the Nemo show began. We had to put the lids on them and save them until the show was over. It was fine, but they were more like slushies by the time we ate them. To clarify, you can eat food at shows held in outdoor arenas but not in those held indoors.
Bring fruit from home: I kept getting annoyed at myself when we spent our dining plan snacks on fruit, but I did it anyway. And I must admit, the oranges were absolutely delicious. Next time, I plan to bring apples and bananas from home so we can save our dining plan snacks for more exciting treats.
Pull off extra Magic Band material: The lady who checked us in to our resort was super nice and helpful, but she didn’t say anything about pulling off the extra material from the boys’ Magic Bands. On about day #3, we were in a Disney store and the cashier asked if we wanted her to fix the boys’ Magic Bands. She pulled off the extra material and they fit their little wrists much more snuggly. Before this, I was constantly stressed about them falling off. This is hard to understand if you’ve never had a Magic Band but if you’re a Disney newbie and you have little ones going, just ask any Disney cast member to help you out, and they’ll make sure your kiddos’ Magic Bands are situated.
Down day at Disney springs: We had a five-day Disney Park Hopper pass, but we were there six days. When I was planning the trip, I didn’t really know what we were going to do on our “day off” so I just penciled in “lunch and shopping at Disney Springs” and made a lunch reservation at T-Rex Cafe. This ended up being a great decision. We arrived Saturday evening and our down day was Thursday, so by that point we were beyond exhausted. We’d been waking up every day between 6:00 and 7:00 AM and going to bed at 11:00 PM or later. The first thing we did on our day off was hold a “sleep-in” competition. Whoever slept the longest was the winner. Our five-year old didn’t even open his eyes until 9:30. The rest of us woke up slightly earlier than him, but not much. We then lounged around the room until 12:30 when we left for our 1:00 lunch reservation. We shopped a little at Disney Springs then hung out at he pool the rest of the afternoon and got to bed pretty early. We were then well-rested for our final day on Friday.
Disney Springs 101: If you’ve never been, Disney Springs is a dining and shopping area close to Disney World. It still feels like you’re at Disney. The resort buses will transport you there, Disney gift cards work at the stores, several restaurants are part of the Disney Dining Plan (including T-Rex Cafe), the largest Disney merchandise store is located there, Disney cast members are everywhere, etc. You may not be at a park, but if you have a down day at Disney Springs or spend an evening dining there, you’re still in the Disney bubble, believe me.
Some characters don’t autograph: Our boys were very excited about filling up their frame mattes with autographs, but just know before you wait in a long line that some characters don’t autograph at all (Baymax from Big Hero 6), others use a stamp (Buzz Lightyear), and others just give an autograph card (Olaf) or bookmark (Belle). It’s not a huge deal, but if the sole reason is to get an autograph, just find out first if the character does that. The boys were okay with some of them not autographing because it’s still really fun just to hug the character and get a photo taken.
Take advantage of Magic Hours (EMH): If you’re staying at a Disney resort, you have access to Magic Hours which differ every day. Each day, one or more parks open early or close late and these extended hours are only for Disney resort guests. It was during these hours when we hit up rides for which no Fast Passes were available.
Disney parades and shows are amazing: Don’t bypass the parades and shows just because the rides are so much fun. We watched two different parades which were incredible. Get to those early so you can get a decent view of the characters. It was really hot during one of the parades, so be sure you have plenty of water, sunglasses/hats and everyone is wearing sunscreen. We ended up going to three shows (Nemo, Beauty and the Beast and Lion King), and all three were absolutely fantastic. They were long enough to cool off and rest but short enough so the boys didn’t get antsy or become inattentive.
Dining plan was awesome: The food at Disney was delicious. I’m going to write a separate post about the Disney Dining Plan with specific tips and suggestions related to that, so I won’t take up too much room here. I do want to mention the “snacks” though. Before we went to Disney, I thought the dining plan “snacks” would just be packs of chips, granola bars, etc. but oh no, they were much more than that. For instance, in the morning, a bagel with cream cheese or a blueberry muffin made on site was considered a snack, so we used a lot of our snacks for breakfast and saved our quick service and table meals for lunch and dinner. We also flipped it around some days and used a table meal for breakfast, snack for lunch, and quick service for dinner. Animal Kingdom, especially, had some impressive snacks including edamame and Asian noodle salad. Yum!
Hidden Mickey search: My husband read somewhere that hidden Mickeys are everywhere around the parks. Some are there intentionally and others just appear. (See, I told you it’s really magical there). We had so much fun finding these all over the place. Our five-year old especially had a ball looking for Hidden Mickeys. The coolest one he found was three lights reflecting on the sidewalk that made the shape of a Mickey head.
Nicest people ever: Disney really does feel like the happiest place on earth. I think it’s a combination of knowledgeable, kind, well-trained Disney staff combined with guests who are giddy to be at Disney instead of home working or going to school. I’ve always heard it’s no easy feat to work for Disney and now I can see why. Everyone was kind, helpful and very engaging with the boys. When we were waiting in line for Soarin’ at Epcot, an older gentleman struck up a conversation and we ended up talking to him during the entire 20 minute wait. He and his wife (both retired) are from Philadelphia and have been working at Disney for 10 years during the Christmas season. The gentleman’s job is to help the Beast get ready for parades because the costume is apparently very complicated to get on and off. The gentleman said it’s a wonderful place to work. He also told the boys a few cool stories and facts about Disney World (like about the underground Disney)and then gave them stickers. Hello! How sweet was he?
Wowzers, I had a lot more notes on my phone than I realized, but it was fun writing this post and reflecting upon our trip. I hope you found some of it helpful in your planning journey. If you want to elaborate on any of the above tips or correct a mistake, please feel free to comment so this post can be an accurate resource for people. I’m already super excited about planning our next trip to Disney World. It truly is a magical, magical place.