May 29, 2006

Walt Disney World Tips and Tricks

Here are a few things we learned along the way from the various books, friends, websites and experiences we had that we found really helpful and useful to know. Take them for what they are worth, everyone enjoys and needs different things for their families. Also our kids were really young so keep that in mind (6,5 and 2). They are in no particular order so read all the way through as some of the best tips may be at the bottom.

1. Read, read, read. We were very well prepared and had reasonable expectations because we read so much ahead of time and knew what to expect and what to do and not to do. All libraries have excellent books available to you. Skimming them is generally all you need to do. We have special needs (vegetarian diet, peanut allergy) so we found the Passporter Guide especially helpful.

2. Use Fastpass. This is a great system at Disney and one when used well saves you a ton of time. You put in your tickets and receive a paper ticket with a set return time say you are at the ride at 9am your return may say 10am-noon. On the bottom of the ticket will also be the next time a fast pass is available to you (here 10:05am) so we get the pass then walk across the park to an area we want another fast pass and find a ride or two nearby without a line and ride them. Then at 10:05 we get our next fast pass and walk back to ride the first pass ride. Come out and ride another ride on the way back to the first ride and so on. You quickly realize the rides this makes a big difference on for you. For us our most used fast pass was Buzz Lightyear. Others that were very helpful were Peter Pan, Winnie-the-Pooh, space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Soarin, Kilamajaro Safari, Star Tours, and the Ariel show at MGM. These save you a lot of time and are worth criss crossing the park especially with young children with little patience for lines.

3. Plan for the bathroom. No book we read gave us an idea of this. You will spend a lot of time in the bathroom with young children. Just accept and embrace this and you will be happier. Everyone needs to drink a lot of water and therefore go to the bathroom more and if you don't plan for this it will happen at VERY inconvenient times. Like when you are next on line or on the bus headed home or nowhere near a bathroom. We found continually asking helped but also so did making them "just try" before any long line, show or upon entering and leaving the parks. It is helpful to make note of bathroom locations along the way, especially ones at the park entrance (on the outside of the gates) so you are prepared. We were at first annoyed with all the bathroom time and then when we embraced and planned for it - it was much better. Also kids take a LOOOONG time in the bathroom sometimes so be patient and let others go on rides without you.

4. GO EARLY! Every book says this and it is true. The difference in lines is amazing and substantial. Walking right onto popular rides with no wait and riding them back to back immediately is possible first thing in the morning during extra magic hours. The extra magic morning hours are MUCH better than the extra magic evening hours as more people are willing to stay late then get up early. GO EARLY, get up one hour to 1 1/2 hours early depending how long it takes you to get ready and to the parks. Then eat at 10am when it starts getting crowded but people aren't hungry yet.

5. Parades and Fireworks. If you are not a huge parade and fireworks person plan to ride the rides during this time (especially Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Buzz Lightyear) as there are nearly no lines and you can get off and ride immediately again. Sirah and I rode Buzz Lightyear four times in a row without a wait during the fireworks one night before I lost patience and made us do something else. We watched each parade and fireworks once and then used that time for rides the rest of the time.

6. Do Character Meals. The priceline on these seems high at first but they are really a great deal because you accomplish so much at once. You eat (which you have to do), you sit in air conditioning (which you desperately want to do), you get character signings and hugs and pictures. Everything costs money at Disney, even your time, remember that. I think Serona figured out we were spending about $134 an hour for our vacation (all expenses totaled) so the character meal was actually a great deal. As we spent nearly two hours at the meal, ate, played with the characters and spent around 90 total for a family of five. By contrast our dinner at the Tommorowland counter (fast food) cost us nearly 60 was less than an hour and was not nearly as good of food with no characters. Plus we did not need to stand in line for Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Chip, Dale, Donald Duck, Cinderella, Belle, Aurora, Snow White, Fairy Godmother, Pooh, Eyeore, Tigger, and Piglet. Also the food is much better, all you can eat and will fill you with energy and rest for much longer. We found doing one of these a day (including the night we came) to be an awesome use of time and resources).

7. Special Needs. If you have a special needs diet like we did, call ahead and let them know. Ask to speak to the chef upon arrival and they will work really well with you. Do not hesitate to ask for anything ,they have excellent customer service and really want you to be happy. The sit down places were accommodating, the counter services were not helpful at all. Your options may be limited. Check out the passport's guide and read the restaurant section ahead of time.

8. Bring Portable Snacks. My kids love natural fruit leathers (simply dried fruit no extra sugar), very portable, hold up to weather and relatively cheap. I spent 15.00 on fruit leathers and another 5.00 on gum and mints they like. This went a long way, the entire trip. It was helpful for a stand in between meals or in place of begging for snacks. We still bought ice cream a few times but for the most part our very lightweight and portable fruit leathers went a long way for us.

9. Nametag and Light. Our friend Julie gave us a great idea to have a little light and nametag necklace. We could not find a good necklace before we left but found nice bright luggage tags for nametags, we put the kids names, our cell phone numbers and the initials of our resort (CBR) on them. I also found 2.99 carabeners with little flashlights at Target before we left. Upon arrival we bought each child a Disney Pin Trading Lanyard that was perfect to link the luggage tag and carabeener onto. They wore those every day. We let them pick out pins and put them on their lanyards at first but quickly realized you need special locking backs to prevent pin loss (we donated two back to the park this way). We decided to just keep their pins in our book but you could buy the special locking pins and then the kids can keep the pins on their pin lanyard.

10. Collecting Treasures. Little kids want gifts and treasures. It is a reality no matter how much you work with your kids. We decided to embrace this and find cheap and small space ways to accomplish this.
A. Pins. We let each child choose one pin a day (we were in the parks four days) - pins range from 5-10 per pin. With several kids this can add up but much less than some of the other stuff does. It also is much smaller in space and if kept in a special place we bought a pin book can be kept as a reminder of the trip for them to look back on. Or you could pin them on the lanyards as discussed above.
B. Penny Presses. Scattered throughout the parks and resorts are penny pressing machines. They take two quarters and one penny per souvenir. It does not get cheaper then this. We bought a little book to keep them all in for around 7.00. Ahead of time I set aside some shiny pennies (they are prettier and better for the designs) and a roll of quarters in a ziploc bag we kept in the backpack with us. Tip in Epcot in each main gift shop they have country penny presses. Each resort has one and the characters are throughout the park. Watch though a few are quarter presses which will run you 5 quarters.
C. Passport Stamps In the World Showcase at Epcot each country has a KidCot area that the kids can get passport stamps. They sell a book at the gift shop, we had one from our homeschool book already. Or you could probably bring a homemade passport for them to use.
D. Country Masks. In Epcot World Showcase they have a mask the kids can make and collect little trinkets on. In each Kidcot they get a new trinket. We let them color one part of the mask in each country. Giving them a break and something to look forward to in each area. Warning the Kidcot stations in Epcot are in the main gift shop near the kids toy section so if your kid can not handle the temptation of the gift stores these passports and masks may not be worth it to you.

11. Autographs. Kids love getting their pictures taken with the characters. They also like collecting autographs and they will see other kids doing this. They sell cheap autograph books at Disney for between 5-10 I think. Our friend Linda offered the suggestion of having them sign a Disney hat instead. The policy on signing hats is it has to be a Walt Disney product so you know. We purchased light colored hats the first day before our first character dinner at a gift shop (around 20 a piece), and brought several different colored sharpie markers from home. Tip, find the clicking kind without a lid if you can and keep in your fanny pack. The hats turned out great! You do need to keep them off Splash Mountain and out of the rain or they might run a bit. The kids look really cute in them and they liked them more then the autograph books.

12. Pictures. We took on average 100 photos a day, one day nearing 200. So be ready with charged camera, plenty of storage space or film depending which you use. We used a digital camera and loved it. We downloaded the pictures each night and sent them to the grandparents and family who enjoyed seeing the pictures. Also Disney has professional photographers throughout the park. They give you a little card that you use the whole time and whenever they take a picture it registers to your account. You can see and purchase the pictures at the park or online after you go home. Family members can do the same. There is no charge for the card or the pictures as they take them only as you purchase the ones you want later. This is worth it and you can get prime photos like the castle and with characters. Also we found the kids pictures much better just one at a time with the character, the group shots were harder to get everyone looking their best. Also some the candids were the best. Especially young toddlers looking up at the characters - it really captures their expressions better. We also love the candids we took of our kids watching the SpectroMagic parade.

13.Double Stroller. We rented one the first day we were there for all four days in the park (it is two dollar cheaper a day if you rent it all at once) and good in each park you go to each day. Our two year old was in it nearly all the time not on rides but our 5 and nearly 7 year old were in it often too, taking turns. It was rare there were not atleast two kids in it. Also we often ended up with all three in there and our backpack on top.

14. Packing. Each day we packed a fanny pack that one of us wore and a backpack the other one wore. In the backpack we kept a change of clothes, the water bottles, the snacks, diapers, wipes and other misc items. We often left this in the stroller with the thought if it gets stolen there is nothing essential in there. We also kept our bag of pennies and quarters in there and when it rained the kids autograph hats. The fanny pack carried all our essentials we needed quickly. Wallets, tickets, cell phones, hand sanitizer, sunscreen and sharpies for signatures. As well as bandaids, advil (essential for my lip injury) and blister tape which we used on three members of our family. I also carried Dramamine but never needed it.

15. Cell Phones. One of the best things for us was both having cell phones. I unfortunately paid roaming charges on mine, but my husbands calls were free and we really needed and used them. This prevented wasted time of "meeting locations" and we could go on rides until the other one was ready. It allowed us to split up easily and stay in touch even if we ended up at different parks or one was back at the resort. We used these often. Our signals were good (Verizon and Blackberry) everywhere except in some of the buildings in Epcot. We also saw some using walkie talkies but you need to be careful of the range on those and some seemed to have interference. We found the cell phones worked well, they also clipped easily to a belt or fit in a pocket.

16. Line Activities. One of the best investments we made was to buy a Disney Trivia Pursuit game before we left. The newest version has picture cards with simple and challenging questions. We played it a few times before we left but I brought the cards with us and placed a few dozen in a ziploc bag each morning and used these cards while waiting on lines. They worked really well and even entertained some other kids in line along with us. I could hold out the card show the picture and ask trivia questions. Sometimes I added other more simple or more difficult ones for the kids. This kept them occupied in a fun and very space saving way. The cards fit right in my pocket.

17. Mickey Says. We often played "Mickey says" with the kids. A modification on Simon Says where they only do what is requested if Mickey says and you catch them if they do it when Mickey does not. We used this when waiting for parades, in lines with some space and at other times the kids had a hard time waiting. It also burned energy by having the kids do jumping jacks, push ups and hopping. Other times if space was limited they moved their hands a lot and did not require much space. We also sang the "shake your sillies" out song for our two year old especially to get those crazies out.

18. Ziploc Bags We always pack toiletries and airplane items in individual ziploc bags. For the kids I place one activity in each ziploc bag (I find one zip bags to work the best) and they play with that until they are done and then get a new bag. It keeps items organized and clean. We also brought a few big ziploc bags for wet clothes, unfinished desserts or other things that would be too messy to put in a bag by themselves or needed to be protected from water. They pack down small and come in handy to keep items together or away from other ones within your bag.

19. Plan to Say Yes. We tried to make things that would normally be no's, be yeses. The kids controlling some of the schedule, saying yes to treats, saying yes to certain small purchases. Of course you need to balance it with your budget. We found saying yes to pop (already included in meals) or desserts went a long way for us. Of course for us our kids don't usually get those things so this was a treat for them.

20. repetition. Be ready for the importance of repitition for the kids. The need to do the same rides, same parks, same bathrooms over and over again. I could have driven myself crazy over how many times we went on Buzz Lightyear and a Small World but rather I just tried to understand it was important to them and build it into my schedule. Once the kids knew they would get their favorite things again they stopped asking so much.

21. Making Choices. You need to make a lot of choices at Disney and continually. Often it is the choice between two good things. You need to be willing to let some good things go for other good things and be willing to adapt and be flexible. For us we found having an idea of what we REALLY wanted to do, what we did not want to do as the important part then we were flexible about everything else and worked it in as it fit.

22. Ebb and Flow.There is an ebb and flow to the park and rides. One moment an area will be empty and the next swamped with no logical reason. Sometimes simply walking over to another area or another ride has completely different lines and waits. Being willing to be flexible with your schedule and agenda helps here alot. Some rides never had short lines like Dumbo and others like Peter Pan could run from a 10 minute wait to a 90 minute wait in less than an hour.

23. Leave and Rest. Sometimes your kids and you really just need a rest. If you listen to yourself and your kids you can save the entire rest of the night and have a great time. If you keep pushing yourselves you can lose the rest of the night, be miserable as you try to make it through and then end up leaving early. If you realize you have a high need then just listen to it. Go back to the hotel, take a nap, play in the pool, etc and then come back happier and enjoy the rest of the evening. Some of the parks are open so late and you tend to be back at the hotel at the busiest time at the park (your least efficient and effective time) and then return refreshed and energized as the park is winding down. This works especially well if you will not watch the evening parades and fireworks but ride the attractions then as the lines are really short.

24. Listen for Tips. We knew where to sit for Belle to ask the kids on stage (on the left side of the stage on the bench with the flowers on the ramp), to put the kids up front for Turtle Talk with Crush (they talked to him), and where to sit for the parades (by the little discs on the ground). Don't hesitate to ask Disney staff they are very helpful and will answer your questions about where the best places for photos, to see fireworks, etc are. These little extras make the trip even better.

25. See It Through Their Eyes. For our family this was the most important thing to remember. Who were we there for and how were they seeing it. Sirah LOVED small world. And riding it with her and seeing her in it made me love it too. Watching everything through their eyes gives you a different perspective and keeps the vacation running smoothly. We stood online for awhile to see Pinocchio. The kids were growing more and more impatient and we were only 3 away from meeting him and they all wanted to leave the line. Serona and I did not, we had just waited if we got off we would have waited for nothing. But to the kids, Pinnochio was not important, not a favorite and not worth waiting for even if we already had, waiting one more minute was not worth it to them. So we got off the line, hard for Serona and I, but the right choice. I went on Buzz lightyear more than a dozen times including almost 6 times in the same two hour span but that is what they really wanted to do and what made them happy.


And remember to just HAVE FUN!!!!!!!

3 comments:

  1. Anonymous2:39 PM

    I've seen many tips and tricks but these seem to be the best so far. Our family which includes four kids 9, 7, 5, 1 will be making our trip to WDW next month. It is the first trip their for everyone including both mom and dad. Should have known to expect the best tips from fellow homeschoolers.

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  2. aislinn1:30 PM

    Thanks for the great tips for Disney with young children! May I add a few? I packed a lot of small, healthy snacks (fruit leathers included) which we kept in one drawer in the hotel. Each day each child was helped was encouraged to choose his or her snacks for the day, and they each carried them in their own small fanny pack. Saves a lot of money in the park on snacks.

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  3. aislinn1:34 PM

    Also, for the several months leading up to our trip, my three children "earned" Disney dollars for various chores. I kept a chart of what they had earned, and the night before our trip, put "their" dollars in envelopes with their name on it. Each child was able to keep track of their own spending on souvenirs, and when they ran out, they were done!

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