Monday, May 14, 2012

Walt Disney World 2012- park tips

We just got back from Walt Disney World (May 4-11th) and it was of course a blast! This was our second time going with the girls and while it was more crowded and much hotter we had a great time.

I am going to try and make this as easy as I can. I just lost my WHOLE ENTIRE POST (I thought blogger autosaved???) so my thoughts may not be as complete as the first time I wrote this. Here are my tips as they come to me:

  • Walt Disney vacations are for the kids, and if a $10 balloon makes them happy but seems like a waste to you, suck it up and buy the balloon! If they are loving the parade and you just want to head to the exit to beat the crowd..suck it up and stay! Yes, you will get tired and the kids will get cranky, but make the best of it. Take the time to look at your kids faces and really enjoy your time together. 
  • Let your kids pick one last ride before you leave the park fr the night. For my kids it was Small World and the Great Movie Ride. Just seeing their excitement and hearing them say "that was awesome" on the way out made my day. 
  • Bring a stroller for every kid 6 and under (maybe even 7). This is a lot of walking! If you wind up not using it you can leave it in the hotel the next day. At the very least it can hold your bags for you. We brought 2 strollers but left the $15 stroller in the hotel room and there was a lot of whining from the 6 year old about how it was her turn to ride the stroller. Taking 2 strollers or a double can avoid a bunch of whining and stress. Plus it makes a nice battering ram for crowds! 
  • Get your silhouettes cut on Main Street, Downtown Disney, or near Liberty Square. This is probably my favorite keepsake of all. I wish I would've done it 2 years ago with the girls at Disney as well to see how much they have changed.
  •  Don't worry too much about bringing water into the parks. Anywhere you can buy a fountain drink you can get a free glass of water with ice. If is is hot out ask for extra ice! We did this everyday and it saved us having to lug around bottles through the park.
  • Bring pennies and quarters for the pressed penny stations around the parks. My daughter loves these and we managed to get one for nearly every attraction she went on. We stored ours in an old M&M mini container and it was perfect. They also sell pressed penny books to store your pennies throughout the parks. 
  • Search for Divine, the walking grapevine, at Animal Kingdom. We didn't find her and I was looking forward to it. Here is a pic of what she looks like.
  • Make a funny face or pose when your pictures are being taken on a roller coaster. And get your smartphone ready once you get off the ride to snap a pic of the screen. You don't want to fork over $18 for a picture when you can get one for free, right? 
That is my nephew and brother in law in the back, no clue who that man is next to me. It was a fast pass thing:)

  •  Onto Fastpass. Fast pass, fast pass, fast pass! Get to the rides you know you want to ride and fast pass them first thing in the morning. A must is Toy Story Mania and Everest. I loved those rides. Another Fast Pass trick is to get a fast pass for everyone in your group, even if they don't make the height requirement. We had 4 adults and 4 kids in our party and I got a fast pass for all of us. That way the daredevils of the party could ride again until all fast passes are gone. 
  • One more fast pass tip. If you get a fast pass for 1-2:00pm you can get another fast pass for another ride at 1:00pm. You can also use your fast passes anytime after 1:00 or your stated start time. 
  • Also, don't forget about  Child Swap on rides, If your child is too short for a ride you and your party just go through the line, you stay behind, and when your party is finished you hop back on the ride with 2 additional people from your party. Ask any cast member in front of the attraction for a pass.
  • Get the fan or bring one. They are so nice on a hot day.
  • Watch the rides on You Tube with kids who are apprehensive about them. I You Tube'd the Haunted Mansion and my oldest was immediately out while my youngest was 100% in. 
  • If your kids are unfamiliar with popular Disney characters, get them acquainted now.  Go to the library and check out some movies or books to get them familiar. My girls knew nothing of Lilo and Stitch who are pretty big in the parks, so I should've introduced them ahead of time. 
  •  Let your kids try new things and waste their money. We were at the arcade at ESPN Zone and Charlotte wanted to do one of the stuffed animal claw machines. Money pits, right? Well, she really wanted the purple Minnie stuffie and what does the little show off get on her second try with no help from us? Yep, that purple stuffed Minnie and was she ever proud of herself!

  •  Include pics of yourself during your vacation. It is so easy to get stuck behind the camera and forget to step in front, but do it! There are thousands of people in the park that would be happy to take your family picture for you, and don't forget about Disney's photo pass!

  • The photobooths in England in Epcot are a great photo op for everyone, but did you know you can call them? This was so fun to do with the kids, who I called while there and acted like I was Mary Poppins. The older one figured me out but the little one was so happy. Here are the numbers, save them into your contacts before you leave.
Right Booth 407-827-9861

Left Booth 407-827-9862

Center Booth 407-827-9863

  •  Jedi Training Academy- do it, but sign up early. We signed up around 9:30 and were scheduled for training at 4:10pm. The training sign up is in between American Idol and Indiana Jones. 

  •  If you are celebrating anything, get a button stating it. My sister and I both have May birthdays and it was nice to hear people wish us a Happy Birthday. It was even nicer to get free cupcakes and sundaes:). 
  • Now this one is going to be a bit touchy. If you have anyone that needs a wheelchair, get one. They are better than a fast pass. No I am NOT saying to fake an injury or take advantage of this in any way, not at all. My sister has bone spurs, arthritis, and shin splints but we waited until day 4 and way too much pain (I'm talking tears) for her to finally agree to being pushed around in a chair. The only drawback was pushing that thing and that my girls wanted to sit in her lap the whole time! 
  • Be prepared to have a crush on the man who plays Jack Sparrow at magic Kingdom.
  • Also Indiana Jones. 
  • Get your Christmas pictures done at the many holiday photo spots around the park. The sleigh in front of the Ye Olde Christmas Shop near Liberty Square, Goofy and Pluto snowmen at Downtown Disney, the snowman at Hollywood Studios...
  • Stock up on glowsticks at the dollar store before you go. My kids loved the wands and necklaces I picked up for them. Put one on your stroller at night as well for easier spotting.
  • While you are at the dollar store get extra ponchos (mine came in a 2 for $1 pack). Some for you and one for your stroller. 
  • Pack ziploc baggies in assorted sizes. These came in handy for keeping our cellphones dry one rides, our cameras and autograph books dry in the rain, and for packing up leftover food in the parks.
  • If you are tired or hot, leave the park and head back toy our hotel in the early afternoon. Come back later after the crowd thins and the weather cools a bit. Sometimes a nap or a trip to the pool is all you need.
  • Make reservations well ahead of time, it is better to have them and then cancel (or never show like we did a few times) than to want a sit down restaurant and can't get it. 
  • Liberty Tree Inn was our favorite at Magic Kingdom, every one of us walked out happy. So good! 

  • Print out a sign beforehand and take a special picture in front of the castle. I made these signs for my Mom in Disney font. A great gift idea! 

  • If you like the princesses then eating at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall is a must. They have a buffet priced at $31 per adult and $21 per child (kids under 3 are free) which consisted of a pastry and yogurt bar and they bring you a plate of eggs, potatoes, bacon and sausage. You are greeted in a royal manner and are then ushered to take a picture (and receive a free 8x10 and 4 4x6's) with the featured princess, Belle in our case. The remaining princesses them mingle with the guests at their tables, taking pictures and signing autographs. This was so much fun! The girls loved it. Matilda even got to hold Cinderella's hand during the processional:)!

  • Ready to meet the princesses!

    Oh yeah, she's ready!

    Charlotte in her Belle apron dress meeting Belle!

    She used that fork to comb her hair, just like Ariel:)

    She spotted Ariel!

    She got to hold Cinderella's hand during the processional. She was so happy.

      Universal Studios Islands of Adventure

      We are BIG Harry Potter fans here and knew we had to take a car to Universal this time. It was fun, but so crowded! Honeyduke's is a small shop as is the Owl Post. Too crowded to even move around for us, and it seemed that people were ruder at Universal. Maybe because it has bigger rides geared towards an older crowd?


      • For those with younger kids the Cat in the Hat section is great. Fun rides and quick character meet and greets. 
      • If you are eating at 3 Broomsticks, get the $50 meal platter. It can easily feed over 4 adults plus a few kids. A big money saver. 
      • Get the Butterbeer, but only the ones that come in a souvenir mug. We bought 3 for our group of eight and would up throwing out all of them. They are rich and sweet and a bit too much all around, but I am bummed we didn't get the cup to bring home. 
      • Universal charges for their "Express" line (their version of fast pass), but they do offer rider swap. Take advantage of that if you can. 
      • If you have people in your group that love to get wet, there is a great splash zone behind Jurassic Park's river ride.
      That is my sister and husband in the middle of that.
      Matilda- not happy:(

      Charlotte was very happy with getting wet though:)
      Now for the hotels:

      We stayed at the Walt Disney World Dolphin and enjoyed it well enough. Last time we stayed at the French Quarter and I think I preferred the French Quarter for a variety of reasons. I will just list the pros and cons of each to make this part of the post short:).

      French Quarter
      • felt more homey and quiet/ peaceful
      • small kiddie pool area and playground which was great for the kids
      • Disney's Magical Express is awesome- where you check your bags at your home airport and they are delivered right to your hotel. Pure awesomeness. You also ride the free Magical Express shuttle to and from the airport and hotel. 
      • You can use your room key to charge purchases within the park so no need to carry cash or cards.
      • You can get groceries delivered to the hotel, we used Garden Grocers ($12 delivery to Disney resorts) and loved them! 
      • Not many food choices available, just one quick service restaurant.
      • have to take the bus everywhere except Downtown Disney (you take the riverboat) 
      • You can WALK to Epcot (10-12 minute walk), Hollywood Studios (same), and to the Yacht and Beach Club and Boardwalk resorts. The Boardwalk has quick food, entertainment, restaurants, and shops galore. Next time we go we are staying at the Boardwalk for sure!
      • If you are not in the mood for walking Friendship boats are available to and from Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and the above resorts. Keep in mind that you are one of the last stops for Epcot so it will take about 18 minutes
      • We booked through Costco travel and got a really good deal, since the Dolphin and Swan resorts are not owned by Disney. 
      • They have National rental car in their lobby which makes renting a car easy. 
      • They have a nice sandy beach, playground, and basketball courts which my family enjoyed. 
      • They also have a "kid club" from 5:30pm-midnight where you can leave the kids if you want to have some alone time. We never used this but it looked nice enough. 
      • Fantasia Gardens miniature golf is right across the street!
      • Many restaurants to choose from on site at the Dolphin and the Swan. We ate at Garden Grove twice while there and enjoyed their character breakfast. Granted it is only Pluto, Goofy, and Chip and Dale, but that was good for us.It is also the cheapest character breakfast throughout Disney. A nice buffet and kids under 3 eat free. Oh, and get their pretzel rolls at lunch, they are amazing!
      • You have to arrange your own transportation to and from the airport. We used Mears and received a discount through Costco when booking. Mears Shuttle is priced for transfers between Orlando International Airport (MCO) and the Disney resorts at $34 roundtrip for adults (12 and older) and $27 for kids ages 4-11. Kids 3 and under are free. ***When booking let them know that you have an infant, as they still need a seat.***
      • Groceries no longer can be delivered to the Dolphin as of April 2012. 
      • This is mainly a convention hotel, know that before you book. We had a giant Sportsclips convention while we were there. 
      • You can't charge your in park purchases to your room, so you will have to carry a credit card and paper tickets.
      Photo dump!

      Lights hanging from the trees in front of the Hall of Presidents. Stealing this idea for our tree house! 

      The Beast's Castle in the new FantasyLand. 

      Taking a break: My husband in the stroller, and my brother-in-law in my sister's wheelchair.