Friday, April 19, 2013

Walt Disney World Tips and Tricks

Today's post is all about Walt Disney World!  Last week, I talked about traveling with your kids in general but today, I'm just going to talk about WDW.  I get so many questions about vacations at Disney, so I thought you guys needed a post dedicated to the topic (with answers to many of your questions from last week at the bottom).

As a travel agent, I do more work with WDW than any other property in the world.  I feel like I know it really well and have several tips and tricks to help you navigate your way.  I obviously feel like you should have a travel professional plan your trip, but if you've already booked one and need a little advice, I'm here.  

 WDW is a once in a lifetime experience for your kiddos (and you too!), so you need to maximize your entire trip, plan ahead, and then sit back and enjoy the magic.

This post is just about Walt Disney World (not Disney Land)...both are fabulous parks, but I'm only going to focus on the Florida park.

Last April, we took our kiddos to WDW for their first time and had such a wonderful week.  You can read all about it here.  The great thing about WDW is that it's not just perfect for young's perfect for people of all ages.  WDW isn't just about Mickey!

Planning in advance:

1. I encourage most of my clients to book their trip at least 6, if not 9, months in advance.  Rates are better, availability is wider, and reservations to the best restaurants are still open.

2. Consider the month you're planning on traveling.

A lot of people automatically think about going in the summer (which I've done before) but I would never encourage.  Summer months are crowded and hot...not the best combination.

Typically September to mid-October and January to mid-February are the least crowded months...which also make them the most affordable months.  The weather is cooler and beautiful too.

Mid-November through New Years Day is extremely crowded too because of the Christmas celebrations that go on that time of year.   However, I do encourage my clients to visit during the holidays because even though it's crowded, the weather is so nice and the festivities are so much fun!  Just know in advance that you will have to wait in some lines.

We went last April and it was ok.  I don't think I would travel there again in the spring though.  Spring Break season lasts from early March to the end of April, so even though the weather is pretty nice, the crowds are high.

3. Book your dining reservations 6 months in advance.

A good travel agent will book all of your dining reservations in advance for you.  You are able to book them 180 days before you arrive in WDW.  I know it sounds crazy to book your breakfast 6 months in advance...but if you want the best restaurants, the best times, and the most options, you need to book those things early on (or have your travel agent do it for you).

Where to stay:

1. I personally only book WDW vacations for people staying on the property.  I know many people chose to stay off property and then drive into WDW for the my professional experience, you're missing out if you do this, so I don't recommend it.  WDW has a hotel room for every budget...and the accommodations at WDW are part of the experience.  Plus, they make everything so easy if you stay on property.  For me, your experience starts when you check-in to your resort.

2. The resorts are referred to as value, moderate or deluxe.  If you're looking for the lowest price, you should pick a value resort...if you want more amenities (like out of this world resort pools and dining areas), you should pick deluxe...and if you want something in the middle, pick moderate.  WDW also offers campgrounds, condos and villas for larger parties.  I'm just a firm believer in staying on property to maximize your experience.

3. Consider the pool at your resort verses adding the water parks to your Park Hopper Pass.  Last year, we stayed at the Disney Yacht Club because of their wonderful "beach" and pool areas...and so, we didn't include the water parks on our Park Hopper Pass (because we used the resort pools instead).  Or you could do the opposite, stay at a value resort without a great pool area and include the water parks on your Park Hopper Pass...the bottom line is pay attention to the details when having your travel agent book.

What to add:

1. When booking your vacation, make sure you add your Park Hopper Pass (the ability to get into the 4 main parks and then perhaps the water parks as well).  Park Hoppers are worth their weight in gold!

2. Pick a WDW Dining Plan for your food!  This will save you so much money!  There are several different WDW Dining Plans but I always recommend the Magic Your Way Plus Dining option.  This will allow you one quick service meal, one sit down meal and one snack a day...which at WDW, is a lot of food!

Where to go besides the 4 main parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios):

1. WDW offers two water parks that can be added to your Park Hopper Pass.

2. Downtown Disney is a fun little shopping and dining area that requires no pass.  The WDW transportation takes you right there.

3. WDW has 4 golf courses on property for those days when you (or your hubby) want to do something besides visiting a park.  All 4 course are spectacular!  If you have a golfer in the family, I would highly recommend making a tee time.

4. Disney Boardwalk is where we spent a lot of time in-between parks or at the end of the day.  There is shopping, dining, live music, midway games and boat rides.

5. ESPN Wide World of Sports will make the sports enthusiast very happy in your family!

6. WDW offers world class spa treatments at many of their resorts.  You don't have to be staying at that particular resort to enjoy a great spa experience, you can shuttle over and indulge after a long day at one of the parks.

A few other tidbits:

1. If you're flying into the Orlando Airport and staying on property, your luggage and transportation services are taken care of!  Make sure your travel agent books you on the Disney Magical Express and your luggage will go from your departing airport directly to your hotel room...without you having to do a thing.

2. WDW does a great job with shuttles and transportation on property...once you're inside the park, it's really simple to go from one area to another.  All of the places I listed above are on the bus routes, so you don't have to worry about driving, taking a cab or renting a car.

3. Children two and under are not required to have Park Hopper Passes or Meal Plans.

4. I would say WDW is perfect for all ages (infants to people in their 80s) but if I had to pick, I would say between 2 and 6 is the best age group.  I feel like kids this age really believe they're seeing Cinderella or Mickey's so real to them.  That would be my ideal age...but like I said, I plan on still going when I'm 78.

We had the best time at Walt Disney World last year...and hope to revisit again next year too!  I do have a few more secrets and tidbits of info...but, I have to leave some things for my travel clients :).  No matter if your kids are toddlers or teens, I really feel like your family can have a wonderful experience at WDW.  The time spent together is what's most important...and family togetherness and Walt Disney World just go hand in hand.

Now...I promised to answer a few questions from last week's post about traveling with your, here you go...

1. What do I do if I need to take a taxi?  Do I use a car seat?

A lot of shuttle companies will bring car seats if you call in advance.  If we know we need to take a shuttle somewhere for a lengthy distance, I will call in advance and request (for a fee) that they bring along car seats.  When we travel abroad, most of the time, we rent a car and also car seats...I really can't think of a time when we didn't either rent a car or use the subway system.  When we went to Russia and Thailand, we found shuttle services that had car seats for the kids and then in the other places we've visited, we rented cars.  A lot of people travel with kids, so you will probably be surprised to find more of them with car seats then you might think.  Also consider the subway systems in most major areas...that's a really easy to way to travel with kids.

2. What do I do about naps when my kids travel?  I'll let the pictures speak for themselves... my opinion, when I'm traveling, I don't want to be stuck in my hotel room while the kids nap (and you know how important naps are to me when we're at home!).  When I'm on vacation, I want to be out and about seeing things and taking it all over the years, I've learned that when my kids are tired, they'll their strollers.  I would try and just go out and enjoy your day and when you think your kids are getting tired, put them in their strollers...they'll go to sleep.  Vacationing with kids is not about rules and schedules (those things are for home)...vacationing with kids is more about going with the flow and making the most of situations.  Typically, my kids catnap as we push them around (30 minutes to an hour at a time) and that is enough.  Try and relax and they will too.

3. How do I handle time zone changes?

I always find it harder to change time zones, and as a result have jet lag, when we get back home.  That being said, I do the same thing going and coming home...I stick to the normal schedule of the day.  There is nothing worse than coming off a long flight when you're completely exhausted only to arrive at your destination and it's 8 am in the morning.  All you want to do is sleep...and the city where you arrived is just getting started.  What we do in these situations is just persevere!  We really try and immediately get on the correct schedule and stick to it.  If you go straight to your hotel room and nap it'll end up waking up late and then not being able to sleep that night...and then being exhausted the next day.  And so on...

The same rule applies when we arrive home from a trip...we just pick up and move on with our day and try to stay awake until bedtime that night.  If your kids are completely overwhelmed and exhausted, a short nap (1 to 2 hours) will be good but set an alarm!  Don't let them oversleep or else they'll be up all night!

4. How do I sleep in hotel rooms with my kids?

We keep our routine the same in hotels as we do at home...baths, pjs, a little Mickey Mouse on the i-Pad and then they lay down with their sound machine on.  If they talk, I ignore them and do something quiet like read a book or watch a movie on the i-Pad with headphones (if you start talking to them, they won't stop talking to you!).  I find that kids are usually tired by the end of the day on vacation, so as long as their routine stays somewhat the same, they'll adjust pretty well.  The sound machine is great because it blocks out other hotel guest noise and all of our little tossing and turning.

So, that concludes my thoughts on Walt Disney World and Traveling with my Kiddos :).  As always, if you would like more info on me helping you with your Disney vacation (or any other vacation), just send me an email.  You can find all of my contact info here.

And now for the winner of my Stella & Dot giveaway...

Kelly Keitzer!

Congratulations Kelly!  Email me to claim your prize!

For the rest of us, don't forget, you can still shop Stella & Dot between now and next Friday by clicking here.  Your summer wardrobe will thank you...don't delay!

On the foodie blog today, Peanut Butter Rice Krispies Treats!

Have a great weekend!!

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  1. I love Disney so much! My husband and I actually spent a week of our honeymoon there because he had NEVER been. So we went without kids and had a great time too! Thanks for the tips. I will remember this for the next time we go!!

  2. My fiance and I are going to Disney World for our honeymoon in September! Sounds like we've been pretty smart with our planning. We're staying at The Boardwalk- my favorite resort, not only there, but of anywhere I have ever traveled! Great post..thanks!

  3. Disney should see this and put it on their site. In fact, they should hire you to be a Disney Ambassador or something. Yes..I shall call them and let them know.

  4. I can't wait for our trip to Disney! I was up until 2am reading about what to say to characters. Great tips! :)

  5. We always go the second week of December, and have never had a line more than 30 minutes! December 8th-13th or something like that, and it is awesome!!!

  6. As a fellow Disney World enthusiast, I totally agree with everything you put. This is hands down our favorite vacation to go on. Love all your tips. We need to take our kids together one day!

  7. Great tips! We are hoping to go there next year but the Disney website won't allow booking past December 31st. Could you tell me how to get around that?

  8. Thanks for this! My daughter is only 6 months, but I'm saving this for when we take her. It will be helpful in planning!

  9. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this. We are considering a trip early next year to Disney. I'm bookmarking this and will definitely be coming back to it!

  10. Can I just say how much I love your blog?! What a treasure.

  11. A great tip some ppl don't know is that you can bring food/drinks into the park. This helps save a ton of $!

  12. WDW is our favorite place to go. We love it! In fact, we are going back in October, my first time in the fall. Last time we went Anniston was under two. This time she'll be four! We hope to go back every couple of years until she begs us to stop taking her. Then we'll probably just go back by ourselves. :)

  13. Someday my kids are going to have normal American experiences like Disney World and baseball games. Seriously. I mean it. :)

  14. Disney World trip planning is so overwhelming! I really felt like you broke it down and made everything so much easier to understand! We're planning a trip sometime in the next two years (when our girls are a bit older). I will add though, we've started getting a condo or two hotel rooms when we travel, or a suite with a seperate living room space- that way the kids can go to sleep without distractions and hubby and I can relax in the evenings alone while they fall asleep. It's costly, but worth it so they'll stick to their bedtime schedules (the only schedule we try to stick to on vacation)

  15. Great tips on Disney. I worked at Disney World from August 2010 to February 2011 in the college program. I was a lifeguard and Caribbean Beach, Pop Century, and All-Star. People always assume Disney is only enjoyable for kids, but it was the best seven months of my life living down there! Yatch & Beach are two of my favorite resorts. I was always so jealous of the people that got to use that pool because it looks AWESOME, but you have to present a room key for admission, so I never got to go in. Bummer.

  16. Could you tell us how much an average week long trip to Disney costs? Also how long would you recommend going for?

  17. One problem I found with trying to stay onsite is, if you are a family of more than 4, your low-cost options disappear. We have stayed at both a nearby offsite suite-hotel and a rental house, and both were GREAT! The suite included a huge breakfast buffet and free Disney shuttle, for under $100/night, and the rental house was fabulous (it worked out to $300/week per bedroom). We also got the base tickets (not park hopped) and just planned which parks to do which days, and ate almost no Disney food (breakfast beforehand, packed lunch, and usually grabbed supper on the way back to the park for the evening after an afternoon break from the heat). Maybe not quite the "full" experience, but not many families of 6 can do a week in Disney for $2000. :)

  18. I am interning at Disney Magic Kingdom right now. Let me say you pretty much nailed every detail! Loved reading all your thoughts and tips! Another tip I would add, would be to DO Epcot. SO many families avoid it. It is by far my personal favorite, and a MUST see!

    Loved this post! Let me know if you have any other questions! I pretty much know every detail :)

    Amelia Vignali

  19. Thanks Shay for answering my question about the Taxi & Car seats. It's funny because since I asked that question my husband suggested the shuttle. I already have it booked and they are providing a booster for 6 year old and a car seat for 19 month old. You are a GENIUS! Thanks again HIL

  20. We went to WDW in June of 2011. SO FREAKING HOT AND HUMID!!! This Cali girl was NOT ready for that. We didn't have a choice on the month because my in laws were taking ALL of us (and Kevin's siblings families) on the Disney Cruise and WDW and June was the only time that worked for all 16 of us! (And, they were paying for it, so I wasn't going to complain :) Besides the 102 degree temps & the humidity, we had a BLAST! We did the park hopper and we included Blizzard Beach Water Park. So much fun! Funny story, we booked/reserved our taxi from the hotel to the airport a few weeks before we left. The girls were 2.5 and 4, so we requested 2 car seats. The taxi showed up with NO car seats and 1 booster. Ummmm...had no time to figure that out, we had a plane to catch! Claire went in the booster and Kate was in nothing. I've never prayed for safety as much as I did on that short drive from the hotel to the airport!
    Have you been on a Disney cruise? One of my favorite weeks EVER. Can't wait to go again!
    Also, you need to take your kids to Disneyland & CA Adventure...Cars Land is incredible!

  21. LOVE this! I am definitely pinning for the future! Love Mel's comment above mine too- all great tips and ideas! I hate to get to cheesy here, but I feel like you have really inspired me to not stop traveling when we have kids! We love to travel and see new places, and reading your posts about how you just roll with punches and flex a little on routines/eating habits for the kiddos is totally inspiring! ha! The nap pics are great- definitely something I wondered about- and once again, you prove that you can definitely make it work! Thanks for the great post, Shay!


  22. I was lucky enough to got WDW last March and loved it! We stayed at the Yacht Club Resort and it was so nice. I took my best girlfriend, and left my husband and kids at home, so it was an entirely different trip! The thing I liked the most about WDW is that you can make it a truly adult vacation... I've been to Disneyland also, and although it was beautiful and magical, I don't think I would ever go there without the kids!

  23. My husband and I went 3 times in 2 1/2 years and now six years later we are taking the kids. I would 100% agree on all you said. I would read the disboards to get advice from experts. There is also an app for it, we are going next month so I've been a bit addicted to it. There is so much more to Disney than just the parks, and a lot of people don't realize that. I always suggest eating at least once at a different resort, it can take time and bus hopping to get there, but I love seeing other places and getting ideas of where else to stay. We booked a last minute trip to go next month for Star Wars Weekend and I did manage some good reservations but not my first pick. I think my dream job would be a Disney travel agent.

  24. We just took my 5 year old niece at Christmas and had a great time! A few more tips:
    1. If you are going to do the Bippity Boppiti Boutique make sure to make your reservations early. We did not think about it until last minute, we were able to get in but the time was not convenient. It can be expensive but there are several different options so that you can save money. In my opinion this was the best thing we did there. We had an invitation from Cinderella placed at her chair when we ate at Cinderella's Castle for breakfast and my niece felt so special that Cinderella invited her.
    2. Shay mentioned doing a dining plan and I agree completely. It was the first time I had done the dining plan and we loved it! We also scheduled a character meal for all but 1 of our sit down meals. It was the best way to meet the characters. Instead of waiting in long lines to meet the characters we got to sit and eat while they came to us! Also having a sit down meal every day where we got to sit and relax while we ate was such a nice break each day.
    3. Go to Epcot! We decided that we would just wonder our way around the countries with no schedule and it was great. If we happened upon a street show we would stop and watch, we looked at the shops, ate snacks, and had a great time looking at all the buildings. Also there are coloring stations in each country called kidcot. The cast member will teach you how to say hello in there language and even write your name in there language.
    4. Most important at Disney world, go with the flow! Your kids may end up hating something your think they are going to enjoy, lines are going to be long, and you cannot see everything. Just try to relax and have fun. Do what you can and just enjoy what you do get to do. Since we went with a 5 year old during the most crowded time of the year I did not get to do all the rides I normally would want to do but just seeing her experience Disney for the first time and meeting all the characters made so it so much fun.

    Sorry this was so long, I just love Disney!

  25. Shay, we are going to Disney this summer and taking pre-school age kids. Which character dining experience do you recommend?

  26. Chef Mickey's and Akershus Royal Banquet Hall are my faves!

  27. We just got back from Disney yesterday and we did Animal Kingdom while we were there. I cannot give enough praises to the Tusker House. If you want a character experience, check this one out. It was SO much fun and completely worth the money!

  28. We are going Thanksgiving week. Never been away from home on a holiday but the boys are 7 and 9 now and i refuse to go in the hot summer! Lol so excited even though its 6 months away. Thanks so much for the tips!

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  31. I'm going to respectfully disagree on a few pointers. Many of the kids ages 2 to 6 are often overwhelmed by not only the heat, but from the environment as well. Many of that age group will be totally freaked out by the large characters and the amount of stimulation around them. I would hate to get there and discover that I won't get that special "character moment" because it's the first time around them. If you're a parent of that age group, be aware and prepare; you know your kids best. My kids are 9 and 12 and they're at the age where they can go on all the "big" rides and enjoy being able to touch all the interactive things, such as Innoventions at Epcot.
    Also, we've gone in August numerous times. Yes, it is *crazy* hot that time of year, but we practically walk on to many rides because people don't go down during the hottest times of year. If you can handle it (and plan for a cool off time in the middle of the day), go and have no problem with ride wait times.
    I think your other tips are right on! We love it down there. We're members of the vacation club for four years now, but it's been my fav "family vacation" since 1975.

  32. I was so glad to see your napping kids in strollers. i always cringe a little when i hear friends and others say well by the time we go back to the resort for the kids naps...blah,blah, blah. seriously!?! i just hang out in the parks and they nap and we get to sit and usually eat at that time. now that we only have 1 that naps and my husband doesn't like rides, he'll sit with our napper in a cool area and me and the older kids will ride rides. it's awesome!

  33. This was great advise. Thanks so much for all the tips. It will make going back much easier next time!

  34. This was very informative, Thanks for sharing all the tips! It will definitely making going back next time much easier!


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