Posts in Category: Family

Planning Your Walt Disney World Vacation – Part 5 FastPass+, MagicBands and Luggage Tags

60 days before your trip you can book your fast passes on the My Disney Experience site or Ap. This is where you make sure you get to ride the most popular rides. In the Magic Kingdom the new king of all rides is a Princess and her 7 buddies. The Seven Dwarf Mine Train is a family roller coaster that consistently has 80 minute wait times (must be 40” tall). Others that have long lines are Splash and Space Mountains and believe it or not Peter Pan’s Flight (one of our favorites). If you want to ride these rides without giving up a few hours I recommend a fast pass. Or if you want to ride the ride twice, wait in the standby line and get a fast pass.  When planning FastPasses one thing to consider is the Experiences vs the Rides.  In the Magic Kingdom for example one of your FastPasses can be to Meet Anna and Elsa, this can be a huge time saver for families with children that want to do this.  Other experiences are reserved seats at Fireworks or Parades.  For our trip this October we have 2 experience FastPasses and the rest are rides.

Luggage Tags that allow your luggage to be taken from your plane to your Walt Disney Resort Room.

Luggage Tags that allow your luggage to be taken from your plane to your Walt Disney Resort Room.

30 Days before you leave you can Order your meal at Be Our Guest. If you are going to eat here you can enter your food order on the My Disney Experience App or site. The rumor is the try the “Grey Stuff” for dessert, ‘…it’s delicious!’ we will be trying the ‘Grey Stuff’ in October.

Around 30 days before your trip luggage tags arrive at your house.  Shortly after that then Magic Bands will be delivered. They will appear like an unexpected present hidden far beneath your Christmas tree. Make sure to customize your bands before it is too late.  You are now only a few weeks away from your trip, start packing your bags.

Next up traveling to Walt Disney World……

How to Plan your Walt Disney World Vacation – Part 4 Dining Reservations

Dining Reservations. 180 days before your first day at Walt Disney World you can book Dining Reservations. Depending on how busy it is when you go, reservations go from highly recommended to a must. Be Our Guest, in the new Fantasyland is one of those restaurants that you need a reservation for even in the lowest of the low season. Le Cellier the French Canadian Steakhouse is another I would book if you wanted to go there. What I will say is if you want to eat somewhere specific get a reservation and if you have a dining plan with sit down service you should get reservations. You should plan out what parks you want to visit and on what days and then look at the restaurants and book a reservation. Some of the best restaurants on property happen to be at hotels.

So, where should you eat? Here are some of our favorites and a few key points on each of them:


Sit Down Restaurants

Akershus ($$$): Norway. Go for breakfast, there’s a great buffet and a whole bunch of princesses (it’s even fun for the boys).
Le Cellier ($$$): Canada. This is a great steak dinner for two adults. We made a deal with family members to allow each couple to have a date night while the others took all the kids. This date night dinner is highly recommended. It can cost 2 sit down meals on some dining plans.
Chefs de France ($$): France. If you truly love French food as we do this is the best of Paris bought to the US. The dining is French Bistro style so the tables are smaller and closer together.
Rose and Crown ($$): United Kingdom. If you love a good British Pub the Rose and Crown will exceed your expectations, we love to eat here on the patio after a long day of walking.
Coral Reef ($$): Future World. An EPCOT Classic, dining under the sea.
Quick Service and Snacks

Liberty Inn ($): America. Do you need a hot dog for a child? This is your place. The burgers have always looked good but we can eat in America all year round.
La Cantina de San Angel ($): Mexico. Right on the lagoon this is a great place to grab lunch before your trek around the World Showcase. La Cantina provides an elevated form of street tacos. Our kids loved the churros with caramel sauce.
Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe ($): Norway.   Home to the Troll Horn. It is Cloudberry Jam mixed with whipped cream in a crispy pastry-sugar coated shell.
Karamel-Kuche and Sommerfest ($): Germany. Pretzels, Bratwurst, Strudel, Black Forest Cake, and Caramel. Enough said.
Funnel Cake ($): America. This one is self-explanatory.
Club Cool ($): Future World. Sample beverages from all over the world.
Hollywood Studios

Sit Down Restaurants

The Hollywood Brown Derby ($$): Still to this day one of the best meals we have ever eaten. The Grapefruit Cake and Chop Salad are a must for at least one member of your party. But don’t plan on wanting to share. You can get reservations here that will get you a saved seats at Fantasmic. It can cost 2 sit down meals on some dining plans.
Hollywood and Vine ($$): This is an old school buffet but they do character meals here, we went to the Disney Junior one our kids loved it.

Quick Service and Snacks
Pizza Planet ($): Modeled after “THE” Pizza Planet from Toy Story. It is a fun place to grab a quick meal. There is shaded seating outside.

Magic Kingdom

Sit Down Restaurants

Be Our Guest ($-$$): Fantasyland. Since opening along with the new Fantasyland it is hard to get a seat here. Disney has added a quick service lunch to try and meet the demand but if you want to eat here and we recommend it you will need to get a reservation. 30 days before your trip you can pre-order your food. This is cool because your food appears almost as soon as you sit down. A huge win for parents of hungry children and a win for Disney since this allows more people to enjoy the Beast’s Castle.
Crystal Palace ($$): Main Street USA. Another buffet to meet characters. We tend to eat breakfast here on our first day in the park. It helps to keep stomachs full past the busy lunch hours.
Tony’s Town Square ($$): Main Street USA. Think Lady and Tramp but for people and really good.
Plaza Restaurant ($$): Main Street USA. Classic American food in a great location where you can watch parades and fireworks from your table.
Cinderella’s Royal Table ($$$): Fantasyland. Who doesn’t want to dine in a castle? Especially a Disney Castle. The food here was exceptional and while it took a while to get through all the courses it was a welcome respite after a long day in the Florida heat. Try the pretzel rolls. It can cost 2 sit down meals on some dining plans.

Ballroom in the Beast’s Castle at Be Our Guest in the Magic Kingdom. Photo by Tom Brinker and Courtesy of his site

Quick Service and Snacks

Gaston’s Tavern ($): Fantasyland. Billed as the manliest of manly places, this is a great place to refuel. The food is great but it is known for its Cinnamon Rolls and LeFou’s Brew, a non-alcoholic beverage, which consists of Frozen Apple Juice with a hint of Toasted Marshmallow and topped with All-Natural Passion Fruit-Mango Foam. Dining Plants are NOT accepted here.
Columbia Harbor House ($): Liberty Square. Located at a crossroads between Fantasyland, Liberty Square and near Adventureland this nautical themed restaurant is a great place to mix things up. While they have the usual kids fare adults can switch it up with fried fish, shrimp or lobster rolls.
The Launching Pad ($): Tomorrowland. Crème-cheese filled pretzels and frozen carbonated beverages in flavors like: Coke, Cherry, Fanta and Minute Maid.
Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Café ($): Frontierland. Located on the edge of Fronteirland right by Adventureland. If you are craving a chili cheese fries or western style quick service this is a good place to get some vittles.

Animal Kingdom

Sit Down Restaurants

Restaurantosaurus ($): DinoLand USA. American quick service near the DinoLand part of the park, if your kids play in the play area they will be ready to eat when they get out.
Rainforest Café ($$): Main Entrance. If you have never been it is worth sticking your head in to see the spectacle that is the Rainforest Café. Their food does not disappoint, but if you are looking for a quiet place to eat this might not be it.

Quick Service and Snacks

Yak and Yeti ($): Asia. At a crossroads in-between Expedition Everest and the Kali River Rapids this is a great place to grab some excellent quick Asian food. There is also a sit down restaurant here with some amazing Thai food.

Downtown Disney

Sit Down Restaurants

Dinosaur Café & Rainforest Café ($$): The Dinosaur Café is louder than the Rainforest Café but the food is great and the kids thought it was awesome.

Quick Service and Snacks

There are lots of options here but the food trucks seem to be the best option.

 Hotels & Resorts

Sit Down Restaurants

Kona Grill ($) & ‘Ohana ($$): Polynesian Resort. The Kona Grill offers an American/Asian fusion meal while ‘Ohana will take you to the setting of a Polynesian long house and a character meal that is served family style.
California Grill ($$$): Contemporary Resort. You will need a reservation for this signature restaurant, as it is one of the hottest places to eat at Disney World.
Artist Point ($$$): Wilderness Lodge. A fun family style BBQ joint, the food is reminiscent of Big Thunder Ranch in Disneyland.
Victoria & Albert’s ($$$$): Grand Floridian. This AAA Five Diamond Award winner (Since 2000) is the fanciest place to eat on property, and possibly in Central Florida. Make Reservations and bring your wallet as a seven-course meal can cost more than a night in most hotel rooms at Walt Disney World.

Coming up FastPass+, Magic Bands and Luggage Tags …….


How to plan your Walt Disney World Vacation Part 3 – Booking your Trip

Booking your trip.

When doing this we always call the Cast Members at 407-WDISNEY. They can quickly toggle in-between all the different options quite quickly. Before you call, have the following information on hand:

First you will tell them the days you are staying and they will check hotel options, like I mentioned before there are a lot of options and prices vary quite a bit so this is why I call. You can use their website but the Disney Travel employees are pros and they can help fill in any potential gaps.

Second, they want the names, ages (including birthdays for younger guests) of guests?

Third, you’ll need to know flights if you know (you may need to call back and add this to your reservation)

If you have a Disney Account they will want to link your reservation to it so that you can later log into the My Disney Experience Ap and Website.

Fourth, you will want to know if you want the ‘Memory Maker’ this is the update on the Photo Pass. What this is a package that will let you download all pictures taken at Walt Disney World, this includes rides, character meals and around the parks. It is about $30 cheaper to pre-purchase the plan instead of buying it at the park.  There are Disney Photographers all over, we love this because it eliminates the need to ask someone you don’t know to take your picture and the Disney photographers are set up in the best spots for great pictures.

My Disney Experience

If you don’t have an account with Disney now is the time to set it up. The My Disney Experience App will help you manage your trip, especially while at the parks. From the App or the website you can book restaurant reservations, personalize your Magic Band, get fast passes for rides and even order your meal at Be Our Guest.  Additionally you can add notes for things you wanted to do before hand so when you log into make diner reservations or book FastPasses the notes will be there to guide you.

What is a Magic Band you ask?

It is a wristband the size of a watch that has an RFID chip in it that can power you whole trip. It is your room key, your park tickets, your FastPass+, and has the ability to pay with an associated Credit Card/PIN so you can tap to pay for something, enter your PIN and be on your way. The Magic band means no need for a wallet or purse.

Next step book your Disney Dining reservations 180 days before you arrive…

How to Plan your Walt Disney World Vacation – Part 2 Hotels, Park Tickets and Dining Plans

Before you make the call:

Where do you want to stay?

Many people choose to stay off property when going to Disney World. This is a great option if you are going to other Orlando area attractions such as Cocoa Beach, Lego Land, or Universal Studios. For this post we are going to talk about staying on Disney property.  While staying on property you won’t need at rental car as Disney has transportation from all of its hotels and campgrounds to all 4 amusement parks, 2 water parks and Downtown Disney. Staying at a Disney hotel will also give you access to extra Magic Hours. Extra Magic hours are when you can enter the parks early or stay later in the parks because you are staying at a Disney Hotel.

There are four tiers of accommodations at Disney World:

  1. Deluxe Villas and Hotels from $284 a night
  2. Moderate Hotels from $162 a night
  3. Value from $85 a night
  4. Campgrounds from $49 a night

Consider choosing a hotel that is closest to the parks your group wants to visit. Your transportation from hotel to park can be up to 30 min each way. For instance, the Wilderness Lodge is about a 5-minute ride to the Magic Kingdom, which was important to us, but it can take 30 minutes to get to the Animal Kingdom.

We have stayed at the Wilderness Lodge (our favorite), the Coronado Springs, and the Caribbean Beach Resort.

Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Lobby decorated for Christmas, photo courtesy of Tom Bricker and Disney Tourist Blog

How long will you stay?

There are 4 amusement parks and 2 water parks. This decision will be what really makes the mark on your wallet. We like at least 2 days in EPCOT, 2 days in the Magic Kingdom, 1 day at Animal Kingdom and 1 day at Hollywood Studios. Just like that we are at 6 days. If you are going to spend 5 or more days in the parks I highly recommend a rest day in the middle. We do this at Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach. There are entry fees for these parks as well, so if you are trying to save a little money have a pool day at your hotel or rent a car and go to Cocoa Beach which is just under an hour from here. Either way, make sure you plan a rest day or by the end of your trip you will be spending more time on a bench than on your favorite ride.

Should you get park hopper ticket or not?

This is about a $50 per person decision. We chose to do it because we can break up an EPCOT or Animal Kingdom day if the little kids are getting bored. We can get dinner in EPCOT; sneak over to the Magic Kingdom on the monorail and get in a few more laps on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train or my favorite Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. On our last trip we had a day start and end in Hollywood Studios and we took the boat to EPCOT and back for lunch and snacks during the Food and Wine Festival. I think the park hopper is more of a luxury than a must do but still a decision to be made.

Should you get the dining plan?

As with all the questions in this post, this will add more money per day but can get you dining experiences at Disney that you might not normally choose to do if you were just paying for each meal as you go.

Disney has 3 Dining Plan options:

Platinum provides 3 meals a day plus 2 snacks.  We chose the Magic Your Way Premium because we can still get character meal experiences without spending all our time in a sit down restaurant.  Premium allows for 1 quick service meal, 1 sit down meal and 1 snack a day.  The Quick Service plan allows for 2 meals a day both quick service and a snack every day you are staying at Disney.

Whether you get a meal plan or not you are paying for food but there are benefits to the dining plan. You can budget and prepay for your meals. Here is why I like the Dining plan, it allows me to budget better for the trip and it opens up restaurants that I probably wouldn’t have eaten at had I not had the plan. Our favorite highlights: (see our post on Reservations for our restaurant recommendations)

Step 3 Booking your Trip

How to plan your Walt Disney World Vacation

IMG_1464Let’s begin by saying that planning a trip to Walt Disney World can be quite a task. We’ve broken it down into 6 posts to help you plan.

  1. When to go to Disney World and how to get there
  2. Where to stay and what kind of package to buy
  3. Booking your trip
  4. When to make dining reservations and where to eat
  5. What is FastPass + and how to maximize it
  6. What to pack and plan on for your trip

But let’s start at the beginning:

When are you going?

This decision will affect so many things about your trip.

  • Are you taking your kids out of school? – Consider going around a state holiday or when your kids have an extra day off.
  • Consider going when the parks are decorated for special occasions:
  • Do you want to go when the parks are less busy? Although Disney does a great job of bringing guests to their parks during all the seasons the best times to visit the parks if you are looking for fewer people is the second half of August, weekdays in October and November (except for the week of Thanksgiving). Undercover Tourist gives a great outline here.
  • When are they offering deals on your room or meal plan? Disney offers deals each season but not until the timing is closer. This is why you may want to book your trip but not make the final payment until 30 days before the trip. This will allow you to request the deal after it is advertised.

If you choose to go during Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, Frozen Summer, or Star Wars Weekends it will affect the number of park tickets you buy. Some of these events have special tickets that allow you to visit the park with a limited number of guests during special hours. We have found this is the best time to ride some of the busy rides because there aren’t so many people in the park. We have been to both the Halloween and Christmas Parties and they are by far our favorite times to be in the Magic Kingdom. Fewer people are in the parks, there are 2 parades and fireworks so ride lines disappear. We rode Splash Mountain with our oldest son 3 times in a row without getting out of our log. We finally bailed on the fourth ride because we were so wet. If there is a party, we recommend getting a ticket but take one day off your park pass and enjoy Downtown Disney or the pool at your hotel the morning of your party ticket. The Frozen and Star Wars events are included in your park ticket but can affect the number of Anna’s, Elsa’s and Chewbacca’s in those parks.

How are you getting to central Florida?

Domestic Airlines that fly to MCO Orlando International Airport (and allow you to take Disney’s Magical Express):

Jet Blue
US Airways
Virgin America
Sun Country
Silver Airways

You can return a rental car on Disney property. Alamo and National Rental Cars have a shared location at the Car Care Center. If you are planning a day trip and only need a car for the day, a car can be rented here.

You can even take Amtrak from all over the United States to Orlando. But the cheapest seats tend to cost twice a much as flying and it takes almost 4 days to get from the west coast to Orlando.


Step 2 Where to stay and what kind of Vacation Package to purchase……