Monday, March 2, 2015

A peek inside my mind: Planning a stay at Walt Disney World

"I don't even know where to begin!" that is the most common comment I hear from my clients.

Well, let's address that! There is so much that I know from more than 20 trips to Disney that I have a hard time explaining it all goes.

All of this races through my mind every time I speak to a new client.

Depending on how many times you have traveled to Walt Disney World and how old the children you are taking will be you need to be strategic about dining. If it is a first trip or a trip with little ones I highly suggest you eat in the park you will be at each day. This will alleviate constant upheaval to get to the next location.

Magic Kingdom is the one exception. It is surrounded by a monorail system that easily and quickly takes you to the Contemporary, Polynesian and Grand Floridian resorts. It also has a boat ride to Wilderness Lodge. So, on Magic Kingdom days you have the greatest flexibility because you can dine at locations in these nearby resorts.

I have several blogs on Dining to help you determine what is best for you and your family.  If I book your Disney package I will book your dining for you. Link to my Dining Blogs

Park Tickets:
I suggest getting the same number of tickets as days you will be at Disney. Obviously, take into account your travel days, if a flight is at noon or sooner on your day of departure there is no reason to have tickets.  The way Disney has structured their ticket prices every day of tickets after your first 4 days is about $11/person/day. This is why it doesn't make sense to cut back on tickets.

Base tickets allow you to go to any park each day. You can leave at anytime and return to that same park but you cannot go into another park.

Park Hopper tickets (an additional $59/person total-not per day) allow you to go to more than one park per day.  I do not suggest this unless you are seasoned professionals at navigating Disney or have much older kids. You will have plenty to do at each park and really need some down time to survive your trip. Oftentimes, park hoppers just allow you to overplan and overwhelm your whole family. I will admit we get park hoppers but our kids are now teenagers and we are pretty good at using the transportation to our advantage.

Special Event Tickets:
Twice a year Disney sells special event tickets. This includes Halloween (mid-September through the first of November) and Christmas (mid-November through December 18ish)  These tickets are usually $60-75/ person and allow you to enter Magic Kingdom at 4:00 pm (tickets say 7:00 pm but you can generally enter by 4:00 pm) and stay until midnight. There are a limited number of these tickets sold and special parades and activities take place for ticketed guests.  The key to these events are the light crowds allowing you to walk on virtually every ride!  We LOVE it!

If you choose to buy these I suggest you try to get a date for the party that is midweek. Go to the pool that day or Animal Kingdom then go back and rest in the room before heading over for the party between 4:00 pm and 5:00 pm. I would also eat your table service that day for breakfast or lunch because I would not waste your valuable time sitting in a restaurant during the party you paid for! A great way to do this is to have a reservation at Whispering Canyon in Wilderness Lodge at 4:00 pm or 5:00 pm then take the boat to Magic Kingdom.

Which parks to visit:
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  • 3 Park Days: First, let's be clear, I would never encourage anyone to do this! There is just too much to see and do to limit yourself to three park days. Generally, this will just make you anxious because you can't get it all in! However, there are circumstances of time or money that just prohibit longer trips. If your kids are younger than 11 I would suggest 2 days at Magic Kingdom and 1 day at EPCOT.  If your kids are teens (who like thrill rides) I would suggest 1 day Magic Kingdom, 1 day EPCOT and 1 day Hollywood Studios.
  • 4 Park Days: I would definitely do 2 days at Magic Kingdom, 1 day EPCOT and 1 day at Hollywood Studios. EXCEPTION, you have young kids that love animals, substitute Animal Kingdom for Hollywood Studios.
  • 5 Park Days: 2 days Magic Kingdom, 1 day EPCOT, 1 day Hollywood Studios and 1 day Animal Kingdom
  • 6+ Park Days: I would suggest the 5 day plan and then eat in a resort for table service for the 6+ days so you can choose or change your mind about parks to revisit once you are there. This is tough with the new fastpass system. I would lean towards a second day at EPCOT or even a possible third day at Magic Kingdom. You might have to plan on one then know that you can be flexible once there but might lose your fastpasses.

What about Extra Magic Hours?
This is definitely a double edged sword. Yes, entering the parks early or staying late is a great extra offered to those staying on property. I 'get' that! I really do! However, if you have a base ticket and can only go to one park a day most choose the one with extra magic hours. Inevitably this is BY FAR the most crowded. I usually avoid the extra magic hours park altogether. 

There are a couple of exceptions. Park opening is a great time to ride some of the busier rides quickly. If you have the self control to go early, at park opening to a park with evening magic hours this can work to your advantage. You would enter the park immediately upon opening and go LEFT, no one goes left, everyone goes straight or to the right. Then ride a couple of big rides with very little wait times. Next, have your fastpasses lined up one after another beginning an hour after park opening. Then LEAVE!!! Go back to the resort and swim and relax, take a nap if your kids cooperate. Then return at 6 pm after eating dinner when the sun is no longer baking you and most people are about ready to throw in the towel due to tantrums. You are fresh, rested and ready. Most will leave even though they came to this park for Extra Magic Hours. Midday this park will be painful at best so everyone gets irritated and leaves :-)

Situating your days: 
Generally, I would begin and end with Magic Kingdom. If doing all the parks I would put Animal Kingdom in the middle of the week. Animal Kingdom is a half day park for most families. If you arrive at opening and have fastpasses you can easily leave by 1 or 2. This will allow you to have a break midweek. You can also use that day to go ba ck to the resort and go to the pool or go to Downtown Disney. There is a blog on each park and Downtown Disney. Downtown Disney is a free marketplace for shopping and food.

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