8 Jul
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Planning for Walt Disney World

Arch into Walt Disney World property Florida

I have two words for potential visitors to Walt Disney World: be prepared. Seriously, don’t arrive in Orlando thinking everything will be magical without planning beforehand. There is a lot happening at Walt Disney World. It’s important to know your options and fit those with your family. Everyone’s trip to Disney World looks a little different, much like a fingerprint.

1st visit badge Walt Disney World

Our visit was fast and furious. We’ve visited Disneyland in California twice and felt our experiences there would be helpful. I’m glad we had visited the smaller Disneyland before hitting Disney World. We knew what we should expect. Yes, Disney World is much larger than Disneyland, but as far as the feel and concept, the parks are similar. Walt Disney World is Disneyland on steroids.

Mickey Mouse head-shaped electrical tower

Our visit to Disney World was part of a three-week road trip from Wyoming to Florida. Our stop in Orlando was a small part of our overall adventure, but it was the most researched part. I read books and blogs. I chatted with anyone who would talk with me about what to expect when we hit Mickey’s house. I can’t imagine how stressful and miserable Disney World would have been for us if I hadn’t put in the time to understand where we were going.

Disney World bus to Magic Kingdom

I knew we would have to balance our three boys’ love for anything adrenaline-inducing with our daughter’s adoration of all things princess. We resigned ourselves to spending some time apart at the parks which ended up working wonderfully for everyone. I wouldn’t visit Disney World without staying on property. The theme park covers a great deal of land. I liked having access to the bus system for dropoff and pickup at all places in the park system. It was nice to know we could leave Magic Kingdom at 1:30 a.m. and not worry about driving.

sign at All-Star Music resort Disney World

We stayed at the older lower-tier All-Star Music hotel, mainly because of price, but also because it offered a 6-person suite (only a few other Disney hotels do). We’ve stayed in nicer rooms, but we knew we wouldn’t spend much time in the room. The hotels vary greatly on price and amenities. All-Star Music was clean and Mousekeeping even left us a few towels shaped as Mickey’s head and a flower. Our family wanted to spend time at the parks, not next to the pool or spending hours each day eating at a restaurant we had to book 180 days in advance. That’s not how we travel. An All-Star resort was perfect for us. If you plan on spending quite a bit of time at your hotel, I would look at spending more money on a newer, on-property hotel.

All-Star Music resort bed with Mickey head-shaped towels Disney World

Another advantage to staying on-property is being able to secure FastPass reservations 60 days before arrival. Those passes are essential. They allow visitors to by-pass the standby line at given timeframes. A person in a standby line may wait 90 minutes for some of the more popular rides, while someone with a FastPass will wait less than 10 minutes. In our experience, most FastPass timeslots were spoken for on the headlining attractions within the first hour of our 60-day window. We had to stalk the Elsa and Anna meet-and-greet for a week before I was finally able to get FastPass reservations for two of us to visit the much-anticipated queen and princess.

Disney World Magic Bands in shipping box

MagicBands are part of the package when you stay on-property at Disney World. If you stay off-property, they’re available for purchase separately. These make life at Disney World much easier. The bands act as a key to your hotel room, a credit card can be linked to them to make purchasing souvenirs and food in the park quicker, and they’re your admission ticket into the park. We didn’t have trouble remembering to wear ours each morning, but were on the bus one day when a nearby mother realized she had forgotten her band. You don’t want to do this. Unless you happen to have your backup credit card-like ticket in your wallet, you can’t get into the park without your MagicBand. A couple of our kids are still sporting their bands for the last few weeks. Each person in your party is able to pick the color of their band. They arrive in the mail prior to departing on vacation in a themed-box, and each band has the person’s name printed on the inside. Disney does details well.

Family wearing Disney World Magic Bands

Not everything is magical at Disney World. The FastPass system is a mess. Before the implementation of the bands, there were kiosks throughout the park. Visitors had to go to the kiosks and print passes for rides. It would have to be purely by chance that a person could arrive at Disney World and secure FastPass reservations for attractions. Allowing FastPasses to be secured online gives roughly 30,000 people the chance to get a small number of passes on any given day. At least walking to the kiosks gave the advantage to people who really wanted those passes to make the extra effort to search them out.

All-Star Music resort room table Disney World

Each person is allowed three FastPass reservations to begin with each day at a park. You can’t get another FastPass until you use the first three passes. Disney wants you to use their app to then get additional passes. We couldn’t get the app to work inside any of the parks to secure more FastPasses…not once. We had to search out kiosks for use if you don’t have a smartphone or the app isn’t working. From the lines at the kiosks, it seemed as if others were having trouble with the app — Disney definitely has some kinks to work through on the app. Our FastPasses were spread out throughout the day. By the time we had used all three, there were hardly any attractions left with a FastPass available. Plan ahead and know which three attractions your family must visit. Book those three from home and work out the rest in the park.

view outside rooms at All-Star Music resort Disney World

If you’re traveling to Disney World with children, have a talk about souvenirs and what you’re willing to purchase while in the park. The options are endless for all-things Disney. We gave our children a set amount of money to spend for the entire three weeks we were on vacation. They were very good about thinking through purchases. Not much was purchased from Disney World aside from food.

Happy Anniversary badge Walt Disney World

Our souvenirs of choice at Disney World are the free badges you can get from the concierge at property hotels. There are badges for various celebrations. Our kids wore ‘First Time Visitor’ badges while Craig and I wore ‘Happy Anniversary’ badges. We had several cast members wish us a happy anniversary throughout our stay.

a $1 Disney Dollar bill with Dumbo

We like to exchange money for Disney dollars which can also be done at property hotels. There are different denominations to exchange, and the Disney dollars can be used in place of dollars on property. We save ours.

Our favorite travel souvenir are elongated pennies. We carry quarters and pennies in the park and are on the lookout for penny machines. We left Walt Disney World with quite the collection to remember our trip. At 51 cents a pop, the elongated pennies do add up over time.

We carry two small backpacks into theme parks. Disney World allows visitors to bring food into the park. We bring water bottles and refill them at water fountains throughout our day. We also bring snack items like jerky, dried fruit, granola bars, and nuts into the park. I like the freedom of having food with us and being able to stop and snack whenever hunger strikes instead of relying on reservations I made months prior.

Loaded waffle fries at Magic Kingdom Disney World

Our kids weren’t interested in reservations at any sit-down restaurants while we visited. I know there are some fabulous choices, but we chose to stick with counter service food, which didn’t disappoint. We enjoyed loaded waffle fries, giant waffle sandwiches and amazing Moroccan food while in the parks.

Family portrait behind the castle Disney World

Photos are important to me, but I end vacation with very few photos that have me in them. In our experience, it’s hit-or-miss when it comes to stopping a stranger to take a family photo for us. We’ve never had anyone turn us down, but theme parks tend to have people rushing around like the attractions will disappear if they don’t hurry to them. We purchased the Memory Maker PhotoPass which was attached to our MagicBands. Disney has employed photographers throughout the park, and we used them quite often. It allowed all six of us to be in photos at Disney World landmark spots as well as gave us access to ride photos, and video in the case of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. We have hundreds of photos on our account and some candid moments caught with several characters that are special reminders of this vacation.

Finally, acquaint yourself with the park maps while you’re visiting. It’s helpful to have some knowledge of where things are located in the park. We were there in early June, which draws larger crowds, and were overwhelmed at times by the number of people and strollers. It was nice to know which direction we needed to go without having to pull out a map. The crowds during holidays tend to be some of the largest Disney World will see all year. I cannot imagine Thanksgiving or Christmas at Walt Disney World and would never go back during a peak time. If you have freedom to book a vacation in the off-season, you’ll be grateful for the smaller numbers. If you’re stuck with one of the busier times, be prepared for even more frenzy.


Follow our 6,025-mile adventure.
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