Tuesday, May 1, 2012

20 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Went to #Disney

It took our first family trip to Disney World for me to write a "tips" post. Enough people have asked me for advice since we've returned to convince me to put a bunch of the information in one place. As you may know, having gone to Disney once now makes me an expert on the subject. So don't fear, Disney rookie, you will soon be an expert just like me.

I took this picture. Not bad, eh?
We went for five days, four nights. We stayed at the Polynesian Resort and we saved a lot of money by staying in the same room with my in-laws. Yes, the same room. It actually wasn't nearly as bad as it sounds or as I feared. Except we did catch my mother-in-law snoring like Donald Duck one night. Other than that, the room was peachy.

So without further ado, here's what else I wish I knew before I went to Disney: (I linked all of the attractions I mention to the Disney site.)

1. Don't buy one of those how-to guide books. Have one of your wife's friends lend you one. Either way, use this one. My Director found it most helpful. What she didn't find most helpful was my not reading a single word of it despite her repeated requests. As great as it was for planning our activities and itineraries (it was the Bible, according to her), it addressed none of the rest of the things on my list.

2. At some point on your trip, you will feel like you are torturing your child(ren). He/she/they will be exhausted. You will keep pushing them. It's what we do to create those magical memories. Expect a meltdown or two. Or 37. YOU will also have a meltdown. Or two. Totally normal. Just make it quick, pull yourself together, and move on. 

3. Since utter exhaustion is a definite, and the amazing fireworks in the Magic Kingdom are a must, I would plan on seeing them early in the trip. First night. We went our last night. Peanut was as mad as she was mesmerized. I don't know how much sleep your kids want or need, but Peanut is a champion sleeper. Eleven hours at night. And she STILL takes a 2-3 hour nap some days. This trip, she got 8-9 hours per night max, with cat naps in the stroller here and there. She was excited to be there that first night. We should have struck while the iron was hot. Whenever you do go, the fireworks are a must. And they're free. (Or there's no extra charge wink wink.) Find a way to see them.

We were not alone in our
stroller dependency
4. The stroller. There are two very divided and very passionate camps: People who swear by it, and people who refuse to even consider it as an option. We swear by it (see #3). And because Peanut is sleepy and moody (see her dad), it was a lifesaver. As soon as she was tired or cranky, we'd stick her in there as we went from place to place. She'd snap out of it after about a half an hour. 

Snow White first thing
in the morning
5. On days you're going to be at the Magic Kingdom, get there when it opens. (Or before it opens if you're staying at a Disney resort.) Lines aren't that bad and the kids should be raring to go. It was great. You can hit up a character or two with very little wait because a bunch of them spread out on Main Street USA when you get there. We met Snow White like this one day and Pinocchio another.

Peanut & Pluto
at Epcot Character Spot
6. Speaking of characters, you don't have to spend a lot of time stalking them if you know where they are and when. For example, there is a Character Spot in Epcot where we met Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto. All at once. We waited half an hour and got those five biggies banged out. (The time of day we went also helped - See #15 below.) You can really streamline your character stalking by hitting them up at set times and places. There is a daily schedule of which characters you can meet and where at the entrance to the parks. (This also helped us catch Tinker Bell, another Peanut favorite.)
Who's psyched for Tigger?

7You can also bang out a lot of characters at meals. If you have character meals planned, you'll get a majority of your autographs and pictures then. If your kids like Winnie the Pooh, we did the breakfast at Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom one morning. We met Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, and Piglet. This was great. Food was good too.

The princess motherload
8. If you're stalking princesses like we were, you can hit the princess motherload like we did in Norway at Epcot. We had a meal at the Akurshus Royal Banquet Hall with Belle, Ariel, Aurora, Snow White, and Cinderella. (You can see pictures here.) This was very nicely done too. They do a similar one in the castle in Magic Kingdom. That one fills up quickly. So this one was our only choice, and it was not a disappointment. It also wasn't crowded. BONUS: There is a great little Viking boat ride called Maelstrom right outside of the restaurant. We lucked out. It was raining and there was no line. We rode it twice in a row. It was a Peanut favorite. (DOUBLE BONUS: That reminds me: Epcot is great if it's raining or really hot because you can spend big chunks of time indoors.)

9. For more princesses, we went to Cinderella's Happily Ever After Dinner at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian Hotel. Prince Charming and the wicked stepmother and stepsisters were also there. We weren't impressed with the food, and Peanut and My Director like to say Prince Charming was "not so charming." But what made this one worth it was the stepsisters. They were so funny and entertaining. Book these things way in advance.

10. Speaking of food, I would only plan a sit-down breakfast if characters are involved. And when I say "characters," I'm not talking about your in-laws. Eating a long breakfast isn't worth it to me. Grab a yogurt,  granola bar, and/or a piece of fruit, get to the park and get things done. Our meal plan allowed one sit-down, one "quick dining" meal (like fast food-type places), and one snack per day. This is plenty. Some days it's too much. I'm a hungry dude in general and I was fine on the days we followed this routine.

11. If you do a big breakfast, with characters for example, then don't do a sit-down dinner that night. It's just too much eating and sitting. It all depends on how long you're staying and whether you're on a meal plan and which one. But I'd rather eat on the go and have one sit-down meal each day. I don't like sitting around when there's stuff to do. Stopping to eat annoyed me. Peanut was fine with a quick breakfast and then mostly snacks. But I think the meal plan is worth the money for convenience, and for not having to pay when you're there.

12. Because I have very little patience, I was annoyed when we'd arrive 10 minutes early for our dinner reservations (because My Director and I are highly organized. See #1) and then end up getting seated 10-15 minutes later than our reservation. So DON'T be efficient like we were. Arrive on time and expect to wait a little. You'll be less annoyed.

13. Leave some nights open to walk around the park. We had a big dinner planned every night, whether it was at a restaurant or a show. While all of our dinners were enjoyable and/or entertaining, in hindsight I wouldn't do that. Grabbing a burger or whatever for a quick bite on one or two nights would have been fine with me. I didn't like being prisoner to a meal schedule every night. So next time, I won't book a dinner every night we're there.

14. Use fast pass when you can. You don't want to be waiting in line with young children for more than a half an hour. Fast pass eliminated that and makes excellent use of your time. And it's easy. Especially when Magic Kingdom gets busy. And get the fast pass for Soarin' in Epcot. It's amazing. Revolve your day around doing it. It's worth it. (40" minimum height)

15. We lucked out and went to Epcot in the early evening one day and it was dead. No lines. (See #6.) We hit Spaceship Earth, the Character Spot I mentioned above, a Nemo ride that Peanut loved, we talked to Crush the Turtle, and rode another ride in The Land. All in the three hours we had to kill before dinner. So consider that time of day for Epcot.

16. Animal Kingdom (if you're going) can also be done in a half a day. The Safari is great. The Everest coaster there is cool. (But Space Mountain is still better.) There's more to see than do. It's a good change-of-pace park. Especially if you have an animal lover like we do. BONUS: If you have a Nemo lover like we do, the Nemo musical in Animal Kingdom is a must. It's indoors so you can cool off and rest if your little one is getting grumpy.

17. Prepare for the pool at the hotel to be your kids' favorite thing. Every day around noon, Peanut would ask us if we could go back and swim in the pool. And by 3 or 4, we were swimming for an hour. Those swims were some of the most memorable parts of the trip for me. (And once again, they cost "nothing" wink wink.)

18. If you want to see and hear your child belly laugh, I mean really cackle, taken him/her to Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor in TomorrowLand.

19. If you're not following Daddy's in Charge, go do it. Then ask him any other questions you might have. He goes to Disney more than Super Bowl MVPs do. In fact, part of the expansion of FantasyLand includes a condo for him and his family. He is a great resource for anything and everything Disney. Post questions on his Facebook wall. Or tweet him. He will happily answer you. So will I.

20. Last but not least, you will NOT get to do everything on your list. Understand that before you get on that plane to Orlando. I thought I did. I obviously didn't. Trust me. And just know that if you don't get to something, it'll just give you a reason to go back.

Bonus: Prepare to spend more money than you would ever dream of spending on silly trinkets, unhealthy treats, and ridiculous souvenirs. For instance, I was in my right mind when I didn't hesitate to fork over $10 for a Mickey Mouse balloon as if it were my destiny. All to make Peanut smile after she had tripped and skinned her elbow.

Me, Peanut, and the $10 balloon
that just wouldn't die
That balloon lasted the entire trip. And to ensure we didn't waste it, we gave it to a family who was just arriving at our hotel as we were leaving for the airport.

One last thing: You're going to Disney World. You've invested thousands of dollars in this trip. Why say no? The word "no" is one thing we don't bring on vacation. It's very unlike us, but it's wonderful. That rule started on Peanut's first big trip, which I wrote about here.


  1. Good stuff! There are always a million things to know about Disney, but you did a good job narrowing down 20. #19 probably is your best tip because questions always come up and instead of reading from a book you can just ask someone who has been there.

    1. There are a lot of sites that can be found that would give us tips before going to Disney. Here is one Disney Resorts

  2. Thanks. I had A LOT more. I eliminated some, and combined a few to get to a nice number. What I didn't say in #19 because I was trying to be funny is that you WERE a HUGE help and answered all of my questions quickly. And with good info. Thanks so much and enjoy your condo in the new FantasyLand.

    1. It's going to be beautiful... I am glad that I had a hand in designing it. ;-)

  3. Great info - thanks a ton. I just had my first kid and although we still have a few years before we will be visiting Disney, I'm already saving money for it.

    I tend to also be highly organized; I was wondering what was on your list that you did not get to do. Follow up question: what was on your list that you and The Director wanted to do?

    1. In all honestly, the only thing on our (my) list that we didn't get to was Splash Mountain. And that's because Peanut had a meltdown. Then I had a meltdown as a result of hers: http://daddyknowsless.blogspot.com/2012/04/splash-mountain-double-meltdown.html

      We really made sure we did as much "princess" stuff as possible. That's why we planned those character meals. We also had Peanut get made up like a princess at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. She loved all of that stuff.

      We also wanted to get some Toy Story stuff in, since before the princess craze hit she was really into those movies. So we did the Buzz Lightyear ride in Tomorrow Land. There's more Toy Story stuff in Hollywood Studios but we eliminated that park because most of it is for kids a little older than Peanut. (She's 5.)

      Me personally? I wanted to make sure I hit a couple of cool roller roasters, which I did with Everest and Space Mountain. And Soarin was great too.

      But we really did cater it to Peanut since we were there for her birthday. The thing I wrote about the pool is true.

      And we have no regrets... but will be going back soon to check out the new Fantasy Land.

  4. Brilliant tips! When we went to the Crystal palace character dineing (and by we I mean me and my boyfriend - both 24... no kids... just us. Yeah, I know) I posed with tigger and accidentally felt human neck... very awkward.

    Great post! x

    1. That means a lot coming from a world traveler such as yourself! And I'm sure Tigger's human neck wasn't nearly as awkward as Cinderella's STD that we saw. Yuck.

  5. Did you find Peanut was a good age for most/enough things you wanted to do? I've never been, but would love to go, I just have no idea when the kids would be at the right age (1 and 2.5 now, so a few years yet).

    1. I thought this was a great age to take her (5). We wanted to make sure she could enjoy it, be aware of it, and possibly remember it. After all, we're spending al of this money. We also realized she wouldn't have this princess fascination forever. So while she loves them, we might as well take her.

      I think there is an argument to be made to take them at any age. But us personally, we waited until she was a little older. And we say we're going back in 2 or 3 years.

    2. Good to know. :) Thanks. We were thinking when the kids were 5ish, but it's something I always wanted to ask someone who had gone. :)

  6. Veteran annual passholder here and I would add two things:

    #1 www.tourguidemike.com - I <3 HIM. It's the best $21 we have spent and we use it EVERYTIME we go.

    #2 when you have littles we find it more enjoyable to get to the parks before then open and then back to the hotel for some actual vacationing (pool, drinks, naps) and then back to the parks for fireworks and such if we feel the need. It is not a vacation when your littles are whining and crying constantly because they are exhausted. Great job Rookie!

    1. Thank you! And your #2 was pretty much our daily routine. Park at the crack of dawn until she's ready for pool/nap/both. Then back out for more park and dinner. And talking about it makes me want to go again!

  7. The stroller is a GOD send. We went when the boys were 5 and 6 and bonus brother was 12. We trucked that thing everywhere. At some point, Tony and I have discussed going sans children.

    I am wondering if he'd be willing to push me in the stroller....

  8. Going sans children sounds like a good time. If you get him to push you in a stroller, you might as well call it a second honeymoon.

  9. I have to disagree on the breakfast though, You've got to do at least one, the lilo and stitch character breakfast at Ohana in the Polynesian. If for no other reason than the family style breakfast is phenomenal... You can also meet Mickey & The Gang, Lilo & Stitch during your meal.

    1. Yes... I said unless you're doing a sit-down breakfast with characters, just make it quick.

  10. This is a fantastic post! I am totally bookmarking this for our next trip to Disney. Some of your tidbits I discovered myself, but lots are brand-new to me. Thanks!!!





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