Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Disney World Tips & Tricks: Making the Most of the Magic

*UPDATED MARCH 2017
A Disney vacation can be magical! No matter your age, you can be swept away in this place. Each attraction is as thrilling as the next and nighttime shows are dazzling. It’s worth the hype and whittling wallet.
At the same time, on a Disney vacation you are waking up early to get to be at the park when it opens, scurrying to make FastPass & dining reservations, walking for miles through crowded paths, dodging rain one minute & overheating in the sun the next.  If you don’t know the tricks, things can quickly go from dreamy to dreadful. A trip years ago won't help much; operations have changed.

A quick note: we don't wait more than 10-15 minutes for anything-(other than select parades & shows, b/c we want a good spot!) And by the time we exit, there is nothing we wish we could have done or seen-including the gamut of roller coasters to meeting characters! The tips below make that possible for you too!

MAKE THE MOST OF THE MAGIC TIPS
1. Fast Pass + You should know this if you know nothing else!
  • A FastPass is a “reservation” for you to ride/see/meet, bypass the line, and proceed through a separate entrance.  Most often a 1 hour window.
  • It's FREE to all guests with park admission.  
  • It works with Magic Bands and with Tickets (cards)
  • Each rider must have one to ride via the FastPass+ line
  • Available on certain popular rides & attractions, indicated on map. Includes rides, shows/parades, meeting characters, etc. Complete list here.
  • WDW resort guests may select up to 60 days prior to arrival through My Disney Experience (MDE) app or online for the length of their stay. (Off-site guests: 30 days prior by linking ticket reservations to your MDE account). 
  • Certain FP+ are harder to get than others. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train & Peter Pan's Flight at MK. Toy Story Mania, Rockin' Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios. Frozen Ever After, Test Track & Soarin' at Epcot. Safari (nighttime), Expedition Everest, and Jungle Book at Animal Kingdom. 
  • Book FP+ for 11am-2pm time block when crowds are high & sun is hot. This gives you the morning to either hit attractions with little waiting time or sleep in.
  • Book via the website, smartphone app, or inside the park at kiosks
Here's how I get the high-priority FastPass+:
  • Make FP+ selections at midnight 60 (or 30 days) prior on My Disney Experience. (Set your account up beforehand. Sign-in fresh before making the FP+ selections.)
  • Book in order of high-priority rather than chronologically. Example: if you want to ride Frozen Ever After on the last day of your trip, get that 1st!
  • Choose 3 attractions per day. Tiers are in effect at Epcot & Hollywood Studios (ex: choose between Toy Story Mania & Rockin Roller Coaster at HS and between Soarin & Test Track at Epcot.) You cannot choose the same ride more than once initially. You could always try to get another after your initial 3 are used, but the likelihood depends on the popularity of the ride. Arrive early for the best chance at repeating popular rides.
  • MDE will generate 3 plans (time slots for each). Don't worry about the time slots too much because you can edit the time in a drop down menu for each attraction after you choose. Select A, B, or C plans.  If you wish, MDE will select a sampling for you. If you only choose 1, MDE will automatically fill the other 2 for you.
Good to know:
  • Get Bonus FastPass+ once you've used your inital 3 via the app or kiosks in the park where you wish to use a FastPass+. (i.e. choose initial 3 for one park, hop to another & choose bonus FastPass+ from the kiosk.) Bonus FastPass+ are subject to availability. Don't expect to find the high-priority attractions available afternoon (or earlier, depending on the attraction).
  • Make changes through the smartphone app or in the parks at "My Magic+ help" kiosks.  
  • Consult the map when making FP+ to avoid long walks (& "but I want to do this NOW!") between.
  • With the Rider (Baby) Switch Pass, the tall-enough kids can ride twice, each time using Fast Pass+ entrances when we had a FastPass for the ride! (If you have little ones, read more on magical Rider Switch Pass here)
For more info on FAST PASS + & MAGIC BANDS here.

2. AVOID HEART-SINKERS.
YES, they allow outside food. NO hard-side coolers. YES, ice water is free. NO,
you cannot take your Disney-Rented stroller between parks or back to your resort.  NO you cannot expect to walk up & eat in the castle or at Chef Mickey's to meet the Fab 5 without a reservation (made months in advance). NO, gratuities & alcohol aren't included in your Dining Plan. YES, children under 3 can share from your plate at Table Service meals. YES, there's FREE WiFi in the parks.
Be prepared for:
  • Photo overload: clear smartphone storage & bring an extra SD card for your digital. *don't forget the chargers. Install a storage app like Dropbox before your trip.
  • Blisters: switch between 2 pair of shoes to avoid hotspots & pack moleskin
  • Rain: bring ponchos, one per person per park day & toss after use. The $1 store is a good source. The rain sends crowds out of the parks, be prepared & make good use of the short lines.
  • Character meetings. Characters are all over the World. Meeting them is carefully handled. You can book a Fastpass 60 or 30 days ahead to meet some of them. You can book a character meal to meet many of them (highly recommend doing this ahead of time as they fill up). Some have their own permanent spots for meeting. Disney Visa cardholders can get in on special meetings. Many characters are out and about, simply line up to meet them. Castmembers know when & where you can meet each character. My Disney Experience also lists meet & greets for characters. If you're set on meeting a character, do your homework. The Festival of Fantasy parade mid-day at Magic Kingdom will give you a glimpse at many favorites. We meet many at character meals, booked in advance.
  • Parade/nighttime show crowds: if you want good pictures or for your little one to see clearly get there early. Ask a castmember if you're in an approved spot before you count on it: certain areas are roped off before the parade begins.
  • Pack filling, healthy snacks to avoid sugar overload & subsequent crashes. Hydrate!
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses, hair elastic-pack these little essentials to avoid over-paying in the parks/resorts.
  • Refurbishments. I like to check wdwinfo.com for closing/refurb information.
3. TIMING IS EVERYTHING 
It determines price, crowds, and your overall experience (as described in #3 above). 
  • Do you want to wing the whole trip? Your best bet is in September-early Oct., January to early Feb. and a handful of other times when crowds are lowest. Google "WDW Crowd Calendar + year" before you choose your vacation dates. 
  • Crowds affect more than fighting for space on the bus or long lines, it affects price. If cost is a factor, Google "WDW price seasons + year". 
  • 3 Letters for you: ADR. 180 days prior to your trip you can make Advanced Dining Reservations. If Be Our Guest (Beast's castle) or Cinderellas Royal Table (in the castle) are on your list, set your alarm for that morning at 6am EST (online reservations) & 7am EST (phone reservations)
*Read Dining post for additional at-risk of "sell-out" dining spots, character meals, recommendations, & Dining plan basics. 
  • Consider eating at off times. We've had some of the best service (& seen restaurant opening shows) this way. Want to eat at Be Our Guest without a reservation? Eat lunch when it opens at 10:30am, without a wait.  If cost is a factor, consider eating a late lunch instead of dinner or late breakfast instead of lunch. Book breakfast before the park opens & get in before any one else through a designated entrance, plus it will give you a heads up on hitting rides before the lines form.  
  • Choose to tour the park that had Extra Magic Hours the day before-generally, that park will be least crowded the day after EMH.  
  • Know where you're going (#8 below) and plan for enough time to get there. I can't tell you how many disenchanted guests I've been beside as they realize they're going to be late for a reservation.  
  • Magical Express will be set to pick you up 3 hours before your flight leaves on day of departure. Souvenirs will be delivered to your WDW resort for free from the parks, but only if you are not checking out within 24 hours of purchase.
4. GET THERE EARLY. 
Fastpass+ makes it possible to sleep in late and still get on high-demand attractions without wasting time in line. Still, I recommend arriving at opening if: 
1. You want to ride something repeatedly without a wait.
2. Your group will not take advantage of the after 10pm-3am extra magic hours.
3. You are hoping to experience quite a bit at Magic Kingdom.
At Magic Kingdom, guests are allowed to enter the park prior to official opening. Guests can shop on Main St., stop at Main Street Bakery for Starbucks coffee or pastries. EMH allows resort guests only to attractions earlier than other guests (castmembers scan bands).

The parks are all yours for the early hours. Walk right on rides that will have a 1-2hour wait before you know it & even ride it again if you love it! This is a great time to hit popular attractions that you don't have a Fast Pass to ride. (More on itinerary drafting here)

Cross many MUST DOs off the list early without waiting. This allows you to enjoy the whimsical streets, leave the park mid-day for a nap & head back later to use Fast Passes and night shows. Before 10:30 am, with a 9am park opening, we rode Pooh, Ariel, Dumbo, Barnstormer, Tea Cups, Small World, & Peter Pan without any wait! 

Tips for getting there early:
  • Book a character breakfast for before the park opens. (there is a designated entrance for those with breakfast reservations).
  • Prep the night before: pack the bag/stroller, shower & blow dry hair.
  • Get a wake up call. At Disney resorts, characters cheerfully wake you.
  • Have breakfast in your room or en route. This is the primary reason we bring meal bars, peanut butter pouches, & grab bananas from buffets or choose a muffin or yogurt parfait as your snack to store in your room.
Starbucks is now available not far from the entrances in Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios for your caffeine fix.

5. SAVE $.  
Do yourself a favor, be sure you can afford this trip. Sure you could, but I don't recommend penny-pinching at Disney World. Do your saving before the trip, in the real world.
You'll need to purchase your park admission, resort stay & Dining plan. If you book through WDW, you'll make a down payment and a final payment around 45 days prior to arrival. Besides that cost, you will only need money for tips, alcohol, and souvenirs once you arrive.
Save enough $ for a stay "inside" the WDW resorts & buy a dining plan (or book during FREE DINING promos), so you can relax & enjoy the convenience they provide. 
Get thrifty before: (more on shopping & shipping ahead of time here)
Bring a few pre-packed snacks & refillable water bottles (though ice water is FREE in the parks). Disney Resorts will accept packages on your behalf prior to your arrival. I've used Amazon, with Free Shipping for baby supplies. Buy autograph books, glow sticks, ponchos, & apparel at more affordable prices before your trip-(Check $1 store & Target $1 bin. JCPenney has a mini-Disney store).
Set a souvenir limit before your trip. Implement a way for your kids to earn spending cash & ask for Disney gift cards for Christmas or birthdays preceding the trip.

6. SPLIT UP. 
Most likely, your family does not spend every waking moment together in any given week. Why make 24/7-togetherness mandatory on vacation? One-on-one time is a great way to make lasting memories, while meeting individual needs. 
We've had some of the most magical moments focused on just one of our children’s reactions to a ride or a character greeting.

*Date nights at Disney. Our kids loved the Sandcastle Club at the Yacht Resort. It's an easy ferry ride from Epcot's World Showcase, so we enjoyed Le Cellier sans kids. They didn't want to leave when we arrived. Personally, we aren't likely to do this again. It is pricey & wasn't worth it to us. (*Your welcome packet may include a discount for these clubs as ours did. If you forget it, your resorts front desk can apply it.)
7. LET IT GO!
Resist quantity at the expense of quality.
Yes, you’re spending a small fortune & this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience but don’t make it miserable by pushing your over-stimulated, exhausted kids to squeeze every moment out of the day. DON’T.
Let go of what you had envisioned and let the day unfold organically. Book Fastpass+ for the can't-miss attractions in advance, get to your dining ADRs and let the rest just happen. For goodness sake, don't fight with your princess about wearing the itchy costume.
Give them 2 options instead of open-ended "what do you want to do now?" questions.
You know when your kid is “done”. The parks are open quite late: MK was open until 3am while we were there! You will get your money’s worth, even if you leave for a few hours midday. Resist quantity for the sake of quality.
Don’t think you need to go back to the resort? Find a shady spot or a place in the A/C to rest: ride the Carousel of Progress or the monorail. Ask a cast member for guidance. There are little playgrounds in the parks. We've played/rested at the exit of Splash Mt (MK) & in the playground near World Showcase in Epcot, and the Boneyard at Animal Kingdom.

8. GET THE APP. CONSULT THE MAPS.
Download & familiarize yourself with the apps before you are arrive to use it efficiently when you need it.
My Disney Experience app is free & will make access to your dining reservations, ride wait times, & most park info. This is the most convenient way to make changes to Fast Pass+.
Save time & energy by being familiar with the park maps. Disney transportation is FREE & handy, but it helps to orient yourself with it beforehand a bit to avoid stress. If you don't know that you need to get on a bus to Magic Kingdom & then take a monorail to the Contemporary in order to eat at Chef Mickeys you could find yourself quite stressed trying to make a reservation.
If you have a baby, notice where the Baby Care Centers are located (full Disney with a baby post here!). 

9. STAY LATE!
Have you seen the kiss goodnight on the castle at Magic Kingdom? Most guests don't. Stick around Main Street after closing, let the crowds swarm transportation, and duck into the creamery for a midnight sundae. Wait for it...it's pure magic! (This tip & more info from disneytouristblog!)
Ride Dumbo or Splash Mountain after dark for a killer view of MK. 
At Epcot, ride Test Track at night and try Expedition Everest in the dark at Animal Kingdom. 
If #3 is out of the question, night-owls can get the benefits that early risers get: riding otherwise jam-packed rides without waiting-repeatedly, if you wish! The parks transform quite nicely after dark. If there are 2, the 1st nighttime show/parade is always most crowded. Choose the 2nd, & getting a good spot will be much less effort as will getting transportation afterwards.  
10. BE THERE!
Resist social media updates and checking email. I know family & friends requested photos but, you're at DISNEY WORLD! Be there! Before you know it, you'll be packing to go home. Soak. it. up.
DISNEY WORLD SERIES:
DISNEY PLANNING TIPS 

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

everything is in the process of becoming


He said it well last night on TV. "I love Spring. Everything is in the process of becoming."

I was outside most of the day, basking in the sunshine & shorts-weather, after what has seemed like a year of Winter here in NY.
We bought this house last May. It stood out among the others for many reasons: tucked away at the end of a cul-de-sac, large, dense tree-lined backyard providing the illusion of living in the middle of nowhere. The trees were full & green like the shrubs in the flower beds, teaming with colorful hydrangeas & rose bushes. I started to doubt that it ever looked that way.

I'm having a hard time seeing it. 
How can this become....that?

Time.
Patience.
Seasons change.
Bringing with them new wonders and trials too.
You can't see it?
Wait.
In due time.
You will.

I'm quite sure I believe in the proverbial "good things come to those who wait" but my inclinations are far more along the lines of: good things come to those who go get them.
Wait?
I'd rather do & try & create & figure out how to make it happen, like now.

But, something about my backyard has given fresh perspective on the value of time & waiting.




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