During Spring Break, we spent a week at Disney World with our teenage niece and had a wonderful time, in spite of the fact that the parks were packed due to the school break. We knew they would be when we planned the trip, so it was no surprise, and we planned to take advantage of the first few hours of each day to do the highlights. We also knew that, coming from the Pacific Time Zone, we’d have a hard time making it until the park closed, as we were getting up at what were really early hours for us until everyone adjusted to the new time.
I’ll post about the highlights from each park separately, but this will serve as some general observations about Disney World with some tips that we discovered or were shared with us. We stayed “off property”, which meant the need for transportation to/from the parks. We opted not to rent a car, as our condo was only a few miles driving distance and we could use a combination of the free hotel shuttle and taxis. The hotel shuttle did not always run at convenient times, so we used it less than originally anticipated, but taxis were convenient and cost less than the combination of car rental and parking fees. However, had we not traded our time share and had to pay for accommodations, I would have opted to stay at a Disney resort for its convenience.
Living in California, I’ve been to Disneyland and California Adventure a number of times, but we heard that dining at Disney World is much more difficult to find a table, so advanced reservations were highly recommended. This has its positives and negatives because you need to decide where you plan to be (it can take up to an hour to get from one park/hotel to another via Disney transportation) and what you would like to eat…and when you think you’ll be hungry. Knowing that we’d be on our feet all day, I opted to make dining reservations for four of the six days so that we could ensure we’d have a place to sit in the air conditioning and rest. Three of the four reservations were for dinner and one for lunch. We ended up canceling one because we weren’t hungry, but used the others and they worked out well. By dining during off peak times for our other meals, we were almost always able to find a place to sit without having to wait or share a table with another family, but it was not always inside with air conditioning (and it was hot).
Disney dining has come a long way over the years, with some excellent table service restaurants. One of our favorites was the Yak & Yeti at Animal Kingdom, which had good food and a mango pie to die for! However, prices aren’t cheap and for three “adults”, we were typically over $100 for dinner after tax and tip. Some of the restaurants cater to children more than others (usually you can guess based on the cuisine served), which means you shouldn’t expect a quiet, peaceful dining experience, but hey, you’re at Disney World and it caters to families, so that’s to be expected. If you expect this and expect to pay the high prices, you will be less disappointed that your “expensive” meal wasn’t the relaxing experience you thought it might be.
We used the Disney World app on our smart phone to keep track of wait times at the park when making decisions on what to do each day during the busiest times. The app also keeps track of dining reservations and you can add parades or shows listed in the app to your schedule for the day. It makes it really handy to keep track of the must-do items for the day. The parks have free Wi-Fi, so you don’t even need a data plan. Our niece used it on her iPod Touch. Each day, we started off at our must-do rides and as the lines got longer, we used Fast Passes for the other high priority attractions or to re-ride favorites. Then we used the app to find things with the shortest waits to fill the time and it all worked well. Disney World also has lots of good shows, which were great for getting off our feet for a bit and into the air conditioning. The exception was the Beauty and the Beast show, which was outdoors in the hot sun. Note that people start lining up for the shows at least a half hour before they start, and more than an hour for some, so if you must have good seats for your kids (or yourself), plan ahead.
One last tip for today. If you’ve seen those magic shots taken at any of the Disney theme parks and want to get one for yourself, look for the Disney photographers who roam the parks, not the ones with the tripod. Those with the tripod will take your photo, but they don’t have the magic shots set on their cameras. Different photographers have different shots, so ask what they can do. Then check them out on your photo pass early enough to have them retaken on your trip, if needed. We had a great one with a bouquet of balloons, but unfortunately, they covered my husband’s face! Apparently, the photographer didn’t line it up correctly.
I’ll be posting more about each park soon, but would love to hear your feedback on your favorite attractions or tips. Feel free to leave a comment!