Doing Disney: The Grand Finale

Hey y’all! Meredith and I are back, together this time, for one final wrap up all of our Disney posts! We hope we answer(ed) all of your questions, but just in case we didn’t, make sure you leave us some love in the comments!

1. When is the best time of year to go? What time of year should I avoid? 

Sarah: I have gone so many times over the last few years, and at all different times of the year, I really think that any time is a great time to go. If you hate lines and crowds, Disney is just not for you. At all. No matter what time of year you go, you will always have a wait (it could be as little as 5 minutes standing in line to order food, but you will be waiting!). That being said, I LOVE going around the holidays. The first time Neil, myself, and the twins went as a family was the week of Thanksgiving 2011. The last time I’d been to Disney when it was decorated for Christmas was almost 6 years ago and I’d forgotten how beautiful and festive it is. My only advice for taking little ones is to avoid weather extremes. It never gets super cold in Orlando (except for random days), but from April-September, it can get extremely hot. Make sure to research what times of year you are thinking about, and then decide as family how comfortable you are with long waits and crowds.

Meredith: I’m gonna go ahead and say that Sarah’s got it right. And makes some excellent points. I think I’ll just add that if you’re really looking to customize your trip based on certain factors, then I would urge you to subscribe to touring plans. Once logged in, you can pull up the crowd tracker and see exactly how large or small the crowds will be for any given day that year! It’s also worth pointing out that Disney has LOTS of fun things throughout the year including events like 5k’s up to marathons within the parks! Check out rundisney.com for more! Also, Epcot hosts unique events like the International Flower and Garden Festival in the Spring and the Food and Wine Festival in the Fall (So excited about that!! We just decided to go again this year and will be there for Wine and Garden!! I’ve never been and can’t wait!). Anyway, special events like these can also help you decide when is best for you and yours.

2. How do you take young children? Is it really worth it if they won’t remember it?

Sarah: I think it’s totally worth it. Your child(ren) may not have the memories, so to speak, but you will. Seeing the girls meet the princesses and Mickey Mouse for the first time was priceless to me. I will always treasure that memory. Taking young children is no walk in the park, however, so don’t misjudge me on that one. If you can recruit help (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.) to come along on your trip, DO IT. It never hurts to have extra hands to help with any and every need that will invariably arise with young children. If you can’t bring along help, or you just want to go as a family unit, TAKE. YOUR. TIME. Most kids under the age of 10 have a limit, and when they hit it, it will all go downhill from there. Do not rush to do anything or get anywhere (that’s why you make return trips when they’re older…to see the things you may have missed!). Since they won’t remember “everything” it’s ok if you don’t do everything. Just enjoy the experience.

Meredith: This one is tricky because Mommies on both sides can take offense, but for me I don’t necessarily see it so clear cut. Sure, they won’t have their own literal memories, but they WILL have photos and videos of themselves playing and enjoying the magic. My youngest has LOVED me working on these posts because she’s continually come back over to see the picture of herself with Minnie and Daisy (her favs!) and will say, “That Laynie and Mimmie!!” with the biggest grin. THAT alone makes it worth it to me. They’re going to realize years down the road that we as parents didn’t care how old they were or how much of a hassle it was to have a baby there, as long as we were all together. And Sarah is right, they might not remember it, but you and your spouse definitely will. And that’s something that we get out of all the hard work it takes to get our families there (and all the $$$$ we shell out!!). I will say, however, that there are certain situations where I understand why people don’t take the baby. For example, they’re going to celebrate an older child’s birthday and will only be there one or two days. I get it. You wanna do as much as possible with big kid in a short time. But all in all, I’m just a Mommy who LOVES having her babies with her <3 If you’re worried about baby on rides or small ones getting frightened, you can always YouTube most all of the attractions to see if it is appropriate for your child. (Note: Maelstrom is probably not for MOST kids under 7 even though is isn’t violent! haha) Lastly, be aware of the baby care centers because they could be a life saver! They’re stocked with everything you could possibly need and are a welcoming and peacefully quiet oasis from heat.

3. Should I get a “package” deal (hotel, food, park tickets)? What about staying on or off the Disney property?

Sarah: I have experienced varying degrees of the “package” deal over the years, and let me tell you: they are worth EVERY penny. If you cannot afford the entire package, at the very least stay ON the Disney property. As Meredith highlighted in her post, bus transportation to and from the park means no loading everyone up in their car seat(s), no fighting other families for a space, and, probably most importantly, NO DRIVING BACK TO THE HOTEL AT THE END OF THE DAY. You will most likely definitely be exhausted at the end of the day, and it is super convenient to just hop on a bus and go (and not have to try to remember where you parked!). I just cannot stress enough how much time riding the Disney buses can save you.

The meal plans, in my opinion, are a take ‘em or leave ‘em kind of thing (at this stage in my parenting life, anyway). They allow you so many meals and snacks per day (on the most basic plan), and when Neil and I went BC (before children), we ended up taking a good bit of the “snack” portion of our meal plan home with us at the end of the trip because we just didn’t eat that much. Kids under 3 are free to enter the parks and usually free to eat off of the parents’ plates at restaurants, so if you have littles that don’t eat much, I would opt out of the meal plan. If you are planning to do any meals on your own (i.e. eat granola bars in the hotel for breakfast or make a sandwich for lunch), you could probably go without the meal plan as well. It is nice, however, not to have to think about how much to spend on each meal or if you can afford that extra Mickey Ice Cream if you’ve already paid for it!

It is ALWAYS a good idea to shop around for deals on park tickets. The majority of the time, if you book your hotel with Disney, you get tickets at a discounted rate. The longer your stay, the less the cost of the ticket. If anyone in your party is active duty military (or retired), check with your local Air Force Base or Army post to see about discount tickets. The only catch to these is that the member of the military has to show their ID at the park gate on the first day of your trip to have your tickets activated (i.e. they can’t just buy you the ticket and not go on the trip). Package deals may seem expensive, but if you don’t have any other connections (like a timeshare or a military person in your family) they are worth it.

Meredith: Well, I’m not as experienced with this one since we always use family timeshare, BUT if we didn’t, I would definitely stay on Disney property. I really can’t stress enough how important it is that people, especially first-timers with little ones, understand how imperative it is to have the Disney transportation services available. SOO important! As far as Meal plan, I’ve never done it because I never stayed in an actual Disney resort (Also never experienced Magic hours because of this! :-/ ). And as for tickets and other info go, don’t be afraid to seek a travel agent! There are so many out there ready and eager to help and many of them don’t charge a penny!

4. Where are some of the best places to eat in the park? Can I take my own food to the park?

Sarah: Surprise! You can take your own food into the park! As many times as I’ve been, I’ve always tried to “hide” the food I took with me because I’ve been trained that security checks=taking things away from you (thanks a lot, Six Flags and football games). Not so at Disney. If you want to spend the time and effort to get everyone’s food together and not spend a dime on food in the park, you can absolutely do it. I think you would be using up a lot of your valuable vacation time, and definitely be missing out on yummy treats that you only get at Disney doing this, but to each his own. If you are excited about being on vacation from cooking for a week like I always am, please take advantage of everything Disney has to offer! We spent a lot of time in the eateries on this last trip because indoor restaurants are some of the best places to nap for littles. In the Magic Kingdom, we loved Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café and Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe (AMAZINGLY good taco salad); in Animal Kingdom, we ended up outdoors at Yak & Yeti, but the seating goes around a corner and is somewhat secluded; in Hollywood Studios, we stopped in the ABC Commissary; and in Epcot, we just parked it on a bench for their naps, but you really can’t go wrong with ANY food experiences there (personal favorites are Mexico, China, Japan, and Germany).

Meredith: Oh boy, this is a fav! The restaurants are Legen- wait for it- dary!!!! So many wonderful places to choose from. I seriously could on and on for days, so I’ll just stick to my very favorites. In the MK, the Crystal Palace is really nice if you want a great buffet-style meal with characters and we almost always hit up Cosmic Ray’s. I’ve heard great things about the Tortuga Tavern too! Like I mentioned earlier, Cinderella’s Royal Table is delicious and it deserves credit too because although this meal is expensive and has to be paid beforehand, they make it well worth it by guiding you in to immediately meet Cinderella herself and have photos made of your entire party. The printed photo package, along with other fun goodies like magic wands and table-side meet and greets with the other Princesses makes it well worth it because it’s all included in your plate price too.

Moving to the AK, my favorite will always be the Yak and Yeti restaurant, which is not to be confused with the Yak and Yeti walk-up which is right outside the restaurant. Now don’t get me wrong, the outside walk-up has some tasty food, but nothing compares to the food wonders awaiting inside the actual sit-down restaurant (Must try the fried green beans!!!).

In Hollywood Studios, the only place I haven’t tried is the Brown Derby cause it’s ALWAYS booked up. If I had to choose though, I’d pick the 50’s Prime Time Cafe OVER Hollywood and Vine simply because, IMO it’s much easier to have food brought to me and my kiddos, than to have to go with them to the buffet to pick out what they want (Also, why I haven’t done the Crystal Palace in a while.) The ABC Commissary is really great! BIG place with LOTS of tables and all air-conditioned. And although it’s not an actual restaurant, DO NOT miss out on the Beverly Sunset. It’s the confectionery shop seen on the corner before heading down Sunset Boulevard. It’s actually where ALL of the WDW pastries are baked and then shipped around to the parks, so everything is really fresh. The carrot cake cookie (more like a whoopee pie with cream cheese center) is awesome. And it’s huge, so you might want to bring a buddy to help you!

Now, Epcot has to be without a doubt, the best culinary confinement within the WDW parks. I think they designed the World Showcase so that as people left one country and entered the next, they’d burn off the last country’s food and be ready for more! Ha! We almost always visit the Biergarten in Germany. Fantastic and although it IS a buffet, I can manage to deal with it in exchange for the bratwurst und schnitzel (And the polka band that performs is fun too! Ziggy zoggy ziggy zoggy oi oi oi!! See? Now you wanna go, right?). Also on my to-do list that was all booked up was La Cellier Steakhouse. I’ll have me a steak from there one day. One day! And if fish is what you fancy, then the UK’s walk-up restaurant, Yorkshire County Fish Shop, is where it’s at! And lastly, don’t overlook the resort restaurants. They have some wonderful places to dine too! We ate at Kouzzina by Cat Cora (an Iron Chef, people!) and it was simply fantastic. If you’re a Mediterranean food lover, then please don’t miss this. It’s located at Disney’s Boardwalk. And of course, don’t forget Chef Mickey’s. Who doesn’t want Mickey-shaped waffles for breakfast and then actually meet the Mouse himself?!

5. Can you share some tips to make my overall experience more enjoyable (i.e. discuss how to avoid lines, importance of dining reservations, realistic expectations for going with children, etc.)?

Sarah: Avoiding lines is something we all wish we could do. Realistically, you will always be in a line somewhere at Disney. The sooner you can get used to that idea, the better. BUT you can cut down on the time you are in line, most often with a FastPass. Be aware that these are not offered by all rides at every park, and, like I’ve said before, some rides are SO popular these passes are usually gone by 10am (so move quickly)! The best way that I’ve found to score one of these precious commodities is to send someone directly to whichever ride you want to do first, with everyone in your groups’ tickets, and let them get all the FastPass tickets for your group. If you have more than 4 people in your group and you have to wait on everyone to get there, you will be wasting valuable time and could possibly even miss getting a FastPass (or only get one for 9pm which does you no good if you have little ones that need to be in bed by then). Over the last 8 years that I’ve been going to Disney, never have I ever made a reservation at a restaurant. Mostly because I didn’t want to be tied down to a certain time to eat. BUT, as Meredith has pointed out, some dining experiences are worth it, and it is absolutely necessary to have a reservation for those (Chef Mickey is definitely calling my name for our next trip!). As soon as you book your trip, I would start planning out any reservations you may want to make. You can make some reservations as far out as 180 days from the start of your trip. It never hurts to plan ahead.

Lastly, you know your children better than anyone else. Do what works for your family. If you are staying at a Disney hotel, take advantage of it! As a Disney guest, you are often offered extra opportunities like Extra Magic Hours that might help you schedule your day according to your group’s needs or package delivery to your hotel so you’re not stuck carrying that giant Mickey Mouse plush toy all day. It’s also ok to come to the realization that you cannot and will not get to do “everything.” In fact, that is a great reason to plan for next time, right? J

Meredith: This one is tricky. The best advice I can give you is to tell yourself that it’s going to be a great time no matter what. Don’t let the heat or exhaustion or temper tantrums get you down. Cause one grumpy person usually ends up making EVERYONE grumpy. And I know this because I have BEEN the grumpy one before. Trust me, don’t go there. Stay optimistic and enjoy yourselves.  As far as lines are concerned, I’d say that Disney is amazing at keeping people interested and entertained all of the time. Don’t see the 60 min wait time posted on the entrance to Expedition Everest as 60 mins wasted. See it as an adventure with your family where you all explore Tibet and actually enter and exit a REAL temple that was literally air-lifted from Nepal right to Lake Buena Vista. No really! And the best part?! The adventure ends on a runaway train chased by the Yeti himself. THAT is the way you should approach every square inch of Disney. The Imagineers, over the years, have spent countless hours planning even the tiniest of details so that everything you see and do in the parks is relative and pertinent to that area. It’s no longer just key rides to go on, (though they’re still awesome) it’s all about the adventure along the way. And don’t be afraid to touch stuff! There are hidden dinosaurs in crates in Dinoland USA and coke bottles that squirt you in the face in the African exchange (in Epcot), and you’ll never experience that if you don’t just let loose and explore. There’s so many hidden gems, so don’t just RUSH to the next ride, but rather enjoy the steps along the way! Furthermore, there are many attractions that require little to no waiting!! Yep! If you have kids who like Phineas and Ferb, for example, then you should definitely to the Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure. It really makes the World Showcase come alive for little ones who may not find that much dazzle there. You get to be a spy working for Agent P and help thwart Dr. Doofenschmirtz by doing what the provided cell phone tells you do. I’ve been many times and this experience alone made me find things and see the showcase in a way I never had before. And what a great way to bring the family all together! They also have Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom and, soon to be, the Pirates Adventure which work similarly to the Agent P. It doesn’t have to be JUST about the rides anymore! Also, Disney has penny and quarter squishing machines all over the place and we as a family loved collecting them. I’m actually thinning of drilling holes in them to make a charm bracelet! Little things like the squished penny can be exciting for little ones to see which ones they got and which ones they need and can be a relief when they cost under $1 versus at least $10 on ANY toy item in ANY of the stores. I’ll say that Tim and I enjoyed buying the little packs of tiny mystery Disney figurines. They have 3 in a pack and although you don’t know which exact characters you’re getting, you can pick from general groupings. We would snag one while Rylie wasn’t looking and hide it somewhere in her stuff or in the stroller and just wait til she found it. She’d get so very excited wondering where they came from and then even more excited when she revealed who she had gotten. She even felt the need to show ’em all off to strangers on the bus while headed back each night.

I’d like to end by saying that I’ve had a most wonderful time sharing and would love to know what you all found helpful, so please comment on Sarah’s blog! And thank you all! :)(Sarah’s note: Um, thank YOU, Meredith, for sharing so much of your insight! It has helped me a lot too!)

As they say in the movies, “That’s a wrap everyone!” I hope you’ve enjoyed our series of posts about anything and everything Disney! Meredith and I are so passionate about Disney, I’m sure this isn’t the last you’ll ever hear from us about it, but this post will end our series for now. If you have any lingering questions, please feel free to email me or leave us some feedback in the comments! Have a wonderful weekend!

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