Disney World Bound? Under Versus Over Planning

Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, finding the just right when planning a Disney World vacation can be challenging!  With all there is to see and do, it’s easy for seasoned Disney vacationers to imagine the horrors of under planning.  For the uninitiated or infrequent visitor, knowing how to plan appropriately can be highly intimidating.  Again – So much to see and do!

Disney World Bound? Under Versus Over Planning

Under Planning – This plan is too small.

I understand a low-key, go-with-the-flow vacation mentality.  If you dream of drifting through quiet days in a tropical paradise, rethink that decision to visit Disney World.  It’s huge, often crowded, expensive and requires at least a little bit of planning.  Some advance research is advised.Memory Maker - Rafiki

Luckily there are many books and websites like Tips From the Disney Divas and Devos, All Ears.Net, Your First Visit, WDW Prep School, Disney Tourist Blog, and more.  These sites offer a variety of perspectives on how to plan a successful Disney getaway.

At a bare minimum…

Review Park Attractions – You can’t do it ALL, but you can do a lot.  Pick some attractions in each park that you think your family will enjoy.  Check out point-of-view videos on YouTube to get an idea of a particular ride’s scare-factor.  Prep for vacation by letting your little ones watch these videos.  They’ll have realistic expectations about what’s going to happen – for many children, this preparation makes trying new attractions less scary.  If you’ll be staying on Disney property, 60 days pre-trip book those FastPasses (like ride reservations to skip the long lines) for your top must-do choices.  Off-property guests can book up to 30 days in advance.Memory Maker - Tower of Terror

Review Restaurants – (menus are always available at Disney’s site) and please, make some Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs) for at least a couple of places.  Popular restaurants like ‘Ohana (Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort) and Be Our Guest (Magic Kingdom) and many Character Dining experiences book up way in advance.  You can always cancel up to 24 hours before your dining time with no penalty.  Please!  Better safe than sorry.

Over Planning – This plan is too big.

Four parks, Disney Springs, Advance Dining Reservations, FastPasses, special events, nighttime spectaculars, Memory Maker – What do you need, what don’t you need.  Are you planning too much?  I’ve been guilty of over planning.  Once you get the hang of ADRs and FastPasses, it’s easy to try to cram too much in and leave little for spontaneous fun.

When Megan and Grant honeymooned at Disney World, they had the Deluxe Dining Plan and made a ton of dining reservations.  Later, Megan felt they’d have been much better off with fewer meals booked.  They often felt like they were rushing around to fit attractions in between dining reservations.  They got to experience some fantastic meals, but the travel time to and from restaurants really cut into their vacation.Yellow Monorail / Walt Disney World

I’m a fan of park-hopping and will often plan a morning at one park with no FastPasses, get there at park-opening and go, go, go!  Then hop to the park where I’ve scheduled our three FastPasses before moving on to a dinner reservation, usually at a resort.  This plan maximizes the attractions we get to ride/see, but is not relaxing and leaves little room for simply soaking up the amazing Disney details.  Classic case of over-planning.

Too busy for Memory Maker.  If you’re prone to over planning, you may want to skip the Memory Maker photo package (currently $149 purchased 3-days in advance of your trip / $169 regular price).  We’ve found that planning time for pictures is critical or Memory Maker can be a waste of money.  If you’re rushing to a FastPass or dining reservation, you won’t stop and wait for a Disney photographer.Memory Maker Buzz Lightyear

Making plans that are just right for your family depends on what’s important to you.  A successful Disney vacation takes at least a little advance prep, but trying to do too much can lead to a less-than-relaxing experience.

Have you been guilty of planning to little or attempting to do too much?  What’s the best planning tip you’ve learned?

Disney World Christmas Crowd Busting Plans

I suppose we’re gluttons for punishment.  Raymond and I had such a great time at Wald Disney World last year during the much-maligned Christmas week, we’re going back for more!  And this time, we’re taking Joseph with us.

A few years ago, we took a Disney Cruise in Alaska (see post here) with both Megan and Joseph.  Joseph was young enough for the teen club and activities and once he checked in, we barely saw him again.  This meant that we had a ton of mom-dad-daughter time with Megan and those memories are among my most treasured!  It was so wonderful, in fact, that now we’re spending a mom-dad-son vacation with Joseph.  Megan, in her typically sweet way, has offered her (and Grant’s) services for house and dog-sitting.  Excursion on Disney Cruise Line in Alaska

Disney World Christmas Crowd Busting Plans

Arriving Christmas Eve, we’ll have seven days at Disney World during the busiest time of the year.  I’ve planned, schemed, booked, and rebooked what I hope will be a fabulous vacation to remember with our youngest offspring.  I’m using some tried and true strategies along with a couple of new plans for what I hope will be a great holiday experience.  The number one item on our packing list?  Patience!  We know the crowds will be insane, but thanks to last year, we know how to have fun around them.Christmastime at Walt Disney World

Christmas Eve – Our midday arrival means that while we have afternoon FastPasses in Magic Kingdom, we may not get to use them due to the crowds.  We’re okay with this!  Plan B is to drop our things at Bay Lake Tower and, starting at the Contemporary, do the monorail pub crawl while checking out the decorations at all the resorts along the way.  Our dinner is at Kona Café that night, so we can stick to the resort loop, enjoy dinner, and end the evening at the Top of the World Lounge.  If we DO use our FastPasses, they’re for Jingle Cruise, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.Jingle Cruise Sign

Christmas Day – We’ll need to rise and shine to make our early breakfast at Be Our Guest.  Before the crowds become totally insane, we’ll use FastPasses at Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain, and Splash Mountain.  We’ll be finished by lunchtime and plan to grab something very light at a quick-service place in or near Magic Kingdom before heading back to our room to relax.  Early dinner will be at California Grill.tusker-house-goofy

December 26th – I’ve planned an early start to the day again, but this time at Animal Kingdom for breakfast at Tusker House (because we loved it so much in October).  We’ll be able to relax and do what we want all morning since our FastPasses are all for the afternoon (Expedition Everest, Primeval Whirl, and Festival of the Lion King…don’t judge!).  Dinner’s at Tiffins, again because we had such a wonderful experience in October.tiffins-wall-detail

December 27th – We’re rope-dropping Disney’s Hollywood Studios with a plan to get in and out by 11:00 am at the latest.  We’ve got just two FastPasses booked for Tower of Terror and Toy Story Midway Mania.  Raymond and I did this last year and were able to ride Rock’n’ Roller Coaster and Star Tours with little to no wait.  Then we plan to hop to Epcot and slowly make our way around World Showcase, grabbing lunch while we go.  Dinner will be at Citricos in the Grand Floridian.  This day is designed to be relaxing with a huge play-it-by-ear factor since the next day will be the exact opposite.

December 28th – I’ll confess to over-planning, but I have faith in our abilities to see this day through!  At least we get to sleep in a little later before we head to the Boardwalk for breakfast at Trattoria al Forno.  The reason we’re going?  I needed a Candlelight Processional dining package and the Trattoria was included in eligible restaurants.  I LOVE that our meal gets to be breakfast!  When we finish eating, we’re heading to Disney Springs where we plan to stroll and shop until it’s time for our lunch ADR at Morimoto Asia.  Morimoto-Asia-Disney-SpringsAfter lunch it’s back to Epcot for a couple of FastPasses:  Frozen Ever After and The Seas with Nemo & Friends.  We’ll see the 6:45 Candlelight Processional (Cal Ripkin, Jr. is our narrator) and then we, full of Christmas joy, will walk back to the Boardwalk for a late dinner at Flying Fish.  I have no idea what I was thinking when I booked all this, but we’re not a family that shies away from a challenge!

December 29th – I regained my sanity when booking this day’s activities.  We don’t have to be anywhere until lunchtime for an ADR in the Studios at The Hollywood Brown Derby.  RM-Brown-Derby-StoryAfter lunch, we head to Epcot where we have FastPasses for Soarin’ and Spaceship Earth.  Dinner’s at Shula’s Steak House.

December 30th – This day’s plan was originally based solely on the fact that we wanted to squeeze in a Dinner at Jiko in the Animal Kingdom Lodge on this trip.  Then I heard about the Jingle Bell Jingle BAM! Dessert Party at the Studios.  Then I heard that Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular was coming back beginning on December 16th.  Now the day looks like this – Hit Animal Kingdom at a leisurely pace until mid-afternoon.  Lobby at Animal Kingdom LodgeThen we’ll head to Animal Kingdom Lodge and enjoy the lobby atmosphere, the Savannah Overlook, and perhaps a cocktail at the Victoria Falls Lounge before our dinner at Jiko.  I was luckily able to re-book dinner for an earlier time when I decided we needed the Dessert Party and possible double fireworks shows at the Studios.  As of now, I can’t tell when and if the Star Wars show will happen that night.  We know there are nighttime Extra Magic Hours and we’ll already be there…keeping our fingers crossed!

Home for New Year’s Eve!  Raymond and I have a long-standing New Year’s Eve tradition of a lobster dinner at home and we know we’ll enjoy that more than staying for the craziness of ringing in a new year at Walt Disney World.  Plus, we’ll be tired!  If everything goes as planned, we’ll have had a great time enjoying some special, new experiences while revisiting our usual favorites and, in spite of the crowds, will have some wonderful new vacation memories to cherish.

Have you been to Disney World for Christmas?  What did you love most about it?  Do you have any crowd-busting tips to share?

 

Memory Maker – Nailed It!

Finally!  After several tries (other reviews here and here), we figured out how to best utilize Memory Maker.  The results of our group effort on our last Disney World vacation were our best yet!  We came home with a huge number of pictures and the vast majority of them were great.img_0679

Memory Maker – Nailed It!

I believe it was the combination of learning from prior mistakes, Disney photographer improvement, and teamwork that resulted in our success.  We came home with well over 150 good photos (many of them excellent).

I’ve summarized our tips for best results…

Have a plan – As a group of seven, we wanted to get lots of pictures without wasting precious vacation time.  Teamwork helped!  We worked together to find photo ops with short lines that would result in pictures that were both fun and quintessentially Disney.img_0676

Maximize character meet & greet opportunities – Schedule at least one character meet up with a FastPass, if possible.  We highly recommend the Character Spot in Epcot.  You won’t know which characters will be there, but no matter what (or who), there will be excellent photo ops.  Throughout your vacation, watch for characters and get in line if the wait will be fairly short.  Don’t forget about the Star Wars Launch Bay in Disney’s Hollywood Studios for pictures with Chewbacca and Kylo Ren.img_0674

Link Magic Bands, then ask for help – It may look like you’re all linked correctly in My Disney Experience, but we found that not to be the case.  Megan and I were the ones who had our Magic Bands scanned by the photographers most of the time and several of her band’s pictures were missing from my photos.  We took advantage of a Photo Pass kiosk to get help while we were at Disney World, then I still had to call for more help after we got home.  This is inconvenient, but worth the effort! (The Cast Member who helped is at the kiosk admitted that this is a well-known, common problem.)img_0667

Learn where and when ride photos will be taken – If you’re experiencing an attraction for the first time, it’s hard to know where pics will be snapped.  Ask a Cast Member before you board or check out the pictures from your first ride and use subsequent rides to strike a pose, smile and wave, or be clever in your own way.img_0668img_0675

Stop early and often – Just say YES when you see a photographer with a short or no line, no matter where they are.  Early in the day when you’re still fresh and looking good is a great time to stop for just a few seconds.  Photographers will be in lots of places other than in front of each park’s icon, so keep an eye out.  Some of our favorite pictures from this trip were taken just as we were exiting Kilimanjaro Safaris.img_0671

Ask about Magic Shots – Photographers won’t always tell you when they can add a little extra magic to your pictures and it never hurts to ask.  Maybe it’s our imagination, but the abundance of Magic Shots seems to be ever increasing.  Personally, I loved meeting Sebastian in Fantasyland this time.img_0673img_0669

img_0677Ham it up!  Have fun, be silly, let your inner child out to play.  You’re at Walt Disney World!  Don’t ruin family photos by being the stuffy one who is merely suffering through.  There’s no better place to have a great time – be sure to let it show!  Maybe you wouldn’t want your work friends back home to see you acting foolish with a Disney princess, I get that, but your family will cherish the memories and will love looking back through pictures even more if you relax and embrace the unique type of fun a Disney vacation offers.  If you’re anti-Disney, I can’t help you, but you could at least try not to ruin pictures with your crabbiness.img_0672img_0680

Overall, we’ve seen a big improvement in the quality of pictures taken by Disney photographers.  They snap more candid shots than they used to and have gotten really good at lining a group up and taking several clever shots quickly.  If you’re on the fence about investing in Memory Maker, hopefully these tips will help you decide. Oh, and the videos that are included with rides like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Tower of Terror are wonderful!

Have you had success with Memory Maker?  Where were your favorite pictures taken?

Disney World! Always New Things to Try

Walt Disney World – Trying new things and revisiting old favorites is what makes every visit different from the one before.  I’m committed to adding something new to every trip…our most recent Disney vacation was no exception.

Disney World! Always New Things to Try

Most of the items on this list rate their very own review in the future (please stand by).  Today I’m going for a quick rundown of what was new (to us) and what our initial impressions were.  Please feel free to weigh in on what you’re looking forward to trying for the first time on your next Walt Disney World visit.

  1. Mad Tea Party.  Yes, that’s right, Raymond and I have never, not once, taken a spin on this most iconic of Magic Kingdom attractions.  Now we can say we’ve done it. Aaaaaaand that’s pretty much all I have to say about that…for now.on-the-tea-cups
  2. Disney Springs’ new offerings.  We didn’t have a great deal of time to spare, but we did manage to grab lunch at Morimoto Street Food (new walk-up counter service at Morimoto Asia) and check out a few of the new stores in the new retail shopping section.  Lunch was great, the stores were okay.  In spite of all the fancy, new high-end offerings, I found myself pulled back to my old favorites like the Marketplace Co-Op and Disney’s Days of Christmas.  That’s where I spent my money.  schweitzer-falls-fanI was inordinately happy with my Schweitzer Falls t-shirt buy…can you blame me?tiffins-exterior
  3. Animal Kingdom’s Nomad Lounge and Tiffins – Guys!  We give these new places a resounding, unanimous vote of approval!  I promise more details later, but if you’re on the fence about trying one or both…get off the fence on the side of definitely going.via-napoli-pizza-slice
  4. Epcot’s Via Napoli – Raymond and I enjoyed a special dining experience here during the 2014 Food & Wine festival, but had never made a regular ADR for a meal here until this visit.  I’d been skeptical of reviews that said the pizza was fantastic (Disney pizza is typically anything but fantastic) and the food excellent overall, but I’m a believer now and cannot wait to go back!  We were very happy!sci-fi-dine-in-menu
  5. Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater – All I can say in my own defense was that I thought it would be unique and fun.  Yeahhhhh….not so much.  Didn’t hate it, but now that we’ve given it a try, there’s no need to go back.  For the price, service level, and menu, there are too many superior choices…we’ll put this in the “once and done” category.  I’ll go ahead and add that for us, the service was subpar and the seating less than ideal for a party of more than four.frozen-ever-after-figures
  6. Frozen Ever After – Raymond and I managed to score a FastPass for this and ride it on the first day of our vacation.  I hate that we couldn’t get FastPasses for the rest of our party!  This attraction is outstanding.  Let’s not debate its suitability for the Norway Pavilion in Epcot and just focus on the experience alone…wonderful!soarin-new
  7. Soarin’ – This was THE one thing I was most looking forward to.  I’ve always been a fan and could not wait to check out the new version.  I was both delighted and disappointed in equal measure.  Have you ridden it yet?  What did you think?

Okay, now it’s your turn.  Have you tried any/all of these yet?  Where do we agree and disagree?