Getting Your Disney World Vacation Started Right!

There’s no right or wrong way to kick off a vacation at Walt Disney World.  But a bit of advance planning for some arrival day fun helps make the most of every precious vacation minute.

Getting Your Disney World Vacation Started Right!

First let’s take a quick look at some of the factors that influence your arrival day options

  • What time will you reach the World?  Will you have most of a day? Part of a day? Arrive Late?
  • What size is your travel party?  Maneuvering a group takes time and sometimes more effort that expected.  Spending a bit of time in advance to map out at least a framework of plans is super helpful when you’re traveling with a group.
  • Littles or Bigs?  Will your children need naps?  Did they have to get up extra early for travel?  (Also, it’s good to know before you go what the height requirements are on various attractions.)
  • Will you have park tickets on day one?

Some suggestions…

Lots of folks don’t purchase park tickets for arrival day.  Before we became annual passholders, our family fell into this category.  If you’re staying near or on Disney property, you can jump right into the Disney Bubble and start soaking up the magic before you ever visit a park.

Here are some tried and true ideas:

  • Explore your resort.  It’s a good way to familiarize yourself with the location of restaurants, shops, pools, activities and transportation.  Many Disney World resorts have evening activities like movies, story-telling and S’mores-making – ask about the events schedule when checking in. 
  • If you have a car, make a grocery run.  Stock up on things like snacks, water, and breakfast foods.
  • Plan ahead for a nice dinner.  (Reservations at Disney resorts can be made 180 days in advance.)  There are so many restaurants to choose from, we usually pick someplace new to try on our first day of vacation.
  • Check out Disney Springs.  There’s something for all ages including fun shops, cool atmosphere, and live entertainment.  With or without reservations, there are a bunch of great places to eat.
  • Hang out at the pool.  We have lots of friends who claim this is their most favorite way to kick of a Disney vacation.
  • Turn in early so you can hit the parks refreshed first thing the next day.
  • During the holiday season, resort-hop to check out the amazing decorations.

Have Park Tickets?  With a little advance planning, you can dive right into the action!  If you only have three or four days in Walt Disney World, a few extra hours in the parks on arrival day can make a huge difference in the number of shows and attractions you get to experience.

Head straight to a park:

  • Book FastPasses starting about two hours post-arrival.  That gives plenty of time to check in at your resort and make your way to whichever park you’ve chosen.  Between FastPasses, keep an eye on the wait times in the My Disney Experience app and you’ll be amazed at how many attractions you can fit in on day one.
  • Magic Kingdom is my personal favorite arrival-day park.  There’s no better welcome to the Disney Bubble than seeing Cinderella Castle right away and soaking up the sights, sounds, and smells of Main Street USA.
  • Want a casual, low-key arrival day in a park?  Choose Epcot or Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  During any of Epcot’s festivals, there’s nothing more relaxing to me than a stroll around World Showcase sampling food and drinks along the way.  In Animal Kingdom, exploring the trails and animal exhibits is a laid back way to check out the park without waiting in long lines or rushing around.
  • Pre-shop a bit for park souvenirs to purchase later.
  • Plan a nice dinner at your favorite in-park restaurant.  We like Tiffins (Animal Kingdom), Skipper Canteen (Magic Kingdom), Via Napoli (Epcot) and 50’s Prime Time Café (Disney’s Hollywood Studios).
  • Pick a nighttime spectacular to wrap up the day.  Whether it’s Happily Ever After in Magic Kingdom, Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular or Fantasmic! in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Illuminations:  Reflections of Earth in Epcot, or Rivers of Light in Animal Kingdom – there’s a magical way to end your first day of vacation no matter which park you choose.

Now it’s your turn!  What’s your favorite way to start a Disney World vacation?

 

Walt Disney World Safety Tips

Nobody expects something bad to happen to them on vacation.  Thinking about safety while visiting Walt Disney World seems pretty un-magical, but it’s a priority if we all want the happiest of vacation memories.  I’ve compiled a list based on recent news items and my own family’s experiences.  For your consideration…

Walt Disney World Safety Tips

Minimize the Risk of TheftWalt Disney World Summer Crowd

Consider renting a stroller.  It’s sad, but true, there are thieves among us – even on a Disney vacation.  This recent incident is an excellent example of a repeat offender hard at work.  While she finally got caught, she’d apparently been stealing for a while and making off with high-end goods including at least one expensive stroller.  Leave your fancy wheels at home and choose among the many rental options in Orlando.  You may also want to consider investing in a stroller lock (like this one).

Secure your valuables (or leave them at home).  If you’re staying on Disney property, your resort will offer an in-room safe.  Use it to store everything of value you won’t be carrying in the parks.  Laptops (small ones fit in most safes), tablets, cell phones, credit cards, passports, extra cash, etc. will all be safely tucked away while you’re out having fun in the parks.

Carry a good park bag.  For the important things you need with you while enjoying the parks, a good bag is key.  It needs to be as small and comfortable as possible but still include every necessity.  Never leave your park bag (or anything of value) unattended or in a stroller or on a scooter or wheel chair.  There are designated parking areas for strollers, but that doesn’t mean a guard is watching your stuff.

Watch your snacks!  It’s entertaining to watch resourceful squirrels and birds raid park guests’ snacks from a stroller, but it’s kind of gross (and disappointing) for the snacks’ owners, I’m sure.  There are lots of reasons Disney guests are asked not to feed the local wildlife.  It’s not healthy for the animals and it turns them into beggars and thieves.

Avoid Injury

Dehydration, sunburn, falls, sprains – all possibilities no matter where you vacation.  Sometimes the excitement of being at Walt Disney World causes people to become completely distracted.  With so much to see and do, so many magical sights all around, the Florida heat and sun can take a toll before you realize it.  Have a plan to make sure everyone gets plenty to drink (especially water) and use sunscreen generously and often.  Wear sensible shoes and keep your eyes open for potential hazards (like the trolley track on Main Street USA in Magic Kingdom).

Watch Out!  I’ve had strollers run into me on more than one occasion even when I was walking along with the crowd.  If I’d been paying more attention to my surroundings, I might have been able to get out of the way.  Maybe.  If you’ve been hit by a stroller, you know how suddenly and unexpectedly that impact can happen.  I guess my point here is there are lots of folks who don’t watch where they’re going…many of them are armed with wheeled weapons.  Beware!  Also, NOT stopping in the middle of a walkway is a good way to avoid collisions.

Germs are Everywhere!

I try not to think about the germs when I’m at Disney World, but it’s hard!  I’ve watched kids lick handrails, seen plenty of runny noses, dodged uncovered coughs and sneezes.  Let’s not even talk about bathroom stuff.  With huge crowds of people from all over the world, the odds of picking up a bug are high.  I have friends who catch a cold or the flu every time they travel.  To minimize the chances of getting sick, I recommend carrying both liquid hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes.  At the very least, have everyone in your group wash their hands before eating.

Have a Plan for Getting Separated

In general, it’s a good idea to have a plan in place as you arrive at a park for when and where you will meet if you split up either accidentally or on purpose.  I realize everyone these days has a cell phone and you can just call each other, but just in case…think ahead about what you’ll do.  If the worst happens, you should know this:  If Cast Members cannot find the parents of a lost child immediately, they escort the child to a certain “lost child” area in the park. Alert a cast member immediately if your child is missing – there’s an awesome system in place to help. If you’re not alone, have someone stay where the child was last seen while you go check at the lost child area.

There’s nothing like a Disney vacation.  Taking a few basic safety precautions is well worth the time and effort.  Everyone coming home safe and sound with only happy memories is the best!

What tips did I miss?  What’s your #1 safety tip for Walt Disney World?

Festival of Fantasy Parade – Favorite Viewing Spots

To me, Magic Kingdom’s Festival of Fantasy Parade is one of the most fantastic, magical, amazing Disney creations EVER! (Totally not kidding – I’m crazy about it!)  Watch it once and tell me I’m wrong.  I love everything about it and while I may not be able to squeeze it into my schedule on every Walt Disney World visit, I make a point of seeing it as often as I can.  Finding the best spot from where to take in every charming detail can be a challenge, so let me share what tips I’ve learned.Festival of Fantasy Parade - Favorite Viewing Spots

Festival of Fantasy Parade – Favorite Viewing Spots

When deciding on an ideal parade viewing locale, a lot depends on the day’s FastPass line-up and what time we’re planning to leave Magic Kingdom.  Planning a little in advance, I try to minimize parade-spot-hunting time while making sure we’re well-situated for whatever’s next on our post-parade schedule.

Option 1 – Near the StartFestival of Fantasy Parade - Favorite Viewing Spots

The parade starts in Frontierland near the edge of Adventureland, so finding a place close to where the parade begins means no waiting for it to arrive further along the parade route.  Megan and I did this recently and thought it was great.  Once the parade passed, we were able to follow it to Liberty Square and ride Haunted Mansion with little wait.

Option 2 – On the HubFestival of Fantasy Parade

This one’s a little challenging on a hot, sunny day since there’s no real shade.  That being said, there’s nothing like watching Festival of Fantasy with Cinderella Castle as a backdrop.  If we can find a place to sit down, folded rain ponchos provide excellent posterior-protection from the burning hot concrete.  Tip – Claim your spot early and be ready to fend off encroachers.  This is a great spot to watch the parade if you’ll be headed to Fantasyland or Tomorrowland afterwards.Festival of Fantasy Parade - Favorite Viewing Spots

Option 3 – In Front of the Main Street Station

This is an excellent option if you want to make a quick getaway.  We stood facing Cinderella Castle and could see the parade as it made its way down Main Street USA before circling around right in front of us.  This location is at the very end of the parade route, so it takes a while for the magic to get there.  The ability to walk right out of the park after the last float passes by without battling the park crowds is so convenient!Festival of Fantasy Parade - Favorite Viewing Spots

The important takeaway here is that seeing Festival of Fantasy is worth the time and effort to find a place that fits into your family’s Magic Kingdom Plans.  There are tons of spots other than the ones I’ve listed from which to take in the action.  But do make room in your plans…you won’t be sorry!

Are you a Festival of Fantasy Parade fan?  Where’s your favorite parade-viewing location?

 

 

Disney Cruise Tips – Beyond Fish Extenders

It’s not like we spend every vacation at Disney World, you know.  We go other places…on Disney Cruise Line!  Two weeks from now we’ll be off on a new cruise adventure on the Disney Fantasy for the first time.  Eastern Caribbean…here we come!

When we sail for more than four nights, I like to get more involved in the Disney cruise experience than just visiting ports and participating in ship activities like eating constantly, attending cooking demos and playing trivia games.  I do this by joining a Facebook group for our cruise and signing up for group activities.

Disney Cruise Tips – Beyond Fish Extenders

Once upon a time, joining a Fish Extender group was all the rage.  We joined the fun on a couple of cruises and had a great time.  Now that we no longer travel with kids who’d get a kick out of the amazing assortment of gifts, we’re not so much into the whole FE thing.  However, we don’t have to abandon the fun completely.  There are alternatives to the traditional Fish Extender – same idea, but less geared towards children.  As a bonus, they also tend to take less prep time and not nearly as much room in your suitcase.

For our upcoming cruise, I found an excellent Facebook group with 400+ members.  This particular Facebook group has been one of the best I’ve experienced with lots of activity and newbies getting all their questions answered by seasoned Disney cruise fans.  The tireless group admin has organized several beverage tasting seminars for interested members and something like 19 different gift exchange groups.  In addition to traditional Fish Extender exchanges, there are magnet, postcard, ornament, and candy exchange groups.  It was hard to decide which to join!

I decided on the postcard group.  I ordered some Louisiana postcards from Zazzle and will include a favorite recipe with each one as I make the rounds to the staterooms in my group.  With postcards, there’s no actual Fish Extender necessary.  The card and recipe will fit neatly onto the Fish – or in the case of the Fantasy, the metal Seahorse beside each cabin door, whichever it may be.  We still get to do a fun group activity, but don’t need to bring anything to hang up and our “gifts” will be easy to bring along (and take home).

Have you joined a cruise group and participated in a Fish Extender or other gift-giving activity?  What type was it and how did it go?