General Tips and Tricks

Water

If you’re going to be there at the hottest time of the season – it’s scorching most years. Make sure you all drink plenty of fluids. Bring (or buy) that first water bottle, then refill it at any of the available water fountains. Some folks love the water spray bottles with the fans attached. Disney will be happy to sell them to you at 2-3x the cost you could find them at Target, Wal-Mart (or Amazon) – so you might want to bring some with you.

Snacks

Unless you’re on the dining plan, you’re going to pay for snacks. If you’re driving in, just stop somewhere on International Drive before you turn in to WDW property… buy whatever you like that has serving-size packs and then bring some in your backpack each day. Alternatively, even if you don’t stay at a Value Resort, from any Park, just you get on a bus and go to a Value Resort. Buy snacks from their food court. Yes, Disney charges LESS for the same foods and souvenirs based on where you stay. Sleazy? Maybe. But now you know the secret.

Backpacks

I’ve mentioned it several times, but my wife and I almost always carry at least one backpack into the parks. In the pack are:

  • water bottles
  • cheap ponchos for each of us (the ones that fold almost completely flat – here’s a 4-pack for $5)
  • a few snacks
  • sunscreen
  • at least one ziplock bag large enough for anything that’s water-sensitive to go into if we want to ride a water ride
  • at least one hair scrunchie/band per girl (hair gets hot)
  • sunglasses and/or unworn hats
  • sometimes a pocket-sized umbrella
  • camera
  • cellphones

If you’re bringing a stroller, remember to only bring your lightest/smallest. You don’t want to have to maneuver a large jogging stroller through some of the crowds… nor get upset if, by chance, it gets stolen. You can also rent one (including a duallie) by the day/week at WDW or from third-party services that will deliver it to your resort and pick it up after you leave.

Additionally, if you forgot your stroller, or don’t want to listen to me until you get there and then are really upset that you don’t have an umbrella stroller – you can usually buy one for ~$15 at the store right outside of Epcot’s International Gateway (the side that’s by the Boardwalk Resort). Yes, it’s probably the cheapest “expensive” thing there.

Choices

This is going to sound stupid, but it’s 100% true. If you reach a fork in any road and you don’t HAVE to turn right to get to somewhere specific, turn left. The general population goes right, so by going left, especially in the mornings, you’ll usually encounter fewer lines.

Character Meet/Greets

Disney finally figured out a few things about people in fur costumes – namely: that it’s hot in there… and that having a lot of them roaming around makes for a very frustrating guest experience when someone is coming ONLY to see Mickey (Goofy, Stitch, etc). So now, they position them at specific places in each park. On the maps, they’re indicated by a character-glove hand. You can find Mickey at least once in every park. Same with Minnie, Donald, Pluto and Goofy. The others are a bit more “selective” and you might need to ask where a particular character hangs out to go get your picture taken or an autograph.

Yes, autograph. It’s a big deal these days. They even sell autograph books and each character, as part of their training, learns the right way to sign their character’s signature. A relatively cheap souvenir is if you go buy the autograph book… and ask each character to sign on a 100% fresh page on the right (just open the book to where you want them to sign and hand it over) … leaving the left side free. When you get home, you print out photos of your kids with that character and paste it to the left side. Voila – instant memory book.  Don’t forget to pack a Sharpie – the black marker looks best on the autograph book’s blue pages.

Character Breakfasts/Lunches/Dinners

Character dining is EXTREMELY popular, even to this day. You can book 180 or 90 days out from the first day of your booked vacation, depending on the specific meal. Call early and call often: 407-WDW-DINE to get the character meal of your choice. If they don’t have exactly what you want when you call, book something reasonably alternative for you. Then call back every other day or so asking to see if space has opened up. DO NOT ASSUME you can book the day before and find space. In fact, you might even have better luck if you split your party and have only 2 people attend if you’re having trouble finding a reservation that works for you.

Souvenirs, trinkets, sales

It’s a running gag with those of us who love Disney that the gift shop is the actual “end” to every ride. This is because it’s almost 100% true. You’re going to be pestered with requests for stuff. You obviously know your kids best, but the suggestion I’ve heard work best is to remind them that there are a LOT of things that they’ll see during your trip that they’ll want… and that they should remember what they want (write it down if need be) including where you saw it. Then, on the last day, return to the shop that has the thing they want more than any of the other things.

Additionally, at Disney Springs, there is a store called “World of Disney” – they sell virtually EVERYTHING that is sold in the shops in the parks… but it’s not 100%. So do record WHERE you see something that you might want… there are very knowledgeable people at WoD, but they can’t always know about every little thing that’s available. In fact, given the prevalence of camera phones now, simply take a photo of the item AND it’s UPC.  You can also always call WoD after you leave and they can ship anything they sell to you from the comfort of your own home.  In addition, Disney now offers the Shop Parks app (Apple and Android).  This little tool allows you to buy virtually everything available from every shop in ever Park, all from the comfort of your living room.

Pin Trading is also still active at the Parks (its popularity is waning, but Disney can’t find something to replace it yet – Vinylmation hasn’t really been as popular). Basically, pins are sold from about $4.99 – $15.99/pin… with $15 “starter kits” available, too, with a lanyard and 4-6 very common pins included. You then buy additional pins in virtually every shape, size, color, character, ride, attraction, etc… whatever catches your eye. You attach the pins to your lanyard and wear them around the parks. If you see someone else wearing a pin lanyard, you can politely ask to see their pins… and ask if they’re “trading”. If so, you offer one of your pins in exchange for one of the other person’s pins. There are a few rules: you can’t force the other person to trade; you should always offer a similarly-priced pin (don’t try to trade cheapy pins for expensive “collector” pins); but ALWAYS remember that CM’s HAVE to trade. So if your kids do Pin Trading and see a CM with pins, the CM MUST trade if asked.

About 5 years ago, Disney opened the Bibbiti-Bobbiti-Boutique. There are now two of them: one in the MK at Cinderella’s Castle and the other at World of Disney. It’s a girl’s paradise for Disneyesque makeovers. They start around $150/kid and only go up from there. Think of it as the Disney version of Glamour Shots. Plus costumes. Plus Disney pricing.

Boys can now get in on the fun with Pirate’s League makeovers near Pirates of the Caribbean in the MK. Dads, too. Still expensive. And I’m not sure how well the makeup washes off if you decide to go full-on skeleton: http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/tours-and-experiences/pirates-league/

Yes, really.

Disney Transportation

While Disney advertises that on-property transportation is only for those guests actually staying the night on property, that’s not really true… and nobody checks. So you’re free to use any of the free transportation to your fullest enjoyment, even if you don’t stay on property. This includes: The Monorail, the busses, the boats and anything else they might offer.

Transportation is a tightly managed service though. By this, I mean that not every form of transportation, even if it COULD go to a particular place, actually does… or does so exclusively. So, for example, you can’t take a bus from the Contemporary Resort (CR) to the MK – they just don’t offer it. But to get from the CR to the MK, you COULD take a boat off the back boat dock, the Monorail, or you could walk. On the other hand, you MUST take a bus (or your own car) to get from any Value Resort to a Park – there aren’t any other choices. But they don’t offer bus service between ANY two resorts – you’d always have to go through a Park (or the Transportation and Ticket Center (the TTC)) first. So if you need to do this, for dining reservations, for example, plan out which Park is closest to BOTH resorts and get the bus for that resort.

For example, say you stay at the Poly and want to go eat at Artist’s Point at the Wilderness Lodge. You can’t take a bus straight from one to the other. You’d have to take the Monorail to the MK or the TTC and then take a bus (or boat) to the WL. On the other hand, if you stayed at the CR instead, you COULD take a boat that happens to go from the CR to the WL without having to go through a Park.

All this is to say that you should ask at the Front Desk of your resort if you need to go from resort-to-resort. They can help you plot out the most efficient route. For my family, though, sometimes we try to purposefully make things complex, simply to enjoy the ride. So, again, using the Poly-to-WL example, we could stretch it out simply all around the MK and its lagoon: Poly-Monorail-MK-Ferry-TTC-Monorail-CR-Boat-WL. Totally obscene and silly, but 100% possible.

In fact, maps are incredibly important, especially for the infrequent park goer. And there’s one that, until now, hasn’t existed in any form – a map of every transportation method to-from-between the parks, resorts and other attractions. Mid-2012, Arthur DeWolf (http://www.wdwfocus.com/map/) created a one-of-a-kind Walt Disney World Resort Transportation Map. And it’s my great pleasure that he has allowed me to replicate it here:

wdw-transport-map-full

But to really enjoy it, I recommend visiting his site and getting a wall-sized print. It’s an amazing work of art that’s incredibly functional. What makes it so special is the fact that this information isn’t otherwise published by Disney.

More on Dining

With the DDP and other free meal options, the restaurants are getting booked with reservations much more than usual. So, again, remember the 90 or 180-day rule. Starting 90 or 180 days from your arrival date at WDW, you’re allowed to call and book dining reservations for your WHOLE trip. So look to AllEars to see the restaurants: http://allears.net/menu/menus.htm (this site is my favorite for really good information) and get an idea of any you REALLY want to visit. Then book them early.

Remember, though, that for any in-park restaurant, you have to burn a park ticket day to get in to get there. So if you DON’T get the PH option on your ticket, and you didn’t visit, say, Epcot, the day you have reservations for Teppan Edo, you might have trouble getting in (since, officially, they’re not allowed to let you use a SECOND park day off a non-PH ticket to get into a second park on the same day).

If you have food allergies or other eating concerns, please note that you can ask almost anywhere for an ingredient list (even the kiosks) for the foods sold at those locations. Disney is extraordinarily accommodating when it comes to needs, as well, so if there are special requests, you can make those requests when booking your reservation or when checking in at the hostess desk.

Sleep

OK… so this will sound silly, but especially with kids, you’re gonna’ want to get some real sleep. There are too many things going on at night to try to fight sleep and then crash at the end of every day. The recommended solution: get up early and go until around lunchtime. Then break, go back to your resort and take a nap – EVERYONE. After the nap, go for a swim and then head to dinner. After dinner, go back to the parks for the nighttime stuff. This takes you out of the sun at mid-day… gets you a little extra rest (especially your feet) and allows you to do some of the night stuff, too, without sleeping through it.

Weather

For WDW, it’s Florida – in any season. There’s gonna’ be rain. Disney is happy to sell you “Disney Park” ponchos (the Mickey ones are long gone) for about $9-12/person depending on size. Or you can buy them at Dick’s Sporting Goods or any other place near your home for about $1/person before you go (again, see Amazon’s 4 for $5 deal). Choose wisely. 😉

Same thing with shoes. I don’t know how people do the Parks in flip flops… but I suppose you can. I wouldn’t recommend anything less than Teva’s. Too many places to lose shoes that aren’t strapped onto your feet. But having something like Teva’s is good if the weather turns wet. Rain is the PERFECT time to do the parks. It’s cooler, most people are afraid of the rain and stay indoors (less crowds)… and heck, it’s just water and most rides are at least partially indoors anyways.

On the flip side, there are a few spots in the various Parks that are available for kids who want to expressly get wet and cool down. Off the top of my head: the ground-based water fountain near Test Track in Epcot, and another on the central bridge behind the large Epcot fountain and World Showcase.

There’s also a fountain that children like to play in near the Health Station at MK (though it’s not technically supposed to be for that purpose). The Casey Jr. Splash ‘N’ Soak Station is in the Magic Kingdom in the right-rear corner of the park near the Dueling Dumbo rides and available from the Storybook Circus Train Station (what used to be Toon Town Station). This area is all about getting wet.

Overall, plan for the weather. Know that they are prepped for the weather and almost everything (except the parades and fireworks) happens regardless of the weather.

Photos

Disney has anticipated that some people don’t want to carry their cameras around. They’ve also realized that most people don’t always want to buy photos right then and there (or that day). So they’ve created a system called Photopass. The first time you enter a park and encounter a Disney photographer (they all dress in beige photo vests, you can’t miss them), get your family’s photo and tell them you need a new card. They’ll take your picture and then either scan your MagicBand or scan a barcode on a Photopass card (the size and shape of a credit card). They’ll hand you the card. Keep it for your whole trip (in fact, you can keep it permanently and use it trip after trip… just remember that photos expire after 30 days).

Every time you encounter a photographer, get your photo taken and then hand them the card (or show them your wrist). The photos are then associated with your bar code. Anytime during your trip or up to 30 days after you get home, you can go online (or into any Disney photo place) and order prints of any size you can imagine. They also have a version that comes on a blue rubber band to go around your wrist – specifically for photos taken at the water parks. 🙂

Oh, and the Disney photographers will, if asked, use your camera to take a photo as well. So you can have the set on Photopass… and your own matching set, too, that you know you won’t have to pay for. But be sure to let the Photopass folks use their cameras for a set. Their cameras are configured with flashes (and some say special background lights timed to their cameras) designed to get the best lighting on your faces, yet also keep the park “icon” lit behind you (ie: the Castle, the Tree of Life, the Kodak Theater, Spaceship Earth).

MemoryMaker is a Photopass add-on that allows you to pre-purchase EVERY photo that you have taken via the Photopass photographers AND all of the ride photo systems for a single price (currently ~$150 for the digital-only download package with add-ons for DVDs or prints).  MemoryMaker is also tied to every MagicBand tied to your reservation.  So if you’ve got 10 people in your party and you’ve got them all connected on your MyDisney Experience app, adding MemoryMaker means that all 10 people, as they move about the Parks and get their pictures taken, will all aggregate for that one cost.  This is extremely cost-effective if you like the Photopass photographers and ride photos, as a single photo download historically cost nearly $20. I have already heard of people getting 500-1000 photos on their MemoryMaker purchase, an incredible deal.

And yes, if you’re aware of Magic Shots (where the Photopass photographer poses you so that a post-photo editing system can add a Disney character to your photo), these are also included in MemoryMaker.  So be sure to ask EVERY Photopass photographer to do a Magic Shot pose, if they are so able (any whose cameras aren’t on tripods can usually do it).

In addition, all ride photos are now either automatically connected to your Photopass, or are available to be added right after you exit the ride by scanning your MB next to the monitor that is showing your ride photo.  In fact, there are even two attractions that now send you home with a video of your experience (Tower of Terror and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train)!  It’s pretty impressive technology (the bands talk with sensors in the ride vehicles to know where you are sitting).

Child Care

Disney really only offers one child care option in the event that you would like a little adult time with your spouse. During the day, certain resorts (such as the Poly) have things like the Neverland Club – a supervised activity center for kids ages 3-12, open from 4pm-Midnight for an additional fee. But, ALL resorts have Kids Night Out access. Basically, KNO is a NON-Disney babysitting service that is willing to come to your room to watch your child(ren) for an hourly fee. Their babysitters are insured/bonded, have been CPR/First Aid trained, and given our one experience with them, incredibly easy to use and worked out well. Once again, AllEars.net to the rescue for details: http://allears.net/pl/childfaq.htm.

For infant/baby care during the day, each park has an indoor Babycare area (check each park map for the location) where you can do diaper changes, nurse/pump, feed (they have high chairs, microwaves and other food-prep materials available), and they have small toilets for your potty-training child(ren), too. This isn’t a daycare, of course, but merely a place to take care of child-related needs during the day.

Extras

What I’ve discussed here are the basics. There are LOTS of extras. Most notably, tours, for extra fees. Most kids aren’t yet old enough for most of them (some go in areas where you could come upon a character without their “head” on – and that’s not good for most children, so they don’t let pre-teens attend). But some are good for all ages. If you’re interested, check out: http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/tours-and-experiences/ for details.

While technically not an “extra”, many people choose a Disney vacation because of some special event (birthday, anniversary, etcetera). For Birthdays, Anniversaries/Honeymoons and for First Visits, Disney is already amped up to offer you something a little special. Make sure that for every park day/visit during that trip, you stop at the Guest Services location in the park you’re visiting (Town Hall at MK, under Spaceship Earth at Epcot, etcetera) and tell them that you’d like the appropriate button for that event. It’s large and a pin – but wear it! You’ll look like a geek, but you NEVER know what can happen to you during the day while you’ve got it on!  Also, make sure that you notify reservations while booking so that they attach it to your reservation overall.  Again, you never know what will happen.

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