In the summer of 2018 I spent 6-weeks in the USA and the highlight of our holiday was visiting Walt Disney World (WDW) in Orlando, Florida. Disney has been a daunting experience and learning from our time there I want to list all things I learnt of which can allow you to get more out of your time and money spent.
I will not go into the details of ticket purchase. You can buy your tickets direct from WDW website or there are several re-sellers (some recommended by British Mums) where you may get a marginally better price. What is of note is that many resellers will not email you the tickets without an additional charge and international postage of tickets is quite pricey. The re-sellers will send you a code which you will have to present at a “will call” kiosk at the park entrance to get your tickets.
Whichever way you purchase your tickets make sure you take the bank card on which you’ve made the purchase with you! You WILL need this to collect your park entry cards (they’re like credit cards and you get one for each member of your party). If you are staying on-site at a Disney resort you will receive Magic Bands in the post, depending on how far in advance you book, and these smart Bands will replace the entry cards.
Your best friend during the Disney holiday will be the My Disney Experience app. Download it, sign up for an account, and you can use it to purchase your tickets or link already purchased tickets. Its super simple to use but can lag quite a bit. The app also drains the phone battery pretty quickly so remember to take a charging pack with you.
Fast Pass +
Once you’ve sorted tickets you can start planning your holiday using the MDE app. The first step, and I strongly recommend this, is to book your fast passes. You can do this 30-days in advance of your visit, 60-days if you’re staying at a one of the WDW resorts. The reason I recommend you do this ASAP is because the most popular rides get booked up well in advance. For each day at each park you get up to 3 Fast Passes for no additional charge. Once you have used them up, one more Fast Pass will appear in your app. And so on.
Another important thing is to keep checking your email while at the park. Because (and this is SO annoying) whenever a storm starts brewing they shut down all outdoors rides. Florida is thunderstorm central so put two and two together. If your booked Fast Pass is for a ride that’s been temporarily closed, you will be emailed a list of alternative rides you can use your pass on.
So what exactly is a Fast Pass? Disney is queue central. The most popular rides have queues that can be up to 2 hours long. Fast Pass has a separate entrance, and you will likely queue 10-minutes to get on a ride.
As you can probably imagine Disney will cost you $$$$. One day car parking is $22, a double stroller rental is $31, a 500-ml water bottle is $3.
Some costs will be unavoidable. You can however trim the spend by taking your own stroller, something I would strongly recommend even with older kids. Its very crowded over the summer period, very hot and humid, and you will be walking a lot. Each day at the park my Fitbit tracked an average of 10km walked. At one point my 7 and 9 year olds were begging me to rent a stroller for them! You can take your own food and water into the parks. And you can ask at any of the food kiosks for a cup of ice water which is free but keep in mind you may have to queue for this.
Disney parks have both table service and counter service restaurants. Some table service restaurants are very popular (like Come Be My Guest in Magic Kingdom), so its best to book a table for your party well in advance. Queues at the counter service restaurants are likely to be quite deep. The way around this is to place your food order through the MDE app, and from there it’s a very seamless process to collect at the queue free Mobile Order counters. Another money saving tip is to share meals. Portions sizes are usually HUGE and I soon discovered that one child meal and one adult meal was enough for the three of us.
If you get there early enough to grab a table, Casey’s Corner gives you a great view of the afternoon parades and a partial view of the fireworks in Magic Kingdom.
All parks have some licensed restaurants and some resorts serve signature cocktails. Do try a Dole Whip with a shot of rum 😉 Each park also had one restaurant that offers a “Character Dining” experience. If your kids are really keen on meeting Mickey and Co I would highly recommend booking a meal at one of these restaurants. The characters will come to your table and you can do photos and autographs peacefully and in your own time. Its massively better than queuing 40-minutes for a photo with Donald.
My one indulgence was booking the Happily Ever After Dessert Party. This is about $50 per person and for this you get a pretty ok dessert buffet and access to a private garden for the most spectacular view of the Magic Kingdom fireworks. Tinks will fly right by you at the end of the show and that’s really magical. Its well and truly worth the spend as you wontbe staking out your spots hours in advance and then be left jostling the heavy crowd.
Disney is hot and incredibly crowded especially over the summer and Christmas breaks. If you are short on time, Epcot is one park you can safely give a miss as there hardly anything for kids to do. Hollywood Studios is also very doable in half a day. We spent two days each at Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom and that was enough. One top tip my Orlando dwelling sister gave me was to get to the parks in the late afternoon. By this time the crowds are marginally better, and most crucially, the usual Florida afternoon thunderstorm has passed leaving the temperature more bearable (if you’re planning on going in July-August). We started each day at 2pm and stayed till park closed at around 10 pm. We also took very frequent rest breaks. Some snacks and a nice spot to take in the stunning views and people watch can recharge your batteries. And if you ever fancied wearing matching tees and Minnie ears, go for it! In Disney its a de jour and makes you part of landscape.
Disney also have the best disability support programme I have ever encountered. My son has significant autism and the support provided was pivotal in our time at the parks being successful.
It really is a once in a lifetime experience.
Written by British Mum Zara Mirza .
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