In the Fall of 2010 My husband and I had a business trip to go to in Orlando which had one free evening on the agenda so Greg suggested that we go to Magic Kingdom for the evening. I actually resisted going, it seemed like a big hassle and since I hadn’t gone as a child I really didn’t care about going. Sure, I’d always been a Disney fan but not a sold out, decked out, nut! I reluctantly agreed but little did I know that Greg had it in his mind that we would have our wedding there. I will never forget the feeling I had when I first walked into Magic Kingdom and honestly its because I get the same feeling each time we go back. I thought I would write this to help those that are planning their first trip or even if its your fifth trip…we learn something new each time we go!
This year was our 15th Trip to Walt Disney World (and 1 trip to Disney Land) and I know there are things we still haven’t done yet. We have always stayed on property for our vacations and when we have gone for business trips we have stayed at the Ritz Carlton Orlando (which is amazing Ive stayed there 3 times). For this post I will only refer to the Grande Floridian and The Animal Kingdom Lodge because those are the only two hotels that i have stayed in.
The Animal Kingdom Lodge
Last year we were asked to partner up with Disney for the Media Preview of Pandora World of Avatar opening (see previous blog post here) I thought the hotel was very nice and definitely would’ve been cool for kids but it just didn’t give either of us that relaxed feeling you get at The Grande Floridian. The positive of it is that it feels like you are on an adventure. I don’t like the layout of the Resort, its super long and we felt like it was a mile to our hotel.
The Grande Floridian
The bulk of our stays have been to The Grande Floridian. The first stay there was to plan our wedding and then the next trip was when we flew some family in for the wedding. We had to essentially book 6 vacations for that trip so we went through AAA, I didn’t really see much of an advantage booking through them so we haven’t booked with them since. Ill give more details on how I book next. The experience of the Grande Floridian is so relaxing. When you get there they greet you so warmly. If you stay in the main building (we have done that twice) you have a personal cast member to greet you and check you in and somehow they always know who you are are (total magic). The smell is so fresh and intoxicating in the lobby and if its the evening there is a band playing. The main pool area is clean and classy, there is a fun pool with a slide and an under 10 area with a water play jungle gym. Really the resort is a vacation in itself. My children love it there and haven’t wanted to try any other resort.
On a Side note-if you are going to Disney on a budget I think that its worth it to stay right on property just for accessibility to the parks without having to deal with parking. I will tell you about how it makes the Theme Park experience so much better.
From my experience booking in January works the best for our June trip. I book directly with disney online and there is usually some kind of a deal on the Deluxe Resorts at that time. The deal may come at other times of the year but I don’t like paying for next years vacation right after I get back from this years vacation. If I do run Across some great deal I have gone a head and booked it with the $200 deposit though. So I book the trip in January and if I’m unsure of schedules for the kids I just put the deposit down and wait to pay the balance because you have until a couple months prior to your trip to pay the balance off. I never charge more on our personal credit card then I can pay off. I use a Southwest Chase Credit card throughout the year to get points for our flights and to date I have never paid for any of our flights to disney. I recently signed up for a Disney Chase card just to get the merchandise discount honestly.
One tip for if you are trying to stretch out paying for your trip is to go to to Giant eagle and get $500 Gift cards and apply them to your account one at a time until the balance is paid. You can put one gift card in each time you go online to pay. So you get to earn free gas and if you use the Southwest Visa you get points to use toward your flights there. You also technically get an extra month to pay off the trip if you wait to pay right before its due because that amount will fall on your next months Credit Card statement. We fly Southwest for two reasons. 1. Its cheap and you can update your ticket if you see better deals! 2. There are a couple of non stop flights out of Columbus, let me tell you that is huge when you are traveling with 3 little ones. We also book to ride on the Magical Express when we book our hotel which is amazing because they get your bags from the sky cap directly to the hotel for you! No Baggage Claim!!!! We just bring a bag on the plan with us with one change of clothes for everyone Incase it takes a while for it to get to our room. I also go ahead and get park hopper passes with our tickets so that we don’t feel like we have to stay at one park all day.
We have gone back and forth with the Dining Plans worth now that we have been to most of the Character Dining Experiences. We don’t eat a whole lot and I don’t like sitting for 3 meals so last year we didn’t do the Deluxe Dining Plan like we have normally done, we only did the Disney Dining plan which seems to suit us better. I would say if you can do it sit down for a least one meal a day…its relaxing. I have realistic expectations so I know generally that Buffets aren’t going to be the best food ever but honestly I have never had a meal at Disney that didn’t meet the expectations that I had for the type of restaurant it was. I would say for us the benefit of the dining plan is that our trip is totally paid off before we go let gratuities we leave. The first thing I do is book Chef Mickeys when I know the dates we are going. This is a hard to get reservation and if its your first trip its a must! You see Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Daisy and Donald and the food is really good. Here’s a list of our favorite restaurants and one that we are trying new this year. We also plan our days around what is available at these.
Chef Mickey’s (The Contemporary)
Tepan Edo (Epcot)
Crystal Palace (Magic Kingdom)
Mama Melrose (Disney’s Studios)
Dino Cafe (Disney Springs)
Pandora’s Quick Service Cafe (Animal Kingdom)
Hollywood and Vine (Disney Studios)
Be Our Guest Cafe (really hard to book but lunch is open for quick service)
The Boathouse (Disney Springs) trying out this year
Some others we have been to but just haven’t gone again yet are Victoria and Alberts (AMAZING Anniversary dinner), Cinderella’s Royal Table and The Brown Derby.
Book your sit down meals early! You have to put a credit card down but its so much better for your overall experience. I have heard so many fights in the waiting areas of families that are hungry and tired that waited too long to go to the restaurant and have an hour long wait. My husband likes to sit down for at least one meal its quiet, not as chaotic and also a good time to chat with the kids and hear what they are enjoying. If you aren’t on a Dining Plan you can still pre book but they just hold a card for the reservation.
Another benefit of some restaurants is priority seating for shows so you don’t have to waste your fast passes. I usually book the Dinner package at Mama Melrose or Hollywood and Vine so that we can get priority seating at Fantasmic.
How to Keep it Magical
This may seem silly… don’t under-plan but don’t over-plan, Ive done both. Over planning (yea I’ve done spreadsheets) makes it seem like work keeping right on schedule and under planning can lead to a lot of tears (and I’m not just talking about the kids). We have literally seen a fist fight, sun burned kids screaming and adults yelling at each other and their kiddos (not judging because I have fussed at mine). I mentioned earlier that we like to stay on property and even if you have to stay at one of the Value Resorts to stick to a budget its worth it because here is how our schedule goes:
We get up between 7-8am we don’t set an alarm unless there is something special or a breakfast that we are getting to). We get breakfast at the quick service restaurant and bring it to the room (we have done a lot of Character Breakfasts over the years and the kids are usually too cranky to enjoy it honestly)
We get ready and head to whatever Park we are going to between 8-9am. We already have 2 fast passes booked sometimes they are set for the evening if that’s the case we ride a couple rides that aren’t long wait times.
These are just some of the tips I’ve gathered over the years!