Saturday, November 21, 2015

Disney 2015: Tips, Tricks, and Thoughts...

I thought I'd share with you a few things that we learned on our trip THIS time that made life easier for us. Not necessarily the things that you think about before you go. Hopefully they'll help. If you have specific questions and want to comment with those or email me - - I'm happy to answer them. I've been to Disney a total of six times (I think...); twice with children. 

Dining Plan:

This was the first time that we'd used the dining plan and I chose the basic Disney Dining Plan which means that each of us got a free travel mug (that can be refilled at your resort...NOT in the parks), and one Table Service, one Quick Service, and one Snack credit per person PER night that we stayed so we had a total of four of those each. Now. The way to play the game with the Disney Dining Plan is to buy the MOST EXPENSIVE THING available for your plan each time. You don't get a Table Service credit and then use it on the cheapest sit down restaurant in the park. I used our Table Service meals for character meals EVERY time. That part made our dining plan worth it. BUT, here's the kicker. We ate at restaurants we wouldn't have eaten at normally so we wouldn't have spent that money anyway. On our last trip we had two character meals - one at Animal Kingdom and one at our hotel. This time we had four. If you are all about the character meals and want one every day then go for it, but we found that we liked the food better at the cheaper sit down restaurants and we think that the next time we go we would pick one (maybe two...depending on how long we go and whether a certain Princess needs to see Princesses) character meal for the trip and pay for all of our meals out of pocket. I will say that it saved us in that we spent almost NOTHING in the parks the whole time we were there. We paid for tips at each meal, bought a few souvenirs, and that was it. Our boys don't really get the "gimmes" so we didn't spend a ton. Last time we LOVED Tony's and the Liberty Tree Tavern for a sit down meal but we didn't eat at those this time because it wouldn't have been worth it.

So, where did we eat and how did we like it?

The Contempo Cafe (quick-service) in the Contemporary: We would give it 3/5 stars. It wasn't incredibly good, but it wasn't terrible. Our adult dining plan credits got us a drink, entree, and dessert and the desserts alone were worth about $6. It was definitely worth the money on that front, but we also just don't EAT that much. It had a good variety of food.

The Crystal Palace (table-service with Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, and Eeyore) in the Magic Kingdom: We would give it 4/5 stars. I do like that these characters aren't your run-of-the-mill ones. We needed some variety and this was great. The boys LOVED it. It was chaotic, but most character meals are. The food (a buffet) was decent and the atmosphere was nice, but crowded.

Pecos Bill's (quick-service) in the Magic Kingdom: We would give it 5/5 stars. I loved this one. Plain Mexican food with a fantastic toppings bar. Again, this came with drinks, an entree (I got steak fajitas and with rice and beans), and a dessert. Eddie was impressed with the desserts here. There were two to choose from - churros and sopapilla.

Hollywood and Vine (table-service with Princess Sofia, Doc McStuffins, Handy Manny, and Jake) in Hollywood Studios: We would give it 3/5 stars. It allowed us to meet Handy Manny, one of the boys' favorites, and that was (in my opinion) about all it had going for it. It is a huge dining room that was loud and chaotic. The food was mediocre. The characters took for.e.ver to get around to us. I just wasn't impressed. Unless Miss Merritt is just DYING to see Princess Sofia or Doc McStuffins, I'm pushing for skipping this one...

ABC Commissary (quick-service) in Hollywood Studios: We would give this 4/5 stars. We all had a burger and fries from here. Again, drink, entrĂ©e, and dessert for grown ups. It was good food and they had a different variety than we'd seen. A cast member recommended it. We just RUSHED through our meal here, which was a shame.

Tusker House (table-service with Donald, Daisy, Mickey, and Goofy) in Animal Kingdom: We would give this 5/5 stars. We love Tusker House. It's fun, the characters make it around fairly quickly, the food is different, and it doesn't feel as chaotic as some character meals.

Chef Mickey's (table-service with Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto - the most characters in any meal we had) in The Contemporary: We would give this 5/5 stars. This one was SO much fun! We liked it as much (or more than!) Tusker House this trip. It was breakfast so we hadn't tired of the "same old Disney food" by then. The characters were great here! It's a short walk from Magic Kingdom so do it on a day when you're headed there!


This was the WORST part of the dining plan for us. We had such large meals that we weren't hungry for snacks. NEXT time I will try to use my credits for breakfast, I think. That is completely do-able if you're considering the dining plan. You'll just have to get creative. You CAN use a credit for Starbucks. Also, research WHERE you can spend your snack credits. We loaded up with Starbucks treats to spend the remaining 14 credits that we had (we kept getting FREE snacks so it wasn't that we didn't eat that many) on Starbucks desserts. I would rather have found goodies like Disney cupcakes, brownies, and rice krispies to spend my credits on. Dole Whips, popcorn, ice cream...all of those you can get with a credit. You can also add up your credits, I think. Two snack credits = one quick service credit and vice versa. I THINK.


We prefer to stay ON site. It just makes it easier. That said, Eddie also prefers to DRIVE to parks instead of taking Disney transportation. The buses are just a pain. We walked to Magic Kingdom from Contemporary and that was FANTASTIC, but it is also a deluxe resort so it's really pricey. We loved Contemporary but will definitely stay somewhere else next time. Disney offers so many different places. TOP on my list would be Polynesian and Wilderness Lodge, but they're deluxe, too. I think realistically we will stay at Port Orleans or Caribbean Beach next time. They're both moderate. One thing we learned is that it's harder to sleep five to a room. And often CHEAPER to find two adjoining rooms. It will be interesting. The boys have three years on their radar so that Merritt is big enough to go with us. Who knows where we'll stay then.

Check out what else your resort offers. Contemporary had s'mores, outdoor movies, dance parties, pool parties, etc. on their activities page and it was all FREE. There are also plenty of paid excursions. One thing I had looked into was a pirate cruise where we would meet Peter Pan and Captain Hook. That left from the dock at Contemporary and it was fun to see them come in one night. There is SO much to do at Disney.


We made a mistake taking a single stroller this time. James wanted to ride, too, and the boys fought over it. We made it work, though. We highly recommend a stroller. I walk FAST through the parks to make the most of our time and this is helpful. It is RIDICULOUS to try to get a double stroller folded and on a bus, though. We hated that.


These are so fun! When you check in at your resort, tell the cast member if you're celebrating anything. Mom, James, and I all got birthday pins and Eddie and Will got "We're Celebrating" pins but didn't wear them. Everywhere we went, people wished us Happy Birthday and called us by name. At restaurants they brought us birthday cupcakes (which James had to trade in for allergy-friendly cookies) and cards signed by all the characters. I got a free snack at one place. It was just fun! Be sure to wear it!

Planning Your Day:

Because of FastPass+ it is a MUST that you prioritize your day now. I'll share how I did that, but I'm sure it's not the ONLY way. For each park I looked at our lunch reservation, a map, and the rides/shows I wanted to prioritize for FP+. I really just walked my way through the park. I'll use Magic Kingdom as an example. I KNEW that we wanted Peter Pan, Splash Mountain, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and Space Mountain as our Fast Passes. Because we were doing TWO days, I just split those up and added two more. On our first day I knew we wanted to try to go straight to Seven Dwarfs and ride it first thing before the wait got long. We weren't quick enough so we just went straight to our first FP+. There wasn't a line there, either, so we just walked right in and I used the FP+ for another ride later in the day. Then we worked our way through Fantasyland until lunch. Our lunch reservation was closer to Adventureland/Frontierland so after we ate we headed to Frontierland. I just try to plan our day around where we'll be in the park so that we're not zig zagging back and forth. Do you have to follow your itinerary to a tee? No, but it's still smart to have a plan.

Fast Pass +:

Speaking of Fast Passes, how does that work? 180 days in advance you can make your dining reservations online. Wake up EARLY that morning and hop on at 6AM to get those reservations. The Fast Passes can be reserved 60 days in advance at midnight. Not every ride has a Fast Pass and sometimes they're tiered (meaning you can't choose two in the same tier). We Fast Passed the following: Enchanted Tales with Belle (which we walked on and saved the FP for later), Peter Pan, Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Space Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (which we didn't ride) at Magic Kingdom (3 per day over 2 days). We Fast Passed Tower of Terror, Indiana Jones, Toy Story Mania, and Fantasmic (I added this after the first three were used) at Hollywood Studios. We Fast Passed Kilimanjaro Safari, Dinosaur, and Kali River Rapids at Animal Kingdom. You MUST use your FastPasses. You'll regret not figuring this system out.


We did NOT and have never gotten Park Hoppers. Our kids are too small to really utilize this, so we don't. A friend recently went to Disney and made plans for two separate parks and didn't have park hoppers. They wound up having to pay for more tickets to get into the second park. EXPENSIVE mistake. Don't do that. Make sure you know what you're getting before you go!

Here are my tips from our 2013 trip. I won't re-write them here, but they are different so check them out. If you have ANY questions about planning or traveling, please let me know and I'll try to answer them! I am a HUGE believer in researching before I go. We've gone to Disney, etc. many times and I won't claim to be an expert, but I feel like I've got it down to a science for US. If you think I've left a tip or trick out, let me know!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Disney 2015: Day Five - Magic Kingdom

How long is this woman going to talk about DISNEY?!?! And if she's going to continue, could she at least not take week-long breaks?! Okay, okay...It's time to begin wrapping up our Disney trips. This is our last day at the Happiest Place on Earth and then I have a few extra posts about my tips, etc. Okay, let's go.

Our first stop on Sunday, October 25th (I KNOW. Almost a month of this!) was to Chef Mickey's in the Contemporary. It was a short walk from our hotel room since we stayed there. This restaurant gets RAVES from people. Every time we've gone to Disney people ask if we're eating there. We decided to give it a go since we were so close and had the dining plan this time. The original plan for the day was to eat breakfast here and then pack up and go. BUT the longer you stay at Disney, the cheaper your tickets are per-day. It was like $75 for the five of us to return to the parks for a day so we did. Chef Mickey's first, Magic Kingdom second.

This was a breakfast buffet which was AWESOME because we hadn't done a breakfast yet. Different food? Yes, please. It was delicious. We were seated and told we could go ahead and fix our plates and the chef would come by. We always wait for the chef. As always, James could eat most of the food but had to avoid the "dessert" type foods.

Here you meet Goofy, Minnie, Mickey, Pluto, and Donald. If you're trying to meet a ton of characters, this is a great one. It's the only one we tried that had five characters. Most have four.

I took a ton of pictures and video on my phone here. The quality isn't great, but I'm happy to have the video. Now to figure out how to compile all of it into an awesome video to post here. I need a GoPro. THAT would've been awesome for this trip.

James asked Donald why it's called Chef Mickey's instead of Chef Donald's trying to get him stirred up. James thought it was HILARIOUS.

After we left Chef Mickey's we headed over to the Magic Kingdom for a few hours of fun. We hadn't told the boys we were doing this so I was excited for that surprise since nothing else on the trip was a surprise at all. We decided to try to do a few things we missed on the first day. 

First stop? The Teacups. Ugh. I sat this ride out. I cannot. cannot. cannot. ride the spinning-in-circles rides. Mom and I actually sat in line for the Mad Hatter and we let the boys ride. Thankfully, they were done and walking up just as the Mad Hatter came back from his tea party break. We LOVED him. Of all our character meet-and-greets, he was one of the most engaging. 

Next, we had a FastPass+ for The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and I might vote this my FAVORITE ride at Disney World. It was AWESOME. I rode with a complete stranger and we wound up getting stuck on an upward hill. I looked over at him and said, "I haven't ridden before. Is this normal?" HA! Nope, it wasn't. We weren't stuck long, thankfully. I loved this one. Even Will was tall enough for it!

Check out Will's face...

We had to ride the Barnstormer again, of course.

Next, we rode Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin and took a picture Will has been waiting his whole life to take...

This is what Will had been waiting on after Buzz Lightyear. He has looked and looked and looked at this picture of James and wanted his own:

We split up for our next ride. James and Eddie rode Space Mountain while Cacky, Will, and I rode The Carousel of Progress. I have to admit...snore. Will really enjoyed it, but it made me SLEEPY. James said HE LOVED Space Mountain. Will was pretty bummed he wasn't able to ride, too.

We all grabbed a snack next. Remember how I told you we'd had trouble spending our snack credits? Well, Eddie walked over to the snack counter to buy about five snacks and the girl's cash register was down and she GAVE THEM AWAY. Ha!

After we'd eaten most of our snacks we hopped on the People Mover and decided it was one of our favorite rides. Will especially loved it. It's calm, it's cool, and you see a ton! Will thinks that because it goes through part of Space Mountain that he RODE Space Mountain. :) Shhhh.

Our time was coming to a close after that ride. It was HOT, we were TIRED, and it was getting CROWDED. Sadly, we made our way to the front of the park. Cacky bought Will his ears (James got his last time) while I stood in line to use up our FIFTEEN remaining snack credits. The people of Starbucks Magic Kingdom were super helpful. 

Yes, yes they will take one of these every. single. time. we go.

We left and headed back to Contemporary for a potty break and a last farewell. 

Remember the car trouble we'd had at Animal Kingdom? Well, the plan was NOT to crank it until we were headed out. If it didn't crank we would have it towed and seen about. If it DID crank we wouldn't turn it off until we had to. Eddie got in and tried. Nothing. Tried again. Nothing. He got out and started to walk in to the resort and Mom told him to try ONE more time. Y'all. It cranked. I couldn't even believe it. We had prayed over that car all day long. We just wanted to get close enough to home that if we broke down again we could get someone to rescue us and not have to spend a day driving back to pick it up. Whew! Thank you, Jesus!

And that's it! I'll share my thoughts and tips on planning in another post, but that wraps up our whole trip!