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Walt Disney World: Everything that you need to know

My name is Larissa....and I'm a Disney addict! 

I usually go down the second or third week every November, with either my best friend or my husband (or this year-my niece!). There are a TON of ways to make the best of your time there, and I'm excited to share them with you!

----->Best & Worst Times To Go<-----
  The time that you choose to go will definitely affect the value of your vacation. I'm sure that you can imagine how disgustingly PACKED the parks are during summer vacation. If you have some flexibility to your dates, then allow me to present to you the BEST times to go:
  • Mid-November through Mid-December (EXCEPT for the week of Thanksgiving).
  • Second week of January through mid-February. Avoid any holiday weekends!
  • First three weeks of May
  • The month of September (a little war for me, but they offer the free dining packages!).
And now, for the WORST:
  • December 24-31 (the most expensive time of the year-not to mention that it's PACKED).
  • Mid February-mid April (Super busy, high airfare, high prices).
  • Summer (besides the fact that it's 100 degrees, it's beyond busy)
Beware of certain other issues that may affect your decision as to when to go! They include:
  • Cheerleading / Dance competitions (Google to check when they're scheduled for!)
  • Mardi Gras Week (the date changes yearly, but expect large crowds)
  • Jersey Week (usually the first or second week in November during the NJ teacher conventions)
  • Pop Warner Week (Google to see when it's scheduled for)
  I highly recommend the second or third week in November. If you're flying, you can get some great airfare rates. The crowds aren't bad, the weather is (usually) on the cooler side, and the hotel rates are lower.

----->Hotel & Transportation<-----
It pays to stay on Disney property! They have  a ton of different hotel options, from camp sites to value hotels to the totally crazy expensive. When looking into hotel options, you'll definitely see some other, significantly cheaper options on non-Disney properties, but I'm here to tell you: Don't do it!!!!

The first time that we drove down there many years ago, we booked into a hotel in Kissimmee (right next to Orlando). Sure, we saved $30-$40 a night by staying off site. But we spent double that between gas and parking! Parking will run you $17 per day (per vehicle). And if you're flying down, be prepared to spend more! Depending on where you book, some hotels will offer very limited free shuttle service. When I say very limited, I mean only a handful of times a day. Which means you should plan on spending a good amount of money to get to or from the parks if you need to be there at certain times. Have a kid who needs a nap? You'll be paying to get back on your own. And this is IF your hotels offers free shuttle service. Many of the smaller ones do not, so be prepared for this extra expense. Also be prepared to shell out a good amount of money to get to and from the airport.

Disney provides their free Magical Express service to and from Orlando International Airport. I first used this in November 2014, and it was super easy. Disney will mail you a sticker for your checked luggage. Simply attach the sticker and check your bag at the airport as you normally would. When you arrive in Orlando, walk right past baggage claim, and down to their kiosk. They will get your baggage for you, and deliver it to your room at no additional charge. As soon as we checked in, we had about a five minute wait, and then we were loaded onto the bus to be dropped off at the hotel. It was so easy- and the fact that it's free is even better.

The return service back to the airport is equally easy. The morning before we left, the hotel will slip your paperwork under the door, which will tell you what time you need to be downstairs for. Depending on what airline you're flying, you can even check your baggage AT the hotel! The service is available for most major airlines, and once again saves you from having to lug your crap through the airport and stand in line to check it. Once you're dropped off, you can head right for security and your gate.

As I mentioned earlier, another perk to staying on Disney property is that they offer complimentary shuttle service to all four parks, as well as Downtown Disney and their water parks. This means that you can come and go to the parks whenever YOU feel like it! It's never more than a few minutes wait for a bus, and they drop you off right at the main entrance for each location.

If you're driving down (or renting a car upon arrival), parking at the hotel is free, as well as at the parks. Be sure to ask the front desk at the hotel for your parking pass!

----->Disney Dining Plan<-----
Another reason why it pays to stay on Disney property! The Disney Dining Plan! You're going to need to eat during your vacation. To get the most bang for your buck, I highly recommend checking it out.

The Disney Dining Plan comes in several different "tiers":

The "Quick Service" dining plan, which includes: two "quick services" meals and one "snack" per person, per day. $41.99 per adult (ages 10+) and $16.03 per child (ages 3-9)

The "Standard" dining plan, which includes: one "quick service", one "table service", and one "snack" per person, per day. $60.64 per adult (ages 10+) and $19.23 per child (ages 3-9)

The "Deluxe" dining plan, which includes: three table service OR quick service (your choice) meals and two snacks per person, per day. $109.53 per adult (ages 10+) and $29.86 per child (ages 3-9)

All three plans include a refillable mug per person, which you can refill in your hotel's dining area as many times as you'd like for the duration of your stay. Beyond that, which dining plan to choose depends on the people who are going to be using it!

I have always used their "standard" plan. I like having a large majority of my meals "prepaid" when I head down there, which gives me more money to spend elsewhere LOL! Beyond that though, I believe it's a good value, although again that will depend on the people who are utilizing it.

Each ADULT "quick service" credit includes a non-alcoholic drink, an entree, and a dessert. A child credit includes a non-alcoholic drink and an entree from the kid's menu. Please note that if they are on a "child" dining plan, they must order from the kids menu.

Each ADULT "table service" meal includes the same as above. Some kids meals will include a dessert, depending on the individual restaurant.

The "standard" plan works for our group for a few reasons. We almost always skip breakfast. We'll usually use our "quick service" credit at the park for lunch, and the a "table service" credit for a sit down dinner in one of their amazing restaurants. The "snacks" come in handy if we need anything in between, and can be used for a wide variety of items, from a bottle of water, to a drink at Starbucks to a "Dole Whip". And if you have snack credits left at the end, what we usually do is head to Downtown Disney and over to Goofy's shop to splurge on everything from chocolate covered pineapple to cake pops to cookies.

If you have a group of people who really likes to eat (and eat well!), the deluxe plan may be a better fit. The higher end hotels have table service breakfast options (NOTE: If staying at a hotel without one, plan on either driving or taking a shuttle over). Do you want to eat steak and seafood twice a day? Then the deluxe plan is for you.

Another thing to take into account is that several table service dining options require more than one credit, such as character dining (ie. Chef Mickey, Cinderella's Royal Table) and the super fine dining (ie. Le Cellier Steakhouse)

Sigh....yes, my husband went to Chef Mickey's wearing his Keeping it Gangsta shirt....
 Dining reservations can be booked 180 days in advance, and character dining often sells out the same day that it opens! If there's something that you absolutely MUST hit, set an alarm and book it the very day that it opens! The most notoriously difficult one is Cinderella's Royal Table, along with the newly opened Be Our Guest.

Epcot has some of the most amazing dining! My favorite is San Angel Inn, located in the Mexico Pavilion. Coral Reef (in Future Land) is also pretty neat-with the floor to ceiling aquarium. We were lucky to be seated right next to the aquarium, and it was a very cool experience. If you're a steak lover, Le Cellier should not be missed! Their steak melts in your mouth, and it's absolutely worth the two dining credits.

Our dinner guests at Coral Reef

My favorite reason for staying on Disney property is their FastPass+ service! They can be booked 30 days in advance, and you get three past passes per day to start with. What's a FastPass you ask? It's a magical things that lets you virtually skip the line for any attraction that you book it for!

Each attraction has a "stand-by" entrance (ie. the line you get into when you'll be waiting in the regular line), and a "FastPass" entrance, which takes you in via a different route, and puts you at the front of the line with a very minimal wait-usually no more than a few minutes.  You can also get a FastPass for select character meet & greets, although these will have a longer wait.

How you plan out your fast passes depends on your plans for the day. At the moment, you get three per day, and all three need to be booked at the same park. While I was told that this will likely change in the future, it is what it is at the moment.

If you're planning on doing two parks (one early, with a break in the afternoon, and then another park at night), I recommend getting to the park for when they open, when lines will be the shortest, and saving your fast passes for the second part of the day. Take the time to figure out what you absolutely want to get onto! Some of the busiest rides (ie. the longest wait times) that the FastPass+ service is most useful for includes:

Magic Kingdom
The Seven Dwarves Mine Train (often a 2-3 hour wait)
Space Mountain
Big Thunder Mountain
Peter Pan
Splash Mountain <---especially when it gets hot!

Hollywood Studios
Tower of Terror
Rock N Roller Coaster
Toy Story

Animal Kingdom
 Expedition Everest
Kali River Rapids <---especially when it gets hot!

Chevy's Test Track
 Mission Space

----->Disney Memory Maker<-----
If you're looking for a way for the entire group to be in the picture, the Disney Memory Maker is something to consider. You can save $50 by purchasing it in advance ($150 in advance, $200 during your trip). Yes, it's expensive-their photos always have been. At $15 a pop to download, it's a bit crazy. I used this for the first time this year when I went down with my niece, because it was her first trip and I really wanted the professional photos, and I loved it. You get the ability to share and download all photos for the duration of your trip, as well as the ability to resize them, edit and add different borders. And since I let their professional photographers take the pictures, I was able to get in on them and be a part of them.

This also includes all photos from attractions (ie. Splash Mountain, etc), as well as videos from certain attractions (ie. Seven Dwarves Mine Train) at no additional cost. If you're using a MagicBand, no need to stand in line or scan for your photos anymore-they'll automatically be added to your account so you can head to the next ride. 

Proud Aunt moment....my nine year old niece in the front row, hands up!!! Love her!!

----->Special Events<-----
Disney hosts several "celebrations" and special events each year! Events include:
The Epcot Food & Wine Festival (September-November)
A must do for every foodie! This is your chance to try cuisine from all around the world-much more than the usually choices offered at Epcot year round. Celebrity cooking classes, food & wine pairings, and tasting events. For more info, CLICK HERE!

NOT water LOL....drinking my way around the world at Epcot
Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival (Mach-May)
A must see for any flower lover! While there isn't nearly as much to do as during the food & wine festival, this is a chance to see some really cool flower and garden displays, and learn some new techniques.

Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party (September-October)
This event requires an additional special ticket purchase for each person, but it's totally worth it.  Available on select nights in September and October, it's a good time for kids and adults alike! The kids can go trick-or-treating in the Magic Kingdom (how freakin cool is that?!), and there are lots of special events, such as dance parties, parades, and special character meet & greets (VILLAINS!!!).
The best part though is that since this is a special ticketed event, with only a limited number 0f tickets available, you can virtually walk onto most rides for the night with only a minimal wait time.

Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party (November-December)
Like the Halloween Party, this event requires an additional special ticket purchase for each person. It's available on select nights on November and December, with lots of special events such as Christmas character meet & greets, a special parade, cookies and hot chocolate (free!), totally Tomorrowland Christmas, and snow on Main Street USA! There's also the same perk of walking onto virtually every ride.

----->Coupons & Special Offers<-----
Here's the biggest secret of all: If you receive (or find) a coupon or special offer AFTER you've booked, even if you've already paid off your trip, you can call Disney and have them apply that coupon. There is a limit of one per account. The best ones are either the free meal plan or the room discounts (up to 30% off!). Call them and tell then that you would like to apply the special offer, and be prepared to save! Special offers are released several times a year, and many of them come out and are available for a short time frame, which means that you may not find an applicable offer until 2-3 months before your vacation. It's definitely worth keeping an eye out for! If you can't find one, or are unsure, don't be afraid to ask-their representatives are always SO helpful, and can offer you advice or guidance to get the most bang for your buck.

Do YOU have a tip or trick to make the Disney experience easier, or maybe a question that you'd like answered? Leave them in the comments below!

Til next time,

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