Like I said before, this was our first time going to Disney World. We are not experts. But we had an amazing time and I’m not sure I’d change a single thing about our trip. If I could control the weather, I might make a few little tweaks there, but even the rain proved to be a blessing to us as it served as a good source of crowd control.
Just after Christmas 2012, I started thinking about planning our Disney World vacation. I knew I wanted to give it to the boys for Christmas 2013. In May, I contacted a local travel agent who is certified through Disney. She helped us narrow down which resort was our best option for our length of stay and our budget. She helped us figure out the specials running with the Disney Dining Plan. (We chose the dining plan that included 1 table service meal, 1 quick service meal, and one snack per day.) I told her which character meals we wanted and she filled in the rest and then she booked them all for us. It saved me so much time and it was so helpful! Also. Her services were FREE!
My Disney Experience
Once you have reserved your trip, you can login on mydisneyexperience.com. You can see all of your reservations there, make dining reservations and make your Fast Pass Plus reservations. You can also add other things to your account like the Memory Maker and Photo Pass options. There is also a smart phone app for My Disney Experience. You login and it pulls up all of your information and it tells you the wait times for the day. It also tells you where you can find different characters. And it makes it easy to make Fast Pass Plus selections or change your selections.
If you are staying at one of the Disney resorts, you will be able to login to My Disney Experience and customize your Magic Bands. The Magic Bands have a little electronic chip that stores all of your Disney reservation information. So when you go to pay for your meal, you just swipe your Magic Band. When you go to unlock your hotel room door, just swipe your Magic Band. When you have a Fast Pass Plus reservation and get to the ride, you just swipe your band. It stores everything and makes it so easy. You don’t have to keep up with a key or park passes or even a wallet!
Fast Pass Plus
I’m not super familiar with the old Disney Fast Pass system, but with Fast Pass Plus, we were able to use our app or My Disney Experience login and pre-select all of our fast passes for the trip. Right now this is still in the preview stage and is only available to those staying at the Disney resorts. I made our Fast Pass Plus reservations weeks before we left. I knew which days we’d be in certain parks just based on our dining reservations and I was able to select 3 Fast Pass Plus for each day. Because the week we were there wasn’t very crowded, most of the rides we chose never had a wait. So I would switch it to a different time using the app or I would pick an entirely different ride. Certain rides always had a long wait and they were usually favorites of my kids, so I tried to always get a Fast Pass for those. There are also kiosks set up all over the park for those that aren’t staying at the resort to make their selections.
I used my iPhone camera for our entire trip, but there were a lot of times when I just wanted us to all be in the photo and I wanted to have as many photos as possible. Before we left for the trip, I purchased the Memory Maker package. For $149 you have unlimited access to the photos taken at the resort. (Someone tried to sell us a print of one of the photos of our family and just the one print was $35.) Whenever we saw a Disney photographer, we asked him or her to take our family’s picture. In front of the castle, at the entrance, in front of the Epcot ball, everywhere. And they just scanned my Magic Band and all the photos showed up in our My Disney Experience account. I got tons of photos on my iPhone, but it was so nice to get all of those pictures of us on rides and get the pictures of us as a whole family. To me, this service was priceless.
Some folks may disagree with my input here, but this is just our experience. We stayed at Wilderness Lodge. We could access Magic Kingdom from Wilderness Lodge by boat, which was super convenient and only took 10 minutes, at most. We could take the monorail from Magic Kingdom to the ticketing station and then take the monorail to Epcot. But we ended up driving to Epcot, and we were in our car and parked at Epcot in 10 minutes. It was so fast and so easy. And so easy to deal with our stroller, too. We took the bus one time to get to Downtown Disney, and we decided after that hour and a half bus ride that we wouldn’t be attempting the bus again until our kids are much older. We ended up also driving to Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. It was definitely the right call for our family, and I’d do it this way again.
Hudson and Hayes are 4.5 and 2.5 and they both rode in our double stroller the whole time. With the rainy days it was great to put them in there and cover them up. When Hudson was tired of walking, it was great to put him in there so he could take a rest. We still had to park the stroller and walk to rides before moving on, but the parks are enormous. And at night, when everyone is rushing to get to the boat or the monorail, it was really nice to just push them in the stroller onto the boat. I don’t know that they could have made it 7 days without the stroller.
A lot of people have asked what we packed for the trip. The boys wore their normal, every day clothes. I did bring a pair of shorts for each boy, but we didn’t end up needing them. I packed their rain jacket and Todd and I bought ponchos when we got there. If I had a raincoat, I would have packed it. I wore gym shoes, yoga pants, and long-sleeve workout tops every day we were there. I brought a quilted vest to wear because it was chilly at times. I’m so glad I wore my most comfortable shoes and my most comfortable clothes. I didn’t feel sloppy or like a fanny pack-wearing tourist. 😉 I brought a few nicer things to wear- skinny jeans, tops, flats- to wear to dinner at night if we had a chance to change. I packed two pairs of shoes for both of the boys, which ended up being a good decision. With all the rain we had, their shoes were soaked by the end of the day. So we had a chance to dry out the shoes and they could wear dry shoes while the other pair dried.
One of the things I dreaded most about the trip was the “gimmes.” After almost every ride, there’s a gift shop full of Disney characters and stuffed animals and toys. It’s a lot! And any kid would want something every chance he got. But this trip was their Christmas gift and the trip itself was an investment. We don’t need any toys and don’t need to be carrying toys all over Disney World. My friend Amy gave me a good tip. I told the boys that we would make a list of all the things we loved, and on the very last day, they could go shopping and pick out their one favorite thing. And it worked out well. I had to remind them a lot, but it seemed to make them happy. And on the last day, we said, “Let’s go shopping!” And they both loved getting to look around and pick out their one favorite thing.
A lot of you have asked how we did naps at Disney World. Well… we just did. Ha! We were there for quite a while, so we had six full days of park passes and only four parks to visit. So we called it quits every day around 3:00 or 3:30. We stayed through lunch, rode a few things after lunch, and then left. We were back at the hotel within 20 minutes. Sometimes the boys fell asleep in the stroller on the way back and sometimes they just crashed as soon as they got in their beds. And Todd and I would rest, too. We had dinner reservations for a few nights and some nights we’d head back over to Magic Kingdom to see the parade and fireworks. The naps helped us stay relaxed. We weren’t “go go go” the whole time. We were just able to chill out, enjoy what we could, and then pack it up.
We were fortunate that the longest line we stood in was only 25 minutes long. I know this isn’t the case for every Disney World visit. But for the longer waits, I was so thankful that Nina had sent the boys a care package full of lollipops! We put the lollipops in Todd’s backpack and let them have a lollipop while we stood and waited. Some of the waiting areas have some fun and entertaining things for little kids. But Hayes is quite the wiggle worm. He’s 2.5. He wants to touch everything and keep moving. He understood more as the days went on, but the lollipops helped a lot when they started to lose it.
We are so glad that we went with the Disney Dining Plan. Hayes’s entire trip was free because he’s under 3. We didn’t have to pay for his park passes. We didn’t buy him a dining plan. At the table service meals, the cast members always gave us a small plate for him and just didn’t charge him to eat– most of these meals were buffet style. The quick service meals were a little different. For a few of the meals, we just shared our food with Hayes, but other days when everyone was starving, we just bought him a separate meal. The rest of us just swiped our Magic Bands at the scanner to pay for our meal off the dining plan. It was so very easy and so convenient! The snacks were all great, too! We had more than enough food and loved getting to do the character meals and have low-key, quick, easy meals, too.
To read our trip recaps, just click on the Disney World category to see days 1-7!
I’m happy to try to answer any questions. I can only speak to our experience, but I’d love to talk about it if you have any questions!
Love it! The one thing that I do love is the bus service though! We’ve stayed at WL three times and the WORST bus experience is Downtown Disney! Everything else is usually pretty great! But I can’t stand the tram!
We always drive to DD, but take the bus everywhere else. So funny!
Erin @ Blue-Eyed Bride says
I am cracking up!! Ha! We probably should have given the bus system another try, but driving was just so easy. We asked about driving to Downtown Disney but our concierge at Wilderness Lodge discouraged it because they’re currently building a parking garage at DD and right now there’s just no parking. It was a loooong bus ride. Ha! But definitely worth it once we arrived.
Ami G says
You were right not to drive to DD this trip. The parking over there is horrendous right now and the traffic is crazy because of it. We stay at Bay Lake Towers so if we want to drive to Epcot we actually park at the Boardwalk and walk from there. You can enter through the international gateway. That way you don’t have to walk though the entire park again when you are leaving at the end of the night. I am so glad you had a good time. We have been vacationing at Disney for 25 years…ever since our younger daughter was 3! We still visit at least once a year and even as adults my kids enjoy going to Disney.
Kristal Strong says
This is SUCH a helpful post for me as I’m starting to plan (I say that loosely still) our Disney trip next year! With kids the same age, I know I’ll be referring back to this post often throughout the planning process. Thank you for taking the time to share all this great info with us! 🙂
Jennifer Green says
Such great tips! I was nodding in agreement the entire time! Except, we took the bus everywhere, I don’t think we drove at all, the entire week. Next time, we have plans to stay at resort with monorail access rather than just bus transportation. And the dining plan?? Wouldn’t do without it or the Memory Maker! All of your posts make me SO ready to get back.
I SO appreciate this list! Those Magic Bands sound like a fabulous idea. Love the convenience. And that whole “pick out your favorite toy at the end of the trip” is a great idea! Less to carry! 🙂
Keisha Dawson says
Thank you so much for continuing to share about your fabulous trip! Our kids have no idea that we are going, but my hubby and I are secretly planning away. Everything that you have written has been an extra little help in our planning.
Have a super blessed day!
I have loved reading your recaps. How did Hayes do knowing his big brother could ride rides when he couldn’t? This is something we will deal with on our next trip most likely. I would hate for our younger child to feel sad and left out since he will still be too small to ride everything. Was this an issue for you all?
Lots of great info! How dies one go about finding a Disney certified travel
Blue-Eyed Bride says
Heather, I would just call a local travel agent and ask. The big thing is that it’s free. Disney pays them on commission. You could call our local travel agent at Forest Lake Travel in Columbia, SC
I love your blog! Just a quick questions about the memory maker package. Can you print any of your photos anywhere you want? Or do you need to use a Disney service for that? Thanks! Our family is going there in June and we can’t wait!
Blue-Eyed Bride says
You can download and print however you want to! You can print them straight from disney, but I just downloaded them all to my computer and will upload them to Walgreens.com and print from there. 🙂
Thanks Erin! Gotta love that!
Oh I wish I had known about the memory maker. We went in November and stayed at WL but I did not want to pay some crazy amount for our Tuskars picture and a Cinderella picture I looked up when we got home. I think one pic was like $20 dollars!! 😉 I will have to remember next time! Looks like y’all had fun!
Hats off, Erin. Your Disney posts and this “tips & tricks” make it seem manageable, enjoyable even! That is crazy about the price of one photo, but the Memory Maker is music to my ears. We are planning a Disney trip for the kids for when we move back home, but I have been putting off planning because I am intimidated by the whole process and don’t want it to be a flop. But I know if we don’t go while they are little, the magic may not be there. 😉 Thanks again & well done.
I LOVED how helpful your post is to parents!!!! Well done!!!! I have just joined your blog and hope you will take a look at my blog http://www.girlnesting.com- please follow me, I’m new but here to stay 🙂 *Also a new stay at home mom- my miracle baby just turned 16 months 🙂
Mrs. Jones says
Love this – and I loved our Memory Maker this time. I’ve got to finish adding the borders I want and downloading everything! 🙂
I have been debating over the memory maker myself… I think I may tack it on, just so that I don’t have to lug my camera around the whole time and be worried about capturing the “perfect picture” when there are people there to do it for me! I may just sign up for it!
Can you list the rides that were the boys’ favorites? I need to set up my fast passes next week and I have NO IDEA what rides other than Peter Pan and It’s a Small World that I know Andrew will love. What rides had the longest lines, etc?
Thank you for all of your disney posts!!! 🙂
In This Wonderful Life says
We are still undecided if we are going to go this year or wait until 2015, but I’ll definitely be bookmarking this! thanks lady!
Megan I don’t know if you know this, but if you go before Knox & Sloane turn 3, they get in for free!!!!
Erin @ Blue-Eyed Bride says
Hey Andie! It’s a Small world never had a line until our very last day. Our favorites were Peter Pan, Pirates of the Caribbean, Winnie the Pooh, Buzz Lightyear, Ariel’s ride, and Dumbo. Dumbo and magic carpets are the exact same thing 🙂 magic carpet lines are shorter. Oh! Big thunder mountain railroad was a favorite and goofy’s barnstormer, too!
Thank you Erin!!! Writing these all on my list!!!! 🙂
We’re going in June, and my husband and I think it would be best for us to just drive to the park as well instead of taking the bus. Is parking free at the parks if you’re staying at one of the resorts?
I just have a question about your character meals! When you booked them, did they count and a single table service meal? or did they count as two meals? or did you just pay for them separate from the dining deal?