Summer 2018 – a round up

So that’s it. It’s done. 2(ish) weeks in the Florida sun in July with far too many days spent at Disney World. I pretty much drove myself to exhaustion but I’m the kind of passholder who doesn’t get out as often as they would like, so I was pushing to get my money’s worth!

I thought that I would do a round up post about this trip, and then I’ll to do a couple of follow up posts that explore specific things – my stay at the All-Star Sports Resort, an example day for how to maximise your time and fastpasses, a post solely about dining experiences, an exploration of the new Toy Story Land etc.

2018-07-06_17-53-53_671I tend to have a pattern I stick to when I spend my vacations in Orlando. The first day after arriving, I have breakfast at Denny’s and then we head to Disney Springs. This is usually the only time I head to Springs as I prioritise the parks, but it gives me that first Disney feeling. I’m not a huge ‘shopper’, so I stick to going places I know are favourites and make sure to have a good wander around World of Disney. I like the new look of the shop though there have certainly been mixed reviews. I found it a lot more spacious, easier to not get lost in, and more in keeping with the new theming for Disney Springs as a whole. Once the entire shop is reopened I think it’s going to be great!

After this, I had a day at Busch Gardens so that I could take advantage of my parent’s annual passholder benefits for there. We didn’t get much done as it was a busy day and the weather wasn’t on our side. My parents are going to be letting go of their Sea World/ Busch Gardens passes as we’re not as enamoured as we once were and they do seem to be going downhill when it comes to customer service. So I’m enjoying my last few visits for what could be quite a while!

On the 4th July, I took it easy. This was the day my sister and her husband were arriving, so I spent some time by the pool and then went to the airport to pick up my rental car and errant family members. Because they do less Disney than I do, I make sure to have my own car so that I have the freedom to do as much as I like with early starts and late nights.

The next day I had an appointment for my hair and I go to a salon near the Prime Outlets on International Drive, so after lunch I hit up the Character Warehouse for some bargains (though it is a smaller store than the Premium Outlets that I also make a point of getting to at some point). After this I was off to the Magic Kingdom for my first ‘real’ Disney Day and though I didn’t arrive at MK until approx 3pm, I still managed to fit in 9 fastpasses and some walk on attractions during the six or so hours I was there. 2018-07-08_15-28-18_681

From then on, my holiday was a sea of of Disney days; blitzing rides and attractions, trying new food and drink and meeting characters. I spent two nights at the All-Star resort in the middle and really enjoyed it. Luckily for me, I was only once disturbed by the sound of Brazilian tour groups, so I know I did better than most!

As I neared my last few days, I found myself hitting a bit of a wall. I was exhausted from doing so many ‘rope drop to fire works’ days. I didn’t even realise I was doing them! I would be in the parks early and then keep going into the evening and just keep saying I would do one more thing, which then turned into another one more thing. If I was watching Fantasmic, well, I may as well just stay for the Star Wars fireworks, right?! I always told myself that I could sleep when I got home again and since I don’t get to experience all these things whenever I want, then I should make the most of it. But for the last 3 or 4 days, I had to sleep in and head to the parks for about noon as I just couldn’t handle anything more than that! But I did spend a total of 13 days in a Disney theme park so it was still a good innings!

For me it was the ideal holiday. I was on my own for a lot of it but I have no problem doing Disney along. Besides, I don’t have to worry about tailoring the day to suit a lot of people. I can ride when I want, eat when I want etc. I did some things I hadn’t done in a long time or ever before and I interspersed that with other favourites.  And I was one of the lucky few to get my hands on the Annual Passholder backpack that got released, so all in all, a successful vacation!

 

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A Day at Disney – What do you need in your bag?

DisneyPhotoImage45There’s a lot of internet articles out there about what to take with you on a day at Disney, so count me among the many! Here’s my advice on what to take with you when you know you’re going to be out of the hotel room for a good 12 hours. Personally, I tend to be the kind of person who has the ‘what if’ items with them, as well as half a pharmacy. When someone needs something, I do tend to have something in my bag, including the oft neglected emergency fork! But at the same time, having too full a bag leads to a day of misery having to carry it around, so it’s about being sensible and also knowing that there are certain things you can get INSIDE the parks (and possibly for free) that you don’t need to worry about taking with you.

So we’ll start with the obvious and simple and go from there:

  • Wallet/Purse
  • House/hotel keys
  • Car keys
  • Phone
  • External phone charger (and cable!)

Yes, we’d all hope not to forget these things but do the pat down of your pockets and double check the bag because, obviously, you’ll be lost without them! Hopefully within your wallet/purse you’ll have any key cards for entry into places, whether that be hotel rooms or the parks, but check inside to make sure they are there along with the all important credit cards and cash.

When it comes to your phone, remember you’ll be on it a LOT. In Disney you’ll use their app to control your day. Even if it’s a trip to a Universal Park, Busch Gardens, Sea World or Legoland, they’ll have apps that can help track your day in some form, so make sure you’ve got plenty of back up power. Depending on how reliable your external battery pack is, maybe chuck 2 or 3 in your bag along with the cable. Personally, I invested in an extra cable that lives in my bag so I don’t have to worry about it falling out and getting lost in a park and then leaving me screwed until I can get to a Wall Mart later on.

  • Magic bands (or park passes)

Whether it’s the classic wrist worn magic band or whether you’ve popped your MagicBand 2 into a key fob, make sure you’ve got it. Sure, your credit card style pass will still get you in everywhere, but who wants to go fumbling around for it when you can just tap something as handy as a Band that’s on your wrist or attached somewhere else.

  • Poncho (or umbrella)
  • spare socks
  • Ziplock bag
  • hat

When it rains, it pours! Best be ready for these things, since in Florida you can have blue skies one minute and a thunder storm the next. But these things also are handy when going on water rides. A poncho or umbrella will keep you dry enough while walking around. Ponchos can be picked up in the parks, but you might want to consider a quick trip to Wall*Mart or a dollar/pound store at some point and invest in a bunch of cheap throw away ones as it can be a frustrating getting your ponchos folded up and back in your bags. however, you might also want to think about the environment by throwing out all those plastics. Another alternative is a very big bin back with a head hole cut out. Don’t know it, we used to do that when working there! Spare socks are always in my bag. Unless you wear flip flops or easy to dry shoes, then you’re more likely to have sneakers on so the squelch gets annoying after a while. I like to give them some time to dry but then give in and put the spare socks on. A ziplock bag is handy to keep your phone in while on water rides or if you’re worried about one of the torrential downpours and a hat will always be handy, rain or shine!

  • Sunscreen / lip balm
  • sunglasses
  • Bug spray
  • Wet wipes / tissues / hand sanitizer
  • Pain medication

Sunscreen seems like a given. I like to use a small sport stick one that fits easily in the bag and isn’t heavy. Bug spray for those worried about bites is also handy in a small spray. Sunglasses, again, a given. If you have lost yours, you can pick up a new pair in the parks… so long as they aren’t prescription!

Wet wipes can be picked up within the parks, (The Land in EPCOT is a good spot to grab some) so don’t invest in them but when you can, grab some! Hand sanitizer is sold within the parks as well and will come in handy while snacking as well as considering just how much stuff you’ll be touching in a day.

I like to make sure I’ve got a few basic medications with me. Something for headaches or minor aches and pains as well as some Imodium. Just in case! Bear in mind that should you feel unwell or if you have a reaction to something within the parks, each has a First Aid area and they are all very good and will take good care of you.

  • Autograph book / sharpie
  • Camera

Autographs aren’t just for kids! I’ve spent nice days at the parks collectinh autographs in the meet and greets, so make sure to have your book ready and with a handy sharpie. Nice thick sharpies are easier for certain characters to hold onto, especially if they wear gloves!

These days, plenty of people forego the camera for a mobile phone. I always have my good camera with me. It’s heavy and takes up the bulk of the weight in my bag, but I’m a bit of a photo hound. I also like to get the more close up photos of shows and parades and I’ve yet to find a phone that can do justice to those pics!

  • Water bottle

There are various schools of thought when it comes to bringing your water into the park. Personally, when it comes to the hot summer months, I make a point of freezing a bottle overnight and then wrapping it in a plastic bag. It lasts longer than you realise! Other people like to use a thermos and keep filling it throughout the day. Others use the backpacks with the inbuilt water system. But don’t forget that ice water is available for free from any quick service location throughout the parks. Each Starbucks also has water (and it has a better filter) though they now only allow you to get some in the small paper cups provided rather than grabbing a whole bottle full to take with you.

If your bag is already feeling full, don’t worry about forgetting or not wanting to take a heavy bottle. Just grab what you can in the parks.

  • Pins and lanyard

And for those of you who already collect or are tempted, don’t forget your trading pins and the lanyard for them. I actually use a hip pin patch that I got at Cast Connections years ago so that I don’t have to have anything around my neck. Pin trading can be a lot of fun. I just like to concentrate on certain characters as well as dated pins for events I was at; to do too many sets would make me crazy… and broke! It’s a good way to interact with cast members as you check out what they have, and some will have the hidden mickey pins that can’t be bought in stores and can only be collected by trading with them.

  • Ears!

And finally, a day at Disney isn’t complete without your ears!

 

Helpful links to get you excited for your trip

With a trip to the Walt Disney World Resort getting closer, I always get excited, no matter how often I’ve been in the past Which mens I dive into random youtube videos, search articles online, and obsessively refresh the a app for fastpasses and dining reservations. They certainly help get you in the mood for your vacation. And can even teach wisened Disney park veterenssome new tricks.

And if you’re a newbie to a Disney vacation then it’s important to RESEARCH.

All opinions, even my own (!) are subjective, and advice can vary depending on circumstances or favorites, so it’s wise to shop around on these things, maybe look for a consensus.

I have a few favourite sources for information and I recommend giving some of these videos/channels a watch as well as some other websites There’s no point in me rehashing everything right now when others have already done these kinds of guides. So here’s my top go-to’s for WDW advice and pre-holiday enthusiasm while you count down the days to your visit.

TPM Vids:

Theme Parks and More is a cool channel on youtube and is one of those ones that you just keep hitting to watch the next video and before you know it, 3 hours has passed. I especially like this video with tips on Fastpass selections, and it’s companion video with tips on skipping the lines in the parks. Head into their list of videos and watch their countdowns of the top shows, dark rides and more. I don’t necessarily agree with their estimations since ordered lists of what are the ‘best’ is certainly subjective, but it still shows a good selection regardless.

DFBGuide:

This one is the Disney Food Blog and they do have a few videos up that aren’t food related, too! But the reviews of restaurants and quick service locations are good guides. I mean, beyond their ranking of Pizzarizzo as the worst pizza because I’m kind of obsessed with Disney pizza in that style and I don’t even know why I love it so much!

Inside the Magic:

These guys have a lot of videos, even weeding through them in the playlists section going for just specific parks will still give you a lot to look at. But they do have a lot of full show and ride videos which can be a handy part of research – especially if you have young kids and you’re unsure in advance if something might be too scary or too advanced for them.

Websites/news sources:

The Dis

WDW News Today

The Main Street Mouse

And let’s not forget the official Disney Parks Blog! And their youtube channel.

Summer 2018 – Advance Dining Reservations

So you’ve booked your trip. Maybe you’ve even thought about your fastpasses because you intend to plan your days around where the best fastpass times are; but you also want to plan where you might be eating on those days, too! This kind of thing is especially important if you are staying at a WDW Resort and you have a Disney Dining Plan that incorporates sit down meals.

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Teppan Edo – you can’t beat your food made right in front of you!

ADRs (Advance Dining Reservations) open 180 days in advance and some of those restaurants are extremely popular so those will start to fill up around that kind of time, especially character dining like Chef Mickey’s or (possible) prime firework viewing like the Rose and Crown after 7pm.

I always pay my rent to my parents for allowing me to stay in their house by taking them to Cape May at Disney’s Beach Club Resort. It’s a seafood buffet at dinner and serves my mother’s favourite (snow crab) so she’s at her happiest there! (Also, I asked my parents if they had any other tips and tricks they could think of to share, and my mother immediately answered with – don’t book Cape May on a night I’ll be there, so I get all the snow crabs!)

For this summer I wanted to make sure I had dinner planned at the Rose and Crown. I only booked about 4 months out but got the last post-7pm reservation I could find during my stay. With IllumiNations likely to be ending soon for a new nighttime show I wanted to make sure I was booked for what could be my last time viewing. Or, if they announce and make the change quickly, my first time viewing the replacement. After working there for 2 different years on the International Program, I think of the Rose and Crown as home, even after a huge amount of cast turnover. I still get to go see my friends who work there permanently and see the building itself and the secrets it hides from the general Disney guests. I always like to go in and see the place again and enjoy a nice meal. It’s always fun to talk to the current cast members about their time and how things might have changed. And if I secretly give them an extra service test at the same time, then it’s more fun for me! (iced tea spoon!!)

Beyond that, I wanted to get a little creative. Sure, I love different quick service locations, but sometimes when in the parks on my own it can be difficult to eat at busy times as there’s no way to know if a table will be available and no one to hold my seat while I’m in the queue getting food. So I decided to book into Be Our Guest for a QSR lunch. And as an added bonus on another day, I recently noticed that Cinderella’s Royal Table had availability for breakfasts. Deciding to snap it up while I could, I’m ready to enjoy character dining even while as a solo guest. It’s always something I’ve wondered about and thought it would be difficult – what to do with cameras/phones in order to take pictures and if it’s a buffet, I’m loathe to leaves bags at the table on their own. The good thing about Cinderella’s Royal

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The view of Fantasyland from Cinderella’s Royal Table

Table is that it’s that weird middle ground of buffet and table service. And with it being face characters rather than fur, communication for pictures will likely be easier, so it seemed like a good test. I have early fastpasses that day so my plan is to head to the park for rope drop, watch the forecourt show then head into the restaurant for my 9.25am breakfast before going out to enjoy my day in the park, energised and with a full stomach!

Restaurant tips, tricks and reminders:

  • Remember the booking period opens well before fastpasses and some restaurants are extremely popular. If it’s character dining or firework viewing, get in there quick and work your fastpasses around your dining reservations.
  • Disney Resort guests open for reservations at that 180 days, just like everyone else. EXCEPT resort guests only need to be 180 days from their first night and can then book into restaurants for further into their vacation. Disney do this so you don’t have to go into the app or call every day to make reservations. However, ‘regular’ guests are stuck having to wait for each day to open up.
  • If you are worried about restaurants booking up fast and you don’t want to miss out, for most you can just go ahead and book and cancel if need be. So long as you do so in plenty of time you won’t be penalised with the $10 per person cancellation fee.
  • Before the 24-hour cancelation fee was introduced, Disney experienced a 30-50% drop of with guests just not showing up for meals. This is why they introduced the fee as it really screwed up the capacities and made it difficult for servers to earn their money when promised tables just didn’t show up. That’s not to say the fee has stopped that from happening: there is still a drop off, it’s just not as extreme as it once was. So walk ups are still possible, especially during the slightly ‘off peak’ times (e.g. not between 12-2pm and 5-7pm) and if you check around 24-48 hours before, you might be able to sneak in and grab a reservation after a late cancelation.
  • Character dining is a great way to make sure your family get the chance to meet the characters without a whole load of queuing and can free up fastpasses for rides rather than character meet & greets. Additionally, since so many of them are buffet, all the family can be easily catered for. It may feel like the cost is a little higher than other restaurants, but when you work out a three course meal with soft drink, it’s not that different. (And you can always wrap up some cookies in a napkin to take home for later. shhhhh.)
  • Don’t forget that the resorts have some great restaurants and you don’t have to be staying there to enjoy them. They can also be quieter since the majority of day guests don’t want to sacrifice time in the parks or just don’t know they exist. Grab Disney transport or hop in the car and go enjoy some more hidden treats like Beaches and Cream Soda Shop for a kitchen sink, Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto for snacks and cocktails, or head for Afternoon Tea at the Garden View at the Grand Floridian. And both the Boardwalk and Disney Springs have a huge selection of restaurants to choose from, too.
  • If you are on the dining plan you’re probably already saving a little bit of money, but having so many credits can seem daunting when you plan to have days that aren’t at Disney. In that case, book into some of the more expensive restaurants that take double the credits. It uses them up and it’ll still be cheaper than people dining a la carte. It also means you can make the most of the dining plan without feeling like you’re on disney restaruant overload.
  • Disney are now moving away from the pager system and sending text messages when your table is ready, however, I found the system a little unreliable so would recommend just asking for a pager. It is currently only available to US cell phone numbers, but even then, we’ve had times when the messages haven’t come through. The only downside with the pagers is that you are limited in how far you can go, which is why they want to be able to just text you. But with the aim of seating you within 15 minutes of your reservations, there shouldn’t be too far for you to wander to anyway!

Summer 2018 – 60 Days out!

The pre-arrival planning continues now that I’m 60 days out from my resort stay. The great thing about WDW vacations is how excited you can be about the plans you’re making in advance. It always help make you feel better about how close you are to your holiday. As someone who likes to plan their time, I love being able to get in and sort out dining reservations, tours and fastpasses for Disney while looking at what days I’ll also be spending outwith Disney and making sure I’m preparing with tickets for those, too.

When you’re staying at a WDW resort (or a Good Neighbour hotel) you can book fastpasses for your whole stay as long as it’s 60 days from your first night. All other ticket holders can only do this from 30 days out for each individual day and there will be a limit as to how many days worth of passes you can hold in advance (as a passholder we can have 7 days).

For those who are new to the fastpass+ system that they use at WDW, the official website has information here that includes some of the FAQs that will be most handy.

Untitled-6 copyI kept track of my dates but the email that Disney sends about your stay has a countdown clock embedded in it so you can refer back to that when you’re feeling close. I also got an email from them telling me my window was open, however I received that around 7pm on the evening of my 60 day window – and you can begin booking from 8am EST that day (1pm UK time) so it came in a little bit later than I’d hoped and with demand for fastpasses currently, that could be enough of a window of time for you to miss out. So I’m glad I knew exactly which day I could get in and book.

In fact, you may miss out anyway, because the window opens based on your first night’s stay and allows you to book your whole trip  (essentially you could be booking upwards of 70 or 80 days in advance). If, like me, you’re only taking a few days at the resort, that window probably already opened up for a lot of other people who have longer stays. Which is why I would recommend going to your last day first, and working your way backwards through the dates – the end will have the best availability.

2018-05-13 14.06.25I logged in just after 1pm to see my what I could get and as predicted, I was already struggling.

Slinky Dog Dash was already completely gone for my three days, and I could only get Flight of Passage for the last day.

2018-05-13 14.06.08Here’s what I do like about it – even though I’m only staying there for 2 nights, it opened up the entire 60 days for me in advance and not just for during my actual resort stay. So I was also able to book for the dates before my window and use up all my annual passholder allowance of fastpass days as well, getting in there for some Alien Swirling Saucers on three different days as well as a Seven Dwarves Mine Train at the Magic Kingdom.

Even better, whoever you have linked to your account by way of family or friends can also be booked in (by you) for those days. So I was able to go into a day at EPCOT that I’m having with my parents and book for all three of us to get on Frozen Ever After (as well as others). That was something I learned last year when one of my best friends was visiting and staying at a resort while I was staying at home. He was able to get me fastpasses alongside his for the 10 day stay.

So the only ride I’m worried about whether or not I’ll be able to experience (I will not wait in a long queue… I might do a two hour wait ONCE but I need to be in the right frame of mind and have enough juice for my phone!) is Slink Dog. We do have extra magic hours for Hollywood Studios every day between 8am and 9am during the summer so my plan is to get to the Studios early, ‘dash’ to Slinky and then hopefully not have the hugest wait in the world. And if it means sacrificing my 8.30am Star Tours fastpass then so be it.

So here’s my main tips for booking fastpasses:

  1. If you’re getting in to book in your 60 day window, start at the furthest away date as they will have the best availability.
  2. If you only have the 30 day window, ‘shop around’ over days you plan to be in the parks and see which days have the best fastpasses. You’ll see certain rides that you might only be able to book on certain days and it can be wise to get in there while you can.
  3. Book passes for EVERY DAY that you can. If your plans change or you know you’ll have days outwith Disney then you can cancel them, but it’s good to know you’ve got them in there.
  4. Be aware that in some parks, the rides and attractions are put into groups and once you’ve booked for one of the popular ones, you may not be allowed to book other popular rides within the same group. This happens at EPCOT and Studios. So in order to enjoy them all, you’ll need to think about which rides to book for each day – make sure to keep track of what you’ve already planned in.
  5. Pick early times where possible – you can add fastpasses where available once you’ve used up your 3 for each day. I’ve had days where I’ve taken 6 or 7 fastpasses, or skipped into other parks and been able to grab something.

And for newbies, here’s the rides you want to prioritise fastpasses for since they’re the longest wait times (some for popularity, some because of slow load times):

1. At Magic Kingdom – Seven Dwarves Mine Train, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Peter Pan’s Flight, Jungle Cruise

2. At EPCOT – Frozen Ever After, Soarin’, Test Track

3. Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Slinky Dog Dash, Alien Swirling Saucers, Toy Story Midway Mania. (Rock n Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror and Star Tours can get busy and you’ll want fastpasses for them, but depending on the day and time of year, you can get on these rides with waits less than 30 mins)

4. Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Flight of Passage, Na’avi River Journey, Festival of the Lion King (you might still get into Lion King, but better to fastpass and get a pick of sections), Kilimanjaro Safaris (try to get a time that’s earlier in the day or after 4pm – the animals tend to get too hot in the blazing sun so might not be visible), Dinosaur.

You COULD fastpass Rivers of Light (at DAK) as that’s still new and can fill up fast but I don’t recommend fastpassing any of the nighttime events at WDW. It means that you’ve lost the option of booking in extra fastpasses earlier on in the day and for the vast majority, you’re going to get to see them without fastpasses and with maybe just a little bit of time put aside at the end of your day to wait for them. I’ll talk in later posts about the best ways to do this!

If you’ve got any other tips for booking fastpasses that I’ve missed, feel free to leave them in the comments!