Sunday, February 12, 2012

Tips and Tricks from our Disney Vacation

Our last day at the Magic Kingdom.

I looked forward to our Disney vacation for months, but never in my wildest dreams did I believe we could have as much fun as we did.  Above the entrance to every Disney theme park hangs the inscription:  "Let the Memories Begin!"  We made enough memories (and pictures!) for at least three Disney trips, maybe even two lifetimes.  But it only left us hungry for more.

So, before I finish putting our suitcases away and begin planning our next trip ;) here are some of the tips and tricks that helped make our Disney getaway especially wonderful and memorable.  

Tip #1:  Invite the whole family:  We were fortunate enough to con all three grandparents to join us on this epic adventure.  The benefits of this for us were enormous.  

E-Bear takes his first steps into the park with Papa. 

Not only did adults outnumber the kids for the first time in recent memory, but we were able to share all kinds of things, like larger hotel suites, stroller pushing, line waiting, even swap ride duty.  Don't like the twirly rides that E-Bear is begging to go on?  No problem!  Papa and Daddy LOVE them.  Mom and Nana can sit this one out!  The line to see Tangled is an hour long?  No worries!  One lucky adult can sit in the peace and quiet of the line while the rest take the kids on another ride to pass the time.  We loved it.  Most of all, we were able to treasure the magical moments together.  E-Bear and G-Bear got a priceless picture with Papa in front of their make-believe-game inspiration "Evil Mr. Dr. Porkchop" (otherwise known as Hamm from Toy Story), and took them for a memorable ride on "It's a Small World."  MoMo was there to see how much the kids loved wearing the prince and princess capes and costumes that she had given them for Christmas.  And Nana was able to see how T now towers over Pluto, while he used to fit under the crook of Pluto's arm.  These were moments I treasured and wouldn't trade for anything.  

That's Mr. Evil Dr. Porkchop to you.

*N.B. Just because everyone goes together does not necessitate that all activities or parks need to be pursued together or at the same pace.  It is fine and wonderful to split up at points, do different things, perhaps plan only one meeting spot or meal together each day.  In our case, we were all pretty much attached for the whole trip, but we conceived of how we might split in the future as our family grows in age and interests.  

Tip #2:  Go in the off season:  Let me tell you, Disney World in January is awesome.  Not only did we get the lowest rates on our hotel room, but deals abound in the off-season, and we actually got our dining plan thrown in free too.   We rarely waited in a line longer than 15minutes, and often we walked right on to rides with no wait at all.  The weather was warm during the day and perfectly cool at night.  After going once in the off-season, I can't imagine going any other time of the year.

Note to self: take the white gloves off before driving the car!  I still haven't gotten the black sludge off.

Tip #3:  Go at your kids' pace:  We let our kids set the pace each day, and boy am I glad that we did.  We certainly didn't accomplish as much as the adults could have on our own.  We saw more shows than rides.  We went back for naps in the afternoon rather than pushing through at the park.  The kids only stayed up for fireworks a few of the nights we were there.  But as a result our days at the park were a treat with excited, refreshed kids and excited, refreshed adults.
4pm and still rolling!

Tip #4: Planning for the parks:  We had five days to play at the Disney parks.  We tackled them in the following order:  Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and a final repeat visit to Magic Kingdom.  We tackled one park each day, and I was really glad that we did not pay for the park hopper option.  With young kids and the transfer time required to see more than one park in a day, park hopping would have been too much for us.  I did spend time planning our park experiences before we visited.  I checked out the opening and closing times, sketched out lists of not-to-be missed shows, rides or parades and noted locations frequented by beloved characters.  It was extremely helpful to have these suggestions along on our days at the park, not because we always stuck to them (we didn't), but so that when we were looking for our next thing to do, we had a prompt or suggestion.

The kids loved the rides where they could control the height of the car.
Here we are riding the Dinos in Animal Kingdom

I also tried to alternate longer days (i.e. Magic Kingdom days) with shorter days (i.e. Epcot and Animal Kingdom) so that we wouldn't get too exhausted.   Also, knowing that our kids would enjoy dressing up each day, I planned daily wardrobe suggestions based on the character encounters that would be most likely at each of the parks (certainly not necessary but added to our fun).  In the end we found that each of the parks had special experiences and characters that delighted our kids.  

Meeting Aurora in Magic Kingdom.

                  ~Magic Kingdom:  We spent two long days at Magic Kingdom.  Our favorite experiences here were the character encounters, parades and the shows in front of Cinderella's castle.  In terms of rides, we enjoyed Peter Pan's Neverland ride, the cars in Tomorrowland, It's a Small World, the Winnie the Pooh ride, the Walt Disney Rail Road, and Aladdin's Magic Carpet ride.  Even with two days here, we only scratched the surface of all there was to do.  The kids dressed as a princess and prince for our days at Magic Kingdom.

Tangled meets her protege and her prince.

                 ~Epcot:  We planned a shorter day at Epcot.  We enjoyed the Seas with Nemo and Friends, the predictable character encounters around the Worlds Showcase, Spaceship Earth, and Universe of Energy (maybe a little to loud and intimidating for our kids in retrospect).  While we thoroughly enjoyed our day, if we had a shorter visit, this park would be missable.  Again, the kids wore their princess and prince outfit.

We met Buzz in Tomorrowland.

                ~Hollywood Studios:  This was another one of our longer days and we loved it.  We enjoyed the Beauty and the Beast show, the Voyage of the Little Mermaid, Muppets 3D, Disney Jr Live with the Mickey Mouse Club characters, the Pixar characters' parade and many Pixar character encounters.  Our kids dressed as Woody and Jessie from Toy Story (their Halloween costumes), which was perfect for this day.  After Magic Kingdom, this was my second favorite park for our crew.  

Hugs for Woody at Hollywood Studios.

Jessie and Bullseye took a break from their parade to give hugs to G-Bear and E-Bear.

              ~Animal Kingdom:  We planned a shorter day at Animal Kingdom.  We enjoyed a morning safari ride and then saw the awesome Festival of the Lion King and the incredible, unmissable Finding Nemo Musical (we loved it so much we now have the soundtrack).  The food and shows here were great, as was the safari ride.  The park requires a lot of walking and it is obviously very zoo-like in nature.   Like Epcot, if we had a shorter visit this would have been a park to save for later.

On the bumpy Animal Kingdom safari.

 Tip #5:  Take time to meet the royalty:  For our kids, meeting the characters was as much of an experience as any of the rides.  They were often more delighted to stand in line to meet a character than they were to wait for a ride.  The characters do such a great job of individualizing attention to each person they meet, that my kids always left the characters feeling special.  The kids were each given an autograph book as a gift at the beginning of the trip, and we filled all the pages by our third day.  The parks each have listings on where characters are likely to be when.  

Tip #6: Get the meal plan!  This post is turning epic and already has taken me days to write.  So, I'll stop here by recommending the meal plan (especially if it's free in the off season!) and record our favorite eating spots and food solutions separately.  

Dreaming of our next Disney vacation already......


B-Mama said...

what a magical time! So happy you all had such a great trip--looks like it was wonderful. I think your suggestion of letting the kids set the pace is awesome--that's how you avoid screaming children standing in line! We've never been, but look forward to the day...

Will B. said...

I love this post. Melodie and I are trying to plan the perfect time to go. Ok, I am trying to talk her into planning the perfect time to go. We have been without kids in October and February and there is not season like off-season at Disney. We are thinking (I am thinking) about planning a trip for this time next year. We will definitely be in touch for additional tips and planning tricks.

I love seeing all the smiles! Can't wait to take our crew!

Shelly Grorud said...

My favorite vacation spot too! No matter what the ages of your children (ours were 9 and 12) the first time, it still pays to go at the kids pace. For us that meant sleeping in and going to the parks about 10 or 11 and staying until late at night. Thanks for sharing and bringing back some wonderful memories.