Friday Five: My 5 Favorite Disney World character meet & greets

Happy Friday before a long weekend my friends! It’s no secret that my family is big on meeting characters (mostly because of my daughter). Today I’m gong to highlight 5 of my favorite character meet and greet experiences. Hopefully some of them are new to you or a little unique option.

  1. Pete’s Silly Sideshow. As an adult traveling without kids, I saw this on all sorts of Disney touring plans and Petes Silly Sideshowthought “what the heck is this?” Well it’s a great Fantasyland (Magic Kingdom) character meet and greet. You have 2 sides to this meet and greet – Goofy & Donald and Daisy & Minnie. We try and get there about 5 minutes before the scheduled opening time as the characters come and invite guests in (my daughter got to hold Donald’s hand all the way in – she was in LOVE! For some reason, these characters are extra amazing and fun. It’s a great little place to do a Rider Switch break for those with little kids and outside of peak travel time, it’s a quick way to meet a character or two or four.
  2. Disney Visa Card Holder Meet & Greet in Epcot. This one is especially for Disney Visa Card holders and is available in the Innoventions building from 1-7 pm. Every time we have gone it’s been Minnie & Pluto inside but from what I’ve heard from other guests, you may see some additional characters available. Unless you got right as the experience opens, don’t expect more than a 5-10 minute wait. You will need to show your Disney Visa card to obtain entry and you will receive a coupon for a free printed 5×7 photo.
  3. Meet Mickey at Town Square Theater. This may actually be my favorite experience even though it’s not listed as the top experience on my list. Mickey TALKS here with the perfect Mickey voice everyone knows and loves. He’s got a couple of different “spiels”. For younger kids I’ve seen him ask them to do the Hot Dog Dance, bounce like tigger, or pose like a princess if the girls are in a fancy dress (and he is their prince of course). He can speak a little bit of Spanish and do card tricks. It’s truly a unique experience. We’ve done it countless times and I still can’t figure out how it works!! Town Square Mickey
  4. Meet Goofy & Pluto in DinoLand USA. This is one of the few recommendations I will have that’s outside, however the line is rarely long that it would be an exhausting wait. Goofy and Pluto here are FANTASTIC! A little silly, a lot fun and amazing. We love them. It’s also a good diversion for rider switch families who want to enjoy Dinosaur (and it’s not too terribly far from Expedition Everest if you’re willing to take a little walk to get there).
  5. Meet Woody & Jessie. This is located in Frontierland in Magic Kingdom (near Splash Mountain). Again, a good rider switch opportunity with both Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in the area. Woody & Jessie are known to have a rootin’ tootin’ good time with their friends who want to say hello! At times you may see just Woody here (but Jessie is likely shortly behind). If you’re not sure, ask a cast member! It’s how my daughter truly fell in love with Jessie after hugs and snuggles.

What are your favorite character meet and greets? I obviously left a few big ones off the list – Anna & Elsa, Cinderella and Rapunzel, Ariel in her Fins! We’ve done them all, but the above 5 are the favorites of my family!! You’ll likely find your child’s favorite character somewhere around at least one of Disney’s theme parks!!

A free gift for your Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)

A free gift for your Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)

Ready to get started planning your 2015  or 2016 Disney World vacation? Please contact me at any time for a free quote. The benefits to using an authorized Disney vacation planner include saving time before and during your vacation with itinerary planning which can help save you hours of standing in line each day. Plus you won’t have to watch for available discounts, research resorts, wake up early for dining reservations, or stay up late for FastPasses. The best part about using a travel planner instead of planning yourself? It’s totally FREE! Plus I’ll take away some of the stress and confusion of planning a Disney vacation (especially if it’s your first one!)It’s also a worry free vacation opportunity. I’ll walk through through all of the steps to the process with a few little insider tips along the way! If you already have your vacation planned and are interested in transferring your vacation, ask me how!

Disney World under 3 – a survival guide!

Disney World Under 3: A Parents Survival Guide

So you want to go to a Disney World with a toddler. I did it, survived it, and had an absolutely amazing time! First, this is not the vacation you’ve done in the past if you’ve been to Disney without kids. The pace is slower, your list of attractions is different, and you’ll be more mentally exhausted than you’ll imagine. That being said, it will likely be your most memorable vacation ever.

STEP ONE: PLANNING

Know the limitations of your little one. Don’t assume a stroller nap, don’t assume they’ll handle things as if it’s daily life or that they will stay at their regular routine. It likely won’t happen! Yes there will likley still be a nap, but it might be earlier, it might be later, it might be for 20 minutes while you wait for the bus and that’s IT (those lucky parents need a hug).

Resort choice. We picked Art of Animation for extra space which proved to be helpful. Going back in time, I might have chosen something closer to Magic Kingdom since it’s where we spent the most time. It would have been a convenient break to get back there faster when it was nap time and to return after the nap. Our daughter loved the splash pad at the resort. It was the perfect place for her to play in the water and run. Of course, the strong Disney theme was well loved by everyone in our party! Not something you’ll get at a deluxe resort.

When to go. If you don’t have older kids to worry about school breaks, go during lower crowd times: times in January, February, September, and parts of October, November, and December. Check crowd calendars first! If you can stay away the hottest summer temps and the rainy season, you will all have a better time.

PhotoPass_Visiting_Magic_Kingdom_Park_7123356048To dine or not to dine? Dining plan with a kid? We did it. Would do it again! We were pretty full with our meals and had enough to share. We got a nice surprise at Via Napoli and our princess received a free meal off the menu! The other locations, she shared off our plates. Most of our snack credits went right to her. Yogurt, milk, and more. While it’s not the best use of our credits dollar for dollar, it was free dining, so no big deal in my book and she was happy!

Day off? If your trip is more than 5 nights, YES take a full day off. If you’re staying 5 nights or less, a half day off would be welcomed. We went to breakfast and went shopping and splashed around in the pool. It was great! We didn’t have to worry about sticking to a schedule.

STEP TWO: DINING RESERVATIONS

If you’re planning any dining, make sure it’s not within an hour of when they normally go down or wake up from a nap at home. That gives you some flexibility. Don’t plan a dinner too late in the evening when they are ready for bed.

Character meals? Make it later in your trip. That gives you a chance to cancel without penalty. Try out a character or two early in your stay to see how your kid does. If they are terrified, don’t force them into an experience.

Think about places with larger portion sizes so you can share (or something your kiddo would enjoy sharing). If you choose a family style or buffet location, toddlers get their own plate of food. We enjoyed Boma for breakfast. Our pumpkin got a whole plate of food – pancakes, eggs, fruit, yogurt, and more! It was the perfect way to start our day.

If your little one falls asleep in a stroller before a dining experience, you can absolutely take your stroller into the restaurant. If he or she is awake, you’ll have to bring them without the stroller.

STEP THREE: FASTPASS SELECTION

60 days prior to arrival, you choose FastPasses. An exciting milestone for your trip! This is a great way to meet characters if it’s on the to do list! You can meet Mickey, Anna & Elsa, Tinkerbell, and Cinderella & Rapunzel in Magic Kingdom; Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy in Epcot; Mickey and Minnie in Animal Kingdom. Previous to traveling, I would have said seeing a PhotoPass_Visiting_Epcot_7123755462character more than once would be overkill, but after coming back, we couldn’t get enough characters! We looked for Goofy and Mickey again and again and the less times we had to stand in the line, the better! Our favorite new home is Pete’s Silly Sideshow in Magic Kingdom. We got to see most of our favorite friends: Minnie, Daisy, Goofy, and Donald. They are not dressed in their traditional attire, but it was still a great experience with lower lines. It’s indoor and air conditioned and lines are really low the first couple hours the park is open.

If characters are scary, find all of the family friendly rides and things without height requirements. Know which attractions are dark rides. My daredevil loved everything from Haunted Mansion to Pirates of the Caribbean but they can be scary for toddlers. She just yelled “DARK” every time we went to a dark ride.

STEP FOUR: PREPPING FOR TRAVEL

Bring snacks so your toddler can eat on demand. Pack lots of extra clothes for varying temperatures. Bring a backpack or comfortable bag to bring to the park to store all of your stuff. Think about the stuff you use all the time at home – sippy cups, toddler silverware, place mats, and bibs.

You may want to purchase things for delivery to keep in your resort’s mini fridge: milk, fruit, yogurt, etc. This is expensive stuff from Disney’s little “markets”. We were fine without it!

How about diapers? Thanks to Southwest, we brought an entire suitcase of diapers, wipes, and snacks! If we had to pay for baggage, we wouldn’t have as much flexibility.

Stroller? Do you want to bring one or rent one? We rented one and it was great! It folded easily and quickly and was delivered right to our resort. We didn’t have to worry about bringing one with us on the plane and checking it either. It was less expensive than renting it daily from Disney as well and more comfortable for our daughter to sit in!

STEP FIVE: TIME FOR TRAVEL!

Be flexible! Things don’t always go as planned. Know how to change your FastPass reservations through your My Disney PhotoPass_Visiting_Disneys_Hollywood_Studios_7126418491Experience account. Get to the parks early! Don’t try and stretch your kid too far for late fireworks if they are tired. Don’t try and do too much and enjoy the moments! Don’t stand in really long lines where your toddler will get bored and frustrated! While we didn’t do much “big kid” stuff, it was still a great time! We didn’t see much late night activity, but it was a totaly different pace which I really enjoyed. My feet were less tired.

Would I do it again? Absolutely! I can’t wait to take her back to see her favorite friends more and try a character dining experience. I can’t wait for her to remember the experience for the rest of her life!

A free gift for your Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)

A free gift for your Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)

Ready to get started planning your 2015 Disney World vacation? Please contact me at any time for a free quote. The benefits to using an authorized Disney vacation planner include saving time before and during your vacation with itinerary planning which can help save you hours of standing in line each day. Plus you won’t have to watch for available discounts, research resorts, wake up early for dining reservations, or stay up late for FastPasses. The best part about using a travel planner instead of planning yourself? It’s totally FREE! Plus I’ll take away some of the stress and confusion of planning a Disney vacation (especially if it’s your first one!)It’s also a worry free cruise opportunity. I’ll walk through through all of the steps to the process with a few little insider tips along the way! If you already have your vacation planned and are interested in transferring your vacation, ask me how!

Disney World Tips & Tricks for Magic Kingdom Parades

If you’re like me, you’re a sucker for a good parade and if you’re not a fan, let Disney change your mind! On most days, Magic Kingdom has 2 parades each day: Festival of Fantasy and Main Street Electric Parade. The showing of both of this parades can vary by year and sometimes you may see additional parades or changes to the current parade.

If you want the best spot, follow these few helpful tips:

Arrive Early! If you want a front row spot, you’ll need to arrive early and camp out for your spot, especially if you want a spot on Main Street USA! If you want to keep your kiddos in their stroller to catch a quick snooze, plan on arriving 30-45 minutes prior to the start of the show.

Find the best spot for your family. Think about what you plan on doing after the parade ends. Do you want to head back to your resort for a break or are you coming back for the afternoon parade and then hit some attractions. It makes most sense to watch from the end of Main Street if you want to head out and more toward Frontierland/Liberty Square if you want to stay in the parks. The most logical place to go from Liberty Square is either Haunted Mansion or make a quick run for Fantasyland. If it’s hot out, don’t attempt to go to Splash Mountain – you and several hundred of your friends will have the same idea!

Know how to navigate the park. Be careful if you want to to make a quick exit or travel from one land to the next. Your path may be blocked. Look at the Magic Kingdom map for the exact parade route. If you want to avoid the parades, spend some time in Tomorrowland. Contrary to popular belief, the parades don’t lower crowds that much. Fireworks, however, will!

Think about the second parade (if applicable). If there are 2 parades on the schedule, the second is always less crowded. Don’t try and overstress your kids and wrech bed time because of a second parade. You will often get a better view and you won’t have to show up as early to snag a great spot. I walked up to the Main Street Electric Parade as it was starting and ended up with a front row seat.

A word about special parades. During the Halloween and Christmas parties, you’ll often see 2 parade times. The second parade is again, less crowded, but you’ll still need to stake out your spot a bit in advance. If you’re going during a sold out party, plan on 15-30 minutes. During Christmas, you’ll have the Christmas parade in the afternoon instead of Festival of Fantasy. Since this is the peak of peak travel time, make sure you get there early. Lines for everything are long, so it’s not like you’ll have a ton of time to ride attractions.

Using a FastPass? Lucky guests can get a FastPass for their favorite parade. The area to sit is small so choices are limited. It’s definitely useful for on site guests only. I don’t really recommend it unless you’re spending 3+ days in Magic Kingdom or parades are the most important part of your trip.

Planning FastPasses around parades. For on site guests, take advantage of the parade times and plan your bonus 4th or even 5th FastPass around the parade time and where you want to watch. Skipping over to one of Fantasyland’s many attractions might be a good suggestion. There’s a nice air-conditioned/indoor FP+ kiosk available in Liberty Square as you wait. Remember, only one member of your party needs to book those passes.

A free gift for your Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)

A free gift for your Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)

Ready to get started planning your 2015 Disney World vacation? Please contact me at any time for a free quote. The benefits to using an authorized Disney vacation planner include saving time before and during your vacation with itinerary planning which can help save you hours of standing in line each day. Plus you won’t have to watch for available discounts, research resorts, wake up early for dining reservations, or stay up late for FastPasses. The best part about using a travel planner instead of planning yourself? It’s totally FREE! Plus I’ll take away some of the stress and confusion of planning a Disney vacation (especially if it’s your first one!)It’s also a worry free cruise opportunity. I’ll walk through through all of the steps to the process with a few little insider tips along the way! If you already have your vacation planned and are interested in transferring your vacation, ask me how!

Planning a trip to Disney World with children under 5

disneyunder5

I’ve done a lot of research in planning Disney vacations over the years. It seems like I’m currently writing the book on planning a trip to Disney World. This one is a little extra special to me as I finish up the final plans fin taking my daughter on her first trip. It’s a completely different vantage point than all of my other trips which were go, go, go! While I’m not following all of these rules for my trip, following several of them will help make your vacation a success.

  1. Stay in close proximity to one of the parks. Magic Kingdom has the most kid friendly attractions so that’s my first choice for anyone with kids. Although many of the resorts on the monorail are more costly, it’s invaluable to be able to walk or take a quick ride for nap time (instead of waiting for a bus and then riding it back to your resort). A good alternative is Wilderness Lodge. While it’s not on the monorail line, it’s close enough to give you good access to Magic Kingdom with a shortened travel time. Another great resort option would be the hotels near the rear entrance of Epcot. This offers a short walk to both Epcot and Hollywood Studios. If you want to save your feet, take the Friendship boats which drop you off just steps away from entrances of each park.
  2. Take a break in the middle of the day. This advice isn’t just for those with kids, it’s good for everyone! I think that many people try and go, go, go their first day and get worn out. Take a break when park crowds get heavy (or when the sun gets too hot). Go swim in your hotel pool, have lunch at a nearby restaurant (in or out of the park), explore a nearby resort, or take a little cat nap. Return late in the afternoon and then stay until park close (or post fireworks show). With FastPass+, you have the benefit of using your evening park time for big attractions without the wait!
  3. Take an off day. When staying 5+ nights at Disney, it’s nice to have a down day with no parks. Enjoy a pool day, explore another resort, head to Downtown Disney to shop and sleep in! There are so many exciting things to do at all the Disney resorts outside of the park like movies at your resort (or another – check out ones that have them on the beach), a marshmallow roast, Magic Kingdom fireworks from the beach of one of the monorail resorts, animal watching at Animal Kingdom Lodge are just a few of my favorites. Plus these are all free! What a great way to save a little money.
  4. Decide if park hoppers are for you. There are pros and cons to park hopping at any age. For short trips, I suggest that guests add on park hoppers. I also suggest them for adults and seasoned vets regardless of how long the trip. You get to see more in less time with Park Hoppers and it kind of forces you to take a little break during the day (see #2).You also can use the FastPass+ system to your advantage. Schedule those FastPasses in the second park of the day and enjoy shorter lines for major attractions.  I wouldn’t say don’t park hop with younger kids and longer vacations by any means! If you have it in your budget and you want to park hop, do it! Just know that it adds more travel time and a little bit more planning up front.
  5. Bring snacks. Did you know that Disney allows you to bring snacks and drinks from the outside into the park? Yep! As long as bottles are not glass or alcoholic beverages, you are free to bring in what you choose.  Little snacks are great to have while waiting in line or to take a small break. Plus it saves you money for other things!
  6. Don’t try to do too much. Take it slow and don’t rush around with little legs trying to catch up. The vacation is for all of you. Enjoy some of the magic as they see things for the very first time.
  7. Plan your dining. If you want to see characters while in Disney, dining is a great way to accomplish it. Check out what characters are available and where they dine and make your reservation early! Cinderella’s Royal Table (for dinner) and Chef Mickey’s (any meal) fill up fast. Remember, if you book your trip 6 months out, you can take advantage of the 180+10 rule which allows you to book dining for your entire trip before others! If you are doing a character meal, book it in the middle or later in your trip. This gives you ample time to cancel if your little one doesn’t do well with characters!
  8. Know height restrictions. Some Disney rides have a minimum height restriction. Many of the major ones are 42 inches or under, but there are some that are taller (Space Mountain is 44 inches). You don’t want disappointment on arrival, so measure before you go and plan accordingly.
  9. Find characters for Meet & Greet. Plan ahead and know where you can find each character. For example, Rapunzel is ONLY in Magic Kingdom. The best place to meet princesses outside of dining experiences is in World Showcase in Epcot. Mickey is almost everywhere, but the shortest lines tend to be in Animal Kingdom. You can also have an air conditioned character meet in Epcot. Pick up the a schedule at the park on your way in for more details.  Little bonus tip. If you see a photopass photographer in a random location (often shaded), it usually means a character is coming soon. Feel free to ask the cast member for details and wait around for a few minutes. It could be your shortest way for a character meet in your time at Disney!
  10. Set a budget for souvenirs. Like anyone, kids want to take home something from their vacation, especially from the House of Mouse! There are several ways to combat excessive spending during their trip. You can give each kid a gift card for spending money, bring little gifts with you each day and distribute when you return from the parks (as Tinkerbell’s Pixie Dust), or set a special time aside to shop in Downtown Disney which has the most to choose from. It will help combat questions every day in the parks. If you do allow them to shop in the parks, you can have your items delivered to your resort at no charge (then you don’t have to carry things around every day!)

Enjoy the time with your little ones and capture every moment. To make things even easier, add Memory Maker on to your reservation to enjoy as many photos as you’d like! What’s Memory Maker? AWESOME. Check out the details and what it’s all about.

A free gift for your Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)

A free gift for your Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)

Ready to get started planning your 2015 Disney World vacation? Please contact me at any time for a free quote. The benefits to using an authorized Disney vacation planner include saving time before and during your vacation with itinerary planning which can help save you hours of standing in line each day. Plus you won’t have to watch for available discounts, research resorts, wake up early for dining reservations, or stay up late for FastPasses. The best part about using a travel planner instead of planning yourself? It’s totally FREE! Plus I’ll take away some of the stress and confusion of planning a Disney vacation (especially if it’s your first one!)It’s also a worry free cruise opportunity. I’ll walk through through all of the steps to the process with a few little insider tips along the way! If you already have your vacation planned and are interested in transferring your vacation, ask me how!

How to have a successful theme park day at Disney World

You plan and plan for your Disney World vacation and it’s finally time to head into the park for the very first time. There are a few measures to make your day successful.

1. WAKE UP EARLY!

2. Grab a quick breakfast, snack, coffee, or whatever you need in the morning before the big morning rush hits your resort!

3. Be ready to get on Disney transportation at least 1 hour prior to the park opening. Buses begin running 1.5 hours prior to park opening.

4. Get your spot in line! Get ready to enter the park. This is ideally about 30-40 minutes prior to the posted park opening time. Many times parks open prior to the posted time of all the cast members are ready and attractions are ready to go! If you’ve got kids, bring something to entertain them or think of a few games to play (find the color, how many Mickey ears, etc.)

5. Wave those MagicBands and enter the park! Make sure you know your plan before entering. Often times you’ll have cast members walking around with maps for those in line. You can also grab a map from your resort before you head out. Make sure you head toward a major attraction  as the park opens. It could be one on your FastPass+ list for later in the day but you need to do it twice, or just something your whole family will love!

6. TAKE A BREAK! Whether it’s a sit down lunch, a nap, a place to rest your feet, or just time swimming. Don’t expect to spend your entire day in one of Disney’s parks. Even on days with shorter park hours, I can’t spend 8-10 hours straight in ta theme park.

7. Think about your quick service meals before you arrive in the park. With the introduction of FastPass+, you’ll likely know where you’ll be around lunch time, so think about what’s nearby. Read reviews, know the menus and make a general choice prior to your arrival in the park.

8. Don’t try to do too much. It’s impossible to see and do everything in Disney’s theme parks, so don’t try it. There’s always an option to return Disney again.

9. Take time to enjoy the little details – find hidden Mickey’s, look at the imagineering in the attraction queues, etc.

10. ENJOY YOURSELF! Make sure you have fun. Don’t let the schedule and planning overcome your trip. Be flexible!

A free gift for Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)

A free gift for Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)

Ready to get started planning your 2015 Disney World vacation? Please contact me at any time for a free quote. The benefits to using an authorized Disney vacation planner include saving time before and during your vacation with itinerary planning which can help save you hours of standing in line each day. Plus you won’t have to watch for available discounts, research resorts, wake up early for dining reservations, or stay up late for FastPasses. The best part about using a travel planner instead of planning yourself? It’s totally FREE! Plus I’ll take away some of the stress and confusion of planning a Disney vacation (especially if it’s your first one!)It’s also a worry free cruise opportunity. I’ll walk through through all of the steps to the process with a few little insider tips along the way! If you already have your vacation planned and are interested in transferring your vacation, ask me how!