Sand Castle Disney!
I recently returned from a once in a lifetime experience, visiting Walt Disney World in Florida, as a media guest of Disney. It was magical, incredible, and humbling. But what do I do when I go back and I have to roll out my own red carpet? Well, I took a slew of notes to help me prepare for my next trip and hopefully some of my hints will help you as well. Because even if I am lucky enough to be invited back as Disney’s guest, per my son, I may need to plan our next family trip much sooner!
Each of us had our own Disney story going into our first family Disney adventure together. I was on my college swim team and we stopped At the Magic Kingdom 35 years ago on the way back from the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Ft. Lauderdale, en route to Albany, NY. I remember going on Space Mountain and that my Disney adventure was barely a few hours.
My spouse went with his family 25 years ago. He did not stay on property and he only had a few days in the parks.
My son went to Walt Disney World with my parents for his 5th birthday, 4 years ago. He was our resident expert for this trip. He had Disney memories that did not include his dads so that had to be rectified!
You may also remember me writing about the Disney trip that my son cancelled due to a sudden fear of flying. He caught us completely by surprise. He had flown many times but could not get on the plane for that trip. It was the week following Labor Day, his school would only be in session 1 day due to scheduling and holidays, and Disney would be quiet. Alas, it was not meant to be. I was worried he would not get on the plane for this trip, but we had since made practice flights, so luckily he was ready.
We spent 3 1/2 days racing thorugh the parks to see see as much as we could and received media treatment which made the trip amazing. As I was working my way through, I knew I had to figure out an affordable way to return so we could make Walt Disney World trips more often rather than less often.
Stay on property. Between the extra park hours and the fast pass available only to folks who stay on property, this is my strongest suggestion. We all have kids, so adding the travel time it would take to get to the parks from off property only lessens the window of time in the parks before the kids meltdown. When I travel, time is of the essence. And my son loves to swim, so I probably won’t spend all day in a park, I prefer to get out early, seee as much as possible, then head back to the pool for a couple of hours before dinner. Disney has accomodations at all price levels, free buses to and from the parks, and the free bus from the airport. The advantages to staying on property make this the only choice for me, and affordable, Disney has options in all price ranges.
This trip I got the full access pass. That is not your least expensive option. If you feel you can plan your days in advance I suppose you can go with the less expensive single park day pass, but I like the option of wandering through Epcot in the evening, so the multi park pass (Park Hopper!) works best for me. The water parks are a real option to review. We are OK with the pools at our hotel, but if you are going in the summer, you might want to add that option. And the longer you stay, the less it costs to add time onto your park passes.
Once again, when you stay on property, you have the option of buying the Disney meal plan. If you are eating on property, this is your best value. My main suggestion is to make reservations before hand at the restaurants on the plan, and also plan your characters meals in advance. When my folks took my son 4 years ago, they went with the meal plan and were thriled that I told them about it. My brother-in-law also did this 2 years ago and agreed it was the best value.
The other option, making sure you have a refrigerator in your room (I don’t think this is a problem at any of the Walt Disney World properties), is to buy food and leave it in your room. As part of our trip that was cancelled, we were advised to take car service to the property and have the driver stop at a supermarket. Now that I have been to Disney World, I would not suggest that. The $100 car ride vs. the savings of stocking my own bottled water and bagels, is not worth it to me. We have enough to carry, we bought beverages in the parks as needed, no need to lug extra weight around. Our hotel had a spot for bagel and coffee purchase in the lobby, for us that was the economy over the sit down buffet we sometimes enjoy. We saved that cost and the extra time sitting at a buffet. In Walt Disney World, you want to get out of the hotel and hit the parks as early as possible!
You could also take a taxi from your hotel to a supermarket, that is probably cheaper than the full ride from the airport. I did not know you could get cabs within Disney, but was happy to find out that I had that option. Some of you may have a family of 6 and saving on beverages and breakfast may work for you this way.
*This is also a special time saving hint – there are taxis at each property waiting for a call from the bellman. If you are in a rush, just missed the park hopper bus, or any other reason, you can take a 10 minute cab to the parks, I had no idea this was an option!
In conclusion, there is so much fun to be had at Disney, and you want your time to be used as efficiently as possible. That means staying on property and using the fast pass option as often as you can. This way you can enjoy many hours at one of the parks, and still have time for the pool at your hotel: the kids are happy and we get to unwind. The meal plan is the best way to pay for your food and drink needs while here, schlepping around cheaper water bottles all day is not fun when you are on vacation.
Disclosure: I visited Walt Disney World at a greatly reduced price as part of the Disney Social Media conference. I was not required to write this post. All opinions are 100% our own and honest.