I am NOT a Disney expert… but I know some on Instagram. We hadn’t even started doing any research or even purchased our tickets until about 1.5 weeks before we departed for Orlando. Fortunately, Jessica started reading blogs every “spare” moment (“spare” time doesn’t exist as a parent – she basically just stayed up late every night). She learned much of the basics. And, I was getting some good pointers on Instagram. I feel like there are blogs out there that lay out the very basics that miss some important details, and then there are blogs that really lay out the advanced techniques for avoiding lines that make a lot of assumptions on the readers’ Disney experience. After our visit, I took away that there’s really only a handful of pieces of info you need to have a pleasant experience. There’s what feels like an infinite amount of knowledge you can learn, but here’s a condensed list of all you need to know to have a good trip.
1.) The Disney App is Where It’s At
And by “it”, I mean pretty much everything you need to know. The critical information for each attraction is the minimum height requirement, location and wait time. The app will show you where to find food, characters and rides (and probably more). The good and bad thing about the app is that someone from your party will be on that thing aallll day. I was fortunate enough that Jessica was that somebody. The good part is that one person can book Fast Passes for everyone in their group – each person doesn’t have to go book their own Fast Passes.
2.) Fast Passes Are Awesome!
The rules are simple: you are given 3 per day. After your card is swiped for the third time, you are given an additional one. Upon reserving another attraction using Fast Pass (FP) and swiping your card upon entry, you are given an additional FP. And repeat.
This is common knowledge, but it takes some research to figure out what rides you want to book Fast Passes for. Since we were booking relatively last minute, there were many rides that didn’t have any available Fast Passes. As a result, for our first ride, we aimed for the hottest ride that we couldn’t get a FP. At Epcot, we followed the people to the Frozen Ever After ride. The sign said it would be a 25 minute wait, which was about right. I have noticed, though, that when there’s a swarm of people there’s a delay in the wait approximation updating.
There can be tough choices to make when you see a fun event at night that you’d like to reserve a FP for. We did this for fireworks at Epcot. There were fewer rides that our kids were tall enough for and that had lines long enough to warrant a FP, so we felt fine using a FP for later in the day. At Magic Kingdom, we were going on ride after ride by doing the “Fast Pass Hustle” (I just made that up 🙂 ). That is when you reserve a ride using FP after already using the three original ones, then start booking the next ride while in line for your current ride. Eg, we used FP for It’s A Small World ride. While we were waiting in line, we booked another FP on the same ride. We ended up waiting in line 10 min the first time and about 5 min the second time. Don’t judge us – it was Ellie’s favorite ride 🙂
3.) Bribery Snacks
Our kids 4x’d their sugar intake while at the Parks. We used Walmart grocery pickup on the first morning we were there and loaded up with fruit snacks, apple sauce pouches and gold fish. We also brought suckers from Amazon. Anytime there was any disagreement, boom: “if you get in the stroller you can have a fruit snack”. It was kind of funny that apple sauce and goldfish were a good enough carrot the first day, then we had to resort to fruit snacks more often, and on the third day suckers were the only thing that had much of an impact.
We saved a ton of money by bringing our own food. In order to save money and continue our current Keto diet, we brought in a simple lunch in tupperware from our hotel: grilled meat, hard boiled eggs and a raw vegetable (snap peas and cucumber). It was really easy to ask for a cup of ice to add to our water bottles, add in a can of club soda from home, and a few squeezes of MiO (not my top pick of drinks, but trying to stick with Keto – low carbs).
By our third and last day, we felt like we were way under budget and at least wanted to try out a Disney restaurant. We ate at Yak and Yeti’s, which according to one blog we read, was the best restaurant at Disney. It is Indian, and I love Indian, so I was on board. I eat Chicken Tikka Masala every time I get Indian. This dish definitely tasted very different than any other Chicken Tikka, but was still good. Net, it was a pleasant experience but not worth the price tag (we spent $70 including tip for 1 entree, two kids meals, a side of chicken, and 1 iced tea – no booze). Very specific pro tip: if you order a side of chicken, it was only $5 and well worth the price.
I can’t comment too much on where to stay. We stayed at a Marriott due to being able to use a time share exchange. We spent $180 for 6 nights, so it was 100% worth it for us to stay off property. And, Jessica’s parents had their van down there as part of a multi-month road trip for them. Driving to the parks was pretty straight forward and low stress. Just be aware that parking is $25/day (you can also park at different parks within the day). My understanding from reading other blogs is that driving doesn’t take much longer than Disney bus or monorail. They are very prepared for tons of people swarming the place in the morning.
We would have rented a car if we didn’t have Grandma and Papa with their van. We considered Uber. Uber in Orlando makes it simple to order a car with 1 car seat. We thought we would be coming home for lunch for each Park day. Including the premium factored into the price on Uber, the two round-trip fares would have been about $100/day, which is well over the cost to rent a car.
Upon reflecting on our trip, it wasn’t a life changing experience as it can be made out to be while reading the internet.
Our kids had a ton of stimulation for their senses. The days were long. The crowds were ever-present. At the end of the day, we walked away with more memories than a typical beach vacation. Worth it? Yes. Will we be back next year? Nope – probably an every ~5 year experience.