Our family just returned from Walt Disney World. While there are more comprehensive blogs and posts regarding WDW, I thought it might be worthwhile to include some of our experiences here. I'll try to keep them succinct, although I may go off on tangents, so be prepared!
Initial planning - We (myself, my wife and three daughters, ages 7, 5 and 2 1/2) started seriously considering a trip roughly one year ago. We booked the hotel (a Disney resort hotel) in February, and I began more detailed planning about two months ago. One of our main considerations for going now was that our youngest daughter would be free at the park - you need a ticket only after you turn 3. We decided to go during the third full week of August because many schools (including Florida) are already back in session, but Maryland schools start later.
Deal - The deal we ultimately purchased was called the Summer Quick Service Meal Offer, which entitled each paying member in our party (so the 7-year-old and 5-year-old counted, but not the 2-year-old) to one free Quick Service meal a day. A Quick Service meal was generally a meal priced around $15 or lower at most of the restaurants that offered full meals but not full service and/or character experiences (which are all buffets). One added bonus this year was that the meal also included a speciality drink, meaning you could get alcohol or a smoothie as part of the meal.
Also, this deal was good at the Disney Value Resorts. Many were sold out, but we ultimately booked a stay at Pop Century. This particular hotel is slightly more expensive (roughly $10/night) than the other value resorts, but this seemed like a better deal than bypassing the meal. There are pricier dining plans that include full service restaurants and even snacks, but we knew that we were bringing snacks and sandwiches to the park every day anyway.
Resort bonuses - We struggled initially to determine whether we wanted to stay on-site. Looking back, it seems like a no-brainer, but the main reasons we opted on site were the following:
- Scheduled transportation to the parks: Off-site transportation seemed to be 30-45 minutes, but the value resorts seemed like 20 minutes at worst.
- Transportation to and from the airport: While other hotels offered this as well, it seemed as if the Disney setup was a little easier, especially with baggage.
- FastPass: I’ll go into more detail later, but a FastPass essentially allows you to bypass much of the crowd at a specific time for a given ride. As a resort guest, you receive three passes per guest per day.
- Extra hours: Nearly every day, a park is open an additional hour, either at night or in the morning, for resort guests
FastPass scheduling - Sixty days before your stay begins, resort guests can start booking a FastPass (for off-site guests, this begins 30 days in advance). I spent a lot of time on Touring Plans and other sites to determine which rides we should reserve. When we hit the 60-day mark, there were already some rides fully booked! I’m still not entirely sure why, but I was able to rebook some of the passes a bit later, despite them being unavailable initially.
Resort guests are entitled initially to three passes per day, but once those are used, they can obtain another FastPass (one at a time) from park kiosks.
More importantly, determining when you are going to use a FastPass up front means you also need to decide which parks you will visit on specific days. With our crew, we were planning to do the following:
- Monday - Magic Kingdom
- Tuesday - Epcot
- Wednesday - Hollywood Studios
- Thursday - Animal Kingdom
- Friday - Magic Kingdom
However, a month before our trip, I noticed a Disney crowd estimator schedule that mentioned MK would be rather crowded on Monday, and Epcot would not be crowded on that same day. I was able to switch those days and switch all of the passes as well, although some of the passes were for later in the day.
Another important thing with FastPass is that it can be used in conjunction with Rider Switch, which allows parents to take turns riding with their children when one child is too small to ride. The bonus is that the kids who are tall enough to ride have the opportunity to ride twice, with both parents!
In the next article, I’ll go into more detail about some of the things we actually did in the parks!