Taking a family vacation to Disney World takes a lot of planning and organizing. I did not realize how much until we had decided to go. I am not even talking about deciding on a hotel or booking flights, but how each park will be attacked, what Fast Passes to use where and when, what dining reservations to make, shows to see, etc, etc. The following is a brief overview of what we did and how it worked for us.
One of the first decisions to make after booking a trip to Disney, is the customization of the Magic Bands. This involves picking colors and naming them. Eilam was excited to get his favorite color green. Magic Bands acted as our room key, park ticket and credit card. Each adult picked a pin number to enter when using them to buy meals or souvenirs. They also scan your finger print when entering the park to match the person to the band. Any time an official park photo (ride, character, etc) is taken, the Magic Band can be scanned and then sent to your Disney account to access later.
We bought a five day park pass. We opted not for the park hopper option as we really weren’t sure about how well Eilam would do going all day, every day and the distance between parks. The plan was a park each day and visiting the Magic Kingdom two days. It worked out pretty well. Each day we would be at the parks when they opened for their extra Magic Hours and then take a couple hour break during the afternoon and then go back after nap.
The only dining reservations we made prior to arrival was for the character breakfast at the Tusker House in Animal Kingdom. On our Hollywood Studios day, we ended up back at Disney Springs for dinner. It was really difficult to find a place that wasn’t all booked up for dinner that night. So we ended up at more of a quick service place, but still good food. The day we arrived we went to Disney Springs and didn’t have any trouble for dinner. Every time we ate inside the parks we ate at a quick service restaurant. At Magic Kingdom we ate at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe in FrontierLand. We liked it so much the first night that we ate there again on our second day. They had delicious fajita plates. We did make reservations once we got there for the Boma, the African buffet at Animal Kingdom Lodge, which was delicious. We made this reservation for our Animal Kingdom day as the park closed at 6pm, so we knew we would be back at the hotel. Again, not knowing how well our 3 year old would do was the main reason we did not want to have set dining plans.
Disney offers Memory Maker, a Disney Photo Pass option for $149 advance purchase. It includes unlimited digital downloads of all photos taken in the park. These include your ride photos, dining photos, character meet photos, and all those photos from the people that line up and down Main Street, in front of Cinderella’s castle and throughout each park. Since we were going to be there 5 days, we decided to purchase this. You can link everyone in your group too. We took our GoPro and our phones for cameras, so we planned on stopping at a lot of people to get our pictures. Overall, they were really great and we feel like we got our money’s worth. Some of them didn’t turn out great, but were helped with a little editing.
What We Packed Around the Park
Our son really doesn’t use his stroller any more and is a really great walker. However, with the extra long days and hot sun, we knew he would want to be carried. Luckily, my husband really doesn’t mind putting him on his shoulders and carrying him that way. So we did the five days sans stroller. It was great to not have to pack the stroller for the plane, the bus transportation, and worry about it at the park. I bought an inexpensive Jansport two pocket backpack to carry all of the things we would need for the day. This worked out really well. It carried an extra pair of clothes for Eilam, my wallet, both Brian’s and mine sunglasses cases, GoPro camera, water bottle, sunscreen, a few snacks and Eilam’s favorite small stuffed animal Bei Bei the panda. This left room for anything that we bought during the day.
This was the most difficult part of the planning for our trip was determining the time and rides for our three Fast Passes. You can make these reservations 60 days prior if staying at a Disney Hotel or 30 days otherwise. We changed these a lot, even once we got there. We always tried to have 3 rides in the morning. Once the 3 rides were up, we were constantly checking for other rides. This worked out well for us at Hollywood Studios as we went on Toy Story Mania in the mid-morning and when I was checking the app during nap time, Toy Story Mania popped up as open in the early evening. So we went back to that park just for that one ride and skipped the hour plus wait. If you don’t want to use the Disney app there are Fast Pass kiosks throughout the park but having the app made it so you could make changes and constantly add them throughout the day. We selected Fast Passes for roller coasters too and one of us would just go on them twice using Eilam’s band because they all have to be used before you can select another. Since we utilized the extra Magic Hours there were some popular rides that we hurried to get on during this time instead of using a Fast Pass (Safari ride at Animal Kingdom, Mission: SPACE at Epcot, 7 Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kindgom, Rock’N’Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios). This worked out well for us each morning. The Safari was great as it was early in the day and the wait was as long as it takes you to walk through the waiting area maze, same with Mission: SPACE. We didn’t even need to utilize rider swap there. Rock’N’Roller we utilized rider swap but there was a small line. The Mine Train had the longest line but it was about 15-20 minutes.