The premise of the series: For every installment, I will interview a fellow Disney fanatic (like myself). I've composed a list of questions that cover a lot of bases when it comes to Disney World, planning your vacation, making the most of it, etc. I hope this will be a great tool for some people out there to learn more about the World, plan their vacation, or will just be fun to read for others!
How long have you been going to Disney World?
My earliest memories are at Disney World. My dad was the college pastor at First Baptist Church Orlando, so we had access to it all the time. My mom has a funny story about taking me with her friend who also had a little girl. By the time they got all of the paraphernalia into the park and got settled, it was time for me and the other little girl to nurse, so one of my very first Disney experiences was in the nursing room, Magic Kingdom!
How often do you go?
Now that Kurt, Evy, and I are a family, we're going to aim to go every 12-18 months.
What is your favorite ride? Why?
There are too many to name, but I LOVE PhilharMagic in Magic Kingdom. Besides the practical (inside, climate controlled, sitting down, no long waits), it's a GREAT attraction.
My favorite new ride is Toy Story Midway Mania. I'm usually not into video-game types of things, but I LOVE this! Kurt and I got good at it!
As far as classics, Small World has a special place in my heart, as does Peter Pan. But then there's Pirates of the Caribbean. See? I can't choose.
As someone who has been to the World many times, what tips do you have to make the park experience easier?
Well, obviously the theme of this blog is researching, planning, and making the most out of your vacation, so my tip is to DO YOUR RESEARCH. Buy the Unofficial Guide (my favorite), devour it, and familiarize yourself with the maps and rides in each area. Pick your must-see attractions that you absolutely have to see. When you first get to the park, make a BEELINE for your top-priority ride. Either get a Fastpass and watch the first morning show with a front-row view (which my family has done) or just go ahead and ride the ride (which is probably what you should do in most instances). Disney takes planning. But it is WORTH IT!
What is your favorite time of year to be at DW?
For holiday cheer, right after the New Year. You can still get a glimpse of the Christmas decorations. The fall has beautiful weather and low crowds. Avoid summer and most of spring like the plague.
Are there any websites, etc. that people should utilize in planning?
See my sidebar!
The great debate: staying on Disney property or off?
I've done both, and I did a post about it (see my labels in the sidebar). Personally, I love staying on property, but sometimes staying off property works well for people. Let's put it this way: you WILL experience magic, wherever you stay, but Disney just ups the ante.
Do you use a "touring plan" in the parks or do you just go with the flow and wing it?
Please tell me you know the answer to this question.
Sorry to burst the bubble, but you just can't go to Disney without a touring plan. At the very least, pick a place to start and plan to go clockwise. Or counterclockwise. Not that I recommend this, but at least plan something.
Most touring plans are based on attractions and how crowded they tend to be. Why would you not utilize this information? Also, it helps to schedule in your meals. That way, there's no stress about when to eat and where. It's already planned.
That being said, flexibility is key. You can't burst into tears if you show up at a ride and the wait is (gasp!) 40 minutes instead of the 5 minutes you thought it would be. This is Disney. Look around, breathe, and continue.
Your tips for clothing and gear to wear in the parks:
Tennis shoes are definitely recommended, but I've had good experiences in flip flops. Just test them out before you go! This is NOT the time to break a pair in. Take layers. Pack a backpack with ponchos, light snacks (at this time, Disney is lenient on their food policy) and refillable, filtered water bottles. I typed out our plan, which included all dining info, and had that in the backpack too. Oh, and as cute as dressing your kids up in Disney costumes is, be aware that you MUST have a change of comfy clothes in that backpack. The Belle costume will start to itch about 30 minutes into the day.
Name your favorite restaurants in:
Magic Kingdom: Cinderella’s Royal Table is excellent and magical--worth the splurge! Pinocchio Village Haus (great view of Small World!) or Pecos Bill’s for counter service. Tony's is good, hearty Italian food and I love the Lady and the Tramp theme.
Disney Hollywood Studios: 50’s Prime Time Café for table service. The Backlot Express for counter service (free refills on drinks). The Brown Derby has a fabulous atmosphere for adults. My family really loved Sci Fi Drive In for its theming.
Epcot: San Angel Inn in Mexico is my dad's favorite Mexican food of all time. I don't think you know what a big deal that is.
Animal Kingdom: I honestly have never eaten in Animal Kingdom, so I have no clue.
Do you have any tips for stretching your dollar on meals?
We share from time to time. You really get more food that you can eat, even in counter service meals, so we split sometimes. If you are on the dining plan, you cannot share at table service meals, but its okay to do so at a counter service. Also, do the dining plan when it’s free. Disney has extended the dates this year and it is well worth it. [I agree with Junebug's answer here!]
How many days do you recommend staying for a good Disney vacation?
At least 5, because that way you can do a park per day and then a recap day. My family personally skips Animal Kingdom (just our preference) and repeats a lot at DHS and Magic Kingdom. But I would love a looonnngg vacation just to really slow down and not feel pressure to max out the day.
Character meals/breakfasts: worth it?
If meeting characters and taking pictures is important to you, then definitely do a character meal! You're guaranteed pictures and individual times with the characters, and you're not waiting in a line a mile long. For kids, it's so fun. 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian hotel has a great character meal and is a great way to experience the glamour of that hotel without paying the price to stay there.
Fly or drive (if both were an option)?
With air travel being so difficult now, we currently drive. You're free to stop when you need to, and you can split the drive into two days if need be. However, flying gives you more time in the parks if you're on a time crunch. I would say to research both options for each trip you take; the result could be different each time.
Do you use or have you used the Disney Dining Plan? Your thoughts?
I've never used it, but I think we'll try it if it's free. I've heard it's a LOT of food, which is why I wouldn't pay for it. But if Disney and "free" are in the same sentence, I'd be really really tempted to take advantage.
Do you try to split time between time in the parks and time at the hotel/swimming pool/Downtown Disney?
No. We only do Downtown Disney on our first day in Orlando, usually in the evening when we arrive. I honestly can't imagine coming back to my hotel to rest or swim. I would feel like I was missing out on park time! You can swim and nap anywhere. You're at Disney World!
Tips or favorites in Downtown Disney:
I always buy something in the Christmas store (my favorite!), and browsing World of Disney is a must. Really, I just like to wander in and out of the shops. I never do any hardcore shopping. My Christmas purchase is enough :)
Best place to see/meet characters?
I don't have very much experience with this, but I will say: don't stand in line for a character unless it's one you really care about. It's not worth it if you're not even excited about the Mad Hatter. He's weird, anyway.
Do you think souvenirs are a waste of money?
Not necessarily. Just make sure it's something you absolutely can't get anywhere else and it's something that will last. Mouse Ear hats are always fun. My number one souvenir buy is a Christmas ornament or something from the Christmas store at Downtown Disney. You know you have a tree to hang it on, right?!
Do you use the Photopass service, do you solely take your own pictures, or both?
I only take my own pictures. However, I utilize the Photopass people to take group pictures. That's what they're there for. They're so nice about it, and they've seen every kind of camera you can imagine.
Any tips for money-saving in general?
Stay at a value resort, pack light snacks in your backpack, and if you have young children, set boundaries in souvenir buying ahead of time. They will be experiencing overload, so prepare them ahead of time. That way, you don't end up with 5 Mickey balloons, 3 Goofy hats, and neon necklaces.
Do you use the Fastpass system? How do you best utilize it?
YES! We always have a Fastpass ready to use. While we're waiting for our time zone, we'll find a ride that historically doesn't have a long wait, or that loads up lots of people at a time. Always have a Fastpass in your hand. It's too easy not to use!
Is there a ride that should be especially avoided with children, people with motion sickness, etc.?
In my opinion, Snow White's Scary Adventures is creepo and scarring. I still won't go on it. The witch pops out of NOWHERE, and there's hardly anything pertaining to Snow herself (because the ride is supposed to be from her point of view). Avoid it. Mission Space is a no-go if you get sick. Some people think the Teacups are sickness waiting to happen, but you can control your individual teacup (but I still don't go, just in case!).
Is there are ride that's overrated (in your opinion)? Stitch's Great Escape. A ride that is totally UNDERRATED is the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. It's so relaxing to get off your feet, ride high above Tomorrowland, and breathe. There's no wait, and you don't have to get off until you want to.
Best parade watching spots in each park?
I've found that in MK, near Liberty Tree Tavern in a good spot with lots of seating options.
Do you own Mouse Ears? I had some when I was a baby, but I definitely need a new pair.
One of your favorite memories from Disney World:
Going with my family in 2005. We went to all of the parks for the first time together, and had an absolute blast. Cinderella sat down and talked to Will and Andrea for a good while when we were waiting to eat at the Royal Table, and we just had so much fun. I will always appreciate my parents for making that trip happen.
What is your favorite Disney movie?
Beauty and the Beast and Sleeping Beauty. For live action, The Happiest Millionaire and One and Only Genuine Original Family Band.
Anything else that you have to say about the Happiest Place on Earth:
Disney combines all that is good in the world: Childhood, make believe, the nostalgia of earlier time periods, the gallantry of medieval times, the glamour of an old Hollywood that really never was, the fun 50's, the charm of a turn-of-the-century Main Street USA, and even exciting prospects for the future. It encompasses all that is happy. Families are celebrated and encourage to have quality time together. Disney's standard of excellence and detail is unparalleled, and there will never be anything like it. Every Cast Member that I've ever spoken to in my 24 years of visiting has always been charming, pleasant, and enthusiastic, because they love working there. Disney isn't just a group of theme parks or resorts. It's a World, and I love it with all of my heart.