Friday, November 27, 2015

How To Do Disney Right

My best friend and I have been Disney freaks since we can remember, but I had never been to Disney World. Caroline and I do everything together, from book sharing to beach vacationing, and on the night of my high school graduation, she brought signs for us to hold in pictures. Hers read: "Bethany! You just graduated! What are we gonna do next?!" and mine read: "We're going to Disney World!" And we were.

We planned the trip ourselves, and had four days in the parks to experience all they had to offer. We were determined to do it all, and when we got our minds set to something, there was no stopping us. We went to every park. We met every princess. We rode every ride. We considered buying every item from every store. We had done it: We did Disney in four days.

When I returned almost three years later with the Pridette Danceline to perform at Downtown Disney and march in the Main Street Electrical Parade, my friends stuck closely to me. After overhearing my suggestion, the whole charter bus had downloaded the app, claimed their fast passes, and immediately started making itineraries. "Stick with me, guys," I joked, "I know how to do Disney right!"

That became the joke of the trip. Where did you find that crown? How did you skip the line? What restaurant is the best to use our meal voucher? "Ask Bethany," the answer seemed to be, "She knows how to do Disney right." So if you're going to Disney anytime soon, be sure to not miss out on the suggestions and hidden treasures that help you get the best Disney experience for your limited time.

1) Stay at a Disney Hotel or Resort.
The first time I went, Caroline and I stayed at the Port Orleans Riverside Resort. It was located within the park, only 3 miles from Epcot (a prime feature for anyone with kids who need a daily nap), and we loved having public Disney transportation each morning to each park. We also had Disney transportation to the airport. We were greeted by a letter from Princess Tiana and brushed our teeth with water from Genie's lamp. Having a Disney hotel allowed us to carry the magic home with us (literally!), but also have prime access to all of Disney's opportunities like park hopper passes and extra magic hours. Options for Disney hotels and resorts can be found in the link above, and can be filtered by price range, location, category, or characteristics.

If you are traveling in a group rather than a family, Disney hotels can get pretty pricy. A wonderful alternative for Disney groups is the Holiday Inn just outside of Downtown Disney. There is not transportation to the parks or Disney themed rooms, but the hotel is close enough to not inconvenience you at all. The staff was selfless and helpful with every question we possibly had. Every hotel experience I've had provided a complaint-less trip for me and my group!

2) Explore Packages.
Magic Your Way Vacation Packages can help you plan the perfect trip for your group or family based on size, preferences, and budget. Packages not only help you utilize the "extra magic" features that Disney has designed to make vacations better, but also help you decide what to do, when to do it, and how much you should expect to spend for certain experiences. Also check out Special Offers to ensure you don't miss special opportunities and discounts that might apply to your family and/or situation.

3) Download the App.
If you have a smartphone, make sure you download the My Disney Experience app. Once you create an account, you can personalize your profile, link with friends, upload park admission tickets, view hotel accommodations, make reservations, and modify your vacation plans as you go. It allows you to reserve FastPasses, track characters, view wait times for rides and attractions, and load a map of each park to help you get to your location as quickly as possible.

4) Consider a MagicBand.
This feature is not necessary and certainly not required for guests of certain ages with certain interests, but it can allow you to keep your plans more centralized and travel lighter. These personalized bands can be purchased based on color or character preference starting at $12.95 plus tax, and allow you to unlock the door to your Disney resort, enter all Disney parks, check in at FastPass entrances, connect PhotoPass experiences to your account, and charge purchases to your resort hotel room. You won't need a room key, admission ticket, FastPass lanyards, PhotoPass cards, or even cash on you throughout the day! All you need is your personal bracelet.

5) Get a Park Hopper.
You might think you know exactly what parks you want to spend your days in, but chances are something will happen and you'll wish you hadn't gotten your tickets set in stone. What if the line is closed to meet your daughter's favorite princess and you can't go back another day? That would be disastrous. Park hoppers are a few extra dollars, but they are worth every penny to have the pure flexibility of doing whatever you (or your little hero/princess) wish to do.

6) Stay tuned to Extra Magic Hours
Each day, one of the theme parks is selected to host "Extra Magic Hours" where certain attractions are open longer. Some extra magic hours are hosted before the opening of the park, and some are hosted after general park closing. Check the Disney World website or app to see which parks are hosting extra magic hours on the days you choose to visit. Extra magic hours are only benefits for guests of certain Disney Hotels. Make sure your hotel option grants all the opportunities your family wants to use.

7) Utilize the FastPass.
You may not think this is a useful feature, but trust me: when you're standing in line for two and a half hours to meet Anna and Elsa, you're going to wish you were one of the people skipping the line and waiting five minutes. FastPass is a benefit all park guests can use free of charge, so there's no reason to miss out on it. FastPasses allow guests to reserve access to select rides and attractions, letting them skip the line at their designated FastPass time and march right to the front. You get 3 FastPass opportunities each day, and you can begin reserving your passes up to 30 days before you arrive at the park (60 days before check-in if you have purchased a Disney resort package).

8) Make Reservations.
Reservations aren't critical, especially because you don't want to tie yourself down to so many things that you are unable to fill in the small gaps. But if there's something your kid (or judgement) has been dreaming of doing since they first found out you were going, you probably want to reserve it. Reservations are available for numerous restaurants and entertainment opportunities, specifically the ones that everyone loves to go to, so don't wait. Seats for Be Our Guest Restaurant in Belle's Castle and Cinderella's Royal Table go fast, and VIP tickets for certain shows like Hollywood Studios' Fantasmic! are available in lunch/dinner packages that are definitely worth your money. Our lunch at Mama Melroses Italian was purchased in a package for Fantasmic! VIP Seating and it was easily the best meal we ate the entire time we were there. Caroline still swears by that calamari! Make your reservations on the app listed above, or online at My Disney Experience on the Disney website.

9) Be Willing to Splurge on What's Important.
Disney World is full of all sorts of obscure magic that not many people know about. In Epcot, staff members in each country are of the same ethnicity; there are no Americans working in China, and there aren't any Japanese working in Morocco. Staff members in the Magic Kingdom refer to anyone wearing a crown as "Princess" and "Your Highness," whether they are a princess working in one of the parks, a four year old dressed up in a princess costume, or a 20-year-old reliving her childhood by wearing the crown of her favorite Disney Princess (I know because that was me). If you've always wanted to try food from a certain country, your visit to Epcot is the time (trust me, the $15 lamb and chicken shawarma in Morocco is totally worth it). If your son has always wanted to be a race car driver, take him to meet Lightning McQueen and Mater at Hollywood Studios. So buy your daughter the crown and let her wear it all day, because they will announce her presence following a trumpet on all Disney transportation. Buy your high school graduate the Mickey ears with the graduation cap, because everyone will congratulate them on their success. And if it's your birthday or anniversary, wear that huge pin around. You will get compliments and discounts in certain areas of the parks. The bottom line is, every staff member is dedicated to making each person's trip a happy-ever-after, so make sure you give them that chance.

10) Don't Be Afraid to Ask. 
For help, for suggestions, or even advice. Every employee I've encountered has been more than willing to help. They all have their own opinions on restaurants, nighttime entertainment, rides, and more. They know the park better than anyone, so don't hesitate to drop by a kiosk or stop a janitor to ask for directions. They are more than willing to share their favorite experiences with you, and they've never led me astray! If that isn't enough, it isn't a terrible idea to contact your other Disney obsessed friends for their suggestions, and of course, I'm always up for Disney discussions at Enjoy your trip... To infinity and beyond!

Got your own ideas for a wish-worthy Disney vacation? Email me at to have your ideas featured on the blog! 

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