Going to Disney World for the first time, I wanted to try to fit in as much as we could in three days. Given that Ella is 4yrs and obsessed with princesses, the overwhelming consensus was that we needed to spend the majority of our time at Magic Kingdom. In addition to Magic Kingdom, we also visited Animal Kingdom and Epcot which were all so different but such an amazing experience. Where else can you have a meal with princesses, see a gorilla and giraffe, then try food from several different countries made and served by those who were flown over from that country all in one day!
Here are the top 10 tips:
1. Car – although we stayed at a Disney resort, everything is VERY far apart and definitely not walk-able. Having a car gives you the most flexibility and saves wasting time for a Disney bus or having to do multiple transfers in order to get to your final destination. Also don’t get fooled by the valet parking option ($20) – the attendant at the gate actually told us the self-park lot was far away when it was literally a one minute walk across the lot to get to the resort where one of our character dining restaurants was located. They must get spiffed somehow for this!
2. FastPass single reservation – for really popular attractions getting a FastPass for the entire family might be next to impossible (in our case to meet Elsa and Anna). Instead, book a single FastPass as these do come up from time to time and take your chances when you check-in for the attraction. Depending on who is manning the check-in gate, they do have the ability to over-ride the single reservation and let the entire family in. At the very least, they will not allow a 4yr old to enter by themselves and one parent can go in with the child. Score – as we didn’t have to wait in the 2hr line up!
3. Prepare for 3 seasons – ensure you are ready for all types of weather within one day. Lather up in waterproof sunscreen and put on a hat for the hot sun, then potential rain in the mid-afternoon followed by a chilly windy evening. Also ponchos are an absolute must due to the frequent rain in Orlando (we went in March and had a few hours of rain for two of the three days). Due to the crowds, a poncho makes it much easier to maneuver around and still see the attractions despite the weather. An umbrella will just get in the way.
4. Last minute reservations – although eating at Cinderella’s Royal table in the castle requires months and months of advance booking and openings are rare, some of the other character dining experiences you can nab at the last minute. For dinner at Be Our Guest (the Beast’s Castle from Beauty and the Beast) I was able to book a 6:15pm seating just a week in advance which is more ideal than our previous 8:45pm time. Often people will book multiple reservations as it only requires a credit card to hold your spot and will decide closer to their trip what they want to keep and cancel the other reservations making ideal times available.
5. Extra Magic Hours – staying on a Disney resort gives you extra hours that even the “cast members (ie. staff)” don’t get access to. Check the schedule for the dates you are there and plan your park visits to take advantage of the magic hours when the park is not as busy.
6. Dining Plan – like any theme park, food is expensive but even more so if you plan on doing any of the character dining experiences. For around $60 per adult and $20 for Ella per day, we added the regular dining plan to our reservation and piled on the character dining experiences. Here are some of the ways we used our dining plan to well exceed the cost of what we paid for the plan.
- Breakfast at Be Our Guest = 1 quick service credit (No character but it’s in the Beast’s castle. Book a time before the park opens and be the first to enter Magic Kingdom. You can get a shot in front of the castle with none of the crowds around!)
- Dinner at Be our Guest = 1 table service credit (you get to meet the Beast after dinner)
- 1900 Park Fare = 1 table service credit (Cinderella, Prince Charming, Lady Tremaine, Drizella and Anastasia visits every table)
- Cinderella’s Royal Table – 2 table service credits (Cinderella meets everyone when you enter and Jasmine, Ariel, Aurora, Snow White visits every table)
- Starbucks – ANY size drink cost 1 snack credit. I got a trenta which is larger than a venti for those of us who are not from the states and was able to share my drink instead of getting two.
- Light breakfast (bagel and cream cheese, croissant or muffin) = 1 snack credit and you can save the quick service credit for a full lunch
- Re-fillable mug – comes with the dining plan and can be used at any Disney resort for unlimited refills for the extent of your stay. Good for coffee, tea, pop, lemonade etc.
7. Park hopper option – add this on for the most flexibility to visit the other parks in between dining reservations or FassPast bookings.
8. Photos – give the Disney photographer your camera so you can get the same shot for free! Otherwise you’d be paying $199 for the Memory Maker package with unlimited pictures or $15 per Photopass picture.
9. Wishes Spectacular and Fireworks – get a FastPass for the Main Street Plaza Gardens area for the best panoramic viewing of the show and fireworks in a sectioned off area where most people will sit down on the fake grass to watch. This helps when you have a young one as you don’t have to worry about their view being blocked. Plus if you show up a little early, you are close enough to see the Electrical Parade as well!
10. Enchanted Tales with Belle experience – best (and likely only) opportunity to meet Belle in Magic Kingdom (strange but she is not a part of the Be Our Guest experience in the Beast’s Castle and she wasn’t there when we dined at Cinderella’s castle). As each story time is done in smaller groups, pretty much all of the kids get to act in the play and interact directly with Belle which was a treat!
We knew that Ella would love Disney but we (like any parent) could not put a price on the excitement and magical experience we were able to witness which melted our hearts. Like that Mastercard commercial saying goes ~ PRICELESS!
Share and comment below if you have other tips or your own Disney experience to add!
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