I’m in the middle of a long summer without any personal leisure travel plans. (Insert frowning face here.) However, since my younger brother came to Florida to visit us for a few days last week, I took the opportunity to enjoy a short “staycation.” Obviously, visiting Walt Disney World is a requirement for any 11 year-old on his first visit to Central Florida, and it gave me a great excuse to experience the parks and resorts in a way I haven’t in quite some time. We had a total blast, and I picked up a lot of great tips to share!
I honestly can’t remember when, if ever, I last spent a night at one of the Disney resorts, so when I had an excuse, I wanted to go big! We decided to spend a night at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, which is definitely a great property. I knew we did well when my brother said, “Wow!” as we entered the lobby. As with any Disney experience, the staff was extremely friendly and helpful, and our room was clean, beautiful and comfortable – although, a rock would have been comfortable after 12 hours of theme park! And the best part? We could see zebras, giraffes and plenty of other animals right from our balcony! The resort does offer a lot of other family friendly activities throughout the day, including a night safari, and they offer great dining options as well. I definitely want to go back when I have more time to enjoy the resort.
But, and it’s a BIG “BUT,” I would not recommend this property for anyone who is trying to cram a lot of Disney into a short time. If you have a lot of time, you want to only see Animal Kingdom, or you’ve been to the parks before and are looking for a slower pace, Animal Kingdom Lodge is a fantastic resort. If you are on a time crunch like we were – trying to cram 3 days of park hopping into 2 days – you’d be better off staying somewhere closer to the action. We waited for bus service to Magic Kingdom for 40 minutes our first afternoon, and then the bus ride to Magic Kingdom or Epcot is around 20 minutes long. We ended up losing a valuable hour and missing a Fast Pass timeslot! Next time, I will be sure to book somewhere closer to Magic Kingdom – like the Grand Floridian or the Polynesian – or a property near Epcot – such as the BoardWalk Inn or Yacht or Beach Club.
If you’re a first timer, let me suggest that you make advance reservations for each and every meal that you want to eat at a sit-down location. With the Disney dining plans growing in popularity, many guests are making advance dining plans, which means it can be extremely hard to walk-in to any dining establishment. In fact, we had our first dinner at Via Napoli Pizzeria in Epcot, and they were turning away guests without reservations. If you can’t walk-in for dinner at the pizza joint, you can imagine how bad your chances are at other venues! You can reserve dining starting 180 days in advance, and if you want to dine at specific restaurants, particularly the Be Our Guest restaurant at Magic Kingdom, I would recommend locking in your dining times as soon as you can. In case you are wondering, the pizza was fantastic!
This is the first time I actually had my very own magic band, and I loved it! Be sure to personalize them in advance – or ask your travel professional to assist you – so that you can select your color and have your name(s) printed on the inside. Also, charms are a must!
These great little bracelets serve as your park tickets, your room keys, your Fast Pass, and they even link to your credit card for easy in-park purchases. It’s also a little dangerous how easily you can rack up a large bill!
Who doesn’t love being able to skip the line? If you are staying at a Disney Resort, you’ll get 3 Fast Passes per day at a single park. You can use the Fast Pass kiosk at the parks to try and get additional Fast Passes; but you will find your options limited, and you can only get one at a time after the initial 3. If you want to ride popular rides (I’m looking at you Seven Dwarfs Mine Train!), you’ll want to get your Fast Passes in advance, and whatever you do, DO NOT CANCEL THEM! I learned this the hard way. You can easily change a Fast Pass to another attraction or time, but if you cancel them same day, you are out of luck. It also goes somewhat without saying, but you’ll want to try to plan your Fast Passes for rides with the longest wait times. There is no sense using a fast pass for a ride with a short stand by wait, only to wait 90 minutes for Space Mountain later.
Memory Maker / Photo Pass:
Disney veterans are already familiar with the professional photographers setup at all the best photo locations around the parks. I’m not one for selfies, even without Disney’s ban on selfie sticks, and I appreciate a good professional shot, especially on vacation. But even a committed selfie-taker, can see the need for a good group shot with Mickey, and it can definitely be hard to pass up some of the attraction action shots! If you just want one or two of your photos from a Disney photo spot, the $14.95 price tag for a download is a steal. However, if you are spending a full week, the Memory Maker package, can be well worth it! Memory Maker gives you unlimited photos for just $169 if purchased in advance ($199 during or after your visit as of the time of this writing). I’m sure it’s clear why I couldn’t pass up this action shot of me hiding my face on an 11 year-old while riding Splash Mountain! I’m so brave!
My Disney Experience App:
In order to take my advice on everything I’ve already written above, you’ll need to setup an account on MyDisneyExperience.com. All your plans can then be accessed on the My Disney Experience phone app. I’m a little ashamed to admit that I only downloaded this app at the last minute as an easy way to look up my Fast Pass times – this app is priceless! Not only can you see your Fast Pass and dining reservations in a snap, but you can also change a Fast Pass, view park maps and hours and look up attraction wait time right on your phone. How handy is that?!
So who feels like a Disney vacation? And more importantly, can I come too?