For many people their trip to Orlando is the holiday of a lifetime. And in order to get the best out of your trip, it is essential to plan. Orlando isn’t like, say for example, a beach holiday where you know that the majority of your time is going to be spent playing in the pool or relaxing on the beach. There is so much to see and do, there are so many attractions, so many restaurants and then there is the craziness that is Disney World.
Disney World spans a size of over 43 sq miles, there are four parks, countless other entertainment attractions and there is quite literally so much to see and do. When I first started researching our holiday, I am not ashamed to admit that I was a little overwhelmed by the prospect of what lay ahead of me. There are blogs and websites simply dedicated to Disney and as a newcomer I felt like I was never going to understand how to get the best out of my holiday. I therefore wanted to write a post today outlining some of the essential basic things I think that you need to know before you go to Disney World…
The fast pass system was something which I got really confused about and which overwhelmed me the most the first time we went, but basically it is is an appointment system meaning you arrive back at a ride or attraction at a certain time- this can save hours of waiting in line. You get three fast passes a day (you can choose your fast passes before you travel by signing in on the Disneyworld site and I hugely recommend doing this as the most popular attractions slots fill up fast) and then once you have used them all up, you can head to machines in the park and get another one. (And keep doing this until the park closes) Some fast passes book up months in advance, for example to meet the Frozen characters etc, but if you can get them they save loads of time, you can book from 30 days in advance if you aren’t staying in a hotel and 60 days if you are staying at the Disney resorts. As an example we got a fast pass for Toy Story Midway Mania at Hollywood Studios and we got on the ride within ten minutes, but the standby queue was over 90 minutes long. Another really big tip is try and get your three fast passes as early as possible in the day as then you can keep getting new ones once those run out.
A MagicBand is basically your Disney ticket on your wrist. If you are staying in a Disney hotel it acts as your room key and you can charge things to it. As we weren’t staying in a Disney hotel I wondered if we actually needed them (if you aren’t staying you have to pay extra for them but they are all around the parks if you do want to buy one) but they were a great addition to the magic for our girls. You can customise them with different character badges and things to make it really magical. We used them to get in all the parks, for our fast passes and also because we bought memory maker, a photo package as the photographers use them to scan them. They aren’t compulsory and you can get in via a paper ticket, but they saved us carrying round tickets and things, and they also were fun for the girls. They also act a bit like ID, for example when we went to visit the Disney Boardwalk we had to pass through a security barrier and the man let us through as it had all our details on our magic bands.
Disney App/Visit Orlando App
Your first port of call most definitely should be the ‘My Disney Experience’ app which you can find on the app store, or the Disney World website. You can create an account on there and that account is used to help you make the absolute best from your holiday. There are so many things you can do via the app, you can book restaurants, check wait times for the attractions you want to go on, see what shows are on at what time, book your fast passes, plan itineraries and wish lists, and find a map which helps you get to where you want to go. We used it so much before we went and continued to use it the whole time we were there, so if you have a smart phone you definitely need to download it. It’s free to download and helps so much with planning and getting the most from your trip.
First up is Memory Maker. Memory Maker is essentially Disney’s photo service and we were so unsure whether to get it, but we have ended up buying it both times we went. Basically it is an unlimited package for $149 (which seems quite expensive) whereby Disney photographers will take you photo for your entire stay. This includes with all characters, around the parks, at Disney restaurants etc. There are photographers all over Disney and they are really easy to spot. They then get uploaded to your account and you can download them whenever you want. We couldn’t decide about whether it was worth it being that we were only there three days and also because I am a photo fanatic who is reasonably good at taking photos myself.
The photos aren’t amazing quality for someone who is really into photography like myself, but they are lovely and they are worth having. Of course you can just hand your own camera over to them, but they are more likely to snap away and take more shots if you have Memory maker. For example they took almost 20 photos when we met Princess Jasmine as our little boy was just so cute. They also encourage Mum and Dad to get in the photo too. Then you just scan your Magic Band and they are there instantly on your phone or computer- this was great for downloading photos for social media while we were there. I would say that although the photos aren’t the best quality, it is still definitely worth the price.
Of course autograph books aren’t a necessity but getting signatures from the characters was one of the biggest highlights of the holiday for us. Almost every character will sign your book, although characters like Buzz might have a stamp, or Olaf gives you a picture as of course snowmen have sticks for arms. 😉 Meeting the characters and having a cuddle or a photo with them is lovely, and getting an autograph is the icing on the cake. There are books out there to buy, but it is also good to plan ahead as you will be able to get them a bit cheaper. My mum got these lovely personalised ones for them off eBay and now we have such a lovely memento of our trip to keep forever.
Child Swap/Ride Switch
This was something that we didn’t know about until we went with our baby boy, but Disney offers a fantastic rider switch service. Basically if a child does not meet the height requirement or one of you does not wish to board a particular attraction, you can use this service. So it meant either Jon and I could ride the rides with either or both the girls, while one of us waited with our baby boy, then we could switch so the other one could enjoy it too. It cut down SO much waiting in line and is pretty much available on most of the main attractions.
All you need to do is let a cast member at the entrance to the attraction know you are wanting to use rider switch. They will then give you a card or pass that you then have to give to a cast member further in line. Once you have done that they will give you a different pass to give to the person wanting to ride next. Once you have enjoyed the ride, the other person can present the card and can get on the ride with out having to queue in the regular line. It is such a fantastic service for families with babies, as it means you can all still enjoy the fun and is one that isn’t hugely well known. Definitely do this if you have a young baby and still want to do some of the more thrill rides.
There literally are so many places to eat in Disney World, whether you want a five star sit down meal or a quick bite to eat. There is so much choice it can be a bit of a minefield and I have a post coming soon about our ten favourite restaurants in Disney World. You can book restaurants via the app and it will show you what’s available to book per day and show you available times. This then all shows up under your reservations tab. A lot of the restaurants get booked up months in advance, especially the really popular ones like Chef Mickeys or The Crystal Palace. I found myself checking for cancellations constantly via the app, and if you are patient eventually one will hopefully come up. I definitely recommend booking in advance, as although you can get walk in reservations, if there is a particular restaurant you want to visit, if you don’t book you may miss out and be disappointed.
A character dining experience is basically where you have breakfast, lunch or dinner in one of the Disney resorts and the characters come around to greet you at the table- signing autographs, taking photos, and giving hugs. I was dubious as to whether this would be worth it, as they can be quite expensive, but I definitely think if you can afford it then you should do at least one, as they were a highlight of the trip for us. We did breakfast at Chef Mickeys (Contemporary Resort- Mickey,Goofy, Minnie, Pluto and Donald) and lunch at The Crystal Palace (Magic Kingdom- the Winnie the Pooh characters), but previously we have done breakfast at Hollywood & Vine (Hollywood Studios- the Disney Junior characters) Our favourite was probably either Chef Mickey’s or Crystal Palace, but all are definitely worth it if you can get a reservation. It just helps you get more up close and personal and have more time with the characters. They book up far in advance so make sure you book if you can, and do check for cancellations via the app.
Fireworks Dessert Party
Because our baby boy was so little this year, we decided to splash out on something called the Fireworks Dessert Party at Tomorrowland Terrace. This is where you get seating and a prime spot for the fireworks, meaning you don’t have to fight the crowds to find a space and also you get to eat some delicious desserts while you watch. It is expensive ($79 per adult and $47 per child aged 3-9), but the reason we decided to do it this year is that we thought it would be great to get a seat as by that point we were worried that our baby boy might be tired and need a cuddle.
Was it worth it? Yes and no. Yes in the fact it was so nice that we could sit and eat yummy desserts which the girls loved. It was also nice after a long day at the park to be able to sit and relax rather than be stuck in all the crowds, as of course the fireworks get so busy. The only thing we found was that actually our view wasn’t all that great as there was a tree right in front of our view of the castle. It was fine for the fireworks but not so great for the illuminations which happen just before. Obviously a lot tables won’t have a tree obscuring the view, but considering the view is what you pay we thought it was a bit strange. However we would still do it again, as it made all the difference being able to get a seat, we would just get there earlier and try and get a better table. It’s also perfect as a nice treat.
This was something we had no idea about when we first visited Disney, but it is one that is a lovely little extra. There are a few places where you can get a badge and they will also write your name on for you. If you have a badge it means that cast members will go out of their way to call you by name or say congratulations etc. The badges are free of charge and there are a number of different styles- including a first visit, celebrating, birthday and honeymoon to name but a few. You can pick them up in most of the shops if you ask, or occasionally cast members will be hanging around Main St with them.
Check out some of our other Orlando Posts…
Here are our videos from Orlando too…