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Friday, March 16, 2018

Disney Character Dining – A Few Top Picks


by: guide4wdw - Caitlin

Caitlin's stepping in today to share some of our favorite Character Dining offerings across Walt Disney World, but before you read today's post be sure to check out all the hard work she puts into running our Instagram page! We'd be happy to have you following along with us!   

Dining at Disney is always top notch, but a character meal brings in great food along with family friendly entertainment. Character dining appeals to all ages and comes in a wide variety of options. That being said, it can be a challenge to determine which meal you should book for your trip. These meals can come with a hefty price tag due to their two-for-one experience. I’m here to offer up some of my favorite character meals along with a few that you may want to pass on.

Chef Mickey’s
Up first is a character meal featuring the OG Disney crew. At this location, you will be graced by Mickey himself, along with Minnie, Goofy, Donald, and Pluto. Chef Mickey’s is housed at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, one of my favorite resorts on property. This dining location is a great excuse to visit and is typically a welcomed break from the busyness or heat of the parks. Another detail to note is that the Contemporary is on the monorail loop, making it extremely accessible from Magic Kingdom.

Now, let’s talk about the food. Chef Mickey’s offers breakfast, brunch, and dinner. The restaurant is buffet style at all three times of the day. The menu is very American in cuisine variety; there is nothing too wild that might scare away a picky eater. Breakfast is my personal favorite, and it happens to be the least expensive meal as well. Honorable mentions include Mickey waffles, donut holes, and tater tots. Don’t worry, there are also several healthier options, if that’s your thing. Brunch is a similar menu with a few savory items added including baked salmon, BBQ ribs, and chicken nuggets for the kiddos (or kids at heart). Dinner is the priciest option, topping out at $60 per adult. That being said, there are several specialty menu items. Seafood, a carving station, and a sundae bar are a few of the highlights.

The food at this location is wonderful, and everyone loves a hug from Mickey Mouse. But, what makes this character meal truly special? Chef Mickey’s has a fantastic atmosphere. You can watch the monorail as it runs through the middle of the resort. The restaurant has an open air feel as it sits directly in the Contemporary’s lobby. One of my favorite parts of the experience is the music. Periodically, the characters dance (in their cute chef outfits) to the “Mickey Mouse March” where the guests are encouraged to wave their napkins above their heads and join the celebration. I can guarantee the song will be stuck in your head all day, in a good kind of way!

Crystal Palace
Next, let’s travel to Magic Kingdom for my pick for best character meal inside the parks. This dining location is nestled right off of Main Street U.S.A. and is really quite beautiful to look at. The ornate, white exterior is one of my earliest Disney memories. There’s a beautiful front porch with direct views of the castle. This restaurant houses some of my very favorite characters – everyone’s friends from the Hundred Acre Woods. You will get hugs and love from Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, and Tigger.

Crystal Palace is one of my favorite buffets on all of property. Reservations can be made for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I am partial to the breakfast and lunch buffet options. My personal favorite is the large grill located in the middle of the buffet. A chef will remain stationed there to create made-to-order breakfast items. My dad is extremely fond of creating the biggest omelet possible, and I’ve heard that if you ask nicely, you might get a chocolate chip pancake (or 3). Other items to note are the Mickey waffles, extremely fresh fruit (seriously, some of the best on property), and breakfast meats. At lunch, I look forward to giant chicken nuggets, baked salmon, and peel-n-eat shrimp. As mentioned above, our family doesn’t typically visit for dinner, but you can find similar options as those offered at lunch. Keep in mind, dinner at Disney always comes with a substantially higher price tag.
You probably noticed that I have some emotional attachments to Crystal Palace, and here’s why.

This restaurant always comes with a special memory. You can read about one of my favorite Disney cast member experiences of all time in Our Top 3 Buffets at Walt Disney World post which wasn't entirely limited to strictly "buffets" by the typical definition of the word. The servers at this dining location are some of the best. We’ve heard the most wonderful stories from their many years of Disney experience. Recently, I celebrated my birthday at Crystal Palace. All cast members are special, but the ones here seem to strive for that extra bit of magic. Having visited this place an extensive amount of times, I will say that the character interactions at Crystal Palace are top notch. They spend a long time at each table and are very interactive, especially considering they're not “face” characters.

This Disney dining location is one of the best, and I highly recommend trying it out. Pro tip: if you’re an early riser (or like me, can be one if you’re at Disney), schedule breakfast before the park opens. There’s no better way to get a special Disney experience than bypassing the lines and strolling down Main Street solo (assuming you don't want to stay late and check out A One of A Kind Disney Experience: Shutting Down the Magic Kingdom!)

Be Our Guest
I’m sure you were wondering when I was going to throw in some princesses. Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about them. However, you may be surprised by my choice. Most people recommend Cinderella’s Royal Table, but that’s not my first pick. We will talk about that in more detail a little later. Be Our Guest is located in the New Fantasyland area of Magic Kingdom. From the exterior, it looks to be a bridge and merely a façade of the Beast’s castle. But, inside is arguably one of the most beautiful places on all of property. This dining location transports you directly to the world of Beauty and the Beast. I don’t say this often, but you cannot pass up the opportunity to visit this dining location. The thought and detail that went into creating this restaurant is phenomenal.

Upon entering, you’ll be greeted by a hallway of suits of armor. Then, the true magic hits as the restaurant opens up to the Grand Ballroom. It is quite literally a replica of where Belle danced in her yellow gown, complete with soft snow falling outside the windows. I’m still not sure how they do that. To the left of the ballroom, you’ll find the West Wing. And yes, the enchanted rose is housed there as well. From time to time, lightening will strike and a petal will fall. On the other side of the ballroom is a third room with a larger than life replica of Belle and Beast dancing to the subtle tune of music box-esque music flowing in the background. I highly recommend wandering around the castle, regardless of the room you end up dining in.

I should mention that I have only visited the castle for lunch, which is not a character meal. However, lunch offers lighter food at a friendlier price. Try the grey stuff – it really is quite delicious. Lunch is considered quick service, but reservations for are strongly recommended due to the high interest level of this location. All of that being said, if you want to meet Belle and Beast or you’re interested in the French cuisine, dinner is a fantastic option. Currently, dinner is a traditional sit down meal where you can order off of a given menu. Beginning in late July, an enhanced dinner experience will be offered. This will be a 3 course meal at $55 for adults and $35 for children. Your meal will begin with an appetizer, followed by a main course, and finished with dessert. This meal is for a more adventurous eater with menu items such as escargot and charred octopus. Desserts and children’s menu items have not been listed on Disney’s website, but should be available soon. If using the dining plan, the meal will take 2 table service credits with the upcoming menu change.

What You Should Pass On
We don’t like to be negative around here, but we do feel it is our job to keep you informed. There are a few character meals we suggest skipping, especially if you have the opportunity to visit one of the other locations mentioned above.

Our first meal to pass on is Hollywood & Vine in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This dining location is known for its Fantasmic! Dinner Package which guarantees you a spot for the show along with your meal. Although this is a nice perk, we recommend arriving early for the show and skipping the restaurant entirely. Recently, there have been some sub-par reviews of the food here, and we all know Disney has too many excellent dining locations to be eating somewhere that you won’t thoroughly enjoy or get your money’s worth. For a few of our other top suggestions, be sure to look at our Disney World Planning Guide and Tips For 2018.

The next meal to skip may be a little controversial. I am recommending passing over Cinderella’s Royal Table. Now, I completely understand if you have a little princess who is DYING to eat at the castle. If that is your case, go for it. But, if you’re a frequent Disney goer, or simply happy to view the castle from the outside, I do suggest you pass on this one. There’s a few specific reasons for this. One is the ultimately challenging task of snatching up a reservation. Cinderella doesn’t have much room up there, and the dining location is quite small. This also puts a damper on the whole occasion, in my opinion. When I think of the castle, I envision a beautiful, expansive space, and this is simply not the case. If you want to be in shock and awe, I whole-heartedly suggest Be Our Guest over this location. It is also worth noting that I have never been thoroughly impressed by the food here, especially for the pretty penny you’ll have to pay to be dining with royalty.

Tips and Tricks
Disney is getting increasingly more popular, and this can make it challenging to get the dining reservations you really want. You can read our best tips on how to snatch the most popular locations in our How to Secure Popular Reservations At Walt Disney World Nearly Every Time! post. However, my best tip is to be flexible; don’t lock yourself into a specific location or time. All of the restaurants I’ve shared are excellent choices, and I can guarantee you’ll love them as much as I do! We have some great friends who can help you plan your dining or your entire trip! Destinations to Travel are our travel agents that we know and love. You can submit a quote request by using the form below and take a look at why we recommend them in our Disney Travel Agents - Who Do I Recommend? overview.

Let us know your favorite character meals by leaving a comment below or tweeting us! We love to hear from you! Don’t forget to follow us on social media and SHARE this article if you enjoyed it! We love and appreciate all of our readers. -Caitlin

Your Thoughts
As always, if you have thoughts, concerns, questions, or even some tips of your own to share, don't hesitate to reach out to us on Facebook or your favorite social media platform. Give us a follow while you're there, and we'll keep the conversation going in the future. We're not the largest Disney community, but we're one that's there and one that listens. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day wherever you are! 

Ready to Plan?

Need help planning your vacation? Let our friends over at Destinations to Travel (FREE - no obligation quote request form below) help you out at no additional cost to you! Their services are free and a great way for you to help out the site at no extra cost to you! Here's a closer look at why I recommend an Authorized Disney Travel Planner!

Last but certainly not least, if you're starting the planning process, a great place to start are with some of our top planning articles! Looking for dining? Check out Disney World Dining Tips For 2018. Want to start with some more tips? 44 Excellent Disney World Tips for 2018 or Disney World Planning Guide and Tips For 2018 are a great place to begin! Looking to save money on tickets? Check out our friends over at The Official Ticket Center for great deals that even made it into our 2018 Discount Disney World Ticket selections and another great way to help us create more content through your contributions at no additional cost to you! You'll probably even save money along the way.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

My Top 5 "Must Do's" of Any Walt Disney World Vacation


by: guide4wdw - Collin

know many of you likely clicked on this list to find the best attractions in each park or even potentially the best resorts as you look to plan your vacation. However, I want to take this post a slightly different way. Soon, we fly south to Walt Disney World and I thought I'd share a few things that are a 'must-do" for me on any Walt Disney World Vacation, but more importantly we'll take a look at a few of my most anticipated aspects of the vacation experience as a whole. Of course, I'll have to throw in a few experiences along the way, but if you're looking for more broad and slightly out of the ordinary things to look forward to in the realm of Disney World "must-do's" I invite you to join me on this anticipatory journey! 

For many, Disney is simply a theme park, a place to ride rides, watch shows, or enjoy a few minutes of excitement away from home. While in essence, those are entirely wonderful portions of the magic and a true part of the theme park experience, there's so much more to the experience than many first time guests (and many returning guests) take the time to enjoy. Disney is an escape from reality for many of us, a place to create memories, and truly share time with friends or family. It's not the place that creates the memories, but rather the people we share those moments with that make all the difference. 

You see, it's an experience of a lifetime, but a place that draws you back time and time again. It's a place that captures your heart, and becomes a small (or large) portion of your life. As things change and the parks continue to develop, it's easy to develop a nostalgic connection to different aspects of the magic, but as many of us know the parks will continue to grow and develop as the world around us fosters new ideas and increases creatively.

With all of that being said, there's always something to look forward to as you tour the realm of Walt Disney World. For many, it's that classic attraction that's been a part of your vacations from the very beginning, but others may anticipate the latest and greatest additions to the parks. Honestly, I fall somewhere in between and that's likely why my list is so varied. It may not be the most traditional list, but nonetheless a list that I hope will give you something to look forward to or a memory to pull from the depths of your mind as we look forward to our next trip to the parks. If nothing else, hopefully this post brings a little piece of the magic into your day! 

1. Exploring Pandora All Over Again!
Inevitably, this ends up at the top of my list for a few reasons. Honestly, it's the first thing that came to mind. In all reality though, I realize there's a reason it was the first thing to come to mind. When I first visited Pandora back in the summer, I have to say it was one of those Disney experiences that defied the rationale of what I though was possible. I was a skeptic of the land as whole when it was first announced, and I have to say I was entirely wrong to doubt the creative minds of Imagineering. As I've said before, Imagineering has never let me down and I after seeing this project unveiled on such a grand scale, I have to say that concept remains entirely true to this day. For more on Pandora check out: 

Pandora is a place that will defy your wildest dreams (and no I'm not being paid to say that... even though I wish that I was). As you round the corner into the land, often times you'll witness guest after guest experience that audible "wow!" moment. At first glance, the hyperrealism mixed with the seemingly impossible physical development is truly hard to believe. The land itself throws you into sensory overload and there's no best way to take it all in. Even knowing what to expect and what to see and not see going into the land for the first time, I didn't get to experience it all. To me, that inevitable repeatability factor of the land is one of the things I look forward to the most. I didn't quite get to explore the entirety of the development at first so setting aside time to explore the land is and likely always will be high on my list of "must-do's."   

2. Trying Something Entirely New
As many times as we've been to Walt Disney World, you'd think that we'd run out of new things to see and do. However, that has never been the case. Trying something new on your Disney vacation can open up a world of new possibilities and may even create your new favorite aspect of the vacation experience. When you travel, I recommend trying one thing that you've never done before, even if you have to create that experience for yourself. Personally, I'll be traveling with a DSLR camera for the first time and I'm looking forward to the possibilities that may create. In a different regard, as you book your vacation, look into a tour offered by Disney or seek out that one attraction or show that you've overlooked for years on end. 

A few years ago, I stumbled into the show that once was a part of the animation pavilion of Hollywood Studios called Drawn to Animation. The show was simple and it was corny, but one afternoon in the heat of the summer we stumbled into the place and happened upon the experience. It wasn't an elaborate show, but rather something we had always looked right past. Unfortunately the show ended a few months after we saw it for the first time, but little "hidden gems" of Disney are hidden in plain sight around every corner. Sure, a few of the lesser known aspects of the parks could be "duds" in your opinion, but you never know what may be outstanding in your eyes but overlooked by a vast majority of guest altogether.      

3. Exploring a New Resort
Resorts are a huge part of any of our Disney vacations. We eat at resorts, obviously stay at resorts, and explore many of them in depth. To many first time guests this seems like an absurd concept, especially because we typically aren't staying at many of the resorts we visit, but it's a unique portion the Disney experience. Go try a new meal at resort you've always dreamed of staying at, or go to a resort searching for something "hidden in plain sight." You may be surprised at the history and entertainment many of these unique places hold and unveil when you take the time to look a bit deeper. If you've never tried this before, the Wilderness Lodge is an incredible place to start.    

4. Take A Moment to Take It All In
It's easy to get distracted by the fast paced nature of Walt Disney World, but one of the things I look forward to time and time again is taking it all in. I know that sounds far to simple to really appreciate, but take a few minutes during your trip to remove yourself from the crowds or change your mindset just slightly in order to step back and observe the little things happening around you. Look around and enjoy the smile on the faces of the guests around you, the little details you may have overlooked on the "race" to the next attraction, or even to sit down and listen to the ever present background music that plays throughout the parks and resorts.   

5. Enjoy Every Second
As the last "must-do" on my list, this particular element often comes across as common sense when in reality it is increasingly easy to overlook. You get distracted by what you're doing, you race from attraction to attraction (which can be a ton of fun), but you never stop and appreciate the moment. I know it's easy to say that, but I struggle with this element every trip. Inevitably something will go wrong during your trip. A resort will be overbooked, you'll miss a fastpass, or get in an argument with the guy who ran over your feet with his stroller. None of those things are fun, but in the big picture, it's a small hiccup in overall Disney experience. 

Try and overlook the little things and make the most of every second of your trip. Turn every bad situation into an opportunity to try something new and you'll be surprised at what kind of unexpected magic could be unveiled. I look forward to the unexpected aspects of Disney more than just about anything because what you don't anticipate is what often times sticks with you the longest. Making the most of those situations can make all the difference and create those one of a kind situations that you remember for years to come.           

When we first started today, I told you my list would be bit strange, but to be quite honest these are a few of the things I see guests overlooking or avoiding time and time again. Seeing something from a new perspective can allow you to appreciate the experience so much more than you ever have before. We never know what tomorrow brings, so taking the time on a vacation to appreciate the moment is more important to me than any attraction, show, or even a dining location. 

It could all end in a second, but I say that for a reason beyond what this article may state. No, I don't want to be grim but rather positive and to encourage you to take a step back while you travel the parks and just enjoy the moment and lock in those memories that will truly last a lifetime. We never know what tomorrow could bring, so making the most of every moment we have today is a key part of any Disney vacation. It sounds so simple in writing and to be quite honest it's a part of the experience that is incredibly difficult to portray in words, but there's something about Disney that makes you appreciate all that you have and the people that help make that experience a reality in so many ways. I've said it before, but I truly believe it's the people that create the true Disney difference rather than any particular resort, dining location, or attraction no matter how wonderful those things may be.    

Your Thoughts
As always, if you have thoughts, concerns, questions, or even some tips of your own to share, don't hesitate to reach out to us on Facebook or your favorite social media platform. Give us a follow while you're there, and we'll keep the conversation going in the future. We're not the largest Disney community, but we're one that's there and one that listens. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day wherever you are! 

Ready to Plan?
Need help planning your vacation? Let our friends over at Destinations to Travel (FREE - no obligation quote request form below) help you out at no additional cost to you! Their services are free and a great way for you to help out the site at no extra cost to you! Here's a closer look at why I recommend an Authorized Disney Travel Planner!

Last but certainly not least, if you're starting the planning process, a great place to start are with some of our top planning articles! Looking for dining? Check out Disney World Dining Tips For 2018. Want to start with some more tips? 44 Excellent Disney World Tips for 2018 or Disney World Planning Guide and Tips For 2018 are a great place to begin! Looking to save money on tickets? Check out our friends over at The Official Ticket Center for great deals that even made it into our 2018 Discount Disney World Ticket selections and another great way to help us create more content through your contributions at no additional cost to you! You'll probably even save money along the way.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Plan Your Disney Trip! - Our Step By Step Guide


by: guide4wdw - Collin and Caitlin

To say Disney has been a big part of our lives would be an understatement. We’ve been traveling to Walt Disney World at least once a year for approaching 20 years now. Each trip is different. We’ve had a 1-day Magic Kingdom rope drop to fireworks day. We’ve also purchased 7-day park hoppers for a group of 7. Our family has stayed at a Value resort as well as a Deluxe suite room with club level access. We have traveled during peak holiday times, the dead of summer (yep, it’s hot), and in the mildly crowded month of February. All that being said, we feel that we’ve got this planning thing down to a science. Today, we are going to outline our step by step guide for planning your WDW vacation. For those of you who may be tight on time, or looking for a less drawn out answer, here's a quick Disney trip planning list before we dive into the details!
  1. Pick Your Dates
  2. Pick Your Resort 
  3. Plan Your Days 
  4. Create a Meal List 
  5. Create A Must Do List For Each Park 
  6. Create a Fastpass+ Plan (in My Disney Experience)
  7. Check the Disney Site for Closings, Time Changes, New Meal Reservation Options, etc.
  8. Purchase Any Park Necessities 

1. Pick Your Park Dates

When picking your park dates, there are several things to consider. Most people base their decisions solely on time of year, but we have a few other things you might want to keep in mind before locking in your vacation plans. The first detail to think about is ticket prices. Currently, Disney has a tiered system for single day park tickets. This means certain times of the year (around holidays, school breaks, etc.) the ticket prices increase. There are rumors that the same trend may occur with multi-day tickets as well. Our family knows quite well that it can be challenging to avoid those “heightened” ticket dates. We have two teachers in the family, so a good chunk of our trips fall during summer, spring, or winter break. If your family does not have the challenge of a restricted schedule, you may want to pick your dates based on the cheaper ticket times.

Next, let’s talk about airlines. Walt Disney World has two airports that are fairly close to the parks. One is Sanford (located about 45 miles from WDW), and the other is Orlando International. Sanford is typically less expensive to fly into, due to its smaller size and slightly further distance from the parks. There are also fewer flights traveling into this airport, so flight dates and times may be limited. Our family used to fly into Sanford exclusively, until recently. We have had some frustrating experiences at this airport. Some of these may have been due to the airlines themselves, however they are worth mentioning. We have encountered some less than friendly security personnel as well as harsh employees checking luggage. The airport does not offer the Magical Express, and it will cost at least $100 to get a car service to take you to your resort on property (or anywhere nearby). You'll also need return service to get you back. Keep these things in mind when booking your flight. For a few more flight tips check out our Finding The Best Flights to Disney World post.

Orlando International is a much larger airport, allowing more planes to fly in and out. Typically, flight tickets are higher to fly into this airport. The security and check-in can be crowded, but the staff is equipped for the crowds and the lines tend to move quickly. Keep in mind that the large number of flights will mean that there is a higher chance of a flight getting delayed or cancelled. We have found ourselves with delays getting back home from time to time. 

This airport offers the Magical Express which is a bus service Disney provides to guests staying at one of their resorts. The service is completely free like most all Disney transportation. Once disembarking your plane, you will find the Magical Express signs and follow them to your bus. The cast members retrieve your luggage from baggage claim and you wait in the cushy, Disney bus. Depending on who else is arriving at a similar time may determine how many stops are made before reaching your resort. You are not guaranteed to be taken straight to where you are staying. This can also be a lot of stop and go movement. Keep that in mind if you have a family member who is prone to car sickness. The Magical Express will also bring you back to the airport at the end of your vacation (we like to call this the Tragical Express). Due to picking up multiple families at varying resorts, your window to return to the airport can be quite early to ensure everyone gets there on time. If you are not an early riser, or simply want to soak up every last minute of Disney magic, you may want to opt out of the return service.

Let’s talk weather. Disney weather can be extremely unpredictable, but they do have seasonal trends. Summer, of course, will be your hottest Disney days. July and August are typically their scorching months with highs reaching into the upper 90’s on most days. You should also be aware of the impending 2:00 or 3:00 rain shower. In the summer, it will rain for about 30 minutes. It happens almost every day, like clockwork. Be prepared (see our packing list below), and don’t let the rain ruin your magical day. Winter at Disney truly varies. A typical day in December will hover around the mid 50's, but they have been known to have some cold snaps closer to the 40’s and highs reaching above 70 degrees. We find that spring is the perfect time to visit Disney. The days start out around 60 degrees but often make their way to 80. If you’re adventurous, like Collin, you can wear shorts all week! Or, if you’re like me, you can pack short sleeves and a light jacket. This typically won’t allow you to take a dip in Disney’s fantastic resort pools, but it will prevent you from sweating through your cute Dole Whip shirt while at Animal Kingdom in July.

You can also pick your park dates around the desire to attend a festival. One of our favorites is the Flower and Garden Festival that is happening now (February 28-May 28). Another crowd favorite is the Food and Wine Festival (August through November) and the newer, Festival of the Arts. These all occur at Epcot and give guests the opportunity to try some excellent food and beverages from the various pavilions. You can also find festival exclusive merchandise like limited run t-shirts, Mickey Ears, and collectors' pins. Keep an eye out on your time guides for special seminars, shows, and classes.

Although holidays can be the most crowded park times, we highly recommend going to WDW during your favorite holiday at least once. Our top pick is Christmas (yes, it will be packed), specifically for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. Events like this one are a great way to celebrate the holiday without being at the park on the actual day. VMCP runs from November through Christmas.

The last thing to consider when picking your park days is your budget. We mentioned above that certain times of the year are cheaper to travel to the parks. Disney also has a system that decreases your cost per ticketed day as your length of stay increases. For example, when you reach a 5 day park ticket, the cost to add additional days starts to diminish considerably.

2. Pick Your Resort 
When picking a resort for your Walt Disney World vacation, the first thing to decide is - on or off property. We always recommend staying at a Disney resort on property, and there's a variety of reasons for this. The first is the extensive amount of options. Disney has three tiers of resorts: Value, Moderate, and Deluxe. They increase in price as you move up each tier. Each level of resort has its own unique benefits. All Disney resorts include varying forms of transportation including buses, monorail, or watercraft. Select Value and Deluxe resorts include suite options for larger parties. The resorts have a variety of themes as well. If you want a larger than life look at some of your favorite classic characters, Art of Animation is a great place for you. If innovative and modern is more your style, you may enjoy the vibe that the Contemporary has to offer. Proximity to specific parks may be something to consider as well. Three of the resorts can be found on the monorail loop and place you in close proximity to Magic Kingdom. Another collection of resorts are at the back door of Epcot. A few resorts, like the highly overlooked Saratoga Springs, are a short boat ride away from Disney Springs.

There are a few more things to consider when choosing to stay on or off property. Disney resorts come with parking that is included not only to park at your resort each night, but also at each of the Disney parks and water parks. This alone saves you an average of $22 for each park day. Disney resort guests also have access to extra magic hours. These are 1-2 hour windows of park time that are reserved exclusively for the resort guests. For example, if Magic Kingdom opens at 8:00 AM, extra magic hours may be from 7:00-8:00 AM. These special time slots may be at the beginning or end of the day and typically ensure alleviated crowds during those times. The most important benefit of staying on property is what we like to call the, "Disney bubble." Being on site means there is consistently Disney magic at every turn. Your shampoo bottle has tinker bell on it, the lady at the check in desk will gives your child a Mickey Mouse sticker, and soft Disney music plays in the lobby. You might even be lucky enough to catch a glimpse into the past of Walt Disney himself (Check out the Carolwood Room for more on that).

3. Plan Your Days

After determining when you are going to Disney and what resort you will be staying at, it is time to plan your park days. First, you'll need to decide if you want to visit a park each day or if you'd like to set aside a day or two for the pool, spa, resort hopping, Disney Springs, or a water park. Some of these items will, of course, be determined by the time of year that you'll be traveling to WDW. Next, you will want to determine if you're interested in purchasing a park hopper or single park tickets. A park hopper allows you to visit more than one park during any ticketed day, without using a second park ticket. This means, you can visit Magic Kingdom in the morning, hop on the monorail to Epcot for lunch, and be back at MK before Happily Ever After. This choice is truly a matter of personal preference, but we always recommend that guests consider the park hopper. Often times, you don't think you will use it until you're there and dying to split up a park day. We even more so recommend this option if your park days are less than 5 days in total. With the current state of Hollywood Studios, it is nearly impossible to get your money's worth out of a full park day there. We suggest skipping it entirely or planning to park hop on that day if you only have 4 days to visit the parks.

Once you've decided what kind of ticket you'll be purchasing and how many days you will be in the parks, you can pick what park to attend on each day. This is a very important step (for most guests). It lays the groundwork for creating a meal plan and determining your Fastpasses. For more on dining and fastpass+ be sure to check out the following posts:
5 Simple Fastpass+ Tips That Could Better Your Vacation Experience
Disney World Dining Tips For 2018

Begin this process by looking up when the extra magic hours are for each of your park days. If you're not staying on property, skip this step. We suggest writing down each date you'll be in the parks in a notebook, then writing what park has extra magic hours on that day. For example, March 13 - extra magic at Animal Kingdom 7- 8 AM. Once you've determined the park days that have those hours, we suggest you try to go to that park on the specified day. This will not only give you the most bang for your buck, but you'll experience lighter crowds as well. We also suggest early extra magic over late, because you're often too tired to stay at the parks by that time in the evening (unless you want to check out A One of A Kind Disney Experience: Shutting Down the Magic Kingdom! ---- It's Worth It!) Once you've determined what park to visit on each day, you're ready for step 4. Don't forget to write in your pool or Disney Springs days in your plans.

4. Create a Meal List

This is one of our favorite steps in the planning process. During this step, you will create an outline of any meals you are interested in while on Disney property. Begin with your table service meals, because those will require reservations. We suggest making a large list of options in case the restaurant that you want is full. This is especially true if you're traveling during peak park times. One of our favorite tips is to consider restaurants outside of the parks for fantastic dining opportunities. We highly recommend the Contempo Cafe at the Contemporary, Whispering Canyon at Wilderness Lodge, the Yachtsman at the Yacht Club, and Floatworks at Port Orleans. After creating a list of where you want to eat, pick a day on your schedule that fits the restaurant. For example, if you're planning to go to Magic Kingdom on Tuesday, you may want to schedule Whispering Canyon for that day due to its proximity to the park. Picking 2 or 3 options for each table service meal is a good plan until reservations are made. Next, call or go to Disney's website and look for reservation availability. If your reservation is available on the day and time you'd like it, book it right then. Disney will not charge you at that time. Don't be afraid to make 3 reservations for dinner at Magic Kingdom on one day until you decide which one you'd like to keep. Of course, please be courteous and cancel your extras as soon as you've determined which meal you'd like to stick with. Keep in mind, Disney will charge you a cancellation fee if they are not given 24 hours notice that you won't be coming.

Next, pencil in your counter service meals. These will not need reservations, but you will want to have that time blocked out in your mind. This will also ensure that you don't eat burgers and fries for each counter service meal. Plan all meals ahead of time, because Disney has endless counter service options that offer fantastic food. You'll just want to do a little research on the type of food and price that fits your needs. Another thing to remember is breakfast. This may seem like a strange thing to say, but breakfast at Disney resorts is not provided. So, you'll need to bring grab and go breakfast options on your flight or create a plan for a Disney breakfast. We are huge advocates for starting your day with a Disney table service meal. This fills you up for a good chunk of the day and is cheaper than all other meals for table service.

One last thing to consider is the Disney Dining Plan. This a service Disney offers that allows you to pay for all of your meals ahead of time and have a set meal plan for each day. There are three different tiers of dining plans. We typically utilize the traditional plan, simply called the "Disney Dining Plan." This plan includes one quick service meal, one table service meal, and 2 snacks during each day. If done correctly, you can get a huge bang for your buck. However, the Dining Plan is an incessant amount of food. You will be full to the brim each day, and we often find that it isn't possible to eat even one snack in a day. Unused items do rollover, but you'll most likely find yourself with many "extra" snacks by the end of your vacation (Here's what we recommend for the Dining Plan Disney Dining Plan 2018 Tips and Tricks ). If we are honest, we will say skip the Dining Plan. Your waistline will thank you.

5. Create a Must-Do List for Each Park
In this step, you will begin to truly hone in on what you want to accomplish at each park. I suggest starting with the attractions. Create a list of attractions that you feel are most important to you. Maybe consider if there's a new attraction or one you've never been on. Are there attractions you would be sad to miss? Or, if you've never been to that park, I suggest ranking the attractions you're interested in. Keep in mind, if you only have one day at each park, you will not get to do everything. I don't say this to be negative; it is simply impossible to "do it all" in one day (or even one week) at Disney.

After deciding on your attractions list, you'll want to look at parades and nighttime spectaculars. Which ones are most important to you? Have you seen Illuminations several times and don't mind skipping it? You'll want to decide this ahead of time, because these events take up chunks of time in the day. They also typically only happen once a day. So, if you're dying to see the Festival of Fantasy parade, you need to ensure your day does not have anything interrupting that period of time. I highly recommend setting aside time to see Happily Ever After if you'll be visiting Magic Kingdom. This is a beautiful fireworks and castle projection show that occurs nightly.

Last thing for this step is to create a loose schedule for your day. Keep that word "loose" in mind. Part of going to Disney is being flexible. I know that sounds quite ironic as you read an eight step planning guide. But, Disney is a wonderful place no matter what you end up riding, watching, or eating. Don't let your magic be spoiled by a derailed plan. In your schedule, you'll want to include your dining, parade plans, nighttime spectaculars, and possible attraction times. However, take the time to enjoy the little things and not worry about the minute by minute and "play by play" schedule along the way.

6. Create a Fastpass+ Plan
Once your loose schedule is created, you'll have a good idea of what attractions you'll want to fit into your days. With Disney's Fastpass+, you have the opportunity to choose 3 attractions to enter the Fastpass line in. This line allows for alleviated wait times, especially on the most popular attractions. If you're a resort guest, you will be able to select your Fastpass attractions 60 days prior to checkin (at 7:00 AM Eastern Time). If you are not staying on property, you'll set your Fastpasses 30 days ahead of your vacation date. At Magic Kingdom, you can choose any 3 attractions that are currently available on My Disney Experience. At all other parks, the attractions are tiered. This means, you cannot pick Toy Story, Rockin' Roller Coaster, and Tower of Terror for your Fastpasses. You'll have to choose one of the big name attractions and 2 other attractions.

My most important tip during the Fastpass process is to book early. Be on your laptop 60 (or 30) days ahead at 7 AM sharp to ensure you'll get the selections you want. Keep in mind, attractions like 7 Dwarfs Mine Train and Flight of Passage are still quite challenging to get. Disney only releases so many Fastpasses for each day. Having mentioned that, it isn't a bad idea to keep checking back. Make all of your selections and then edit them as you see fit based on new times or attractions that may come available.

Don't forget to take advantage of the 4th "revolving" Fastpass. After completing all of your Fastpass+ selections, you can look on My Disney Experience for any Fastpasses that are still available for that day. That means, you can be in the queue of your 3rd Fastpass attraction and select another Fastpass for when you get off of the ride. There is no limit to the amount of times you can do this. Keep in mind, you're not going to see a Tower of Terror Fastpass pop up at 3:30 while you're at Hollywood Studios (unless you get quite lucky), but you can still enjoy some shortened wait times at other, great attractions.

7. Check the Disney Website for Changes
After you've planned all of your days, made reservations, and completed your Fastpass+ selections, the bulk of your vacation is prepped! Congrats! One of our last tricks is to keep checking back on Disney's site and My Disney Experience. Disney is known to open up new dining reservations (or people may cancel theirs) along with releasing more Fastpass selections. If you didn't get the beloved Be Our Guest reservation for dinner until 8:00 PM, you may want to check periodically to see if a 6:30 time shows up instead. You can simply grab that reservation while it is available and cancel your original. We always suggest keeping what you have until the new reservation is solidified. The Disney site has a bad tendency to show an opening and then it suddenly disappears as you go to book it. Don't be afraid to call Disney if this happens. The time is usually still there if you saw it a moment ago (but not always). 

8. Purchase Any Park Necessities 

One of my favorite things about planning for Disney is the building anticipation and excitement. A great way to get excited for your trip is to make some small purchases to prep for the vacation. My favorite thing to buy before heading to Disney is a cute Disney tee. Target, the Disney Store, Etsy, and Kohl's all have some great options. When we were younger, our mom always let us choose a light up toy for the parks. By purchasing at home (even at the Disney store), you'll avoid the $17 Buzz Lightyear from the cart on Main Street. Bringing a poncho is extremely important, especially if you're traveling to Disney during the summer months (cue the 3:00 rain shower). We buy ours at the dollar tree - they're cheap and come in a small, carry-on friendly pouch. You will also want to make sure you have any needed electronic devices. Collin double checks his camera lenses and batteries. I like to have an extra phone cord and Mophie charger. You'll be taking lots of precious videos and pictures and don't want to loose power before Happily Ever After starts! Lastly, double check your staples. Be sure you've got a good pair of sunglasses, walking shoes, and a sturdy carryon bag.

There you have it! We hope that this step-by-step planning guide will help make your Disney planning process a breeze! If we left out any of your best tips, please feel free to share them in a comment below. We love to hear what works for you, and it may be able to inspire others too. Don't forget to share this article if you liked it! Guide4WDW.com is what it is because of you all! We love our Disney community. Happy planning!

Your Thoughts

As always, if you have thoughts, concerns, questions, or even some tips of your own to share, don't hesitate to reach out to us on Facebook or your favorite social media platform. Give us a follow while you're there, and we'll keep the conversation going in the future. We're not the largest Disney community, but we're one that's there and one that listens. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day wherever you are!

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Last but certainly not least, if you're starting the planning process, a great place to start are with some of our top planning articles! Looking for dining? Check out Disney World Dining Tips For 2018. Want to start with some more tips? 44 Excellent Disney World Tips for 2018 or Disney World Planning Guide and Tips For 2018 are a great place to begin! Looking to save money on tickets? Check out our friends over at The Official Ticket Center for great deals that even made it into our 2018 Discount Disney World Ticket selections and another great way to help us create more content through your contributions at no additional cost to you! You'll probably even save money along the way.

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