Welcome to my Back to School edition! Now is a good time to brush up on some Disney World subject areas. Don’t worry; there aren’t any pop quizzes or homework here!
- Attraction Overviews, Maps, and Park Hours. You could spend a couple of weeks at Walt Disney World and I’d wager you still wouldn’t be able to experience everything the theme parks offer. What’s a guest to do? Prioritize. Familiarize yourself with the attractions to be sure you don’t miss the ones that are most important to your family. Crisscrossing the parks can eat up a fair portion of your day so know the basic park layouts before you go. Disney park hours can vary widely by season and from day to day. Visit the Disney World website before you arrive to make a plan.
- Menus. Spend any time on Disney boards or reading blogs and you’ll find a large Disney dining subculture. Disney food is as important as the Mountains for a lot of us. I think it’s fair to say that Disney dining is expensive so guests want the most for their money or their Disney Dining Plan credits. Before making your Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs), take a look at the menus at AllEars and hop on over to the Disney Food Blog for restaurant reviews.
- Plussing Up Your Visit. Things like stroller and ECV rentals, Baby Care Centers, and grocery delivery can make a great trip even better. Many people don’t know about them (I didn’t before I visited with kids) and they really can make a difference. Poke around a little, read some reviews, and decide which options work best for you.
- Touring Plan. Remember those attractions you prioritized when you did your Disney reading? Well, it’s best to visit some of them first thing in the morning or at the end of the day to avoid long waits. Others are practically walk-ons all day long (Carousel of Progress, I’m talking about you). If you want a FastPass to Toy Story Mania! in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you should get one early in the day to avoid a very late return time. If you wait too long, all the FastPass for the day may even be distributed.
- Packing List. I just added two items to my packing list today. If I didn’t, I’d be likely to forget the Sharpie to mark which water bottles are for which child every day or the potty seat for the resort room. Besides my trusty packing lists, I also have a list of things I need to do right before the trip like adjusting the thermometers, holding the mail, etc.
- Advance Dining Reservation. Sometimes it’s easy to get sidetracked on a Disney vacation or to even forget about a dining reservation, especially one you may have made 6 months in advance. Bring your list of ADRs, including times and reservation numbers. If you cannot make an ADR, don’t forget to cancel to avoid any cancellation fees.
- Dining Plan. There are many guests that are diehard fans of the Disney Dining Plans. I’m not one of them. It just doesn’t save my family money given the way we dine and the restaurants we prefer. For many other families, it does. Before buying the Disney Dining Plan, review the menus for the restaurants you’ll be eating at and estimate how much you would spend out of pocket and then compare it with the cost of the Dining Plan.
- Discounts. Everyone seems to jump on Free Dining promotions but I hear less enthusiasm for Room Discounts. Both will save you money, but avoid automatically thinking one will save you more without doing the math for your particular circumstances, including party size and type of accommodations. You may be surprised by the outcome.
- Character Dining. Character Dining doesn’t come cheap but it does guarantee character interaction. The good news is that there are many places in the parks you can see the whole gang for free. Epcot’s Character Spot has Mickey and friends, Princesses are at Town Square Theater in Magic Kingdom, and residents of The Hundred Acre Wood can be found in Animal Kingdom. Planning is required to avoid long waits and as every Disney visitor knows, time is money.
Lisa M. Battista is the author of Beyond the Attractions: A Guide to Walt Disney World with Preschoolers. When she’s not chasing after her little ones, you can most likely find her at the beach or in the kitchen trying her hand at a new recipe. You can follow her on Twitter @DisneyExplorer or become a fan of Beyond the Attractions on Facebook.