Christmas at Walt Disney World – Extra Crazy, Extra Crowded, Extraordinary

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Our family always spends Christmas at Walt Disney World.  We have been told we were crazy, out of our minds, and even downright stupid. Ouch. That’s the one that hurts.

Christmas Tree at EPCOT

EPCOT Tree

Why would we intentionally go to Walt Disney World during the Christmas holidays? Do we know it’s the busiest time of the year? Are we unable to go ANY other time? Is there no psychiatric treatment in New Jersey that would prevent us from making such an insane decision?

Simply put, we go during Christmas because we love it. From the massive Christmas trees at the theme parks to the beautifully decorated wreaths at the resorts, there is holiday magic in the air. We do know it is the busiest time of the year. We have rubbed elbows and bumped shoulders with tens of thousands of our closest friends for many years now, and we still love it. And yes, there is psychiatric treatment here in New Jersey, but Christmas week at Walt Disney World does more for my heart, head, and soul than any doctor’s office.

Themed Bay Lake Tower Tree

Bay Lake Tower Lobby Tree

So what are the tricks to surviving the busiest time of the year at the Most Magical Place on Earth? Here’s what works for us:

PLAN: We did this year’s trip with four weeks of planning, and despite what some people believe (yes, Jim, I’m talking to you), there was tremendous effort put in. No matter when you decide to head to Disney World for Christmas, make sure you have some plan in place – book FastPass+ options, book dining reservations, and check times for extra magic hours, rope drop, and park closing.

Rope Drop at EPCOT

There is an actual rope at Rope Drop

UTILIZE YOUR MORNING:  I know. It’s your vacation. You can’t even deal with the idea of getting up at 6 AM. If you want to make the most of your time at Disney World during Christmas, the early bird gets the worm. My family can get more done in a morning extra magic hour than we can in a full day at the Magic Kingdom Christmas week. We do more getting there at rope drop in our first hour or two than we will the rest of the day.  Sleep when you’re dead!

EPCOT's famous Geosphere

Spaceship Earth in the morning

RESIGN YOURSELF TO NOT SEEING IT ALL: You won’t. This is not the time for a once in a lifetime trip, where you want to do and see everything. You can’t. A Cast Member told us that if you see seven or eight things a day at the Magic Kingdom during Christmas week, you’re winning. Know this is your fate and roll with it.

USE DOWNTIME FOR BONUS MAGIC:  Now is the time to visit the resorts.  Enjoy the holiday decorations, gorgeous trees, delicious gingerbread, carolers, and characters.  There is more to Walt Disney World – especially during Christmas – than just the theme parks!

Grand Floridian Lobby

Lifesized gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian

We have never left a Walt Disney World Christmas vacation disappointed, and I doubt we ever will.  Plan, keep expectations realistic, and just go with it!

Toddler Disney World tips what when and how

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Toddler Disney World Tips

Thinking of taking a baby or toddler to Walt Disney World?  Use these tips for taking a toddler to Walt Disney World to help turn your stress to the start of making the magic happen!

Toddler Disney World Tips #1 – What to Bring:

Your own stroller – If you are flying, gate check the stroller so you’ll have someplace safe to keep your little one comfortable while you wait.  The basket underneath will also allow you to store a carry on item or diaper bag so you’ll have your hands free at the airport.  Having your own stroller at Disney will give your tiny traveler a familiar surrounding, and possibly more comfort.

Carry-on:  Bring a bag with a supply of diapers/wipes; changes of clothes for an accident; bathing suit; sunscreen; hat; food items or medicines that might be needed until bags are delivered or in case they are lost.

ONE:  Favorite toy/stuffed animal

A Ziploc baggie with a few washing machine tablets/pods – just in case you need to do laundry.

Toddler Disney World Tips #2 – Ship Down or Deliver:

To save room in your luggage or in the car – ship a box to your resort ahead of time with diapers, wipes, powdered formula, extra supplies.

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Address it to your resort, but include your name and “Arriving Guest” with the date of your arrival.  The resort will store it until you arrive, and you won’t have to worry about taking up precious luggage space with essentials.  You’ll use most of this stuff up before you go home, so you won’t have to save space – buy those souvenirs!

You could also use a service like Garden Grocer.  This grocery delivery service will shop for the supplies you need and drop them off right at your hotel.

 

Toddler Disney World Tips #3 – Baby Care Center:

Located in each park, these are air conditioned, comfortable areas where you can attend to all of your little one’s needs.  Changing tables, high chairs, and a room for nursing mothers can be found here, as well as a microwave for quick heat up for your toddler’s meal.  You can also buy forgotten items like diapers, formula, and baby foods.  Moms and Dads can use the centers, and there is a place for older kids to watch cartoons while you tend to your tot.

Toddler Disney World Tips #4 – What Not to Bring:

High chairs, pack and plays, bed rails – all are available upon request at no additional charge at your resort/restaurants

Every toy you own – you’ll be in the parks most of the time, and not likely to need many things to play with – but do bring a favorite sleeping buddy.

Other Suggestions:

Stick to a schedule – eat when you do at home; try to remember bedtime and nap time if your kids have one. When making your FastPass+ reservations, avoid times when your little one is likely to prefer napping or eating.

Don’t force them to go to the characters if you sense anxiety – you’ll end up paying for therapy in years to come!

 

Magic Bands, FastPass+, ADRs, OH MY!

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Remember, back in the day, when you could just show up at Walt Disney World, ride the rides, eat nice meals, have a great time, and go home?  Yeah, me neither.

For as long as I’ve been planning Walt Disney World vacations (approximately 7, 459 years), I’ve had to get up at the crack of dawn at some distant light year from the actual vacation to book a dining reservation at a restaurant for which I personally have no fondness, but I have deemed it an experience my children MUST have to prevent them from ending up in years of therapy for the mental cruelty they suffered at the hands of a negligent mother.

But as if that fun and excitement wasn’t enough to give you hives, there’s more!

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You have, no doubt, heard of the latest technology rolled out at the Disney theme parks.  The aptly named “Magic Bands” have debuted, and boy oh boy are they fun!  They come in pretty colors, you can add little charms to them, a cutie patootie frame around your Mickey head – what’s not to love?  They even have your name on them!  Adorable!

But the responsibility that comes as a Magic Band owner! While planning for a recent vacation, I spent the better part of my days trying to make sure everything for our upcoming vacation is going to be magical for my family.  I spent hours on the phone with Disney IT, when somethings weren’t working out right, and I went back into My Disney Experience dozens upon dozens of times, trying to make sure I wasn’t overlooking things.

And as the vacation date loomed, I didn’t feel ready.  For the first time, I was afraid our ability to navigate the park without stress was going to be impeded.  I worried that the FastPass+ selections I made were not really the ones my kids want.  I feared the kid who could easily ride Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster a half dozen times would be disappointed when I had to drag her away after one ride, not having the ability to snag FastPasses throughout the day.  It’s like the old fashioned ticket books!

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Well, I can say that the vacation wasn’t a total disaster, but it was super stressful.  My husband declared it “not fun” to have my head buried in my cell phone as we tried to make adjustments to our FastPass+ selections, made 60 days in advance, to accommodate our schedule.  My kids were disappointed I couldn’t snag extra FastPasses to come back to things like Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster or Toy Story.  And we did race through a meal or two in order to make sure we were able to run to our FastPass+ attractions before our time was up.

I am confident that in time, this will be an awesome system.  I loved, for example, not carrying a bag with me, because I didn’t have to store keys or passes or FastPasses.  I breezed right through the “No Bags” line like I’d done it a hundred times before.

But I did need a vacation from that vacation.  The stress of making sure we were where we needed to be so we could enjoy things killed some of the enjoyment.

Or maybe I’m not so good with the winds of change?

Last Minute Disney World Trip for Valentine’s Day? What’s a Procrastinator to Do?

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You’ve just realized you have a long weekend over Valentine’s weekend because of the President’s Day holiday, so you’ve decided to take your Sweetheart to Walt Disney World.

What are you, crazy?

No, I didn’t mean that.  You’d be crazy NOT to jump at that last minute trip to the House of Mouse!  But what the heck are you going to do, with no dining reservations, no FastPasses, and no chance to choose the romantic color red for your Magic Bands?  Well, let’s just see what we can do to make this trip not only happen, but happen with many wonderful, romantic memories to boot!

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Let’s start with dining reservations.  I’m going to break this to you gently.  You are not getting into Cinderella’s Royal Table.  And there are probably a few other options not available to you at this late planning stage, but fear not.  You’ll be glad to know that a quick search today, just 9 days in advance, shows dinner reservations available at many Walt Disney World resort restaurants, both inside and outside of the theme parks.  You may not get prime time for V-Day dining, but if you don’t mind eating before six or after 8, options include my favorite Artist Point, the way under talked about Turf Club at Saratoga Springs, Sanaa, Jiko, Paradiso 37, Bongo’s Cuban Cafe, or numerous options at EPCOT.  That romantic dinner can be something intimate and quiet, like Artist Point; or you can opt for fun and rambunctious, like Raglan Road.

And while this may not be the romantic dinner you had in mind, there is all sorts of magical moments dining for lunch at Be Our Guest.  You don’t need reservations to eat there at lunch time, and you can sit in the West Wing with the enchanted rose, or check out the room with the giant music box.  Great memories to be made if you are willing to wait in line a little bit.

FastPass+ encourages you to book your ride times in advance, but you may not have time to do that.  Thankfully, you’ll find locations at each theme park where you can choose your FastPass+ options after you arrive at the park.  I’ve seen pretty good availability last minute so far on rides and attractions, so if you want to steal a smooch with your Sweetie as you kick his butt on Toy Story Midway Mania, you may still find a FastPass+ available.

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How about those plain grey Magic Bands you’ll be stuck with, since you didn’t customize them in advance?  Gotcha covered.  You’ll find virtually every resort and gift shop now stocks a supply of Magic Band covers and Magic Bandits, which are little pins you can stick in the holes on your Magic Bands to make them more personal.  You can choose from solid colors, patterns, favorite characters – any combination of accessories to make the bands ones you love.

There are rooms available, plenty of park passes to hit up the places where you’ll find the most magic, and if you decide to wait until the moment strikes to pick up the perfect gift for your Valentine, you’ll find everything from delicious smelling bath products, watches, jewelry, clothing, accessories, or the gift that keeps on giving – annual passes!

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So pack those bags, book those flights, and get your hiney down there with your honey.  A Valentine’s Day full of love, romance, and magic – what could possibly be better?

It’s Too Hot to go to Walt Disney World!

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Bite your tongue!  Some people – including those of us with school aged children – are bound by school schedules, sports schedules, and even work schedules (says the teacher-to-be), and a vacation to Walt Disney World has to be done during the hot summer.  When it’s hot.  And humid. And did I mention hot?

Summer, though, is the best time to have your cake and eat it too!  You will want to arrange your day to beat the heat, but that will give you a chance to maybe do some of the Disney things you never have time to do!

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My best theme park tip for the dog days of summer is to hit it early and hit it hard.  Be at the park at rope drop, and if you can take advantage of morning extra magic hours, DO IT!  As soon as you arrive, snag a FastPass for your absolutely must do attraction, then get in line for your second must do.  Chances are, you’ll have both of those attractions done pretty quickly, and can move on to your next FastPass and your next attraction.

If you are doing FastPass+, schedule your attraction choices for early in the day or later in the evening.  This will not only help you avoid the hottest part of the day, but it also might help you miss the typical afternoon thunderstorm Central Florida is known for.

By lunch time, you’ve probably melted to a puddle bodily fluids.  You’re ready for something cool, comfortable, and away from the theme parks – something you might not think about if you were there when it was cooler.

Now is the time to take advantage of the OTHER side of Walt Disney World!  Check out Downtown Disney for some shopping and a nice lunch.  Head to the AMC 24 at Pleasure Island, where you can do a Fork and Screen movie/lunch show, enjoying the hottest first run movies in cool comfort.  How about the so hot it’s cool Splitsville for a game of bowling and one of the best burgers at Walt Disney World?

splitsville

Have you ever done DisneyQuest?  A hot afternoon is the perfect time to visit this gaming mecca, with virtual reality, arcade, and video games galore.  You can grab a quick bite to eat here – and save room for some of the great desserts!

Take the afternoon off to take a dip in the pool.  Pop on the monorail for some resort hopping afternoon shopping.  Or enjoy the heat of the afternoon in a spa getting your nails done!

disney spa

A hot afternoon is a great time to enjoy some of the Walt Disney World attractions you may typically overlook, so when the heat index is rising, split your theme park day in half.  With an attraction packed morning and an afternoon cool down, you’ll be ready and refreshed to shut the parks down at the end of the day!

 

Disney Holiday Weekends – Worth the Trip?

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As if I’m EVER going to say there’s a time when it’s NOT worth the trip!

People ask me, especially during the school year, when you don’t want to yank the kids out of school, if they’ll have time to see and do what they want on holiday weekends during the school year.  With the Martin Luther King day holiday coming up next week, I wanted to just give you a resounding YES!!

Will it be busy?  Yes.  But nothing like the crowds you are going to see during Christmas and Easter week.  You’ll see a surge in crowds that will make you want to use the FastPass system, but it’s rare during holiday weekends like this that you could expect park closures or two hour lines.

Tips for making the most of your holiday weekend and for maximizing your time?

– Use FastPass – This complimentary “ticket” will give you a window of time to come back to the busier attractions.  Instead of waiting in line, grab the pass at the kiosk, then go do something else.  For these busy weekends, as soon as your window opens up, head to another FastPass attraction and get another pass (which you can’t do until your window opens up).  That way, you’ll always have something to look forward to, plus you won’t stress over making it to your favorite attractions!

– Make Dining Reservations – I you want to eat somewhere special or you are specific as to where you must have your meals, book ahead of time.  You can almost always find SOMEWHERE to sit down and eat – even at the table service restaurants – but if your heart is set on Chef Mickey’s or Le Cellier, book in advance.  Reservations can be made up to 180 days ahead of time.

– Consider Park Hopper Passes – I have to admit that we almost never park hop.  And you might think that on a busy weekend, you’re better to stay put where you start.  However, if I know that the parks are going to be busy, I’ll try to hit the morning Extra Magic Hours (which you are entitled to as a Walt Disney World resort guest) at whichever park they are offered, then move to another park after spending that early morning hour.  I might do my top attractions at the next park, move on to a third, then head to a fourth for dinner.  If I’m going to go for dinner, I like to see about doing the park that has extra magic hours in the evening, then I stay put there.  That gives you a longer day in the theme parks, allows you to see some of each park (which can be tough on a three day weekend), and gives you a chance to eat breakfast in one place, lunch in another, and dinner in a third.

Will you find bigger crowds on a holiday weekend?  You will.  But the crowd is manageable if you go with a strategy, and you really can see quite a bit of all four Walt Disney World Parks if you head in with plan in hand.