Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Advice Needed: Secret Disney Trip Ahoy!

So! As I mentioned many posts ago, we are headed to Disney World in November! I never really planned to go- I love a good roller coaster, but people, crowds, lines, and logistics are decidedly not my thing when on vacation and spending a million dollars to combine all of those things sounded 100% terrible, but James went a lot as a kid and responded to my "we don't ever have to do Disney right?" comment a few years ago with an incredulous and absolutely genuine, "but it's magical!" I knew it would have to happen. James using the word "magical" non-sarcastically is as about as high of an endorsement as you can get. And now that it's here, I'm actually super excited.

It has a lot to do with this little princess-obsessed toddler right here. I have no doubt Landon and Claire will LOVE Disney. They'll be swept up in James's magic and love everything. But they're both indifferent to the Disney-ness of it. Claire has never been into princesses or any Disney characters and Landon is the same. I'm not really sure either of them know who Mickey Mouse is. A childhood without TV is not an advantage here. But Cora? Cora loves her princesses with all of her heart. They speak to her soul and just picturing her joy at seeing them in REAL LIFE makes me feel the magic before we're even there.

Day 1 of our trip is actually Cora's 4th birthday. We're going the week before Thanksgiving, when James isn't busy, end-of-year school stuff hasn't started yet, and Disney isn't yet crowded for the holidays. We should land in Orlando around noon, get to our hotel mid-afternoon (1-bedroom villa in the Bay Lake Tower at the Contemporary; separate bedroom for James and me, 2 full bathrooms, full kitchen and eating area, plus a washer and dryer(!); my vacation sleeping rules remain satisfied and we can go home with clean clothes!), settle in, and head to the park for our 4:00 allowed entry with our Mickey's Christmas Party tickets. We're eating at Cinderella's Castle that night for Cora's birthday dinner and I CANNOT WAIT. In the words of Tara, "oh my god she's probably going to pass out."

And then we'll have the Christmas Party! Which sounds fun- Elsa, Anna, and Olaf do the show that turns the Christmas lights on the castle, there's snow falling on Main Street, lots of the rides are open, and there's a parade with characters you don't normally see. It required its own tickets anyway, so it's a perfect travel day activity and made our estimate cheaper for not needing full park tickets that first day. And I could get later flights so we don't need to get up at the crack of dawn before a week-long vacation. All in all, I'm feeling pretty good about Day 1.

But I'd love your recommendations for everything else! We're working with an awesome Disney planner (and swim school client of James's; love our little community!) but James hasn't been to Disney in 20 years and I haven't been ever, so I'd love your thoughts on some of the following decisions we're working through with her. And just anything else you want to share.

General info: our trip will be Sunday-Friday, so five nights and four full days, plus our first half-day at Magic Kingdom for the Sunday evening Christmas party and birthday dinner. Landon will be 10, Claire 7, and Cora 4 (ahhh! also, sob.). We're doing the meal plan. We're open to extras, but also aren't looking to add on if we don't need to (other than the stuff we already have planned for Sunday of course).

Things we are supposed to be thinking about before talking to Kaleigh (our planner) again:

~ Which parks do we want to visit and how many days do we want to spend there? I'm assuming we'll visit all four because I don't know when/if we'll do this again. We remain mostly mountain, beach, hiking, and city-exploring people. I've heard MK needs 2 days- would the half-day Sunday + 1 full day be enough? Can we combine two parks into one day? Or we could do 3 full days for 3 parks and one more 1/2 day at MK with a 1/2 day at the 4th.

~ Do we want to utilize the Extra Magic House? In the a.m. or the p.m.? I'd say yes, particularly the a.m. option, but will this make the day too long for the kids?

~ What table service meals do we want to do? Breakfast v. Lunch v. Dinner? When/Where? *I'm particularly looking for recommendations here as reservations open in May* What were your favorite meals? It sounds nice to sit down and have a table meal, but also a time-suck. Our kids are super well behaved and patient at restaurants, but I want to spend our time/money wisely. Which ones were worth it? What time of day worked for you?

~ Do we want to do any dinner shows?

~ Do we want to do any add-on things like the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique? or Firework dessert party at MK?

~ Have you been to Disney in mid-November?
What kind of weather did you experience? Could you swim? Can Cora wear her princess dresses? Please predict the future and tell me the temperature.

~ Park Packing. What did you bring that I might not think of but that you found super helpful? What did you not need? What kind of purse/bag did you carry? A fanny pack is not a thing that is happening, unless James agrees to wear it.

~ What was your/your kids' favorite thing? Anything I should tell Kaleigh is a must do for us? I'm sure we'll hit all the classics (whatever those are), but if there's something you loved that I should tell her to put in our plan, let me know!

Despite all these questions, I should note I'm not at all worried about any this. It's going to be awesome. We have a great room where everyone will sleep. Kaleigh knows her stuff and will give us a great general plan that won't make me think hard or research things I don't feel like researching. But this is an expensive and likely rare vacation for us, so I would definitely love to absorb your thoughts, advice, recommendations, and don't-waste-your-times into our plan!

Lastly, and also firstly, our kids don't know about this trip yet! Please don't tell them. Not because I have a grand unveiling surprise, but because I can't handle a 200+ day countdown. They made a 50-circle countdown paper chain for Easter. This would be like having-a-baby levels of anticipation. I'm thinking 1-2 months out will be perfect. I want them excited. I don't want a paper chain stretched across my house that we have to re-count every night because Landon can't remember if he removed a ring or not. For now, I'm excited enough for all of us.


  1. Best advice-don't overdo. Get to the parks earlier in the morning, and then come back to the resort mid-afternoon for a swim/rest. Factor in time to see some of the shows (such as Lion King in AK). Maybe do the Studios at the mid-point when energies are flagging-less walking. Grab a non sit-down breakfast most days (but do plan one character breakfast). My kids first visited at ages 4 and 6-they both loved the Teppanaki Grill at Epcot and the Drive-In Movie restaurant at the Studios and always go back there even though they are in their 20s now. Get each kid an autograph book so that they can get stamps from the different countries in Epcot. The Buzz Lightyear Ride is great for everyone. When I first took my kids, I thought it would be a "once a childhood" thing, but i fell in love with the place. We went back a couple of times later in their childhood, and my husband and I have gone twice by ourselves after the kids were adults. Expect cranky, as it is not a restful vacation, but also expect to make memories.

  2. Caveat -- I am not a seasoned Disney expert -- I only went once 3 years ago with my kids (aged 6 and 9 at the time). Here is my general advice: go to touringplans.com and pay the nominal fee to get access to their wait time estimates and trip planner tools. They are incredibly close to accurate. And they help you make a daily plan to maximize fun and minimize wait times, for any of the parks, and have a decent app as well. I really felt like I got my money's worth out of it.
    Another piece of advice -- look carefully at Disney Hollywood Studios park because a pretty high number of rides are closed as they are building out the Star Wars section of the park. It might be one you want to miss, and do Magic Kingdom twice instead. (I only have experience with Studios and Magic Kingdom. Magic Kingdom was by far our favorite, though we definitely enjoyed Studios).
    Oh, and I carried a not too large cross body purse. In it was money, cards, phone (bring an extra battery!) and sunscreen and water bottle to share. I like to travel light!
    Make your older kids memorize your cell phone numbers. And put cell phone number on something in a pocket for Cora. We actually needed this with our son who liked to wander off, and was glad he knew our number!
    I dont know about the desserts party but I really enjoyed our view of the fireworks from the path on the way to Tomorrow Land -- Tinker bell goes by right overhead.
    Oh! As you you enter Magic Kingdom there is a building on the left where you can get a button to wear that says things like "Today is my birthday". My daughter turned 6 when we were there and she loved that people knew it was her birthday (some crew members even spontaneously sang happy birthday to her)
    Good luck!

  3. I could write a novel here but I will try and keep it as short as possible! I am an annual passholder now that I live in FL but used to go once a year before so I have it down to a pretty good system:

    1. You're not going to get to do everything you planned on because stuff at Disney just comes up (tired, feet hurt, ride closed, etc.) so try and avoid telling your kids specific things that you are going to do incase something does happen and you have to move the schedule around. No one gets disappointed and they still will enjoy everything they did do.
    2. Number one thing to bring in a bag is a portable phone charger. Between taking pictures and using the Disney app your phone will drain the battery so quick. If you don't want to buy one ahead of time, you can buy one for $30 at the park, exchange it for a new one when the charge dies, and return it at the end of the day for your money back. I also like to just bring a simple drawstring bag that way my fiancé and I can switch off on carrying it (instead of a purse which I would be stuck with all day).
    3. Things to buy and home and bring: Autograph book for Cora (you can buy them in the park but it's obviously cheaper to bring a notepad from home), ponchos, princess dresses, if you are doing a parade bring glow sticks from the dollar store so you avoid waiting in line and buying them in the park.
    4. There are several ways to do the parks each day but my personal favorite is get there for rope drop in the morning (especially in MK where they have a show!) and do all the big rides first when there is no line. I like to save my fast passes for when the park is starting to get crowded so from 11-2 and then head back to the hotel to go swimming during the super crowded and hot part of the day(it totally will be warm enough for you to swim in November). You can then make your next set of Fast Passes for later that night when you return to the park.
    5. In terms of table service meals, I always like to save mine for dinner using the dining plan because I feel like I am getting the most bang for my buck. I really liked using my dining plan at buffet/all you can eat style meals because I feel like I'm getting the most out of it (Ohana, Boma, and Beirgarten are all great options). Especially since you are staying on the monorail loop look at restaurants at the different hotels there! Most of my favorite places to eat are at the resorts not the parks. Character meals are also a good option even though they are a bit more expensive because then you can knock out seeing the characters without having to wait in line at the parks.
    6. If you are OK splitting up during the day that way the older kids can do the big rides and Cora can see the princess/do the smaller rides you can definitely fit MK into a day and a half. Hollywood Studios has such few rides open right now you probably could only spend a half a day there and see it all and then head over for extra time at MK.
    7. In terms of Magic Hours, the parks that have Magic Hours in the morning tend to stay the most crowded throughout the day. If you search Crowd Calendars on Google there are really helpful websites that you can look at which week you are going and what park should be the most empty that day. I've done this every time I go for a long visit and it's usually pretty accurate.

    Whew! Forcing myself to stop here but I am happy to answer anymore questions you have! You are all going to have so much fun regardless of the millions of decisions there are to make :)

    1. LOVE the fuel rods:) we kept ours and recharge it all the time. Found ours at the tomorrowland gift shop near space mountain at WDW.

    2. You can also charge your phone at Magic Kingdom city hall- but that's a pain to have to leave it and come back.

  4. I am NOT a "Disney Person." And I haven't taken kids to World, but we just got back from Disneyland with a 3 and 5 year old, and we had a blast. I am sure you will get tons and tons of info from people way more knowledgeable than myself, but a few of my biggest takeaways that I believe will translate nicely from Land to World...
    (1) Don't try and cram it all in. Even if this is to be your only Disney trip. Hit the parks early in the morning (we did A.M. extra magic hour because it worked quite nicely with our CST to Pacific time change, but I know there are a lot of differing opinions about the extra magic hours), have a leisurely lunch or go back to the hotel for a rest and a swim, and then come back refreshed for an evening in the park.
    (1a) We did a character breakfast reservation and, while it was great, I wish we would have done lunch instead. The park was still relatively chill while we were brunching but it was insanely crowded a few hours later -- would have been nice to use that time more wisely in the morning and take a breather from the crowds midday.
    (2) Book character meals with characters (princesses) your kids (Cora) would otherwise want to wait in line to see. This is a huge time saver, and we definitely got to spend more time with the characters we saw at meals than we did with the characters we waited in line to hug.
    (3) Under-promise, Over-perform. There were several big things we knew the kids would FLIP for that we didn't tell them about ahead of time. Some of them we got to do (Disney Junior Live Show!) and some of them we didn't (Frozen Live Show...with a 1.5 hour wait for tickets!), and boy am I glad they didn't have a clue about the stuff we skipped. On the other hand, my train-obsessed 3 year old is still asking when he gets to ride the monorail that we talked about for a week and never ended up riding because walking back to our hotel was logistically easier. Sorry, kid. Maybe someday.
    (4) I'm assuming Disney World has Single Rider Lines -- different than Fast Pass lines and fabulous if there is a more adult experience that the kids don't want to go on (or aren't tall enough to ride... likely wont be as much of an issue with your crew?). My husband and I were able to do all the roller coasters this way in no time at all, even at the most crowded times in the parks.

    Have fun! And remember: no booze in MK...but beverages abound pretty much everywhere else ;)

    1. Oh, and TOTALLY bring princess dresses! Practically every child we saw was in a princess dress or some other Disney finery. We brought one with us every day into the park along with a comfy change of clothes.

  5. 1. ALL OF THEM. We like MK and Epcot the best and try to do 2 days each. The big kids like HS, but it makes me stabby-- at least they have liquor. AK is our least fave, so we do 1/2 a day there.
    2. Both. AM is really fun b/c it's so dead and you can do fun stuff with no wait. A great tip is to do a SUPER FREAKING EARLY breakfast at Chef Mickey's and then you can literally run over to MK and be the first happy assholes in the park.
    3. We met all of the characters with meals, and we prefer buffets because the plated food is very hotel banquet-y. Our fave is Tusker House at AK. We also like Crystal Palace at MK. The restaurant at the Beach Club has a totally fine breakfast buffet and good characters. The princess buffet at Epcot is a good way to cross off a ton of princesses (Akershus). Cinderella's castle is fun, but the food is meh at best. Ben got wicked bad food poisoning at the Disney Jr buffet at HS, but we always like the Sci Fi drive in place. Eating quick service around the world (and getting pretty pretty drunk) is our favorite food adventure.
    4. We have not because our kids were all so damn little
    5. Add on any holiday party or dessert event you can-- crowds clear out, and our kids always love them. In general though, I say yes to all add ons.
    5. We could swim in December
    6. I just brought a giant coach purse. It was fine. You get SO MANY snack credits on the meal plan that we didn't need to carry much of anything in.
    6. Our kids had all different favorite things. I mostly did Dumbo and the carousel/ teacups and the princesses with Dorothy while Ben took the big kids on all the real rides. Epcot is funnest for grown ups and probably the lest fun for the kids but we always bought them their weight in crepes and churros and souvenirs.
    Our Disney travel agent told me that when you feel crabby have a drink, and when the kids feel crabby buy them ice cream. Worked like a charm.

  6. Oh! Park Fare at GF is really fun, but way better food for breakfast than dinner. And! Early magic hours at MK are a character bonanza-- we rode Aladdin with Jasmine and the merry-go-round with Cinderella. Good times.

  7. It will most likely be warm enough to swim, and the pools are heated. The pools have fun dance parties/games for the kids- worth doing. The movies with s'mores are also fun, and free. I love the princess dining in Epcot (Akerhus?). You can get great pics of the kids with the super sweet princesses- they come to your table. Kona Cafe at the Polynesian hotel is one of our favorite breakfast places and you can walk into MK after breakfast. Don't try to do too much and overbook things, so you can enjoy what you see along the way. Enjoy the little moments.

  8. First off, I would only use early hours if you want to each breakfast. We would rather eat continental at the hotel or some cereal bars/fruit in the room. The goal is to get there when park opens (regular time) and run to the back left and ride two rides first. You won't need fast passes. Go straight to Haunted Mansion and It's a Small World.

    We always enjoy lunch for sure - free drink refills and cool down!!! I would get full table service for that meal. Possibly dinner too. Right before fireworks all the casual dining is packed and it's HARD to find anything to eat, so reservations are good.

    I always say magic kingdom 1-2 days. Maybe Epcot 1/2 day with kids. They would probably enjoy Hollywood Studios - lots of Disney Jr stuff. I've never been to Animal Kingdom, but I've heard it's hit or miss.

    We were there last year the week of Thanksgiving. It was warmer than usual. Shorts, tshirts, etc.

    One more thing... It's easier I think to see some characters at Epcot. You don't use fastpasses and they are in their respective countries at certain times. Mary Poppins at England, Elsa in Norway, etc. Might be worth it to see some of those and the BIG Frozen Ride is in Epcot.

  9. oh and download the app and start playing around with it! It's pretty cool.

  10. last thing. Character and activity times in Epcot:

  11. You've gotten LOTS of good advice already! We went almost 2 years ago when our kids were 16 months and almost 3...I thought they'd be too young but it was a blast. Your kids will be the perfect ages! I highly recommend renting a stroller - yes, she'll be 4, but with the sheer amount of walking (10+ miles per day I've read!), and for busting through crowds with a tired little kid to get to the other side of the park for a certain activity, like a Fastpass...you want a stroller. We rented one from Kingdom Strollers and it was delivered to the rental house we stayed at - they also deliver to your hotel. I agree with planning afternoons for swimming/downtime at the hotel. For us, the parent ride swap program was wonderful and allowed us to ride things the kids didn't want to (or weren't big enough for). Definitely experience MK over 2 days, it can be overwhelming! Finally...there's a semi-hidden entrance to the Expedition Everest roller coaster in Animal Kingdom for "single riders"...if you don't mind sitting next to a stranger or by yourself on the ride, it cuts down the time in line by a LOT. Have fun planning... there are lots of good guidebooks and websites (like Touring Plans) where you can research and plan to your heart's content. :)

  12. We're going in November too (the week of Tgiving), for the first time in about 4-5 years. It's all changed with the Fast Pass wristband things - I have no idea. But all these are good tips! My main thing has always been to just TAKE IT EASY. See what you can see. My kids' favorite thing is always the damn gift shops! SO just plan to spend a little money to get them some souvenirs. It makes them so happy. AND you won't have to schlep the stuff around - the store will deliver to your on-property hotel room. We have never done the Boo-tique (so $$$!) though we've taken my daughter at age 2 and age 4. What she didn't know, she didn't miss.

    I need to start planning w/my Mom (my parents are also going, adding an extra level of challenge)!

  13. Make sure you get fast passes to the really popular rides so you don't have to wait in long lines. We went last November (the first week, and just as a side note, it was a lot busier than I thought it would be for that time of year) and we couldn't get fast passes to the new Frozen ride at Epcot so we did it it first thing in the morning and we still had to wait in line over half an hour. Also one day is enough for Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios but you definitely need two for Magic Kingdom.

  14. We went the first week of November last year with our 2 and 5 year olds. The weather was perfect, low 80s and no humidity, so we had a lot of pool time. What worked for us was to get to the parks before rope drop and leave around lunch for pool times. We would then do a nice dinner or more park time in the late afternoon. It helped keep everyone from getting overtired. We are big on the sit down restaurants so we were willing to forego some park time for a good meal.

    My kids loved the magic kingdom, I would say definitely do two days there. They also loved the character breakfast we did, it was probably the highlight for them. The GF does a great princess meal that Cora would probably love. My animal loving son went crazy for the safari at the animal kingdom and loved the festival of the Lion King. One day there is enough. There are a few great shows at the Hollywood Studios and the toy story ride is a lot of fun. Definitely fast pass the rides you want, it helps a lot.

    The only thing was the parks were a lot more crowded than I had anticipated, we went 11/4-11/13. Epcot was insane due to the food and wine festival and we wound up avoiding it because it was just too crowded.

  15. I live in Orlando and we had annual passes until this year. You've gotten tons of advice so far! Even if your kids aren't into Mickey Mouse they'll still have a great time.

    You're staying in an awesome location so that's half the battle (monorail is fun, but getting on the buses is less fun and takes longer). You can even walk to Magic Kingdom from where you're staying which is great. I've never been for park opening, but people love it so I suggest doing that one day. Timing is awesome because November is not as busy as December and the weather is great. You're used to hot, so even if the temps are higher than usual you guys will be fine. Bring sunscreen/hats/food. They'll let you take things into the park.

    My biggest advice is to download the app and make fast pass reservations NOW and also if you'll be eating at Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom (the one place in MK that serves alcohol). Reservations book fast. Try to get a fast pass for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.

    I say spend most of your time at Magic Kingdom and I don't even know if you need to do Hollywood Studios since it is undergoing such a huge renovation. If you're getting park-hopper passes anyway, may as well spend a couple hours there. Rock n' Rollercoaster is AMAZING and by far my favorite thing there. Try to get a fast pass for that and Toy Story Mania if it's open.

    Epcot is awesome. You'll be missing Food & Wine festival, but the crowds will be less, thank goodness. Get a fast pass for Soarin' if you can. Walk around the world showcase. We ate dinner at Rose & Crown on the patio and watched the fireworks.

    Animal Kingdom is a smaller 1/2 day park. Safari is the best ride there.

    So much more to type, but that's it for now. I think. LOL

  16. Ok go to this website http://www.easywdw.com/easy/

    Josh has so much helpful free info like dining reviews and crowd estimates and what days are best for which park.
    I would recommend booking your fast passes for the first afternoonat MK asap. In general you want to book your fast passes early in the day. They only give you 3 but once you use them you can get more in the park.

    Do you have park hoppers? I found Epcot kinda meh w kids. We did a couple hours there one evening before the laser light firework whateve show and it was plenty. I think your kids will love Animal Kingdom as much as you guys go to the zoo. It was our 2nd fav behind MK

    Ok I personally find the food at Disney table service to be expensive and meh. So definitely eat a hearty breakfast at the room and head out early. Seriously you can ride so much before the crowds get bad if you are there at rope drop when the park opens.

    I wore a small cross body bag w some snacks and disposable ponchos and that was it.

    I will say if the kids don't have to see all the fireworks shows, definitely skip to ride more rides. I think we rode 5-6 rides w no wait during the show at MK.

    And finally, ok the kids will have fun and I am glad we did it but I never need to go to DW ever again

  17. First - you are going to BLOW CORA's MIND! Be ready to cry happy tears! James aint lying when he says it is magical! You will be so impressed with how seamless Disney makes the entire experience.
    ~ Which parks do we want to visit and how many days do we want to spend there?
    All the parks!! You want to spend the most time at Magic Kingdom. Make time to stay for the late fireworks show over the castle one night because it is amazing!
    Epcot: More adultish but you could waste a day away there happily, there is plenty to keep the kids interested! They have "passports" for the kids to move around the countries, which could mirror how much they like to do their jr rangers when you go to the nat'l/state parks.
    Animal Kingdom: Basically a fancy zoo, but your kids love them some zoo. You probably will not need to spend a full day here, so could go in morning and head over the magic kingdom again in evening or back to hotel for a swim.
    Universal: Fun and worth it, but another quick, half day park if you wanted.
    ~ Do we want to utilize the Extra Magic House? In the a.m. or the p.m.? I'd say yes, particularly the a.m. option, but will this make the day too long for the kids?
    Best advice I ever got was to make time to relax at your hotel in between parks. You'll be surprised what a relaxing swim, or quick rest in bed does for the kids. They'll keep going if you build in breaks for them.
    ~ What table service meals do we want to do? Breakfast v. Lunch v. Dinner? When/Where?
    Chef Mickey for breakfast is nice. If you do character meals you get more bang for your buck because the characters great and entertain the kids.
    Insider tip: Do a breakfast at Magic Kingdom-the earliest reservation- (they have a buffet character meal but I am flaking on name of restaurant) because then you get into the park early before it opens.
    Obviously you've got the castle covered! Epcot has great mexican restaurants, if you eat dinner during the evening fireworks show, you get a view of the show right from your table.
    Meal reservations are the way to go for dinner, it's not a time suck. Waiting in line somewhere for less appealing food is a time suck.
    Universal has a diner-style drive-in where you eat in a car. Fun!
    ~ Do we want to do any add-on things like the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique?
    Bibbidi bobbidi - YES! YES! and MORE YES!! In fact, I HIGHLY recommend you get reservations to do this for both girls (Landon too if he wants to be a knight) before you head into the castle for Cora's bday dinner. We did this with my 5 year old and she felt SO GREAT feeling like she was a "real princess" going to have dinner with the princesses and its a fancy dinner so they feel all dolled up! Either way - this is a MUST! TIP: Buy dresses at home, pack them in suitcase, and surprise the girls with the dresses for the boutique (much more cost effective than paying for a dress at the boutique, and the girls will love the surprise)
    ~ Park Packing?
    Wear a backpack. You could both wear backpacks. Bring water bottles. Sharpies for autographs, phone chargers. Consult Pinterest for this question, you'll get great ideas!
    ~ What was your/your kids' favorite thing?
    The castle, the fireworks at MK and Epcot, and the Boutique!
    Meeting the princesses. DON'T underestimate how great fast passes are, BUT don't let your fast pass reservations control all your days, or you will loose your mind running from place to place "on time"
    MK: 7 dwarves roller coaster, the princesses for autographs
    Epcot: Soaring ride, turtle talk with crush
    Universal: Toy Story ride (TRUST! AMAZING FUN!)

    Cora may wish to have a keepsake to collect autographs on from the characters and princess. We bought my daughter a bag and brought a bunch of colored sharpies and she plays with her bag at home as a "purse" sometimes. She also loves to ask me to read to her everyone who signed it.
    Go to etsy, type "disney autograph bag"

    Have SO MUCH FUN!!

  18. My family just returned from a Spring Break trip to Disney World. I haaaate vacation planning and the months leading up to the trip annoyed me. However, once we got there everything was magical and wonderful and my kids were so excited about everything that I teared up a few times. It was all worth it.

    1. Visit all the parks. My guess is an afternoon/evening plus one other day at MK will be enough but I'm not an expert. We visited all parks and had fun (of different types) at each. We didn't do everything but we did everything that we wanted to.

    2. We did use the extra magic hours in the mornings. My kids are 6 and 7 and we are major morning people. We liked getting to the parks early and riding some popular rides before it was hot and crowded. By late afternoon every day my kids were done and we would go back to the hotel for swimming. We only went back to MK one night for the fireworks and we all hated it. It was crowded and loud and we were tired. We stayed at the Polynesian and could see the fireworks from there fine. My guess is that's the same at the Contemporary. Both Animal Kingdom and Epcot have cool nighttime things that I would like to see but my kids were just too tired to fool with it.

    3. We did table service at dinner. It was nice to sit down and relax after a busy day and not be rushed. We found the Quick Service options in the parks just fine for lunch.

    4. We didn't do an dinner shows but we did have almost every dinner with characters. It was cool b/c we didn't feel the need to wait in lines in the parks to meet characters but after a few nights my kids had met Mickey (and others) every night and we didn't need the characters again. Our Disney planner booked those b/c that's a detail I couldn't be bothered with. If we go again I'll know better what to ask for other than "meal with characters."

    5. Based on how you've described Cora I think you have to do the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. It was so awesome and worth the money. Take your own princess dress(es) though. The ones there are too expensive. We also did Pirates League with my son. He was hesitant but once we got there he loved it. I recommend a BBB appointment first thing in the morning and then she's dressed all day (and you get in the park early).

    6. No

    7. We carried an LL Bean backpack with hats, sunscreen, bandaids,moleskin, pain killers, autograph books, pens, ponchos (cheap from The Dollar store), camera and water bottles. We ended up not needing the water bottles because water counts as a "snack" under the dining plan and we had so many snacks we couldn't use them all so we quit carrying our own water bottles and getting bottles from concession stands.

    8. Jedi Training at Hollywood Studios. My son has only seen 1 of the Star Wars movies and my daughter has shown no interest. However, they both said they wanted to do Jedi training. It's free so we figured we'd sign up. It was the absolute coolest thing ever culminating with them fighting Darth Vader on stage. My son said "Mommy this is the best day of my life." They then each decided to use (a decent chunk of) their allotted souvenir money (we gave them each a set amount of money and told them they could buy souvenirs but once the money was gone it was gone and they couldn't ask/beg for anything else. They were surprisingly responsible and it cut the begging down to ZERO.) on "build your own" lightsabers.

    We also loved the Frozen sing along show at Hollywood Studios and the Lion King show at Animal Kingdom.

  19. Can I ask how you picked your Disney resort? We are going with two kids in January 2018, and there are so many choices and price variation.

  20. Check out disboards.com
    I get all my trip planning info there. They are all knowing!

  21. I want to second or third http://www.easywdw.com/ We had been told about touringplans, but I did not want to pony up any money. Used Easy WDW instead (it's free) and it was very accurate. It also has menus for every restaurant, reviews of everything, and advice and all of it.

    We went with a 4 year old and a 7 year old. We did not take/use a stroller, because we are walkers. Be aware that everything is spread out, but you can connect via buses, monorails, boats, or even taxis. We stayed at the Swan, which was nice, because we were able to walk to the back door of Epcot.
    I don't know if there are dates for this for you while you are there, but we were able to do a "science" program via the Disney Youth Education Program. It was about $30 per student, but allowed us a 5% or maybe 10% discount on our park tickets. We had to meet at the front of Epcot right at opening and our hotel was at the back, so we were able to wander around Epcot to get to the front before the park opened.

    We wore matching shirts. My husband didn't, but if I saw him put on a gray shirt, I dressed us in our gray Mickey shirts. It was geeky, but I loved it.

    I bought glow sticks at the dollar store and then broke them out during lines at night.

    We bought the photo package a few months before our trip. It is completely worth the money and time. We got all our ride photos. We got the park hoppers, which should be cheap for you, because of your multi-days. I recommend those if the different parks have staggered closing times. We were able to hop to 3 parks in one night. Getting between the parks can take time, but if you're going during a less busy time, it may be easier.

    Take a midday break for a nap or pool time. The parks get crowded around lunch and it can be nice to recharge. Animal Kingdom is about a half day, but we were able to ride Dinosaur 10 times in the last hour before closing. If you are in line when the park closes, you still get to stay. Get to the park at least a half hour before opening. The Studios will probably be a half day (as someone said, a lot is closed due to Star Wars coming through). However, the Toy Story Ride is perfect and you need to try to get on it several times. My favorite ride is Tower of Terror which Cora may even be able to ride (due to height).

    We went bagless. It got us through security much quicker. My 4 year old ended up with a shredded shirt one night (I have no idea how that happened). You know what? There are stores every two feet and I bought him a new one.

    For others, we picked the Swan for the location between the two parks. We're major walkers. The buses to the other two parks would get super crowded, though. Swan was about half of a normal Disney Hotel, but it was considered on property for early admission. We had a private car pick us up, take us to a grocery store for water and snacks, and then we checked in.

    I bring oatmeal in our suitcase, and that saves us money on breakfast. I had to get spoons from the hotel/Starbucks, but I was able to make it using the coffee maker. All of my things are random. There was a lot of stress around the planning for me. We had 1-2 rainy times during our week long stay and it allowed us to ride some rides over and over again. The parks clear out when it rains. I don't recommend flip-flops for anyone, because of the amount of walking involved. When it rains, some areas get flooded and we saw people lose the flip-flops. It was actually very cool and quiet during the rain. See the fireworks show if they have it at MK. Easy WDW has a recommendation on where to stand. We were packed in, but stood in that exact spot and it was very special. PS. I love your blog and most likely will come back with other random thoughts I think. Liz

  22. This website - a subscription is worth it. www.touringplans.com

    You can create day by day (minute by minute) plans, either completely custom or based on pre-canned ones they provide, and then have them on an app on your phone. Their wait time and walk time estimates are pretty accurate, and they have great advice on which parks on which days, based on expected crowd levels. Pretty much anything you need.

    We've done several trips - with kids, grownups, other families, etc, and that site's tools have made us look like badass planners every time.

  23. Disney!! We go annually, although our experience tends to be a little different due to the family we have in the area. We started going when my youngest was 3...here's my blog post after that first visit: https://wickedlycrazyawesomelife.com/2012/03/12/tips-for-surviving-the-road-disney-world/

    ~ Which parks do we want to visit and how many days do we want to spend there? Ugh..this is a hard one. We typically spend 1/2 day in Hollywood Studios, 1/2 day in Animal Kingdom and a full day at MK and Epocot...and we're back to the hotel by 4 pm to swim. That's plenty for my kids, but we go into this with the mindset that we're not going to do it all. We're going to do what we do and not be that family with sobbing kids who are exhausted beyond belief.

    ~ Do we want to utilize the Extra Magic House? In the a.m. or the p.m.?
    Absolutely use the AM hour, especially if you can't get a Fast Pass for the more popular rides (Mine Train, Peter Pan, etc in the MK, Soarin' and Test Track in Epcot). You don't have to use it every day, but it's nice when you can!

    ~ What table service meals do we want to do? Breakfast v. Lunch v. Dinner? When/Where? This I'm not much help with as we don't do a lot of table service meals. The kids LOVED our dinner at Whispering Canyon and I've heard the Hoop-De-Do-Review is a blast, but we haven't had dinner there yet. Honestly, we do breakfast at the hotel, bring snacks, do lunch at the park and then we're usually back to the hotel swimming and eating by the pool for dinner. We try to avoid buffets b/c they are expensive and my kids don't each that much.

    ~ Do we want to do any dinner shows?
    Sorry, no help there! But the Lion King show at Animal Kingdom is amazing and well worth it- but it runs all day.

    ~ Do we want to do any add-on things like the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique? or Firework dessert party at MK?
    We haven't done either.

    ~ Have you been to Disney in mid-November? What kind of weather did you experience? Could you swim? Can Cora wear her princess dresses? Please predict the future and tell me the temperature.
    We got in March and we do layers. Princesses dresses are always a must no matter what the temp! My niece wears a different dress each day for each park. ;)

    ~ Park Packing. What did you bring that I might not think of but that you found super helpful? Bring a stroller or rent one. We rented a double one until Scorch was 8 I think (so 2 years ago). It gave us a great place to stash things, and helped the kids from melting down and reaching their limit early in the day. I just bring a cross body purse and a backpack each day. It's a pain to bring in bags because you have to go through an extra security line, but it's worth it for us.

    ~ What was your/your kids' favorite thing?
    When my kids were Cora's age, their favorite things were meeting the characters. There was a lot my petite 3 year old couldn't do, so the parades, the characters, etc were all a big hit. Now that they are older, here are some favs:
    MK: Big Thunder Mountain, Aladdin, Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain, It's a Small World, Goofy's Barnstorm, Dumbo, Fast Track, and Monster's Inc Laugh In.
    Epcot: Soarin', Test Track, Nemo, and the Perry the Platypus cell phone game at the various countries.
    Animal Kingdom: Safari and Lion King show
    Hollywood Studios: Dueling with Darth Vadar, Indiana Jones show and the Star Wars Tour (over and over and OVER).

    You're going to have an amazing time! I think for us, the best thing we did was just temper our expectations. We were NOT going to do everything, we were not going to see everything. Period. We wanted our kids to come home happy and with great memories. For us, that meant decent bedtimes and lots of play time at the hotel pool even if it meant missing nighttime parades and fireworks. Meltdowns are inevitable and no matter what, kiddos (and parents) will be tired- but we tried to keep their needs in mind instead of trying to cram everything in.

  24. I agree that touringplans.com is wonderful! They are the same people that write The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, which is really worth checking out from your library. That have reviews and reader contributed ratings for every ride and restaurant, and it's just really well done. If you want to leave the minutiae to your Disney planner, Unofficial Guide's overview chapters are still worth the read.

    You picked an awesome hotel right on the monorail! If you're renting a car, you'll definitely get anywhere else in the World more quickly by car than by bus, except for the Magic Kingdom, where the monorail is most efficient. And the monorail restaurants are fabulous.

    If you don't want to spend a lot of time waiting in line for characters, try character dining wherever you can. Character dining is also a very cost effective use of your dining credits! Just try not to book morning sit down meals, because first thing in the morning is the best time to tour with low lines.

    As for dinner shows, Hoop Dee Doo is great fun, but I wouldn't pick it on your once in a lifetime four day trip to Disney World. There are too many other things.

    A day and a half at the Magic Kingdom is probably enough, but if you want more, probably combine it with a half day at Hollywood Studios. Hollywood Studios doesn't have too many attractions open right now due to construction, so unless their new Toy Story area opens before you get there, you probably don't need to spend a full day. They have a lot of Disney Junior stuff there to make up for the current lack of attractions, but if your kids don't watch Disney Junior, it's not really worthwhile.

    Extra Magic Hours - I tend to avoid the parks that are operating EMH that day. They may have low crowds during the extra hours, but they end up getting super crowded once everyone else comes in. I also find regular operating hours to be plenty of time, but I go during peak season when operating hours are longer. If you do decide to use EMH, go to a different park your second half of the day in order to avoid crowds.

    Definitely take midday breaks! This is key if you want to do both early morning and late night stuff. It doesn't matter if your kids no longer nap - a dip in the hotel pool can be rejuvenating. It will be warm enough in November and the pools are heated. Plus, the middle of the day is the most crowded time at the parks.

    Also, even if Cora doesn't normally do strollers, I'd get a stroller. It's an insane amount of walking. A stroller and a midday break will both do wonders for keeping exhaustion based tantrums to a minimum.

    You're going to have so much fun! I'm so excited for you!

  25. We really liked the wristbands because we didn't have to carry room keys or money and the fast pass could be "programmed" into it. We also stayed in the Contemporary and had a park side room so we could watch the fireworks from our room, in PJs, every night (we did do one night in the park). We didn't go to DW until our kids were 16,13,12 so you are way ahead of the game. We have boys so the princess breakfasts were not high on our list:) The fast pass does save you time but I agree with someone above, don't let it rule your day.

  26. You could combine some more MK time in the evenings of the days you do Animal kingdom or Hollywood studios. If you wanted to skip a park this trip, my vote would be Hollywood Studios - not as much to do there, especially for little ones. We've been there right after thanksgiving twice and the weather is great. short sleeves and shorts or capris during the day and a light sweatshirt after the sun goes down. It would have been fine to swim, but we never had time.

    Restaurant suggestions - the character dining at Tusker House in Animal kingdom was great and the food was good too. You see Minnie, Mickey, Goofy and Donald there. The kids have also loved the Crystal Palace in MK for all of the Pooh characters, but the food is only so-so. I didn't think Chef Mickey at the Contempory was that great. If you are looking for princesses, definitely do the character dining as Akershaus in Norway in Epcot. We loved hitting the characters at meals instead of spending park time waiting in lines for meet and greets. The 50s Diner in Hollywood Studios is fun and we love eating in the countries at Epcot (the pub in England, the hibachi steakhouse in Japan, eithe restaurant in Mexico). The Coral Reef restaurant is also fun at Epcot. We've never done the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. I don't think my girls know it even exists. I know that some kids love it, but it always seemed like a waste of money to me and the girls I saw never looked that comfortable with their hair pulled up and a full face of makeup. My girls would rather spend their time on rides than in a salon chair. But that's just us.

    If you guys are morning people (my crew isn't), then try to do the morning magic hours. We never seem to get to the park until 10, so we stay on the later end. And I agree with those who said try to fit in a mid day break back at the hotel (easier to do when you are at MK and can monorail or walk home). It's overwhelming and sensory overload for the kids, so meltdowns are more likely than normal. When we had a suite, we had groceries delivered ahead of time and had breakfast in the room every day. Saved us a lot of money and time.

    Last piece of advice it to not try to fit it all in. Our first trip, I got a bit crazy trying to make sure my kids saw everything when they were really happy to just ride the carousel over and over again. Chances are you guys will be back one day, so just have fun with it. What you do get to experience will be fantastic and what you don't, you can put on the list for next time. Have a great time!!

  27. I'm late on this but we've done Disney twice (first time kids 3 years and 15 months, crazy, second time kids almost 5 and 3, much better). My fave dining experiences: Boma (LOVE), breakfast at Belle's castle (meh food but great ambience/experience). We ate at Chefs de France in EPCOT and liked it a lot. Fave ride: Soarin' (MUST, use fast passes). We loved the Lion King show at Animal Kingdom. Frozen ride was okay but not worth waiting for. I personally think the countries in EPCOT are awesome.

    Also, you guys probably have more energy than we did, but we're NOT 'extra hours' kind of people. We're laze-by-the-hotel-pool kind of people. And I have no regrets :) We stayed at that same place (villas as the contemporary bay lake) and it was nice (though not dazzling IMO) and it was VERY convenient in terms of walking to magic kingdom. Next time I want to stay in Animal Kingdom lodge with a view of giraffes :)

  28. Also, Disneyland is a great alternative to DW. There are two parks and they are very close together. If you are overwhelmed by DW, but want to enjoy Disney, I highly recommend DL. Liz

  29. Just found this idea on another site (hubby and I are going to WDW/Universal in October) and thought of you:

    Autograph Book Substitute – One of our friends with kids used this Junior Character Encyclopedia of Disney Characters (https://www.amazon.com/Junior-Encyclopedia-Animated-Characters-Disney/dp/1423189140/ref=as_sl_pc_as_ss_li_til?tag=distoublo-20&linkCode=w00&linkId=47abc3604cbd40aebe36a3cc30233d25&creativeASIN=1423189140), and we thought it was the most brilliant thing ever. Instead of having characters sign a blank page, have them sign this actual book that includes info about 150+ Disney characters. They’ll read and re-read this after the trip, making it a treasured keepsake. (UPDATE: Since we added this book to the list, we’ve heard tons of feedback on Facebook from people who have tried–and loved–this!)

  30. Jennifer O.6/8/17, 10:13 AM

    Probably the single biggest (and best) item we bought for our last trip to WDW was a CamelBak backpack...saved a fortune on bottled water and still had some storage in the backpack section for items like ponchos (it MIGHT rain in November, which is when we were there, too -- I bought some from Walmart, again specifically for the trip, and we had to use them twice), granola bars, sunscreen, etc. Even fully filled with ice water (with ice taken from the hotel ice makers in the morning) it was never uncomfortable to carry. Just a thought...