We are BACK from Disney World, and I can honestly say, it was the BEST family vacation of our lives!
Well, considering, we don't really do many of those, but of the few vacations we've done, this is the BEST one, and we hope to repeat it in the future!
I wanted to do a blog post about it, simply because I felt so overwhelmed planning it, that I wanted to share what I learned on this trip. We absolutely went the 'EASY' route, and not the 'save money' route. I say this because I now see and know that you could probably do Disney World on a better budget, but since this was our first time coming, and doing this big vacation, we went ahead and booked through the Disney World website, and decided to buy a package deal to make it easy on us. I will say, it was TOTALLY worth the money for sure! And maybe next time we will tweak a few things, to save a few bucks, but in all honesty, Disney World KNOWS how to do family vacations WELL!
When we booked our vacation, we received their "MAGIC BANDS" in the mail which is basically a wrist band, that has all of your hotel, park, and credit card linked to it, so that you don't have to carry anything with you! This magic band opens your hotel room, pays for your meals, and has all of your reservation info in it to enter the park! When you buy a Disney World package deal, you have an option of also purchasing their 'Memory Maker' pass which basically is taking pictures at the park by photographers that are strategically placed all over the park, so you can get iconic shots at the right spots, like in front of Cinderella's castle for example. This was something I purchased, not knowing too much about it, but so glad I did, and it's one way to save money, as you don't have to get it. Getting the memory maker photo pass does guarantee all the shots from the rides though, so that's fun!
*So we booked a Disney Resort Hotel, Park Hopper tickets (you can visit more than one of their 4 parks), Dining plan (Deluxe Plan) and the Memory Maker photo pass.
OK lets talk our resort. We stayed at the Port Orleans Riverside Disney Resort, and it's themed after New Orleans/Princess and the Frog, Bayou sort of situation. It's subtle though, so it feels nice, and not over the top Disney. We loved the scenery, and the rooms! We stayed at one of their deluxe rooms and it was simple, cute, and had just a bit of whimsy for Olivia and Matthew. We had two queen beds, and a pull out bed that had the character 'Louie' from Princess & the Frog on it. We could have gotten a more "theme-y" room, but you don't really stay at the room much, so we opted for their more basic rooms. Another little thing, was since this was our first time at Disney, they gave us some buttons to wear at the hotel that say "1st Time Here!" and tons of people at the park help you answer questions, give you a ton of info, and are just super nice and ask you how your visit is going. It's just little things like that, that made us really comfortable asking questions.
Little details in the room made this stay special. Like the Mickey towels being folded like this! When we showed up at the hotel, our check in time was at 3PM but because Steve was already in FL for the conference and our tickets for the park started the day of check in, we called to see if we could check in at 7am instead of 3pm. Now we were told this was not a guarantee, but the moment we showed up, our room was READY! They got our room together so fast, and made it really easy on us to get ready for our first day at the park! Staying at a Disney Resort is super nice, because they have free transportation to the park each day! There are buses that run every 10 min to and from the park all day, so we just got ready, and went to the bus stop! This is also a great convenience because PARKING LOOKED LIKE A NIGHTMARE!
OK, this was the 'Memory Maker' thing I was talking about, or "photo pass" when we showed up at Magic Kingdom, we saw a bunch of photographers taking pics, so I asked if we could jump in, and they asked me if I had the "photo pass" so I said, 'yes' and then they told us, that the pictures will appear on our online account, and we had a month to download. After they take your photo, they scan your wristband, and two minutes later, you can see your photos online! The online thing also has an app, called 'My Disney Experience' that allows you to view it, and has all of your dining reservations logged, so you have your itinerary handy. Also the app tells you how long the wait is in certain rides so you can plan your day. It includes maps, and descriptions of things, so you know how to navigate around the park. It makes your day SO EASY! Again, very well organized, and easy to follow!
Oh, and having the photo pass also gave you access to getting photos with your favorite characters! This was Olivia after our late lunch at 'Be our Guest' restaurant! She loved all the character encounters!
The Disney Dining Plan was pricey and probably the best spent money in our opinion! You could totally go the cheap route, and take your food with you like sandwiches and sodas, but by buying a dining plan, you can eat at their sit down restaurants, and buying a Deluxe Dining plan gives you 3 meals a day, and two snacks. Each sit down meal includes an appetizer, entree, and dessert! We ate like KINGS! The food is not average by any means, in fact we ate at 'Be our Guest' Restaurant (probably the best restaurant at Magic Kingdom) and had an AMAZING 5 star meal! Steve could not believe how good the food was! This restaurant is themed after Beauty & the Beast, and it looks just like the Beast's castle. From the decor, you think it's all about atmosphere, but when you get your food, you realize they actually put thought into their menu! I had the BEST onion soup I've ever had in my life at that place! And then ate the BEST steak, followed by a delicious cheesecake/cupcake type thing. Matthew and Olivia were so impressed too! Matthew just kept eating, and eating. This is the restaurant that is ALWAYS booked! in fact, it was booked until the day we showed to the park! but by using my phone Disney app, I was able to book a dining reservation on a cancellation! It was the perfect situation, because it was the best place to eat.
Another place that we liked that was not super exciting as far as decor and atmosphere, was Tony's restaurant. It's Italian food themed after the Lady & the Tramp. Anyway, this is where we did dinner on our first day, and after having lunch at 'Be our Guest' we thought the food would go WAY downhill, but it didn't! this restaurant had amazing pizza, and great dessert too! I had some chocolate cake that was so good, I forced my full self to eat it, because it was so creamy and sweet! The only negative of the dining plan, is that it does NOT include gratuity so you do spend on average about 15-25 dls tipping. But the dinner themselves are amazing!
The snacks that you get with the Deluxe Plan are 2 a day. This can be anything from a soda, fruit, to a pretzel, ice cream, or smoothie. The kids LOVED this! Matthew ate too many Mickey shaped ice cream sandwiches! No tipping is involved, and you just scan your magic band to get them! Easy!
I mean there are so MANY things NOT included with your Disney vacation package. These are all optional, and you can save by simply not doing them. Since Olivia's bday is in January, I wanted to do something special for her, so I booked a Fairy 'makeover' at the Bibbidi Bobbidy Boutique. This was totally separate from our package, and it was $60 dls. the crazy thing, is that it was the CHEAPEST package available! But well worth it! She got her hair, makeup, and nails done at the boutique, and got a sash, and a little backpack filled with make up stuff for her to keep. The boutique is inside Cinderella's castle, and she had a "fairy godmother" assigned to her. They also took tons of pictures that I now have from the Memory Maker pass. She REALLY felt special, as each person there is in character, and make the little girls feel like a million bucks. She was really appreciative of this experience, and that made it the more worth it to me.
So, our first day at Magic Kingdom was MAGICAL. Even Matthew who can care LESS about Princesses or anything girly, LOVED the lighting of Cinderella castle! They did a performance where Elsa from Frozen lights up the castle with her powers, and it's like a mini show, then the whole castle lights up, and there are fireworks!
The castle turns ice blue, and then all the "icicles" appear and it's really special.
This is Steve and Matthew before the lighting of the castle. They bought lights because they got all excited. I'm sure they regret spending cash on those things! Again, for this park being so girly, the boys had a ton of fun! They did 'Splash Mountain', and several other boyish rides, that filled their cup for manly entertainment.
Magic Kingdom was simply AMAZING. I could have spent the entire 3 day stay there! The next day we did Disney Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom on our last day. I will write about those two parks later, but in all honesty, the magic of Disney is in this park for sure!
So, just to review on how to save:
-Book your tickets through a travel agent or look for discounts on websites for park tickets (that's if you aren't doing a resort) just keep in mind that you will probably have to rent a car, and pay for parking.
-If you are doing a resort, you can save by not getting the photo pass, and not doing a dining plan! But the dining plan is worth it to me!