Friday, May 23, 2014

Disney World Tip Recap...

While I've been recapping our recent trip to Disney World with our toddler, who also happens to have some food allergies, I've tried to insert some of my biggest tips.  So, here's a cheat sheet of my biggest tips that I think helped us survive Disney World with an almost 3 year-old with limited food choices (thanks to egg, dairy and nut allergies)...

Tip#1 -- For guests staying at Shades of Green, skip the morning shuttle bus and just walk to the Polynesian Resort.  It will save you about 15 minutes.  We learned that lesson for day #2.  The shuttle bus brings you to the Transportation Center to board the monorail which eventually arrives at the Polynesian.  Might as well cut out that first step and just walk to the Polynesian.

Tip #2 -- Know the new Disney FastPass+ system before you walk into the park and have a plan, as well as a Plan B.  I spent weeks before our trip reading numerous blogs, tips, the Disney frequently asked question pages, etc.  I double-checked what rides Georgia could go on with her height, which rides would be open during extra magic hours, etc.  People with a plan were moving fast and adapting as they went.  Those without a plan or those who did not go online prior to their visit to book their three FastPass+ reservations had to stop and figure things out on the go and wasted valuable time.

Tip #3 -- If you or anyone in your party has a food allergy, send an email to Disney ahead of time.  They will reply with a list of "safe" places to eat, as well as lists of food that are allergen friendly at each of their parks.  I knew ahead of time where I wanted to eat most days and some options for Georgia at each park.  For each of our formal lunch or dinner reservations, our party was already flagged and our ticket had ALLERGY stamped in red across it.  A chef came to talk to us within 2-3 minutes of walking into every restaurant.  We didn't have a single hive all week long, which was a miracle!  She got to eat pizza at the Magic Kingdom, pasta at Hollywood Studios, chicken all over the place and ate her weight in dinner rolls.  Don't be afraid to ask for extra dessert - our servers were more than happy to hand over lots of extra Enjoy Life cookies!

Page 1/10 of the email Disney sent me about food allergies

Tip#4 -- Any child under the age of 3 doesn't require a ticket to get into the park, so they are "free."  They also use your FastPass+ reservations. Since we had 3 adults, we had a total of 9 FastPass+ selections for Magic Kingdom each day (3 per person).  For rides that we all wanted to go on, we had to use all 3 tickets to link to the same ride.  However, if you have an adult (like Mimi)  who wants to skip a thrill ride or two, use that FastPass+ to book characters or VIP parade seating!  My mom pointed out that if Georgia had been more interested in the characters, she could have easily given high-fives to most of the passing characters that were on foot walking the parade route.  Still get there early, but VIP parade access was awesome.

Waiting behind the VIP rope line for the FastPass+ parade experience!

Tip #5 -- If you are staying at the Shades of Green resort, ask the bellhop to drive you down to the end of the driveway.  They will gladly strap you into their golf cart (stroller and all!) and zip you down the driveway to the Polynesian Resort.  It easily saves 5-10 minutes of walking.  Georgia loved her nightly "ride" in the golf cart!  Tip them a few bucks and save yourself 10 minutes and 1/4 mile.

Tip #6 -- Pack lots of "to-do" activities for waiting if you are traveling with a toddler/young child.  We had our diaper bag/backpack stuffed with coloring books, our iPads, books, etc.  Mimi also had a few little distractors on her too.  We only needed to access them a few times during the trip (mostly while we waited for food), but they were a great distraction when we needed to buy ourselves a few minutes or we needed to prevent a meltdown.

Tip #7 -- In my opinion (and my traveling companions), the buffet at The Crystal Palace is much nicer than the buffet at Chef Mickey's.  We all agreed that we enjoyed our meals much more this night than the previous night.  We had many more options, including some new and interesting choices that we really enjoyed (like Mediterranean Chicken!).

Tip #8 - Buy your autograph book ahead of time.  They were selling for almost $10 in all the Disney stores.  I bought our Little Mermaid notebook in the $1 bin at Target before the trip.  I had also read a great tip somewhere along the way to bring your own Sharpie pen with you.  Since the characters' hands are covered by their costume, their dexterity isn't the best . The Sharpies are easy for them to hold and maneuver.  I read that the click/retractable Sharpies were better than the Sharpies with the cap, so I bought those at Target too.  All the characters seemed to be able to handle those quite well, no matter the size of their "paws."

Tip # 9 -- If you have a little one who is a tad bit hesitant of the characters, let the characters' handlers know.  I think that helped with the situation immensely as Winnie's handler was able to let Winnie know that our daughter was a bit scared of the characters in costume.  

Tip #10 -- Layers, layers, layers!  Even in mid-April, we were surprised by the wind and how quickly the nights cooled down.  We often started our days wearing jeans/long sleeves, stripped to short sleeves/shorts for mid-day, and were back in long pants and sweatshirts for after dark!  We also brought our own ponchos ($1 store) and umbrellas from home.  We never needed the ponchos (we happened to be back for nap time during the one thunderstorm while we were there), but we pulled out the umbrellas for a few quick bursts of misty showers on different days.

8:30am in long sleeves/pants vs 1:30pm on the same day in t-shirts/shorts and playing the water fountain!

Tip #11 -- Disney never passes up an opportunity to make a quick buck.  Before the fireworks, all sorts of light up devices were for sale all over the parks.  Luckily, both Mimi and I had gone to the dollar stores and bought all sorts of light up wands, necklaces, glow sticks, etc. before leaving home.  Spending $10 before the trip provided us with nightly entertainment all week long!  During nap time, I would re-stock our diaper bag and sneak a few toys to whip out later while we waited for our nightly entertainment.

Tip #12 -- Like a lot of other theme parks, Disney has photographers stationed all over the place to capture those "magical" moments for you on film.  I assumed that since we were carrying 3 iPhones and 2 digital cameras, we wouldn't be using their PhotoPass services.  However, during character meet and greets, it is much easier to have them take your pictures and then just log into your account later in the day to see which photos you want to keep.  When we got home after the trip, I ended up just ordering the whole lot of them since they managed to capture quite a few great shots of Georgia with her favorite characters.  Definitely investigate the PhotoPass before you leave for Disney!

The difference between our own shot of the castle in the background vs Disney photographer taking the picture.

Tip #13 -- If you need to get to a different area of the park ASAP, jump aboard the railroad.  There are times of day that the park is ridiculously crowded and trying to get from one side to the other takes quite awhile, especially if people are lined up and they are prepping for the parades.  The railroad rides along the outskirts of the park, so you miss all that foot traffic.  There are 3 places to board the train - FrontierLand, FantasyLand, and Main Street.  

Railroad fun!

Tip #14 -- For a less insane lunch option, consider eating BEFORE 11:30am.  We found that we were able to walk into most restaurants between 11-11:30 before the chaos and lines really started!  Since we were getting up between 5-6am, an early lunch was needed to refuel anyway.  When we were walking out of the restaurants 30-45 minutes later, the lines were always much longer and seating become an issue for bigger parties/families.

Tip #15 -- Disney doesn't really advertise it's playground sections, but we stumbled across quite a few different areas with slides and other fun equipment in the parks.  It's a nice break from rides and characters and to just let kids be kids and play for a few minutes in some shade.  Georgia had a blast playing with other kids while Mimi supervised and Nick and I rode the roller coaster.  

Sometimes a few minutes to play in the sand just makes everyones' days more relaxing!

Tip#16 -- Pack lots of snacks and treats for yourself and the kids!  Nothing seems to quell a bad mood or a brewing temper tantrum faster than a calorie pick-me-up.  We packed lots of allergy safe snacks for Georgia and we also packed water bottles for ourselves.  You can ask any Disney restaurant for ice cold tap water, which they will gladly give you for free!  We would pour it into our water bottles and be set for the day.  I also made muffins the night before our departure and we would snack on those in the morning while we waited for the bus, rode the monorail or as we were walking into the park.  It saved a ton of time since we never "stopped" for breakfast, although we definitely grabbed Starbucks most mornings for a cup of coffee or a snack.  I know that lots of people recommend the character breakfasts, but when the park is opening up super early for extra magic hours, I think it is better to get in/out before the peak crowds and take advantage of all those rides without lines in the AM vs eating a big breakfast and not getting into the park until mid-morning.

Quiet early morning at the Magic Kingdom around 7:30am. By 10am, this area was jam-packed with people/strollers.

Tip #21 - Check out the Hollywood Studios VIP Fantasmic lunch/dinner packages online for reservations!

Tip #22  -- Have a back up plan for transportation!  There can be long waits between shuttle buses, so know which resorts are around and how quick you can walk between places!  Disney is spread out over a fairly huge chunk of land, so things are not always a quick walk or ride!

Always abide by the monorail safety rules!!

Tip#23 -- If you don't want to go all the way into the Magic Kingdom for the evening fireworks, head to the Polynesian beach for a fabulous view!  And you can DRINK while you watch them.  Total bonus!

Tip #24 -- If you have time and a toddler, don't skip out of the playground at Animal Kingdom.  It was awesome for kids of all ages and a nice respite from rides and the usual craziness of the parks.

Animal Kingdom's play area

Tip #25 - "It's a Bug's Life" might not be the best choice for young kids.  It's definitely intense!  It was the only ride/show that made our daughter cry.  She didn't mind the dark, but the sensation of bugs crawling around was not her favorite!

Tip #26  -- In my opinion, Animal Kingdom, had the best food allergy options.  They even have their very own kiosk that is completely dedicated to serving and providing information about the allergy options in the park!  Call me impressed.

Tip #27 -- Go to Animal Kingdom, even if it is just for the food!!  Don't skip the afternoon snack at Kusafiri WITH an iced coffee.  I would kill for the recipe for the iced coffee!

Quick-service coffee shop and bakery with an outdoor counter-window at Disney's Animal Kingdom park
Doesn't look like much, but I have been CRAVING the coffee since returning!

Tip #28 -- Although you can't request where you sit at the Be Our Guest Restaurant in Magic Kingdom, be prepared that some of the experience may spook younger kids!  One dining area has thunderstorms ongoing throughout dinner.

Tip #29 -- Make sure to stop by guest relations at the beginning of your trip and let them know if you are celebrating any special occasion.  They will give you a pin and Disney's cast members will go out of their way to greet you and make your day special.  We noticed lots of "happy birthday" pins, so Mimi made sure that Georgia got a special pin for her birthday too!

Note the birthday pin on her shirt

Tip# 30 -- Definitely take a few different days to explore the Magic Kingdom if you have a toddler.  Georgia loved riding some of the same rides multiple times and we really enjoyed the park atmosphere at night with the fireworks going off and the whole park lit up in magical colorful lights!

Tip #31 -- Even if you don't have young kids, don't skip out on the Turtle Talk Crush show at Epcot!  He was cute AND funny and interacted with the audience, both kids and adults.

Tip#32 -- Even if you kid is not a "dress kid," pack one!  I never thought our daughter would put on a fancy/puffy and somewhat itchy dress!  But, once she spotted other kids with them, she was all in.  Mini-tip: Put a shirt on underneath that itchy dress!

Never would have believed she would have worn the dress... and a tiara?!?!  Who is this kid?!?!

Tip #33 -- If your toddler/young child wants to do the princess processional during the Akershus Dinner, be sure the assigned princess for your dining room keeps a close eye on them OR they could end up wandering around until another princess picks them up.  Parents are not allowed to accompany children, so letting your young child out of your sight at a busy restaurant is not for the faint of heart.  Aurora to the rescue for our family.

Tip#34 -- If you want to skip eating in the castle or can't score the reservations to Cinderella's Royal Table, head to Akershus in Epcot instead!  We got to meet the same princesses and dinner was much cheaper.

Meeting Aurora at Akershus

Tip #35 -- For a great view of Illuminations show at Epcot, make sure you are past all the trees and "islands" that are in front of Norway and China.  We thought we would have to be closer to the other side of the lake, near the England/Canada pavilions, but our view was just fine from the Germany pavilion.

Tip #36 -- Kill some time after the Illuminations show at Epcot.  Don't bother running for the exit!  Enjoy the beauty of Epcot and take your time walking to the gate.  By the time you reach the monorail, most of the crowd will have already departed and you can get right on the next train.

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