Let’s go to Disney!

Cinderella's Castle at ChristmastimeI’ve had Disney on the brain ever since hearing about New Fantasyland at Walt Disney World (WDW), so to combat my Disney withdrawals I thought I’d take Kelsey’s advice and make a Disney post! I’ll be sharing some of my favorite tips and tidbits about the Disney parks. Hopefully you’ll find a useful tip to make your next Disney trip even better, or maybe you’ll learn something fun you didn’t know before. Without further ado, here’s 5 tips for a magical vacation. 🙂

1. Hunt for Hidden Mickeys- Maybe you’ve already heard this one before, but I thought I’d include it anyway. You can find Mickey Mouse’s familiar silhouette hidden in many forms throughout the Disney parks. It can be fun to look around and see how many Mickeys you can find. You can learn more about Hidden Mickeys, and even find a book about them here!

2. Make good use of Fastpasses- Fastpasses are available at select rides and attractions throughout the Disney Parks and allow you to bypass the regular lines for a shorter wait. They come in the form of tickets that you can print out by inserting your park ticket into electronic kiosks near the ride queue. The Fastpass lists a time window in which you can come back and redeem it in order to enter the Fastpass line. You can get a lot of enjoyment out of using Fastpasses casually, just printing them out when you come across a ride you’re interested in, but you can get even more out of them if you plan ahead. Before you go to a park, plan out a few rides that you really want to go on. When you get to the park, go straight to the rides you want and print out your Fastpasses. Fastpasses come in limited quantities, so if you wait too long, you’ll end up with a longer wait to redeem your passes, and some of the more popular rides can even run out of passes. After getting your passes, you can wander around the park however you like, go on whatever rides you want, and then come back in your assigned time window to redeem your Fastpass. For the official explanations of Fastpasses, as well as lists of the rides and attractions that use them, click here and here.

3. Consider staying in a Disney hotel- Staying at a Disney hotel may sound like an extravagant waste of money, but it has its perks, and it may not be as pricey as you think. Disneyland and Disney World are a bit different from each other in terms of hotels. Mainly because Disney World, being much larger, has a lot more of them. This size difference allows for a greater range of styles as well as price ranges. Disneyland has three hotels, each with different prices ranges, but all costing about as much as a luxury hotel. Disneyland’s hotels are a bit pricey, but come with some perks that can make it worth it. All three hotels are located on Disneyland property, less than a mile from the entrance to both Disneyland and California Adventure (The Grand Californian Hotel even has a private entrance to California Adventure that can be used by guests of any of the three hotels). This proximity makes them a very convenient place to stay, and if you don’t plan on venturing outside of the Disney parks during your vacation, you can save money by not having to rent a car or use public transportation. Disneyland also offers free shuttles to and from the airport if you are staying at one of their hotels, this service can be scheduled when you book your trip on the Disneyland website, thus saving you the cost and hassle of finding your own transportation. Staying at a Disneyland hotel also offers some other convenient perks: You can charge your purchases to your room (I personally prefer paying in cash or gift cards, but some people find this feature more convenient), you can have your purchases sent back to your room so that you don’t have to bring them back yourself or carry them around the park all day, and you can purchase a Disney Dining Plan (which I will discuss more later). If these perks sound worth paying a little bit extra, then I encourage you to look into staying at a Disneyland hotel. Check out the Disneyland website to see their overviews of the hotels, and check out third-party reviews on sites such as Tripadvisor.com to decide which hotel may be right for you! Disney World has a much wider range of hotels than Disneyland, including several that are very affordable. Depending on the season, some Value hotels can be less than $100 a night. Like the parks, the Disney World hotels are spread out all over the resort, some are within walking distance of one or more parks, but all of the hotels offer convenient and free transportation to all of the Disney World parks. Some hotels even have their own monorail stops! Features vary from hotel to hotel at Disney World, so to check the features of a particular hotel, visit the Disney World website. Like the Disneyland hotels, all Disney World hotels offer free transport to and from the airport, and the option to purchase a Disney Dining Package. You are also allowed access to Disney hotels other than the one you are staying in. Feel free to visit the gift shops, restaurants, lobbies, pools, etc. at any of the other Disney hotels. For a list of pros and cons of each Disney World hotel, click here. Both Disney World and Disneyland also offer access to Extra Magic Hours for guests staying at a Disney Hotel. This means that guests are allowed an extra hour in the park (either before opening or after closing depending on the day) on specific days during the week.

4. Buy a Disney Dining Plan- The Disney Dining plan is offered to guests of Disney Resort Hotels. At Disneyland, there is one type of dining plan that can be purchased in 2-5 day packages. This dining plan provides vouchers for two meals and one snack per day. Details on the Disneyland Dining Plan can be found here. I have not used the Dining Plan at Disneyland, but from what I have heard from others, it is basically a way to prepay for some of your meals at Disneyland, it doesn’t really save you money on your meals (unlike Disney World’s dining plans), but allows you to budget for your meals ahead of time. Disney World’s Dining Plan is very different from Disneyland’s. First, there are multiple levels of dining plans for various price ranges. For details on the various packages, click here. Each plan saves you money on your meals, with the higher-level packages offering higher saving. The dining plans also allow you to order meals you probably wouldn’t have if you were paying for your meals out-of-pocket. I have not used the current version of the Dining Plan, but on my first trip to Disney World my family purchased a predecessor to the Disney Dining Plan (I believe it was called the Wishes Package) this package was essentially the same as the current Premium Dining Plan. With this plan, much like with the current dining plans, we were allowed to order basically anything on the menu at participating restaurants, since we didn’t have to worry about the price of the meal, we were able to order things we usually wouldn’t (my brother basically ordered surf-and-turf at every restaurant that offerred it). If you’re staying at a Disney hotel, especially in Disney World, I highly encourage you to consider buying a dining plan, at the very least it takes away the hassle of planning out your food budget from home, and it can even save you money and give you access to fabulous dining experiences!

5. Time your trip carefully- If you have a pretty busy schedule, you may be limited in when you can take your vacation, but if you have a little wiggle room, you can plan your trip around certain times that offer perks such as lower prices, lower crowds, and better weather. It’s pretty tough to find information online regarding the different pricing seasons at Disneyland, so I can’t say for sure when the best deals are, as a general rule, it typically costs less to go during the less busy times, as they lower their prices to attract more visitors. Some of the best times for lower crowds are before and after holidays and typical vacation seasons. Guidebooks such as Birnbaum’s Guides and The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland typically have information about crowds and prices, so these can be a good place to look for more information. There is a lot more readily available information online when it comes to Disney World, so I can give some more precise suggestions. As far as value season, the most inexpensive time to go to Disney World is January through early February, excluding holidays such as President’s Day. January-Early February is also a good time to go as far as crowds, but there is a trade-off. As much of Disney World’s maintenance happens during this time period you may find that some of your favorite rides are closed, so double-check the ride closures and if there are any rides you absolutely have to ride, you might have to consider paying a little more and braving a bigger crowd to go at a different time. Allears.net has a nice list of ride closures here. Aside from January, some other great low-traffic times to visit are: April and early March (although there is a risk of encountering hurricanes), late August, most of September, October, and November, and the weeks in December that come before Christmas Week. There are lots of great websites that offer detailed crowd calendars and planning help. My favorites are dadsguidetowdw.com, yourfirstvisit.net (great for first-time visitors, but also a great resource for repeat customers), and undercovertourist.com (which also offers an iPhone app that’s great for use inside the parks).

Well, that’s all for now. Did I miss anything? What are some of your favorite Disney vacation tips? I’ve got plenty more tips of my own, so be on the lookout for more Disney posts in the future!

Have a good weekend, and Happy Learning!