I am about to embark on my next family Disney vacation and we are busy planning go ride! Last week we started my countdown of the seven steps to planning the most magical Disney vacation you can have. We only made it through number 4 before we ran out of time so this week we are bringing you 5-7. If missed last week’s episode, be sure to go back and listen to that before proceeding with today’s podcast.
Here is a quick review of all 7:
- 1. Select Your Dates
- 2. Choose Your Resort
- 3. Book Your Trip Early
- 4. Create a Touring Plan
- 5. Make Reservations
- 6. How to Pack
- 7. Review and Go!
5. Make Reservations
As we discussed last week, there are some distinct advantages to staying in a Disney resort hotel. Chief among those perks are the early dates for making Advanced Dining Reservations and Fastpass+ Reservations. Let’s tackle these one at a time and start with Advanced Dining Reservations, or ADR’s for short.
Advanced Dining Reservations can be made 180 days in advance for on property guests. While you won’t need to book every restaurant that far out, there are a few that usually require you be up bright and early on day 180. Here are a few of the restaurants that you need to plan on booking at the 180 day mark:
- Cinderella’s Royal Table
- Be Our Guest
- Chef Mickey’s
- Victoria & Albert’s (especially the Chef’s table)
- Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue & Mickey’s Backyard BBQ, both at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campgrounds
- Spirit of Aloha Luau Dinner Show & O’hana, both at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
These are just a few of the hardest reservations to book, but that list is by no means exhaustive. There will be others that fill up fast like Garden Grill in Epcot, the Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom, and the Sci-Fi Dine in Theater at Hollywood Studios to name a few. My tip is to book any restaurant that you think you might be interested in as early as possible. It is far easier to cancel a reservation than it is to obtain a hard to get booking after the 180 day mark. One caveat with this, some of the hard to get spots like Cinderella’s Royal Table require advanced payment on a credit card. You can still cancel the reservation 48 hours in advance and have the amount refunded, but you should be prepared to have the amount charged to your card at the time of booking. This is also true if you are on a Disney Dining Plan. You can still use your Dining Plan at participating restaurants like Cinderella’s Royal Table, but the Credit Card is required up front for booking purposes.
Of course, you need to know where you will be each day before you can make these reservations. That is why we listed “Create a Touring Plan” as Step 4, putting it just ahead making reservations. With your Touring Plan in place, you can then begin to compile your list of restaurants you want to enjoy. Again, this a time to involve the whole family or others in your travel party. Find out what experiences they are most looking forward to. Is there a specific character they want to meet? A Character Meal is one of the best ways to interact with the characters. If you know someone loves Pluto, then you might want to consider Chef Mickey’s. If you are smitten with Mary Poppins then you need to look at breakfast at 1900 Park Fare at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort. If great food is the top priority, look at the different Signature Dining experiences, the wide variety of options in the World Showcase at Epcot, or the incredible new offerings at Disney Springs. Let desired experiences be your guide. Once you know this, you can create your list of restaurants and then see how they can plug into your existing touring plan.
Our niece and nephew are in love with Beauty & the Beast right now. So, eating at Be Our Guest was our top priority when it came to making ADR’s. Now, I didn’t want to take up too much time on our first day at the Magic Kingdom with a big sit down meal, so I scheduled this experience for the last day of our trip. By then we will have been on most of the rides and seen most of the shows in the Magic Kingdom. I was able to score a breakfast reservation and I know we will enjoy it more on our second Magic Kingdom day because we won’t feel the need to rush through the meal and get back to the rides. I can’t wait for my family to see the inside of the Beast’s castle, they are going to be blown away!
Before we move onto Fastpass+, real quick let’s cover the basics of how to make reservations when the day comes. You need to have your My Disney Experience account set up online and make sure your reservation is linked in your account. This is how Disney will know your window should be open and the dates will become available. The morning of day 180 you can begin making online reservations at 6:00 am (EST). Phone reservations will open at 7:00 am (EST) that same day. I much prefer the online system, but sometimes you may have to call in if there are issues booking online. If it works the way it should, you can have all of your reservations made before 7:00 am even rolls around. Have your list ready to go, but don’t make the reservations in order of day. Instead, make them in order of reservation difficulty. For example, you may not plan to visit Be Our Guest until your last day, but that could be the most popular restaurant on your list. In that case begin at 6:00 am with Be Our Guest and then move onto the next hardest to secure and so on. This gives you the best chance of success. One other quick tip, you can actually book from multiple devices. If you can, have someone help you split up your list and each make reservations going from hardest to secure to easiest. Just be sure you are both logged into your My Disney Experience and you have a Credit Card handy for securing the reservations.
O.k., let’s move onto Fastpass+! To me they are a little easier than ADR’s because there aren’t as many options to choose from when it comes to rides vs. restaurants. Plus, if you booked early you will have had more time to prepare for FP+ reservations. The window for FP+ on site guests starts at 60 days. Just like ADR’s, I recommend having your list of rides that are most important to your group and then pair this with your touring plan. Don’t make the mistake of booking the most popular rides if nobody in your group plans to ride. If you think you have to have a FP+ for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, but your kids aren’t tall enough to ride, or someone in your family hates roller coasters, this won’t make sense for you. Our upcoming trip includes FP+ for Enchanted Tales with Belle, Winnie the Pooh, and the Jungle Cruise on our first day. I probably wouldn’t have selected these 3 rides if I wasn’t taking a 2-year old and 4-year old to the Magic Kingdom. However, with no height requirement on all three, these are great selections for us. So, build your list of rides, determine which ones fit onto each day of your touring plan, and then be ready at 7:00 am (EST) 60 days in advance.
Just like the ADR’s, you want to make these in order of priority, not in order of your visit. The online system now allows you to book one ride at a time. When that ride is booked you have the option to continue on the same day or change days. I just went through this for another trip we will be taking this summer and I changed days in each case. I made a FP+ for Avatar Flight of Passage first thing, then moved over to a different day for the Na’vi River Journey, followed by a different day for Toy Story Midway Mania! After my top priority rides were secured, I went back day by day and filled in the remaining two FP+ selections for each day. This worked well and I was able to get everything that I wanted. If you want more FP+ tips, we have an older episode you can go back and listen to. I will be replacing this episode with an updated version a little later this year, but for now that will give you a little more information on making these reservations.
The other reservation a lot of people don’t know about is online check-in. This can also be done at the 60 day mark for your Walt Disney World resort room. This is another option in your My Disney Experience, and by checking in early online, you can bypass the resort counter altogether on your day of arrival. This also gives you the opportunity to make room requests and note any special celebrations if your travel agent hasn’t already done so. You can pick from several items here, things like ground floor, near transportation, near main lobby, etc. You won’t be able to select everything, just a couple of your top priorities. Keep in mind too that these are only requests and Disney will not guarantee that they will be able to accommodate everything. Still, it never hurts to ask and hopefully you will get what is most important to you.
If you will be arriving after 4:00 pm and have completed online check-in prior to your departure, you should receive a text or e-mail the day of your arrival with your room number. Thanks to Magic Bands, you can take Disney’s Magical Express, get off the bus and go directly to your Disney resort room. With your room number and a provided map of the resort you can go straight to the room, touch your Magic Band to the outside of your room door and voila, enter your room! The online check-in process makes your arrival day super smooth and you can start your vacation right away! Be sure to take advantage of this anytime after the 60 day mark arrives.
6. How to Pack
If you use Disney’s Magical Express, your luggage will also be delivered straight to your room. What’s inside that luggage is entirely up to you. That brings us to how to pack as you are planning to ride. Notice I said how, instead of what. Rather than just give you an exhaustive list of every little item you might need, I want to talk a little about what you can expect during the course of your trip. You will get hungry, you will get wet, and you will get tired. Everything I pack revolves around one of these three things.
Let’s start at the end of that list and work backwards. You will get tired. A Walt Disney World vacation is fun, exhilarating, memorable, and exhausting! These are big parks which means you will cover a lot of ground, and every place you visit is designed to stimulate your senses. Even if you don’t get on big coasters like Expedition Everest, the parks themselves are full of colors, sights, sounds, smells, and lots of people. There is so much going on around you that just sitting in place will use more energy than your average day back home. Add to that the potential stress of family you may not be used to spending every minute of every day with and you will be taxed emotionally, mentally, and physically. I average about 10 miles of walking on every single day of my Disney trips and I can guarantee you I’m tired when my head hits the pillow each night.
So, first off you need to prepare for such an undertaking. If you aren’t used to walking this much, get ready by logging some daily walks before your trip. Start off slow, but try to work up to a comfortable 2-3 mile walk. You don’t necessarily need to walk 10 miles everyday before your trip, but having the ability to walk 2-3 without getting too tired will ensure your body is ready for walking around the parks.
Along with the walking comes comfortable shoes. This is my #1 must have for any Disney vacation. Comfortable shoes are a must, and I like to rotate between two different pairs during my trip. Make sure you have shoes that offer good support, good cushioning, and fit your feet well. It’s a bonus if they can get wet and dry quickly as well. Rides like Splash Mountain and Kali River Rapids can soak your feet to the bone, and Florida is notorious for small rain showers that can pop up at any time. There’s nothing worse than having to put on wet shoes the next morning to start your day. Having a second pair will solve this problem and give your feet a chance to enjoy the feel of a different shoe. One last thing, please don’t buy new shoes the week before your trip. These should be shoes you have road tested on your daily walks and have allowed enough time to break in. Another great item to have is mole skin. I always pack a little in my park bag in case the extra mileage begins to cause blisters. Keeping your feet dry and happy will make a huge difference in your vacation!
In addition to shoes, comfortable clothes appropriate for the season are a must. Chances are you will be traveling from some other part of the country and the weather in Orlando will be a little different compared to back home. I have Orlando plugged into the Weather Channel app on my phone and you can bet I’ve already been checking the long range forecast. Right now we are scheduled to have highs of 88 and lows of 64 almost everyday. I plan on wearing comfortable shorts and my collection of soft, breathable t-shirts from Ride Guide Goods. While comfort is the most important thing, it is fun to show your Disney spirit when you are in the parks. Most families will be sporting matching Disney themed tees of some variety. You have to get the picture of the whole crew in front of Cinderella’s Castle, and what better way than with matching shirts!
I have made the mistake before of assuming Orlando would be warmer than here at home, and I almost froze to death one unseasonably cool evening in the Magic Kingdom. I had a base layer long sleeve tee and a lined waterproof jacket to help me layer. However, that night in October it got down into the 40’s and I ended up buying a Mickey Mouse hoodie in the gift shop. The lesson is to be prepared and pack accordingly for the weather when you go.
That brings me to point number two, you will get wet. Go buy a poncho at your local sporting goods store before the trip. These ponchos are thicker and dry out more quickly than those you will buy in the parks. Not to mention they are a lot cheaper! There is less than a 20% chance of rain on our upcoming trip but I will have my poncho packed in my park bag every day, ready for those pop-up storms. Having a poncho will help keep you dry, which helps you comfortable. There will be masses of visitors that don’t come prepared and when the rain hits they run for the exit. If you are prepared for the occasional shower, you will benefit when the skies clear and the sun returns. The park will be less crowded and you won’t have missed a beat.
If you are bringing any electronic equipment in with you, have something like a ziplock bag to put it in during wet rides or rain showers. Unless you are leaving these items with someone that is not riding, you will be taking them with you on the rides. In some cases, there are lockers outside the ride such as Kali River Rapids for storage purposes, but most rides do not have lockers readily available. I keep a gallon size plastic bag in my park bag and into it I put my camera, phone, and wallet in when I ride any wet rides.
As I mentioned before, shoes and socks are the other item to remember will get wet. Ponchos do a good job of keeping most of you dry during the rain, but the streets and walking paths will develop puddles that you can’t avoid. If you do manage do avoid the showers and the puddles there are rides that will get your feet a little wet. Pirates of the Caribbean is not one you would think about getting wet on, but just look at the floor of your boat when you board and you will see a little water resting at the bottom. Rides like this can surprise you and your feet! Carrying an extra pair of dry socks, or wearing shoes that don’t require socks will help your feet dry out.
Finally, you will get hungry! I don’t know if it’s just me, but there is something about rain that makes me want a nice hot meal even more. Combine the weather with the 10 miles of walking and your tummy will be screaming for some nourishment early and often. The good news is that you should never want for food at Walt Disney World. There are quick service restaurants, table service restaurants, food stands, and dessert carts at practically every turn. However, you may not want to spend a fortune on food during your trip. That means you need to have some less expensive alternatives to satisfy your cravings in between meals.
You are allowed to bring your own food into the park with you. Disney’s official line is, “Guests are allowed to bring food items such as snacks or foods that do not require heating into Disney theme parks. Inform a Security Cast Member of any food items when you enter the park.” For my family this means we have small ziplock bags that we stuff with granola bars, nuts, fruit snacks, energy packets, and my secret weapon, ginger chews. I discovered ginger chews when we went on our first Disney Cruise. They help with motion sickness and now I keep some handy in case Rock’n’Roller Coaster or other intense rides begin to mess with my equilibrium. Having these small snacks handy is a great way to keep your energy up without breaking the bank.
You can either pack some of these items in your luggage before you leave the house or you can actually order groceries to be delivered to your Disney resort. There are several services to choose from now. We have already ordered some of the items I just mentioned, along with fresh fruit and juice from Garden Grocer. Not only do we get fresh food of our picking, but we get it at a better price, and we don’t have to pack it in our luggage. Also, if you have food allergies or sensitivities, this is a great option for getting what you need when the resort and parks don’t have your desired products. Packages can also be delivered to your resort, so you can pack what you need or order online and have it shipped to your resort’s address to be picked up on arrival.
The other money saver and life saver is a bottle of water. Before we leave our resort each day we fill up a water bottle with lots of ice and water. If you have a fridge in your room you can even freeze part of the bottle the night before to keep your water cold further into the day. When we break for lunch or dinner at a quick service restaurant we fill our bottles back up before heading out. You can also ask for a free cup of water at any of the quick service locations. We do this even when not eating at the restaurant to fill our bottles back up throughout the day. I can’t stress the importance of staying hydrated enough. This isn’t a public health announcement, but just staying hydrated keeps you feeling your best and also helps with the enjoyment of the rides. Anytime I have struggled with motion sickness on a ride it is no coincidence that I quickly discover I haven’t had enough water to drink that day.
You may have noticed that I have mentioned my park bag on several occasions. This is a small backpack that I take with me into the parks each day. My bag includes snacks, water bottle, poncho, camera, first aid kit, sunscreen, and maybe an extra shirt and socks. It is very lightweight and easy to keep on me at all times. If you will be using strollers they work great to hold all of these items as well.
So, there are my tips and recommendations for staying well fed, well clothed, and well rested. Keeping your energy up, staying dry, and feeling comfortable will make all the difference in how much you enjoy your trip. Plan now and you will thank yourself when you are there!
7. Review and Go!
Ok, crew hang in there, it’s almost time to embark on your Disney World vacation! Just one more step, review and go. There are a couple of reasons I’m including this step. Number one, if you have been planning for 180 days or more, it’s a good bet you made some changes to your plan along the way. Number two, having your plan fresh in your mind will help you navigate the parks when you arrive.
You may have followed my advice and made more Advanced Dining Reservations than you needed, and now its time to cancel those you won’t use. Or, you may have changed a dining reservation time and now there’s no way to make it to your next FP+ in the allotted window. Or, maybe a ride will be under refurbishment during your trip, or better yet a new ride is now scheduled to open while you’re there. Whatever the case, you can see that there are many scenarios where something has changed.
My advice is to review your touring plan around day 33 from your travel date. Why 33? Well, its easy to remember and it’s a few days before the 30 day mark. Set a reminder on your calendar if you need to. Taking the time to review before you get to day 30 will allow you to change FP+ reservations and times before off-property guests have the chance to make their reservations at the 30 day mark. Also, there will hopefully be some availability for the easier to get Advanced Dining Reservations so you can add in a meal or make a change to a time if needed.
Every time I sit down to do this I inevitably find a mistake I made in planning. Usually it is because we changed our minds about something. I will discover we have a FP+ on one side of the park, then lunch on the other, and then another FP+ back on the first side. In that scenario I will change our lunch destination if it’s a quick service location. Or, if it’s something important like Garden Grill, I will see what I can move in my FP+ reservations. This may sound trivial, but trust me, when you are tired and hungry, walking back and forth across the park won’t be that much fun. Sometimes, even minor adjustments in the FP+ reservation times will make for more efficient touring. Look everything over, try to walk through the day in your mind, and see if you need to make any changes.
This will also help when you get close to your trip. About a week out I begin to look over my touring plan again to get familiar with where we will be and what we will be doing. Now, I’m not saying you need to have it memorized, but the less you have to think about it when there, the more relaxed you can be. Knowing that you are starting your day in Fantasyland at Dumbo, then eventually making your way over to Liberty Square for lunch at Columbia Harbour House will give you a leg up on those just wandering aimlessly about the park. That is our first day by the way, see I have the general outline in my head already! Of course, some of my favorite moments are spontaneous unexpected moments. These will happen naturally as you stroll through the park as long as you aren’t in too big of a hurry to get to the next thing on your list. For me, having the general plan in my mind frees me up to look for these spontaneous moments, character encounters, or repeat rides when there is little to no wait. A little review of your plans before you leave helps you to not only know where to go, but also helps set the expectation for the group that day.
After that is done, its up to you to make sure everything is packed and ready to go. Make sure you have your Magic Bands in your carry on, luggage tags for Disney’s Magical Express on bags you want delivered to your room, don’t forget the kids, and then go enjoy your Disney vacation!
I really hope this at least helps get you started when it comes time to plan your Disney trip. There are so many little details and different ways to tackle Walt Disney World that there is no way to cover everything in this format, but I hope this helps. If you have questions or would like me to help you personally plan your Disney vacation, we can get started as soon as you are ready. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or just call me at 210-853-2488. When it comes to Disney, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have as much help as possible!
So, if you are subscribed to the podcast you are listening to this while I’m in step 7. I’m reviewing my plans, packing my tees, and about to strap on my Magic Band. It’s almost time to make each day a ride worth taking from the parks! I hope you will stop by our Facebook page this next week and join in the fun. Thank you for tuning in today! I hope this week has some magical moments that help each day feel like a ride worth taking.
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