Disney Planning: Step by Step

When planning a trip to the most magical place on earth, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Here I walk you step by step through the process.

  1. The very first thing to decide is when you want to go. That may seem simple, but crowd sizes, special events and change in rate seasons can make or break your visit.

    All things considered, my favorite times to visit is in April and November. Both are slower seasons, and offer special events that are included in admission.

    Crowd calendars can help you gauge crowds. I use this excellent crowd calendar from WDW Prep School.

  2. Once you decide when you are going you need to figure out where to stay. Do you want to stay on or off property? Check out my post on the pros and cons of each. And check out my post on how to find the best deals on hotels
  3. Next you need to figure out how you are getting there – flying or driving? Read more about these options here.
  4. You’ll also need tickets of course, the whole reason for your trip. You can buy them direct from Disney, but there are many other options which can save you a few dollars.
  5. Then you will want to decide on food options. Do you want to do the dining plan? Or you can opt to be more frugal. Character dining should also be considered here, so you save time in the parks doing attractions rather than waiting in line to see a princess. Dining reservations can be made 180 days in advance.
  6. Then you will need to choose which days you are going to which parks and what attractions you want to see – that’s the fun stuff! I know the idea of planning this much sounds like a lot of work, and it is. But, Touring Plans makes it easy. The website allows you to make plans for each day, and using their optimization it will automatically create the best plan for your day. They have plug and play plans for all sorts of visitors including ones for adults and others with families with small children.

    Using their customized plans hand in hand with their lines app, which is more accurate that even Disney’s, I have never waited in line for more than 20 minutes. And it allowed us to pull our last minute trip together without any stress. I really cannot say enough about it. The premium access is $15 well spent.

    This planning can also help you choose your Fastpasses which can be booked 90 days in advance if you are staying on property, or 30 days in advance otherwise.

  7. Add extra magic. If you can do a little something extra I would plan for it. Whether it’s a cake for a special occasion, a visit to the Bibidi Bobidi Boutique, or a special fireworks dessert party, these little upgrades will make your trip even more memorable.

Following these steps will ensure you have a well planned trip to Walt Disney World.

 

Park by Park Character Guide

One of the trickier things to navigate are seeing all of the characters in the parks. No matter what time of day or night you are bound to run into one character or another, but if you have small children (and even if you don’t) and your experience hinges on seeing a particular character, best to make a plan so you make sure that happens.

Kenny the Pirate is the best place for all things characters. His excellent website will direct you to the best place to meet your favorite character and how to spend the least amount of time doing it including a princess touring plan of EPCOT.

Magic Kingdom

There will be characters to greet you at the flagpoles in the morning and you will be tempted to stop – don’t! There will be other opportunities.

Characters:

  • Talking Mickey in Main Street – Only place to meet with talking – see the big guy here
  • TinkerBell in Main Street – Only place to meet. One of our favorite meets as the queue is magical and makes it appear you are shrinking. Tink is a lot of fun too.
  • Alice by the Tea Cups in the morning. Get there early and you may ride with her.
  • Mary Poppins in Liberty Square – Behind the Christmas shop. She was absolutely delightful.
  • Classic Characters in Circus area
  • Merida in her Grove – Only place to meet. She is absolutely fantastic and one of our favorites.
  • Gaston by his tavern – Another absolute favorite. He’s a hoot. 
  • Princess Elena of Avalor and Cinderella in the castle
  • Tiana and Rapunzel in the castle
  • Ariel in her grotto – Only place to meet with her fins
  • Aladdin and Jasmin in Adventureland – Arrive in the morning and you may ride the carpets with them
  • Winnie the Pooh and friends by his ride
  • Stop by Tony’s Italian restaurant in the Main Street area and Lady & Tramp will sign your autograph book

Continue reading

Vegetarian Options at Walt Disney World

Recently, I had a friend who was looking for inexpensive Vegetarian options in Walt Disney World Resort. Through some sleuthing I came up with the following list. They used it successfully on their visit. Disney menus are changing all the time. For the most up to date information on Vegetarian options visit the Disney Food Blog vegetarian guide.

Snacks and food options in each Disney park

  • Be wary of soups; some contain chicken broth, even if they are labeled “Vegetable” or “Cream”. Ask about ingredients to confirm.
  • While several Chinese dining locations offer meals that sound vegetarian, they are often cooked or served in chicken broth.
  • Garden burgers are available at nearly all burger locations, even if it’s not listed on the menu.

The classics available everywhere: Popcorn, Mickey pretzel, Mickey ice cream bar (dove bar)

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Saving for Disney with Bill Shark

So I like to get creative when I am working on reducing my monthly budget. I like to work smarter, not harder. So I’m a huge fan of set it and forget it solutions like Paribus. Another I just tried is Bill Shark. Bill Shark is a service that negotiates your service contracts for you to reduce your monthly costs.

Every 3-6 months I call my service providers to renegotiate our household contracts. Sometimes I save, sometimes I don’t. It is a timely endeavor with a lot of time spent on hold, and a lot and back and forths with managers. However, it’s usually worth it.

Lately, though, I’ve been striking out. So I thought I would try Bill Shark. I had seen the service on the news a few months back. I am so pleased with the results. After filling out a form and uploading 2 of my bills for my internet service and my wireless bill, Bill Shark saved me $157. As part of their fee system, they will keep 40% of that savings, but some is better than none. It was easy and simple, and I really can’t recommend it enough. Check it out!

Note: Bill Shark links are referral links which if used, I receive a small giftcard. However, if you are new to the service you will receive $10 off.

Swagbucks: Easy Earners for the week of 7/5/17

So you may have heard me mention Swagbucks before. It’s a website that gives you points for doing small tasks, taking surveys, online purchases, and signing up for subscriptions.

I have a love/hate relationship with it to be honest. Sometimes it’s great, and other times it’s a real pain. If you are going to sign up for it (and I suggest you do), make a separate email address just for the account as it will frequently spam you.

Many religiously spend an hour each day on Swagbucks to meet daily goals and earn bonuses. Personally, I think there are much better uses of your time, so I am only going to share with you easy returns. Most will require you to spend money, but then earn additional money back in Swagbucks points.

For the week of 7/5/2017:

  • Sign up for Hulu and receive 2300 Swagbucks under the Discover tab. Easy money maker as Hulu can be cancelled at anytime and is only $9 a month. I have had Hulu for many years and gave up cable altogether 8 years ago, and never looked back.
  • Sign up for eStories and receive 2200 Swagbucks under the Discover tab. Pay $6 a month for three months.
  • Sign up for Paribus (free) and receive 300 Swagbucks under the Discover tab. I am a big fan of Paribus.
  • Sign up for a bundle of products from Honest Company under the Discover tab and receive 2500 Swagbucks, and 40% off your first bundle. I love their bug spray and stain spray.
  • Donate to WCS and earn up to 6500 Swagbucks under the Discover tab. For $9 donation you receive 2000 Swagbucks, and 1500 for each additional month for three months. Great moneymaker and you can help wildlife!
  • Donate to the Sierra Club and earn 3000 Swagbucks under the Discover tab. For a $15 donation you receive 30000 Swagbucks.

Each Swagbuck is equal to a penny. They can be traded in for cash via Paypal, or receive a bonus for the first $25 giftcard you redeem each month for only 2200 Swagbucks. This is what I usually do. I set a goal of getting that $25 giftcard and then take a break until I can purchase my next one at a discount. Happy Swagging!

Please note all Swagbucks links are referrals.

 

Can You Save on a Last Minute Disney Trip?

So many people plan for a long time for their Disney vacations – and they should. It’s a large expense especially for families and with many others going, it can be difficult to get reservations for dining and attractions that you prefer. So what happens when you decide to plan a trip last minute?

Well, my family recently found out when we threw a Walt Disney World trip together in less than a month. The sudden rush was due to a number of reasons, but namely it was due to my husband changing jobs. We had a small window time to take a vacation, and didn’t have much time to research. Since we had meticulously planned our previous trip, and I have consistently followed along with the changes in the parks, a trip to Walt Disney World ended up being an easy plug and play solution. Continue reading

Saving for Disney using Paribus

Are you an online shopper? I always have been, but since having my daughter I shop online a lot more than I ever used to. The ease and convenience of shopping from home is appealing when you have to cart a tiny human around. From couches to groceries, you name it, I’ve probably purchased it online.

One major advantage of online shopping, besides the quick cost comparisons, and the whole not having to leave your house thing, is that I heap savings on savings a number of ways.

One of my favorites is a service called Paribus (referral link). By accessing your Amazon and email account, it can price track items you purchase and will automatically request a refund for you if the price drops. Best of all after the initial set up, you don’t have to lift a finger. Considering that Amazon prices can change several times throughout the day, and other more traditional retailers daily, it has been a handy tool for me. It has successfully found savings from retailers such as Old Navy, Kohls, and Macy’s. The system keeps a small percentage of the savings found, but it’s still better than no savings! Have you tried Paribus? What do you think?

How I Paid for my Disney Vacation

It’s all fine and dandy to read savings tips on how to pay for a trip, but without real numbers it’s sometimes difficult to understand so I wanted to lay out how my family of three – two adults and a toddler – paid for our 8 day trip to Disneyworld in April 2016.

First off, we put down a $200 deposit immediately upon our dates opening up (the minimum required for booking and totally refundable), and stayed flexible. This allowed our travel agent to easily take advantage of new promotions, while remaining in the hotel room we wanted. We ended up changing our touring plans three times, ultimately saving 15% off our hotel stay, and receiving one day free with the purchase of our 4 day park tickets.

Our total cost for tickets and hotel room is: $2126.67

I chipped away at that number – which is nearly twice what my family normally pays for a week’s vacation – a number of ways.

Continue reading

Prepping for Disney: What to Pack

Packing for a Disney trip brings up some unique challenges. Here are a few key items you should bring.

  1. A cinch backpack to get through security more quickly. All bags and wallets are searched – the fewer pockets the better.
  2. A cellphone charger and cable. Disney app is great until your cell battery is dead. Be prepared.
  3. Sunscreen/hat/sunglasses
  4. Change of clothes (especially socks)
  5. Swimsuit
  6. Refillable beverage containers. Water is free and readily available in any park. Drinking a lot in the hot Florida weather is very important.
  7. Rain gear. Ponchos are a great idea for that famous Florida afternoon shower. Also a good solution for wet rides. We bought ours at Dollar Tree, but if you’re expecting a lot of rain you may want to upgrade to a sturdier option. A stroller cover or an umbrella may be a good option for guests in wheelchairs.
  8. Hand held or stroller fans are a great idea. If you want a misting fan, bite the bullet and get the one in the parks. I hear great feedback on them, and if they malfunction or break they will replace them.
  9. A pad for the stroller that will help keep little ones cool.
  10. A FrogTogg towel which cools as it dries.
  11. Something for characters to autograph. Autograph books are the classic way to capture characters’ autographs. They are cheaper and readily available on ebay, as well as the Disney store. But if you want to be more unique you can bring something else for characters to sign. For us we are bringing a large canvas letter of our daughter’s first name so we can hang it on the wall when we return. Others bring bags, pillow cases, or even photo mats to sign. Another idea is to bring a storybook and have the character sign where their story is in the book.
  12. Glowing and light up items for nighttime activities. This is a great pro tip. Bringing these items at home – mostly from the dollar store – will save you a LOT of money. Bring some to share and you’ll be a hero.
  13. Good walking shoes. Leave the flip flops at home. You will be walking several miles at Walt Disney World by no stretch of the imagination. You need something with support. Bringing an extra pair and switching every other day will help keep your feet comfortable and dry.
  14. Snacks. I’ve been on the hunt for Disney themed snacks for a while. I found boxes of cookies at Dollar Tree that were Disney branded. I found packs of freeze dried apples on Amazon. And applesauce pouches and Mickey shaped veggie chips at Target.
  15. Cleaned pennies and quarters. My daughter absolutely loves pressed pennies. There are MANY of these machines throughout the parks so I knew this needed to be part of our experience. It makes for a great cheap souvenir too. I cleaned the pennies and then stacked them in a mini M&Ms container which seems like they made just for this task. Pennies are also great to carry to throw in various wishing wells and fountains throughout the parks.
  16. Things to occupy kids during travel. Coloring books, and a loaded up tablet will keep kids occupied. Don’t forget snacks, favorite toys, change of clothes and diaper needs.
  17. Things to occupy kids during line waiting. Looking for hidden Mickeys will only take you so far. I picked up this eye spy sort of game at Target. I also plan on taking a small container of bubbles.
  18. Necklace for a pearl from Japan. Picking an oyster and finding a pearl inside in Japan is one my cherished childhood memories of Walt Disney World. The necklaces available to contain your pearl are quite pricey. Thankfully, you can purchase a similar necklace on etsy for much less. Saved me quite a bit.
  19. Princess dress. If you are bringing small children, dress up items are a must. The parks do sell these items, most exclusive to the parks which means a lot more money. Priced at more than $100 in some cases, I knew I had to bring along some dress up. I ended up stalking the sales at the Disney store and got two dresses (Elsa and Rapunzel) for $50 total. High quality dresses can also be found at JCPenney. Dressing up ensures your children will be treated like the special royalty they are, but always keep comfort in mind.

Prepping for Disney: What to Watch

So in order to get maximum appreciation for all the cast of characters at Walt Disney World I decided to embark on a list of movies to watch before arrival. I will attempt to make this list as comprehensive as possible. Character appearances tend to change nearly weekly, so please always check schedules before promising little ones you will see a certain character. Continue reading