Step One: Time of Year

Choosing the time of year you want to go to Disney World should be your very first step in planning. Disney World hosts a variety of seasonal events throughout the year that are included with admission, as well as special premium ticketed events. If you are someone who has been to the parks before, it may benefit you to go during another time of year to gain a different experience. Whenever you decide to go, know there is no way you will be able to fit in all the things you want to do, but good planning will help you make the most of your experience.

Winter

Starting with the beginning of the year, you are likely to see the least amount of crowds, but as a result you are also likely to see many attractions closed for refurbishment. This is the slowest time of the year in the parks and Disney takes full advantage of this doing annual maintenance and more. Now 2022 may be a little different considering that the parks had an unprecedented longtime shutdown in 2020/2021, but unless you are someone who frequents the parks a lot and doesn’t mind missing a few key attractions, I would not recommend visiting during this time.

Spring

The next season is spring, which features the fantastic Flower and Garden Festival at EPCOT. There are all sorts of presentations, a walk through butterfly tent, and beautiful topiaries. In addition, there are extra food and wine experiences throughout EPCOT featuring all sorts of sweet and savory treats. We have attended and it was a great time to visit with lower crowds, pleasant weather and excellent food offerings. Probably my favorite time to visit the parks.

Summer

The summer season is when most people visit the parks and thus it is hot and crowded. Growing up this is the only time available for my family to go, so this is when we went. You may be in the same boat. If so, planning is going to be absolutely critical for you to be able to squeeze in the experiences you want. Managing the heat and staying hydrated is critical to a good experience as well. Fortunately, the parks offer plenty of opportunity to cool off in the air conditioning.

Fall

Fall is close second as best time to visit in my mind. You have cooler weather and fewer crowds. EPCOT’s Food and Wine Festival, the sister festival to the spring festival, is occurring with great culinary features. If you are a fan of Halloween, you’ll enjoy the extra fall decorations that show up in September. There is a special, extra ticketed, after hours Halloween themed celebration. Just a fun time in the parks.

Holiday

The holiday season at Disney World Parks is just magical, and it’s why I want to visit again during this time. At the beginning of November, the Halloween decorations go away and by the second week of November it’s fully Christmas mode at the parks. It’s truly spectacular with extra lights, trees and more providing a festive atmosphere. The holidays like Thanksgiving week and Christmas week are notoriously some of the busiest days of the year in the parks, but if you plan it right you can enjoy low crowds and all the holiday features. This time of year also has an after hours special ticketed event.

I hope that gives you a decent idea of what each season is like at Disney World and helps you decide when is the right time to go for your family.

Park by Park Character Guide

UPDATE: Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic all character meet and greets as well as character dining has been cancelled until further notice. They are expected to return in 2022. In the meantime, Disney Parks are offering cavalcades which can be best described as miniature parades. These are generally not posted ahead of time. Check the schedule when you arrive at the parks. 

UPDATE: October 2021 – Character experiences have been announced to be returning on a limited, socially distanced basis in November 2021 including one on one meet and greets, to add to some of the character meals already occurring.

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

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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

Touring Plan: What to Eat at the EPCOT Flower & Garden Festival

So the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival has turned into quite the crowd pleaser, but fewer know that the EPCOT International Flower and Garden Festival not only has beautiful garden displays, but also has turned into a food event in its own right. Unlike other Disney special events, both of these festivals take place over several weeks, which means less concentrated crowds. Best of all, there is no additional admission. A win-win for everyone.

This year the Flower and Garden festival has been extended an unprecedented 90 days from March 2 to May 30, 2016. Limited viewing topiaries, food and even an interactive children’s garden are all part of the festival this year.

This is one of the reasons why I chose to go during April with my family in 2016. I can’t wait to snack on all the new pop up stands available during the Flower and Garden Festival. Check out the video below on some of the tasty foods offered in 2015.

Character Palooza: The Magical Unicorn of Character Experiences

Character Palooza is something I would think only exists in rumor, had I not seen photos of it myself. It’s so secret that Cast Members (Disney Employees) may say it doesn’t exit.

What is it? It’s a seemingly random mass appearance of usually rare characters in Hollywood Studios. It is, in fact a scheduled thing that if you subscribe to via Kenny the Pirate, character expert extraordinaire, you can work into your Walt Disney World touring plans.

Memory Maker photographers are NOT on hand, and it only lasts 15-20 minutes adding to it’s reclusive nature. It typically takes place at the Main Entrance of Hollywood Studios or in the Animation Courtyard near Disney Jr.

My best guess is that these characters are the same characters that appear in Fantasmic!. Since they are there already, why not parade them around for a short while and make some Disney magic?

For more information check out this post.

Top Fifteen Things to Do OUTSIDE the Disney Parks

As if there isn’t enough to do in the parks, Disney offers a world of activities to do outside of them in their various hotels, restaurants, Disney Springs and many recreational activities. I list my favorites below. Best of all, most are free or very reasonable.

  1. Experience the Dole Whip. Dole Whip is a legendary Disney World food. It’s a frozen pineapple dessert, sort of a sorbet, and it’s AMAZING. So amazing, in fact, that Disney opened up a new restaurant that serves Dole Whip and only Dole Whip at the Polynesian Resort called the Pineapple Lanai. Sign me up!
  2. Watch the Electrical Water Parade. Reminiscent of the Magic Kingdom’s Electrical Parade, this water version was supposed to be a temporary thing but has continued nightly for years. For best viewing check it out from the Polynesian Resort (with your Dole Whip of course).
  3. Take in the Wishes fireworks from Magic Kingdom. You can view the Magic Kingdom fireworks from various locations, or even pull over to the side of the road. However, the best viewing is at the Polynesian Resort as they pump in the music from the park.
  4. Eat at the Whispering Canyon Cafe at the Wilderness Lodge. Go for the fun and food, stay for a tour of this amazing property. We ate at this restaurant at last visit because it was listed as one of the best values and they were right. You are served a TON of food, which is delicious by the way, in a casual atmosphere. The Cowpolks that serve you here are a rootin’ tootin’ good time, and your kids will love the occasional hobby horse races they hold. Just too fun. Ask for the ketchup and see what happens. Free property tours are available – just ask the front desk. And be sure to see the geyser that goes off occasionally.
  5. Visit Tri-Circle-D Ranch at Fort Wilderness. Visiting the ranch is absolutely free and you can see all the horses that make the Disney properties tick. Your child can get a pony ride for only $8 – no reservation necessary. Trail rides are also available.
  6. Join Chip N Dale for a campfire singalong. One of many campfire activities at Disney resorts this one gets extra bonus for character appearance and it’s FREE. Located at Fort Wilderness. Picnicing is permitted at campfire activities, and snacks as well as s’more kits are available for purchase.
  7. Take in a movie under the stars. Perhaps there are few things more magical than taking in a Disney movie in the great outdoors. Offered at several resorts for FREE, Fort Wilderness gets my vote because if you’re there already for Chip N Dale, you can just stay for the movie.
  8. Listen to some fireside storytelling. At the Animal Kingdom Lodge their take on the campfire activities is African folktales. So cool.
  9. Visit a playground. If you don’t have small children, move along. If you do, visiting the various playgrounds at many resorts is a great way to see many of the properties and blow off some steam. I hear the playground at the new Art of Animation Resort is particularly awesome with a lot of character. Photo opp!
  10. Eat while enjoying a safari view. A visit to Animal Kingdom Lodge will give you a free view of the various African animals, but why not stay and enjoy them over an exotic meal? Sanaa, an Indian buffet available there, gets rave reviews and is a good value.
  11. Visit Disney Springs. At writing this area is undergoing a complete renovation and expansion to be sure to call first before heading there for something specific. On our last visit we were only steps away from Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) and spent a lot of time there. There’s lots to do, and with the expansion there is sure to be more. Be sure to visit World of Disney which has the largest selection of Disney merchandise in one place – some of which is parks exclusive. Check out the live shows on the outdoor stage, and the 7pm DJ dance party for kids. There is also a splash pad/fountains for kids too cool off.
  12. Have a roar of a good time at T-Rex Cafe. If you have kids, visit the TRex restaurant to encounter “live” animatronic dinosaurs. The food was surprisingly good, and not insanely overpriced. Located in Downtown Disney.

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    Better eat your dinner before the dinos eat you!

  13. Build some fun at the LEGO store in Disney Springs. Check out the LEGO store and see all the awesome lifesize LEGO sculptures. On certain days there is even a free build set given away – call for details.
  14. Rent a surrey and drive it down the Boardwalk. Out of all the places in Disney, this area is probably the least kid friendly, and therefore skippable, but surreys are just too much fun. Also, if memory serves I believe there is a lot of sand there the kiddos can play in.
  15. Do the Disney Food Blog Cupcake Crawl. A few of the cupcakes are located in the parks, but most of them can be enjoyed by anyone with a sweet tooth.

It goes without saying, that getting to all of these places is half the fun. Whether taking a bus, the monorail or a boat, taking advantage of Disney’s free transportation can be just as thrilling as the destination. Be sure to ask a cast member about free Disney transportation trading cards!