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.

Planning a Trip for 2022

It’s been a long time since I have been fully immersed in all things Disney and so much has changed. There have been park closures, ride shut downs, show cancellations, massive layoffs and more thanks to the pandemic. But, as we look towards 2022, the future looks brighter than ever for DisneyParks, as Disney World celebrates its 50th anniversary with all sorts of new offerings for guests.

This is why I am toying with a visit next year. My family of three has not been to the parks since the opening of the fantastic Star Wars area. Since my husband in a HUGE Star Wars fan, it seems almost criminal that we haven’t gone. I am considering a visit during November or December, when the parks are decorated for the Holiday season. The last time we visited during this time it was just my husband and I and we had a wonderful time. There were many special events, all of which were included with admission. I am a Christmas fanatic so it seems only fitting to visit then.

Because so much time has passed, almost 10 years since our last holiday visit, and 5 since our last visit to the parks, I feel like I’m starting from scratch. So I thought I would have you all follow along with me as we plan our next big Disney adventure. Let’s get going.

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 than 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 $18 well spent.
  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

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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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.

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.

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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.