Did you sing “be prepared” like the song from The Lion King?
Oh, you didn’t? Then this post may not be for you.
Back in March, we tried our hand at going to Disney World. That trip to the park was very last minute and so we were woefully unprepared. And Disney makes you be prepared if you are going to have any hope of a magical visit. So what did I do for our next trip?
Prepared the shit out of our trip to Disney.
Should the S-word and Disney be in the same sentence? Probably not. Moving on.
When we came home from our Florida trip in March, contacted Disney, and then got tickets from them to go back, we went to work. John and I looked at sites that told you what park attendance was like and matched it with how much Disney resorts cost during those periods and we decided we would take a chance on a middle of September visit. We chose a day to go to Magic Kingdom when we knew there would be Extra Magic Hours and planned our hotel stay around that day. The month of September, after Labor Day, and the month of February are the lowest of the low seasons. The only problem with September is it is hurricane season so you are totally chancing it. We knew that, but Disney has a policy that if there is any named hurricane that takes place within 5 days of your visit or where you are visiting from, they will refund you or change plans without a fee. See — I prepared. Ask me anything about Disney policies and I will tell you. Rhianna Wells does not go into things unprepared. Probably one of the reasons I was devastated after our first trip – I was way out of my comfort zone. But that’s another discussion for another armchair. Anyway, we chanced it on September, to make a short story long.
What do you need to know about planning a trip to Disney? A (not at all) quick rundown of important things.
- Stay on property. Sure you could stay off and get some place cheaper but this is Disney and the trip, even a quick one like ours, is not going to be cheap so just go with it. I also know I am totally coming from my middle-class white lady privilege with this. Oh man, the tangents I could go on. I’ll indulge this quick — Disney, a billion dollar corporation, could make things cheaper and more affordable but they always keep their prices JUST high enough to keep a certain socio-economic status population out. This is just reality. But no ethical consumption under capitalism, amirite? This is just what this privileged white lady does under late capitalism so her three year old can see effing Mickey Mouse in “real life.” Okay, I’ll stop. But just assume all the information I’m giving you from here on out is coming from a place of intense privilege and I know that.
- If you are only going to the Magic Kingdom, stay at Fort Wilderness Lodge, Fort Wilderness Campgrounds, The Grand Floridian, The Polynesian, or The Contemporary. These are all the places you can stay near the Magic Kingdom. The Lodge and the Campgrounds are a direct boat ride to the park, the other places are on the monorail. This way you can get back to your hotel for a nap in the middle of the day or at the end of a very long day quickly and efficiently. We stayed at the Fort Wilderness Lodge and loved it. The Campgrounds are the least expensive but of the other resort hotels, the Lodge is the cheapest. But it’s still super nice! We originally were going to stay at the campgrounds but wound up transferring to the Lodge for reasons I’ll explain at the end of this post.
- Set up your My Disney Experience profile and make sure you’ve added your friends and family. Someone will be designated as the planner and can make plans for everyone. Put the most type A person in charge of this. Our party consisted of me (the Type A planner), John, Lyra, John’s dad, and his partner Mim. I made sure there were no kinks in being able to link everyone to me so I could make plans for everyone. Maybe here is where I tell you why we didn’t take Lucy. We didn’t take Lucy because there is NO REASON ON EARTH to take a child younger than 3/3.5, maybe 4 depending on maturity, to Disney World, unless you are a local and can go to Disney whenever you want. Lyra was a perfect age for a first trip to Disney. I count her trip in September as her First Trip and when we take Lucy on her solo trip in like 2019 or something, that will be her First Trip. Lyra is pretty mature for her age and man, she believes. She believes so hard. And it was MAGIC watching her at Disney World getting to meet everyone. Once you get kids older than like 5/6 you run the risk of them not really believing and while it will still be magical because it’s Disney World, the complete and total awe that you see in their eyes won’t be there. So my recommendation is make their first trip between 3 and 6 years old. Just do it. Then you don’t have to go ever again if you aren’t “Disney People.”
- 180 days out, you need to make your dining reservations. YOU NEED TO. You need to set an alarm on your phone and at 7AM 180 days before you plan on walking your magical self up the Magic Kingdom, you wake up and hop on the My Disney Experience website and you make breakfast reservations for a time before the park opens. You can get into the park before it even opens if you have breakfast reservations at one of the three options. If you want character dining, go to Cinderella’s Royal Table but you have to be QUICK to get a reservation. If you do not get it, keep checking to see if someone has canceled. The Crystal Palace also has character dining if your kid is into Winnie the Pooh, my kid is not so that wasn’t an option. The cheapest option, but not with characters, is Be Our Guest. This was our first choice because we knew we’d see most, if not all, of the princesses later that day and we wanted something more affordable. It was an awesome choice. Getting into the park and eating breakfast early is key because then you are in the park before a majority of the people and can plop yourself in line for a ride or two and get right on so you don’t have to waste a fast pass on it.
- 60 days out, you need to make your fast pass reservations. YOU NEED TO. Because you have heeded my advice from my first point and decided to stay on property, that means you get to reserve your fast passes 60 days in advance. If you do not stay on property, you can only make them 30 days in advance like some peasant and let me tell ya, you ain’t getting on Seven Dwarves Mine Train until like 8PM. You just aren’t, okay? So once again, set an alarm and an alarm for that alarm and you make sure your ass is in front of a computer screen at 7AM and logged onto the My Disney Experience site so you can make your reservations. What you decide to fast pass, you can only do 3, is up to you and your party and their ages. The planner can make all these reservations for everyone.
- 30 days out, order your food. You can always change your order during the next thirty days, but if you want, you can order online ahead of time so you don’t have to worry about it when you are there. If you have any dietary restrictions you can select what you don’t eat and new menu options appear. We wanted plant-based options so we chose that we wanted food that was dairy and egg free and we ended up with super delicious food that was still extremely decadent. Disney is very accommodating to all kinds of diets, which is something nice to know if you have any restrictions. We had no problem finding delicious food to eat the whole time. And, bonus, they put a little “Allergy” flag in your food when it comes out because you are allergic to the Standard American Diet. Woot woot!
- Make sure your Magic Bands are personalized early on and send them off to be personalized so they can get to you before your trip.
- Coordinate your flight plans with the Magical Express so that info is ready to go on your Magic Bands.
- Strollers – I recommend either bringing a stroller or renting one NOT from Disney. Since we got rid of our single stroller and did not want to bring just an umbrella stroller or lug the big double stroller since we only had one kid, I found Kingdom Strollers and got a Baby Jogger City Mini from them. They deliver to your hotel and pick it up. It’s better to have a stroller out of the park that way you can stroll your over-tired kid around to and from the park instead of just in the park. If you just rented when you got to Magic Kingdom, you would have to return it before you left the park and then hold your sleeping three year old the entire way back to your hotel after you’ve kept them up way past their bedtime to watch fireworks. Kingdom Strollers was great and they give you a free rain cover, insulated bag, and parent console with the stroller. We saw a lot of people in the park that had rented from them. We loved this service. As soon as we checked into our hotel our stroller was waiting for us so we were able to take it to Disney Springs and all around the resort as well as take it into the Magic Kingdom.
- For young kids, just go to Magic Kingdom and call it a trip, man. So many families around us look so frazzled and crazy-eyed when they told us they were on their 3rd or 4th day with preschoolers. And most of the time the kids were crying and way over stimulated. Magic Kingdom is the only park you need to take little ones too. Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios have stuff for little ones, Epcot kind of does too. But why subject your preschoolers to days and days of The Most Stimulus Ever? Save the money and the long trip where you go to each park when they are older. We plan on taking Lucy to one day of Magic Kingdom to meet the big guns when she is 3ish. Then in another few years after that we will take the whole fam damily for a week of Disney to do the Whole Thing. One day is more than enough magic for a little kid.
I think those are all the things to be prepared. Of course we were only staying 3 days, 2 nights on property with only one day at the park. Going for multiple park days requires much more planning.
The last thing we had to do was wait and see. Since we chanced it on hurricane season, wouldn’t you know there was a hurricane headed that way when we were supposed to be there?! And not just any hurricane, but a hurricane that was supposed to be the biggest one to hit the Caribbean and the state of Florida ever, Hurricane Irma.
I watched and read the news about hurricane Irma like a mad woman. John’s dad and Mim decided close to the trip that they weren’t going to come up to Orlando for Disney. John and I remained hopeful that we would still be able to go so we waited before canceling. We knew the hurricane was going to come before we were supposed to be there. It was projected to be there early Sunday and going through the state that entire day. We weren’t scheduled to get in until Tuesday afternoon. The weather forecast for the days we were supposed to be there looked gorgeous. Sunny, cooler temperatures, no rain. We had insurance on our flights and we knew Disney would refund us because of the hurricane should we need to cancel so waiting until the Monday before to make any major decision was the path we chose. The weekend before we were in contact with Disney to change our lodging plans. They were closing the campgrounds for the hurricane and we no longer needed to stay at the cabins since it was just going to be 3 of us now. We changed our lodging to a room at the Fort Wilderness Lodge and it ended up being just a bit cheaper than the cabin we had originally reserved. Room changed, I changed all our reservations to reflect that we were now a party of 3 instead of 5 and we waited and watched the news to see what Irma was going to do.
Thankfully, by the time Irma hit Orlando she was drastically downgraded and there wasn’t too much damage done to that area and Disney was planning on being up and running right after. There was flooding in the campgrounds so that would remained closed, and there was a bunch of tree debris to be collected, but they came out of the hurricane relatively unscathed. Our trip was still on and we were super excited!
As it turns out, planning a trip to Disney right after a hurricane is perfect. The weather is usually nice and the crowds are low because many people canceled and day trippers just don’t come to the park. So try and plan your trip for directly after a hurricane, okay? It will be awesome. Ew. Just typing that out makes me feel weird. You guys, I know, I KNOW we were EXTREMELY LUCKY. I know that. And this is long enough as it is, so our actual trip will be a separate post. Catch ya on the flippity flip.