Sunday, February 5, 2012

DISNEY...Our Random Tips for First Time Parents

I hope you like pictures! This entire post is really just an excuse for me to slather the blog with eye candy from our recent trip to DISNEY WORLD! So, now that you've been warned...I actually might have some content that you will appreciate.

This was our first trip to WDW as parents. And we were just a tad on the clueless side. We tend to be last minute people who rarely think through the entire day that we are in let alone what we might be doing tomorrow. But, you can only operate that way to a point when it comes to Disney or otherwise you might miss out.

Now, we're no experts. And you can find a gazillion and one websites out there that will give you tons of insider tips from people who visit the parks more times in one year than we will visit them in our entire lifetimes. But, these tiny random tidbits may not make those lists...so, sit back and enjoy our list of top tips for first time parents...

1. Dress your kiddos in clothes that OBVIOUSLY brand them as a set. I'm not talking about matching t-shirts and shorts. I'm talking something that will get them noticed. Why? You ask. Because when small children are meandering through the park it is very easy for them to get cut off from you in the crowd...sometimes even when holding their hands. But, when our kiddos had on noticeable outfits that made it more than obvious that they were a set, then people did not cut through our family.

2. Magic Kingdom on DAY ONE! It's where the real magic happens and you want to start off the trip with that sense of wonder. AND...the monorail will automatically become the first ride of your visit...which is super fun:)



3. There are picture points marked throughout the park. They are there to make it easy to spot the perfect background for your photos. But they get crowded! And there are plenty of other spots where the views are just as good if you just move 20 feet to the right, left, or ahead. So, don't feel like you have to get sucked into those crowded spots...just move a little and you will get a much clearer view.

4. All the characters have handlers. They keep the lines orderly and let you know when the character is taking a break....make friends with these people. Chat with them, engage them with your children, and smile a lot. It may make the difference between getting to see the White Rabbit AND Alice or just the White Rabbit. That's what happened here. Alice was supposed to leave after the person right in front of us...but, we were nice and cute so the handler let us squeeze in:)

5. Book it to the back of the park! Get there when it opens and make a beeline for Fantasyland. We saw waits of 20 minutes or less on ALL of the rides. We had assumed that we would ride maybe one or two rides before our lunch reservations, but because we skipped the front of the park and went straight to Snow White's Scary Adventures, we were able to ride ALL of the rides in the area with time to spare.

6. Character dining is an absolute MUST! If you can afford it, DO IT! We were able to see Cinderalla, Snow White, Ariel, Princess Aurora (that's Sleeping Beauty for you parents of boys), and Belle at our table. They talked to the girls, gave lots of hugs, signed autographs, took lots of pictures...all with no rushing to let the next person in line have their chance. We did lunch at Cinderella's castle and breakfast at Chef Mickey's. Avoiding dinner saved some pennies and avoiding long lines to see the most popular characters saved some sanity.


7. Character dining! This one needs repeating...trust me! We waited in line for almost an hour to see Rapunzel. Then we felt really rushed because everyone else was waiting too. It was the low point of our Magic Kingdom visit (it's a relative low point as the entire day really was magical!).


8. Snow White's kiss! I can't say anything for certain here, but it appears that Snow White bestows one kiss to a special child during each character dining experience. How do we know that? Well...Bee's kiss was the only one given at our lunch event. And every cast member who saw her after the lunch commented on her kiss and knew that it came from Snow White. We didn't see any other children with kiss prints through the course of the day, and we saw a lot of the diners coming and going from the castle. So...it's just conjecture. And even if true, probably isn't a hard and fast rule. So...want it to be your child??? Once, again, we can't make any promises. But...Bee was wearing a special Snow White outfit. She told Snow White that she was her favorite. And she hammed it up quite well....lots of hugging and smiling and staring up in awe. We're guessing that's how it happened.



9, Parents of small children worried about their kiddos being afraid of the characters - Start with the Princesses. Even if you have boys. They are clearly humans, normal size, and talk. It's a good way to get your feet wet with the meet and greets.



10. Gift Cards - When planning your trip, put in a request to close family members that they give Disney gift cards to your children for holidays leading up to the trip. You can find them at Disney stores, but also at Target, and probably other gift card kiosks in other stores. It made souvenir shopping very easy. "You have X number of dollars. We need to make sure that we look at everything and make good decisions about how to spend your money." Then let them pay for their items. When the card is empty their shopping is finished.



11. And while we're on the topic of shopping...all the stores in all the parks have pretty much the same merchandise. Unless it is a specialty item that will only be available in one location (like Muppets from the Muppet Store), then don't buy it at the park. Take a trip to Downtown Disney on one of the last evenings of your trip andbuy all of your goodies at the gigantic Disney store there. It will save you from carrying bags around and will help you make wise shopping decisions because you will be doing all of your buying in one location. PS - I've heard that if you are staying at a WDW resort then you can have your purchases sent to your hotel room. We didn't stay on property so I don't know anything about that.


12. Document the little moments. Like Bee holding her new best friend. It will help you remember more details from the trip.


13. Check out this photography blog and her tips for getting great character photos. I definitely used her tips when we were there! You can also check out her tips for when to lug your SLR and when a P&S will do just fine.



14. Share food to save money! When your little ones are spent, you'd be amazed what half a hot dog and some fries will do for their energy level. My husband and I even split food sometimes...and large appetizer sampler at the T Rex restaurant at Downtown Disney was more than enough food for the two of us and was a lot cheaper than ordering two entrees.



15. You have to see the Magic Kingdom at night. We found a great place on a bench on the bridge from Tomorrowland back over to Main Street where we could lounge and watch the fireworks. The bonus...Tinkerbell flies literally right over your head if you're on that bridge! Which makes it much easier for little eyes to spot her. And you avoid the crowds over on Main Street.


16. Plan to eat a HUGE breakfast. And if you can do it for free even better! Our hotel had an awesome breakfast buffet and we made good use of it...Mickey waffles every morning are totally worth the wait for the waffle iron! I've read that you will walk 6-7 miles per day in WDW, so fuel up to get the day started on the right foot!



17. Park Tickets - The park tickets look like gift cards...so, first, don't keep them with your gift cards. It just makes things less confusing. Second, each adult will have a scan taken of their finger upon each entrance to the park. That means that your tickets are not interchangeable among the members of your group. So...who cares? You will, when you use the Goofy ticket on Day One and then try to get in with the Pluto ticket on Day Two! So...be sure that when you purchase your tickets (we got ours at our local Disney store before we left town) you buy a different character for each adult. Then when you use your ticket on the first day of your trip, remember which character is yours and be sure to use the same ticket every additional day of your visit. Traveling with a large number of adults...maybe try putting stickers on your tickets.


18. Take a picture of the parking lot sign before you leave your car each day. You may never need to look back, but in case you do, it's there for you. Apparently the parking attendants also note which lots were filled at which times during the day, so at the very least, know what time you got there so the cast members can help you find your car if you lost it.



19. And if Goofy is just WAY TOO TALL...don't fret! The picture of her looking freaked out in the booth is just as cute as the one with Goofy would have been:)

20. Beware the lighting. Each character experience is different, so be sure to check your camera settings in each new place! And it can change if you take even a step or two to one side. So just keep an eye on those settings...you'll regret it if you don't!

21. Don't want to worry about camera settings? Use Disney's Photo Pass. You will get a card, much like a credit card. Each time you have a photo taken by a Disney photographer, they will scan your card and at the end of your trip you will have a collection of photos taken by the pros. A few warnings...1. Even though they are "pros," they aren't perfect...especially with night time shots. So if you really want that perfect pic of your family in front of the castle at night, you might want to visit a few different photographers to increase your odds. 2. You can share the pics for free, but doing anything else with them is PRICEY! You can download individual pictures for $14.95. Yep - you read that right! One picture for $14.95. Or you can buy a CD with all of your pics from the trip for $149.95. Yep - again...not a typo! So here's my advice...not a professional photographer or have advanced photography skills? Then do the pass. But then make sure you use the mess out of it. I mean get those people to take pics of you at every turn. Because in the end the price of the CD is the same no matter how many pictures you have on it. I wish I had known that because we would have stopped at a lot more photographers as we made our rounds. 3. They also add some stock photos to your collection...pics of the characters and the best locations. It's a nice bonus if you're getting the CD, but won't do you much good if you have to pay $14.95 to download it...a postcard is much cheaper 4. The photographers don't come to the character dining experiences, so you need to be prepared with your own camera and know how to use it.


22. The attractions for little ones at Animal Kingdom are pretty spread apart. It isn't like Fantasyland where you can hit all the major preschool attractions without having to walk more than a fwe yards. This may be the day you want to have a stroller. (Belle and Bee walked all four days of our trip, but only had difficulty doing so in Animal Kingdom).


23. Let 'em play! You don't have to race from one sight to another. It's ok to take an hour and just play. The bonus...there are usually places for adults to sit and still be able to monitor the kids:)

24. But be sure to play with them for a least a little while. It's fun!



25. Hit the most popular attractions first. Or during parade time. The waits will be shorter. For example, Animal Kingdom opens at 9:00 and the first Lion King performance is at 9:30. Book it to make sure you get there! There's no wait and you can get great seats! Wait until later in the day and you will have to stand in line and may not be able to see well.


26. Use the Fast Pass system!!!!!!! If you go in late January like we did, you may not need it for most rides (ride times were about 15-25 minutes for most rides), but for the popular rides it makes a huge difference. Be sure to get one for every member of your party. The first time we did it we just got one...luckily it wasn't crowded and the nice cast member let us go through anyway! Random note - even with the small January crowds, the Fast Passes for Toy Story Mania were gone before 10am...so get there and get one first thing when you are at Hollywood Studios!


27. Parades - We only watched the parade at Hollywood Studios, so I'm not sure if this tip is true for the other parks. At Hollywood Studios, you will find a goldish colored line imbedded in the pavement along the parade route. This is the "Do Not Cross This Line!" line. Meaning...a few minutes before the parade begins, go find a spot to sit right behind that line. You'll have a front row view. The line may be a little hard to spot at first, but once you know what you're looking for it is super easy to find a good seat. Not sure what to look for??? The cast members will start to line the parade route about 15 minutes before parade time and they are more than happy to point out the line...or point out when you've crossed it:)


28. Getting some nutrition - It's really not as hard as you think. The park does a great job of including fruits and vegetables in every kids meal and there are salads and great sandwich options at all of the restaurants. Looking for the freshest produce? Check out Seasons at Epcot. They use produce straight from the greenhouses in the park!29. Here's another of those..."not really sure if this is 100% accurate" tips. It APPEARED that the characters at Epcot come out right at the end of the street performance. Can't make any promises...but each time a street performance was wrapping up we noticed that the characters were streaming out of the hiding spots. Just an observation, but you may want to linger around the backs of the crowds during that time and see if you can score a quick visit without at line.30. Jessie is currently at the bottom of Splash Mountain. We missed her...so in case you're looking for her, now you know.



31. I recommend saving Hollywood Studios and Epcot for the end of the trip because they have lots of shows that little kids will enjoy...that means air conditioning and seats!32. Look for little things to enjoy...like the cast members blowing bubbles at the park entrances. Disney really does do details really well!




33. The Peoplemover at the Magic Kingdom was one of the highlights of the trip for me. Why? No line, long ride, goes through various other rides like Space Mountain, toddler appropriate, and GREAT VIEWS! Be sure you don't miss it...and better yet, hit it at the end of the day when your feet are tired:)34. Visit before your youngest turns three. Then she's FREE! Everywhere! And there are plenty of things to keep a 2 year old happy:)



35. Finally, cherish this time together. It will go so fast! Then start planning your next visit on the way home:) We did!

3 comments:

  1. Oh, great pictures and tips! We went in dec 2010 for what Andrew swore would be our first and last family trip there. Well, we were back in dec 2011 and now discussing this dec again! Such an awesome age to go, the kiddie are in heaven!

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  2. Almost forgot to mention the outfits! Adorable! Oh, and those Mickey waffles are really making me want to go back....

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  3. looks like a great trip!!! what cuties :)

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