A dream is a wish your heart makes… and mine came true last month. I have been desperate to go to Disney World for years now, especially since I knew that The Chef had never gone and I kept talking about it with him responding with a blank, unresponsive stare. One of my besties, Nicole, and I would talk and dream about taking our kiddos one day while they’re still young to see the magic come alive in front of their eyes. (They also happen to be best friends and destined Bride and Groom merely for the purpose that we will have combined Christmas’ and we don’t have to fight over the children.) Her hubby, Trevor, (my BFF since high school) who is in the military saw that he had a killer military discount for Disney tickets and hotels. One tuesday night, we took a spontaneous plunge and booked it. Literally, picked a date and called them up. 20 minutes later, we had DISNEY PLANS!!
I cried tears of joy for 8 months straight.
We decided to book it the week after school starts. Our kids are both in kindergarten, and we ultimately didn’t care about them missing dates. We figured lighter lines were more important. (And I stand by my decision!) Life experiences are more important that what you learn in a classroom for a couple days.
I started my research. What were the things that I needed to do/try/ know? I watched YouTube videos with all the tips and tricks. Food that was a must. Rides and the best times to go on them. All while Jeremiah had no idea what we were planning. I was just secretly hyping him up for the big reveal. (We told him about a month out because his friend found out we were going, and we knew she wouldn’t be able to keep it to herself. I would’ve done the same thing if I were her, quite honestly.) I read blogs, I talked with friends who had gone multiple times, I talked to my Dad who told me to read The Unofficial guide To Disney World to get the best inside tricks, I listened to TheDis podcast to hear his “best and worst” lists. But with all of that, I still missed things.
Some on these things are pretty common and well known. But hopefully you find something you didn’t know, and you learn sooner than I did and take advantage of these perks that much more!
The best thing to know? ALWAYS ASK A CAST MEMBER!
This sounds simple, but hold on. You might find yourself in a situation where you’re like “man wouldn’t it be nice if Disney offered this?” CHECK TO SEE IF THEY DO! The great thing about Disney is you get your money’s worth. They spend so much time and effort into making sure your vacation is truly a dream come true, and go to great lengths to achieve this goal. Which brings me to tip #1.
#1. Package pick-ups and delivery.
It’s a well known fact that there are stores almost every 10 feet in every direction at all of the parks. They want you to buy their products. You want to buy their products, but you don’t want to lug them around with you all day. Don’t worry. Disney has the solution. Not only will they take your bought item in the store that you bought it, but they will hand delivery it for you to the front gates where you can conveniently pick up your purchase when you are done at that park. Just make sure you hold onto your receipt to prove it’s really yours. OR you can have the store that you bought from ship it to your Disney property hotel where you can pick it up from the front desk! Make sure you give yourself a day or two (depending on time of purchase) for it to arrive at your hotel. Don’t do this if you are leaving the next day! It most likely will have not made it by then. I did this with gifts I bought for my family that I didn’t want to carry on the bus ride home. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. And thank you Disney for allowing me to not have to deal with my child chucking his Kylo Ren lightsaber around and squaring people in the face all day.
#2. There is an app, and you need to marry it.
The My Disney Experience app is THE best thing that has ever existed for all your Disney planning. You can set and check your fast passes there, make dinner reservations, look at the pictures taken by cast members, AND my favorite: look at wait times before you haul your pack of wolves across the whole god-forsaken park only to find a 90+ minute wait. It will tell you where the characters are, and how long of a wait there is for them. (At least at most character spots, minus a few “road side attractions” that pop up for a short period of time.) I was even obsessed enough to study the wait times a few days beforehand when I knew the crowds were similar, to see what times of the day were best for what rides, and which ones to book it to fastest (or try to get a fast pass for first). It saved us so much time and effort. I still have it on my phone because it became such a major part of my life. Sorry Elsa, I can’t let it go.
#3. Face Painting and children (big or little)
Having face painting done is a delicate situation to begin with. Especially with kids. They rub they’re faces every second of the day, and eat ice cream cones like neanderthals. When you’re paying $14+ for face painting at a place like Disney, you want to do it at the right time. After the water ride, or the Mickey Mouse bar they’ve been screaming for every hour. But at Disney, you DO NOT HAVE TO WAIT! They do free touch up at any face painting station within that park if you present your receipt to them. Um. Yes. We found this out at 4 o’clock in the afternoon and wore it for 2 hours before we ate our meals at Jiko (one of the nicest places to eat on Disney properties… Sorry for the Pirate and Princess Unicorn staring at you while you eat your elk loin and drank your $150 bottle of wine, sir. We need to squeeze every penny’s worth out of those masterpieces.) If I were you, get it done early folks.
#4. Save a breakfast point and eat at a Joffery’s cafe stand
If your staying at a restaurant that has a cafeteria eating area, serves breakfast, and you have a meal plan, you may want to skip it and head to the park for some Joffery’s. They have THE BIGGEST donuts I’ve ever seen and it counts as a snack point. It can easy feed two. Also, they’re coffee’s count as a snack point as well! Share with partner to stretch out the snacks! This allows you to try out more in the parks! (Funnel cakes anyone??) Maybe I should make this it’s own point…
#5. Share your treats and meals to try out more things!
Instead of eating at the same place (or getting the same thing) share with whoever you’re with of their quick service/snacks so you can double your fun at trying more things out! There are so many “must have” items. Tapas style it. They’re big enough. (Like I said, Disney doesn’t skimp. They give you big portions! Especially the turkey legs! It’s an easy quick service to split.) I was able to achieve every single snack I wanted to get without having to spend money outside of the dining plan. (Minus the Croque Glace…)
#6. The Croque Glacé at L’Artisan des Glaces at the French Pavillion is NOT a snack point
I saw this “must have” item on almost every blog post and YouTube video telling me I have to try it. A Croque Glacé is a brioche bun with artisan ice cream and chocolate syrup in the middle, grilled together to make a warm gooey ice cream sandwich. I saved up my snack points and walked over there to see it cost me $7.95 out of pocket. Was it worth it? Yes, because I can say that I’ve tried it and I’ll never have to wonder what it tastes like every time I see someone bite into that scrumptious pocket. Would I order it again? Maybe. They need to put more syrup or a glaze over top to combat how much brioche goes with the ice cream. It was a tad overwhelming, but it was not super sweet. (Which usually I like… Maybe it was just the flavor combo that I chose.) All in all, I would recommend it if you didn’t mind spending $8 on an ice cream treat.
#7. If you’re at Disney during the Food and Wine Festival, the small bites from the different countries’ stand ARE snack point eligible!
When we found out we were going during the Food and Wine festival, being the foodies that we are, we were STOKED. Until I read somewhere that the food could not be used for snack points on the dining plan. We knew our wallet was going to start hurting. I started saving money so we could indulge and try out the different delicacies. However, when we got there, we saw that beautiful little snack insignia telling us we could use them! HALLELUJAH. There were some better than others, and some flat out not so great. We tried to stick with the ones that were the most expensive (Like Canada’s Filet Mignon at $8 for a small piece) and bought others out of pocket that were less expensive so we didn’t plow through all the snack points. It’s so easy to do…
#8. France’s Chef de France restaurant is worth one point on your table service dining plan, but has the quality for two points.
If you’re looking for a fantastic meal for a one point table service credit, look no further. The atmosphere was spot on, and the food was extraordinary. I was a little nervous because I hadn’t really heard if it was great or not, and I think it’s highly underrated. Jeremiah chose the salmon and he ate. Every. Bite. But that might’ve been the 7 miles that we had him walk that day. The only thing I wasn’t crazy about was the Creme Brûlée, but that might be because my hubby makes the best I’ve ever had. I’m not biased or anything…
#9. For the best view of fireworks at Epcot, go to the patio at The Rose and Crown.
This one takes a bit of planning, and you may or may not be able to do it. We were told to make reservations at around 7:30 or 8pm at The Rose and Crown on their patio for amazing views of the firework show “Illuminations”. Unfortunately we missed our window of time, and it was filled up when we were making our reservations, but I can see why people go there. It’s right on the water! (Thanks Kitty and Liz for the tip!!)
#10. Satu’li Canteen has the best quick service meals.
Animal Kingdom has been made even better by the addition of the world of Pandora. If you’re a fan of the film “Avatar” or not, you’re going to get fully immersed in a world unlike our own. It’s absolutely beautiful. Especially at night with all the bioluminescent fauna! What’s even better is they have a brand new quick service restaurant with THE tastiest quick service meals you can find at Disney. *In my opinion anyways.* It’s a little tricky to find food that won’t weigh you down, like pizza, burgers, and heavy sandwiches, but at Satu’li Canteen, you find rice bowls, salad bowls, and baobab burger buns. It’s not only a healthier option, but it tastes fresh, new, and deeeelicious. When you walk in you see them roasting the chicken over a huge open fire rotisserie. They have stepped it up once again and delivered something that I will be craving until the next time I go back. I’ve even tried to recreate it myself. (Which may actually find its way on the blog….)
**Also, Pandora has the best ride at Disney. Flight of Passage. It is worth a 2 hour wait time!!
#11. If you didn’t get the reservation you wanted, go ask anyways.
We tried the whole 6 months in advance to get a dinner reservation at “Be Our Guest” with no luck. We watched for openings constantly. Nothing. The day of we went and asked a cast member if they had openings. She got us in and we actually got a pretty great table. I’m not saying it’ll happen like that every time, but if you ask with a smile, it can’t hurt but to ask!
#12. Free restaurant cancellation if you cancel in person
This is a big one for me. You have up until 24 hours before to cancel your dinner reservations on the app. If it’s less than 24 hours, you get fined. We had made our dinner reservations months in advance to ensure we got a table. With 2 small children, and multiple options around, we ran into the dreaded situation: it was hours before and we didn’t want to go to where we had reservations. We walked into the place and asked them if there was any way we could cancel it without getting charged. The cast member told me that if you need to cancel with less than 24 hours, to go to the restaurant and simply cancel in person, FREE OF CHARGE. And then don’t do anything on your phone/app. Just let it ride on by. Brilliant!
#13. Save your table service points for a nicer restaurant
If you have the dining plan, all your credits are able to roll-over. Meaning, if you don’t want to do a table service one day, save it and go to a restaurant that’s a two point table service. We saved ours for a night and went to Jiko at Animal Kingdom Lodge. We heard so many great things about it, and I was dying to try it. I was not disappointed in the least. It was phenomenal! Disney, stop rocking my socks, you dirty dog. Killing it every way you look. Stay classy. (Le Cellier we’re coming for you next!)
#14. Free cups of ice water at most stands
I feel this one is a little more talked about. But I still felt awkward asking for a cup of ice water, like I was taking money away from Disney… Right. Guys, don’t spend $3+ for a bottle of water every time you’re thirsty. If your water in your pack is a little warm, and you need something to cool you down, go ask a drink station for a cup of ice water. If they have it, it’s free! You just can’t beat that.
#15. Fanny Packs are a necessary accessory.
I bought all of us fanny packs to walk around with at the park. I even bought the boys their own special version with rainbow unicorns for Trevor, and kitten’s in space for Jason. Nicole and I were stylish in floral and paisley. I bought them as a joke, but I’m the one with the last laugh. I LOVE my fanny pack. I’m not kidding. It was so convenient to have everything you need, right on your hip. Your hands and arms were free, and you didn’t have to stuff a back pack around when going on rides. (Though we did carry a back pack around for waters so we didn’t have to buy them every 20 minutes.) I wore jogging leggings and shorts on the regular, with no pockets to speak of. Not a problem with the good ol’ fanny pack. Added bonus: you can tell people to stop staring at your fanny. My top favorite items for my fanny pack: Phone, hand sanitizer, sun screen, tissues/napkins/wipes, money/credit card/ID, and ziplock bags incase you find yourself on a water ride. Extra room for an autograph book if necessary.
Whew! Hopefully you find this helpful for your future Disney plans! Let me know if you cried when you came into the Magic Kingdom with music from Mary Poppins floating through the air like a surreal dream, because I may or may not have… How does Disney do it?
Are there any pointers you’d like to add?? Put them in the comments below! Everyone should know the in’s and out’s 🙂 Disney fans stick together. Until then, I’ll be obsessing over my Disney photos and dreaming of when I return. (Star Wars Land 2019 anyone????)
–The Everyday Chef and Wife