With many of my friends planning trips to the happiest place on earth during spring break or later this summer, I wanted to share 5 things you MUST know before you go.
2--Time--If you are going during a busy time then take advantage of the early morning and late nights. Off season travelers will have fewer crowds but also shorter hours that the parks are open (sometimes as short as 10-6). Peak travelers may see parks open from 8-midnight or even earlier on the busiest days. During peak times, be sure to be at the park when it opens (preferably 10 minutes earlier). Then leave after lunch and come back in the evening for fireworks, Fantasmic, and shorter lines. By spending 4-5 hours in the morning (say 8-1) and then another 4-5 in the evening (say 7-midnight) you will still get 10 hours of Disney magic without the burnout. Besides, ever see the sunrise over the castle?
3--Pins (and other souvenirs) We haven't done the pin trading, yet. It looked too complicated and expensive. But we are going to try this year. The answer--eBay. You can get pins for less than $1on eBay. Afraid of mystery pins? Don't be. Your children (or you) are just going to trade them anyway--that is the whole point of it. Disney employees are trained to trade with children any pin so take the money out of it and let your kids have some fun. Some souvenirs are best bought outside the park including your first set of pins, costumes, and stuffed animals. But other items are better bought at the park--like the iconic ears. Try to find the bargains rather the money holes. Balloons are absurdly overpriced but a mouse lightsaber (which also lights up with 2 C batteries--hint, hint) is priced the same as Walmart. For $30 you can buy ears or a shirt, a princess or star wars toy, an autograph book or kids plate or earrings (or something pre-bought like pins or a stuffed animal), and a treat from the candy shop. We bought our three-year-old a set of Toy Story matchbox cars. Priced at least 3x a normal set, I consider it money well spent. It was his only souvenir and he plays with those cars practically every day and they make me smile when I see them.
4--Character Dining Stop reading and make a reservation now. It is an amazing experience for kids--a major highlight. The majority are buffets which means if strategically planned, they can be less expensive than they seem at first glance. They take 2-3 hours, so plan accordingly. I prefer dining in the resorts on a day I am not in a major park such as a day spent at the water park or beach so I am not choosing between character time and ride time. Also, the dining allows you skip many of the character meet and greets within the parks that can have very long lines. So you are really getting a lot of bang for your buck. The exception to this is some of the princess dining is only available within the parks especially eating in Cinderella's castle which is magical in and of itself. Dining there at breakfast allows you early admittance to the Magic Kingdom (if you eat and greet fast enough) so it still does not significantly cut into your park touring time. If you have little girls, think of it as the same price as Disney on Ice and go make that reservation.
5--Think twice before you buy Hopper tickets--Hopper tickets are more confusing than fastpass. So let me try to explain the costs and benefits. If you are staying at a DisneyWorld resort, you will want to take advantage of the extra magic hours. Consequently, you may want hoppers, especially if you are going when parks will be open until 1 a.m. on those magic hours. Otherwise the cost may not be worth it. For a trip I am planning, the Animal Park closes at 7, so I wanted to hopper to Epcot or Universal, both of which close at 9. The cost of upgrading to a hopper is roughly $50 a person. Between travel time and dinner, $50 a person for at the most 2 hours doesn't make sense to me (others would argue you spend $50 a person for a 2 hour Disney Broadway Play or for Disney on Ice tickets). For $10 a person, we can get an extra day at Epcot of Hollywood (plus motel and food), but for the size of my family, that is the better deal. Another option is the water park option (same price as the hopper) but allows you to hopper from water park to main park or go to a water park on a bonus day (for example a 4 day ticket with water park option means you can go to each major park--Magic Kingdom, Hollywood, Epcot, and Animal, one day each and spend a fifth day at Typhoon Lagoon, and a sixth day at Blizzard Beach, and a seventh day at Typhoon Lagoon with a character dinner since the water park closes at 5, and an eighth day golfing or at DisneyQuest while mom shops Downtown Disney). A 4 day hopper gives you 4 days at the 4 main parks spending time going back and forth with no bonus days at the water park. But if you only have 4 days to spend, are not a water park fan, and are eligible for magic hours, you might find the hopper money well spent. So, it all depends on your time frame and preference.
Have a Disney MUST know tip? Please let me know.