epcot walt disney world december 2013

[Review] Our First Trip To Disney World: Tips & Tricks

epcot december 2013

After years of saying we were going to make the big trip to Disney World, we finally did it! It was by far one of my favorite family trips to date and I will never forget the entire experience. I used to wonder why everyone made such a big deal of visiting “Walt Disney World.”  It wasn’t until after I experienced everything for myself that I understood why it’s a place you must visit at least once – more if you can afford it/handle it!

Tickets

I decided to use Undercover Tourist  for tickets based on the recommendations of other bloggers. I am very happy I did! Lila responded to a question I had about purchasing very promptly and was very polite. Picking up the tickets locally was a breeze and they were exactly what I paid for (real hard souvenir tickets, not paper vouchers). Based on my research, they also have the best pricing. I will definitely use Undercover Tourist again and I highly recommend them!

When To Go To Disney World

As I talked about in my previous post, I made sure to do my research and prepare myself for the trip. Thanks to my husband, he also did his homework in regards of when to go. After reading the recent story of the crowds at Disney during New Year’s, there is NO WAY I would ever go during the holiday or summer season. With the amount it costs to get into the park (and travel from out of state), I want to make sure I am getting my money’s worth by experiencing and riding everything possible. Thankfully, we went at a great time of the year (December 9-12, 2013) where our longest wait time was only about an hour. We were pretty much able to ride everything we wanted to ride. The longest ride time was Toy Story Midway Mania! with 70-90 minutes and we chose to ride Tower of Terror as our last ride instead of waiting, since we had Fast Passes. *You also have to keep in mind that depending on the time of year, rides and attractions may be shut down for refurbishment.

When you decide to go may vary depending on many factors, with most families vacationing around school breaks and holidays. Due to that being the most popular time of the year, be prepared for large crowds and long wait times. If you are able to travel during low volume times when kids are still in school, go for it. I recommend this only if your children are able to afford missing the instructional time based on school district requirements, work load,  school grade/age, etc. This is a case by case basis and should be discussed as a family and with your school principal and teachers. My children are honor roll students and are great at catching up, but are also only elementary school students. As they move on to middle school and up, I will not allow them to miss unnecessary instructional time due to the work load increase and demands.

Undercover Tourist has a great calendar that is very helpful in planning when to visit Disney parks based on crowd volume.  View the Disney World Crowd Calendar.

What Disney Park Should I Visit and When?

Once you decide when you are traveling to Disney, the next hurdle is what parks to visit and on what day.  Although it is Florida, considering we went during the winter, I was not interested in visiting any water parks. (Although the weather was warm enough most days!). I also visit water parks and beaches quite frequently here at home and on other vacations, so I was more concerned with visiting Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. What parks you will visit will depend on each families preferences, the time of the year you are traveling, the length of your trip and your budget. *You also have to keep in mind that depending on the time of year, parks may be shut down for refurbishment.

I would advise you discuss as a family what rides and attractions are most important to your visit and prioritize based on that information. Upon checking in at the Guest Services desk our first day at Disney (Magic Kingdom), we received a great schedule that helped with planning our days at the parks based on the hours. Make sure to pick up the calendar for the week as it has the most up-to-date information with park hours, shows, etc. While there, you can also pick up your complimentary buttons to wear showcasing it’s your first visit, or if you are celebrating a birthday or anniversary.

The trusty calendar from Undercover Tourist also helps in planning what parks to visit on what days based on crowd levels. View Disney Parks Crowd Level Calendar

Navigating The Park/Planning Your Day

Since it was our first time, we had no idea where we were going or what we were doing! The My Disney Experience Mobile App was great and helped out tremendously! Not only does it have a map with GPS navigation (although it drains your phone!) it also will give you ride wait times. You can also find character greetings, FAST PASS return times and more.  It was an invaluable tool. I also utilized the schedules given to us from  guest services. I sat down and circled everything I wanted to do and we planned it by ride wait times and locations. The FAST PASS is a wonderful tool and I LOVE that it is free! When we visited Universal Studios Orlando for the first time last year during a cruise stop, we gladly paid for the Express Pass/Universal Ride Reservation System due to being on a tight schedule. Having the option for free at Disney is awesome! Bear in mind that popular attractions can run out of Fast Passes, so get them early and hit less crowded rides in the mean time.

I also planned rides and character meetings around show times and the night time fireworks. It’s possible to fit (almost) everything in with the right planning.  Undercover Tourist also offers great apps to help with planning your trip to Disney as well as Universal.

Saving Money On Food At Disney

I discovered through my research that Disney allows food (that does not require heating) and drinks in the parks. Everyone behind us at the security line said they wanted hang out with my husband after seeing all the food and drinks he packed into his book bag. 😀 My hubby was great about making and packing lunch for everyone to munch on throughout the day. (Sandwiches, drinks, chips, apple sauce, water, juice boxes, sunflower seeds, candy, you name it!)  Over the four days at the parks, we only spent about $50 on food, buying little things like ice cream, smoothies and cotton candy/popcorn. We stayed in a condo with a kitchen so we made sure to have a nice big breakfast before hitting the park and ate dinner or a little something (if we weren’t too tired) once we got back to our place.

Lodging

While everyone would love to stay at one of the many wonderful properties offered by Disney, it may be out of your budget. We knew we needed – and wanted – a space that included a kitchen and more room than your standard hotel. We knew it would be more cost effective for us as a family. I found a travel company (Squirrel Travel) on eBay that offered a great deal for 7 days and 6 nights in a 2 BR, 2.5 bath condo at Encantada Resort. It was big, spacious and beautiful. We had an enclosed porch with a hot tub and patio set – although we were too worn out from the park to enjoy it. They also offered complimentary shuttles to the parks (we opted to rent a vehicle) and other amenities. The cost was only $400 BUT it was due to a timeshare presentation opportunity. We also received 2 SeaWorld Orlando tickets. It worked out GREAT for our family, but you may choose to go another route. But for those who love a great deal and don’t mind checking out a timeshare presentation/property for a few hours, check them or another timeshare/resort out.

However, on our next trip, we definitely want to stay at a Disney property. The Extra Magic Hours and other Disney resort benefits make it worth trying out.

Overall Disney Experience

I started to name my favorite rides, but then started to think about all the other shows and attractions that I loved as well. I became overwhelmed. I would get tired of writing about it and I am sure everyone would get tired of reading it. I will just say I enjoyed it ALL. I had a magical time and truly felt like a kid again. I was probably more excited and had more fun than my children. Growing up and going to Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Kings Dominion on a regular basis made me think I knew what to expect when visiting Disney World. I figured it would be similar – albeit a step up – from other theme parks. Boy, was I wrong. I lost count with how many times my mouth dropped open in surprise and delight while on a ride and while exploring the parks. Normally my children are the ones poking me and asking, “Did you see that?!” I did a lot of the poking and pointing this trip – and I am proud of it. There is something I loved about each park, but I think Epcot was my favorite. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to everything I wanted to see there; I had no idea how massive that park truly is! I am looking forward to our return trip so I can finish exploring the other side of Epcot and the rest of Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom. I am hoping to get at least one ride in on Toy Story Midway Mania at Hollywood Studios and take in the Festival of the Lion King at Animal Kingdom. Someone said once you return you would start planning your next trip. Although I have not fully put my plan into motion, I am already thinking about it. I can’t wait. 🙂

Feel free to share your Disney experience in the comments below!

You can check out more pictures and video from our Walt Disney World Trip on my Instagram and on 757 Lifestyle’s Instagram.