Trip Planning

The Basics: Meeting Characters at Animal Kingdom

by on March 2, 2016

AK-Characters-1-467x700This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.

 

Character meet and greets – love them or hate them, they’re a pivotal part of a Walt Disney World vacation. I already waxed nostalgic on the magical memories that can be made at a character meet, and I encourage you to check out my first article (which focuses on Epcot) in the Character Meet and Greet portion of our Back to Basics series. For my second foray into the detailed world of characters and where they live, we’re headed off to the Animal Kingdom!

Animal Kingdom is not a park I traditionally associate with a large number of character meet and greets, but one major thing it has going for it is uniqueness. While you can find your traditional characters there (Mickey, Minnie, etc.) you can also find others who only appear in Animal Kingdom. In actuality, Animal Kingdom has a pretty solid line-up of characters! (I have no idea why I have some sort of mental block saying that Animal Kingdom isn’t prime real estate for characters – it is!) Before we start on the rundown of characters you can find here, let me give you some basic meet and greet tips. (Feel free to scroll past the following section if you read it in the Epcot article. Do I at least get bonus points for swapping out the photos?)

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The Best of Walt Disney World for Babies

by on March 1, 2016

TouringPlans logoWelcome to Part 1 of my new blog series – The Best of Walt Disney World! Over the next several weeks, I’ll be sharing with you the top picks in attractions, entertainment, and experiences for various groups of travelers visiting the Walt Disney World theme parks.

How is this going to help me with my planning, you ask? Great question! Here’s how…Maybe you’ve always traveled to “the most magical place on earth” as a couple and now you’ll be taking your new baby, maybe this time grandma and grandpa will be joining you, or maybe this is your very first visit. No matter who you’re traveling with, I’ve got you covered with The Best of Walt Disney World series! And here’s how it will work…In each post, I’ll give you a rundown of the must do’s from each park along with some key information about that particular attraction or experience and a link in case you are looking for even more in-depth details.

Now that we’ve gotten all of the basics out of the way, let’s begin Part 1 of The Best of Walt Disney World with the tiniest of travelers – babies!

So if this is your first time taking a baby with you to Walt Disney World, you may have heard people say there is no reason to bring them. They won’t be able to ride anything! Let me reassure you that is simply not the case. There are plenty of things for baby to experience at Walt Disney World. In fact, as long as there isn’t a height restriction, your little one is permitted to ride. My youngest son has been enjoying a wide variety of attractions and shows at the parks since he was just six months old. Please read on for a full list of The Best of Walt Disney World for babies!

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The Basics: FastPass+ Strategy

by on February 29, 2016

TouringPlans logoThis is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.

Welcome back! This is the second in a three part series about DisneyFastPass+ service and how to make the most of it.  It assumes that you already know what FastPass+ is and how it works, so if you have no idea what we’re talking about, please take a moment to read through my recent primer on that topic.  For the rest of you that know how to use FastPass+, be aware that FastPass+ should allow you to spend less time in line, but depending upon how you use it, it can either save you a lot of time, or essentially none at all.  This will hopefully help you fall into the former category!  Let’s go!  

Selection Strategy


FastPass+ Kiosk LogoSimply stated, your goal in selecting your FastPass+ selections is not just to reserve the attractions that are on your to-do list, but it should be to
select the attractions that are on your to-do list that generate the most significant waits.  For example, I love Mickey’s Philharmagic, and we make sure that we experience it at least once on every trip.  With that said, I would never spend a FastPass on it, because doing so wouldn’t actually save me any time in line. On the other hand, while Peter Pan’s Flight is nowhere near my favorite attraction, it remains a must do and not having a FastPass+ for it potentially sets me up for a soul-crushing wait of an hour or more, so it’s always one of my first picks, even over attractions that I prefer in the abstract. 

A detailed look at which attractions you should FastPass and which you shouldn’t is beyond the scope of this article (if you do want detailed advice for selecting your FastPass+ reservations, check out our advice pages for the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom), but here’s a quick list of attractions in each park that are no-brainer options for FastPass+ if you want to experience them:

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Preparing for a Disney Ticket Price Increase

by on February 26, 2016

MYW_Ticket_LogoPrice increases are imminent; resistance is futile.

Okay, it’s not quite as bad as all that, but it has been over a year since Disney increased their regular ticket prices. Yes, they increased the cost of their Annual Passes in October, but it was February 22, 2015 the last time the regular tickets went up. History and our intuition indicates that will change any day now. So let’s take a quick look at what that may mean for you.

Tiered Ticket Pricing

In June of last year a Disney survey seemed to hint that they would eventually be implementing a tiered ticket system. This system would mean that guests would pay more–up to $125 for a single-day ticket–during times of peak attendance. There was no real indication when, or if, this system would ever come to be, but we suspect it will eventually be utilized. We have no evidence that this will be what Disney goes to on the next increase, but we wouldn’t be surprised either.

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Disney World Big Kid / Little Kid Attraction Alternatives

by on February 25, 2016

One sometimes overlooked feature of the Disney World FastPass+ system is that members of a party do not all have to make the same FP+ selections. That’s great news for families with children of different ages or different interests.

Consider, for example, a hypothetical family of four with Mom, Dad, 10 year old sister, and four year old brother. Sis is a thrill ride enthusiast. Little bro is a few millimeters too short for some of the big rides. What do they do?

The Carousel is a good alternative for little kids.

The Carousel is a good alternative for little kids.

Your first thought may be “Rider Swap option” which allows families with small children to have each parent ride in relatively quick sequence, while the other hangs back and minds the youngster. The Rider Swap is indeed a terrific choice for families with infants. Real baby babies won’t much care what they’re doing as long as they’re fed, dry, and in the company of a loving caregiver. On the other hand, a sturdy, verbal, walking/running/climbing child, who just happens to be short, is going to want some more oomph in his vacation. He needs something to DO. Waiting around while Mom and Dad go on a visually enticing ride like Big Thunder Mountain with big sister, twice!, is no self-respecting preschooler’s idea of a good time.

An ideal solution would be for the family split up for a few activities, using their time and FastPass+ selections to ensure that each faction has engaging entertainment that doesn’t detract from the family’s experience as a whole. This means that the alternatives should be:

  • Physically Near Each Other, whenever possible. This ensures that the family won’t spend more time walking to attractions than enjoying the attractions themselves.
  • Rank Low on the “Universal Appeal” Factor. Some attractions (Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin or Kilimanjaro Safari, for example) hold near equal appeal for all ages. Try to avoid these as substitutions because these are the attractions the family should enjoy together.
  • Approximate actual fun for the little kid. “Watching parent shop” is not typically fun for a preschooler.

Here are some good big kid / little kid attraction pairings to satisfy both ends of the spectrum.

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A Look at the Flamingo Crossings Hotels Near Disney World

by on February 24, 2016

Flamingo Crossings is an area found at the intersection of State Road 429 and Western Way, just outside the western border of Walt Disney World. The shopping, dining, and hotel complex was announced way back in 2007, but the great recession put the project into hibernation. Now that it is finally awakening, the SpringHill Suites and TownPlace Suites (both operated by Marriott) are the first structures at Flamingo Crossings.

Flamingo Crossings Map

Google Map

Currently, route 429 and Western Way are underutilized motorways so, with a car, it is relatively easy to get from Flamingo Crossings to anywhere on Disney property.

Park/Area Distance Time Without Trafic
Magic Kingdom 7.8 miles 14 minutes
Epcot 6.3 miles 10 minutes
Disney’s Hollywood Studios 5.1 miles 9 minutes
Disney’s Animal Kingdom 5.0 miles 8 minutes
Disney Springs 6.8 miles 14 minutes

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The Basics: How to Use FastPass+

by on February 22, 2016

TouringPlans logoThis is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.

 

Even if you’ve never been to Walt Disney World before, you’ve probably heard mention of the mammoth lines that certain attractions can generate. You might be thinking that a trip to Disney is essentially an exercise in standing and waiting, with occasional bursts of fun. While lines will indeed be a part of any Disney trip, there are steps that you can take to minimize the amount of waiting that you do and one of the best tools you have in your arsenal is the DisneyFastPass+ service, which is a ride reservation system that allows you to experience headliner attractions with minimal wait at Walt Disney World.

FastPass+ is free to use for everyone visiting Disney and it can make an enormous difference in the enjoyment of your trip. There are few things that make me cringe quite as much as someone coming back from a trip and being upset because people kept jetting by them as they stood in line because they weren’t aware of FastPass+. They assumed either that it was some sort of VIP line, or that it was a special line for people that had paid extra on top of what is already a costly vacation. Don’t be that guy. Read on to learn what FastPass+ is and how to use it!

What is FastPass+?

ultimate-fastpass

Legacy FastPasses

First, a little history and background to put things in context. When Walt Disney World first opened, the queues for attractions were handled the same way they might be at your local carnival — you got in line for the attraction you wanted to do when were are ready to do it, and waited your turn, which often meant standing in a really, really long line. In late 1999, Disney developed FASTPASS as a way to minimize the amount of time you had to physically be in line. To use it, you would go to the attraction you wanted to experience, put your park ticket into a kiosk, and it would print out a little ticket with a time window for you to experience the attraction with little or no wait. Once you had one FastPass, you had to wait two hours or until the start time printed on the ticket before you could get another one. This same system is used at Disneyland today, in fact.

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Disney Parks Basics: All About Touring Plans

by on February 17, 2016

Disneyland Book Touring Plans

This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.

In this Disney Parks Basics article, I am highlighting one of TouringPlans.com’s greatest achievements.

It has revolutionized how people see attractions and shows in the parks.

It is based on hours, days, months, and years of exhaustive research by dedicated park fans.

It is what got this little website off the ground in the first place.

It is…the touring plan.

Touring plans have been a staple of The Unofficial Guide books since the very first edition, and that has carried over to the TouringPlans.com website and Lines app. This is not just suggested material that will probably get you through a few more attractions in a day. The people in charge say that park guests can save four hours of wait time using touring plans.

Over the past five years, touring plans have increased in variety and become even more accessible, but this article will highlight some ways to get started with touring plans on your next Disney Parks vacation!

You can see my notes when I used this plan back in 2010.

You can see my notes when I used this plan back in 2010.

Background Information

I did my first touring plan back in 2010 when I was reintroduced to Walt Disney World as an adult. My friend Michelle had been doing them with her family, and wanted to do it with me, too. The two of us also listened to the WDW Today podcast, which featured Len Testa doing a few episodes about touring plans.

We each bought The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2010 as soon as it came out and gobbled up the giant book like it was a Harry Potter novel. In the back of the book (and this applies to the current editions as well) are some of the most tried and true touring plans that people have used. We used it and really did achieve so much more than if we’d just gone to the Magic Kingdom with no plan of action.

When I’ve used it in the past, I’ve always made sure to arrive at park opening, to maximize the amount of attractions conquered. Although I never have personally used a touring plan with children, I know that many people have and swear by them.

I have not only used the paper versions from the books, but have also utilized the TouringPlans.com website to customize my own, and have also used the Lines app on my phone to have my touring plan with me and be able to change it in the park at a moment’s notice.

However, I love to take a relaxing pace every once in a while. Touring plans allow for free time to be planned, but also can adjust if you’re not a Type A person and just want to do something that’s not planned at all!

How they work

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The Basics: Meeting Characters at Epcot

by on February 15, 2016

Character Meet and Greets

Nothing is quite so magical as meeting Mickey for the first time!

This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.

One of the quintessential Walt Disney World experiences is participating in Character Meet and Greets. That magical moment when your child meets Mickey for the first time is right up there with their first spin on Dumbo or the first time blasting off on Space Mountain. Like most Disney adventures, I would also caution those adult-only travelling parties not to overlook character experiences as just for the little ones – you can still have a magical experience with Mulan or Aurora even if you’re in the over-18 set!

This is the first article in my series on Character Meet and Greets, in which I will tackle every park and give you a run-down of who you can meet and where. I’ve decided to start with Epcot (this is traditionally the first park we visit on every trip – why not begin at the beginning?!), so buckle up for a tour of Future World and World Showcase and the characters who live there!

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The Basics: Using the Crowd Calendar to Decide When to Visit Disney World

by on February 10, 2016

This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.

Are you planning a vacation to Disney World? Wouldn’t it be cool to just pick up and go right now? In my mind, I’m there already with nothing to do to but have fun. Unfortunately, a reality check reminds me that we all have jobs, many need to consider school schedules, and finances and budgets need to be in order. Given all of these considerations, how can you possibly make an informed decision about the best time for your Disney World trip?

Well, today is your lucky day because this article focuses on TouringPlans.com’s Disney World Crowd Calendar, a powerful tool designed to help you make a decision about when to go so that you spend the least amount of time in line. Plus, see a handy summary of how specific holidays and Disney World special events affect how much time you’ll be in line.

[Even more luck! If you are planning a trip to Disneyland or Universal Orlando—TouringPlans provides Crowd Calendars for these destinations too.]

© Sarah Graffam

© Sarah Graffam

How will the crowds be during your Disney World visit? Use TouringPlans.com’s Crowd Calendar to pick the best week for your vacation.

Deciding When to Go: First Considerations

First and foremost, as with any trip, there are two basic factors that are crucial to deciding when to go to Disney World and that provide the context for using the TouringPlans Crowd Calendar. These are: (1) when you can afford to go and (2) when your schedule allows you to go.

In terms of when you can afford to go, maybe your goal is to save up first, or you are expecting a work bonus to put toward vacation, or your budget will be a bit more flexible once that car loan is paid off. As for schedule, you likely need to work around school vacations, a project at work, or family obligations.

Another potential factor is Disney World’s schedule. Is there a special event or time of year you would like to visit? Is it a must-do or just a bonus if it lines up with your other best times for vacation? Also keep in mind that peak crowds bring peak prices at Disney World resorts.

Considering these factors is bound to narrow down the time when you will take your vacation, and this is when TouringPlans’ Crowd Calendar can become an integral part of deciding when to go. Matching up all of these factors—budget, schedule, and what you’d like to experience at Disney World—with the Crowd Calendar is an excellent way to pick the best week for your vacation.

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