Trip Planning

How Much Can You Do During a Disney Vacation?

by on February 25, 2014

I’ve talked before about planning how long to make your Disney vacation. Once you’ve decided how long you can stay at Walt Disney World, a related question often arises … what can I actually accomplish during that amount of time? How much can I do in a day (or two, or three, or ten) at Disney? New guests, unfamiliar with the gigantic scope of Disney World, may be particularly confused by this topic.

Lunch and a lazy afternoon at the pool could count as a DALE.

Lunch and a lazy afternoon at the pool could count as a DALE.

To get a better handle on how much you can do/see in a trip to Walt Disney World, let’s think about Disney time in 4-6 hour units. That’s about the span most people can handle in vacation-related activities before needing a break or at least a change of scenery.

Because he’s my favorite chipmunk (and because I couldn’t think of a snappy acronym for DUCK), we’re going to call these 4-6 hour vacation units DALEs (Disney Activity Labor Elements). A family of WDW visitors with toddlers or an ECV-bound senior citizen might have a DALE close to the four hour mark. A Disney veteran 20-something unencumbered by children might have a 6-hour DALE.

I’ll assume that the average adult needs 8 hours of sleep and the average young child needs 10-12 hours of sleep. And I’ll give everyone 1-2 hours per day for personal care such as bathing yourself, bathing your kids, checking in with work, vegging out watching Stacey’s Top Seven, etc.

Doing the math, this means that, depending on your profile, you can fit 2 or 3 DALEs into a day.

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Trip Planning 101: How Long Should We Stay at Disney World?

by on February 24, 2014

With a vacation destination as vast as Walt Disney World, it’s possible to stay there for several weeks or longer, without repeating a single activity or attraction. But just because there’s plenty to do at the parks, that doesn’t mean you can, or should, stay to do it all in any one trip. With so many options available, how do you decide the length of your Walt Disney World vacation?

If you're traveling during the busy holiday season, you may need extra time to see everything.

If you’re traveling during the busy holiday season, you may need extra time to see everything.

There are several factors you might consider when planning the duration of your trip:

  • Amount of time available for travel
  • Budget allocation
  • Time of year of your visit
  • Age/Stamina of the members of your traveling party
  • Your frequency of travel to Walt Disney World
  • Number of “must do” attractions for your family
  • Distance from which you’re traveling
  • Interest in non-theme-park activities
  • Interest in time for relaxation
  • Interest in visiting other Central Florida attractions
  • Do you need time at home at either end of your trip to pack/unpack?

Let’s break these down individually …

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15 Iconic Photos You Must Take At Disney World

by on February 21, 2014

I’ve seen several sources estimate that about 4% of all amateur photography in the United States happens at the Disney parks. If you’re planning a visit to Disney World, there’s a good chance that you’ll contribute to that number. While the possibilities for great shots at Disney are nearly endless, there are some classic pictures you’re all but obligated to take. These are the Kodak Nikon moments that will show future generations that you did Disney right. Here are my votes for the top 15:

1. Weenie in the background. Walt himself called the big landmark that draws you into the park the “weenie.” At Walt Disney World, these are: the castle in the Magic Kingdom, Spaceship Earth at Epcot, the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom, and (for now) the Sorcer’s Hat at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. You are 100% obligated to take a photo in front of each weenie.

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How FastPass+ Is Affecting Your Wait In Line At Disney World

by on February 19, 2014

FastPass+ is having a minimal effect – so far – on lines at Walt Disney World. That’s according to our initial analysis of 330,000 standby wait times collected at Walt Disney World since FastPass+ went into effect in January. We compared those to 3.9 million standby wait times collected across Walt Disney World since 2009.

This is good news to families concerned that they’ll wait in line longer because of FastPass+’s various restrictions, and even better news to those who hoped standby lines would be shorter because of better guest distribution throughout the parks.

The results indicate FastPass+ is not causing significant changes to standby wait times:

  • Wait times are increasing less than 1 minute, on average, across all attractions at all parks
  • Super-headliner attractions have seen a small drop (under 1 minute) in standby waits

This indicates FastPass+’s impact on wait times is at the low end of Disney’s original estimates. Here’s the breakdown by park and ride type:

FastPass+ Impact on Standby Wait Times

And Now, The Math

The challenge in doing this analysis is in attributing an increase or decrease that you observe, to a particular change in circumstances. If standby times go up, can we be sure that the increase is due to the new system? In reality, it may just be due to a general increase in attendance. So we must work some statistical magic to find the partial dependence of the new FastPass+ system as it relates to standby waits. That is, holding all other factors constant, we want to find the level of increase or decrease on the standby waits due only to FastPass+.

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Case Study: FastPass+ Impact On Epcot Touring Plans

by on February 18, 2014

FastPass+ Kiosk LogoMany people are understandably concerned about how Disney’s new FastPass+ system is going to affect their Disney vacation. Some of the worries most frequently mentioned with the new system are:

  • Limit of three FastPass+ reservations per day
  • Not able to get multiple FastPass+ reservations for the same attraction
  • No ability to get FastPass+ reservations for all headliner attractions
  • Only getting FastPass+ reservations for one park per day.

Some of the benefits of the new system, such as the ability to select the time of the FastPass+ reservations – may not be as obvious. And not having to run around the park to get paper FASTPASS tickets will definitely save people time.

In many cases, however, using an optimized touring plan with FastPass+ will result in a touring plan that’s just as fast as one with the same attractions and legacy FASTPASS.

Given the way my family tours the parks, I assumed that Epcot would be the most negatively impacted by the new system. With Legacy FASTPASS we would acquire multiple FASTPASSes for Soarin’ and Test Track. Now we can only get one FastPass+ for Soarin’ or for Test Track, but not both.

To evaluate the impact of FastPass+, I’m going to compare touring plans for Epcot on the second Monday of June in 2013 and 2014. Both touring plans include the same attractions and optimize the use of the available FASTPASS/FastPass+ system. Since we would never use FASTPASS/FastPass+ in World Showcase, and since we take a casual touring approach in World Showcase, I’m going to allot a chunk of time for World Showcase. I’m also allotting 100 minutes for eating. For our family, FastPass+ will not affect our dining or touring World Showcase.

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How to Determine the Value of a Disney World Vacation Package?

by on February 13, 2014

If you’re planning to visit Walt Disney World, there’s a good chance that at some point you’ll see an offer for a Disney vacation package.

Packages bundle the components of your trip.

Packages bundle the components of your trip.

It’s all but impossible to open the travel section of a major US newspaper and not see several Disney packages offered with language like: “Save 20% on a Five Night Stay” or “Kids Stay Free.” With call-outs like these, many packages LOOK fantastic, and indeed some of them are, but it’s important to put on your analyst hat to determine whether a package really makes sense for your needs. We’re here with tips on how to how to determine the value of a Disney World vacation.

Disney vacation packages include some combination of the basic components of your travel: hotel room, food, theme park tickets, entertainment, and possibly airfare.

In some cases, buying a package makes sense, and in other cases purchasing your vacation components separately is more cost effective. Here are some things to think about as you work out your vacation budget and decide whether a Disney vacation package is a good value for your family.

BASIC MATH, BUT LOTS OF RESEARCH

To decide whether to purchase a package, you’ll want to compare three versions of your travel elements: the basic, non-discounted price (which you can find on the WDW website) vs. the discounted price of your vacation components purchased separately (hunt for discounts on sites like mousesavers.com) vs. a bundled package price (usually promoted in advertising).

Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 4.06.31 PM

Finding the non-discounted price and the package price are fairly easy, but it’s really column two – the discounted component price – that will tell you if a package makes sense. Most of the information below discusses how to put together equation two.

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Celebrating Valentine’s Day at Walt Disney World

by on February 5, 2014

It’s that time of year when the most magical place on Earth becomes the most romantic! Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, so I thought I’d share some of my favorite ways to celebrate, starting with the simple and leading up to the more extravagant. Just in case you don’t make it all the way to the end, I want to wish you a very happy February 14 in advance! :)

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All photos from http://disneyworld.disneyfloralandgifts.com/

Picture Perfect: Anyone who has read my stuff before knows that I’m into photography in a big way. So I’m sure it isn’t surprising that taking pictures is high on my list. What better (and affordable) way to celebrate than to spend a day taking photos together with your favorite characters?

Light up the night: Call me a dork, but I swoon when my hubby buys me one of the light up toys that come out on carts in the parks after dark. Sneak off and buy your girls a light up rose – she just might love it!

Seaside Stroll: Ok, so it isn’t really the sea! But you can stroll around the Seven Seas Lagoon. Add in some fireworks from the Polynesian beach, and you have a recipe for romance!

Late night dip: Imagine heading back after a long day at Disney and taking a relaxing dip in the hotel Jacuzzi with your loved one. Great for sore muscles and bubbly snuggling!

A ride through the park: How about a horse drawn carriage ride through Port Orleans Riverside or the Fort Wilderness Campground? The cost is $64 per carriage, and it’s up to you if you want to share it with anyone other than your Valentine!

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Should You Stay Off Property At Disney World?

by on February 2, 2014

Where to stay during your Disney World vacation is a long debated topic with no right or wrong answer. Before moving here I was a 100% Disney purist, horrified at even the thought of stepping foot off Disney property. But after moving to Orlando and working in the travel industry I realized there are some excellent options if you are brave enough to venture off property. Today I’m outlining some things to think about before choosing to stay off property on your next trip.

Beware “scheduled” transportation: Many properties in Kissimmee and throughout Lake Buena Vista offer what they call scheduled shuttles to the parks. What they don’t tell you is that this is often a single shuttle in the morning and evening to each park, meaning that you likely will have to arrive late or leave early to make this one shuttle. The shuttle is also commonly shared with other hotels and crammed, packed full. Be sure that you understand the shuttle service offered prior to booking if you’ll need transportation to the parks.

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Believe me – you don’t want to walk from here!

You cannot walk: I know this seems pretty obvious but I can tell you from working in hotels that it’s common for guests to think they can just walk to Disney from offsite hotels. This is because hotels advertise their distance to “Disney’s Maingate”. By definition a maingate is the arch that you drive under to enter Disney property… which can be miles from an actual Disney park! There is not a single non-Disney hotel where you can walk to a park.

Renting a car: Personally, I can’t imagine staying off property without renting a car (or using your personal car if you’re driving to get here). The shuttles offered by offsite hotels have never worked for me and I need the freedom to come and go as I please. The cost of renting this car should be weighed with the cost of an onsite room at Disney. Also, remember that if you don’t have an annual pass you will have to pay for parking when staying off Disney property. That really adds up at a minimum of $15 a day!

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What’s In Your Bag?

by on January 31, 2014

New Frozen Backpack available at disneystore.com

New Frozen Backpack available at disneystore.com

Anyone that knows me might find it funny that I’m tackling the subject of what to bring for a day in the parks. When I’m heading just up the street to Disney World I normally travel very light in an attempt to skip the bag line. (Unless I’m carrying my camera bag – but that is a whole different article!) However, when I travel all the way to Disneyland I turn into an Eagle Scout, ready for any possible situation! I don’t want to have our trip interrupted by any little thing that comes up. So today I’m sharing my long perfected list of everything that you might need.

Park tickets, ID, Cash, and Credit Cards

It’s implied that you won’t get far without these items but I included them anyway to cover the basics. It’s a good idea to clean out your wallet before you leave home and only bring the essentials to the park with you. That way you won’t lose everything if it goes missing. Besides, why bring cards you can’t use at Disney?

Cell Phone

Especially with the My Disney Experience App it’s becoming more important to have your phone with you in the parks. Who am I kidding? I never go anywhere without my cell phone! That brings me to another thing that is always good to have on hand – Ziploc bags. They are good for 1,000 purposes. In this case, that purpose is keeping your cell phone dry on water rides or downpours.

Sunscreen

Even on a cloudy day sunscreen is very important. Nothing will ruin the rest of your trip like a nasty sunburn. Applying regularly throughout the day is just as important. My favorite kind to bring to Disney are sunscreen sticks. You get all the protection without risking an extra liquid in your bag that could potentially become a sticky mess.

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How to Make FastPass+ Reservations

by on January 28, 2014

Disney veterans have been bombarded for months with information and speculation about Disney’s new FastPass+ program. We’ve covered most of the frequently asked questions about FastPass+ and those magical MagicBands, but what we haven’t done is walk you through EXACTLY how to go about making your FastPass+ reservations. New FastPass+ users, pull up a seat.

There are three primary ways to make FP+ reservations: in-advance at home on a computer, in-advance or same-day on your smartphone or tablet, or same-day at in-park kiosks. Currently, the in-advance options are primarily available to guests with both reservations at a Walt Disney World resort hotel AND tickets purchased prior to your arrival at the parks (some annual pass holders are in the mix and more AP holders will be added in the coming weeks). Again, please note that you will only be able to make FP+ reservations if you have park tickets of some sort. Unfortunately, guests without an annual pass and staying off-site cannot currently make advance FP+ reservations. If you fall into this category, you’re limited to making same FP+ reservations at in-park kiosks.

HOW TO MAKE FASTPASS+ RESERVATIONS ON YOUR HOME COMPUTER

1. The first step in making FastPass+ reservations is to create an account with DisneyWorld.com. (If you already have an account, go ahead and log in, skipping this step.)

To make a FastPass+ reservation on a computer, you must have a Disney online account.

To make a FastPass+ reservation on a computer, you must have a Disney online account.

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