I was in my thirties when I made my first trip to Disney and after the time we had - I know two things for sure - I plan to return again and my kids will experience Disney in their thirties like I did (only half kidding). I always knew parenting required a special kind of person but seeing all the parents dragging their kids in the heat from ride to ride - my respect level for parental units has gone through the roof.
Ok! Back to Disney - I visited Epcot and Disney downtown four years ago and had a lovely time. Never in my wildest dream did I think I will get a chance to go back. Last summer, the opportunity presented itself and I got to spend an incredible weekend at Disney's Magic Kingdom and the Animal Kingdom. Here is a little bit about my experience and all you need to know to plan a trip.
Plan Ahead. Disney World includes four theme parks and two water parks. Each one with a variety of attractions. I have visited three of the theme parks to date - Epcot; the Animal Kingdom and the Magic Kingdom. I spent a half day at Epcot on my first trip to Orlando. On my second trip, I spent a day at the Animal Kingdom and a day at the Magic Kingdom. I was exhausted after two days. Before you head out, plan out what parks you want to visit - on my second trip we went with the ticket option for two parks. If you have a larger budget - then you can consider taking on other parks. If you are limited in your budget (and time) then I recommend the Animal Kingdom and the Magic Kingdom. If you are a group of adults, then spending an evening at Epcot might be worth your time.
How many days should you spend? To see three parks - I recommend a long weekend to make the most of it. If you are hoping to visit all of the parks - then you should plan a week - a day at each park and a rest day. There is a lot of walking - we averaged 20,000 steps per day - so you want to give yourself a day to relax and maybe visit a spa at one of the Disney hotels.
Best time to visit. It might be a challenge but if you can skip weekend and the summer months, then do it. Weekdays during the school year is likely the best way to go assuming you have not got kids with you.
Getting Tickets. We bought our tickets directly from Disney website. Avoid any third party sites that promise discounts. I have heard some unpleasant stories. Our tickets covered us for two parks only but you have options to purchase a full package (which is cheaper overall) if you have the time.
Where to Stay. We had a large group of 10 and wanted to stay relatively close to coordinate scheduling. We decided to rent a Condo in town. The Condo was quite cheap and only cost less than $20 per night/per person. We had 5 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms and were very comfortable. Another option is to stay at one of the Disney resorts but the price tag on those did not work for our budget. The downside to staying away from the resorts means getting a rental car; the price tag was reasonable as we booked it a few weeks in advance. My personal preference will be to stay away from the resorts. It is cheaper overall even considering the cost to rent a car and daily parking at the parks.
Follow the ticket instructions. When we purchased our tickets, it came with some detailed instructions which I never bothered to read; including the use of the app; "validating" and downloading tickets etc. I was held up at the park entrance for twenty minutes while they tried to sort out my reservations and find my ticket booking.
Use the app. Like I said, you get instructions with your ticket. One of those is to download the app. DO IT. The app has got maps of the parks; a list of all the rides and relevant information, including average wait time for each ride which is useful for planning itinerary; you can book restaurants on the app; view tickets and fastpass.
FastPass. With FastPass, you can skip the line of select attractions and shows. The price is included in your ticket price. You got three FastPass options per day per guest. If you are staying at a Disney resort, you can reserve your FastPass 60 days before your trip and if you are staying outside of the resorts, you can reserve your FastPass 30 days before your trip. We booked tickets just a few weeks before and the fast pass option for the popular rides was long gone. You can book additional FastPass (based on availability) when your allocated three is done via the app. At the Magic Kingdom, we used our FastPass for Space Mountain; Expedition Everest and Peter Pan.
Transportation. Like I said, we rented a car because we were staying away from the park so we had to factor in parking cost to our budget. There was regular and premium parking at the Magic Kingdom. We choose premium parking to be as close to the park as possible. If you stay at the resorts, you get complimentary shuttle buses to and from the parks; there is also the option of monrails and certain hotels have boat transport options.
What to wear. Choose comfort over glam. If you can do both - then good on you. I decided to add this point because believe it or not, I saw at least one person in heels and I could not believe it. I had on sandals and regretted that decision two hours into our visit. We averaged about 20,000 steps each day - there was a LOT of walking. I was better off in comfortable shoes and breathable and practical clothing. I wore a dress, which looked cute in pictures, but made getting on some of the rides quite interesting. Next time, t-shirt; shorts and walking shoes.
Restaurants. I cannot stress this enough - make reservatiions ahead of time. If not, the wait during peak periods can be frustrating especially if you are already on the verge of hangry. We arrived at the park around lunchtime and opted for something quick (read: hot dogs). For dinner, we wanted something more filling and had not thought to make reservations especially given the size of our party. We waited almost forty-five minutes for a table.
Highlights. The experience of Disney is incredible and just getting to visit was a highlight but certain things have stayed with me more than others. The fireworks at the Magic Kingdom and Illuminations at Epcot. Both start at 9 p.m. The Safari and World of Avatar at the Animal Kingdom - I recommend using your FastPass for these ride, if you can. The happily ever after parade at Magic Kingdom at 3 p.m. and 9 p.m., daily.