Several years ago on a lovely Sunday afternoon at a wedding fair in Kent, I met Karen and we put the world to rights whilst I sampled her amazing wedding cakes!
Since then, I have arranged many a holiday for her and her family, and they are Disney enthusiasts through and through. Karen’s blog is a useful guide for anyone who is planning a trip to Walt Disney World.
In August 2019 we were lucky enough to make our third family trip to Walt Disney World (WDW) in Florida.
Having been to Walt Disney World before, we are aware of what works for us and what sort of things we want to include in our holiday package.
There are several Disney hacks and ways to get as much done as possible out of your visit. We probably have only experienced the tip of the iceberg as far as these are concerned. You can join online forums and Facebook Groups who will give you ideas and advice to help you plan your trip before you go.
Our priority when booking our WDW holiday is to book a Disney Hotel. Staying on site works well for us.
We are all, apart from my partner, big Disney fans and we want to spend most of our time in the Disney parks themselves.
There are four theme parks - The Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom; two water parks - Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon; as well an entertainment and shopping area, Disney Springs, amongst other attractions we haven’t ever got around to visiting.
There are a variety of Disney Hotels available, all varying in cost and location, but each time we visit, we stay in one of the three All Star Resorts hotels.
They are the basic on-resort hotels but have pretty much everything we need. They are all slightly differently themed - sports, movies and music - but they provide essentially the same amenities, so we are not bothered which one we book. It really ends up being based on cost and availability.
The hotels are clean, exceptionally large and consist of various blocks of rooms with at least two pools, a food court (no posh waiter service restaurants here), shops, car parking, shuttle buses and kids’ entertainment.
The hotels also give you the option to opt out of 'Mouse Keeping' should you wish and will refund you some money when you check in if you choose not to have the maid come in every day. This is something we only found out about on our most recent trip, but for me not making the beds etc is all part of the holiday, and as they offer it to you when you check in, we had already paid for it a long time before hand.
On arrival at the hotel, each party member is issued with their Magic Band. These can be personalised with colour and your name, which is done in advance using your WDW account before you travel and it’s ready and waiting on your arrival.
The Magic Band acts as your room key, holds your meal plan allocation, you can even add your payment card details to it to use for paying for items in Disney shops. You also use it for your park tickets and your fast pass allocations; and any bookings are all stored on it.
It’s also waterproof so you do not need to take it off in the pool, and if you have your photo taken on a ride or with an official photographer you just scan the band, and the pictures get uploaded to your account. It makes life so easy, and you get to take it home afterwards!
On request, we have always been allocated interconnecting rooms as we are a family of 5, which is great - although we spend very little time in the room.
The lack of sit-down restaurants does not bother us either - we prefer to eat and go, rather than sit around waiting for waiter service. There is so much to see and do, and so many opportunities to relax at various pools and water parks, we do not want to waste any time.
We choose not to have a hire car when we visit as none of us are particularly keen on driving in the US. However the car parks to all the parks are so huge that once parked you have to get a shuttle bus from the car park to the park entrance.
Also, it's quite pricey to park in any of the theme park car parks, and as we choose to stay in a resort hotel, there are dedicated buses that pick you up from your hotel and take you to all the Disney Parks, Disney Springs and the water parks.
The busses arrive every 10-20 minutes depending on time of day and park popularity. Should we wish to venture further afield to Universal Studios or Discovery Cove, we book a taxi at the hotel reception and all the parks have taxi ranks so it's quite easy to get around.
As we stay in a Disney hotel, we can purchase 14-day tickets to all the WDW parks. Whilst these are quite pricey compared to the 5-day tickets, they allow us to have a lot of flexibility.
For example, we can easily travel between multiple parks in one day, we can go to the parks in the evening for the entertainment only, sit by the pool in the morning and relax then hit the parks after lunch or vice versa without having to worry that we have used our 'day' allocation up.
My partner, Simon, prefers a relaxing holiday so with this we can factor in some chill time and we are also able to have any in-park or Disney Springs purchases we make taken back to our hotel for us, so we do not have to carry them around with us.
It also includes all the official photos from the rides and the official photographers around the park. The photos are all uploaded onto the internet for you to download when you get home. No buying expensive ride photos at extra cost.
With the 14-day pass, you are each given several 'fast passes' each day for the rides, plus priority booking for restaurants, all of which can be booked months in advance.
Once the booking period opens, we set ourselves an agenda. For example, restaurants such as the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant in Hollywood Studios books up months in advance. Therefore, if we choose to go there, which we usually do, we book these as soon as possible and even then, there is often only a small selection of times available. We then plan to spend that day in the Studios and will book our fast pass rides at the same time to try to avoid the queues.
We tend to spend a minimum of two days in each of the four main parks, maybe more if needed, and a day in each of the water parks, leaving us time to visit any non-Disney parks in our two weeks as well as fitting in some shopping at many of the outlet centres locally.
As there is Wi-Fi in the parks, we do play the system when it comes to rides and queues. There are notice boards all around the parks with the rides and queue times, and you can also see these on the WDW app which you can use to book your rides and restaurants.
When we are in the parks, we can change our ride fast passes subject to availability depending on the queues.
For example, if we have booked a fast pass for a ride, but the queue is only 10 minutes long and we are in the area, we will jump on that ride and use the app to change the fast pass for another ride.
It is worth doing a little research beforehand to see which are the busiest rides. As it is only my partner and now my oldest son who like big roller coasters, we do not tend to use our fast passes for these as we keep an eye on the wait times for the big rides such as Rock’n’roller coaster and Tower of Terror, and they will go off on their own to do these rides and meet the rest of us later.
It's also worth noting that many rides like these have a single rider queue which moves a lot faster that the normal queue if you are the only one of your group who fancies that ride.
A quick note, if you have a disability, then visit City Hall in the Magic Kingdom or ask at the entrance to the other parks, and they will provide you with passes to help you bypass the queues for you and your family. They will want to see proof but its well worth using this if this does apply to you.
The app also has all the latest show times and parade times for all the parks - it's worth finding your viewing point for these at least an hour before hand. There are maps that show you the routes, etc. You will soon realise that something is happening when people start sitting down on the pavements along the route or in front of a stage or the castle in The Magic Kingdom.
With regards to the weather, we have been to Florida in the UK Easter holidays twice, August once and in also late September (before children).
The weather, whilst hot, does vary slightly. Depending on when the UK Easter holidays fall, they may coincide with the US Spring Break which means the hotels and parks are super busy with all the US families visiting the parks, making the queues long and the restaurants heaving. The weather is hot, and you can easily sunbathe, and visit the water parks and use the pool.
If it is not spring break in the US, then the queues are not too bad. There was quite a difference visiting in August. Whilst the park queues were much shorter, the weather was extremely humid, and there were daily thunderstorms and rainstorms. These did not last long and the sun came out afterwards, and everything dries up quickly but it does mean you get wet or if you are using the pools or water parks, they do close them down whilst the storm is on.
It's good to keep an eye on the weather when planning your day-to-day activities.
Before we travel, we also pre-book our Character Dining Experience - we have done the same experience three times now and it does get very booked up.
Whilst expensive, it's well organised and great for character dining and character photos.
We use an outside company who pick us up from our hotel in a stretched limo which you share with other families. There’s 'champagne' included too, although you do not have too long to drink it.
From the hotel, the limo takes you to Disney Springs where there are a huge number of shops, entertainment venues, bars and restaurants, and the biggest Disney shop there is. There's also my favourite - the dedicated Christmas Shop - where I always buy a couple of baubles for my tree.
After a specific length of time here, the limo takes you to the Contemporary Resort Hotel at The Magic Kingdom, where you are guided to a table in the Chef Mickey restaurant.
The food consists of an all you can eat buffet which you enjoy whilst several characters come to your table for photo opportunities. The characters visit each table in turn, so you do get to meet everyone - there is no need to worry that you will get missed out.
Once dinner is over the limo will pick you up and take you back to your hotel.
On our last visit to WDW, we took advantage of one of the Meal Plans which were available to us as we stayed in the Disney Hotel. There are a few different plans giving you different types of dining options and they can be used at different restaurants and hotels.
It takes a little time to get your head around what is a main meal or a snack but there is plenty of food - no one went hungry - and the app tells you which restaurant you can use in which dining plan and how many snacks/ meals you have left.
This is great as you do not need to worry about having enough money on you for food and drink during the day and if you want to split up the group and do different things, everyone’s food allocation is on their magic band so there is no need for you all to stay together if you do not want to eat together.
Any unused meals can be converted to snacks and can be used in the hotel shops and parks on snacks, sweets, biscuits, etc to bring home, which is a great way to bring home gifts for people, although we ended up with so many snacks left (not sure why as we all had plenty to eat and drink during our stay) we had to buy an extra bag to pack then all in to bring them home!
Of all the parks, our favourite is The Magic Kingdom, which is traditionally the park everyone thinks of with the castle in the middle.
It’s a large park, much larger than the one at Disneyland Paris, and we usually allow 2.5 days to do everything we want to do here. We don’t always do a full 2.5 days in a row, as with our passes we can pop in and out when we want.
We check out the parade and the firework times plus any show times we want to see and book our fast passes around these. The parade is amazing and well worth watching but if you have already seen it, it’s a good time to tackle the popular rides whilst it’s on as these can be quieter then.
The fireworks and lightshow on the castle are utterly amazing and should not be missed.
One of the most amazing moments of my life was when we visited in 2015 when Frozen was at its peak. The images from the various Disney films with fireworks were projected on the castle with music. It went quiet for a minute and then Princess Elsa appeared on the the castle and the music to Let It Go started to play. The thousands of people in the park of all nationalities went completely quiet and all started to sing together very loudly as the song started. It was one of those moments where it didn’t matter who you were or where you came from, we were all together.
EPCOT is a futuristic themed park. When we were there in 2019, there was a lot of building and revamping going on at the entrance and around the lake. The fireworks over the lake were worth seeing but that is now finished and being replaced with something else equally amazing I’m sure.
The country pavilions are interesting and some of them have rides too. We enjoyed the traditional Yorkshire fish and chips in the Great Britain Pavilion. We visited them twice, once in 2015 and again in 2019. Enjoying some home comforts!
Hollywood Studios had undergone a major change in 2019 from our visit in 2015. We were lucky enough to visit the park on the day the new area, Galaxy’s Edge, opened. Galaxy’s Edge is a mecca for Star Wars fans, and it will not disappoint with a full-size Millennium Falcon to see. Being the opening day, some visitors had been at the park since midnight for the actual opening moment of the new area.
Animal Kingdom is the fourth park and has a whole new area since our visit in 2015. There are loads of rides and animals to see. We love the safari ride and It’s Tough To Be A Bug show under the Tree of Life.
As part of our ticket, we were able to have a couple of free games of Crazy Golf at the Winter Summerland Course. This is located near the All Stars Resort and at the Blizzard Beach Waterpark, so it is easy to get to using the Disney Transport. There are two courses, Winter and Summer, and it's great if you like to play a bit of Crazy Golf, which we do.
There are two waterparks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, and both have large wave pools, flumes and lazy rivers. Both are well worth a visit on a dry day and if you fancy a chill.
Information correct as of August 2019.