Craving Dole Whip

Disney & museum obsessed, homeschooling mom of 3, parenting to focus on experiences, not possessions. Sharing Disney tips, educational adventures and 'been-there-done-that' reviews. Constantly craving Dole Whip.


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Best Disney Restaurants for Kids Ages 5 and Under

OH!  Disney Dining…you keep us coming back for more and more and more!

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With 7 Disney trips under their belts, my kids have eaten at a ton of WDW restaurants, ranging from simple snacks to quick counter service to almost every character meal to fine dining at Victoria & Albert’s.  They have seen and eaten it all–and at all ages–from 8 months to 23 years old!

Disney does a great job of creating themed restaurants to serve all guests, kids and kids-at-heart.  Though almost all Walt Disney World restaurants offer a kid’s menu, some are obviously more geared towards the younger visitors.

My daughters and I chose the BEST kid restaurants based on kid-centered theming, characters, fun environments and kid-friendly (not just kid’s menu) food.

 

These are the BEST of the BEST table service restaurants for kids ages 5 and under.

For a list every character meal inside the Walt Disney World theme parks, click here.

Put these table service restaurants on your ‘Must-Do’ list!

Magic Kingdom:

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The Crystal Palace–Read all details and a review here

Cinderella’s Royal Table

Be Our Guest Restaurant–Read all details and a review here and avoid the West Wing dining room if your child is afraid of the dark, simulated thunder and lightening.

Tony’s Town Square Restaurant

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Epcot:

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Akershus Royal Banquet Hall

Garden Grill Restaurant

 

Hollywood Studios:

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Hollywood & Vine

50’s Prime Time Café–Read all of the details and a review here.

 

Animal Kingdom:

Tusker House Restaurant

 

Disney Springs:

Rainforest Café–Avoid if your child is frightened by simulated thunder and loud noises.

T-REX–Avoid if your child is frightened by loud noises and large dinosaurs that move.

 

Resorts:

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1900 Park Fare–Read all details and a review here

Chef Mickey’s–Read all details and a review here

‘Ohana

Cape May Cafe

Whispering Canyon Café

 

Click here to learn all about the 2017 Disney Dining Plan.

Click here to learn how to plan a Walt Disney World vacation like a pro!

Click here to read about our favorite Disney buffet!

 

 

 

 

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How I Save Money On Every Disney Vacation

Let’s just face it–a trip to Walt Disney World can be crazy expensive.  Most families save and save and save to make a Disney vacation possible.

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Is it worth it?

YES!

Is it expensive?

It can be.

But, don’t fret–I am here to help!

There are a few ways to save a little here and there…and every little bit helps, right?

Ask yourself these questions before you start planning–click here.

To learn how to plan a Disney vacation like a pro, click here.

Confused by the 2017 Disney dining plan?  No worries.  Click here.

Get out your spiral notebook and take notes, my friends.

These are all great ways to save some $$ on your next Walt Disney World vacation.

  • Be flexible with travel dates.  The greatest savings on a vacation to Walt Disney World can be found in the travel dates.  Peak travel times (like Christmas, other holidays and summer) will produce the highest prices for Disney resorts, dining and plane tickets.  Plus, crowd levels can get out of control.  Consider booking during slower weeks, when on-property resort prices can drop by 35%-40%.

 

  • The magic of a Disney pin code.  With no rhyme or reason, a pin code (think promo code) can magically show up via email or snail mail.  Pin codes are exclusively linked to your name–you can not pass it along to your Aunt Sally or best friend Jen.  And, no one is quite sure how to get one sent…but, I do have suggestions.  My pin codes appear after I excessively snoop around the Disney website.  (That’s like every day!  HA!)  But, seriously…I suggest you create a free My Disney Experience account on the Disney website (There is an app, too!) and then log in every time you visit the website, even if you are just playing around.  Visit regularly.  Visit often.  You can also request to have a free planning DVD sent to your home address.  If Disney knows you are interested and thinking of a WDW vacation, a pin code just might be the incentive you need to book a trip.  ***Make sure your email address and mailing address are correct.

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  • Disney Credit Cards.  Chase offers 2 kinds of Disney credit cards and the offers attached to those cards change regularly, so check it out for yourself and see what is current.  Traditionally, this is what I have come across:  Card #1 has no annual fee, $50 statement credit after the first purchase and 1% back in Disney reward dollars.  Card #2 has a $49 annual fee, $200 statement credit if $500 is spent in the first 3 months and 2% back in Disney reward dollars for gas, grocery, restaurants, most Disney locations and 1% back in Disney reward dollars on all other purchases.  The Disney reward dollars are transferred to a Disney gift card (transfer online once you have at least $10 in rewards).  The Disney gift cards can then be used to pay for all things Disney–resort, tickets, dining or souvenirs!  ***I do not love credit cards, BUT…if you promise to pay it off each month, I think this is a great way to save a little towards a Disney vacation.  I put all of our reoccurring monthly charges (that were originally coming from our bank account) on the Disney credit card–i.e. orthodontist, electricity, Taekwondo–and we don’t use the credit card for anything else.

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  • Disney Savings Account.  Google Disney Vacation Account. It is a free, online savings account.  It takes about 10 minutes to set it up.  Enter a possible vacation date and how much $$$ you want to save and it will calculate how much needs to be deposited.  You can choose how often and where the withdraws originate (think about using the Disney credit card to get more rewards).  You can change everything at anytime.  For every $1000 from the savings account that is used towards a Disney vacation, Disney will send you a $20 Disney gift card.  I know it isn’t much. Bummer.  But, if you are spending several $1000 anyway, why not get $20, $40, $60 or more???  One-time deposits can also be made through bank accounts or by entering Disney gift card numbers.  Money can be withdrawn at anytime and will be refunded in the same manner in which it was deposited with no penalties.  When it comes time to pay for your vacation, there is an option to use a Disney savings account on the check out page on the Disney website.  More detailed information can be found on the actual Disney Vacation Account site.

 

  •  Discount Warehouse Shopping.  Sam’s Warehouse and Costco occasionally offer Disney gift cards at a discount.  Last Christmas, I was able to purchase $500 Disney gift cards for $476.  Check often and check online.

 

 

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  • My Savings Plan.  ***This is how I use the above suggestions.  Stick with me…it is slightly confusing, but I will do my best to accurately describe my plan.  I use my Disney credit card (the one that gets 2% back on groceries) to purchase the discounted Disney gift cards from Sam’s Warehouse.  Then, I enter the gift card numbers as a deposit into my Disney savings account.  Eventually, I use the savings account to pay for our Disney vacation, hopefully during a non-peak period and with a pin code.  It doesn’t always work out that way, but it sure is nice when it does!

 

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Other Ways to Save $$$:

  • Target Red Card.  I read a lot of talk online about the Target Red Card and Disney gift cards.  Honestly, I do not have a Target Red Card.  But, I do know Disney lovers use the Target Red Card to purchase Disney gift cards and get 5% off.  Suggestion:  Try to purchase the gift cards with some other items–I have read it doesn’t always work if you purchase the cards alone.  Let me know about your experience!

 

  • Presents and Gifts.  Ask for Disney gift cards for your next birthday/anniversary/holiday.  Put Disney gift cards in Christmas stockings or Easter baskets to be used during an upcoming vacation.  I write my children’s names on the back of the cards with a Sharpie marker and put all of them in a baggie during the year…and when our vacation finally arrives, we total the amounts and each child knows how much they have to spend on souvenirs–before we even leave!

 

  • An Extra $25.  Pick up a $25 Disney gift card each time you go grocery shopping and just throw all of them in a baggie (to pay for meals or souvenirs) or use the cards to make deposits into your new Disney savings account.

 

  • Stop Eating Out.  Ok.  Ok.  Yes, we eat out too much!  I do a great job of cooking at home for awhile, but then…well…life…  So, we try to only eat at home for the months or weeks leading up to our Disney vacation.  It really does make a difference!

 

  • Garage Sale.  Seriously.  Go through your junk and host a garage sale.  Use the proceeds to make a deposit into the Disney savings account or buy Disney gift cards with your loot!

 

  • Money Jar.  Start a collection jar for loose change and coins.  Collect coins from every empty purse, car console, couch, junk drawer and school backpack!  Get everyone involved and watch those coins stack up!  When the jar is full, have the kids count it all out or use one of those change counting machines.  Turn the money into a Disney gift card for souvenirs!

 

  • Water and Snacks.  Take bottled water and snacks into the Disney theme parks.  Empty water bottles can be filled at water fountains and cups of ice water are free at every quick service restaurant.  Save $$ by carrying a backpack with snacks and meals for your family.  Lockers are also available for storing a soft cooler or bag.  If you drive your own vehicle, leave a large cooler in the car and go to the parking lot for a mid-day picnic!

 

  • Buy Souvenirs at Home.  Disney themed everything can be found everywhere!  Save some serious $$ by purchasing Disney items BEFORE you enter the parks!  Stash the goodies and surprise the kids with “souvenirs” each day.  I call it ‘The Disney Fairy”.  Once you are in Orlando, the Walmart Supercenter and the Disney Warehouse outlet store are also fabulous places to visit for discounted souvenirs!

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Everyone likes to save $$$.  And we all love Disney!  So, saving $$ on a Disney vacation is a win-win situation!

I hope you guys can use some of these money $$ saving ideas–Share your own Disney saving ideas below!

Best places to purchase cool Disney shirts?  Click here!

For a list of every character meal at Disney, click here!

 

 


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How To Plan A Disney Vacation Like A Pro–Super Short Summary

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Hello Disney-curious friends!

Yesterday, I posted an enormous page (almost 5,000 words!) detailing how I plan my Walt Disney World vacations.

If you have the time, read it by clicking here.   It will change your life.

Ok, maybe not really CHANGE your life, but I do hope it helps you plan your next Disney vacation and maybe change the way you think of the planning process.

Today, I decided to write a quick summary reference page for my awesome blog friends (you!).

More details and explanations can be found in the full version here.   If you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask!  I am happy to help.

Quick and simple, this is how I plan my Walt Disney World vacations:

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  • Start a Disney savings account
  • Answer these important questions (Click here)
  • Remember the most important thing about Disney (Click here)
  • Buy a spiral notebook
  • Purchase the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World for the year of travel (Purchase the 2017 edition here and purchase the 2018 edition here)
  • Create an account on the Touring Plans website and use the discount offer from the purchase of the Unofficial Guide.
  • Add the Touring Plans App to my phone
  • Create a free My Disney Experience account on the Disney website.
  • Add the My Disney Experience App to my phone.
  • Become familiar with the Touring Plans and My Disney Experience websites and apps.
  • Decide on a budget
  • Read the Unofficial Guide
  • Decide on travelers, mode of travel
  • Use Touring Plan’s crowd calendar to choose travel dates
  • Use Unofficial Guide and Disney website to research resorts
  • Decide on number of days for theme park tickets
  • Book vacation on the Disney website: add travelers, choose resort, number of days for tickets, choose waterpark, park hopper, memory maker, extra experiences and dining plan as needed  Click here to find out if the dining plan is right for you!
  • Pay $200 deposit
  • Research dining options and character meals, if desired.  Click here for a list of all character meals at Walt Disney World.
  • 180 days before check-in, book dining reservations.  Click here for the best dining options inside Magic Kingdom!
  • Start training and conditioning
  • Order custom t-shirts  Click here for the BEST places to get Disney t-shirts!
  • Continue to make payments on the Disney website
  • Research theme parks and rides in the Unofficial Guide, Disney website and YouTube
  • Decide on desired character interactions
  • 60 days before check-in, book Fast Passes (if staying at Disney resort)
  • 30 days before check-in, book Fast Passes (if staying off Disney property)
  • Complete online check-in through My Disney Experience account
  • Start planning and packing  (Don’t forget rain ponchos and garbage bags!)
  • Keep an eye out for the arrival of Magic Bands
  • Finalize budget for extras
  • Go on the most awesome vacation!

To read the full version of how to plan a Disney vacation like a pro, click here!

To read a review of my favorite Disney resort, click here!

Love Disney princesses?  Click here for a list of every princess dining option at Disney!


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How To Plan A Walt Disney World Vacation Like A Pro

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Planning a Walt Disney World vacation is a BIG DEAL, especially if you are going for the first time!  So many resorts AND restaurants AND rides AND experiences AND princesses AND character meals–soooooo many options can make the beginning of the journey daunting and overwhelming.

Not to mention, most families save for a long time in order to afford a Disney vacation and if you spend the big bucks, you want a magical experience. Sometimes, looking online just makes things worse–who in the world makes dining reservations 180 days out and what do all of those acronyms (TTC, ADR, BOG, MK) represent?!?

It is so alarming and confusing!  I get it.

No worries…I’m here to help.

Let’s think of all of this like registering for college classes or buying a new car.  Technically, you CAN just show up on the first day of college and hopefully you MIGHT get 1 or 2 classes, but it certainly will not be what you need, every class will be at the wrong time and the classes won’t even apply towards your degree plan, making it a total waste of your time and money.

You CAN just show up at a car dealership and buy whatever car is available. It might not have enough seats for your family and it might lack the bells and whistles you desire.

Likewise, you CAN just arrive at Disney and buy a ticket and walk in to a theme park. Disney will not send you away.  (Unless it’s Christmas Day and the park reaches maximum capacity.)  LOL  (Funny, but not really…)

BUT, if you spend a little time planning your college classes each semester and you register in advance, it greatly increases the chance of you getting the classes that you need at the times you want–saving you money and time and making you smarter!

Same with the car–a little research and effort goes a long way.

So, instead of dreading the planning process of a Walt Disney World vacation, consider it a time to learn.  Yes!  Planning a Disney trip makes you smarter!

It is BEST to plan and get the experience you want–And pay for!

This is a vacation, after all.

No regrets.

A no regrets vacation.

I wrote 2 posts that will help you get started.

  1.  Click here to read the most important thing you need to know about Walt Disney World.
  2. Click here to learn the top 10 things you need to ask yourself before planning a Walt Disney World vacation.

 

Once you read BOTH blog posts, you can continue reading this one.  No, really…you have to go read those two things.  It will only take a few minutes.

Really.  I mean it.

 

Go read them.

No, I am not going to tell you what it says.

You have to read it for yourself.

Did you read BOTH?

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Ok…I am continuing under the assumption that you are an honest person and follow directions.

Now that you know the most important thing about Walt Disney World AND you have answered all of those questions, the simple, easy and fun stuff is up next!  You don’t need me anymore!

I am just teasing.  I promise to walk you step-by-step through the process and show you exactly how I plan my Disney trips.  (Mostly because I am pretty sure only 1/10 of my readers took the time to read those 2 links.  LOL)

Keep in mind that every Disney trip looks different.  Every family has different priorities and even my own Disney vacations evolve as my children change and mature.

So, this is how I plan my Disney trips.  Take notes, my friends.

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I always start the planning of a new Disney trip by buying a spiral notebook (or stealing one from my homeschooling stash.)  It helps me keep track of notes, park days, dining reservations, Fast Pass+, packing lists, outfit planning and so much more!

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Then, I purchase the Unofficial Guide To Walt Disney World for the year that we plan to travel.  Yes, the book changes and yes, everyone needs the book for the specific year of the vacation.  Disney changes every day…and the writers do an amazing job of updating the book each year.

Click here to purchase the 2017 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.

Click here to purchase the 2018 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.

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Sometimes, the new book for my travel year is not yet available.

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The new editions are typically released around August of the previous year.  I pre-order as needed.  For example, for my upcoming 2018 trip, I pre-ordered the 2018 version on February 17, 2017 (as soon as I knew we would be traveling in 2018).  It should arrive sometime in August 2017, from Amazon.

To pre-order the 2018 version, click here.

While I am waiting for the new edition, I start thinking about the big questions.

***This is where reading those posts I mentioned above MIGHT come in handy: when to travel, who is going, what’s the budget, how are we getting there, and how long are we staying, etc.

The book can help answer those questions, too.

Here is my thought process:

When can we travel to Florida?  Do we have the time to drive from Texas or do we need to fly?  Who is going?

I should probably start a savings account.  LOL

We are a homeschooling family, but my daughters take several classes that require attendance.  Depending on the semester, schedule and rigors of the classes, our planning might be constrained or quite free.  It just depends.

When the children were younger, we planned vacations around my husband’s work schedule.  Right now, my husband can’t always sneak away from his commitments.

I also have an adult son that graduated from college and moved to a different state.  When he was in elementary school and junior high, we never hesitated to pull him from public school for family vacations.  Once he entered high school and college, he chose not to travel for lengthy times.  But, now he can go if life allows!  Yipppeeeee!

 

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Me and my 3 babies.  Photo Pass Pic.  Epcot.  January.   2017

So, “who is going” is a necessary and logistical question for my people and the answer is always evolving, just like my family.

Our vacation dates are most likely determined by who is traveling with me, school schedules and work schedules.

I don’t want this to frighten you, but here is what I currently deal with:

For our 2017 trip, my husband, 2 daughters and I took several days and drove to Tampa, FL.  We stayed in Tampa and enjoyed experiences there for 4 days and then my son flew from Chicago to Tampa.  Once he arrived, we all drove to Orlando together and checked in at the Caribbean Beach Resort.  (Room sleeps 5).  We enjoyed Disney together for 5 days and then my husband flew back to Texas.  My 3 kids and I enjoyed Epcot and then the next morning, my son flew back to Illinois.  The girls and I checked out of Caribbean Beach Resort and checked in to Animal Kingdom Lodge for 2 nights (Room sleeps 4).  Then, the girls and I took 2 days and drove back to Texas. (YIKES!)

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Do you understand why I use a spiral notebook?

Hopefully, your planning won’t be as complicated.  It was super fun, though!!!  LOL

If your planning is equally nutty, make it work people.  Time with your family is the most important thing and it deserves all of your effort.

So, let’s pretend my new Unofficial Guide book has arrived and I have a general idea of when I want to travel and who is going with me!  YIPPPEEE!

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The authors of the Unofficial Guide have an awesome website called Touring Plans.  A discount code for an one-year membership is offered with the purchase of the book.  Once I have the book in my hand, I renew my online membership at Touring Plans.  The yearly membership is $14.95.  With the discount, it is $9.72.  It gives me all-access to the website and the app, it does not renew automatically and they do not spam to death.  It is delightful and a very important part of my planning process.

Planning Note:  While reading the Unofficial Guide, take notes on anything new, interesting, and noteworthy in the handy little spiral.  There are restaurant reviews, tips and secrets, and plans on how to tour the parks and cut down wait times.  It is an invaluable piece of the planning process.

So, let me do a quick recap.

Spiral notebook.  Loose, fluid or constrained travel dates.  List of travelers.  Unofficial Guide for vacation year.  Membership on Touring Plans website.  Add Touring Plans app to my phone.

Now the FUN really begins.

How do I nail down travel dates?

Traveling to Disney and how we actually get to Florida will be determined by my timeline.  We will fly if we need to get there quickly, but we honestly prefer to drive and sightsee along the way.  I do my best to make the latter option a reality.

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As for the actual theme park dates, I use the Touring Plans website.  With my membership, I have access to the magical crowd calendar.  I.  Love.  The.  Crowd.  Calendar.

The Crowd Calendar gives a crowd level rating to each park for each day for an entire year.  If my travel dates allow the freedom to choose, I search for a week that has levels less than 5.  Less than 5 is always my goal.  It does not always work out that way, but it is always preferred.  Of course, we have totally enjoyed crowd level 10 days, too!  Just have to be a little more flexible when the crowds are that high.

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I like to create a page of dates in my notebook, typically spanning 3 or 4 weeks.  I jot down all of the projected crowd levels, days of the weeks, etc.  Then, I look and find the “sweet spot”–a cluster of days that are crowd level rated 5 or less.  Those dates become our travel dates.  **If there is a high crowd day (8+) stuck in the middle of my sweet spot, then that day becomes our rest day!

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Planning Note:  There are many crowd calendars available online.  Just Google “Disney World crowd calendar”.  Make sure you are looking at Disney World, not Disneyland.  I have found that most of the calendars are similar, but I rely on the experts at Touring Plans.  The crowd levels are projected, of course.  No one can see the future.  (If you can, please contact me immediately!  Thank you!)

How do I choose which theme parks to visit?

At this point, we have the 4 main parks memorized and I know which ones we need several days to enjoy and which ones we can skip or tour in a half of a day.

We love, love, love the Magic Kingdom.

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We always spend most of our vacation enjoying the Magic Kingdom theme park.  As my children got older, we added more days to our tours of Epcot (2-3 days).  Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom are both 1 day parks for us and we have even skipped Animal Kingdom several times.  It honestly depends on the ages of your children, your interests and your timeline.

The four Walt Disney World parks are the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios.

Each park has it’s own personality and different rides, shows, restaurants and experiences to appeal to the masses.

Planning Note:  Choose which parks you want to visit based on the ages and interests of your traveling party.  Hollywood Studios has the most thrill rides.  Magic Kingdom is the best park for toddlers.  Epcot is perfect for an adult only trip and Animal Kingdom is a must-see for animal lovers.

But, each Disney park has something for everyone!

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How do I choose a resort?

My family and I have stayed on Disney property and off property and if our budget allows, we 100% prefer a deluxe Disney on-property resort.  Sometimes, we can make that happen and sometimes…well…life.

There are several perks offered to Disney resort guests, like extra magic hours (extra time in the parks), free transportation, Fast Pass+ booking at 60 days, complimentary parking at the parks, dining plan options, etc.  Plus, when we vacation at Disney, we want full Disney immersion.  We are junkies, remember?

While reading the Unofficial Guide, I research resorts to see what fits the needs of my family and whittle down the list of places that can accommodate my people.

Planning Note:  Some Disney resort rooms only accommodate 4 people, some rooms sleep 5 and of course, there are suites and villas that hold more.  I recommend you read the entire accommodations section in the Unofficial Guide.  It describes in length each Disney resort and several off-property resorts.

This is where budget comes into play BIG TIME.

Disney divides their resorts into 3 main categories:  deluxe, moderate and value.  I can post in more detail about that later.  My current budget will determine which level of resorts I research and my travel party size determines the room.  Budget.  Budget.  Budget.  Blah.

I consider the location of the resort, which will directly affect transportation to and from parks (Is the resort on the monorail system?  Are ferry boats available?  Only buses?)

Resort food and dining options are also important to me.

I compare resorts in the Unofficial Guide book and on the actual Disney website and then I pick the winner.

Click here to read a review of my favorite Disney resort.

So, assuming I know my travelers, the travel dates and now the resort, I book my vacation on the Disney website.  Booking online is pretty straight forward, unless the dates I want have not yet opened.  For example, I am writing this post on March 20, 2017.  The Disney website has the option to book vacations until December 31, 2017.  Sometimes dates during the upcoming year open in June, sometimes it is August.

Planning Note:  Do not fret!  Just call 407-939-1936 and book over the phone if your dates are not listed online yet.

Disney only requires a $200 deposit to hold a reservation.  Payments can be made at anytime and the remaining balance is usually required within 60 days of the check-in date.  That time frame can vary, so be mindful of your specific date and don’t forget to make payments!

When I book the resort online, I also make decisions on theme park tickets, water parks, park hopper, dining plan and memory maker.

If time allows, my family needs to take a rest day in the middle of our Disney vacations.  We usually don’t go to a theme park on the day we check in and sometimes, we don’t go to a park on our check out day, either.  If we are staying at the resort for 7 nights, we don’t necessarily need park tickets for 7 days.  I choose tickets based on how many days we will be going to the parks, not how many days we are at the resort.

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My people need a rest day.

Planning Note:  The number of nights that you stay at a Disney resort do NOT have to match the number of days of theme park tickets.  You can stay at a resort and never buy tickets, if you like.

For a list of 10 FREE things to do on your rest day, click here.

For a list of 10 (not free) things to do on your rest day, click here.

My daughters have shown no interest in the waterparks, so I skip that section.

Historically, I also skipped the Park Hopper section, too.  We ALWAYS just spent an entire day inside one park at a time.  But, we used Park Hopper for the first time during our 2017 vacation and we LOVED it!  My kids are older now–ages 24, 13 and 11–so going to more than one park a day is easier than it would have been when they were toddlers. I can write a more in depth post about Park Hopper at a later date.

Memory Maker is a must for us.  Memory Maker is $149 in advance, $169 if you decide to add it later.  It allows for unlimited downloads of every Photo Pass picture taken of you and your family during your vacation. Our 2017 vacation generated 718 Photo Pass pictures.  I don’t know about your family, but we NEVER get a full family pic because I am the only one taking pictures!

Get Memory Maker.

Family pictures are so important.

Plus, the ride photos are hilarious!

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Seriously, how awesome are these pictures?  All Photo Pass pics–I downloaded each one to our computer and I can print them, put them on a coffee mug or make a super cool wrap for my car!  Whatever I want.  (As long as I don’t sell and make money.) Whenever I want.  Forever.

Next, I decide if we need the dining plan.  And if we do, which dining plan will work best for my travel people.

Click here to learn everything about the 2017 Disney dining plan.

Click here to learn everything about the 2018 Disney dining plan.

For now, I will just say that we used the dining plan and saved a ton of money when my kids were younger than 10.  We used every table service credit to eat at buffets and character meals and we saved quite a bit of money.  Plus, knowing that our meals were essentially pre-paid helped quite a bit with “sticker shock”.

Planning Note:  10 is the magical age that children become adults in Disney’s eyes.  Ticket prices and dining plan prices are higher for adults, ages 10 and up.

Planning Note:  At the time of this post, if you want the dining plan, Disney requires you to pay for the plan for every night of your resort stay.  There is no option for anything less and your entire traveling party (in your resort room) must be on the dining plan.  The dining plan is only available for Disney resort guests.

I make all of these decisions and choose accordingly online.  By the time I am done “checking out” online, I have chosen my travel dates, travel party, resort, number of days for theme park tickets, park hopper (yes or no), waterpark option (yes or no), memory maker (yes or no), and dining plan (yes or no).  I pay the $200 deposit.

If we plan to fly to Orlando, I start researching flights once everything at Disney is booked.  If we are driving, we start planning our route and possible interesting stops along the way.

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How do I plan dining?

I try VERY, VERY, VERY hard to plan our Walt Disney World vacations more than 180 day out.  That is always my goal.  But, you know…life.

If I book our vacation and it is less than 180 days to our check-in date, I immediately book dining reservations the instant I complete the online booking of our trip.

Either way, I book dining as soon as I am possibly allowed.  With a Disney resort reservation, guests can book advanced dining reservations (ADR) 180 days before check-in date, plus 10 days.  This confuses people and I will write a post dedicated to dining asap.  But, let me quickly explain.

If my check-in date is June 6th, let’s assume 180 days before that is January 6th.  I am not going to pull out a calendar and do that math, so let’s just all agree it is 180 days.

On January 6th, I can made advanced dining reservations for any available dining June 6th-June 16th.  Essentially, it allows guests to make reservations for their entire vacation (as long as it is 10 days long or less), instead of having to book 1 dining reservation today, book 1 tomorrow, 1 the next day, etc.

Does that make sense?  The 180 days, plus 10 days is only available for Disney resort guest.  Guest staying off property get the 180 days and will need to book 1 reservation a day (unless you are less than 180 days out).

I hope I didn’t make it more confusing.

For this little post (LOL–it’s getting sooooo long!), I am going to pretend I have more than 180 days until my check-in date.

While I am waiting for my 180 day mark, I read about new restaurants, character meals and look at menus in my Unofficial Guide and online.  The Disney website shows the most recent menus for each restaurant and I add the My Disney Experience App to my phone.

Planning Note:  Add the My Disney Experience app to your phone and get familiar with the lay out long before you arrive at Disney.  Use this app to keep track of dining reservations and Fast Passes while in the theme parks.

I ask my kids and husband what restaurants they want to visit, if I need to book any character meals, and I create a very loose plan in my magical spiral notebook.

Planning Note:  Book the most important restaurant first, even if it’s on the 3rd day of your vacation.  Then, go back and book dining for the 1st and 2nd day.

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Planning Note:  For a list of all character meals at Walt Disney World, click here.

Once my 180 mark comes, I book all of my dining online or on the My Disney Experience (MDE) app.  I typically get the dining reservations we want because I am a little flexible with days AND I book at 180 days out.

Non-Disney people think that is nuts.  But, let’s all remember my college registration and car buying analogies.

Planning Note:  If you do not have park hopper, you can only go inside one theme park a day.  You can come and go from that one park 100 times in that one day, but you can not enter another park.  That means, all of your dining reservations need to be inside that one park or at a resort for that day.  Dining at a restaurant inside a theme park requires guests to have a theme park ticket.

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So, if I can’t get a reservation for a restaurant on a day we are in a specific park, I will alter my little notebook plans to accommodate the dining reservation.  Priorities, my friends.

For a list of the best breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner at Magic Kingdom, click here.

Booking dining 180 days out (as crazy as it sounds) gives guests the best chance to get the desired restaurants at the right times.  I HIGHLY recommend making ADR for every table service restaurant and for the quick service meals offered at Be Our Guest.

For a full review of Be Our Guest, click here.

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If I can’t get a reservation for a must-see restaurant, I check my MDE app several times every day.  People cancel dining reservations all of the time and I want to snag it!

Once dining is all booked, the plans for each day are pretty much set in stone.

Next, I decide on dinner shows, tours, or additional experiences and book those.

One of our family Disney rules is to try at least 1 new restaurant and 1 new experience during each vacation.

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The Spirt of Aloha is a fabulous dinner show at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.  Reservations are required.

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3 of my people during the Aqua Seas Tour at Epcot

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Bibbidi  Bobbidi Boutique and Pirates League through the years.

At this point, the resort, dining and extra experiences are all booked.

Planning Note:  Don’t forget to continue to make payments on your vacation through your My Disney Experience account!

Around the 180 day mark, or about 6 months before check-in, my family starts to “train” for Disney.  I am so serious and people laugh about this one, but Disney requires a TON of walking and we don’t want to stop the Disney fun because of a lack of conditioning!  So, we start walking as a family–further, longer and more often than normal–and we use that uninterrupted time to discuss Disney things, of course!

Now it is time for matching T-shirt planning!!!!

OMG!  (Jumping up and down!)

My Favorite part of a Disney vacation!

Ok…maybe not my favorite…but I really, really like it.

I plan our theme park outfits based on parks, rides, characters or dining each day.

My youngest daughter LOVES the People Mover.  Obviously, we will wear our People Mover shirts to Magic Kingdom, where the People Mover lives.  Matching Star Wars shirts are for Hollywood Studios because of Launch Bay…Frozen T-shirts for Epcot when my daughters met Elsa and Anna.  It’s all planned.  I know you are shocked.

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Baymax beanie on the day she met Baymax–another great Photo Pass pic!

 

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My bedroom floor–planning outfits for Disney 2016

 

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Matching t-shirts with your mommy?  Creepy!  Matching t-shirts with your awesome mommy at Disney?  Super cool!

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I start ordering shirts and outfits as soon as I have the resort and dining booked.  Custom shirts can take several weeks, especially around the holidays.

Click here for a list of the best places to find super cool matching family Disney shirts.

I also start gathering tiny trinkets for what I call ‘The Disney Fairy’.

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Quick explanation:

When my girls were very young, I started placing Disney themed items near the sinks at our resort each night as a surprise for the next morning.  (little things from the dollar store)

It helped cut down on the “I wants” as we toured the parks.  It became a tradition and I still love surprising them!

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As my daughters have gotten older, the trinkets have evolved, of course.  If I get the chance to sneak away and shop while at Disney, I might even pick up something I saw them eyeing earlier.  It’s kind of like the Santa thing…they never ask about the Disney Fairy…they believe so they receive.

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How do I book Fast Pass+?

Guests staying at a Disney resort can book Fast Pass+ starting at 60 days out from the check-in date.  Fast Passes are free–3 per person per day and after the 3rd one is used, an additional Fast Pass can be added, and so on until the park closes or until there are no more Fast Passes.  I can write a post dedicated to Fast Passes later.

Leading up to my 60 day window, I discuss rides with my family.  Are there any new rides?  What are the must-do rides for each person?  If there are any concerns (height requirements, drops, scary scenes, darkness, etc.), I look up the rides on YouTube and read the attractions section in the Unofficial Guide.

Guest staying off property can book Fast Passes at 30 days out.

At my 60 days window, I book my Fast Passes for each day we are in the theme parks.  Fast Passes can be booked online or on the MDE app.  My family and I are firm believers in arriving at the theme parks at rope drop, which is just a fancy way of saying, “when the parks open.”  Because we get there early, we ride important rides first and use our Fast Passes later in the day when the traditional lines are typically longer.

Planning Note:  Be mindful when booking Fast Pass times.  Make sure the ride times do not conflict with dining reservations or parades that you want to attend.

Planning Note:  Book Fast Passes for lunchtime and mid-day, when the parks are at their peak crowd levels.  Get to the theme parks early, ride important attractions first and then use your Fast Passes later.

Planning Note:  Fast Passes can also be used to meet characters.

 

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Reserve a Fast Pass for Toy Story Mania at Hollywood Studios

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Once the Fast Passes are in place, planning is complete!  WOW!  I never thought I would get to this part of this post.  YIIIPPPEEEE!  Finally!

 

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These Disney fireworks represent my celebration (and probably yours, too!)

 

Magic Bands will arrive about 3 weeks before departure.  Historically, they arrive in an unmarked box, so be on the lookout.

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I start packing about 3 weeks before we plan to leave.  I create a huge packing list in my handy dandy notebook and I make enormous piles on the floor of my bedroom.

Click here to see a not-so-obvious Disney packing list.

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I tag the outfit piles with the date and theme park or restaurant.  I pack the piles with the sticky notes on top so I can organize once we arrive at our Disney resort.  Some *might* call that crazy (like my husband) but I like to call it GENIUS.

 

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Outfits tagged with the date, theme park or restaurant.  Genius.

3 weeks before check in is a great time for last minute things, like autograph books (which my daughters outgrew, unfortunately).

Planning Note:  Online resort check-in is available through the My Disney Experience account, too!

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I also buy my beloved rain ponchos.

Click here to read why you MUST pack rain ponchos for your Disney vacation!

And garbage bags.  For real.

Click here to read why garbage bags will save your life at Disney!

A few weeks out is also when I plan travel activities–plane, train or automobile.

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And finalize the budget for souvenirs and snacks.

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Mickey Ice Cream bars are super yummy!

 

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Buying an oyster with a pearl

 

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I have to budget a lot of $$$ for Dole Whips.

 

 

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Sugar rush anyone?

 

 

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Lots of snack options in Epcot!

Decisions about strollers need to be made before a Disney vacation, too. This does not apply to my family any longer, but over the years, we took 1 stroller, 2 separate strollers and we have also rented a double stroller from Disney.  Lots of options.  Lots to consider.

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The double stroller we rented from Disney

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Disney’s double stroller

WOW–my brain is FRIED!  How about yours?!?

I hope this helped a little and didn’t make things worse.  Once I recover, I will write some more.

Let me know if you have any questions.  I am always happy to help!

And I can talk Disney all day.

DUH.

A quick reference guide summary of this marathon-long post can be found here.

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A Review of Disney’s Be Our Guest Restaurant

The most sought-after dining reservation at Disney’s Magic Kingdom is hidden from the chaos of the crowds and nestled within the boulders and crevasses of a mammoth mountain.

It’s location, deeply tucked inside the whimsy of Fantasyland, is veiled to remain secretive and secluded from the meddling townspeople. The only clue to it’s existence is a castle, high above the bustle of the pathways and far enough in the distance to be unreachable.

 

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Be Our Guest from the Fantasyland pathway

Protected by gatekeepers and check points, guard-like statues and a large, commanding stone wall with a black iron gate, guests with reservations are the only people invited inside.

And, millions of Walt Disney World visitors seek a table at this coveted location in hopes of entering the magnificent and enchanted restaurant.

 

Welcome to Be Our Guest.

 

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If attendants make it through the first guard station, parties are directed to walk down the cobblestone bridge.  The arched structure connects the private mountain entrance to Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland and traverses a flowing channel of crystal-clear water that divides it from the crowds.

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To the left is a magnificent waterfall, cascading over rocks and pebbles.

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To the right is an evergreen forest, masking the location in intrigue and seclusion.

 

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Several horned, stoic but friendly statues line the edges of the massive bridge, upholding tall lampposts and keeping a watchful eye on those who wish to pass.

 

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The cobblestone bridge

 

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Once guests arrive at the securing iron gates, the second guardsman will tell visitors to halt on the bridge or take a seat on boulder benches until their party is invited inside.

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The cavernous pass with rocky boulder benches

The doors to the Beast’s enchanted castle remain closed until an escort appears with the names of those allowed to feast.

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If dining during breakfast or lunch, parties will be directed through the castle’s foyer to an armor clad, statue-lined hallway that leads to ordering stations on the right.  If the meal has been pre-ordered online, a stop might be made at the pay station on the left.

 

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The arch on the right leads to the ordering stations and the arch on the left leads to the Grand Ballroom.

 

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Dinner banquet guests are chaperoned through the magnificent and breathtaking Grand Ballroom.  A massive 12 foot tall chandelier brimming with 84 candles and 100 jewels, flanked by two other equally beautiful light fixtures is the room’s crowning centerpiece.

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The ornately carved ceiling displays an enormous and gorgeous mural of soft pastels, clouds and playful cherubs.  Elegant cobalt blue fabrics drape across arch insets above the marble columns.

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The Grand Ballroom is pure elegance, filled with opulent round and rectangular tables, set with delightfully padded, comfortable chairs.  At the back of the room, arched, floor-to-ceiling windows overlook a snow dusted garden, while tiny white flurries trickle from the evening sky and gracefully blanket the ground.

 

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The Grand Ballroom is one of three dining rooms available inside the Be Our Guest (BOG) Restaurant.  During breakfast and lunch, guests are typically allowed to choose a dining room, but dinner seating is chosen by The Master.

 

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Some guests are given an ornate candlestick to carry to the table.

The secretive and alluring West Wing is to the left of the Grand Ballroom. Dark and mysterious, with tattered cloths draped from the rafters, ornately carved wooden chairs, and royal printed wallpaper, this room protects and displays the beautiful red rose.

Occasionally, a flash of lightening from a clamorous thunderstorm will illuminate a hidden and concealed secret in the ragged artwork.

The very dark and remarkably dim lighting creates a feeling of imminent and mysterious events, but it does not create good pictures with my phone.  LOL

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Momma Note:  The West Wing is my favorite dining room inside Be Our Guest, but it scares my 11 year old.  If your child is sensitive to simulated thunder and lightening or if dark rooms are an issue, you might consider avoiding the West Wing.

 

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A table with Lumiere in the West Wing

 

The Rose Gallery is the third available dining room inside Be Our Guest and it is much smaller than the Grand Ballroom. With soothing and relaxing lighting, it is the most peaceful option and my husband’s favorite space.

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Inside the Rose Gallery

A warm hue bathes the cream colored wallpaper and large tapestries adorn open spaces between dark wood molding.  Tufted benches and simple cushioned chairs sit alongside rectangular wooden tables.  Small, brass chandeliers dangle from the interesting ceiling and create a calming ambiance and beautiful setting.

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Detailed and interesting tapestry

The show-stopping centerpiece is a spectacular rotating statue of Belle and the Beast dancing underneath a crimson rose.

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This enormous statue rotates.

The menu at Be Our Guest is a delightful fusion of American and French cuisine, a mix of casual, familiar dishes with a French twist and traditional French meals with an American influence.

Be Our Guest serves all three meals, with breakfast and lunch as quick service and dinner offered as table service.

Breakfast is served from 8:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

Breakfast is considered a quick service meal, but requires advanced dining reservations (ADR). At the time of this post, it is the only quick-serving Disney restaurant that accepts reservations.

The Feast A La Gaston is a plate of scrambled eggs, roasted potatoes, apple smoked bacon, sausage, fresh fruit and a selection of pastries.

Assorted cured meats and cheeses are available, as well as vegetable quiche, steel cut oatmeal and a bacon and egg sandwich.

We recommend the unique Croque Madame, an open-faced ham sandwich topped with a fried egg, Gruyere and Béchamel served with fresh fruit and a selection of pastries.

My daughters love the croissant doughnut, which is fried and topped with banana caramel sauce, pastry cream and chocolate ganache.  It is also served with fruit and pastries.

I usually order the vegetarian option of warm, steal cut oatmeal with golden raisins, brown sugar and assorted pastries.  Delicious and filling!

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For a healthier option, choose the freshly scrambled egg whites, roasted tomatoes and chicken apple sausage.

Kid’s meals include crepes stuffed with yogurt and fresh berries, French toast, scrambled eggs and cereal.

The Master’s Cupcakes is available for $4.99 during breakfast and is a decadent chocolate sponge cake topped with Lumiere’s delicious special grey stuff.

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Lunch is served from 11:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

It is considered a quick service meal, but requires advanced dining reservations (ADR).

We love the French onion soup, which is a vegetarian option.  A delicious and creamy potato leek soup is also vegetarian.

My husband’s favorite dish is the flavorful braised port (Coq Au Vin Style) and my girls enjoy the grilled carved ham and Gruyere cheese sandwich with pommes frites.

Quinoa salad with green beans, potatoes, olives, bell pepper, tomatoes and golden beets is another favorite.

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For lunch, kid’s meals like meatloaf, carved turkey sandwiches, grilled shrimp, whole grain macaroni, and grilled cheese with turkey noodle soup are all available.

The desserts at Be Our Guest are fantastic and vary slightly during lunch and dinner.  Try the Master’s Cupcake, strawberry cream cheese cupcake, chocolate cream puff and the Éclair a l’Orange.

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Dinner is served from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 pm.

Dinner at Be Our Guest is considered table service and requires advanced dining reservations.  It is our favorite meal inside Magic Kingdom.

Bread served with salted butter is brought to all dinner tables.  Assorted meat and sausages, soups, garden salads, salad trio and Marseilles-style mussels are listed as appetizers.

 

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Scarlet napkins are shaped into red roses.

 

Again, we love the French onion and potato leek soups.

Try the grilled strip steak with garlic butter and pommes frites, the roasted lamb chop or the sautéed shrimp with scallops in a creamy lobster sauce.

My son greatly enjoyed the pork chop and my daughter liked the layered ratatouille, which includes oven baked zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, tomatoes, and onions, sliced and layered on quinoa and served with a bell pepper sauce.

A seasonal sustainable catch of the day is also available.

Kid’s meals include garden salads, fruit cup, chicken brochette, grilled steak and beast casserole.

Sparkling, white, red and dessert French wines and Belgian ales are on the menu, too.

Awe-inspiring carts, brimming with yummy desserts, are brought around the dining rooms at the end of the meal.

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Try the lemon meringue cupcakes, triple chocolate cupcake and The Grey Stuff, of course!

 

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Try the Grey Stuff, it really is delicious!

 

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After dinner, guests are invited to meet The Beast in the library for a Photo Pass opportunity.  (The Master does not speak, but he will pose for pictures.)

 

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Guests can pose for a Photo Pass picture and the photographers are happy to take a pic with your camera, too.

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The service at Be Our Guest is fantastic.  Each server has been personable, friendly, helpful, timely and attentive.  We always enjoy our dining experience.

Quick Family Review For Be Our Guest:

Be Our Guest is our family’s must-do Magic Kingdom restaurant.  Since it’s opening in 2012, we make sure to dine there at least once during our Disney vacations–sometimes as many as 4 times!   We love everything about it!

Final Family Be Our Guest Suggestion:

Make advanced reservations as soon as possible for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  Dinner is our favorite, but we love breakfast and lunch, too!  The restaurant is a relaxing escape from the chaos of the theme park crowds and is a great opportunity to rest and recharge in a beautiful setting with delicious and delightful food.

Dress is casual for all meals. (theme park attire)

Getting reservations at Be Our Guest can be very challenging.  It is imperative that you book dining at Be Our Guest as soon as you can, preferably at the 180 day opening.

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If you don’t get the reservations that you need, be tenacious, continue to check daily for cancellations, especially 48-24 hours before your desired time because guests tend to cancel existing reservations at the last minute.

There are 550 seats–one of them must be for you!

Guests are always welcome to walk up and ask for available openings, but do not bet on something happening.  The best way to ensure a seat at Be Our Guest is to book an ADR at 180 days and continue to check your MDE app each day for cancellations.  To make reservations via telephone, please call 407-939-5277.

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When dining at Be Our Guest for breakfast or lunch, I highly recommend pre-ordering your meal from the My Disney Experience (MDE) app, which is available 30 days in advance.

Our pre-ordered food (breakfast and lunch) always arrives crazy fast.

 

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The commanding Beast will pose for pictures AFTER guests finish dinner.  Guests must exit the restaurant after the photo session.

A theme park ticket is required because Be Our Guest is inside the gates of Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

Breakfast and lunch both count as 1 quick service meal on the Disney Dining Plan.

Dinner counts a 1 table service credit on the Disney Dining Plan.

Find out if the Disney meal plan is right for you–Click here.

 

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A colorful and beautiful mosaic inside the restaurant

Extra Hint:  The selection of pastries that is served with most breakfast items adds a lot of food to already large dishes.  Consider splitting a meal between people in your party to save a little money.  Everyone at the table is not required to order a separate meal at quick service restaurants.  The only time each person at the table is charged for dining is at a buffet restaurant or a prix fixe meal.

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For transportation to Be Our Guest, just travel to the Magic Kingdom.  Disney resorts provide complimentary transportation via the monorail, ferry boats or buses.  Ask your concierge or front desk for the quickest way to travel to the Magic Kingdom Theme Park. If you are a Disney resort guest, you can park your personal vehicle for free at the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC) and ride the monorail over to the Magic Kingdom Theme Park.  Parking is $20 for non-resort guests.

Restaurant menus at Walt Disney World are seasonal and change often, so for current menu listings, check the Disney website or the My Disney Experience app.  All menus are listed for every Disney restaurant, as well as hours of operation and prices.

If you only learn one thing from my blog posts, I hope it is the fact that Disney changes every day.  That is exactly why Disney is so popular–there is ALWAYS something new for junkies like me to experience!  It is also why I always say everything is subject to change.

For a list of all character meals offered at Walt Disney World, click here.

To read a review of our favorite buffet at Walt Disney World, click here.

 


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The Best Breakfast, Lunch, Snack & Dinner At Disney’s Magic Kingdom

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My favorite theme park at Walt Disney World is the Magic Kingdom.  We spend at least half of our entire vacation inside that one park and I always leave wanting more!  Over the years, dining options inside Magic Kingdom have changed and evolved and my family and I have tried every single restaurant.

As I am working on writing full reviews for every table service restaurant (and some quick service ones, too!), I thought it might be helpful to create a quick list of the best meals we regularly enjoy inside the fabulous Magic Kingdom theme park.

Confused about the Disney Dining Plan?  Click here to learn everything you need to become a dining plan master!

Let me know what you think!

Favorite Breakfast:

Be Our Guest: Quick service, requires advanced dining reservations (ADR), order the Croque Madame, which is an open-faced ham sandwich topped with a fried egg, gruyere, and Béchamel or try the croissant doughnut.

Read a full review of Be Our guest here.

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Favorite Lunch:

Be Our Guest: Quick service, requires advanced dining reservations, order the French onion soup, braised pork Coq Au Vin Style and the Master’s cupcake.

Columbia Harbour House:  Quick service, try the lobster roll, vegetarian lighthouse sandwich or the fried fish plate.

The Friar’s Nook:  Quick service, order the pot roast mac-n-cheese

Favorite Snack:

Aloha Isle:  Pineapple Dole Whip cup (DUH)

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Food Kiosk Carts (Frozen Treats):  Mickey Ice Cream Bars

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Sleepy Hollow:  fresh fruit waffle sandwich with chocolate hazelnut spread and funnel cake

Favorite Dinner:

Be Our Guest:  Table service/character meal, requires ADR, order the roasted lamb chop, sautéed shrimp and scallops and The Grey Stuff

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Cinderella’s Royal Table: Table service (2 credits for dining plan), requires ADR, The menu changes, but this is one of our favorite dinners because of the experience.

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Favorite Buffet:

Crystal Palace:  Table service/character meal, requires ADR, large buffet, lots of options

To read a full review of The Crystal Palace, click here.

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Favorite Character Meal:

Cinderella’s Royal Table:  Princess character meal and it’s located inside Cinderella’s castle

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For a complete list of all character meals at Walt Disney World, click here.

Click here to read about our new favorite Disney Resort!


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Top 10 FREE Things To Do At Disney (when you don’t have a theme park ticket)

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I LOVE Walt Disney World!  And, HEY!  Guess what?!?

There are FREEEE things to do at Disney!

Below, you will find a list of super awesome things to do at your resort or on property–and they are all FREEEE!  You are welcome.

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What can you do for FREEEEE?!?

Check out this list below of the top 10 super awesome and FREE things to do that do not require a theme park ticket. And, click here to see a list of 10 MORE super cool things that do not require a theme park ticket, but cost a little $$$.

  1. Pool Day At Your Resort!  Disney resorts have some pretty amazing pools and a day of swimming, lounging and relaxation just might be what the Mouse ordered.  2 tiny things you MUST know: (a.) All Disney pools are heated, so you can swim year-round. YIPPEEE! (b.) Disney resort pools are for the enjoyment of resort guests.  You can visit any resort, but you can only swim in the pool at your resort.  And yes, they scan your bands.  And, yes that is true.  Please follow the rules, my friends.

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Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort

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Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort

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Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

2.  Take everyone to check out Disney Springs!  All Disney resorts have free transportation to Disney Springs (DS), which is an outdoor shopping, dining and entertainment marketplace.  The complex sits next to the peaceful Sassagoula River and has four main areas:  The Landing, Marketplace, Town Center and West Side.

Check out the open-area splash pad (bring a towel!) and the Lego Imagination Center, an outdoor play spot with bins full of Legos–totally FREEEEEE!

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3.  Head on over to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort!  There are several public viewing areas that overlook the African-inspired savannas, full of interesting wildlife and birds.  Visit at night and use the complimentary night-vision binoculars to see what the animals are up to after the sun goes down!  Oh…and did I mention…it’s FREEEE!

At the time of this post, Disney does not offer direct transportation from resorts to other resorts.  However, you can still travel between resorts on Disney complimentary transportation.  To get to the Animal Kingdom Lodge, just ride a bus to the Animal Kingdom theme park, get off that bus and then board a bus going to the resort!  Easy and FREEEE!

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Zebras on the savanna

4.  Go exploring at your own resort!  Disney resorts have some super awesome hidden treasures!  Find out if your resort has a playground, splash pad, arcade, ping pong tables, hammocks, volleyball courts, benches or walking trails.  Get outside and just go exploring!  You never know what you might find.

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5.  Skip on over to the front desk or concierge at your resort and ask for a calendar of resort activities, which might include super awesome things–outdoor movies, cookie and cake decorating, educational lectures, game night, roasting marshmallows and pool parties–all for FREEEEEE!

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6.  Exercise!  Many Disney resorts have fitness centers, walking paths and running trails.  Burn off some of those theme park calories (excessive intake of Dole Whips anyone?!?) and make your heart happy in the process.  I don’t have a picture for this suggestion because I have never done this.  LOL  It sounds like a good option, though, right?!?  No excuses!  Get out there and sweat!

7.  If exercising on vacation isn’t your cup of tea (or even if it is), I have just ONE word:  MONORAIL!  (See what I did there?  The prefix “mono” means “one”.  LOL  I am so clever.)  Anyway, all Disney resorts offer free transportation to the Magic Kingdom (MK).  Once you get to the Magic Kingdom theme park, walk to the monorail boarding station and hop on!  You can ride all day long if that makes you happy.  You can even get off at the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC) and transfer to the Epcot monorail and ride that one, too!  No ticket required and totally FREEEEEEE!

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8.  Visit other Disney resorts!  At the time of this post, Disney does not offer direct resort-to-resort transportation.  However, that tiny challenge is quite easy to remedy. While you are jet setting around the Disney property on the super awesome monorail system, disembark and check out one of the deluxe hotels near the Magic Kingdom (MK).  You can also ride a Disney bus (or boat, if available) to a theme park and then transfer to a bus going to ANY resort you want to scope out.

Each resort has an unique theme and super cool things to see!  You do not have to be a resort guest to look around!  Just ask a cast member or concierge what is the quickest way to get where you want to go.

My recommendations, you ask?  I already mentioned the cool things to do at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.  But, I also recommend:  Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort (CBR), Wilderness Lodge (WL), the Grand Floridian (GF) and the Polynesian Village Resort (Poly).  You can even walk from the Poly to the GF.

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9.  Ride some ferry boats!  Disney resorts have multiple forms of transportation:  bus, monorail and/or boat.  There are boats that stop at multiple resorts, theme parks and even Disney Springs.  Hop aboard one of these and see where it takes you!  Some of the ferry boat routes to enjoy:  Magic Kingdom to Fort Wilderness to Magic Kingdom.  Magic Kingdom to the Grand Floridian to the Polynesian Village to Magic Kingdom.  Disney Springs to Saratoga Springs to Old Key West to Disney Springs.  Disney’s Hollywood Studios to Boardwalk Inn and Villas to Beach Club Resort, to Yacht Club to the Swan to Dolphin back to Hollywood Studios.

Disney transportation changes often, so ask a cast member or the concierge to share the best way to get to a boat dock.  Feel free get on and get off at your leisure–the ferries run approximately every 45 min-1 hour, depending on route, crowd level and weather, of course.

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10.  Fireworks!  Fireworks!  Fireworks!  You don’t have to be inside the Magic Kingdom theme park to enjoy a spectacular nighttime fireworks show.  Head on over to any of the resorts serviced by the monorail (Contemporary and Bay Lake Tower, Polynesian Village and the Grand Floridian).

I recommend the Polynesian because it is directly across Seven Seas Lagoon from the Magic Kingdom.  Find a cozy bench and wait for the magic to happen!  This is also a great option for people who want to enjoy the show without the loud noises, explosions and booms.

Extra Hint:  You might get the added bonus of experiencing the Electrical Water Pageant, which appears on Seven Seas Lagoon at varying show times throughout the year.

All. For.  Free.

Yep.

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BONUS:

11.  Eat a Pineapple Dole Whip!  (Or 2 or 3–no one is counting)  Ok…so, this isn’t actually free…unless you can get someone else to pay for it.  But, it is my favorite thing to do.  So, to make this a money-free splurge, I suggest you make a friend and celebrate that new friendship by allowing said friend to purchase you a tasty treat!  Or Plan B–Eat someone else’s Dole Whip when they are distracted by a camera!

***There is only one place outside of the theme parks to find Dole Whip and that Heaven-on-Earth location is Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.  Make a friend.  Be a friend.

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I hope you enjoy some FREEEE fun at Disney!

Click here to read about 10 Not Free Things to do at Disney that don’t require a theme park ticket !

Click here to read a complete list of every character and princess meal at Disney World!

Click here to read 12 reasons you need to pack garbage bags for your next Disney vacation!