Craving Dole Whip

Disney & museum obsessed, homeschooling mom of 3, parenting to focus on experiences, not possessions. Sharing Disney tips, educational adventures and a few reviews. Constantly craving Dole Whip.


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Disney After Hours at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom

 

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Me and my “babies” at Magic Kingdom, After Hours, 2018

Everyone on this planet knows how much I love Walt Disney World.  While growing up, my parents instilled in me an unwavering commitment to all things Mickey Mouse and I joyfully pass the obsession down to my own three kids–like any good mom would do.  🙂

 

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Me and my cute sister!  The tradition (ok, it’s a necessity) of matching T-shirts started a long, long time ago!

No one in my family can remember how many times we visited Walt Disney World or Disneyland when we were little.  We even did a Disney family cruise when I was in high school, but there is an ongoing debate about which year…

As a mom, I totally keep count:  Walt Disney World 8 times–2004, 2006, 2009, 2011, 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018.  Disneyland 2 times–1999 and 2011 and one Disney cruise in 2004.

I could post 10,000 pictures, but I will resist the urge.  You are welcome.  🙂

ONE **amazing** Disney experience trumps every other experience from all of those other trips, hands down–and it happened during our most recent vacation.

Yep.

DISNEY AFTER HOURS

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And, OMGGGGGGGGG!!!!  Friends and family, Disney After Hours is a GAME CHANGER!

So…what is this SUPER AWESOME Disney After Hours at Magic Kingdom?

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Disney After Hours first appeared in the spring of 2016, at the Magic Kingdom park inside Walt Disney World in Florida.  As always, Disney constantly tweaks the original offering a little here and there, but the glorious premise remains the same:  It is an extraordinary “Disney After Hours” experience.

In other words, guests purchase a ticket to the After Hours event (separate from a theme park ticket), and the ticket grants the unbelievable freedom to enjoy Magic Kingdom after it technically closes to the public–with some super awesome perks!

Below is everything you need to know about this AMAZING event, directly experienced by me and my 3 children (ages 24, 13 and 12) on January 30, 2018.

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Disney After Hours is NOT offered every night.  In fact, the dates are VERY limited.  At the time of this blog entry, the posted dates for 2018 were only January 19, 26, and 30, February 8 and 15 and March 1 and 8.  Pretty rare.

From the Disney website, I purchased 4 tickets for $119 EACH.  No one knows the exact number (except the all-mighty Disney people), but Disney enthusiasts estimate somewhere around 1,000 tickets per date are sold.  Obviously, it sells out quickly.  Super exclusive.

I printed 4 paper copies of the tickets and carried those with me to the park on our designated night.  The printed tickets allowed me and my children to enter Magic Kingdom at 7:00 p.m.

 

 

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Under “Event Check-In”, it states that official check-in begins at 7:00 p.m.

We arrived at the front gate and saw a cast member holding an “After Hours” sign.

We checked in with her and took this cute pic.  🙂

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She handed us each a lanyard with a hard plastic information card–our passes for the night–and we walked into Magic Kingdom!

 

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Front

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Back

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After we entered the park, we took several fun Photopass pics (The tangled lanterns!) and rode a few exciting rides before the park closed to the other guests at 8:00 p.m

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For the After Hours event, these marvelous lanyards grant visitors the ability to stay in the park AFTER CLOSING TIME!  More than 25 popular rides remain operational from 8:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., with little to no wait.  (Times for this event can vary.)

Once the park closed to the public at 8:00 pm., only lanyard sporting guests were allowed on rides.  **I did see other people walking around the park for a little while, but they were turned away at the entrances to the attractions and rides.

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I hope you are sitting down for this.

From 8:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., my kids and I rode the following rides:

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad–3 times

Pirates of the Caribbean

Haunted Mansion

Under the Sea–Journey of the Little Mermaid

Peter Pan’s Flight

Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin

Mad Tea Party

Tomorrowland Speedway

Space Mountain–3 times

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train–7 times

Tomorrowland Transit Authority People Mover

All in 3 hours!  Unbelievable!

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We focused on riding all of our personal favorites, but other rides were open, such as the Astro Orbiter, It’s A Small World, and Jungle Cruise.  I also noticed Mickey’s Philharmagic and the Princess Fairytale Hall were both accessible.

The event also gave guests an unlimited amount of frozen treats, popcorn and bottled beverages, sold from carts stationed around the park.  If you possess the elusive lanyard, you just walk up, flash your card and get ice cream!

For real.

Disney heaven on Earth!

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The event produced my own personal Christmas morning–my kids and I were laughing and skipping like carefree, unattended children in a candy store–going merrily from ride to ride–without the stress of crowds, long lines and posted wait times–freely eating an obscene amount of Mickey bars and cookies-n-cream ice cream sandwiches.

We wanted to stay ALL.  NIGHT.  LONG.

OH!  And I noticed a SUPER cool phenomenon:  For those 3 short hours, all of the guests in the park were members of a special, exclusive club–everyone was OVERLY friendly to one another, all interacting like old college roommates that just won a shared lottery jackpot…a feeling of blissful celebration that I honestly find difficult to accurately describe.

The opportunity to truly act and feel like a kid again.

No stress.  No sadness.  Free from the weight of our crazy world.

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Pure joy.

With a little hint of elated disbelief.

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A brief breakdown:

For January of 2018, tickets for this event cost $119 each.  Prices can vary.

Disney After Hours is a special, ticketed event–it is separate from a theme park ticket and must be purchased separately.  **$119 PER PERSON for 4 hours in Magic Kingdom, 3 of those hours represent the event after closing to the public.  

The price of the ticket allows guests to enjoy 25+ rides and includes frozen treats, popcorn and bottled beverages, like water and sodas.

Our event was from 8:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. (Magic Kingdom park closing time on January 30, 2018 was 8:00 p.m.)  We were allowed to enter the park at 7:00 p.m., one hour before closing time, which gave us 4 hours in the park.

We found little to no wait and NEVER a line at every ride we approached.  In total, my children and I rode 21 times (some repeats).

Future After Hours events *might* offer different time windows, different rides or different treats, depending on scheduled park closures and ride refurbishments.  Additional food options were available for purchase at restaurants on Main Street.

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My final review:

I LOVED every single minute of this experience.  What else can I say?

Was it worth $119 a person for only 4 hours?  Absolutely!

Would I do it again?  Yes, in a heartbeat.

Do I think this ticketed event could replace an entire day at Magic Kingdom?  Maybe.  It depends on your personal ride preferences and priorities.  We rode everything we loved and felt fulfilled when we returned back to our resort.

The most popular question:

If you have a theme park ticket and spend the day at Magic Kingdom, do you still need to spend an additional $119 for this event?  Yes, IF you want to stay after closing AND you want to ride the attractions, you MUST purchase the After Hours ticket (in addition to the theme park ticket).  However, you DO NOT need a theme park ticket to attend this event.  You can just purchase the After Hours ticket and enjoy the park after closing.

Consider this event for a check-in day or a rest day. ** We spent the day at Animal Kingdom and then enjoyed the After Hours event at Magic Kingdom that evening.

***The only thing that could make this event better is if Mickey Mouse and Walt himself were standing on Main Street U.S.A. to say goodnight as guests left the park.  🙂

I will say, this event is best suited for kids and adults that can easily and effortlessly stay up late without a break.  Time flies when you are having fun! 🙂  It was the shortest 3 hours of my life!  Go!  Go!  Go!

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Once we enjoyed this amazing experience, the rush and urgency to ride the most popular rides on our next day at Magic Kingdom completely disappeared.  No more pressure!  It opened up our schedule to focus on other attractions and relax longer at our table service dinner at Be Our Guest.  For a full restaurant review, read this.

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Side note:

I booked our 2018 vacation 8 months in advance, long before special event options are posted, so the dates of our trip were already in stone.  About 2 months before check-in, I noticed a list of dates for Disney After Hours on the Disney website–and one of those dates–January 30th–fell right in the middle of our stay.

Luck or pixie dust?!?  You decide.  🙂

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Still have questions about Disney’s After Hours event?  Email me anytime!

How do I plan our Walt Disney World vacations?  Click here.

Everything you need to know about the 2018 Disney Dining Plan–Read this.

A list of all of the Disney character meals?  Yep.  Right here.

A review of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge–read it here!

Free things to do at Disney?  Yes, please!  Click here!

 

 

 

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2018 Disney Dining Plan–Everything You Need To Know

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To Dining Plan Or Not To Dining Plan…that is the question.

It is the most common inquiry I receive and honestly, one of the more challenging to answer.

And, just recently, Walt Disney World changed up their dining plan just a tiny bit for 2018.  So, even if you are familiar with Disney dining, read this and take a refresher course–Disney is always changing!

What is the Disney Dining Plan?  Basically, it is a prepaid meal plan that provides families with the option to prepay for meals BEFORE they arrive at Walt Disney World.  It is accepted at over 100 locations and more than 50 table service restaurants with in the Disney parks and resorts.  The dining “credits” are scanned from your magic band at participating restaurants.

Whether the dining plan will save you money completely depends on your family, the ages of your children, where you plan to eat and what you eat. Everyone eats differently, especially on vacation and every family is different.

So many factors.  So many options.  So many questions.  So many different answers.

I will try to simplify. (Ha!  That rhymes!)

If you are just beginning the planning process, click here to see a list of questions to answer BEFORE you plan a Walt Disney World vacation.

Click here to learn how to plan a Disney vacation like a pro.

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The 2018 Disney Meal Plan

The Basics:

  • Guests must purchase a Magic Your Way Package through Disney in order to be eligible to purchase any meal plan.
  • Guests must stay at a Walt Disney Resort.  The dining plan is not available for the Swan and Dolphin Hotels, Shades of Green and the hotels of the Disney Springs Resort area.
  • Typically, a minimum 3 night resort stay is required.
  • Annual pass holders and DVC members can purchase the Disney dining plan.
  • Each person on your resort reservation must be on the dining plan.
  • Each person on your resort reservation must be on the same level of dining plan, too.
  • Plans are set based on the number of nights on your resort reservation.  i.e. If you book 5 nights, you get 5 days worth of the dining plan.  You can not get less days and you can not pay for more.  I will explain in greater detail below.
  • The dining plan expires at midnight on the check out day.
  • Disney defines children as ages 3-9.  (Children 10 and up are adults.)
  • Children ages 3-9 on the Disney dining plan are expected to order from the children’s menu when one is available.
  • The dining plan is not available for children under the age of 3.  Children under 3 can eat off of an adult’s plate or a meal can be purchased separately.
  • Any guest age 10 or older is a Disney adult.  (I don’t make the rules.)
  • Tax is included.
  • Tips and gratuities are NOT included.
  • 18% gratuity is automatically added to parties of 6 or more guests.
  • The refillable mugs can be filled an unlimited amount of times (during your stay) at Disney resort quick service restaurants only.  Not the theme parks.  Drinks include sodas, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, milk, etc.
  • If you order something that the dining plan does not cover, you will be charged separately for that item.
  • Desserts and appetizers at breakfast are not included.
  • Alcohol is now included, if you are over 21.  (See details below)
  • Meals are considered quick service (QS) or table service (TS) or signature dining (SD).
  • Pricing for the dining plan can increase at anytime and prices did increase for 2018.
  • The dining plan is always changing.

Have you read my post about changes at Disney?  Click here my friend.

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Restaurant Credit Descriptions:

Snacks are a plethora of all kinds of things and are marked with a purple and white 4 point segmented square on all Disney menus offering snacks.  If you don’t see the symbol, there are no snacks on that menu.  1 snack credit can be used for a frozen ice cream novelty, 1 scoop of popcorn, 1 piece of whole fruit, 20 oz. soda or water, Dole Whip!, soups, chips, puffed rice treats and so much more.

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This is the snack credit symbol

Quick service restaurants are just like they sound, quick.  Ordering is made at a counter or register and the food is casual, quick and easy.  Guests choose their own tables.

 

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Quick service breakfast

 

Table service restaurants are more formal than quick service.  Guests are escorted to their tables and menus are provided for ordering (if not a buffet).  A server will wait on the table.  Most buffets and most character meals are considered table service.

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

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

 

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Chef Mickey’s buffet is 1 table service credit.

 

Signature dining restaurants are more formal and elegant than table service restaurants.  There is a “resort casual” dress code for signature dining.  Signature dining uses 2 table service dining credits.  Cinderella’s Royal Table is considered signature dining and uses 2 table service credits.

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Cinderella’s Royal Table is considered signature dining and uses 2 table service credits.

Dinner shows are just like they sound, dinner and a show.  Think Disney’s Spirit of Aloha or Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue.  Dinner shows require 2 table service dining credits.

 

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The Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort requires 2 table service credits from the dining plans.

 

The Three Options:

Disney offers 3 different dining plans:  Quick service, Dining, and Deluxe Dining.

***Pricing and beverage offerings changed for 2018!  See details below!***

The Quick Service Plan:

  • $52.49 per night per adult (ages 10+)
  • $21.75 per night per child (ages 3-9)
  • Includes 2 quick service credits per night per person (1 quick service meal is considered 1 entrée and 1 drink)
  • Under 21 years of age:  A drink is one non-alcoholic drink or specialty drink if diner is under 21 years of age.  A specialty drink can include artisanal milkshake, fresh smoothie, premium hot chocolate, soda, coffee and tea
  • 21 years or older:  A drink can either be non-alcoholic or alcoholic.  A single serve alcoholic drink can include beer or cider, wine, sangria, mixed drinks and specialty cocktails.
  • Includes 2 snack credits per night per person
  • Includes 1 refillable mug per person

The Dining Plan:

  • $75.49 per night per adult
  • $25.80 per night per child
  • Includes 1 quick service credit per night per person (1 quick service meal is considered 1 entrée and 1 drink)
  • Includes 1 table service credit per night per person (1 table service meal is considered 1 entrée, 1 dessert (lunch and dinner) and 1 drink or 1 buffet and 1 drink.)
  • Under 21 years of age:  A drink is one non-alcoholic drink or specialty drink if diner is under 21 years of age.  A specialty drink can include artisanal milkshake, fresh smoothie, premium hot chocolate, soda, coffee and tea
  • 21 years or older:  A drink can either be non-alcoholic or alcoholic.  A single serve alcoholic drink can include beer or cider, wine, sangria, mixed drinks and specialty cocktails.
  • Includes 2 snack credits per night per person
  • Includes 1 refillable mug per person
  • 1 table service credit can be used for most character meals. (Cinderella’s Royal Table is considered Signature Dining and is 2 table service credits.)
  • 2 table service credits can be used to dine at Signature Dining Restaurants (meal includes 1 entrée, 1 dessert and 1 drink)
  • 2 table service credits can be used for dinner shows (category 2 or 3 seating)
  • 2 table service credits can be used for private in-room dining (meal includes 1 entrée, 1 dessert and 1 drink)
  • 2 table service credits can be used for pizza delivery (meal includes 1 pizza entrée, 2 desserts and 2 drinks)

The Deluxe Dining Plan:

  • $116.24 per night per adult
  • $39.90 per night per adult
  • Includes 3 meals (QS or TS) per night–3 quick service or 3 table service credits per night per person used in any combination. (1 quick service meal is considered 1 entrée and 1 drink).  (1 deluxe dining table service meal is considered 1 appetizer (lunch and dinner), 1 entrée, 1 dessert (lunch and dinner), and 1 drink or a 1 buffet and 1 drink.)
  • Under 21 years of age:  A drink is one non-alcoholic drink or specialty drink if diner is under 21 years of age.  A specialty drink can include artisanal milkshake, fresh smoothie, premium hot chocolate, soda, coffee and tea
  • 21 years or older:  A drink can either be non-alcoholic or alcoholic.  A single serve alcoholic drink can include beer or cider, wine, sangria, mixed drinks and specialty cocktails.
  • Includes 2 snack credits per night per person
  • Includes 1 refillable mug per person
  • 1 table service credit can be used for most character meals. (Cinderella’s Royal Table is considered Signature Dining and is 2 table service credits.)
  • 2 table service credits can be used to dine at Signature Dining Restaurants (meal includes 1 appetizer, 1 entrée, 1 dessert and 1 drink)
  • 2 table service credits can be used for dinner shows (category 2 or 3 seating)
  • 2 table service credits can be used for private in-room dining (meal includes 1 appetizer, 1 entrée, 1 dessert and 1 drink)
  • 2 table service credits can be used for pizza delivery (meal includes 1 pizza entrée, 2 desserts and 2 drinks)

 

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1900 Park Fare breakfast buffet is 1 table service credit.

 

Confused yet?

I am going to create several scenarios to help clarify.

Scenario #1

2 adults and 2 children (ages 4 and 7) book 5 nights at a Disney resort and choose the quick service plan.  Total cost for dining:  $742.40.

The cost for each adult on the quick service plan for 5 nights is $262.45.

For 2 adults, the total is $524.90.

The cost for each child on the quick service plan for 5 nights is $108.75.

For 2 children, the total is $217.50.

Total cost for the quick service meal plan for this family of 4 is $742.40.

Each person is given 2 quick service credits and 2 snack credits for each night of the reservation.  That is 10 quick service credits and 10 snack credits per person for the entire vacation.

There are 2 adults.  So, they have a total of 20 adult quick service credits and 20 snack credits.  There are 2 children.  So, they have a total of 20 quick service (kids meals if offered) credits and 20 snack credits.

In total, this family has 40 quick service meal credits and 40 snack credits.  The math is getting ridiculous, right?  Are you following me?

Adult #1–10 QS credits, 10 snacks

Adult #2–10 QS credits, 10 snacks

Child #1–10 QS credits, 10 snacks

Child #2–10 QS credits, 10 snacks

These credits all expire on midnight of the check-out day.

***Between the check-in day and midnight of the check-out day, this family can use these 40 quick service credits and 40 snack credits any way they please and in any combination.  The credits are all lumped into one total.

These credits are not linked to a certain person, either.  If adult #1 only wants to eat snacks the entire vacation, then he/she can eat all 40 snacks and all of those snacks can be Dole Whips…hypothetically, of course.

If this family wants to eat 20 quick service meals in one day, they can.  All of these 40 QS credits and 40 snack credits can be used in any combination on any day of their vacation.

Guest can use these quick service credits for quick service breakfast, lunch or dinner.  When all 40 quick service meals and all 40 snacks run out, any food purchases must be paid out of pocket.  ***If this family decides to eat at any table service restaurant, the bill would not be covered by their meal plan.

 

Scenario #2

Same family, 2 adults and 2 children (ages 4 and 7) book 5 nights at a Disney resort and choose the Dining Plan.  Total cost: $1012.90

The cost for each adult on the dining plan for 5 nights is $377.45.

For 2 adults, the total is $754.90.

The cost for each child on the dining plan for 5 nights is $129.

For 2 children, the total is $258.

Total cost for the dining plan for this family of 4 is $1012.90.

Each person is given 1 quick service credit, 1 table service credit and 2 snack credits for each night of the vacation.  That is 5 quick service credits, 5 table service credits and 10 snacks per person for the entire vacation.

Adult #1–5 QS credits, 5 TS credits, 10 snacks

Adult #2–5 QS credits, 5 TS credits, 10 snacks

Child #1–5 QS credits, 5 TS credit, 10 snacks

Child #2–5 QS credits, 5 TS credits, 10 snacks

The family in total has 20 quick service credits, 20 table service credits and 40 snacks to use in any combination over the duration of their resort stay.  This family could eat at 3 different table service restaurants in one day, if they choose.  Or, they could use 2 table service credits each to eat at a signature dining restaurant, like Cinderella’s Royal Table.  If the family of 4 all dined at Cinderella’s Royal Table, 8 of their 20 table service credits would be used.

If this family of 4 all ate breakfast, lunch and dinner at 3 table service restaurants in one day and then had breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table, their 20 table service credits would be gone.

***To get the most benefit, this family should use their snack credits for breakfast items, quick service for lunch and each table service credit for a character meal or buffet.

 

Scenario #3

Same family, 2 adults and 2 children (ages 4 and 7) book 5 nights at a Disney resort and choose Deluxe Dining.  Total cost: $1,561.40.

The cost for each adult on the deluxe dining plan for 5 nights is $581.20.

For 2 adults, the total is $1,162.40.

The cost for each child on the deluxe dining plan for 5 nights is $199.50.

For 2 children, the total is $399.

Total cost for the deluxe dining plan for this family of 4 is $1,561.40.

Each person is given 3 meal credits (can be quick service or table service, in any combination) each night of the vacation.  That is 15 meal credits and 10 snacks per person for the entire vacation.

Adult #1–15 meals, 10 snacks

Adult #2–15 meals, 10 snacks

Child #1–15 meals, 10 snacks

Child #2–15 meals, 10 snacks

This family has a total of 60 meals that can be either quick service or table service, plus 40 snacks.  The 60 meals belong to the family as a whole.  Anyone can use the credits in any combination.

If this family of 4 all ate breakfast, lunch and dinner at 3 table service restaurants in one day and then had breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table, they would still have 40 meal credits left to use.  To get the most benefit, this family should eat all meals at table service restaurants and avoid quick service all together.

That’s a lot of math.  Yes, I used a calculator.

The Benefits:

All 3 meal plans are essentially pre-paid dining and are accepted at over 100 locations on Disney property.

It is a nice feeling to have dining costs already covered.

Guests using meal plans can save money if they choose wisely.

The Struggles:

The dining plans require pre-paying and must be paid in full when the final resort reservation payment is due.

Guests must actively keep track of how many dining credits have been used and how many are left. (Credits are printed on each dining receipt).

Children ages 10 and up are considered adults and are charged the adult dining plan fees.

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.

Thoughts And Things To Consider:

The quick service plan is pretty straight forward.  To avoid running out of credits, guests can use 2 snack credits to cover breakfast by getting a muffin for 1 credit and a piece of fruit for 1 credit and filling the refillable mug with coffee (at the resort).  Or guests can use the 2 daily snacks to cover a light lunch by using the credits for a cup of soup and chips.  Quick service meals should be used for the largest meals of the day to get the most bang for your buck.

Table service, character meals and buffets can cost anywhere from $35 to $59.99 per adult.  The dining plan is $75.49 per day per adult and covers 1 quick service, 1 table service and 2 snacks.

**An adult not on the dining plan eats 1 character meal that costs $59.99, a quick service meal for $17.99 and gets 2 snacks for $12 for a total cost of $89.98

**An adult on the dining plan would pre-pay only $75.49 for the exact same meals and snacks.

***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”.

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Honestly, whether the dining plans will save you money completely depends on your family and your eating habits.

If you answer “yes” to these questions, chances are very high that the dining plan will save you money.

  • Do you plan to eat at only table service, buffets and character meals?
  • Do you eat a dessert at every lunch and dinner?
  • Does your entire family drink sodas or tea?
  • Do you want to dine at signature dining restaurants or dinner shows?
  • Do you have children under the age of 10?

How About My Family?

Like I said before, we were dining plan worshippers for many of our Walt Disney World vacations.  But for the last two trips, we chose not to use the dining plan.

Here are my reasons:

Now that my daughters are 12 and 14, all 5 of my family members are considered adults in Disney’s eyes and adults cost more $$$.

I drink tea, but the rest of my family only drinks water with meals.

We usually split 1 or 2 desserts at dinner time only and prefer to eat a very light breakfast and lunch.

My daughters have outgrown most character meals.

 

 

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1 quick service credit breakfast at Be Our Guest

 

If you are still uncertain, there are many Disney dining plan calculators available online to help determine if the dining plan will save you money.

Message me if you still have questions!

Happy eating, my friends!

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1 table service credit

 

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1 snack credit

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1 table service credit

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1 snack credit

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Be Our Guest is quick service for breakfast and lunch, but uses 1 table service credit for dinner (will soon become signature dining!!!)

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Akershus restaurant is 1 table service credit.

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Boma–Flavors of Africa breakfast buffet is 1 table service credit.

Click here to read about our favorite buffet at Disney!

Click here to read about our favorite character meal at Disney!

Click here to read all about the FABULOUS Be Our Guest restaurant in Magic Kingdom!

Click here if you love animals!

 


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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 2018 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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  •  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 into the Disney website when it comes time to pay for my vacation.  These gift cards can also be used for dining, souvenirs, resorts and tickets at Walt Disney World!

 

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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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2017 Disney Dining Plan–Everything You Need To Know

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To Dining Plan Or Not To Dining Plan…that is the question.

It is the most common inquiry I receive and honestly, one of the more challenging to answer.

Whether the dining plan will save you money completely depends on your family, the ages of your children, where you plan to eat and what you eat. Everyone eats differently, especially on vacation and every family is different.

So many factors.  So many options.  So many questions.  So many different answers.

I will try to simplify. (Ha!  That rhymes!)

If you are just beginning the planning process, click here to see a list of questions to answer BEFORE you plan a Walt Disney World vacation.

Click here to learn how to plan a Disney vacation like a pro.

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The 2017 Disney Meal Plan

The Basics:

  • Guests must purchase a Magic Your Way Package through Disney in order to be eligible to purchase any meal plan.
  • Guests must stay at a Walt Disney Resort.  The dining plan is not available for the Swan and Dolphin Hotels, Shades of Green and the hotels of the Disney Springs Resort area.
  • Typically, a minimum 3 night resort stay is required.
  • Annual pass holders and DVC members can purchase the Disney dining plan.
  • Each person on your resort reservation must be on the dining plan.
  • Each person on your resort reservation must be on the same level of dining plan, too.
  • Plans are set based on the number of nights on your resort reservation.  i.e. If you book 5 nights, you get 5 days worth of the dining plan.  You can not get less days and you can not pay for more.  I will explain in greater detail below.
  • The dining plan expires at midnight on the check out day.
  • Disney defines children as ages 3-9.
  • Children ages 3-9 on the Disney dining plan are expected to order from the children’s menu when one is available.
  • The dining plan is not available for children under the age of 3.  Children under 3 can eat off of an adult’s plate or a meal can be purchased separately.
  • Any guest age 10 or older is a Disney adult.  (I don’t make the rules.)
  • Tax is included.
  • Tips and gratuities are NOT included.
  • 18% gratuity is automatically added to parties of 6 or more guests.
  • The refillable mugs can be filled an unlimited amount of times (during your stay) at Disney resort quick service restaurants only.  Not the theme parks.  Drinks include sodas, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, etc.
  • If you order something that the dining plan does not cover, you will be charged separately for that item.
  • Desserts and appetizers at breakfast are not included.
  • Alcohol is not included.
  • Meals are considered quick service (QS) or table service (TS) or signature dining (SD).
  • Pricing for the dining plan can increase at anytime.
  • The dining plan is always changing.

Have you read my post about changes at Disney?  Click here my friend.

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Restaurant Credit Descriptions:

Snacks are a plethora of all kinds of things and are marked with a purple and white 4 point segmented square on all Disney menus offering snacks.  If you don’t see the symbol, there are no snacks on that menu.  1 snack credit can be used for a frozen ice cream novelty, 1 scoop of popcorn, 1 piece of whole fruit, 20 oz. soda or water, Dole Whip!, soups, chips, puffed rice treats and so much more.

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This is the snack credit symbol

Quick service restaurants are just like they sound, quick.  Ordering is made at a counter or register and the food is casual, quick and easy.  Guests choose their own tables.

 

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Quick service breakfast

 

Table service restaurants are more formal than quick service.  Guests are escorted to their tables and menus are provided for ordering (if not a buffet).  A server will wait on the table.  Most buffets and most character meals are considered table service.

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

 

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Chef Mickey’s buffet is 1 table service credit.

 

Signature dining restaurants are more formal and elegant than table service restaurants.  There is a “resort casual” dress code for signature dining.  Signature dining uses 2 table service dining credits.  Cinderella’s Royal Table is considered signature dining and uses 2 table service credits.

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Cinderella’s Royal Table is considered signature dining and uses 2 table service credits.

Dinner shows are just like they sound, dinner and a show.  Think Disney’s Spirit of Aloha or Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue.  Dinner shows require 2 table service dining credits.

 

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The Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort requires 2 table service credits from the dining plans.

 

The Three Options:

Disney offers 3 different dining plans:  Quick service, Dining, and Deluxe Dining.

Quick Service:

  • $48.19 per night per adult (ages 10+)
  • $20.88 per night per child (ages 3-9)
  • Includes 2 quick service credits per night per person (1 quick service meal is considered 1 entrée and 1 drink)
  • Includes 2 snack credits per night per person
  • Includes 1 refillable mug per person

The Dining Plan:

  • $69.35 per night per adult
  • $24.95 per night per child
  • Includes 1 quick service credit per night per person (1 quick service meal is considered 1 entrée and 1 drink)
  • Includes 1 table service credit per night per person (1 table service meal is considered 1 entrée, 1 dessert (lunch and dinner) and 1 drink or 1 buffet and 1 drink.)
  • Includes 2 snack credits per night per person
  • Includes 1 refillable mug per person
  • 1 table service credit can be used for most character meals. (Cinderella’s Royal Table is considered Signature Dining and is 2 table service credits.)
  • 2 table service credits can be used to dine at Signature Dining Restaurants (meal includes 1 entrée, 1 dessert and 1 drink)
  • 2 table service credits can be used for dinner shows (category 2 or 3 seating)
  • 2 table service credits can be used for private in-room dining (meal includes 1 entrée, 1 dessert and 1 drink)
  • 2 table service credits can be used for pizza delivery (meal includes 1 pizza entrée, 2 desserts and 2 drinks)

Deluxe Dining:

  • $106.68 per night per adult
  • $38.75 per night per adult
  • Includes 3 meals (QS or TS) per night–3 quick service or 3 table service credits per night per person used in any combination. (1 quick service meal is considered 1 entrée and 1 drink).  (1 deluxe dining table service meal is considered 1 appetizer (lunch and dinner), 1 entrée, 1 dessert (lunch and dinner), and 1 drink or a 1 buffet and 1 drink.)
  • Includes 2 snack credits per night per person
  • Includes 1 refillable mug per person
  • 1 table service credit can be used for most character meals. (Cinderella’s Royal Table is considered Signature Dining and is 2 table service credits.)
  • 2 table service credits can be used to dine at Signature Dining Restaurants (meal includes 1 appetizer, 1 entrée, 1 dessert and 1 drink)
  • 2 table service credits can be used for dinner shows (category 2 or 3 seating)
  • 2 table service credits can be used for private in-room dining (meal includes 1 appetizer, 1 entrée, 1 dessert and 1 drink)
  • 2 table service credits can be used for pizza delivery (meal includes 1 pizza entrée, 2 desserts and 2 drinks)

 

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1900 Park Fare breakfast buffet is 1 table service credit.

 

Confused yet?

I am going to create several scenarios to help clarify.

Scenario #1

2 adults and 2 children (ages 4 and 7) book 5 nights at a Disney resort and choose the quick service plan.  Total cost:  $690.70.

The cost for each adult on the quick service plan for 5 nights is $240.95.

For 2 adults, the total is $481.90.

The cost for each child on the quick service plan for 5 nights is $104.40.

For 2 children, the total is $208.80.

Total cost for the quick service meal plan for this family of 4 is $690.70.

Each person is given 2 quick service credits and 2 snack credits for each night of the reservation.  That is 10 quick service credits and 10 snack credits per person for the entire vacation.

There are 2 adults.  So, they have a total of 20 adult quick service credits and 20 snack credits.  There are 2 children.  So, they have a total of 20 quick service (kids meals if offered) credits and 20 snack credits.

In total, this family has 40 quick service meal credits and 40 snack credits.  The math is getting ridiculous, right?  Are you following me?

Adult #1–10 QS credits, 10 snacks

Adult #2–10 QS credits, 10 snacks

Child #1–10 QS credits, 10 snacks

Child #2–10 QS credits, 10 snacks

These credits all expire on midnight of the check-out day.

Between the check-in day and midnight of the check-out day, this family can use these 40 quick service credits and 40 snack credits any way they please and in any combination.  The credits are all lumped into one total.

These credits are not linked to a certain person, either.  If adult #1 only wants to eat snacks the entire vacation, then he/she can eat all 40 snacks and all of those snacks can be Dole Whips…hypothetically, of course.

If this family wants to eat 20 quick service meals in one day, they can.  All of these 40 QS credits and 40 snack credits can be used in any combination on any day of their vacation.

Guest can use these quick service credits for quick service breakfast, lunch or dinner.  When all 40 quick service meals and all 40 snacks run out, any food purchases must be paid out of pocket.  If this family decides to eat at any table service restaurant, the bill would not be covered by their meal plan.

 

Scenario #2

Same family, 2 adults and 2 children (ages 4 and 7) book 5 nights at a Disney resort and choose the Dining Plan.  Total cost: $943.00

The cost for each adult on the dining plan for 5 nights is $346.75.

For 2 adults, the total is $693.50.

The cost for each child on the dining plan for 5 nights is $124.75.

For 2 children, the total is $249.50.

Total cost for the dining plan for this family of 4 is $943.00.

Each person is given 1 quick service credit, 1 table service credit and 2 snack credits for each night of the vacation.  That is 5 quick service credits, 5 table service credits and 10 snacks per person for the entire vacation.

Adult #1–5 QS credits, 5 TS credits, 10 snacks

Adult #2–5 QS credits, 5 TS credits, 10 snacks

Child #1–5 QS credits, 5 TS credit, 10 snacks

Child #2–5 QS credits, 5 TS credits, 10 snacks

The family in total has 20 quick service credits, 20 table service credits and 40 snacks to use in any combination over the duration of their resort stay.  This family could eat at 3 different table service restaurants in one day, if they choose.  Or, they could use 2 table service credits each to eat at a signature dining restaurant, like Cinderella’s Royal Table.  If the family of 4 all dined at Cinderella’s Royal Table, 8 of their 20 table service credits would be used.

If this family of 4 all ate breakfast, lunch and dinner at 3 table service restaurants in one day and then had breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table, their 20 table service credits would be gone.

To get the most benefit, this family should use their snack credits for breakfast items, quick service for lunch and each table service credit for a character meal or buffet.

 

Scenario #3

Same family, 2 adults and 2 children (ages 4 and 7) book 5 nights at a Disney resort and choose Deluxe Dining.  Total cost: $1,454.30.

The cost for each adult on the deluxe dining plan for 5 nights is $533.40.

For 2 adults, the total is $1,066.80.

The cost for each child on the deluxe dining plan for 5 nights is $193.75.

For 2 children, the total is $387.50.

Total cost for the deluxe dining plan for this family of 4 is $1,454.30.

Each person is given 3 meal credits (can be quick service or table service, in any combination) each night of the vacation.  That is 15 meal credits and 10 snacks per person for the entire vacation.

Adult #1–15 meals, 10 snacks

Adult #2–15 meals, 10 snacks

Child #1–15 meals, 10 snacks

Child #2–15 meals, 10 snacks

This family has a total of 60 meals that can be either quick service or table service, plus 40 snacks.  The 60 meals belong to the family as a whole.  Anyone can use the credits in any combination.

If this family of 4 all ate breakfast, lunch and dinner at 3 table service restaurants in one day and then had breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table, they would still have 40 meal credits left to use.  To get the most benefit, this family should eat all meals at table service restaurants and avoid quick service all together.

That’s a lot of math.  Yes, I used a calculator.

The Benefits:

All 3 meal plans are essentially pre-paid dining and are accepted at over 100 locations on Disney property.

It is a nice feeling to have dining costs already covered.

Guests using meal plans can save money if they choose wisely.

The Struggles:

The dining plans require pre-paying and must be paid in full when the final resort reservation payment is due.

Guests must actively keep track of how many dining credits have been used and how many are left. (Credits are printed on each dining receipt).

Children ages 10 and up are considered adults and are charged the adult dining plan fees.

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.

Thoughts And Things To Consider:

The quick service plan is pretty straight forward.  To avoid running out of credits, guests can use 2 snack credits to cover breakfast by getting a muffin for 1 credit and a piece of fruit for 1 credit and filling the refillable mug with coffee.  Or guests can use the 2 daily snacks to cover a light lunch by using the credits for a cup of soup and chips.  Quick service meals should be used for the largest meals of the day to get the most bang for your buck.

Table service, character meals and buffets can cost anywhere from $35 to $59.99 per adult.  The dining plan is $69.35 per day per adult and covers 1 quick service, 1 table service and 2 snacks.

**An adult not on the dining plan eats 1 character meal that costs $59.99, a quick service meal for $17.99 and gets 2 snacks for $12 for a total cost of $89.98

**An adult on the dining plan would pre-pay only $69.35 for the exact same meals and snacks.

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”.

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Honestly, whether the dining plans will save you money completely depends on your family and your eating habits.

If you answer “yes” to these questions, chances are very high that the dining plan will save you money.

  • Do you plan to eat at only table service, buffets and character meals?
  • Do you eat a dessert at every lunch and dinner?
  • Does your entire family drink sodas or tea?
  • Do you want to dine at signature dining restaurants or dinner shows?
  • Do you have children under the age of 10?

How About My Family?

Like I said before, we were dining plan worshippers for many of our Walt Disney World vacations.  But for the last two trips, we chose not to use the dining plan.

Here are my reasons:

Now that my daughters are 11 and 12, all 5 of my family members are considered adults in Disney’s eyes and adults cost more $$$.

I drink tea, but the rest of my family only drinks water.  (Well, my husband and son drink beer, but the dining plans don’t cover alcohol.)

We usually split 1 or 2 desserts at dinner time only and prefer to eat a very light breakfast and lunch.

My daughters have outgrown most character meals.

 

 

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1 quick service credit breakfast at Be Our Guest

 

If you are still uncertain, there are many Disney dining plan calculators available online to help determine if the dining plan will save you money.

Message me if you still have questions!

Happy eating, my friends!

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1 table service credit

 

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1 snack credit

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1 table service credit

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1 snack credit

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Be Our Guest is quick service for breakfast and lunch, but uses 1 table service credit for dinner.

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Akershus restaurant is 1 table service credit.

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Boma–Flavors of Africa breakfast buffet is 1 table service credit.

Click here to read about our favorite buffet at Disney!

Click here to read about our favorite character meal at Disney!

Click here if you love animals!

 


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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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