Thursday, December 31, 2015

Walt Disney World - My Recap!

December 13, 2015 ~ Now that we are back home and have experienced the magic of Walt Disney World from this trip I wanted to take a few moments to talk about some things that have changed since the last time that Brandon and I were here as well as my experience planning a trip like this. You all should know I am slightly OCD... I can't help it! I like to have a game plan and a detailed list of important things while traveling.  I had a 2" 3-ring binder full of confirmations, trip details and the latest itinerary! (Yes I do this kind of planning for even quick trips but anyone that has traveled with us will totally understand why I am like this... no more hotel room issues, missing plane tickets, etc.)

 Walt Disney World Then and Now....
Brandon and I have been to Walt Disney World 5 times over the years. The first time was in 1995 which marked my very first Walt Disney World experience and vacation that included flying on a plane. The last time we visited was in December 2008. I will say that each time we visited it was just as magical as the very first time. I can't say that it hasn't been an awesome experience each time and although each time we have gone back it just gets better! It's truly amazing how Walt Disney had a vision and through the years I can only imagine him looking down from up above smiling knowing it's exactly how he would have wanted it to be. Each of the 4 parks are uniquely themed and something you should experience when you visit. So then what has really changed?

When planning this trip and learning about all of these "new" things that was now available was a little (OK a lot) overwhelming. There were so many things and I felt completely alone on this journey of trip planning. However, every time I had a question you could always get a "real" person to talk to and they were very knowledgeable and friendly. They made it seem like it was no big deal but coming from someone who was the family trip planner it made me very nervous. I kept seeing dollar signs every time we talked as I would find out about a new service or option for our package. Now that we have went on our vacation it all is a little clearer now and I understand a lot more. The idea is that when you go on vacation everything is paid for in advance (with certain packages) and the only things you need to pay for while there are tips for meals (if you have a meal plan) and any shopping! Hopefully if you are planning a trip to Walt Disney World these tips and bits of information will help you!

1. My Disney Experience
There were 5 things that were a wonderful addition for this trip with the first being the Walt Disney World "My Disney Experience" website and app. When you begin booking your Walt Disney World trip you have the ability to link your reservations together on one site that is available on a computer and your smartphone making it easier to keep track of confirmation numbers, reservations and FastPass selections. I'm not going to lie... I wasn't so sure how all this would work as I am one that likes to have documentation in my hands in the form of paper and not necessarily on my phone but it worked like a charm! When you sign up on the site you will get e-mails letting you know that it's time to secure your dining reservations (if you choose this plan), FastPass selections and when to order your MagicBands. They are really good about keeping you in tune with everything you need to know. Plus you could check into your resort room before you even arrived including asking for an early check in if it was available.

2. Magic Bands
This has to be one of the coolest additions! Many of us already wear a watch or a Fitbit and these bands are very similar except you can't see how many steps you have or what the time is. These awesome pieces of technology hold the key to pretty much everything at Walt Disney World! This is how you get into your Disney resort, enter the theme parks, pay for your meals and shopping. I love this idea because each person traveling in your party has their own MagicBand and you can put limits on what they can purchase as well as choose what rides everyone wants to use for the FastPass selections. While I still carried my backpack (because I wanted a jacket and a place to put my camera when I wasn't taking photos) you could totally experience Walt Disney World without taking a purse or wallet as this MagicBand had everything you needed. (Everyone will have a 4-digit pin code they will have to use when purchasing something) 

This is a very cool idea and we didn't have any problems using them. For added security, when you entered the theme parks you would use your MagicBand then use your finger (for the fingerprint) to verify who you were. (If you tried to give your band to someone else they would not be able to enter because your fingerprint is registered upon entering the first park you visit during your stay)

3. PhotoPass / MemoryMaker
This was a brilliant idea for Walt Disney World! You purchase this option through the My Disney Experience page for $149.99 as an advanced purchase and during your trip anytime that you see the Walt Disney World Photographers throughout the parks you get your photos taken, they scan them to your MagicBand and within no time you can view them on your smart phone. These photos are yours to keep and you have 30 days to download them on your regular computer. Since I am the photographer I rarely get in the photos. When you ask a stranger to take your photos they often times don't turn out very good because they just don't have a photographic eye, can't figure out how to make your camera work or simply don't really care. Each of the Walt Disney World photographers are there for you and will do what they can to capture your special moments while visiting this magical place. They are trained on lighting, backgrounds and know how to work their cameras! Many of our "favorite photos" are ones they took! The best part... there is no limit on how many photos you can take so go crazy folks! This is something you certainly want to take advantage of to remember your trip! 

4. Fast Pass+
When I learned that you can choose up to 3 FastPass selections before you even get to Walt Disney World I was super excited! When we have gone in the past you would go to the ride/attraction and request a FastPass. It would print out as a little ticket stub and it was your responsibility to not loose it before your time to ride. I gotta say this new way of planning is awesome! The hard part of this is choosing what 3 rides you want to choose prior to coming to Walt Disney World! They do have kiosk's throughout the parks to edit/change/delete your selections including adding a 4th FastPass once you use the first three for each park. (Don't worry... someone is always close by to help you if you have any questions!) 

5. Dining Plan 
This is one thing that I really had trouble with. While planing our trip we choose to add the Disney Plus Dining Package which would allow each person in our group to have 3 full meals each day and 2 snacks per day. There are many options available and be sure to ask questions when talking to a Disney Customer Service person to figure out what plan is best for you. I personally wanted to know that food was something we didn't have to worry about or adding additional expenses for anyone.

They kept telling me to set my reservations for breakfast, lunch and dinner which overwhelmed me. I mean how in the world did I know I would be hungry for pizza on Wednesday at 1:30 PM?? After asking many questions I found out that the idea with dining packages, if you choose this option, is to not worry about the small stuff but rather set reservations for unique dining experiences and/or character dinning so that you don't miss out on something really cool while visiting Walt Disney World. Choose one really neat dining experience each day (So in order to do this you kind of needed to know what park you would visit each day. This wasn't hard but something to think about when you visit Walt Disney World) and just use quick service for the other meals. Once I understood that it certainly made more sense. (Don't worry if you don't choose a dining option as I am sure you can still set reservations and just pay for your meal at the time of service)

6. Walt Disney World Magic Express
When planning this trip I knew that we didn't want to rent a car/truck/SUV for this trip. When staying on Disney property they have transportation that you need to navigate the theme parks and downtown Disney. Having this service available was awesome! When you stay at a Walt Disney World Resort you can take advantage of the Walt Disney World Magic Express free of charge! That's right... You will make reservations to be picked up from the Orlando International Airport and taken to your resort! The best part... you never touch your luggage... they will grab your luggage and take it to your resort room for you! It's nice not having to wait in the baggage claim area for your luggage, lug it around and get to your resort already worn out. They do all the work for you! When you are leaving to go home you take your luggage to the designated check out area and they help you get luggage tags on everything then you board the Walt Disney World Magic Express and they deliver your luggage to the airport so you don't have to worry about it! This worked really slick and our luggage was waiting for us as we arrived back to the airport at home! (Just ask about this service to see if it's something you can take advantage of on your trip!)

7. Pin Trading
Something about our trip in 2008 that I remembered and loved was the Walt Disney World Pin Trading! I also remember how expensive these pins were even for a starter set. I wanted our group to be able to participate in this fun thing but didn't want to break the bank so I ordered pins online. What I will tell you before you start ordering a bunch of pins is to beware. In order to trade pins at any Disney property they must be Walt Disney pins. There are lots of fakes out there and look for the following to help you determine you have the right pins.

1. The front will be a Disney character/location/ride/attraction
2. On the back they will have Walt Disney stamps (in the metal) to show they are authentic
3. On the back they will also have wording such as "Hidden Mickey", "Limited Edition", "1 of 6"
4. Walt Disney authentic pins won't be magnetic! (Check your pins)

This is a lot of fun and the hunt to collect cool pins, start a collection of a certain character or to build a set is a lot of fun. How do you participate? You simply ask any cast member if you can see their pins. If you see a pin or two that you like you will trade them 1-2 of your pins for the 1-2 pins you want. (Only 2 trades per cast member) You might get lucky and the cast member might have a special pin they will give you!

8. Disney Floral
 This was a service that I didn't know existed! I wanted something that made my sister, brother-in-law and nephews very first trip to Walt Disney World memorable so I decided to work on a "Spry-ize" for them. Each room would have some awesome gifts, snacks and plush characters to welcome them! They have many options and it's not something you need to do but something that is available if you want something unique. I do believe this is only available for Disney resorts but make sure to ask if you are interested in something like this!

9. Parades
One thing I love about Walt Disney World is all of the parades! My goodness they know how to make characters come to life, interact with guests and put you inside the magic! They put on several parades each day at the different theme parks and I would encourage you to take time to watch them! I will say that you need to find out what time the will start and what path they will be going so that you can figure out where you would like to sit/lean/stand. They are truly magical and you won't be disappointed when you take a little time out of your day to see them! Oh and the firework shows are incredible also... take time to see them too! 

Here's a calendar of parades/fireworks to check out:

10. Have Fun!
 You have planned to go to one of the most magical places for vacation and you need to have fun! When you enter the theme parks (and even the resorts) you can't help but feel like a kid! Walt Disney World has put so much thought, design and creativity into this massive complex that they want you to have something to talk about for years to come. When I look back on our pictures I can't help but smile because I know those smiles in the pictures are 100% genuine!

I hope you enjoyed our trip and I know we are still talking about it today! Walt Disney World can be whatever you want it to be so know that they have something for every budget and every member of your family. Remember to ask lots of questions (both before you leave and when you get there) as the Disney cast members are more than happy to help you! It's a wonderful place to visit and make memories... so enjoy every moment!


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