Archives for January 2013

How to Plan a Disney Trip: Part 5


The Final Details

Now that you have booked your hotel at the resort of your choice, and made a schedule and dining reservations, it is time to put the final touches on your fantastic Disney trip with your family. There are some final details to get taken care of before you head out, so make sure you check these things off the list!


If you haven’t booked your flight, the best time to book is about 3-4 months prior to your dates. It is best to keep watching fares before in case of sudden specials or deals. If a travel agent is booking this for you, they may have a better idea when fares are lowest to book, although it is all speculation. When booking, keep in mind any additional charges like baggage check. Most kids suitcases can fit easily in the overhead, and strollers can be easily gate checked (see stroller section below). If you are traveling to Disney World and using Magical Express, only certain airlines use the resort check-in system for bags. Those airlines are AirTran, Alaska, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, United and US Airways. If the airline you are flying isn’t on this list, you can still use the Magical Express, you will just have to bring you bags to the bus yourself.

TSA has revised it’s guidelines for children going through security at airports. Here are the biggest changes:

  • Children 12 and under can leave their shoes on
  • Children can make multiple passes through the metal detectors or imaging to clear alarms
  • TSA will NOT separate parents and children
  • Babies need to be carried through the metal detector and taken out of an infant carrier
  • All carry-ons will be screened, including kids bags
  • All baby/kid gear must go through the x-ray machine (i.e. stroller, car seat, boosters)
  • Infant and small children can be carried through the metal detector. If a child can walk independently, they can walk through the metal detector on their own.

Here are new guidelines for liquids for children:
Medically necessary liquids and gels, such as formula, baby food, breastmilk and juice, are exempt from the 3-1-1 rule on liquids. They do not have to be in a ziploc bag.

If your kids have never flown, or it has been awhile since they traveled, it is a good idea to talk with them about what is going on at security so they aren’t frightened by it.

Traveling by car

If you are traveling to either park by car, make sure to book any hotels along the way if you will stop overnight. We have used AAA for TripTix which have been very helpful, especially figuring out stops along the way for the kids. We stopped at Target and WalMart stores along the way just to let them walk and stretch their legs. Finding a playground can be difficult on some routes.

For both ways of travel, plan activities and entertainment along the way. Some airlines offer TV during the flight, but it may not be free and it may not be suitable for young kids. Portable DVD players or tablets for movies are a great addition, just be sure to have headphones. In-car TV can be helpful as well. We always pack new coloring sheets and books as well as new crayons/pencils. And I always have a surprise toy. See the packing tips below for more ideas for traveling packs for kids.

Airport Shuttle or Magical Express

Walt Disney World Magical Express buses

Walt Disney World Magical Express buses

If you are traveling to Disneyland through Los Angeles International Airport or John Wayne Airport, and you are staying on property, Disneyland partners with an airport shuttle company from these airports for an additional fee. Small children are not required to sit in a car seat on their busses. As I said in Part 2, the shuttle service is fairly mediocre for Disneyland and has time restrictions depending on when you arrive.

If you are traveling to Disney World through Orlando International Airport, and you are staying on property, the Magical Express will take you to your hotel for no additional fee. It is a very organized and well run system, although it does take awhile to get to your hotel depending on how many other stops it will make before your resort since the buses are shared between groups of Disney properties. To make Magical Express reservations, call (407) 939-6244.

Car Rental

If you are planning to rent a car on your trip, there are lots of options and of course, shop around for discounts. While there are plenty of car rental companies at both airports (Orlando and Orange County), there are also rental locations at both parks. At Disneyland, there is an Alamo in Downtown Disney that has good deals and lots of cars. We rented a car from them on our last trip and it was easy and simple. It is a great option if you are staying near the parks and simply want a car for a day or two to go off property. At Walt Disney World, there are two car rental companies on property: Alamo and National. They have locations at the Magic Kingdom and the Dolphin resort. They also provide shuttles to pick you up at your resort and bring you to them so you can get your car. And rumor has it their prices are better than the rentals at the airport.

PhotoPass CD

Disney PhotoPass and PhotoPass+

Disney PhotoPass and PhotoPass+

There is a discount on the PhotoPass CD if you order it prior to your visit at the parks*. There are two choices: PhotoPass and PhotoPass Plus (now called Memory Maker for Disney World). The regular PhotoPass CD will include all photos taken by PhotoPass photographers throughout your visit. The Plus means you will receive all the photos taken during your trip as well as any photos taken on rides and special dining.

*Order must be made 14 days before your trip to receive the pre-order discount.

At Walt Disney World, the pre-ordered regular Memory Maker is $149. At Disneyland, only the PhotoPass Plus is available but it is a deal at $69.99.

Visit Disney World Magic Maker or Disneyland PhotoPass for more details and to preorder your CD.


Double and Single strollers at Disney World

Double and Single strollers at Disney World

Families with young kids rely on a stroller to get through the parks, especially at Walt Disney World, due to the huge amount of walking. Both Disneyland and Walt Disney World offer stroller rentals but frankly, we don’t recommend their strollers. Disneyland does not offer double strollers so you have to rent two if you have more than one kiddo. If you have three kids, you’re out of luck. Both parks have different styles and designs of strollers. The Disneyland strollers are very worn and look cumbersome. The Disney World strollers are hard plastic that gets hot in the sun and look very uncomfortable. They are also very wobbly. In addition, you can not take your stroller with you when you leave the parks. This means that when your little one is exhausted at the end of a magical day, you must turn in the stroller at the park entrance and carry them back to your room.

We recommend either renting a stroller from an off-site company, or bringing your own. If you choose to rent a stroller from an outside company once you are there, it is fairly easy to find one nearby that will bring the stroller to your hotel and pick it up when you are leaving. At Disneyland, one company we have heard good things about is City Stroller Rentals. In Orlando, there are actually many companies that rent strollers. Most of these companies rent higher-end models of strollers and are priced very well.

If you are bringing your own stroller, here are a few tips.

  • Have a sturdy and durable bag to put your stroller in when you gate check it because it will get thrown around under the plane.
  • Have luggage tags for it just in case
  • To gate check, simply stop by the check-in counter at the gate and let them know you have a stroller for gate check. They will give you special gate check tags. Then when you start to board, you simply leave it in the designated location (usually right outside the airplane door) and it will be set there when you arrive.
  • Remember to have a bright tag with your name on it for the parks, just in case others have your same stroller. This will make it easier to distinguish which one is yours and keep others from accidentally walking away with your stroller instead of theirs.

Packing Tips

We always pack special travel backpacks for our kids so they have plenty of entertainment and snacks on the plane. I always make the contents of the bags a surprise until the trip, which makes it more exciting. Here are some ideas of what to pack:

  • Crayons or colored pencils
  • Zipper pouch for crayons or colored pencils (so they don’t fall all over the floor)
  • Coloring books
  • Coloring sheets (I like to print Disney ones from their website)
  • Travel games (Uno, cards, Tangoes, Tangoes Jr.)
  • DVD player and DVDs
  • Snacks
  • Gum or lollipops (for ears during takeoff and landing)
  • Small toy that doesn’t have small pieces
  • Disposable camera or toy camera
  • Journal and pencil (for older kids)
  • Magazines
  • Books
  • Headphones & music player

For the parks, we have a few suggestions for special things to pack for your trip:

  • Rain jacket or poncho (depending on when you travel)
  • Travel blankets for sitting on during parades and putting on sleeping kids in strollers late at night
  • Soft-sided cooler for bringing snacks into the parks
  • Purell
  • Wet wipes and sanitizing wipes
  • Quick-change bag (if changing diapers) that includes diapers, wipes, changing pad and diaper cream
  • Bag for park
  • Mommy Hook (to hook things onto the stroller) or a carabineer
  • Walkie Talkies (in case Mom & Dad split up for a time)
  • Misting Fans
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen for adults and kids

Medical Emergency Bag

One thing we always bring on each vacation is an emergency medical bag with everything we might need in case something happens. We have had sick kids and adults, so it has come in handy. Here are some of the things we pack in our medical bag:

  • Band-Aids
  • Neosporin spray
  • Children’s Motrin
  • Children’s Benadryl
  • Motrin
  • Tylenol
  • Peptobismo tablets
  • Children’s peptobismo
  • Thermometer
  • Blister Band-Aids
  • Mini scissors
  • Adult cold medicine
  • Kaopectate
  • Disinfecting wipes

Its also important to have the phone number and information for the nearest emergency clinic, just in case you have a sick child. Disney does have medical staff at each park in case something happens, and they are always ready to help. We know that some of the resorts have on-site nurses available if you have questions or need minor assistance.

Final Details

Before you leave, fill in the final details for each day of your trip. It is important to have a general plan for when you will get fastpasses, which days you will take advantage of Extra Magic Hours and have a list of your must-do rides in each land. This is also a good time to have a general idea of what characters you really want to see and get a picture with. This is a great question for your kids, and if they aren’t sure who will be there, you can look on both the Disneyland or Walt Disney World website and it will list character meet and greets. It is a good idea to narrow down your kid’s top picks for characters. Also, compare this list to any character meals that you have planned to avoid waiting in line to see a character that you will see later at dinner.

The last thing to add to the plan is rest time. Young kids need a rest and will eventually meltdown if they aren’t given some downtime. If you are staying on property near the parks, it is easy to jump back to your hotel and either have nap time or quiet time for the kids. If you aren’t staying close, you may want to plan some quiet time at a play area, or plan a complete afternoon off while you all go swimming. It is better to plan extra time for rest so your kids aren’t fried, rather than try to squeeze everything in and they end up crying and sad.

Relaxing by the pool while the kids swim

Relaxing by the pool while the kids swim

The last thing to do is…go and have fun! Enjoy the special moments and experiences with your kids, take lots of pictures, laugh a lot, and just have a great time. Your planning and preparation will pay off, and you can enjoy the fruits of your labor!

I hope you have enjoyed this series on How to Plan a Disney Trip. For more tips and advice, visit the main preschoolears website. If you missed some of the earlier posts, here is a link to each:

Part 1: Disneyland vs. Disney World
Part 2: When, Where & How
Part 3: Making a Schedule
Part 4: Dining & Special Experiences

If you enjoyed this series and found it helpful, please leave me a comment and let me know how your trip was!


Another series you might enjoy is our Disney Travel Planning for Families that includes tips and tricks for getting organized before you head out the door! Click on the icon below to see some of our fun planning posts!

preschoolearsL TravelPlanningSeries

Walt Disney World Half Marathon

I’m so excited to share with you my photos and experiences at the Walt Disney World Marathon weekend, where my husband and I ran the half marathon on January 12th. It was truly an amazing experience and achievement! Disney did an amazing job with the entire event and really took good care of all the athletes. We understand now why there were 65,000 registrants for the weekend races. The weather did get unseasonable warm but it wasn’t unpleasant for the run or the rest of the weekend.

When we arrived at our hotel (we were staying at the Port Orleans, French Quarter), we took an event bus straight to the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex to pick up our race packet, bibs, t-shirt and get our official RunDisney merchandise.

ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex

ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex

runDisney race check-in and expo

runDisney race check-in and expo

There were great vendors and the runDisney merchandise was running out quickly. It was somewhat overwhelming to see the scope of the event as well as how many people were actually there for the race. One of the things each athlete receives is a race shirt, and each race is a different color. Each race also has a different character that is the host. For the half marathon, Donald is the host and yellow was the official color. Here is a picture of the shirt we were given – unfortunately it was long sleeved and much too warm to wear for the race.

WDW 1/2 Marathon Shirt

WDW 1/2 Marathon Shirt

The race start time was on Saturday at 5:30 am, but event buses only ran from 3:00-4:00 am. We left our hotel at 3:15 am and headed to the holding area. It was pretty dark out!

We are just arriving at the holding area, where the race will end in a few hours.

We are just arriving at the holding area, where the race will end in a few hours.

This is a picture of the crowds for the race.


At about 4:45 am, they let everyone begin a 20-25 minute walk to the corrals for the race. Each corral started about 15 minutes apart, and Donald did the countdown for each corral, along with fireworks. It was so exciting!

Donald, Mickey and Goofy at the start line.

Donald, Mickey and Goofy at the start line.

It was dark for quite awhile on the run. We started heading toward Magic Kingdom and along the way there were DJ’s playing music and high school bands playing and cheering. We were so excited when we reached the Magic Kingdom, which was close to 4 miles. Along the way, we passed a few fun characters including Jack Skellington and Sally, Chip & Dale, and Jack Sparrow.

Running through the driving entrance of the Magic Kingdom.

Running through the driving entrance of the Magic Kingdom.

Running past Space Mountain

Running past Space Mountain

One of the biggest surprises was running down Main Street with all the lights on and the staff were all lined up cheering us on. The castle was lit up with the Christmas lights, and it was fantastic! That was probably my favorite part of the race.

Running through Main Street

Running through Main Street

Taking a picture with the beautiful castle

Taking a picture with the beautiful castle

There were lots of characters and surprises within Magic Kingdom which we ran all throughout. We saw Buzz in tomorroland and a few princesses and princes were out for pictures.


As we ran through the castle, they had trumpeters playing music for us.

Running through Cinderella's castle

Running through Cinderella’s castle

Each mile they had a sign as well as a running clock on the race time. We took a few fun pictures to mark where we were in the race.

Finally made it to Mile 6!

Finally made it to Mile 6!

Running through Frontierland, heading toward Splash Mountain

Running through Frontierland, heading toward Splash Mountain

Probably the hardest part of the race was navigating the crowds. There were about 25,000 people running the half, so some spots got a big crowded.

Just a picture of the crowds

Just a picture of the crowds

But they had great picture opportunities along the way! We couldn’t stop for them all, but this one was lots of fun.

Pictures with Mary, Burt and a penguin!

Pictures with Mary, Burt and a penguin!

Disney also had plenty of water and Powerade along the way for everyone, along with a medical station and a food station (which just had energy gels). It was very organized and well executed. And there were always fun surprises as we run.

Reached Mile 11! Almost there!

Reached Mile 11! Almost there!

The race ended in Epcot as we passed Spaceship Earth and circled around the International Gateway, and then headed back past Spaceship Earth. There were tons of people cheering and clapping and holding signs – it was amazing!

Running through Epcot

Running through Epcot

Finally reaching the finish's just ahead!

Finally reaching the finish line…it’s just ahead!

And then of course, the amazing finish with my hubby! Just finishing was triumphant!

Finishing the WDW Half Marathon!

Finishing the WDW Half Marathon!

And then we got our race bling!

The WDW 1/2 Marathon Medal

The WDW 1/2 Marathon Medal

It was so much fun and even though we were exhausted as we crossed the finish line, we wanted to do it all again! The whole weekend was fun and a great experience. We talked with so many different people there for the race, and even got to meet one of the Perfect 20’s – a group of about 90 people who have run all 20 marathons from the first one. This year was the 20th anniversary of the marathon. The Perfect 20 were awarded rings and pins and jackets…very special!

My husband and I are so glad we pushed ourselves to try this and experience something amazing. I hope you have enjoyed the pictures. Sorry some were blurry, but we were running! Maybe this will inspire you to give a runDisney race a try! We loved it!

If your interested in training for something like this, Jeff Galloway, the spokesperson for runDisney and marathon runner, has free training plans on the runDisney website. We used it to help us get ready for this run.

How to Plan a Disney Trip: Part 4


Dining & Special Events

Our last part of this series was about putting together a schedule and I know that wasn’t very exciting. But now that we are to part 4, it is time to talk about dining and special events at both resorts, and how to make choices and reservations. Disneyland and Disney World operate differently on dining, as well as many other things, so I will separate information by parks.


For dining, there are three different kinds of dining for Disney: Table-Serve, Quick-Serve and Character Dining. Table-serve restaurants are sit-down restaurants that accept advanced reservations. They are usually more expensive than quick serves. Quick-serve restaurants are where you order at a counter and either wait for your food at the window or it is brought to your table, but you do not have a waiter/waitress. These locations also include the food courts at some hotel locations (Disney World only). Character Dining are special meals that include meet & greets with specific characters, either for a special photo op or at your table. These are also more expensive and accept advanced reservations.

Character Dining


Goofy’s Kitchen at Disneyland Hotel

At Disneyland, there are five character dining experiences:

  • Ariel’s Grotto at California Adventure that includes a Princess celebration
  • Disney’s PCH Grill breakfast at the Pacific Pier hotel with Mickey and friends
  • Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel with Goofy and various characters
  • Plaza Inn for breakfast at Disneyland with Minnie & Friends
  • Storyteller’s Cafe breakfast at the Grand Californian with Chip and Dale

These dining experiences accept advance reservations which we highly recommend, otherwise you will be waiting for quite awhile for a table. The most popular are Ariel’s Grotto and Goofy’s Kitchen. But if you make reservations well in advance, you should be able to get the day and time you are seeking.

Table Serve Restaurants


Carnation Cafe on Main Street at Disneyland

Disneyland has limited options for table serves besides character dining, and some locations are not suited toward young children. The Preschoolears website has reviews and information on dining. You can also view some menus on the Disneyland website as well as Here are the choices for table-serves:

  • Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue
  • Blue Bayou
  • Cafe Orleans
  • Carnation Cafe
  • Carthay Circle
  • Wine Country Trattoria
  • Resort Dining:
    • Napa Rose
    • Steakhouse 55

There are additional table serve restaurants at Downtown Disney but most cater to the adult crowd more than kids, except Rainforest Cafe. Most require reservations but you have to make those reservations with the restaurant directly and not through Disney. When you call the Disneyland Dining reservations number, they can provide you with the direct number for any of these restaurants for which you are trying to make reservations.

Carthay Circle Restaurant at California Adventure

Carthay Circle Restaurant at California Adventure

Quick-Serve Restaurants

There are many choices for quick-serve restaurants at both parks and most have fare that kids will enjoy. To look at reviews and information for each, visit the Preschoolears website. It is best to pick out some of your favorites before you arrive so you don’t waste time at the parks trying to figure out where to eat.

Disneyland Dining Plan and Ways to Save

Disneyland does offer a dining plan, but when compared with simply using cash, it doesn’t save you more than a couple dollars. And it only gives you vouchers for meals instead of using cash. The Disneyland Dining Plan is not something that we recommend. A better way to save money at the parks with dining is to bring your own snacks and water. Disney will allow you to bring your own cooler (soft-sided) so you can save quite a bit bringing munchies for the kids, which will also keep hunger meltdowns at bay. If you have an Annual Passport or are a DVC member, you can receive a discount on dining throughout the resort, just be sure to ask at each location what discounts they accept.

Special Events and Dining at Disneyland

Halloween Party at Disneyland

Halloween Party at Disneyland

In addition to the character and table serves, there are special events and dining experiences that will require advanced reservations. Keep in mind that some experiences will take quite a bit of time so factor that into your schedule (i.e. Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique can take over an hour)

  • Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
  • Pirates League
  • Studio 365 (Downtown Disney)
  • Fantasmic Dessert package
  • World of Color Dining Package (lunch or dinner)
  • World of Color Picnic Package (lunch or dinner)
  • Halloween & Holiday Party Tickets
  • Limited Time Magic events (for 2013 only)
  • Tours
Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at Disneyland

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at Disneyland

How to Make Reservations

If you now know what you would like to do and where you want to eat, it is time to make reservations. Reservations at Disneyland can be made 60 days in advance. Disneyland only makes reservations by phone and the number is (714) 781-3463. The phone number for making reservations for special events and experiences is (714) 781-7895. One draw back with Disneyland is there are no benefits for those planning to stay on property when making reservations. When making reservations, try to be flexible with time as you may have to go earlier or later than you had planned. Make sure you have your room reservation number if you are staying on property so they can link your reservations to your room. And write down all confirmation numbers and bring them with you. When making reservations, confirm what the time cut-off is for arrival, in case you are running late. There is a grace period for most restaurants but not all. Ariel’s Grotto in particular does meals by seating times, so a late arrival there may mean that you won’t be seated.

Disneyland Dining Tips

  1. Priority Seating – reservations at Disneyland are different than in the rest of the world. It is really only “priority seating” which means you will be waiting a bit even if you arrive at the right time.
  2. Menus Online – as mentioned before, it is a good idea to look at kid’s menus online before your vacation so you make sure there will be something for your kiddos to eat, especially if you have a picky eater.
  3. Dining early, which most kids enjoy anyway, will help avoid heavy crowds at meals and will also help avoid kid’s hunger meltdowns
  4. Germs – remember to have hand-wipes and Purell to clean up before you eat. And if it is a buffet, wipe those hands after you touched ten different serving spoons!
  5. Table Entertainment – For table serves, bring some entertainment for the kids at the table, especially for toddlers and preschoolers. Some sit-down meals can go slow and this may buy you a few extra minutes of sit-down time.

Disney World

Disney World offers many choices of dining, at both parks and resorts. Again, the same terms apply for types of dining: table-serve, quick-serve and character dining. Disney World also has dinner shows. One of the biggest differences between Disneyland and Disney World is the dining plans.

Dining Plans


Disney Dining Plan symbol for snack credits

There are 5 dining plans, and the Premium and Platinum plans include additional experiences and perks than the three basic dining plans. Dining plans are based on nights of stay, i.e. if you are staying 8 nights, you will have 8 days of meal credits. Unused snack and meal credits can be used anytime during your stay, so if by your last day, you have 5 snack credits to use, you can use them anywhere, even for treats to bring home. Children under the age of 3 cannot be added to the Dining Plans because they consider them to eat for “free”. It is free when you visit a buffet, but in all other cases, they will either have to eat off your plate or you will have to order them a meal and pay for it out of pocket. There are some great Power Packs that include yogurt, crackers and string cheese and I like those for toddlers. Not all quick-serve locations offer them. Also, most reservations require either a credit card at time of reservation or confirmation of a dining plan. Some also require a credit card in case of no-shows – they will charge a $10 fee per person if you don’t show up. Any restaurant that is a signature restaurant will require two table serve credits on the three basic plans.

Character Dining

1900 Park Fare breakfast at Grand Floridian at WDW

1900 Park Fare breakfast at Grand Floridian at WDW

There are ten character dining choices at Disney World, in both parks and resorts. Keep in mind that these dining experiences can take longer than other meals, so factor that into your schedule.

  • 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian hotel – hosted by Mary Poppins and friends (B)
  • Akershus Royal Banquet in the Norway pavilion at Epcot – hosted by Princess Aurora and other princesses (B,L,D)
  • Cape May Cafe at the Beach Club Resort – hosted by Mickey & friends (B)
  • Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort – hosted by Mickey & friends (B,L,D)
  • Cinderella’s Royal Table at Magic Kingdom – hosted by Cinderella and other princesses (B,L,D)
  • Crystal Palace at Magic Kingdom – hosted by Winnie the Pooh & friends (B,L,D)
  • Garden Grill at Future World in Epcot – hosted by Chip & Dale (D) **Dining Plan not accepted
  • Garden Grove at the Swan Resort – hosted by Goofy (B,D)
  • Hollywood & Vine at Hollywood Studios – hosted by Disney Junior characters (B,L)
  • ‘Ohana’s at the Polynesian resort – hosted by Lilo and Stitch (B)
  • Tusker House at Animal Kingdom – hosted by Donald and Friends (B,L)
Crystal Palace at Magic Kingdom

Crystal Palace at Magic Kingdom

All character dining experiences are geared for families which makes a more relaxed atmosphere. Cinderella’s Royal Table is a signature dining experience so it requires two dining credits on the dining plan.

Table-Serve and Quick-Serve Restaurants

There is a huge selection of table and quick-serve restaurants at Disney World. And you will find many choices at the parks, resorts and Downtown Disney. There is also dining at the two water parks. On we have reviewed most of the dining locations and give descriptions and tips for them. You can also visit the Disney World website for menus and descriptions. Table-serve restaurants accept advanced reservations and we highly recommend making those at the 180 day window. With the popularity of the dining plans, most guests at the parks are eating at table-serves, so reservations can be hard to come by if you wait. For quick-serve restaurants, we recommend making choices before you arrive so you have a plan and don’t waste time choosing where to eat.

Resort Dining vs Park Dining

With over 20 hotels and resorts at Disney World, there are a lot of unique and amazing dining options outside the parks. Not all options are “kid-friendly” though so looking at menus online is helpful. Also, not all dining outside the parks is included on the dining plan. When making these reservations, keep travel time in mind. Buses do not travel from resort to resort, so if you want to have a character breakfast at a different hotel than the one you are staying at, you will need to take at least two busses to get there or travel by monorail. This traveling can take a lot of time. But don’t rule out dining at resorts because some of the best dining experiences are outside the parks!

Special Events and Dining

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party

Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party

There are some fantastic special events and dining at the world, but they all require reservations. Here is a list of all the many adventures to choose from:


  • Candlelight Processional Lunch or Dinner Package (seasonal)
  • Fantasmic! Dinner Package at Hollywood & Vine or Hollywood Brown Derby
  • Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue at Fort Wilderness
  • Mickey’s Backyard BBQ at Fort Wilderness
  • Perfectly Princess Tea Party at the Grand Floridian
  • Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian Resort
  • Tomorrowland Terrace Fireworks Dessert Party at Magic Kingdom
Harmony Barber Shop on Main Street at Magic Kingdom

Harmony Barber Shop on Main Street at Magic Kingdom


  • Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at Downtown Disney or Magic Kingdom
  • Characters in Flight at Downtown Disney (Hot Air Balloon)
  • Chip & Dale’s Campfire Sing-a-Long
  • Harmony Barber Shop on Main Street at Magic Kingdom
  • La Nouba (Cirque du Soleil) at Downtown Disney
  • Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (seasonal)
  • Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (seasonal)
  • Pirate Adventure Cruise at Grand Floridian, Caribbean Beach Resort, or Yacht & Beach Club
  • Pirate & Pals Fireworks Voyage at the Contemporary Resort
  • Pirates League in Magic Kingdom
  • Tours (there are many, many tours and some have age restrictions)

For reservations for tours, call (407) 939-8687. You can also visit the Disney World website for more details on each event or dining experience. For reservations for special events and experiences, call (407) 939-7529. You can also visit any guest relations for making reservations once you are at the parks.

Making Reservations

Disney World’s reservation system can be accessed by phone or online. To access the reservation system online, visit the Walt Disney World website. The phone number for reservations is (407) 939-3463. Keep in mind the time change if you live far away from Florida. Also, have your room confirmation number so all reservations can be linked to your room. Remember that guests staying at WDW resorts are allowed to make reservations 180 days out from arrival plus the following 10 days. So if you are going for a week long trip, then at 180 days out from your arrival, you can book all of your dining for the trip on that one day. This is an advantage to those staying on site and is one of the differences between Disney World and Disneyland dining reservations. Also, be sure to write down all confirmation numbers and bring them on your vacation. The two most popular reservations right now are Be Our Guest and Cinderella’s Royal Table, so if your planing to dine at either of these, they should be booked first thing in the morning at your 180 day window.


If you are staying at a resort on property, you will probably be issued a MagicBand. This new technology is slowly rolling out at Disney World throughout 2014. The MagicBands are electronic bracelets for each member of your family, that have your park passes, hotel key, dining plan and reservations programmed onto them so all you have to do at kiosks throughout the parks is swipe your band. To add your dining reservations to your MagicBands, you need to log into My Disney Experience online. This website and app allow you to organize and enter all your reservations and needed information for your trip.

Ways to Save

The dining plans can save you money, if you opt for using them. Dining plans do not include gratuity, so keep that in mind as well. An 18% gratuity is automatically added to any party of 6 or more. They will also make traveling easier as you won’t be dealing with credit cards and cash as much. Another option for saving money is purchasing the Tables in Wonderland card which will give you discounts at over 100 restaurants at the resort. This card is only available for Annual Passholders, DVC members or Florida residents though. But if you are a frequent visitor, this could save you money on dining. As always, bringing your own water bottles and snacks will help save money. If you are staying at a hotel with a kitchen or kitchenette, or in a DVC villa, this will allow you to have some breakfasts or lunches in your room and save on dining.

Dining Tips

Preschoolears has a lot of tips and advice on traveling with young kiddos to the parks, but here are a few tips to help:

  1. Be early – make reservations when your 180 day window opens, to make sure you are able to get what you want. Reservations disappear quickly.
  2. Waiting – “reservation” actually means “priority seating” so expect a little wait even if you arrive on time
  3. Menus – check out kids menus before you arrive at the parks so you know what restaurant will offer things your kids will eat.
  4. Add extra time – all dining experiences take lots of time, especially character dining. So keep this in mind when making your schedule and don’t expect it to go quickly
  5. Snacks – If you are planning to bring snacks into the park, pack some ziplock or reusable snack bags in your suitcase so you have a way of bring some crackers without bringing the whole box. Also, bring a small soft-sided cooler to pack your snacks in, which Disney allows you to bring inside the parks. No glass bottles allowed except for baby food.

Grocery Delivery at Both Parks

Our family always has groceries delivered when we are at Disney, which allows us to have snacks and fresh fruit on hand at all times. At Disneyland, the closest delivery grocery store in Vons. It helps to have a Vons card to get discounts, and they periodically run free delivery deals. You can place your order very easily on their website. For Disney World, the two grocery delivery companies are Garden Grocer and WeGoShop. Garden Grocers has a website you can place your order through, and WeGo is actually a delivery service that you give them your list and they go shopping for you.

All delivery places will have a minimum order amount required for delivery and also charge a delivery fee. We recently used Garden Grocers and they also charged us a fuel fee. All will deliver to whatever resort you are staying at and will give you a delivery window they will arrive. If groceries arrive when you are not there, Disney will keep your groceries in a refrigerator until the bell hop can deliver them to your room. The only time Disney will NOT accept groceries for you is if there is alcohol in the order – you will need to be present and meet the delivery staff for these orders.

Before you place your order, confirm what you will have in your room (i.e. fridge). DVC villas have either a kitchenette or a full kitchen. The kitchenette has a fridge, microwave, toaster and coffee maker. Full kitchens have the same plus a stove. All are stocked with dishes and silverware. A lot of the resorts now also provide a mini refrigerator in the rooms at no cost, which can be a plus for those ordering milk or other items that need to remain cold.

I hope this post has answered a lot of questions for dining reservations and special events, or at least can point you in the right direction. Once you have made the fun choices of where to eat or what to do, put those reservations into your organized plan. The schedule is important so you can see where you will be on a certain day, and plan your dining around that. The less running around will save you time and also keep your kids from getting worn out. Also keep in mind that young kids don’t eat as much as adults, so you may want to do less table-serves.

Our last post in this series will be all about final arrangements, packing and having fun! If you missed the other parts in this series, here is a link to each:

Part 1: Disneyland or Disney World
Part 2: When, Where and How
Part 3: Making a Schedule
Park 5: The Final Details

Another series you might enjoy is our Disney Travel Planning for Families that includes tips and tricks for getting organized before you head out the door! Click on the icon below to see some of our fun planning posts!

preschoolearsL TravelPlanningSeries

How to Plan a Disney Trip: Part 3


Making a Schedule

This is Part 3 of our series: How to Plan a Disney Trip. We started with a comparison of Disneyland or Disney World, and part two was all about the When, Where and How. Now, we are on to making a schedule for your trip. Now you might be thinking, “A schedule? But this is my vacation!” and I understand how the word ‘schedule’ can sound regimented. So if that word makes you uncomfortable, lets just call it an organized plan. And keep in mind that the Disney parks run things on an organized plan as well, so it is best to follow suit! Most families spend quite a bit of money on their Disney vacations, so we believe that time is money. You don’t want to waste any time on your Disney trip!

First and most importantly, when should you make your schedule or plan? For a Disneyland trip, you can make dining reservations up to 60 days in advance of your first day, so you would need your plan in place over 2 months ahead. The hard part is that Disneyland does not have their online calendar released until about 6 weeks in advance. So you may have to speculate and guess for making reservations at 60 days. For a Disney World trip, you can make dining reservations up to 180 days in advance of your first day, so you would need your plan in place over 6 months ahead. Luckily, they have online calendars 6 months ahead, so it is easier to plan that far.

We like to lay our plan out in a spreadsheet, only because it allows nice rows and columns along with cells. Use whatever application you are comfortable with, but make sure you have a column for each day you will be at the park. We put times down the left side. We also put in our travel times estimating arrival to the resort. From the Orlando Airport on the Magical Express, allow at least 1 hour from your flight’s arrival to when you will reach your hotel. Your bags will take up to 3 hours to arrive at your hotel room, if they are being delivered through Magical Express. From the John Wayne airport, allow at least 45 minutes from your flight’s arrival to when you will reach your hotel including waiting for baggage claim. Times will also depend on the airport shuttle. This is how our spreadsheet begins:


From here, you need to research on either the Disneyland or Disney World websites what the park hours will be the dates of your visit, including Extra Magic Hours (EMH) if you are staying on property. We usually keep the hours as a key on our schedule so we always have a reference, and we put the EMH above each day. Disneyland has more fluctuations in their times than Disney World. And remember, Disneyland will not have their calendar on their site until about 5-6 weeks ahead of time. Disney World has their available 6 months ahead. So, here we add the EMH for each day – the purple bar above the chart – and we added the parks times at the bottom for reference: (our example is for a trip to Disneyland Resort)


The next important thing to know is when special events, shows, and entertainment will be going on. If you are traveling off-season, some shows may have only one time or even only be on certain days, so this will be important for you to know when determining which park you visit when. At Disneyland, hopping between parks is very easy and quick. At Disney World, this is not the case and travel between parks can take time. Special events I added in purple and below my schedule, I put in the times of certain parades, shows and attractions we wanted to see so I had it as a reference:


Now that you have all these key pieces of information, it is important to figure out which park you will visit on which day. Again, this is most important for Disney World since there are 4 parks and 2 water parks as well as Downtown Disney and DisneyQuest. Another key element to consider are crowds. A website we love for this is They research and compile data about everyday of the year at both parks and give each park a score as far as the crowd levels. They just began doing this for Disneyland and we haven’t found it as accurate yet as their information for Disney World. Their site will allow you to view some of their crowd calendar, but membership to their site will allow you to see the crowd calendar for the whole year. The scores given to each park for a given day will give you an idea of what the crowds will look like. This may be another piece to put on your schedule for reference. At the bottom, I have a color key for different parks and things we are doing, like swimming. So I use this key when I decide which park we are visiting. This is simply a visual reference to make planning easier:


The importance of this organized plan is so you can make dining reservations and special event reservations. Nothing is ever carved in stone, but this general outline will at least get you in the right place at the right time, and save you travel time. Having a schedule, or plan, can make you more relaxed because you won’t be running around trying to figure out what to do next. And you won’t miss out on something really important that you wanted to see or do, because you will put it on your schedule.

Since all my chart examples have been for a trip to the Disneyland resort, I thought I would show you an example of a schedule for a trip at Disney World, since it is a bit more complex. This may be hard to read, but the color coding of each park helps, and we added in rest periods as I was pregnant during this trip. Magic Kingdom is pink, Epcot is orange, Hollywood Studios is yellow and Animal Kingdom is green.


The next part of our series will be all about making dining reservations and special event reservations. This is where your “organized plan” will be very important and make this process easy and simple. At the next step, we will add in the important dining reservations and special events you may want to book, as well as other details that might help.

If you missed the first parts of this series, here are some quick links:

Part 1: Disneyland or Disney World
Part 2: When, Where and How
Part 4: Dining & Special Experiences
Park 5: The Final Details

Another series you might enjoy is our Disney Travel Planning for Families that includes tips and tricks for getting organized before you head out the door! Click on the icon below to see some of our fun planning posts!

preschoolearsL TravelPlanningSeries

How to Plan a Disney Trip: Part 2

preschoolears: How to Plan a Disney Trip Series

When, Where & How

If you are following my “How to Plan a Disney Trip” series, my last post was Part 1: Disneyland or Disney World, and hopefully this helped you decide which park you would like your family to visit this year. Now we have to figure out when you want to go, where you will stay, and how you will get there. These are three big details to hammer out! It is always best to book as far in advance as you can. Release dates change as to when you can start making reservations, but eight months to a year is a good rule of thumb. Here are some tips and advice on how to make these choices.


Sometimes we don’t have much choice when we can take our vacation. It may be determined by other factors like school breaks, work calendars or coordinating with other family’s schedules or commitments. But if you could pick any time of the year you wanted to go, you would want to weigh many different factors to determine your dates.

How Long To Go

Disneyland: To get a chance to see and do it all in a relaxed manner and not burn out your kids, we recommend a minimum of 3 days but you could do up to a 5-day Park Hopper pass and have lots of fun.

Disney World: To really enjoy the trip and see all the parks in a relaxed manner and again, not burn out your kids, we recommend a minimum of 7 days but 10 days would allow you to really enjoy everything. (10 days is the maximum on Park Hopper passes, unless you are from the UK which the maximum is 14 days)


While some people aren’t bothered by crowds, most people would prefer to travel when the crowds are lower. There are seasonal times when crowds at both parks get lighter, which can mean less wait times and more comfort when walking around. If you are looking for a less crowded, off-season time, the first thing you should avoid are holidays and school breaks. This includes Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Labor Day, Memorial Day, spring breaks, and summer breaks. Here is a yearly summary of basic crowd levels at both parks.



If you decide to visit one of the parks off-season, remember that Disneyland cuts down quite a bit more on their offerings during that time compared to Disney World. That includes parks opening later and closing earlier, but we have found with small kids in tow, this doesn’t affect much anyways.


Now that you have an idea when you would like to go on your Disney trip, you will need to decide where you would like to stay and check availability.



Disneyland has three resorts on-site to choose from: Grand Californian, Disneyland Hotel, and Paradise Pier. Staying on property provides perks for the parks and a touch of Disney magic. They are also the closest to the parks and provide an easy walk to the park or monorail. On our website, we provide ratings of each of these resorts from families who have stayed at each hotel on our Disneyland Accommodations page. If you would like a more economical option, there are off-site hotels all around the Disneyland area. On Disneyland’s website, they have Good Neighbor hotels you can choose from that usually provide shuttles to and from the park each day.

A down-side to staying on property if you are a family of five or more (like us): All the hotel rooms on-property are for families of four and additional children will require an additional room. If your youngest is 3 or younger, they will count them as using a Pack-n-Play for sleeping and won’t require an additional room. (Pack-n-Plays are provided in each room) The only option at Disneyland for larger families besides adding another room or suite, is the Grand Californian villas. A one-bedroom villa can sleep up to 5 and a 2-bedroom villa can sleep up to 9. There are limited supply of these so reservations for these are hard to come by.

Disney World


Disney World has a huge selection of hotels to stay at, and hopefully one that fits within your vacation budget. Staying on property is truly the easiest and most magical, as it provides perks within the park, close proximity to parks and transportation to all parks and downtown Disney. We have put together a summary on our website of all the resorts, including ratings from those that have stayed there, on our Disney World Accommodations page.

If you are a family of five or more, Disney World actually has a lot of choices that are both economical and functional. The new Art of Animation resort has family suites for families of five or more. And there are many DVC locations that have villas that sleep 5 or more easily. For more advice on traveling to Disney with large family, see our posts on Disney Vacations for Families of 5 or more.

One thing to consider when choosing your resort, is what park will your family like to be the closest to. A bird’s eye view of Disney World shows how spread out the four main parks are, and if your family will spend a few days at the Magic Kingdom, maybe being closest to that park is worth it. Or maybe staying right next to Animal Kingdom is what you are looking for, and you would like to look out your room at the savannah to watch giraffes. Since you will be traveling with little ones, keep in mind all the travel time to and from parks when choosing your resort.

Once you have chosen one or two places you would like to stay, it is time to make your reservation. You can call the Disney Travel Company direct, or book through their website, or use AAA travel agents, or Costco travel, or another travel agent all together to make your reservation. They should all offer perks and deals if you book through them.


The last detail to decide is how you will get there, and of course, that depends on where you are coming from! If you decide to drive to your vacation, check with your hotel about parking fees. Some travel agencies, like AAA, include parking in their packages.

If you are flying to either vacation, keep in mind the airport shuttle situation for each park. If you are staying on property at Disney World, Magical Express airport shuttle is included in your stay. You have to sign up for the service, and baggage tags are sent to your house before your trip. If your airline participates in resort airline check-in service, your luggage will go straight from the airplane to Disney’s luggage service and delivered to your hotel room. So no baggage claim! If your airline doesn’t participate, you will simply have to claim your bags and take them to the bus. Disneyland does offer an airport shuttle but you have to pay for it, and it doesn’t run quite as smoothly as in Disney World. It is also operated by a third party and not Disney.

Disney's Magical Express at Disney World

Disney’s Magical Express at Disney World

Here is a list of the airlines that participate in resort airline check-in service at Orlando International Airport:

  • AirTran Airways
  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
  • JetBlue Airways
  • Southwest Airlines
  • United Airlines
  • US Airways

Park Passes

The last detail you may need to decide when you book your trip is what kind of passes you would like to order. Here is a quick summary of your choices for each park. “Hopping” is Disney’s term for going between parks within a given day, hence ‘hopping’ between parks, as opposed to being limited to one park for the whole day.


One-Park Pass (1-day, 2-day and 3-day): Ticket for one park – no hopping. These are not an economical choice.

Park Hopper Pass (1-day, 2-day and 3-day): Ticket includes hopping which is recommended since the parks are right next to each other. If you are only visiting a couple days, you will want to hop between the parks.

Park-Hopper Passes (4-day and 5-day): These are the most economical if you are staying this many days, as each subsequent day gets cheaper. As always, the hopper pass is recommended.

**Watch for special deals online on park hoppers as Disney will sometimes run discounts and deals

Disney World

Multiple day park hopper passes are recommended for WDW vacation. Each additional day you add gets substantially cheaper. We recommend the park hopper because some parks are limited in their evening offerings and you may want to “hop” to other parks at night. This is the same for dining choices that you may want to visit a different park for dinner.

Water Park Fun & More Option

If your family is staying a week or longer, and plan to visit one of the two water parks on property, this may be a good thing to add. This will also add entrance to DisneyQuest, two Miniature golf parks, Oak Trail Golf course and ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. If you have an 8-day pass, you have 8 admission to use at these choices. If you are taking a long trip at the world, this is a great option especially with older kids.

Follow our other posts in this series:

Part 1: Disneyland or Disney World
Part 3: Making a Schedule
Part 4: Dining & Special Experiences
Park 5: The Final Details

Another series you might enjoy is our Disney Travel Planning for Families that includes tips and tricks for getting organized before you head out the door! Click on the icon below to see some of our fun planning posts!

preschoolearsL TravelPlanningSeries

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