15 Tips for MagicBand and FastPass+ at Disney World

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Disney World has turned high tech with MagicBands, FastPass+ and the My Disney Experience app. Their new system is designed to make your visit to the happiest place on earth as easy and simple as possible! While it is quite slick, you have to get to know the system a bit to make it truly easy and seamless. We were newbies on our last trip to the world with the new system, but after two weeks, we consider ourselves pros on it now. We would like to share our 15 top tips and advice for using the MagicBands, FastPass+ and the My Disney Experience app for families.

Keep in mind that MagicBands are free for guests staying on Disney property with purchased park tickets. If you are staying off property, you can still purchase a MagicBand if you have park tickets or use paper tickets for FastPasses.

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  1. On the My Disney Experience website, make sure all family members in your party are linked together. This will make it simple for one person to make all the FastPass choices and reservations for everyone.
  2. Customize your MagicBands on My Disney Experience by color and name. Each person can have their own color and their name is printed on the underside of the band. Also, the bands come in one size BUT you can remove the gray surround to make the overall band smaller for kids. They are meant to be adjustable this way.
  3. Wear them all the time. They can go swimming with you and get wet – no biggy! Get used to having them on so that you are never without them. They are your key to your room as well as your pass to the park as well as your FP for your next ride as well as linking your photos to your Memory Maker. And you can charge things at dining and shopping from your band. So with all that linked to one band, you better keep it on ALL THE TIME!
  4. Schedule your FastPass+ right when your window opens. Don’t wait on this one because times are being taken quickly especially during busier times of year. And the hottest FastPasses go really fast.
  5. To open the door to your room, you have to give it a hard tap. This may seem like an odd tip but all other places in the park, you hold your band on the scan for a few seconds. But on their hotel doors, you have to give it a hard tap on the sensor for the door to open. This little tip will save you some time fighting with your room door late at night. Your welcome.
  6. Pre-purchase Memory Maker and link it to your band. When you are on attractions with ride photos (i.e. Space Mountain, Expedition Everest, Buzz Lightyear…) the ride will automatically load those photos onto your account by reading your band on the ride. Yep, you don’t do anything but wear the band. See tip #3 for a reminder of wearing your band all the time! And PhotoPass photographers just scan your bands when they take pictures. Easy pleasy.
  7. You are given three FastPass+ options each day at one park, but once you are done with those three, you can visit one of the FP+ kiosks to add more one at a time. Only one person from your party needs to go to the kiosk (since you did tip #1 and linked everyone’s bands) and then they can get another FP. Cast Members are standing next to each kiosk to help you through the process although it is really simple.
  8. Use the My Disney Experience app in the parks to check your scheduled dining,  and FastPasses as well as attraction wait times. You can make some changes to FastPasses from this app but the kiosks are a bit easier. Also, keep in mind that the app is dependent on signal and number of users at the park so it has times it doesn’t load. Wait times were fairly accurate on the app within each park. It is a great tool while at the parks.
  9. Want to bling out your band? You can get Disney Band-its to add to your MagicBand. They are similar to the Jibbitz that you could put into your Croc shoes–they simply stick into the empty holes on the band, and there are lots of choices. There are also LOTS of choices of special MagicBands you can buy that are available at select locations in the parks.
  10. Know where the kiosks are in each park. All parks have three locations and Magic Kingdom has four. So there aren’t a huge amount of spots, which means when crowds are high, the lines are long. It is very, very important that you know where these locations are at each park – memorize it! Bring a list with you! Trust me – this little tip will save you lots of wasted time.
  11. When you all use a FP, make sure every child/person swipes their band BOTH times through the line so that the computer logs it at used and you can add additional FP. Once a FP window has passed, you can add more as well.
  12. Remember the grace periods on your FP window. Five minutes early is fine, and fifteen minutes late is fine. Anything outside those times and you won’t be let on the attraction or show. If you miss your FP, its gone.
  13. When you schedule a FP for a show and they give you a window of time to return, for the best seat, arrive at the beginning of that window. If you arrive at the end of that window, you are basically the same as the standby line. If you have a FP for an attraction and you have an hour window to return, anytime in that window is good–it won’t matter when you arrive in that window.
  14. Anyone with a band on your account can use it for photos, park passes and opening your resort door. You have to authorize who can use it for purchases and a pin is required when you scan it. It could be “dangerous” at Disney for kids to have authorization for purchases depending on the age. But using the band for quick snacks and meals was so great and easy.
  15. Finally, to make sure you don’t forget a band each day (see tip #3 again!) make a Park Packing List that you check off every morning to make sure you have it all. Sunglasses, sunblock. autograph books, snacks AND MagicBands! You won’t forget necessary items as well as those marvelous bands.

In general, we loved the MagicBands. Our kids thought they were so much fun! I must confess I loved how slick it all was and we didn’t have to think about too many things. And we didn’t have to carry as much. The system itself still has some glitches but I believe it is getting better and I think it is a revolutionary idea. If you are heading to the parks this year, have fun with the MagicBands and the My Disney Experience system! And take our tips and advice to make it even better!

**Last little tip: If you also wear a FitBit or electronic exercise band, wear your MagicBand on the opposite hand as the signals can compete with the scan. Always wear your MagicBand on the same hand you use for the finger scan at the gates each time.**

A Family’s Trip on Disney Cruise Line

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One of our Parent Panel members, the N family, recently went on a Disney Cruise and I was able to interview them about their wonderful trip. If you are considering a Disney cruise, their tips and advice will help you plan your vacation! We asked LOTS of questions so keep reading!

PSEars: What cruise ship did you sail on and how long was the cruise?

We sailed on the Fantasy for a 7 night cruise. We went to the Western Caribbean – Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, Cozumel, and Castaway Cay.

I also want to add that we went in the middle of October. It is hurricane season, but the week we went was absolutely beautiful! I don’t think that we even really saw any clouds.

PSEars: What age are your children?

We went when my oldest was 11, my daughter was 9 and my youngest was 7. We also traveled with my 70 year old parents.  🙂  Everyone from 7 to 70 had a fabulous time!

PS Ears: What ports and destinations did you visit?

We left from Port Canaveral.  We went to Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, Cozumel, and Castaway Cay.

PS Ears: For your family, what size room did you choose? Was it too small? Just right? How do you feel the space was for families?

We had such a wonderful room! It slept 5 with a fabulous deck. I was so impressed at the size compared to other rooms on other cruise ships. It never felt too cramped for our family of 5. The queen bed was raised up off of the floor enough for all of our 7 suitcases. There was a nice curtain that separated the 3 kid beds with the queen. The couch is one bed. Another bed comes out of the ceiling, while the last bed comes out of the wall. The room service is fabulous because they turn down the beds and then put them away in the morning.

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Room

Bathroom

PS Ears: What would you recommend families do when they first embark?

My growing family would definitely say, “Eat!”  We went to Cabanas, a buffet, to make sure we had food in our bellies. After our bellies were full, we headed to the pool and the Aqua Duck. We were so excited about the cruise, that we boarded the ship as soon as we could. The food is open, but will close around 2:00. Then the kids would need to be content until dinner. You can’t get into your rooms until about 1:00 or 2:00, so make sure that you have what you need.  (You check all of your luggage before you are even on the ship, and they “magically” appear in your room.)

PS Ears: Did your kids use any of the Kids Clubs? If yes, which ones? What did they think of their experience?

Yes, my kids did use the kids club.  They could all use the Oceaneer Club.  My oldest son could also use the Vibe club.  They liked them.  There are so many activities for them to do.  Along with all of the things to do, there are also scheduled activities, crafts and games that are explained in the Navigator, which is the daily ship’s activities.

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PS Ears: What table-serve dining did you enjoy most?

As a family, we loved eating at Animator’s Palette.  The videos and decorations were very clever.

As a treat, my husband and I splurged and ate at Palo.  It is a flat rate added onto the cruise.  I think that it was around $25 per person.  I will be honest that I didn’t want to eat there.  I thought that it would be paying extra for some of the same food that the rest of the ship was eating.  I couldn’t have been more wrong!  It was so AMAZING!!!  The service was terrific!  –And the food, was out of this world!  I couldn’t decide between a couple of the appetizers, so our server just brought us everything that we wanted to try.  I don’t think that I have ever eaten so much, but it was seriously all so delicious!  I would highly suggest dropping off the sweet children at the kids’ club and enjoy an adult evening!

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Dining

PS Ears: What quick-serve dining did you enjoy most?

My kids loved having the independence to to go Flo’s Cafe.  It is right next to the pool, so they could just go grab a slice of pizza, a hamburger, an apple, with our needing an adult.  They also loved being able to get their own ice cream any time of the day.

PS Ears: What family activities on the ship did your family enjoy together?

The Aqua Duck closes earlier than the pool, but my kids loved to ride it at night.  After we would go to dinner, then a show, the kids would go to the room and get their swimsuits on to close down the Aqua Duck.  There was ever hardly anyone on the slide at night.  The huge screen at the pool is call Funnel Vision.  At night, it had on movies or popular sporting events.  My boys loved watching the Sunday, Monday and Thursday night football games!  I remember also watching Pirates of the Caribbean.

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One other random thing that we liked to do was a very quiet, little thing, but I will forever remember it.  Each day on the cruise we had a blast and played hard.  At night, sometimes we just needed to wind down.  We would order room service (because it is free, you just pay the tip).  We would get the “Admiral’s Plate” which was a plate with cheese, crackers and grapes.  We would also usually order a dessert or two.  We loved eating our munchies in our pajamas while talking about our day.  We would also be able to talk about the next day ahead of us.

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PS Ears: What shows did your family enjoy?

The shows that were offered were:  Disney’s Wishes, Buckets and Boards (comedy duo from Branson), Taylor Mason (comedy and ventriloquism), Disney’s Believe, A Magician who I can’t find his name, Disney’s Aladdin and Disney’s An Unforgettable Journey.

Everyone in my family LOVED Buckets and Boards from Branson.  They were hilarious!  We all went to the Disney productions, but my boys didn’t enjoy them as much as the magician and the comedians.

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PS Ears: Did your family add any excursions? If yes, which ones and what was your experience?

The only excursion that we did through Disney was at Grand Cayman.  We took an excursion to swim with the sting rays at Sting Ray City.  It was very organized.  We didn’t have to worry about a taxi or anything else.

I will say that we were going to do a Disney excursion in Cozumel.  We wanted to go to a beach, but to go through Disney was going to be around $300 for my family of 5.  Instead, I went online and did some digging.  I found many other beaches that we could get to on our own.

When we got off of the ship, we went where all of the taxis were.  It was an easy ride to the beach club.  We chose to go to a place called, Paradise Beach.  It has a great, large pool, and a large beach.  In the ocean, there were many large slides, trampolines, and other fun things to do.  My kids had a blast!

PS Ears: When you visited Castaway Cay, what activities did you experience? What was your overall experience on the island?

My husband and I love to do Disney races.  We found out that there was a 5K to start the day, and we couldn’t resist!  The kids went with Grandma and Grandpa while we ran.

After we finished, we rented a tube and a raft for the day.  It was a great way to get the kids in the water, and Grandma. 🙂  We actually brought our own snorkeling things, so we didn’t rent any of that.  We did snorkel, and it was fun to see all of the things that were put in the water.  We really just had a great time playing in the water and in the sand.  I wish we could have been there for two days.  It was so relaxing, clean, friendly, and the food was free!

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PS Ears: If you spent time at any of the pools, did you find them crowded? Were there better times to visit the pools? Which pool experiences did you kids like the best?

I mentioned earlier that we rode the Aqua Duck at night.  The pool is actually fairly small, so don’t expect to do a whole lot of swimming.  My 9 year old daughter did love watching the movie, Teen Beach Movie while swimming in the pool.  🙂  My two younger kids really liked playing in the Aqua Lab area. It is a splash zone with squirters everywhere.  They liked that almost more than the pool.  There was also a smaller yellow slide that my 7 year old loved.  He could do it independently, so he loved that.

PS Ears: If you have been on a non-Disney cruise, how did the Disney cruise compare with a non-Disney cruise?

I have been on two other cruises, and I really can’t even compare them to a Disney cruise because there is no comparison. Everything was amazing on our Disney cruise!

PS Ears: What things made your trip easier? (either things you brought or things that were on the cruise)

There is a daily paper called the Navigator.  The best thing is that there is an app for that!  🙂  There is no internet on the ship, but the Navigator app tells you EVERYTHING that is happening that day.  I had my phone for the camera, so the app was super helpful!

I also brought our own bottled water on board.  You can bring your own water on the ship as long as you carry it on.  You can’t check it in your suitcase.  The water came in handy for our on shore excursions.

Another silly tip is about the movie theater.  If you want a drink during a movie, you have to pay for it.  I would suggest getting your FREE drink by the pool and then taking it into the movie.  You aren’t breaking any rules, you are just thinking smarter.

For each room, you are also given 2 cell phones.  This was nice to have to keep in touch with kids on the other side of the ship.

PS Ears: What age of children would you recommend for this type of cruise?

Any age is going to have fun on this amazing cruise.  Personally, I would suggest taking your children when they might be able to do some things on their own.  I felt completely safe having my kids walk around the ship on their own.  My 7 year old was a little young, but he did great with his older siblings.

I always felt that they were very safe.  Each child wears a bracelet to make sure that they can’t do anything without a parent’s consent.  The kids didn’t like wearing them, but I felt comforted with them wearing them.

PS Ears: Are there any things you would do or plan different for your next cruise?

I honestly don’t think so.  The only thing that we toyed with was our dinner time.  We had the early seating, which was difficult to get 5 of us back on the ship, showered, and to dinner on time.  The other side of that is:  we didn’t miss any shows because we had already had dinner, and we were ready for the show.  If we had had the later seating, we would have missed the shows because we would still be getting ready for dinner.

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PS Ears: Any additional tips for families considering a Disney cruise or planning one now?

Here are some of my other suggestions:

My husband and I didn’t really want to spend money or time in the spa; however, there is a great alternative to the spa.  We bought a day pass to the spa.  This will get you access to super fun showers.  They are scented and lighted with different sized drops.  You also have access to 3 different saunas.  We could also use the hot tubs in the spa that were located by windows to see outside.  My favorite thing that was included was the use of the heated stone beds.  They were so relaxing!  The pass was about $15 a person for the day.  We did it the last day at sea.  We were actually able to escape to the spa 3 times during the day.

I love my wonderful children, but don’t forget to enjoy your spouse.  My husband and I were also able to get to the adult area for just a little bit, but it was very relaxing.  There is a lovely singer and guitarist.  The lounge chairs are so comfy!  It is so quiet!  You would never know that around the corner was crazy-loud with kids.  We couldn’t spend much time there, but the little time that we did was a breath of fresh air.

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Halloween Events at Disney World and Disneyland

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Its that time of year again when Halloween has come to our favorite Disney parks. Both Disney World and Disneyland celebrate Halloween in an amazing way, and they both offer similar but different experiences. If you will be heading to the parks this fall and would like to know what the parks are offering for Halloween fun, we have the rundown for you. We have been to both park’s celebrations and we will share with you what is in store for Disneyland and Disney World during Halloween time.

Disney World Halloween

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If you will be visiting Disney World this fall (September through October), you will experience not only fall celebrations but Halloween as well. Most of the Halloween celebrations are done at Magic Kingdom. During September through November (9/19-11/10), Epcot has the Food & Wine Festival in full swing and that is the focus at that park. Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom do not have Halloween festivities.

The main attraction during Halloween at the Magic Kingdom is Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. This is a ticket event, meaning even if you already have park passes for that day, you need to purchase additional tickets for the party. The Halloween party is only on select nights, which are:

September 12, 14, 16, 19, 21, 23, 26, 28
October 2, 3, 5, 9, 10, 13, 16, 17, 19, 21, 23, 24, 26, 28, 30

Cost for tickets are $62.00 plus tax (ages 10+) and $57.00 plus tax (ages 3-9). The party times each night are 7:00 pm – 12:00 am, but they let guests with tickets into the park 3 hours in advance (4:00 pm). We advise you to arrive at 4:00 to get into the park and have your wristband.

Here are all the magical happenings at Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party that are included with a ticket:

  • Mickey’s “Boo to You” Parade, twice a night. This is a wonderful parade and should not be missed!

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  • HalloWishes Fireworks, following one of the parades. This is one of their best fireworks shows.
  • Trick or treating stations throughout the park. These have long lines and can get congested. Plan on hitting just one for fun and skip the rest.
  • Villain pre-show in front of castle before fireworks

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  • Dead Cowboy Quartet in Frontierland. Similar to the Dapper Dans with their performance.
  • Unique and special character greets throughout the park, including Anna & Elsa, Cinderella & Rapunzel, classic Disney characters in Halloween costumes, villains, Pixar characters, Cinderella’s coach, Seven Dwarfs, Jack Skellington & Sally, Jasmine & Aladdin plus Genie & Abu, Winnie the Pooh & friends in costume, Captain Jack Sparrow and Tarzan, Jane & Terk. Character greets are subject to change.

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  • NEW Villain’s Sinister Soiree – Additional tickets required
    • Dessert party inside Cinderella’s Royal Table restaurant
    • Hosted by Lady Tremaine and features other Disney villains
    • Live piano music
    • Preferred viewing area for the 8:15 Boo to You parade
    • Offered at 10:15 pm and 11:45 pm
    • Desserts and non-alcoholic specialty drinks offered
    • No Disney Dining Plan
    • Cost is $99/person plus tax (gratuity included)
    • Booking not available online – to purchase tickets, call (407) 939-5262
  • During the party, many of the park’s rides are open and the waits are short since most people are waiting in line for a photo op or enjoying other party festivities. It may be a great time to enjoy a ride or two!
  • Costumes are allowed at the park during the party. Disney has guidelines for costumes worn so visit their website for details.
  • Special party treats and merchandise that is only available during the party

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If you are visiting the park and not going to the party, you will still enjoy the amazing Halloween decorations throughout the park as well as special Halloween treats and merchandise. There are not Halloween photo ops except during the party.

A few tips on the party:

  • Arrive early to receive your wrist-band for the party. The largest crowds stay on Main Street so it is best to move past that part of the park.
  • Decide before that night what your high priority photo-ops will be and limit that list. Lines can be 30-60 minutes long for some pictures and you can’t spend your whole party time waiting to meet a character.
  • Find your spot for the parade about 30-45 minutes early (at least)
  • Make sure kids are well rested if you plan to stay late that night. And plan for a late morning the next day.

Disneyland Halloween

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Disneyland offers a special Halloween event as well called Mickey’s Halloween Party. It is only offered at Disneyland and not California Adventure. It requires an additional ticket to attend, meaning if you have a park pass for that day, you will need to purchase a ticket for the party as well or exit the park when it begins. Party runs 7:00 pm until midnight. Guests with tickets are allowed to enter the park 3 hours prior to the start of the party. Here are the select dates of the Halloween Party:

September 26, 30
October 3, 6, 8, 10, 14, 17, 20, 22, 24, 27, 29, 31

Here is all the magic during Mickey’s Halloween Party:

  • Monsters U Dance Party in Tomorrowland – lots of fun Pixar Monsters characters out and dancing. Not a great photo op
  • Mickey’s Costume Party Cavalcade – this is a small parade of characters in their Halloween costumes. Very cute and it is easy to find seats for this parade.

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  • Halloween Screams Fireworks – one of their best fireworks shows! Hosted by Jack Skellington, Oogie Boogie and a special visit from Zero!
  • Trick or Treat stations throughout the park – expect long lines for candy
  • Disney villains out for greets
  • Costumes are allowed for guests – Disney has guidelines for acceptable costumes so visit their website for details
  • Most attractions open all night
  • Fun activities and treats for families
  • Character ops throughout the park including Jack Skellington & Sally, Winnie the Pooh & friends, Toy Story pals, Mickey and friends in their Halloween costumes, Disney princesses, Peter Pan and Captain Hook, Smee & Jack Sparrow, Phineas & Ferb, Merida, and Star Wars Storm Troopers plus more! Characters are subject to change.

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  • Complimentary parking
  • Special treats and merchandise offered only during the party

If you will be visiting the park and not attending the Halloween party, there are actually lots of other Halloween things to enjoy and Disneyland!

  • Haunted Mansion Holiday – The Haunted Mansion is taken over by Jack Skellington and his pals from A Nightmare Before Christmas. The attraction is “redecorated” and it is truly fabulous! Jack and Sally do meet and greets outside the mansion as well. Long lines for the ride during this time but it is well worth it!

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  • Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy – Space Mountain is changed to include zombie ghosts that scare guests during their ride. We didn’t enjoy this transformation but tweens and teens will think it is a frightful fun.
  • Halloween Carnival at Big Thunder Ranch in Frontierland – There are Disney Villain greets as well as other classic Disney characters in Halloween costumes. Kids can enjoy Halloween crafts and lots of Halloween fun at the ranch.
  • Dia de los Muertos is celebrated in Frontierland.

Disneyland vs Disney World

It may seem like both parks do about the same for Halloween but that isn’t quite true. Both parks have a ticketed Halloween party along with a parade and fireworks. Here are the difference between them if you are deciding which park you want to visit for Halloween time:

  • Disney World’s Halloween Party is much bigger than Disneylands. It attracts a larger crowd because it offers more events and appearances.
  • Disney World’s parade and fireworks are much grander by far. The Disneyland parade is less of a parade and more of the characters walking down the streets in Halloween costumes. It is still fun but much less “grand”.
  • Trick or Treating at both events have long lines for candy
  • Disneyland offers Halloween festivities and rides even if you don’t buy a ticket to the party. And you can still take Halloween photo ops with characters before the party. The characters change into different Halloween costumes for the party, but who cares?
  • Disneyland is more low-key, which is nice for families. It will still be busy and have crowds, but nothing like Disney World. We found it to be a little more fun and less stressful.
  • They both have the same guidelines for costumes – no weapons that resemble real weapons, no dragging parts, nothing inappropriate or scary, no dressing like a Disney character and signing autographs…
  • There are more unique character photo ops at Disney World, by far!
  • They both use the wristband system for ticketed guests and offer guest entrance 3 hours before the party begins.
  • There are many more dates of the Disney World Mickey’s Not-So-Scary than Disneyland’s Mickey’s Halloween Party.
  • Both parties have sold out for Halloween night or the nights closest to it.
  • Most rides stay open during the parties and the lines are pretty short, so plan some ride time!

If you are heading to one of the parties this season, here are some of our tips for young kids and families so you can enjoy the evening and not stress out!!

  • Have an easy day at the parks before the party. If you can have rest time before, even better! The parties run until midnight, and if you are planning to stay all evening, kids will need lots of rest and energy.
  • If you stay out late that night, expect a late morning the next day. Don’t schedule an early breakfast the next day. Plan on everyone being wiped out!
  • Dress comfortably. Even if you are planning to wear a costume, wear your tennis shoes. Make sure everyone is cool because costumes can get hot. I actually think kids are happier not in costumes but a cute Halloween shirt.
  • Bring glow-in-the-dark necklaces, bracelets and such, from home and give to the kids as a surprise at the party. The Disney glow in the dark toys are pricey. Something that blinks is even better!
  • Plan meals early. Many table serves close once the party begins, so either have an early dinner or plan for a fast quick-serve.
  • Limit the characters you want to meet. The lines can get pretty long and you will be very sad if you spend all that money on party tickets and spend the whole party in lines to see characters. Have a few must-see characters, split up the line waiting duty and then enjoy the night.
  • Get into character lines early in the evening so the rest of your evening can be parade, fireworks and fun!
  • Hit maybe one Trick or Treat stop and skip the rest. The lines are long there too. Your kids don’t need more candy and there are other things to do.
  • Parties closest to Halloween night sell out fast. In fast, some are already sold out now. Some nights, they will sell tickets up until the party starts.
  • Use the Photo Pass photographers. They have special “magic” pictures they take just for the Halloween party, like with the ghosts out front of Haunted Mansion. You have to ask for the magic shots if you want them.
  • It is essential at both parties to grab a map and guide for the party so you know where special events are as well as character greets.

We hope everyone has a fabulous Halloween, especially if you will be at a Disney park this season!
Boo to you!!

A First-Timer’s Take on Disney World

Recently, the K family decided to take their very first trip to Disney World! They did a lot of planning and prep work including talking to us at Preschoolears. Since we believe that it is great to learn from other’s insight and experience when traveling to Disney, we interviewed them after their trip to see if they could offer some advice and tips for those families who will be taking their own first-time adventure to Disney World!

Interview:

PS Ears: What are the ages of your kids when you visited Disney World?

8 (almost 9), 6 and 2 (almost 3)

Ears

PSEars: When did you visit Disney World?

October 13-19, 2013

PS Ears: Where did your family stay? 

We used our friend’s time share discount and since we booked so late, we ended up splitting our time between two hotels – fun to explore different environs on our first trip, but in general not advisable. 😉 The staff made the transition as easy as possible, but we still wasted a morning. We stayed the first two nights at Animal Kingdom and the rest at Saratoga Springs – it was a noticeable difference.

PS Ears: Did you like the resorts as a first-time Disney experience?

We all preferred Animal Kingdom, not surprising given the price. It was pretty incredible and the rooms and facilities were brand new. The pool was amazing and they had great activities (animal viewings, movie nights) planned for the kids. The buffet was really tasty, plenty for kids and adults and got us all to try different foods from around the world – yum! And they had a quick-serve restaurant right next to the pool where you could stock up on breakfast items for the morning. We had a nice unit at Saratoga Springs but the grounds are HUGE! Required a golf cart to get to the front desk, such a contrast from Animal Kingdom where everything is at your finger tips inside the main hotel. The rooms were nicely updated but still had an older feel. Our unit in Saratoga Springs turned out to be right around the corner from Downtown Disney which was pretty fun – we didn’t realize it was a 5 minute walk until we’d already waited 20 minutes for the shuttle to drive us around the corner – ha! Know the lay of the land before you go. 😉

PS Ears: When you were planning your trip, what were some of the most important things your family wanted to see or do?

Magic Kingdom was a priority, having never been with the kids before. But we knew they would also enjoy the wildlife at Animal Kingdom and Sea World so we planned in a day at each. Rides were an important consideration, and minimizing wait times. Tasty food too – knowing we only had a week there I knew we couldn’t begin to do it all and didn’t want to waste time on anything that wasn’t truly magical! 🙂 Our kids had never been to a big amusement park, so we had no idea what they’d be comfortable riding, which made it more difficult to plan. But going in informed on what was available at each park and the intensity level of the rides was a huge help and allowed us to make quick decisions based on initial experiences. As a side note – my 8 year old girl loved it all, even the Haunted Mansion which I thought would freak her out! The 6 year old girl loved Thunder Mountain but nothing much more intense, and the two-year old did great on the Barnstormer, Dumbo and Tea Cup type rides.

Castle1

PS Ears: Were you able to do those things or not, and were they what you would expect?

Believe it or not, I think we accomplished most if not all of our bucket list! Not to say there aren’t things I would change next time we go, but we did pretty much everything we’d planned to do. Knowing we wouldn’t come close to doing it all, we tried to sample a little of everything and I’d say we were able to do that, plus some! I didn’t expect to do the bigger rides more than once, but with the MagicBand fast passes and Rider Switch passes, plus closing down the Magic Kingdom at midnight at the “Not So Scary Halloween Party,” we were able to do Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, and a few other favorite rides 5 or 6 times! I was actually surprised my 8 year-old was up for the bigger rides, definitely made the experience more fun, especially for my husband. Everything else was pretty much as predicted.

Castle3

PS Ears: What was the hardest part of planning a first-time trip to Disney World?

I think the hardest part of planning for us was the quantity of information – there are endless opportunities in Orlando! And learning the Disney systems and lingo, e.g. fast passes, Rider Swap passes, MagicPlus bands, etc. Also, I’m a very visual person and not having been there in almost 30 years, a lot has changed! Even having all of the information on paper beforehand it was hard for me to visualize our visit and get things completely nailed down. I made a lot of night-before changes to our plans. The Disney Experience app was perfect for that and allowed us to avoid most of the waiting.

PS Ears: What were some good things that you didn’t expect or plan for?

One unexpected highlight was Enchanted Tales with Belle – by nature of the experience, it’s always a LONG wait and we never could seem to hit it right, even first thing in the morning. We were able to sneak in at the very end of the night (11:30 p.m., when everyone else had given up and gone to bed I’m sure!) at the Halloween Party and had little to no wait. It was our very last ride of the trip and it truly was enchanting. The girls loved participating in the story and getting to meet Belle up close and personal!

The kids ages were perfect – no one was too old to really experience the magic (not even the adults) and the 3 year old was just old enough to experience a fair amount of the rides. And he took a daily snooze in the stroller with Nana – invaluable to have grandparents tag along!!

Sleeping

I sent my hubby on a few missions to book straight to the back of the parks to be first in line – backfired at the Safari ride because he got so far ahead we couldn’t weave through to find him! But we still waited a fraction of the time in the end. 🙂

TowerTerror

PSEars: What were some bad things that you didn’t expect or plan for?

We didn’t enjoy Hollywood Studios quite as much as we thought we would – well, save our 9 year-old. She still talks about the Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n Roller Coaster! Our 6 year old talks about the coaster in a very different light – she begged to go on and the poor thing was terrified. I had become a little too lax by that point I guess – knew in the first “zero-to-60” second that she was going to hate it. She’ll never forget! 🙂 The Little Mermaid experience and Nemo were both fun but I couldn’t get the kids excited about the Disney Junior stuff – they didn’t love the character element anywhere we went. That was actually helpful at times in that we didn’t waste fast passes waiting to get autographs. 🙂

BeOurGuest

I am bummed we missed the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique because my girls were at the perfect age to enjoy it. Also wish we’d have booked early for the Be Our Guest and Cinderella’s Royal Table character dinners. We were able to still dine in Belle’s castle by getting in line at 10 a.m. for the 10:30 opening – we were about the fifth family in line – and eating an early lunch / snack. I was glad we used one Fast Pass to meet Snow White and Rapunzel – the girls (and my Mom and Dad!) ended up loving that part and we barely had to wait. They also didn’t care much about the parades – we saw a few shows and parades in passing, usually on our way to the rides!

Rapunzel

I didn’t like that you could only schedule 3 fast passes per day on the Disney app, but the most frustrating part was that if you cancelled a FP the day of – even if it was well before the scheduled time – you couldn’t schedule another ride in its place. As wonderful as the MagicBands were, they’re obviously still working out the kinks – there were a few rides we weren’t able to FP using the app and should have been able to.

PS Ears: What would you do different for your next trip?

If we went during Fall Break again, I would buy tickets to “Mickey’s Not So Scary” party, spend the day at the pool, then get there right at 4:00 as everyone was leaving to get the most out of the experience. As it was, we spent most of the day at the park, went back home around 2, didn’t get back out again until 6:30 and stayed until midnight.

Also wouldn’t book early flights (i.e. 7 a.m.!!), especially the day after staying until midnight at the park! Rookie mistake, and quite honestly we changed our mind so many times about the Halloween party that in the end Friday night was the only option left, but it was still worth it!! The girls did back-to-back rides on Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain – truly a highlight.

I might skip Hollywood Studios or plan a half day there, preferably morning – it was noticeably hotter there since they modeled it to look like LA with tall palms instead of the thick Florida vegetation. Animal Kingdom was actually the best for a hot day – lots of big shade trees and tucked away paths where you could cool down.

I would plan in more time at Epcot for the adults at least – the kids probably saw enough, maybe could have spent a few more hours there, but we were in such a rush and spent all of our time walking to and from the restaurant on the far side of the park – again, know the lay of the land. 🙂 My parents stayed an extra two days at Epcot and loved it. Can’t believe how big it is – a city! It was brand new when I was there 30 years ago and a fraction of the size.

I would make more of an effort to get out the door early and enjoy the opening show and short lines at the beginning of the day.

Would have taken more pictures with Disney Photopass photographers.

Might stay closer to the Magic Kingdom if possible, across the lake looked ideal!

PS Ears: What would you do the same for your next trip?

I’m glad we waited until October – it was still blazing hot! Supposedly it’s less crowded during that time – if so, I can’t imagine going during peak season. I loved the FP system – we were able to avoid almost all long waits! Also loved the grocery service – would definitely do that again. We also loved spending a day at Sea World – the kids loved it and surprisingly they had some of the best rides! I definitely wasn’t expecting that.

PS Ears: What tips would you give other families who are planning their first Disney World trip?

Check out Preschoolears! They have a wealth of information and honestly made the trip as wonderful as it was for us. I would have been lost without the volumes of information and tips they gave us going into the trip. With any type of travel, it helps to have someone “on the inside” – a local of sorts – to tell you what to skip and what not to miss. I certainly made some of my own rookie mistakes and gained knowledge from the experience that will allow me to plan better next time around, but I would have been totally blind-sided were it not for their help!

Fun

Disney Deals 2014

DisneyDeals2014

Everyone likes a deal, especially on a Disney vacation! We will post here throughout the year with updates on deals and discounts, so bookmark the page and follow us on Facebook or Twitter to keep up with the latest news!

Disney World

Free Memory Maker to Cherish Your Disney World Moments Deal:  Imagine capturing your favorite pictures from your Disney World vacation!  You can do that with Disney’s Memory Maker. Book a package from August 15-September 30 for at least 3 nights with 2-Day tickets and get the new Memory Maker free. Prices start from just $899 plus tax for a family of 3 at a Disney Value Resort.

Save up to 30% on rooms at select Walt Disney World Resort Hotels:  Savings apply for stays most nights March 14, 2014 – April 12, 2014 and April 20, 2014 – June 15, 2014. Upgrade to a room and ticket package with a minimum 4-day Magic Your Way Ticket and get one more ticket day FREE!  Visit Destinations in Florida for more details.

Florida Resident Rates:  Florida Residents can take advantage of great rates on rooms at select Disney Resorts hotels for stays through May 29, 2014.  Plan a winter getaway to Disney or a Spring Break trip to the Disney Water Parks.  Book today with this incredible deal, just for Florida Residents.

Military Discount:  Active duty and retired members of the US military can get specially discounted rooms at Disney Resort most nights through September 27th, 2014.

runDisney Deals: If you are signed up for a runDisney race at Disney World, you can receive a 20% discount on your stay at select Disney resort hotels. For the upcoming Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler in October, Destinations in Florida is offering an even greater discount on rooms at select resorts (All-Star Music, Port Orleans Riverside and Wilderness Lodge) from October 1-6, 2014 plus discounted park tickets!

Great Perks for your Walt Disney World Vacation at Destinations in Florida

Disneyland

Save Up to 25% on Rooms at a Disneyland Resort Hotel:  Save up to 25% on rooms at a Disneyland Hotel most Sunday through Thursday nights through April 10, 2014.  Book by March 6, 2014.

Disney Cruise Lines

Special Rates for Florida Residents and US Military:  Take advantage of special deals from $135 per person per night plus tax/port charges for Florida Residents and active/retired United States Military. Special cruises are available for select dates in February.

Last Minute Restricted Deals:  If you are flexible about the location of your stateroom and willing to book last minute you may be able to save BIG! Disney offers Restricted Guarantee rooms 15-60 days before departure dates, sometimes just a few days before departure. These are very restricted and with many rules, but if you are not picky you can save up 40%.

New!  Canadian Resident Deal:  If you are a Canadian Resident, you can enjoy 20% off select rates on the May 24, 2014 Alaska sailing departing from Vancouver, Canada.  Take advantage of this special deal, just for you!

Aulani, Hawaii

Get a Free Night and Free Breakfast:  For a limited time, when you purchase a minimum 4-night stay at Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa, you’ll get the 4th night free – including breakfast daily for two adults at the new Ulu Cafe.  This discount is good for most stays through April 7, 2014.

Get up to a $500 Room Credit to Spend During Your Visit:  Book a 1 or 2-Bedroom Villa from April 23-June 16, 2014 and receive up to a $500 resort credit for a 4-Night vacation.  Book a Deluxe Studio or regular room for 4 nights and receive a $400 resort credit.

Other Orlando Deals

Universal Orlando Resort Discounts

4th Night and 3rd Day Free:  Book a Universal Partner hotel for 3 nights with a 2 Day Base ticket and receive your 4th night and 3rd day at the parks for FREE!

Save up to $500 on your Universal Package:  Stay at one of the Universal Hotels including Cabana Bay Hotel, Royal Pacific Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel or Portofino Bay Hotel with tickets and save up to $500 on your package.  Now is the time to visit the movies at the Universal Orlando Resort.

Universal 1-Day or 2-Day Pass with Shuttle Transportation for 2014:  Take a day away from the Disney World Parks to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!  Book a 1-Day or 2-Day Pass to Universal Studios with shuttle transportation included in the ticket.  This special ticket is only available with select companies including Destinations in Florida.

“Take 2” Transfer:  If you do not want to rent a car during your Orlando vacation, take advantage of the new “Take 2” Transfer ticket for only $39 per person.  This transfer includes transportation from a Disney Resort hotel to Universal Orlando Resort for a Universal Studios vacation.  After your Universal vacation, the transportation takes you back to the Orlando International Airport.

Sea World Discounts

Expedition Antarctica at SeaWorld:  Experience the Freeze! Package includes free Quick Queue (front-of-the-line) at SeaWorld’s Antarctica:  Empire of the Penguin™, dining at the Expedition Café, a free photo and a third hotel night FREE!

Orlando Attraction Ticket Discounts

Kids Eat Free Card:  Save money on over 100 different restaurants in Orlando from the quick serve restaurants like McDonald’s to sit down restaurants like Nascar Cafe at Universal CityWalk.  Purchase the Kids Eat Free Card and receive a free child’s meal with any adult meal at select restaurants.  Click here for more details and to purchase this special card.

Kennedy Space Center Tickets:  Pre-order your tickets to Kennedy Space Center and save money with special prices.  Experience the Space Shuttle Atlantis, US Astronaut Hall of Fame, and more; just an hour from Orlando.  Click here to more details and to purchase tickets.

For a free quote and the best deals on Disney vacations, visit Destinations in Florida, and authorized Disney and Orlando vacation planner.

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