**NOT IN SPONSORSHIP OR COLLABORATION with any company or platform. Just a MOM sharing HER FAMILY'S EXPERIENCE and Practical Tips for Disney World in 2023
Our family knew, that for us, Disney would be a "1x and Done" kind of Experience. So we had to figure out how to make the MOST of the 3 days / 2 nights we had on property. Here's how we did it.
Our family loves to travel. Work on house projects & Read. It's just our thing.
So when I found out the hubs was going to be speaking at a convention in Orlando, making a "one and done" visit to Disney World seemed like a no-brainer.
But what do I mean by "one and done"? I mean after this trip, it is likely that our family would never do the parks again, unless we're in that area for another reason.
This meant before the trip, I was going to have to do A LOT of research to get the most out of it... so que the Google Searching and reaching out to ANYONE I knew who seemed to be a Disney Guru.
Side Note: We booked our hotel package (2 nights / 3 days at the All Star Music) about 30 days out from our trip. So don't feel like you have to have 12 months to plan to make the trip successful.
Things You MUST Know When Trying To Make The Most Of A Disney World Vacation
First...some terminology. It took me a minute to "get" my head around all these terms because I couldn't find ONE SPOT that tackled them. So hopefully this helps as you begin to plan:
Disney Vocabulary You Need To Know To Plan Your Trip
The time the gates to any of the parks open for guests. Note: Guests staying in a Disney Resort have access 30 minutes PRIOR to other guests (which we found to be a HUGE help).
This means that you are a guest staying in one of the Disney Resort Hotels on Disney Property. This would include all the hotels they list on their website.
An amazing phone App that can help you navigate the giant property and all the options /lines that is Disney World. You can do things like...
Read description & current wait times for a ride you're interested in. Also lets you know if a certain ride is down for maintenance or an issue.
Real time mapping to get you around the park (think Google maps in WALKing mode)
One spot to see all things available in the park that day and the option to mark them as favorites to add to your list of things for the day you'd like to do (ie. parade times, firework shows, etc)
Make sit down dinning & character meal reservations. Skip ahead for more on this topic.
Order food for pick up at Quick Service Food Counters (instead of standing in huge lines to order).
Access a digital hotel room key / Check In or Out of Your Disney Hotel Room
So that's all awesome, but do you REALLY NEED the FREE App? YES.
Lightning Lane (aka. LL)
This is the "skip the line" option that has been floating around for some time. Families can pay a PER PERSON fee (I think it was like $22/ each) to have access to this feature. 100% this is how we were able to do everything we wanted to knowing we were a "1x and done" Disney family.
Securing LL Passes: As of Feb 2023 when we visited the parks you could purchase Lightening Lane on the App at MIDNIGHT the day before your trip. Visiting Magic Kingdom Sunday, we could purchase LL for that park Sunday at 12:00/12:01 AM
Reserving Rides: You can start selecting rides and reserving your LL spot at 7am the day you plan to attend the park.
Lightening Lane only lets you reserve 2 separate activities at a time per person- or - puts you on a 2hr selection rotation, which ever comes first. This keeps early birds from being able to block their whole day and completely take over LLs, keeping others who have purchased the privilege blocked out. it's also worth noting there is a LIMITED NUMBER OF LL passes and access times available. So it's something to pay attention to throughout the day.
Genie+ Lightning Lane (aka. Genie+ LL)
Basically it boils down to this... if want to ride the MOST popular ride in the park and are willing to pay a little extra, you can get LL access to a NON LL ride. These are the rides that are typically newer or are the MOST popular in the park which stack up HIGH wait times (2hrs +). In these instances you pay PER PERSON, PER RIDE. with typical pricing around $11-20 PER PERSON/PER RIDE. When we visited in Feb 2023 the LL Genie+ Rides were:
Magic Kingdom: Seven Dwarfs Roller Coaster
Hollywood Studios: Rise of The Resistance Experience (Ride)
Epcot: Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind
Animal Kingdom: Avatar Flight of Passage
Is Genie+ LL worth the extra $ - kind of, skip ahead to find out the details.
Any meal option (always in a SIT DOWN format) where one or more Disney Characters will be present.
Park Hopper Passes
An UPGRADED park ticket that allows you to visit a pay more $ to visit a 2nd park on the SAME day, after 2pm. We did not do this.
We were at Disney for 2 Nights & 3 Days in Feb 2023
Here Are 10x Take Away Tips I'd Recommend To My Bestie
1. Genie+ App is WELL WORTH learning how to use
The app saved us so much time learning what rides had shorter lines, making a last minute to-go food order or trying to figure out how to get from EXACTLY where we were to WHERE we wanted to go. No one wants to waste all day crisscrossing the park or putting in MORE steps than you have to, when you're already walking all day long. Even if you don't pay for LL the Genie+ App is great for HOTEL CHECK IN, seeing ride wait times and using the INTERACTIVE MAP. Plus it's one of the few FREE things in Disney, so make use of it! Take 10 minutes before your trip and spend some time playing around in it. It'll only take a few minutes to understand, but once you've got it, you're ARMED to take on Disney in a BIG way. And trust me, I'm NO tech wiz.
2. "Fast Pass" aka "Lightning Lane" We Found **Well Worth** The $$$ Esp. On A Limited 2 Day Trip
This is especially true for families like ours who only had 2 days to do 2 parks. Without it, I don't think we'd have been able to do all the things we wanted to do. In total for the 3 of us, we spent $22 per person / per day to access this feature. So for our family of 3 it was approximately $132 + tax and it saved us A TON of TIME!
3. Genie+ LL is DIFFERENT from just the Genie+ App OR Lightning Lane Access
...and it was a great time saver for us being on a 2 day trip. Genie+LL is when you pay an ADDITIONAL FEE (above and beyond LL's purchase) to gain LL access to priority ride (meaning it often has a big wait and no REGULAR LL access). More on this here.
My recommendation: Choose one or two parks to use this on. If we were there for 5 days and did all the parks, I'd personally ONLY use this for Hollywood Studios as we found their queue lines MUCH longer than in Magic Kingdom. Or, if you can afford to splurge, purchase it for Magic Kingdom too!
4. Know Your Priorities: Who / What Will Everyone Be MOST Interested In? Then Start Your Research
Before the trip, I started trying to figure out what rides I thought our daughter would like the most. I then made a quick list of "top" items and knew those would be a priority. This is also how I chose WHAT PARKS we wanted to go to.
For us, our kiddo was REALLY into Star Wars, so I knew Hollywood Studios (which has the new Star Wars area) was #1 for us. I also knew that Tower of Terror was not going to be a good fit...and so on. You can check out the different rides and their details here. Or do a quick YouTube search and you'll find a TON of reviews on each.
Hint: I found all the options a bit overwhelming but be sure to use the PARK FILTER at the top of the page to help focus in on what you're looking for.
5. Building a LL and Genie+ LL Strategy
If you opt to use LL and you continue researching, you'll find there are different types of "strategies" to make the most of it. This is what we did:
Midnight the day prior I'd purchase LL for all 3 of us
7am I'd purchase the Genie+ LL for all of us, knowing we wanted to do them (from research ahead of time)
7:02/ish I'd book our first TWO LL spots for our other TOP PICKS of the day
Set a phone alarm for 2 hrs later (ie. 9:00am'ish) to remind myself to re-check the LL boards again when it was available to us again. Then I continued this throughout the day and focused on shorter lines in our AREA as we went through the different "lands" within each park.
Filled in between spaces with shorter line rides that I knew we wanted to do
6. If you're there at rope drop, your meal times are likely going to be "off" from your normal time... which can totally work in your favor!
We knew going in that snacks would probably be common place on this trip. To help with the budget and general TIME, I had breakfast and basic snack groceries delivered to our room which ended up being a really good idea.
We'd clean some fruit and grab a muffin from the room and then be able to get right on the transport buses and not have to stop at the hotel food court with everyone else on our way out to the parks.
We also realized since we were getting up at 6:30am / 7am to make rope drops, our eating times were DIFFERENT than what I thought they would be. If we did it again I'd plan for LUNCH AT 10:30AM (brunch time for Disney) -and- DINNER at 3:30/4pm. Then when we'd go back in the evening for fireworks and cooler temps we'd have ice cream or something small and everyone was full and happy.
So keep that in mind if you're making food reservations. Normally our family on a regular day would eat breakfast @ 7- 7:30am / kid lunch 11:30am / dinner @ 6pm
On the plus side, moving our reservations for lunch to 10:30 and dinner to 3:30 was easy b/c most people book the 12noon lunches and 5/6pm dinner spots. So it was kind of a win/win.
Also we found out if you eat at 10:30 brunch you get charged the cheaper breakfast rate BUT you can actually eat breakfast/brunch OR lunch b/c they start flipping the food around 10:45am.
7. Making Meal Reservations is 100% Worth It
Some people get really crazy with this and book them as SOON as possible. We didn't know we were going to Disney until about 1 month prior, so once I booked our hotel room, I started looking at reservations options and researching the restaurants and menus. That said, our options were also more limited on what was available as well, although Character meals were still an option.
My suggestion: figure out what characters you'd like to meet and reserve that FIRST. Also things do look pricy, but know that character visiting is VERY organized, you'll get to meet EVERYONE there if you listen to the staff AND even the food on the buffets is (surprisingly to us) very tasty!
Places we ate & our thoughts on them:
Day 1: Hollywood Studios Food
Grocery breakfast (fruit and muffins) on transit to park
Ronto Roasters: Even though we had had fruit and muffins on the bus from our room, we found ourselves hungry after just a few rides. We ended up at Ronto and ordered the Breakfast Wraps which was basically Grilled Polish Kabasa+ Cheddar Cheese + Egg (think: egg pancake) in a Pita Bread. The egg was easy to remove from my part and the kiddo and I split it easily. Hubs loved his too we were both surprised at how tasty it really was for such a simple food. Result: Good Cheap Option, Quick to Order & Eat, Kid Ate It, Full Tummies for All
Kat Shak's Kettle: Popcorn snack. Yummy. If for a kiddo be careful NOT to get the spicy (red) one. The blue option was basically kettle corn and was a perfect snack for 2x.
Hollywood & Vine Character Meal for Late Lunch/Early Dinner Last minute booking the day of as we realized we were going to be hungry and wanted to SIT DOWN earlier then we had thought. Plus our kiddo was also starting to show A LOT MORE interest in the characters, so meeting Mickey and Minnie seemed like a must. Result: The mac'n'cheese was amazing, characters were happy to spend time at each table with each child. Pricey at lunch/dinner time (with tip this ran $180+ for a late lunch, just eating off the regular buffet, no cocktails, or extras) This ended up being our MOST EXPENSIVE meal of the week.
Day 2: Magic Kingdom
Grocery fruit & muffins on transit to park
Crystal Palace Brunch for LUNCH: Buffet meal with Pooh and Friends. Delicious! If you're there at 10:30 you have access to BREAKFAST or LUNCH foods but for the CHEAPER breakfast rate. Characters took a bit longer to circulate but the staff was so on top of drinks and was so friendly it really didn't matter.
Cancelled our Dinner Reservations at The Polynesian Hotel, opted for Pizza from Resort Food Court instead
8. Plan your Day in 2x chunks to recharge and beat the heat.
Both days we would be at the park for rope drop to get in early. We'd stay until about 2 or 3 pm and then go back to our rooms to rest while the heat was high and the park was crowded. We'd then return to the park around 5:30/6pm. There was never a line to get back in, we'd walk right through and found that our patience with each other as well as our feet really needed that mid-day break.
It also recharged the kiddo enough that we would stay after fireworks to ride more rides that had had a long wait all day...but at least this time we were standing in the cooler night time and there was LESS people in line total. It really worked well for us.
9. For us, Age 6 was the PERFECT Age For Our Kid To Go
Our kiddo will be 7 in the spring. She was old enough and tall enough to ride ANY ride she wanted to. She was also mature enough to understand why we had to wait in lines without getting whiney. We also didn't take a stroller and by planning our day in 2 chunks she was able to walk ON HER OWN 99% of the time with Daddy only carrying her from the bus to our room at night, when she'd fall asleep on the ride back. This saved the hub's arms and neck as well as made for an overall better experience. She was also still YOUNG enough though to get sucked into it all... "shrinking" into Andy's Back Yard, meeting the REAL Princesses, etc.
Also she wasn't scared of the characters in suits and considering she was the one terrified of Santa and the Easter Bunny... if we'd have gone when she was littler she'd have hated it.
10. You may be wrong in what you THINK your kids are going to like MOST. Be ready to pivot if you need to.
Our kiddo has NEVER been into Disney cartoons or the Princesses. And YES I tried. She was REALLY into Star Wars however, so we knew right away that Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Hollywood Studios was going to take priority.
Then after chatting I felt it was important for her to visit Magic Kingdom while we were there too. She's been to many amazing Zoos and although the hubs and I would have liked to see Animal Kingdom, we thought Magic Kingdom would be a better fit for EVERYONE in the family, not just us.
That said, I knew she'd like the carnival rides and game but I didn't think she'd give a hoot about meeting characters or Princesses. And BOY WAS I WRONG.
This girl ATE IT UP. The day we went to Star Wars she had fun but you could tell she felt overwhelmed by it and even got a bit scared on the Rise of the Resistance ride. She liked meeting Rae and Chewy but all in all, it was Toy Story Mania ride that ended up being her favorite. So much so we rode it twice.
Then at Magic Kingdom once she started seeing the characters she was hooked. I'm really glad we opted to add this day on. She wasn't as impressed by the castle as I thought she'd be BUT she was 100% won over by Cinderella, Belle, Daisy Duck, Peter Pan, Pooh Bear and everyone else she met. She LOVED the coaster rides and I think may have enjoyed the MK day MORE than our day at HS.
BONUS: Thing I Found Were Underrated But Were TOTAL Gems!
I. Fantasmic (Hollywood Studio's)
This show was FREAKING amazing with it's Vegas style fountains, lights, projections and stage interactions. It was also the only place we saw Pocahontas and Marry Poppins and since P is my personal favorite, I was really excited she was there. You also see A TON of THE BIG characters during the show, so if your kiddo is keeping a list (like mine did) it's a great way to see a lot of well known characters in a short period of time. This was probably one of my absolute favorite things we did. Well worth coming back to the park for!
II. Enchanted Tales with Belle (Magic Kingdom)
I booked this LL on a whim. We had some extra time between rides, it had a 5 minute wait and I thought what the hell. Y'all this things was AMAZING! I don't want to give away too much but they really pull you and the kiddos into the story of Beauty and Beast. My kiddo even got to DANCE WITH BELLE during the show. Before this she could have cared less about Belle (either the Cartoon or Live Action) but she walked away SO excited from this experience and the hubs & I was legit impressed by it all. A MUST DO for sure!
III. The Coasters (Magic Kingdom)
Okay, all the coasters are popular so I wouldn't call them "underrated" BUT I will tell you that my kiddo LOVED Thunder Mountain MORE than any of the coasters we did... INCLUDING SLINKY in Hollywood Studio's Toy Story Land. Personally, my favorite coaster was the Seven Dwarfs b/c of the imagery and good drops, but if you ask the kiddo it was Thunder Mountain with it's TIGHT curves and T Rex skeleton, hands down.
Okay there you have it. My 10x top tips and tricks we learned along the way while visiting Disney World in 2023
Obviously there is still SO much that I didn't cover, but hey that's why there are blogs and trip planner's whose SOLE PURPOSE is helping guide families through their Disney plans right?
That said, I need to give a big shout out to Heather Borgman, a HTM client who was a Disney Guru for us and helped answer a lot of questions. She's also a Disney Vacation planner so if you're looking to plan a trip soon, be sure to reach out to her!
While planning I also found myself coming back to the YouTube Channel of DFBGuide (The Disney Food Blog) for info on rides, food, etc. So I'd highly recommend checking them out for tips too!
Other Thoughts & Answers for Our Disney World Trip
As a mom would you take a "good" camera to the parks?
No - and there are MANY reasons for this.
Firstly, just like any professional, when I'm on vacation, I don't want to be doing my "job" so I rarely take anything but an iPhone on trips with us.
But perhaps more importantly, I DID NOT want to spend what little time we had there trying to "get the shot." Instead I wanted to live presently in the moments with my kiddo and therefore only used my iPhone. Additionally, once there I found there were no cubbies on the roller coasters to put your hats/glasses/cameras into like at other theme parks so it's likely the gear is going to take a beating on the rides if you do take it.
Dreaming about pro shots at Disney? There are a TON of local photographers who specialize in shooting PRO family portraits at Disney. If it were me, I'd hire one of them instead.
How many days were you on the property?
3 days /2 nights and we ran it like:
day1: Hollywood Studios
day 2: Magic Kingdom
day 3: Pool Day with Late Check Out, had a 5pm flight home
How did you travel from the resort room to the parks
Each All Star Resort Hotel has buses running about every 15 minutes to every park. 1 bus = one park. Non stop. So you're not wasting time with people getting on and off places you aren't yourself headed to. It was FAR MORE EFFICIENT than I expected it to be
Souvenirs + Kids & Gift Shop Advice
Kid Spending $ Be ready to be dumped out into a GIFT SHOP after EVERY RIDE or EXPEREINCE you do. Before the trip we let our kiddo earn a little $ doing chores to spend on her trip. This helped a lot b/c when we were dumped into the gift shops EVERY TIME she wasn't asking for something. She might have looked, knowing she had some $ to spend but she was FAR MORE FRUGAL with her $ than if we'd not taken this route prior to leaving. It helped with expectations and limited "asks" to things like "Momma can we get ice cream? or "Momma, do you think we could get a balloon? " which just fits our family better than 1x million toys and brining home expensive junk she plays with 1x before it breaks or she's over it.
Bringing Home Other Souvenirs
Also at the end of the trip, I went into the resort gift store ALONE. This let me surprise her with a Tinkerbell Barbie, purchase things for our niece and nephew and a few small items for her to give to friends, WITHOUT her asking to buy everything in the store. lol. She instead was in the pool with daddy. 10/10 highly recommend. lol
Running out of Luggage Space For Souvenirs?
I really wanted a specific coffee mug from a Disney gift shop but I knew we wouldn't have a lot of space in the luggage AND was worried about it breaking in transit. But after a few hours I was still wanting the mug, so I had an idea. I jumped on Amazon and purchased from Disney's Online Amazon Store. I found the item (it was $ the same) and had it shipped DIRECTLY to our house. When we got home, it arrived the next day and there was no breaking or luggage packing needed.
Where was the CHEAPEST PLACE TO EAT on property?
I'm not sure what the OFFICIAL answer is to this but we found the food court at our resort to be well priced for what they were serving. The food was also actually good, so if you're looking to try to save some $ I'd recommend eating dinner at one of the food courts.
Check out DFB Guide on YouTube, I found it was helpful in this area.
Are character meals worth the price?
In the end, yes, we thought so. But I would ONLY book breakfast/brunch spots if we ever did it again which came in around $145 for the meal. The one character lunch we did, I personally thought was over priced, coming in at right around $200 once tip was applied.
Is all Disney food created equal?
No. Be sure to check out the DFB Guide on best places to grab a snack, grab a quick to-go meal or spend the time to sit down. For instance, we found out the Back Stage lot at Hollywood Studios was great for SNACKS but not so good for FOOD, so we grabbed our "Wookie Cookies" there, but had lunch some place else.
What resort did you stay in?
We stayed in the All Star Music. The beds were super comfy, the rooms although small were well planned to take care of a family of 4's needs. I would not do 4 adults in one room, but hey that's me.
Any $$$ Saving Tips You Found While At Disney?
I had groceries delivered (fruit, water, bakery muffins, coffee, coffee creamer, etc.) so we had "grab and go" food for breakfasts which I believe ended up saving us time & money in the end. I'd highly recommend this route.
Also consider booking 10:30am Character Meals to get access to BOTH breakfast and lunch items, while paying the cheaper BREAKFAST rates.
Are Disney's alcoholic drinks any good?
Honestly, I didn't even have one. They looked tasty when we were at the pool, but we were on the go so much, I never actually ordered one.
Hey You... Let's Be Friends, K?!
Hey there - I'm Chelsea! A coffee worshipping Hoosier native, just trying to raise a kiddo and capture vivid memories in central IN for my families & brides. To see more of our work, make sure to FOLLOW us on Facebook and Instagram & sign up for our VIP club to get first dibs on open session date! Curious about me? Dive into my story of how I flushed my comfortable Fortune 500 Marketing Career to take on the life of a SMB owner at Hashtag Memories Photography!
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