Posts Tagged ‘fastpass’

Our First Disney Trip: What I Learned That Can Help You Plan

Friday, July 7th, 2017

 

I am not, nor will I ever claim to be, a Disney World expert. But considering our trip was the first time I had been in 15 years and the first visit with kids, our week was remarkably smooth and fun. So here is a summary (ha! as if I am capable of writing a summary instead of a novel) of the best advice I have for Fastpasses, dining, and more.

FASTPASS+

Most of the popular rides at Disney World have two lines: standby, which is the regular line, and Fastpass, which is for people who made a reservation for a window of time where they can come back and ride with minimal wait. They’ve updated everything about Fastpasses in the decade since I was that there – no more paper tickets! You want Fastpasses. Because we stayed at an official Disney resort, we got Magic Bands, which are digital wristbands that hold all our stuff electronically, including our Fastpasses. It also meant we could make our Fastpass reservations online 60 days before our actual trip – if you stay off-property your reservations can be made 30 days in advance. Here is the TouringPlans page with all the technical details of how to make FP reservations. Read it and be prepared to book as soon as your window opens. Once you know how to book FPs, here is what I would recommend:

  1. Book your first Fastpass for 30 minutes after the park opens. If you are like my family and want to spend as much time in the parks as possible, you can get there before they open and be one of the first people in (it’s called “rope dropping”) to get to one popular ride first thing with almost no wait. But after that, you’ll be in the park with all the other people who came early, so ride times immediately go up.
  2. Book all your Fastpasses before noon (if you can). Once you use up your 3 FPs for the day, you can get one more. Once you use that one, you can get another, and so on. But you HAVE to have used up your first three to book a fourth. If you have one at 9 am, one at 10 am and one at 5 pm, you’ll be standing in regular lines for that whole middle part of the day. Plus as the day goes on they run out of Fastpasses for popular rides, so after about 2 or 3 pm your choices for FP are limited. We had no problem getting a 4 pm Pirates of the Caribbean FP around noon in the park the day of our visit, but Space Mountain wasn’t available anymore.
  3. Understand the tier system. All the parks other than the Magic Kingdom now have tiers for their FPs, so you can only hold one top tier FP at a time. Decide which tier 1 ride is the most important to you and then plan to rope drop the park for a second tier 1 ride and hopefully book your 4th FP for a third. Another method would be to plan to do more than one day at each park, because you can have 3 Fastpasses each day of your visit. We will do more than 1 day per park if (when) we go again, so I’m looking forward to that plan.
  4. Get a Fastpass for Flights of Passage in Pandora. Don’t bother with one for the other Pandora ride. The line for FoP was never less than 120 minutes while we were there, so we were super glad to have the FP. They’re currently full 30 days out, so be sure to do that one FIRST as soon as your window opens.
  5. Rider swap + Fastpass = BEST. Rider swap is for families with kids who are too short or too scared for some rides. There are a lot of rides with no height restriction at all, but when babies or toddlers can’t ride they will give you a ticket so the other grown up can wait with them and then use the Fastpass line (even if you didn’t originally have a Fastpass). But when you combine them, both parents get to ride and the kids get to ride twice all in usually under 30 minutes. Also good to note is the rider swap paper pass is good for a long time – several days or more – so if something comes up and you don’t have time a chance to ride right away you can come back and do it later.
  6. If you’re doing rider swap on a ride you have a Fastpass for, make sure both grown ups swipe their Magic Bands to “clear” their FP. While the kids and I were on Big Thunder Mountain, E waited with the babies. Because that was our last Fastpass, E booked us our fourth FP from his phone for Pirates later. But since he hadn’t scanned in his band when we checked in for rider swap, he couldn’t book his own fourth FP because it still had one for Big Thunder Mountain. He didn’t NEED the FP for Big Thunder Mountain because a rider swap pass IS a Fastpass. This is also how in theory both grown ups could have ridden Big Thunder Mountain (or other rides) twice each using the Fastpass line. It works like this: I check in for rider swap with my FP and the kids, scan my band, and get the rider swap ticket. When I get off the ride with the kids, E takes the rider swap pass and rides again with the kids. Then when he gets off, HE swipes his FP, gets another rider swap pass, rides with the kids. Then he gives me the rider swap, I take the kids and we ride again. Then both grown ups have ridden twice and the kids ride four times. I have seen various opinions of this on the internet, both for and against. The consensus seems to be that cast members don’t mind as long as you’re not rude about it. But I wouldn’t try it on something super popular, like the Pandora rides, and I wasn’t comfortable “cheating” the FP system even if Disney allows it so it’s not actually cheating.
  7. Be on time. If you are significantly early or late you might get turned away. We were less than 60 seconds late for a show FP and it was fine. We were 20 minutes early for another FP and they flagged us (the band scanner flashed instead of glowing green). The cast member waved us through with a reminder to check our window, which was kind of him, but I saw other people turned away because they were more than an hour outside their window. But also remember your FP window is a WINDOW. If you have a FP for Peter Pan’s Flight at 10:30 and it’s only 10:15, look around and see what the wait time for Small World or the carousel is. You can be on and off those in less than half an hour and still be right in the middle of your Fastpass window.
  8. Fastpasses for Character Meets are a toss up. They’re good because character lines can be REALLY long and they’re usually also really boring. But those wait times tend to vary, so you might be better off using FPs for rides and keeping an eye on your wait time app (see below) for a shorter line. If (when) we go again, the only character meet I will get a Fastpass for is the Mickey Mouse in Magic Kingdom who talks. Even the “40 minute wait” for Elena wasn’t that bad.

 

DINING PLAN

There is a lot of discussion about whether or not the dining plans are a good deal. I do not know. I am very detail-oriented about a lot of things…but not when it comes to money (I’m a terrible adult). I did not make spreadsheets to figure out if we could save money on food if we paid cash instead of adding the dining plan to our room. And I am fine with that choice. I LOVED the dining plan. We used almost all of it correctly and only had to use up a few extra snacks on road trip food on our way out. Here are the things I loved about it and the suggestions I have:

  1. You need to plan dining ahead if you want to eat at sit-down restaurants. There were so many people who walked up to the podiums and said “Hi, how long is the wait?” and the hostess was like “…for dinner…today?” Figure out where you want to eat ahead of time so you can make reservations ASAP.
  2. Book character meals. Most of our sit-down meals (called Table Service) were character dining: Princesses at 1900 Park Fare, Disney Jr characters at Hollywood & Vine, more princesses at Akershus, and Mickey and friends at Tusker House. They were ALL great. They were also all buffets, so it felt like a good value. Babies who are too young for the dining plan (under 3 years old) can eat whatever they want at buffets.
  3. Use your snack credits. We were really busy the first day and only used 3 of the 8 snack credits we were given. They carry over, so we used them eventually, but it we should have used them more regularly to grab stuff anytime we wanted it. Especially on drinks. Just get a bottle of soda if you’re thirsty (or a Starbucks, those count as snacks). Don’t agonise over it.
  4. We did not eat any of the food I brought from home in the parks. We did eat granola bars and pop tarts in our room for breakfast a couple times, but I WAY overestimated how much food I needed to bring on my own. I won’t waste space or money on those snacks again.
  5. Our dining plan came with refillable mugs. They’re ONLY refillable with soda at resorts, not in the parks. We brought them to the parks to use for water and then never actually used them. Don’t bother dragging them around all the time – if you really need a water bottle to refill, just bring one you like from home. (The line for Na’vi River Journey has this new drinking fountain/bottle filler station in it. I wouldn’t be surprised if they started replacing drinking fountains with those, since every time I saw a drinking fountain someone was using it to fill up mugs/bottles.)
  6. There are a lot of lists called “best foods to try at Disney!”. I thought everything was the best. You’re at Disney, even plain old ice cream sandwiches taste better when they’re shaped like Mickey Mouse.

TECHNOLOGY

Disney World is firmly caught up to the times and having a good smart phone, portable battery and a charger will make your day a lot easier.

  1. The official My Disney Experience app. Use this to make and manage your Fastpasses, find bathrooms, check wait times, look at maps, and more. You can even see your PhotoPass pictures almost immediately. It’s a good app.
  2. A free app called “Wait Times for Disney World”. It loads faster and is quicker to check than the official app and we found it to be very accurate. It has all 4 parks.
  3. Character Locator. I just pinned the homepage for the site to my screen like an app. I also paid the $7 for full access. It was a great way to find roaming characters and has important info like “do they sign autographs?” and “do they talk?” It even has suggestions for how to have fun interactions. It has a lot more than just characters (park hours, height requirements, menus) so it was great to browse while waiting in lines or during meals so I could plan what was next.
  4. Make a schedule of the park hours, your Fastpass times, dining reservations, any shows or parades you want to watch, then take a screenshot and make it your lock screen. You need to communicate times and locations to the people you are with constantly. This is a very fast way to check your schedule.
  5. We bought the Memory Maker photo package so we got all the pictures taken by the PhotoPass photographers and it was absolutely worth the money for us. We got all the “important” photos done with the official park photogs and I was free to take pictures of the kids when I had time. The only photos they don’t cover is character meals. Plus they do hilarious, awesome magic photos like this one:

OTHER STUFF

Here are a few things we learned on this trip:

  1. Staying in a nicer resort is more money because it’s worth more money. The pools have water slides and the transportation to the parks is better. Even if you’re just taking buses, the pick-up spots are closer to the park exit, they aren’t as crowded, and there are more of them. We saw 3 Wilderness Lodge buses for every Art of Animation bus that stopped. Even if it means we have to split our trip between two hotels – a nice one for the first park days and a value resort for other days – we’ll stay somewhere with boat, monorail or even walking park access next time.
  2. Don’t be mad when you can’t do everything. We never even did the spinning teacups. Or Enchanted Tales with Belle, or the baby rollercoaster for Linc or anything in the dinosaur section, or most of Tomorrowland. And we missed two fireworks shows AND the parade. It’s fine. No one but the grown ups even realised we miss stuff and we can do it next time.
  3. Starbucks is a snack credit. We only did it once but I would have been a MUCH happier mama in the mornings if I had a huge coffee for breakfast every day.
  4. Try not to carry around more stuff that you have to. And revisit what “have to” means each day. I should not have brought two cameras. We didn’t need to do pin trading EVERY day. We also didn’t need to bring our mouse ears to every park because no one wore them after the first day. All those things add up and the fewer things you have to carry and/or push in a stroller the better.
  5. If at all possible, schedule a vacation after your Disney trip. Because Disney is a trip, not a vacation, and you will need a vacation. We went to visit my parents for the week after Disney World and it was a great plan. We didn’t have to walk anywhere, we didn’t have a schedule, we didn’t have to set any alarms. I also got to do all our laundry, so we came home with mostly clean clothes. Or if you can’t do a whole extra vacation, plan a day in the middle to relax and a day at the end to relax.

 

 

 

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Our First Disney Trip: Magic Kingdom

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

Previously: Days 1 & 2 in Disney (but no parks)

We planned our first park day for the Magic Kingdom because I wasn’t sure the kids would really understand they were actually at Disney World until they saw the castle up close. It’s also the park with the most stuff and non-negotiable fireworks (meaning we HAVE to stay for the fireworks) so we knew it would be a very long day.

We got to the park an hour before they officially opened because we wanted Main Street photos with the castle before the park got TOO crowded. We also had breakfast reservations at 9:10 at the very back of the park and needed to be at least at the castle by 9 am. Between security and time to take allll┬áthe photos, it was a good call. Disney has done a great job speeding up lines of all kinds – E was chatting with a security manager and he said not having a long line for bag checks is a huge priority for them and we could definitely tell – but being prepared to have them slow you down a little is a good idea. So we got into the park before “official” open time and were right at the front of the castle when they did the morning opening show. It is definitely worth catching if you have kids – that first glimpse of Mickey and Minnie blew Linc’s mind and there were a bunch of characters we only saw during that show. I might have (definitely) cried a little.

These are our PhotoPass pictures:

And these are my photos:

The moment Evan saw the castle:

You’re never too cool for a Disney World castle selfie.

Right after that they lifted the ropes and we walked straight back to Be Our Guest for our breakfast reservation. The breakfast system was incredibly efficient. You placed your order on touch screens, scanned your magic band to pay/use your dining credits, and then picked a table anywhere. I wanted to see the West Wing so we walked through the gorgeous main ballroom (it looked exactly like where Belle and Beast dance in the movie) (also it snows outside the “windows”) and got a table RIGHT under Prince Adam’s ripped portrait from the movie.

Every 5 minutes or so there was a thunderstorm and the portrait would flash with the Beast’s picture instead. It was super cool. Lincoln did NOT like it, so if you have a possibly-scared toddler I would recommend just coming in to visit the West Wing and sitting in a different room. Seconds after we sat down, a waitress brought our food to our table. How did she know where we were??? Ther wasn’t a number or a tracker or one of those buzzers or anything that tied us to the order we placed at the touch screen. I might have been more amazed by the service than by the magical portrait or the very awesome magic rose:

After breakfast, we had time for some stuff with short lines – the carousel, Small World, watching the Sword in the Stone show, and visiting Elena before our first fast pass for the Seven Dwarves Mine Train. There are a lot of rides in Fantasyland.

Cinderella’s slipper at Fairytale Hall:

I surprised Caroline with the Elena dress and crown because I knew she was extra exicted to meet her:

Elena photos (and basically all the character meet photos NOT at a meal) are from our PhotoPass. I recommend the PhotoPass.

Linc doesn’t look thrilled in this photo, but he was SO EXCITED about the “diss” from a princess.

This is the part of my recap where I’m going to pat myself on the back a little bit for all that planning I did. It was SO GREAT to be able to tell the kids “don’t worry, we have a Fastpass” for almost every ride they wanted. We also really benefitted from the rider swap system. We would all show up at the entrance and scan our bands to “clear” the FP from our account, then one of the grown ups would go with Evan and Caroline and get a rider swap pass. Sometimes it was a tag, sometimes a ticket, but either way as soon as they got off the ride they passed it to the other grown up and the big kids got to ride again. It was SO GREAT for the big kids, because they got to ride everything at least twice. In theory we could have doubled our FP options with rider swap because only one of us HAD to scan in to get into the FP line. There are other blogs that could explain that method better than me, but we a) weren’t 100% sure it would work on the most popular rides and b) didn’t feel right “cheating” the system even if it wasn’t really cheating. Plus between the Fastpasses I booked 90 days before the trip, shortish lines, and the ability to book more Fastpasses after our first 3 were used, we were fine.

One of the things you don’t need a Fastpass for is Dumbo. They’ve changed it a lot since the last time I was at Disney, so now you go inside to a playground and the kids play (in the air conditioning) while you wait for your turn with a buzzer, like they give you when you wait for your table at Chili’s. It’s great. All four kids got to play while I got to sit down. And then it was time for some classic Dumbo action.

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Then we met Ariel! Mermaid Ariel, which was very cool.

We tried to watch the 3 pm parade…but the weather turned and they canceled it. Then we made our biggest mistake of the day and got in a 60-minute long line for Haunted Mansion. Ugggh. But it was under awnings so we weren’t in the rain and it moved pretty fast and it was on our must-do list so I’m glad if we were going to waste some time in line it was for something good.

 

The rest of our afternoon was spent in Adventureland and Frontierland. We did the Swiss Family Robinson tree house, and the Jungle Cruise and Big Thunder Mountain and Pirates and Aladdin’s flying carpet and the Tiki Room and…I can’t even remember. All of it, I think, except Tom Sawyer’s Island. We even saw the Country Bear Jamboree, which I don’t think I have actually seen before. It was HILARIOUS. And not for children. But hilarious. I laughed so hard I almost cried.

It was REALLY hot so I didn’t care at all if the kids threw themselves in the fountains.

After we exhausted ourselves in all of the park besides Tomorrowland, we headed to dinner at the Jungle Skipper Canteen restaurant (the eatery themed to go with the Jungle Cruise ride). It was not at all crowded, our server was fantastic, and the bread they brought to serve the table was delicious. They just kept bringing more and more and more bread, so Linc and Finn stuffed themselves with that instead of having to share our food. I was going to order a noodle dish, but the server suggested the steak instead which ended up being a much better choice. After I sucked down my first Diet Coke in like 5 seconds, the waitress said “Oh,┬ámama needs more Diet Coke. I gotcha.” And then for the rest of the meal I never had less than two sodas next to my plate. We tipped her extra.

Caroline accidentally spilled soda on herself so she changed into her back-up clothes. And then after she ate she fell asleep on the bench.

After dinner we planned to finish out the roller coasters. We had a Fastpass for Splash Mountain in the evening, but the ride was temporarily broken. They emailed us to let us know we could either use our Fastpass whenever it started working again OR we could use it on something else. Something else = Space Mountain! First we stopped to watch the 9 pm fireworks show, called Happily Ever After. I definitely recommend watching from Main Street. On a different day we saw it from the back of the castle and you miss sooooo much. Even if it’s crowded, find a spot and stand there for the 18 minute show.

p.s. Even when you think the show is over, stand still for a few more minutes or you’ll miss Tinkerbell.

For some reason I thought Caroline was too short for Space Mountain, so we hung out and watched the second fireworks show while E and Evan went to ride. Then we walked over to wait for them so I could rider swap. A lot of people leave after the first fireworks, so we were able to stand right up next to the castle for the second show.

While I was in line for Space Mountain, I noticed the height restriction was lower than I thought so Caroline could ride. But by the time we got off and met up again it was late and all the kids were exhausted. Beyond exhausted. So we just made a note that if we made it back to the park for Splash Mountain we’d try to get Caroline a ride on Space Mountain too.

My main lesson for our Magic Kingdom day is that it is definitely a 2-day park. Maybe even a 3-day park if you’re trying to do absolutely everything. I’m already making a list so if (when) we go back we can finish everything we missed. We never even did the spinning tea cups!

Up next: Wednesday at Hollywood Studios. Star Wars day!

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