Worried about having to carry bags of souvenirs on your day at the park because you don’t have time to stop back at your hotel? Here’s a quick tip: ask the cashier to package up the items and have them sent back to the room you are staying in. Though this is a very popular tactic for veteran park-hoppers, a lot of vacationers might not realize this option exists. As long as you are staying on property, cast members can bundle your purchases and have them shipped right back to your hotel, where they will magically appear waiting for you. It doesn’t cost any extra, and it’s a great way to avoid carrying your souvenirs all over the parks!
Similarly, if you’re worried about carrying cash, remember that your Magic Band can now be used to charge items to your room bill. This means that you can now scan your Magic Band at any restaurant, quick service, or store in the Disney parks, and have the total purchase automatically added to your overall hotel bill.
Image courtesy of wdwhints.com.
For the traditional and rightfully classic view of Magic Kingdom’s nighttime spectacular, Wishes, many vacationers will want to line up along the edges of Main Street, USA. While this will certainly provide you with a fantastic vantage point, you’ll need to arrive very far in advance (sometimes more than an hour) to reserve a good spot, and you’ll have to deal with very heavy crowds. If you’re eligible to use the FastPass+ system, therefore, I recommend picking up one for Wishes. This reservation guarantees you a “preferred viewing location,” and allows you to arrive to the site anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes before showtime. With this FastPass+, you’ll be surrounded by significantly thinner crowds, as only people with a valid FastPass+ will be allowed to enter the viewing area. You also won’t have to scout out your spot an hour ahead of time, so you’ll have a better opportunity to enjoy the park.
The FastPass+ for Wishes allows you entry to an area called the Rose Garden, which is located on the outskirts of Tomorrowland and is in very close proximity to Cinderella Castle. The Rose Garden is roped off by employees until the window of entry arrives, at which point cast members will welcome you into the viewing area. Because the Rose Garden is to the side of the castle, you won’t get the traditional vantage point pictured above. You will, however, get extremely close to the castle without having to deal with large crowds or wait an unnecessary amount of time, and in my opinion, this option is very well worth it. For a quick sneak peek at what Wishes looks like from the Rose Garden, check out my video.
Though there is a similar FastPass+ option available for Epcot’s IllumiNations, I prefer an alternative viewing method. For any fans of the Great Britain pavilion, I suggest booking a reservation at the Rose & Crown pub. This dining option is delightfully themed and boasts some great authentic dishes. If you eat close to the showtime of IllumiNations (I would recommend around 7:00 or 7:30) and speak with the very accommodating wait staff, you will be allowed to enter a roped-off viewing area just around the back of the Rose & Crown. If you’re familiar with the pub, the area I’m talking about is just past the outdoor tables around the side of the restaurant. This area never has more than a dozen people in it, and does not require you to arrive much earlier than 20 or 15 minutes before showtime. You’ll have an up-close, unobstructed view, and I highly recommend trying this out. For a sneak peek of what your view of IllumiNations will look like from outside the Rose & Crown, check out my video.
Images courtesy of disneyworld.disney.go.com.
One of the biggest benefits of staying on Disney property is access to “Extra Magic Hours,” which is exactly what it sounds like – more time to enjoy the parks! Everyday, one of the four main parks are open an hour before or after the regular schedule. This means that if Magic Kingdom had Extra Magic Hours tomorrow morning, the park would be open to on-site Disney vacationers at 8 AM instead of 9 AM! Evening Extra Magic Hours tend to run even longer, tacking on two or three hours after closing time.
If you’re staying at one of the Disney-owned hotels, I would highly recommend planning some days around the announced Extra Magic Hours. Before you decide on a park for the day, be sure to check out Disney’s schedule and see if your group can work in the designated times. Parks during Extra Magic Hours are often much less crowded, and it’s a unique experience to see them early in the morning and late at night! When factoring in these Extra Magic Hours, you should also read up on what is open and running during these times.
Image courtesy of disneylandflorida.com, resources courtesy of disneyworld.disney.go.com and allears.net.
On Sunday, March 9th, 2014, Disney World debuted its highly anticipated Festival of Fantasy Parade. The procession can be found in Magic Kingdom every afternoon, and is designed as a tribute to the newly-renovated Fantasyland. Young ones will enjoy seeing all their favorite characters (Belle & Beast, Peter Pan & Tinkerbell, Rapunzel & Flynn Rider, and even Elsa & Anna!) on spectacularly decorated floats. Make sure you stick around to see the parade’s biggest spectacle: Maleficent as a metal, fire-breathing dragon.
Want a sneak peek? Check out a video of the full parade courtesy of allears.net.
Image courtesy of insidethemagic.net.
Looking for an old-fashioned, out-of-park dining option? Stop by the Beach Club hotel, near the back of Epcot’s World Showcase, and check out this classic take on a 50’s soda shop. Beaches & Cream boasts one of the best burgers on Disney property, and is famous for the delightfully challenging dessert, The Kitchen Sink.
This hidden gem is one of my favorite places to eat at Disney World – it’s perfect for a light and flavorful lunch or dinner, and its fantastic dessert selection makes it a popular nighttime hot spot. It’s got such a great theme, and the wait staff is always friendly and helpful. Compared to other park dining options, Beaches & Cream is relatively cheap, and you certainly get what you pay for in terms of proportions. I would highly recommend giving this classic seaside diner a try!
Images courtesy of disneyfoodblog.com, themellosandthemouse.blogspot.com, and onlywdworld.com.
Christmastime in Walt Disney World is one of the most spectacular events of the year, and if you don’t mind the crowds, it’s sure to be a wonderful experience for the whole family. In November and December, each park and resort gets grandiosely decorated for the holiday, featuring trees, wreaths, life-sized gingerbread sculptures, and 8.5 million lights strung throughout the property. If you’re planning to visit Disney during this time of year, be sure to check out the following special events:
On select nights during November and December, you can purchase an extra pass to attend this special event held in Magic Kingdom. If you’re in Disney for the season, there is simply no better way to celebrate the holidays! Guests will enjoy a magical lighting of Cinderella Castle, Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade featuring Santa, a delightful holiday version of Wishes, and even a snowfall on Main Street!
After Thanksgiving, this unique and enlightening event takes place at World Showcase to highlight how each culture celebrates the season. Travel across the pavilions to learn about customs, traditions, and special stories that each country has to share. Also be sure to check out the Candlelight Processional, a beautiful retelling of the story of Christmas told by a celebrity narrator (Neil Patrick Harris, Whoopi Goldberg, and Geena Davis are some popular attendees!). Finish your night with a holiday presentation of IllumiNations at Showcase Lagoon.
This dazzling display of multicolored lights is strung around the Streets of America in Hollywood Studios. On select nights, the buildings alight with patterns synchronized to familiar Christmas songs, completely surrounding you with holiday spirit as you stroll down the street.
I was recently in Disney for the 2013 holiday celebration, and I can say that this really is one of the most magical ways to get into the Christmas spirit. My family scheduled our trip the week before Thanksgiving, which meant relatively low crowds, but an indeterminate amount of holiday festivities available. As it turned out, the only thing not yet running was Holidays Around the World — both the Christmas Party and Dancing Lights show were in their regular rotation, and the parks and hotels were decorated for the season. If you don’t mind this small caveat, I would recommend planning your trip before the Christmas crowds descend. Though I can’t attest to the Christmas Party as we didn’t attend, I can say that the Dancing Lights show is spectacular. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, and is such a beautifully immersive experience.
Images provided by disneyworld.disney.go.com.
Consider yourself a cuisine connoisseur? Stop by World Showcase from mid-September to mid-November and dine your way across all eleven countries! This fun fall event boasts nearly 30 international marketplaces, culinary demonstrations and dining experiences with professional chefs, and even an “Eat to the Beat” concert series. The 2014 event is currently scheduled for September 19th to November 10th.
Image provided by disneyworld.disney.go.com.
Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party
This holiday celebration for all ages takes place in Magic Kingdom on select nights during September and October. Guests can look forward to meeting Disney villains and ghostly characters by day, then taking part in the “Boo-to-You” Parade by night. Also be sure to catch the special version of the castle fireworks called “HalloWishes,” a ghoulishly fun spectacular.
Image courtesy of disneyworld.disney.go.com.
Star Wars Weekends
Occurring in late May and early June, Hollywood Studios uses the power of the Force to bring guests an out-of-this-world experience. Special franchise characters like Darth Vader and Chewbacca make an appearance to sign autograph books, and even to help train young ones in the art of being a Jedi!
Image courtesy of disneyworld.disney.go.com.
This special Spring event takes place in the gardens of Epcot each year from March to May. World Showcase and Future World are adorned with delightful flower displays and character topiary, including crowd favorites like Mickey, Donald Duck, and Tinkerbell. HGTV specialists visit Epcot during this time of year to conduct DIY seminars about indoor and outdoor designing, and their schedule can be found on Disney’s website. Also be sure to check out the Flower Power concerts performed each weekend.