While there is no bad time at all to visit a Disney Park, without a doubt one of the most popular times to visit is a holiday. There’s something special about holiday decorations, whether it’s for a Patriotic holiday, Halloween of Christmas. It adds a little extra Pixie Dust to that already magical experience.
If you are one of those planning out your visit to the Magic Kingdom or any other park for an upcoming holiday, there are a few things you’ll need to keep in mind.
Going to Disney during a holiday does mean more magic, but it also means higher crowds. In order to get the most magic, and the least frustration out of your trip, there’s a few things you’ll want to take into consideration!
If you are driving your own car, be prepared for a much longer walk to and from your parking space. Arrive as early as you can for the best parking space possible. There will also be longer lines or wait times to take the parking tram.
Because holidays, New Years, Thanksgiving and Christmas especially, are such popular times to visit, Magic Kingdom can reach capacity. What does this mean? A holiday at capacity happens in stages, so knowing those stages can make sure YOU get inside. Disney can change the way they do things at any time, but this is generally how it happens when it starts getting closer to capacity. Usually you’ll only need to worry about this a few days before, and after Christmas.
Guests with one day, single park tickets or those using cast member passes will not be allowed to park, they will be turned away at the toll plazas.
Any guest staying at a Disney Resort, even if they drive themselves, is allowed in. Also, anyone with a multi day ticket, or park hopper tickets, annual passholders, someone hopping in from another park, anyone arriving by Disney transportation or anyone with an existing in park reservation.
When the second stage occurs, the only ones allowed into the parking lots, or through the ticket turnstiles are:
Those staying at a Disney resort, annual passholders, those re-entering the park from earlier that day, those hopping from another park, those with in park reservations or those coming by Disney transportation.
Once it reaches the third stage (which isn’t too often, the second stage it the most common) the only ones allowed into the turnstiles, or the parking lot are:
Those staying at a Disney Resort, annual passholders, those with in park reservations.
The fourth stage, the park is entirely shut down, to all visitors. This has only happened once though, so it’s unlikely you will need to worry about it.
If you are visiting during a holiday, and NOT staying on property, you need to arrive at least an hour and a half early in order to make sure you get into the park. Remember, with the new opening procedure for the park, the hub is open an hour, sometimes earlier, than actual park opening. Once that is filled, and it will fill on a holiday, people will be stuck between the gates and the turnsiles, backing up to to the arrival areas and it will take much much longer to get inside of the park and get where you want to go. Holiday are NOT a time to get there late.
There will be crowds, but like any Disney crowd, common sense will see you through. If you’ve small children, keep them in the stroller or tightly hold their hands so they don’t get lost, or knocked over. It only takes the blink of an eye for your group to be separated when another group pushes past you, so something like matching hats or shirts can go a long way towards spotting each others.
First-timers- please note! You will NOT be able to hear your cell phone ringing, and the person you are trying to call will not be able to hear theirs! Even on a regular park day, it’s just too loud in the park to hear it, so plan to take frequent breaks to look to see if you’ve missed a call or text from another in your group.
If there was a sit down place you wanted to eat, or if your little princess wanted a makeover, I hope you’ve already got reservations. You can start booking your preferred restaurant 6 months in advance. Didn’t do that yet? It’s okay, and you might still be able to get a reservation, but the sooner you start checking, the better. As time draws closer to your trip, if you haven't been able to score a table, don’t give up. Things happen sometimes with the others who hold those reservations, and it’s not unlikely, or impossible to get the restaurant you’ve been longing for, a few days before your trip. The trick is to keep trying, and not stop. Check the odd times too. It doesn’t matter if it’s quick service or not, tables are filled more from 11:30am-1pm.
This really goes along with the crowds, but you know there will already be some longer crowds. While it’s a little harder to beat the crowds on a holiday, it’s not impossible to minimize your wait time if you have a plan. If you don’t know what you want to do, where you want to go and where you want to eat, the lines are going to get longer and longer and you are going to start feeling frustrated. Disney is such a great place to visit, don’t let your magical trip be ruined by something so small like an hour per park that you’ve made at least a general outline of what order you are going to do things.
Take advantage of the great service Disney offers that’s totally free! Have the shop send your purchases to the front of the park for pickup on your way out, or even better, back to your resort! Keep in mind though, if you are sending back to your resort, don’t send anything back in the last 24 hours of your trip because it might not get to you in time.
Holidays at Disney have some extra special photo opportunities, so be sure to take advantage! You’ll find Mickey and his friends in seasonal costumes, as well as characters you might not get to see during the rest of the year. There will be special parades, music, shows and of course, lot sof special treats to sample that you can only get during these special occasions.
Disney also offers special seasonal events, such as the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, and the Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. These have special things like trick or treating, or cookie and cocoa stations throughout the park as well as other fun surprises.
Keep in mind that if you are visiting the park on a day where one of these parties is held, the park does close early to those who do not have tickets for these events. Tickets can sell out quickly, so it’s best to get yours the moment you know you will be there during a holiday. It is very unlikely that you will be able to buy a ticket the day of the event.
Patience, patience, patience
While this is a top tip, other than planning, for any Disney vacation, it’s needed more than ever during a Disney holiday. Have patience. Patience with the family who just cut in front of you, patience with that REALLY annoying family remember who keeps slowing you down, patience with your kid who had to stop for the 11th bathroom/pretzel/pin trading moment in the last hour and a half. Don’t forget to have patience with yourself, too. You might not get to do everything you want. That’s okay. Enjoy what you can!
Remember, a little prep, a little planning will go a long way towards making the most out of your vacation. It can be a little overwhelming to plan a Disney trip, but it’s far worse to be standing there in a panic as the lines get longer and longer and you’ve no idea what anyone wants to ride! Like the old adage, an ounce of prevention, is worth a pound of cure.
Stay sane, and have fun during your Disney holiday!
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In a recent blog post we talked about the Disney Dining Plans. If those plans didn't sound right for you, no problem! There are a lot of other options that might suit you better.
Part of the fun of a vacation for us is eating out, and trying new foods and restaurants, but you can still do that and not pay a fortune with a few of these tips.
Bring Your Own Drinks
We have an entire blog post about that. Just bringing in your own drinks can save hundreds! Click here to read that, or keep on reading to find out just about the food!
In room breakfast
While breakfast isn't the only meal of the day that you could eat in your room, it really is the most logical to do, because it's a time of day where most people don't eat a lot, they eat it quickly and it's a pretty simple meal. Things like fresh fruit, oatmeal packets, cold cereal, bagels, granola bars or yogurt are all things that are not only easy to bring with you at the park, or get from a store nearby, but also store nicely. Most rooms have mini fridges, and some even have microwaves. Not only will your wallet save big by eating an in room breakfast, you'll save a lot of time too.
Pack your snacks
If you carry a bag into the parks with you, why not toss in a bottle of water and a snack or two? Again, you'll save quite a bit of money bringing a snack versus buying one, and you could also eat while you are waiting in line for a ride, saving even more time and then pick out something special later when you have more time to enjoy it, or are hungrier.
Picnic in the park
Disney has a generous policy that allows you to bring a soft sided cooler (like this one here, for example) into the park with drinks and food. Frequent visitors or families with kids, especially those with special dietary needs, or those who just don't want what's on the menu can pack their own food (with plenty of cold packs or ice so no one gets sick) and then find a shady spot to break out the lunch when everyone is ready. If you aren't wanting to lug around more than you have to, freeze your waters and juice the night before and by lunchtime, not only will your food still be a safe temperature, but you will also have cold drinks.
Adults are allowed to order off of the kids menus at Quick Service, and a lot of those meals are perfect for a smaller appetite, or one reduced by the heat of summer. It's not all just peanut butter and jelly, at Backlot Express in Hollywood Studios, you can get the Darkside Chicken and Waffles, with chicken nuggets, a waffle, small drink and your choice of size between fries, carrot sticks, grapes or a cookie.
Split a meal
Another option is to split a meal. Some of the sandwiches are pretty big, pairs with fries you definitely could share with a friend.
Snack your way through
A popular thing to do in Epcot and Magic Kingdom is to snack your way around the world. Epcot has a ton of international treats both savory and sweet and you can get everything from sushi to french baguettes or eclairs pretty reasonably. With all those snacks right there, who really wants to stop for meals?
While the Disney Dining Plan is great, if you need more flexibility in your schedule, one of these options might be just right for you! Do you have a strategy for eating at Disney?
A pretty common question I get asked is how much money should I plan for when I'm at Disney World?
Really, the answer is going to vary as to your personal needs and wants, but here's a few categories to keep in mind when trying to estimate how much to allow in the “extras” budget.
Tipping-- If you get Table Service meals, you will need to tip. Disney will automatically add that to your ticket if you are in a part of 6 or more. Of course, you can always tip higher, or lower. While you can do that with cash, it might just be easier to put it on your credit card or use your magic band. Unless you decide what you want to eat ahead of time, you might not be able to figure out the gratuity amount until you are there. That said, you can still get a general idea by looking at the menus ahead of time which is always a good idea to do.
Mousekeeping-- There are a lot of opinions on tipping Mousekeeping. Some people do, some people don't. To be honest, our first trip I did not. It didn't even occur to me. On our second trip, the woman who cleaned our room was so nice and helpful, and she made several towel animals for the boys, but I didn't have much cash on me so I only left a tip at the end. Ever since I've kind of been annoyed with myself for that, because what if she wasn't the person who cleaned our room that last day? She wouldn't get the tip even though she did most of the work. This last time, I was prepared. And had little bundles (you can go here to read the article on tipping with examples) one for each night of our stay. While no, it's not necessary, since we were there several days, I just think it's something nice to do for the person who picks up our soggy towels and makes the bed. It can be an icky job at times I'll bet, and a little thank you might brighten up their day. I'm actually glad I did tip daily, because we had 3 different people cleaning our room. (Sadly, only the first lady did anything special with the towels. We had a man right up til the end and while it was clean, it wasn't “extra magical” like the first lady had done.)
While we are all about saving money on our trip, it's not at the expense of showing gratitude towards someone else, it's something that we are able to do because we have saved money on our trip. Check out some of these adorable ones Mousekeeping thank you envelopes Pinterest links to! Mine were not that awesome, but it's fun to see them! For tipping, the general guidelines are about a dollar a day, per person.
Souvenirs-- Whew! This category depends on if you are a shopper, or if you are just a looker! It's really easy to get carried away here! So I’m breaking this up into Kids and Adults.
Kids – What we do with the kids is give them $50 each from Mommy and Daddy but they also have to save up ahead of time. Since it's hard for kids to do that on their own, I just make it mandatory. A year or so before we leave, each allowance it's $1 into the vacation jar. When their Granddaddy sends them a little extra for Easter, or Halloween, they usually put that in there too. I try to encourage them to do some extra jobs and put money in there, because once they are there, that $50 from Mommy and Daddy really won't go too far if they want a big thing. I'm not mean though, I don't stick firm to that $50, if it totals $55 or something. And they know, if they really, really want something, chances are good I'll pick it up and set it aside for Birthday or Christmas. If you have kids too young to understand saving and spending, their saving up won't really apply, but if you have older kids, it sure doesn't hurt to have them save up a little allowance since you're the one paying for the trip! My oldest whispered to me our first day there, “Wow Mommy, you are right. Once we got here, we do want everything.” He was extra glad he had saved up so much!
Adults-- We actually plan out about $100 for each of us out of our vacation budget. We sometimes spend more though, because during a Disney vacation year, we don't get each other Mothers Day, Father Day or Birthday gifts, since those dates fall on either side of the trip. Instead, we take another $100 or so, to pick out some things that catch our eye down there. Anything above that, we use our personal spending money on. Both my husband and I tend to get things that are smaller in size and meaningful, or practical, like kitchen things or a wallet for me. I love things that bring the Disney Magic into our every day. You might be different, you might want to get a really nice handbag, some new shirts or even spend it all on experiences while you are there. Be sure to give yourself enough fun money though if you can't get to Disney often so you can enjoy splurging on things to give you Disney memories until the time time you go back. Frequent visitors may not really want to spend much, because they go so often and have it already.
Pressed Pennies and Quarters-- If you or your little people like pressed pennies, you are in luck! Those machines are everywhere, however a lot of people don't think to carry change around with them. Be sure to have quarters and pennies with you. They are slowly adding some machines that you can pay with a credit card, but those really aren’t as fun as the old fashioned hand crank kinds. Because it's very easy to do those machines mindlessly, if you have little kids who want to do it, just to do it, setting a limit might be a good idea, say, two or three times each a day so you don't blink, and realize you spend $20 on a handful of pressed pennies. (Unless you collect them, or make jewelry with them, of course!)
Meals and Snacks-- If you have the Disney Dining Plan, you won't really need to worry about extra money for meals and snacks, because the portions at Disney are so generous, and most of the time the heat also keeps your appetite smaller. If you aren't on the plan, you can get a good idea of the menu prices beforehand. Quick service you can get an entree, like a burger and fries, and a soda for around $15. Table service of course will be more, but chances are, you aren’t going to want to have that much cash on you. Snacks can be a dollar and up. If you do have the Disney Dining Plan, to make the most of your money, go for the snacks that are generally $5 and up. If you want a banana, go ahead...but pay out of pocket. That $2 isn't a good use of your snack credit. Save that credit for an eclair over at the France Pavilion in Epcot. You can go HERE to read more about the Disney Dining Plan and HERE to read more about Disney Dining Plan Tips and Tricks! so you can maximize your credits!
Specialty Drinks-- If you love fancy coffees, or want to sample some International adult drinks at Epcot, be sure to add that to your budget. Alcohol is not included in the Disney Dining Plan for 2017, though in 2018 it will be, however the drinks at Starbucks (even the biggest ones!) and milkshakes and some frozen drinks throughout the park are a snack credit and are a good value.
Laundry-- Some people do their laundry on vacation. Disney doesn't charge an arm or a leg to take advantage of that. Personally, it's not something we do because it's vacation, I'd rather be finding a Dole Whip or doing some Pin Trading than laundry, but sometimes you just need to wash something. At last I saw, it was $2 to wash, $2 to dry, and $1 for detergent. Or, you could just bring a little bit of detergent from home.
Misc cash-- There is a restaurant in Disney Springs we love to go to, Wolfgang Puck's Express. While it's not table service, it's not quite counter service either. You order, but they bring you your food, and stop by to see if you need a drink refill. We can use it on the Quick Service Dining Plan, so we aren't paying out of pocket. A lot of people don't tip there, but we do. It's usually just $5 or so, but we specifically make sure we have a little cash in our backpack for things like that.
While at Disney, is really is possible to go the whole time wallet free and with just your magic band. If you don't have one, your credit card will do, but it also doesn't hurt to have a few dollars in cash with you. You never know when you'll spot something and you can't use your magic band to pay. You might run into a tip jar at an ice cream place, so a few ones tucked in your pocket could be helpful.
When you are planning your trip, don't forget to think about these kinds of expenses when making your budget. It's better to overestimate how much you will spend and come home under budget, then to get home and faint when the credit card bill comes in!
Have I left out anything that you budget for your time on a trip? What's your biggest splurge, or your biggest save when you go to Disney?
Ohh I really like this Wordless Wednesday hosted by Focus on the Magic! (See the button at the bottom of my post)
Since we got back from our trip, all I can do is think about, and miss all of the wonderful food we had! Can't wait til we can get back, even though it's going to be a while!
Mmm!! WolfgangPuck Express! This is the bacon wrapped meatloaf. It's on the dining plan, but even if you don't have that, but it anyway! The potatoes make you weep, they are so amazing.
Be Our Guest open faced (yet it has a top?!) bacon and egg. I have seriously never tasted anything this good. It was light and fluffy and satisfying and magical. GOD BLESS DISNEY!
French pastries at Epcot. Need I say more? And why, oh why didn't I think to get the camera out before Mr. Disney Magic and my oldest attacked??!!
One of the pieces of Disney Magic we brought back home to ease our sorrow at leaving. Why is it upside down?! I have no idea. I can't turn the photo!!
Simple, classic, tasty. The Mickey Mouse Cupcake.
Click on the button to see other amazing Disney foods!
In a previous post I talked about the Disney Dining Plan. Maybe you've decided that it's the right plan for you. Now what? If you've never had the plan before, how do you know you are not just breaking even, but you are coming out ahead?
Depending on which Disney Dining Plan you selected, what you are going to need to spend in order to break even, or come out ahead is going to vary. It's usually not too hard though. We've got a few tips for that you make it pretty easy to maximize your Dining Plan credits.
Order expensive or order out of pocket.
When you've got the dining plan, no meal is off limits. So don't worry about the cost. Of course, if you want the Cesar Salad with Grilled Chicken for $15 while dining at the 50's Prime Time Cafe in Hollywood studios, go ahead. Just don't overlook Dad's Stuffed Pork Chop with Gouda Cheese, apples and herbs with roasted potatoes, carrots and a demi-glace drizzle for $25, because if you have the dining plan, price shouldn't be the first thing your eye wanders too on the menu. Get what you want.
If that salad still looks tasty, but maybe for later, use a snack credit on a smaller one, or wait and buy it somewhere as a late evening snack out of pocket. A lot of places have that salad.
Choose your snacks wisely.
The snack selection at Disney World varies widely. A snack credit can be a big bag of Chip and Dale's trail mix with a zip top (one of my fav's to take home!), a fancy cupcake in one of many different character designs (my boys love the Darth Vader one), or even 2 jumbo cookies with a big scoop of ice cream in the middle (Mr Disney Magic's favorite.) You could also use your snack credit on a banana, a package of grapes, a fountain drink, a bottle of water or a huge fancy coffee at the Starbucks. There are loads of other things to use snack credits on, but you can see, depending on what you want, the value is going to vary widely. A banana is not going to cost near as much as a caramel apple or huge Starbucks frappachino, just like a bottle of water isn't going to have the same value as a bowl of soup, or an appetizer from a food booth at Epcot.
Just like before, if you want it, get it, but if you are wanting to take some special Disney treats home for later, or you figure you are there, so you're just going to grab that bottle of water, you might want to pay out of pocket for the things that are inexpensive, like that banana. If a snack is more than $5, it's a good snack credit use. If it's under that, you will make out better just paying cash, and using your credit on something more expensive, or bringing home some treats.
A word on using snack credits: A reader brought up in a previous comment that they didn't realize that they specifically had to say they wanted to use a snack credit and had a shock their last night when on their list of charges were a number snacks, they thought were included in their dining plan. It was taken care of in the end, but save yourself the worry and time, and if you want to use a snack credit, tell the Cast Member you want to use a snack credit on that item.
If you eat 3 meals a day but only have a plan for 2:
If you want to have 3 meals a day but are only paying for 2, and you aren't really a fan of a in room breakfast like fruit or a granola bar, there's a few tips to stretch your meal credits. The snack credit can really save the day in this case. First, you could use a snack credit for breakfast to get a pastry or a bagel, or you could use it for lunch on a bowl of soup, a salad, or some other appetizer if you want to use a meal credit for breakfast. You could also consider splitting a meal.
Some of the portions are so generous that I am hard pressed to finish them, and at times, so was Mr. Disney Magic. For example, at Cosmic Ray's I ordered the half chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans. In the summer heat, that was a little too much for me, but would have been perfect for me to split with someone. We could have even ordered an extra side if we thought it wouldn't have been enough on it's own. Lastly, while it would be an out of pocket expense, you can also order from the kids menu, even if you are an adult. The Power Pack Lunch available at Quick Service places is really popular with adults to order, because it has a Danimals yogurt, apples, carrot sticks, goldfish crackers, an apple cinnamon snack bar and your choice of a milk, juice or water for $5.99. That's honestly quite a bit of food, but the best part is it's also pretty portable! Grab it and go get in an attraction line!
Order family style.
This sort of falls under the sharing category, but depending on where you go, using one of my favorites, Wolfgang Puck Express, as example, a family of 4 could eat using only 2 Quick Service dining credits by ordering 2 pizzas to share. The same thing could be if you ordered the half chicken and two veggies meal at Cosmic Ray's. Of course, you'll either need to buy two more drinks, or break out your bottled water of juice, but that's a perfect idea to stretch your credits out a little and use them later for an extra meal, or maybe on a 2 credit table service.
One of the best things about the Disney Dining Plan is the flexibility you have to order what you want, when you want. Sure, you could do that anywhere really, but with the Dining Plan, it doesn't matter if what you want is $6, or $26. With the dining plan, you are covered and it all basically costs the same! No worries if someone wants something pricey!
If You Like to Eat a Lot or Want to Meet Characters
Those with large appetites or interested in having a meal with a character would benefit from booking table service for buffets, or character dining. Some restaurants even include VIP seating for nighttime shows. Check to make sure that you are booking one that only requires one credit though. If it requires two credits, it might make more sense to pay out of pocket.
Keeping Track of Your Credits
Remaining meal and snack entitlements will always appear at the bottom of your receipt, so hang on to those, or at least your most recent one so that you make sure to use all of your credits before your trip is over. The night before your departure, or the day of, stop by the gift shop to use those last few snack credits so nothing gets wasted.
Are you a Disney Dining Plan fan? What's your favorite thing to use a credit on?