(Note: I know I haven't blogged in a long time - probably about 2 years ago, but I'm starting up again. Hopefully, a post a week going forward. Well I'll just try and make 1-2 posts per month; during softball and soccer season it's difficult)
We just came back from our semi annual Disney trip and things were really smooth. I think a lot of it has to do with the magic bands and fastpass+ reservations. There are still issues with the fastpass+ reservations but if you learn to work that system it can make your trip really smooth and you will see other attractions besides the big ones. What makes the trip so smooth reminds me of back in the early days with Phone service - sure AT&T was your only provider but you picked up the phone and made a call - it always worked, it always sounded great. If you book your Disney trip at one of their hotels, your trip will be really smooth. Here are some of my latest tips.
You can stay at a lot of hotels that are cheaper than Disney but I don't think it is ever worth it. Besides the great customer service and design of the hotels, the concierge at the Disney hotels are really your keys to making your magic bands hum. You have a problem (like I did) with your band, the concierge will fix it. Also, when you stay at a Disney hotel you can prebook your ride reservations 60 days in advance which is really helpful.
Plus you get access to the Magic Express or as I call it the Magical Mystery Tour. At a minimum you log your flight information with Disney, tag your bags, and then let Disney take your bags and deliver to your room. You can let Disney drive you via a bus run by Mears but then you will delay your arrival by a couple of hours. Why do I call it the Magical Mystery Tour? Because sometimes you leave early, sometimes you wait for more passengers, sometimes there are only a few stops and sometimes there are a lot. If you want to get to the park with plenty of time - pay for a $70 taxi - that's what we do.
I like adding Disney's Memory Maker to our passes. For $160 you and your entire party can download all the pictures Disney Photopass takes of you. This includes ALL rides where the chip in your band captures the ride photographs and makes it available for your download. So, I let Disney's photographers take as many pictures as possible.
Finally (and yes I do this), you can prebook your dining reservations 180 days in advance.
I've found that your happiness with Disney is directly correlated with your Disney food selections. For our November trip, I have a calendar alerts to start my dining reservations exactly 180 days out - 6 months in advance I have my daily dining reservations all booked.
Everything is linked to your bands. Sure Disney is tracking you which might make you feel squeamish but it really makes your trip smooth. Once you land your bands start to work with Magical Express. You charge on them. You open your hotel doors with your bands. It has your reservations for rides and dining. I'm sure if you had an emergency they would scan your band. My problem with my band was that there were so many on my account that my newest band wouldn't open my hotel room. So I left it with concierge who cleaned it up while we went to the park.
Night 1 - MK
I made reservations at the Magic Kingdom and we did Peter Pan, Splash Mountain, and Space Mountain plus a few other rides. The biggest disappointment was our dinner selection. Usually my go to in the MK is Columbia Harbor House but the rest of the team wanted to try something else so we went to Peco Bills. Trust me avoid Peco Bills with a passion. It's awful.
Day 1 - Animal Kingdom
The biggest tip I give people is get to the park early. Getting to the park early almost always works so off to the animal kingdom we went and over to Exhibition Everest where we got the ride two times via the stand by line. We had park reservations at the Safari, Kali River Rapids and back to Everest. Our biggest surprise was our meal - we at at the Yak and Yeti restaurant. It's kind of like a greatest hits of Asian food. I highly recommend it. Dinner that night we went to the Yachtsman Steak House which was expensive but awesome; five of us at there for around $300 and that includes my 20% discount. The steaks are butchered and aged on the premises. After dinner we went back to the Magic Kingdom for rides and fireworks.
Day 2 Epcot
Here's where you run into a Fastpass + Reservation problem. Disney only allows you to make a reservation in a day for either Soarin' or Test Track and not both. Also, except for those two you really don't need a reservation for any other rides. We picked Test Track with the idea of getting to the park early and riding Soaring. Unfortunately, that day we kind of slept in missing the park opening so we missed Soarin' on this trip. We love building our own simulated Roller Coaster inside Innoventions - give it a try - it's fun. After walking around Epcot we went to the large contemporary pool and then dinner at Akershus in Norway.
Akershus was a little expensive for what you received. Yes the food and atmosphere are great as is getting your picture taken with Princesses. However, it's a fixed buffet dinner and unless you are going to really get your money's worth, the price of dinner was only a little cheaper than the Yachtsman. For example. my daughter didn't want to try one of their entrees so she went with mac and cheese (which was made there and very good) and she chowed on cheeses from the buffet stations - add some sodas and that's like a $45 meal. The kids liked it so they want to go back but I'm not sure it is worth it.
Day 3 - Hollywood Studios
Here comes another problem park for the Fastpass. You can not reserve the Rock and Roll Roller Coaster and Toy Story Mania. So, you need to get the park prior to park opening to get on the one you don't have a reservation for. I recommend reserving Toy Story Mania and getting to the park at opening to ride the roller coaster at least 2 times (in November Kaela and I got on it like 5 times). The rest of our reservations were made with Tower of Terror and the Great Movie ride. In general you don't need fast passes for anything beyond Tower, Rock and Roll, and Toy Story. While there we watched Beauty and the Beast (yes it was good) and took cartoon drawing lessons. We went back for a swim and then on to another favorite restaurant - The Flying Fish. It's as expensive as Yachtsman and even though it says "fish" in it's name - get the steak; it's awesome.
Day 4 - Back to Magic Kingdom
As usual we like ending at the Magic Kingdom. So first, we did the airline checkout which was smooth as usual - only because we leave enough time for any potential glitches. There was a glitch with our reservation that got fixed in plenty of time and then we walked over to the Magic Kingdom to get there at park opening which I always enjoy; the train comes in with the characters and then there is a little song-dance routine. After walking on Space Mountain (remember my trick about getting to the park at opening) we headed over to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and then to our brunch at Crystal Palace. Sure it's a little expensive because it is a character meal (fixed price) but the brunch is awesome and where else can you get great pics like this?
After that it was back to Space Mountain and then on to Splash Mountain. We skipped 7 Dwarfs because I didn't want to waste a fast pass and the lines are ridiculously long. We spent more time in the Magic Kingdom then we were supposed to because instead of taking the Magic Mystery Tour home we took a cab. To grab a cab from the MK you either go to Tickets and Transportation or walk to the Contemporary which is what we did. It cost us around $60 for the cab but it was well worth it because we gained over an hour extra in the park; Magical Express picks you up 3 - 3.5 hours before your flight.
Disney as usual was a blast. We got plenty of pool time, fun in the parks, and good meals. I've already planned our November trip.
Well that actually took me a lot longer to write. I actually have another post in my head which hopefully won't take me a month to write like this one :-)