Crystal: So we just got back from our much awaited Disneyworld vacation last week...and I figured that I would take my newly found knowledge of what to do, and what not to do, and share it with our readers. :) :) There are definitely some things I'm taking and using for our next trip (we're hoping Jan 2012!!).
P.S. This is SUPER long...but will come in handy if you're planning your own trip. :)
Readers - feel free to add your own tips too!
1. Dining Plan: If you stay in a Disney hotel, then you can purchase one of their dining plans. There are different levels...we purchased the Deluxe Dining (3 table service meals and 2 snacks per person, per day)...I would NOT recommend getting this plan.
As nice as it was to have fine dining everyday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner...it felt like everytime we were done eating, it was time to turn around and eat again. And you get sooooooooo much food!! Each table service gets an appetizer, entree, and dessert per person...way too much food, especially at lunch time when you just ate 1-2 hours before.
Plus, we never had time to use our snack credits because we were always too full from our other meals! So at the end of our trip we had around 29 snack credits that we just went and used for lollipops and other snacks to take home to family.
I DID like having all of our meals paid for ahead of time though, and knowing we didn't have to worry about food....and I also LOVED having breakfast in our room one morning when we were overexhausted (costs 2 table-service credits for room service, and not as much food).
Because of this, I would highly recommend getting the lower level meal plan which consists of 1 table service meal, and 2 quick service meals, plus 2 snacks per day per person (which after talking to another family that had this was also too much food, but still more reasonable than our plan).
2. Reservations: If you do decide to get the Deluxe Dining plan, against my advice, use caution when making dining reservations. We ended up having to live by our reservations the first half of the trip and it cut into our park time a lot...plus we were getting back to the hotel late, and then having to wake up for 8am breakfast reservations on the other side of Disneyworld. It was REALLY exhausting. Towards the end of our trip we ended up skipping meals and reservations, and wasted some of our dining credits because we just couldn't keep up.
During the busy season, you probably need reservations ahead of time for everything, but we went in early January and half of the restaurants we went to weren't that busy, some were impossible to get into without reservations, and some just required you to wait about an hour.
Lunch and dinner in the parks was usually pretty busy. Lunch and dinner at the hotels weren't too bad. Breakfasts were pretty busy all around.
Don't plan breakfast every morning...at some point you're going to want to sleep in and get some extra rest.
And plan for about an hour and a half to 2 hours for table dining (from the time you arrive, before you sit, to bringing the check out and paying)...dining can take awhile.
Where to eat: I highly suggest eating dinner at Ohana at the Polynesian resort at least once during you're stay...the men in your party will thank you. I also highly recommend getting reservations for this place way ahead of time (you can make reservations up to 90 days in advance I think it is). Dinner is served family style, all you can eat, with salad, bread, noodles, veggies, potstickers, and wings as appetizers (all very delicious), and then steak, turkey, and shrimp cooked over a wood bbq inside the restaurant is brought around by the waitstaff on a continual basis. Very fun atmosphere, fabulous food, and the dessert was delicious!
The restaurants at the resorts are much tastier in general than the park restaurants. The breakfast at the Grand Floridian was probably my favorite breakfast. Dinner at Ohana's was definitely my fave. And Teppan Edo at Epcot was great for the atmosphere (it's like Benihana's).
Here's a quick run-down of the other restaurants we went to and my thoughts:
Boma - dinner (Animal Kingdom Lodge): It was ok...especially if you're adventurous with your food. African influence...not my cup of tea, but others might like it.
Donald's Safari Breakfast (Animal Kingdom park): All the breakfasts are pretty much the same...buffet style...they each have something slightly different...this one had donuts. The main draw was the characters, and Goofy dancing around the room.
Yak and Yeti - lunch (Animal Kingdom park): Pretty yummy asian food. I can't remember what I got right now, but I remember the food was decent.
Kouzzina by Cat Cora - dinner (Boardwalk resort): Mediterranean food...fancy stuff....if you're into that, then you'd probably like it...we didn't like it much though.
1900 Park Fare - breakfast (Grand Floridian resort): my favorite breakfast...buffet style...they had an omelette station. And the hotel is gorgeous. Plus Tigger and Pooh were there, along with Mary Poppins, Alice, and the Mad Hatter
Turf Club Bar and Grill - lunch (Saratoga Springs): interesting atmosphere...the kind of place you'd expect to see a bunch of older gentlemen sitting around smoking cigars (although there weren't any!). The resort was gorgeous. Food was ok.
Ohana - dinner (Polynesian Resort): loved the resort, loved the restaurant. Definitely the busiest restaurant we went to. Excellent food.
Cape May Cafe - breakfast (Beach Club Resort): this was a pain to get to as the park we went to in order to catch the bus didn't seem to have a direct bus there...long story, but able to overcome....food was ok...nothing special.
Teppan Edo - lunch (Epcot): food was ok, but you come for the entertainment. Same concept as Benihana's...although not quite as tasty.
The Garden Grill Restaurant - dinner (Epcot): pretty neat place as it rotates in a big circle to show part of one of the rides....Chip and Dale come visit you. Dinner served family style...so you gotta like what's on the menu. I wasn't super fond of the food, but I was growing to love the family style dining that they have at Disneyworld...and I liked the rotating room.
Chef Mickey's - breakfast (Contemporary Resort): same 'ol breakfast...they had mini pancakes (most restaurants just have the Mickey waffles). buffet style. Goofy and characters did a little song and dance.
Whispering Canyon Cafe - dinner (Wilderness Lodge Resort): another of my favorites for dining...food was ok, but the atmosphere was fabulous. The waitstaff is very loud and obnoxious...but on purpose. If you call for them they'll respond with "What do you want?!". They throw straws and napkins at you, they eat your birthday cupcake, and if you ask for ketchup they'll yell it out to the whole restaurant and you'll get about 15 bottles of ketchup brought to your table from another party. Plus they have stick-horse rides for the kids around the restaraunt. :)
Liberty Tavern - breakfast (Magic Kingdom): Neat place...family style breakfast with an interesting take on french toast....not quite sure if I liked it or not. But the restaurant was cute and right inside the park.
The Plaza Restaurant - lunch (Magic Kingdom): Was NOT impressed...food wasn't great...restaurant was boring. Other than the kid's cookies and milk, I didn't find anything good about this place.
Tony's Town Square Restaurant - dinner (Magic Kingdom): food was good, but I was unimpressed with their hosting staff. We waited 40 minutes past our reservation, then found out that they had somehow seated another group in our place...we missed the fireworks show and I was mad. But our waiter was super nice and helpful and the food was good.
Hollywood and Vine - breakfast (Hollywood Studios): Same 'ol breakfast, but they had the Little Einsteens and JoJo characters to dine with.
Sci-Fi Dine in Theater - lunch (Hollywood Studios): Food sucked, but I might go again just for the atmosphere. Easily the coolest looking restaurant as you sat in "cars" that had tables, and it was set up to look like a big drive-in theater. The hosts were on roller skates and the kitchen was in the back made to look like the snack counters at a real drive-in. And they showed old 50's commercials on the big screen. Tables were super small though...but it was a lot of fun.
Planet Hollywood - dinner (Downtown Disney): Good food, super fun atmosphere, loud music and videos playing, lots to look at...they aren't specific to Disney, but worth a visit if you have time.
Nine Dragons Restaurant - lunch (Epcot): Neat restaurant...but the food wasn't great. Chinese food...disappointed to find out AFTERWARDS that my kung pao chicken was all dark meat. Delicious raspberry tea though!!
3. Fantasmic: The Fantasmic show is at Hollywood Studios...and if you eat at Mama Rosa's or the Brown Derby restaurant (I think...double check on that second restaurant though) during a certain time, you'll get special seating for the Fantasmic show.......BUT, what is failed to be mentioned is that Fantasmic is ONLY on Thursday nights......so while we had our reservations, there was no Fantasmic...and we ended up leaving the park anyways.
4. Timing: We went Jan. 5-13 and the timing was awesome...it was COLD, and we overlapped the annual marathon that added a headache to the bus system, but there were hardly any lines everywhere we went...we'll definitely go back during this same time period in the future.
5. Ground transportation: If you're staying at a Disney hotel, definitely take advantage of the Disney's Magical Express which picks you up from the MCO airport, gets your bags for you (although they won't get to your room til a few hours later), and also allows you to check in to your flight as well as your bags from the hotel when you return. It's a free service. :)
The Disney bus and monorail system is pretty competent for the most part. Most of the time the buses were quick and we hardly waited at all...we had a couple mishaps with buses not showing up or being late, but only a couple of times...the biggest issue is that the buses do not go from resort to resort...so if you want to eat at another resort and are going from your resort (i.e. breakfast in the morning or returning from dinner at night), you have to take a bus to a resort (that's open!) and then catch the bus from the resort to your hotel. Late at night you only have the option of taking a bus to Downtown Disney in order to catch your bus back to your hotel...this can be a pain as it adds a lot of time onto your transportation plans.
6. Leftover snack credits: If you happen to have a bunch of leftover snack credits from your dining plan, as we did...I recommend going to Downtown Disney and Goofy's candy store to use them. They'll explain what you can get there, but most of the stuff out of the bakery/dessert display are valid (marshmallow crispies, chocolate covered marshmallows, peanut brittle, etc.).
7. Planning: If you're like me, you want to make the most of your trip...so you plan on going to a park every day, having breakfast bright and early, and having dinner late to make the most of your park hours.....DON'T DO THIS.....it is draining and overwhelming and leads to grumpy people. :) Plan at least one day in the middle of your vacation to sleep in, relax, eat whenever you want, go to Downtown Disney and do some shopping (they have tons of neat stores there! Lots to look at).
8. Disney vacations: If you have any interest in the Disney Vacation Club - plan for time to take the tour while you're there...they give you $100 for attending their meetings. FYI - The DVC is only good for 50 years unlike timeshares that you actually own for a lifetime.
There is also a notice in your room about saving 30-40% on your next vacation if you pick a date before you leave...so if this is of interest, think about dates before you're too exhausted when you're there.
9. Animal Kingdom Lodge: This is where we stayed...and loved it. We had a room with the balcony overlooking the areas where the zebras and giraffes, and a bunch of other animals, all roamed around. It was really amazing. We didn't have a whole lot of time to enjoy it, but we did do room service for breakfast one morning which was an awesome opportunity to just watch the animals from our room. The downside about the AKL - it's the farthest hotel from EVERYTHING....if you look at a map of all the resorts, you'll see what I'm talking about...so it takes longer to get to and from everywhere else.
10. Random thoughts:
a. Disney Hollywood Studios was my least favorite of the parks...maybe because I'm spoiled with Hollywood Studios here in Southern CA...but there just wasn't much to do there. They do have Tower of Terror though which is my favorite...and I hear Rockin Rollercoaster is awesome, but we didn't get a chance to go on it. When we went, everything seemed to be under refurbishment or broken.
b. Epcot was probably my favorite. So much to do there...we went 2 days and still didn't do everything we wanted to. Great for window shopping too...they have all the different countries and the shops and restaurants are just like walking into the country...very neat. Plus you've got to check out the Nemo ride and the aquarium at the end....super cool. :)
c. Epcot has a Kim Possible scavenger hunt which is pretty neat. It's pretty easy to accomplish and more for the younger kids...but entertaining all the same.
d. I was unimpressed with the Space Mission ride at Epcot...it took everything in me to not get sick...it's basically like those spinny rides at the carnivals where you can climb up on the walls because you're going so fast...except I think this one makes you go headfirst based on how I felt...it was horrible.
e. Definitely utilize the Fast Pass services...they're set up much better than Disneyland (where you still have to wait forever even if you have a Fast Pass...DW you actually get to go to the front of the line...some even have a separate line altogether).
f. Although there are a lot of the "same" rides at DW as Disneyland...they're still all different...most are actually better....the only ones I would say are not better would be Pirates of the Caribbean (it's way shorter at DW), and It's a Small World (also much shorter and doesn't have the Disney Characters in it). Snow White is much cooler at Disneyworld, as well as the Pooh ride, and I'm thinking maybe Space Mountain...the seats are only one person to a car (kinda like the Matterhorn seating) and adds a whole different effect to the ride.
g. The Safari jeep ride at the Animal Kingdom is awesome. Make sure to get a Fast Pass for it early as it fills up quick...but this was one of my favorites...you get to actually drive THROUGH the habitats, and not around them. The animals are all just walking right around your car.
h. The Lion King show was probably my favorite (at Animal Kingdom)...definitely catch this show while you're there.
i. We almost didn't get into the Nemo Musical show...the line was ridiculously long and filled up the first time we tried to...then we barely made it in the 2nd time as it was also full. Get there a good 45 minutes before the show to get in line.
j. Take advantage of the extra magic hours (extra hours for those staying at a Disney resort) - they check for your hotel room key when you go on rides, so have them handy. It's definitely less crowded the later it gets at night.
k. If you're short on time at Hollywood Studios, skip the backlot tram tour...it's kind of a joke.
l. The Car stunt show at Hollywood Studios though is pretty neat...get there right at the beginning though because that's when the action starts.
Alright, I think that's all I got for now....I'm sure there's more, but I think I've been typing forever now!! I hope someone finds this info helpful...I know there's lots I would have liked to know ahead of time. I'd love to hear your comments. :) :) :)