This is the blog post I have been dreading writing because I have a love/hate relationship with it. I do love taking my family to Disney but part of me hates the amount of planning that has to go in to it. It is a necessary evil though to make your trip run smoothly. Due to my Type A/OCD tendencies, people have been begging me for years to write a blog post on our Disney vacations. Ok, ok after our 3rd family vacation I am caving and writing one! With so much to say on this topic I am going to write this in installments and give you any tips and tricks I have picked up. I am not a Disney expert by any stretch of the imagination but maybe that is what makes me more relatable? I started out as a complete Disney loser, not knowing one iota of information on what to book, where to book or how to book? I started by asking friends for their recommendations on their favorite rides, restaurants, hotels and parks and the following is a my personal opinion from our three trips.
Booking- Get the "My Disney Experience" app or create an account on your desktop. This is worth it's weight in gold! This is how you book your hotel, restaurant reservations, get your bands, link your payment info and book fast passes. It is also amazing to use while in the parks or on property because you can use their maps, see the shuttle bus times for your hotel (if staying on property) and it has your whole calendar right there at the touch of your fingertip. This is the first and most important step when booking your trip....get a login and link to your friends and family. If you are linked to people you are traveling with you can book Fast Passes for them, make reservations for them, see what their plans are for the day and see their photos on the Memory Maker. It is amazing and scary all at the same time. Disney can literally track your every move through your phone and you can see this when in the map feature....it tracks exactly where you are and every move you make....like I said amazing and scary!
Resorts-We have stayed at a few of the Disney resorts, as we are a part of the Disney Vacation Club, and we have also stayed off property as well. I would take staying on property rather than off just for the Magical Express alone. Parents with children it is truly magical! You check your luggage in at your home airport and literally do not see it again until it is in your Disney Resort Hotel room. When you arrive at the Orlando airport you walk downstairs and your coach bus awaits to whisk you off to your hotel on property. When checking out of your hotel, you check your luggage at your Disney Resort Hotel and do not see it again until you arrive at your home airport. Not lugging bags through the airport....amazeballs!
Saratoga Springs- This is our home resort through DVC and to be honest it is just your basic resort. It is a Disney resort so it is always clean, has a nice sized pool but the big draw is being super close to Disney Springs. We were able to walk over the bridge in to Disney Springs when we stayed at this resort and booked most of our dinners there because of the convenience of it all. Saratoga now makes DVC members use more points to stay closer to the Disney Springs bridge but it is truly worth it. Saratoga is a very large property so if you don't like to walk to the lobby, pool or in to Disney Springs this is not the resort for you. They do have a bus that takes you through the property but waiting for the bus is a huge pain when you want to get somewhere fast. It is also not very convenient that when you stay on this property as there are multiple stops, throughout the property, when coming from and going to the parks on the shuttle bus (smaller resorts just have one stop for the resort). All in all it is a nice hotel if you aren't planning on spending a great amount of time at the resort itself.
Animal Kingdom Resort- We felt as if we just HAD to stay at this resort for our children (not going to lie maybe for ourselves a little bit too). We also just had to get a Savannah view room in order to see the animals. Although super cool when we got to see animals, it didn't happen as often as you think. The animals (I believe) are in different sections during different hours of the day so you may not see an animal on any given day. We usually saw the animals once a day but sometimes from the lobby and not from our rooms. The resort itself is DARK; dark wood, dark lighting, dark textures on the pillows, couches etc. I know it is African inspired but it is just dark and not very cheery. The room itself is nicely situated and we definitely felt like we had enough room to move around as a family of four. The pool is also a plus. It was a big pool with a really nice splash park for the kids right next to the pool. The worst part about the Animal Kingdom resort is that it is far away from everything except the Animal Kingdom park. You have to allow yourself an hour or more to get from one place to another on the bus.
BoardWalk Inn and Villas- I really wanted to like this hotel so much more than I did. I loved the proximity to Epcot and Hollywood Studios (you can walk or take the boat to either of these parks) and also the fact that you have the whole boardwalk right at your doorstep as well as having the Beach Club, Yacht Club and Swan and Dolphin within walking distance (or a short boat trip). The lobby of this hotel is gorgeous but outside of that everything else is just status quo. The rooms are SMALL, much smaller than Saratoga Springs or Animal Kindgom. We felt as if we were constantly on top of each other when we were all trying to get ready. The pool is not very big at all and starts to get crowded mid day, you know the good old fight for the best beach chairs and tables close to the pool....not fun at all! The huge clown slide is a nice feature (if you are not terrified of a ginormous clown that spits children out of it's gaping mouth) but other than that the pool is nothing to write home about. One thing that I was not fond of was that this hotel didn't have any restaurants right inside of it. It does have a little breakfast bar area with some food, coffee and tea but who wants to walk down to the boardwalk when you just want to grab a quick bite to eat? Again clean and nice but nothing over the top by Disney standards.
Grocery Delivery-I know this is a hotly debated topic, meal plan vs. grocery delivery, but we are solidly a grocery delivery family. Our children are super picky eaters and just like to snack most of the day so the meal plan, for us, is a waste of money. I may feel differently when my kids eat me out of house and home as teenagers, but for right now it just isn't worth the money for us. The past two trips we have used the Garden Grocer and have been so pleased with their service. We do not have one complaint about this company at all! The further out from your trip you make your order, the more of a discount you get. You can even modify your order as you get closer to the trip. They deliver your groceries right to the Bellhop at any Disney Resort (another perk of staying on property) and then the groceries are delivered to your room. Garden Grocer will text you when your order has been delivered so that way you know to call your Bellhop and ask them to deliver your food. If you are not in your room they will hold it for you until you are ready. Their customer service is super helpful and will work with you on any problems you have. Yes, the groceries are more expensive than normal (as would be expected) but for us we do breakfast and lunch in our rooms and also order snacks and drinks to bring in to the park. The water alone will save you a ton of money if you aren't buying it in the park. You are allowed to bring snacks and drinks in to Disney so no need to try to smuggle them in, in your bags.
Shuttle Bus Service-I am not one for reading too many Disney blogs (lol but I am not opposed to writing one) or joining Facebook groups about Disney, but from what I have seen the shuttle buses are always a bone of contention for visitors. SO much so that Disney is in the process of building gondola lifts all over their property. Disney knows what their patrons want and it is faster transportation throughout their property. I always leave an hour (a little more when traveling from Animal Kingdom resort) to take the shuttle from my resort to any other location. The buses are crowded, sometimes the waits are long but it is just a part of the process. You can't complain too much when you don't have to pay an additional charge to ride these shuttles. On our last trip we saw the "Magical Moments" shuttle bus and it was truly magical! It picked us up and the driver asked us where we wanted to go? The magic of it all is that it will take you anywhere...there is no set destination like the other buses have. I believe they run these during busier times of the year but it truly was just another part of the Disney magic! You can find other modes of transportation throughout the property if you don't want to wait for shuttles. You can Uber, take a cab or even take one of the cute little Minnie shuttle cars I have seen around but all of these are an additional charge and not something I really want to pay for when I basically had to give away my first born in order to be able to afford this trip (kidding.....kind of).
Ok Disney planners, all of this information should help you get started when booking your trip. Next up.....parks, fast passes and time management during your stay! Stay tuned for my upcoming blog post on all of these topics.....