Lessons about Disneyworld (this time around)

It’s not our first time here in Orlando — it’s actually the third trip we’ve taken since Alan and I got married. Every trip, though, brings us a lot of new learnings that make us plan differently for the succeeding trip.

Below are our new “bits of wisdom” which we hope will serve others well as they plan their own adventure into Mickeyland.

1. Did someone mention when it rains here it really pours? And that it comes with quite a bit of lightning and thunder?? My first time here in 2003 saw us getting caught in quite a bit of rain in Epcot, and we ended up buying those silly-looking yellow Mickey Mouse ponchos as well as a plain black folding Mickey umbrella. So this time around, we brought umbrellas and were ready, but vacillated about getting the ponchos which now came in more decent semi-opaque white with the Disneyworld logo, or pink with the Princess logo at the back. Alan and I held out — although looking back now, I would’ve loved to have had one of the adult ponchos to hang on top of the stroller since we didn’t bring his clear plastic stroller cover. Rain it did, so be on the lookout and come prepared!

2. Which ticket to take? If it’s your first time here, it would be good to maximize a day-long ticket and explore a park of choice for the day. If like us, you are targetting only certain attractions, a parkhopper option might be worth the extra money. We were initially planning to do a one-day parkhopper and then a single park ticket the second day. However, the total for this and a two-day parkhopper package for two adults and one child had a mere $30 difference so we went for the latter. It gave us a chance to go back to Epcot for dinner the second night.

3. Make reservations for dining plans if you want to get into any of the restaurants in the parks — more so if you wanted the little tykes to partake of any character dining experience. When you call Disney Dining Reservations, they actually let you know that save for a select number of exceptions, you can make reservations for as early as 180 days before the actual date you want. I learned from last year’s experience that even such no-frills places like Sci-fi Diner at the Disney Hollywood Studios needed a reservation, but I was wrong to think a week ahead of our intended visit was time enough. It turned out that every other character dining event I was targetting had already been sold out. I tried to get our favorite restaurants at Epcot and got ridiculously late or early slots. The best time to make reservations is when you are sure to go which is usually when you book your flights and/or hotel. (Next time!)

4. When told the dining venue is sold out, keep trying on the day you intend to eat there because there will always be cancellationss, although not always for the same size as your party and the time that you want, but it’s worth a try. And try – did, so although calls a week and a day ahead for dinner at San Angel Inn at Epcot turned out empty for Friday, we decided to maximize our Park Hopper option by trying for Saturday dinner when I called Saturday morning. We got our table and dinner was fantastic!

5. Pick your souvenirs but familiarize yourself with prices on the Disneystore.com site which are sometimes cheaper for items that are available in the parks and online. Be warned, though, that most park merchandise ARE NOT AVAILABLE anywhere else but in the parks and Downtown Disney in addition to the Disney stores at the Orlando airport.

6. Take the option for a photopass even if everyone oin your party is lugging a camera. There will always be instances when you would want everyone in your party to be in the shot. A photopass is a card distributed for free in the parks and which you can have franked by each Disney photographer who takes your photos so you can check out and preview the pictures online after your vacation. (Registration is required to view your pictures online but it is free.). You can then order prints of your photos from their official store for a fee.

7. If you’re staying in one of the Disney resort hotels, plan your park visits by checking out which parks are on extended hours on any given day (there is a schedule by date) and then grab your bracelets in designated distribution areas as early as 2 hours before the official closing time for everyone else.