Welcome back Mouseketeers!
Now that I’ve prepped you to knock all the spontaneity out of you with yesterday’s Disney Debrief on preparations, I’m really going to lay it on with strategy today.
I’m only focused on two strategies today because it will take a ton of words. Dining. Fast Pass+. That’s right, here we go.
Let’s start with dining. I’m really focused on the character dining. I know there are many yummy, fancy, sit down options around Disney proper. But here’s the thing with the Vincents. We’re already broke from booking a Disney vacation so the last thing we’re going to do is schlep the kids somewhere they can’t wear their athletic shorts (I don’t even know, my boys used to look so cute, now they look destitute), drop multiple hundreds of dollars, and then hurry out because they’re fried and someone is melting down. Because someone will melt down. It matters not that they are 9 years old.
In addition, because I have 9 year olds, I skipped some things really big with the tiny set. AND… I have the added joy of boys and a girl which means something which appeals to one will most certainly not appeal to the other.
With that, here we go. (Park abbreviations: MK is Magic Kingdom, AK is Animal Kingdom, and HS is Hollywood Studios.)
Little bit is over princesses – not that she was ever a huge fan. The two biggest princess meals are Akershus in Epcot and Cinderella’s Castle in MK, and between the two EVERYONE I polled preferred the Epcot one. All the princesses, less rushed, better food.
We skipped both and did breakfast with Ariel/Eric and Rapunzel/Flynn Rider at Trattoria al Forno. It’s on the Boardwalk (we booked it the morning we were going to Epcot because you can walk to Epcot), and is called the Bon Voyage breakfast. The food was supposed to be fantastic. It was not. The kids, who adore pancakes, didn’t even eat a half of one of theirs, and the “eggs over polenta” which came recommended was terrible. The character interactions were poor and more sexist than you’d guess. So if you do princesses, go for Akershus.
I wanted to do traditional Mickey character dining for one meal. We had done Chef Mickey’s the first time, in the Contemporary, and the interactions were good but the food was not. Giant plus that it’s at the Contemporary and you can ride the Monorail from Magic Kingdom, which my kids loved. Also if you time it for during fireworks, you have a great view if you can get near a window.
However, I was hoping for better food, so we booked Tusker House at Animal Kingdom. I give it two hearty thumbs up. Food was really good. They had kid food but delicious grown up food (a rarity): whole roasted salmon and pork and fabulous hummus and falafel. Plus a huge dessert spread. We put the cookies in our backpack because we were stuffed. We saw Mickey, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy, and even though the kids are 9 they loved it (heck, Bray and I loved it).
There’s lots of good eating at Animal Kingdom though. My friend sent me amazing photos of food and drink at Nomad Lounge at AK.
Then, to contrast, I did the Star Wars dessert party at Hollywood Studios. I highly recommend if you’re going to be at HS one evening. (HS is not a full day park. So you either do HS first half or second half, but we loved our second half of the day there.) Dessert parties are pricey, MK’s are even more expensive, but this one surprised me.
The eldest ADORED it – says it’s his favorite thing about the trip (and we’re not big Star Wars people). He got to visit with BB8 and Kylo Ren (in separate rooms, you get a preferred meet with them), and then the Storm Troopers wander around the room. In addition to a huge dessert spread, there’s some light snacks (hummus, cheeses, etc.) and an free bar for grown ups. Which we were ready for by night 3.
The neatest thing is the Storm Troopers escort you to a private (and optimal) seating area to watch the Hollywood movies show (10 mins) and the fantastic Star Wars laser light and firework show (20 mins). It is loud, and maybe scary if you’re little, but my kids loved it. Definitely the best, and more last minute, purchase. I got this reservation only a month in advance.
Last time we ate with Pooh, Tigger and Piglet at Crystal Palace at MK for breakfast. We all really enjoyed it – food was solid and good character time. But my kids are past this age. If yours are younger, definitely recommend.
Others also recommended Hollywood & Vine at HS (which we skipped b/c of the half day) and Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue (a dinner show away from the parks where we were focused). Because of our park focus, we also skipped 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian which I heard a lot of fun things about (good food plus some pretty hysterical Cinderella mean stepsisters).
One parting dining thought. Give some thought to just a casual dining reservations as well. It’s so hard because you keep narrowing spontaneity. But the park gets so packed, and when we didn’t have a reservation we ate standing up, and not great food. We got a reservation while we were in Orlando for Liberty Tavern in Magic Kingdom on our last day. We just got a chance to sit down and eat out of the crowd. Highly recommend doing this. For example, Be Our Guest is casual dining for breakfast and lunch (not really character, although apparently the Beast makes rounds), but you have to have a reservation to get in. I wish I’d realized that. The food is supposed to be good and it’s centrally located.
Because that’s a lot of words on dining, I’ll be briefer on Fast Pass+.
I have a lot more intel I gathered I can share with you, but here’s the highlights. You can book your FP 60 days out when staying on property and 30 days out when staying off. It is usually 7 am EST/6 am CST. I logged in the night before to make sure I was ready to go, and my reservation was up, and I set my alarm on a Saturday morning for 5:50 am at the 60 day mark. Once you are at the 60 day mark, you can book your FPs for all days of your stay which is a nice perk if you’re at parks for multiple days like we were.
A few quick tips.
You can only book three FP each day. And only at the same park. Which is a bummer if you split parks like we did. One park you’re basically just hosed. Also, you can book more FP after you use your three for the day but all the rides we wanted had no FP left by lunchtime. So unless you’re there when it’s slow, get your head around only riding your favorite rides once.
Go to Animal Kingdom whatever day you can get the Avatar: Flight of Passage FP. I lucked out because I had planned MK, AK, Epcot/HS, and MK for my day order and I was able to get Avatar on Day 2 like I planned. It is AMAZING (more on rides tomorrow) and in off season has three hour waits but I hear it can get up to six hours in summer.
Also worth booking at AK, Everest if you like rollercoasters, Safari if you like animals, and Primeval Whirl if you’re looking for a tamer rollercoaster. You can’t book both Pandora rides. The other one is a boat ride, call Na’avi River which is neat and you can walk on if you go there right when you hit the park. (It gets long fast though.)
For MK, book Mine Train any day you are there. That line regularly got over two hours and it’s a fun but brief ride. Also book Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain if you’re a roller coaster person. Lines never got long for Splash Mountain even when other big rides neared two hours. Jungle Cruise often got long if you’re looking for something tamer and Pirates of the Caribbean can get long but I wouldn’t blow a FP on it.
At Epcot, everyone said either TestTrack, Soarin’ or Frozen are the FP rides to get. They are all Tier 1 so you can only get one. Unless you have an Anna and Elsa lover, the Frozen ride is not good. Test Track was okay but I would definitely use it on Soarin’ which we missed because the waits were always over an hour and Epcot was our no-FP park because we split the day with HS.
Which takes me HS. Apparently, if you book FP for Epcot in the am, there won’t be a single FP left for the good rides at HS. And that was true in our case. So 60 days out we booked Slinky Dog Dash, the new rollercoaster in Toy Story, which I highly recommend. The other big FP rides there are Aerosmith Rockin’ Roller Coaster and the Tower of Terror, but we skipped the last one because my kids were not interested. We used it on Star Tours which only had medium lines but honestly there’s just not a lot to do at HS.
Okay! Sorry for the long post.
Less logistics and more fun recapping tomorrow!