First, some facts…
Fact: We are not Disney enthusiasts. We don’t think our kids own a single Disney item and we think they’re actually unfamiliar with all but the “classic” characters.
Fact: We did not feel it our parental duty to take our children to Disneyland. We’re not Disney-haters, we just don’t think going to Disney is a rite of passage. We are not “those people”.
Fact: In the past four years we have spent a ludicrous amount of money at Disneyworld – Florida; Disneyland – California and on a Disney cruise to the Bahamas. Go figure.
There are “reasons” we went, but of course we didn’t “have to” go. Glad we did? Uh, sure. Plan to go again? Never (or at least highly unlikely). But, since we were there, it was our mission to maximize our time and investment. Here are some of the things we learned, or were glad we did…
Disney Park Tips
Go when your kids are older – Disney is big and there is a lot of ground to cover. Go when the kids are old enough to spend one or two long epic days at the parks. Or, if you get a multi-day park pass, build in a relaxed beach day in between days at Disney. We went to Disneyworld when kids were 5 & 6. We saw Disneyland when kids were 9 & 10. We most enjoyed our time when the kids were older – by a lot.
Use a smart phone app for line queues. This helped us map out the most efficient time in the park, while letting us focus on what we really wanted to ride. Use this while in line to plan your next ride – it helps pass the time and gives you something to look forward to.
Look for shortcut lines for single riders. There is a top-secret (well, we’d like to think so) single rider pass at California Adventure’s California Screaming Roller Coaster. Ask the line queue guy or gal if they are passing them out. We went on the ride as a family first, when the park first opened, just to make sure everyone could handle it. Then, during the busiest week of the year, we were able to go on the ride multiple times with little wait by going as single riders. You have to NOT care who you are sitting next to though.
Seriously, maximize the Fast Pass offerings. Two tips (and common misconceptions)
- You CAN acquire another Fast Pass before actually using one of your Fast Passes. You DO NOT need to use the original Fast Pass before getting another for another ride, but you will not be eligible for another Fast Pass until the start time on your unused Fast Pass.
- Fast Passes don’t expire. Use any time AFTER the start time on the Fast Pass. You DO NOT need to use it only within the documented window of start/stop. You just have to wait until after the Start time.
- Bonus tip: For those who insist on taking young kids (and didn’t follow our tip up top) but still like to ride the “big person” rides, use your little one’s ticket to get a Fast Pass for yourself – the little won’t go on the ride, but you will, and faster!
Other Park Observations
Disney parks are so clean. There are NO birds. So strange. It’s almost like you are in an actual bubble. The exception was after the fireworks show – Main Street was disgusting and crowded. That being said…
Disney generally does crowd control very well. They are prepared with proper line lanes on high volume days. In contrast, we visited Universal Studios between Disney days and it was chaos – no crowd control, overflowing garbage cans, fried chicken restaurant running out of fried chicken, etc. Granted, it was the busiest week of the year (between Christmas and New Year’s), but the parks should have known and been prepared – Disney was, Universal wasn’t. It made us miss, and appreciate, Disney.
Let the older kids run wild. There’s really not much trouble they can get into. For example: our boys (age 9 & 10) stayed “out” until 1AM watching Pirates of the Caribbean on a 30′ screen while bundled up in a deck chair and then returned to the room (and felt like such ‘big stuff’). Where else would they go?
The adult’s only deck was lovely. Take time for yourself – after all, you are probably paying for the dang vacation. Chill and quiet.
Check the front deck of the ship for another quiet, family area. Not sure why no one was there (no big screen? No drinks?), but it was a lovely deck for hanging out. Too windy for a game of UNO though.
Dinners: Take the opportunity to try foods you wouldn’t normally order. You have little to lose; like the shows, the nice food is already PAID for, and you pay handsomely for the Disney cruise experience. The staff is fantastic – have fun with them!
See the shows. We were not really into it at first, but the kids really enjoyed them and they are very well done. We especially liked the comedy shows. It’s part of the cost of the cruise; you may as well check it out.
Bring an empty Nalgene bottle for water/sodas. A cost saver on the Disney ships is the 24/7 coffee/tea/water/soda. To “leave a lighter footprint” take a refillable bottle. The provided cups are tiny and wasteful.
Spend all day at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island. It’s lovely to get off the ship, and the island is pretty cool for being “fake”. We enjoyed snorkeling, floating in tubes, renting paddle boats, and taking a bike ride to the marshy side of the island. Well organized and clean…almost too clean. Still a great experience.
Other cruise observations
The Disney rooms are large and very well equipped by cruise standards with a great bathroom set up.
Like the Disney parks, crowd control is amazing on the cruise. The register in/out was seamless – you would never know there were 4,000 people getting on/off the boat. Such a contrast to the Carnival cruises we (adults) had taken 10 years ago.
Some families take a Disney vacation every year. That is clearly not our thing, but I can understand the attraction. Disney does the little things right. It comes at a cost, though. Selfishly, we are glad we’ve got Disney “out of our system”, so we can focus on international travel. If nothing else, we can travel to France and not feel compelled to see Disneyland Paris – been there, done that.