Not sure our kids even knew who this was.
Sadly, he’s no longer a planet.

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

The custom mouse shaped ketchup is neat, but not sure it’s worth the extra cost. Practice at home, bring a ketchup packet and just do this on the fly.

Bring your own food into the Disney parks:  It is allowed, so take advantage of it!  You can carry it around or pay for a locker.  You’ll likely eat healthier, save time (eat while waiting in line for a ride or show!) and save moocha moola.  If you must have a Disney eating experience, spring for a Mickey shaped chocolate dipped ice cream.  Buy them a memory, not a souvenir that you’ll spend the next seven years tripping over in their bedroom.

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)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

Best to keep ’em busy in line.

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.

 

Our youngish children melting into Main Street, U.S.A

Older kids can stay up late enough to see this, and still have fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cruise Tips

Are they swimming, sailing, or watching a movie? How about all three!

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!

We had a good time on Pirate night! Impromptu sword fights throughout the ship.

 

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.

 

 

 

You pay dearly for the luxury of Disney’s private island – Castaway Cay

We bought the “excursion” package of snorkel gear, an inner-tube for floating, and an hour bike rental.

 

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.

 

6 Comments

  1. I’m a 2x Disney veteran. Like you, I used to scoff, scratch my head at why people would choose “that sort” of holiday, rather than the intrepid, culturally interesting, stuff I used to pick. But then I went, I took my son just before his 2nd birthday so that we wouldn’t have to pay so much. We LOVED it, had a ball. We went back again last year, the boys were 5 and 7. Fantastic! I’d go back again at the drop of a hat. Maybe not just for Disney, but Sea World and the Kennedy Space Center turn our Florida holiday into the ultimate homeschool fieldtrip. I’m a total convert. My husband’s best tip for getting the most out of fast pass, go with your 7 month pregnant wife, she won’t be needing hers for anything more challenging than “It’s a Small World”

    • Wow! That is a good Fast Pass tip. I cannot imagine going while pregnant, but glad you guys had an amazing time! I love amusement parks for the thrill rides, and Disney has some of those. Otherwise, I primarily appreciate how imaginative and clean Disney is. Agree, there is usually a lot to do around the parks for the ultimate home-school fieldtrip! Do you plan to hit any more Disney parks on your RTW trip?

  2. Bwahahaha! My 4yo hates watching any full-length Disney film except ‘Cars’ & ‘Finding Nemo’, never really was a fan of Disney Jr (she loves PBS/Sprout), and isn’t really into the Disney machine…yet we have Disneyland/California Adventure season passes!?! I will say that she is thoroughly addicted to theme parks (she’s been riding roller coasters since she was 9 months old) and “entertainment events” (like parades, plays, musicals, etc) so Disneyland is right up her alley!

    Great tips!!!

    Other tips:
    To save money consider a free/cheap home exchange. Sure it doesn’t usually come with a pool but most are within a 10-15 min drive to the park and are more comfortable then the low quality “hotels” in the nearby vicinity.

    Good ticket discounts –
    Costco (which recently had a 4 day park-hopper pass for half off), military discounts, and those afforded to California residents.

    We happen to be CA residents part-time and we bought our PREMIUM season pass for 2 for $68/mo. It pays for itself if one visits just 3 days, prevents the shock of a huge lump payment to get into the park (which free up trip $$$), includes free parking (which at the time of our visits also covered RV & oversided vehicles), offers discounts at restaurants/stores within the park, and also offers passholder-only events (such as the pre-opening to CarsLand, the pre-opening of the new Fantasmic! show, and even special tickets to holiday events).

    For those with children who might be interested –
    Go to an area discount Disney outlet and buy their outdated pins (Disney specific with the mouse backing) for super cheap (Marathon 2007 anyone!?!). Then once in the park, any Cast Member wearing a lanyard MUST per Disney rules trade up to 2 pins per person. Every morning they are given “stocked” lanyards and some have rare/valuable pins. While we don’t care about the pin value, our tot loves just being able to trade. She has got quite a collection and has a blast doing this.

    PS – As a Seattlite, I was so excited when CarsLand opened and a Las Vegas friend sent me the pic of the Starbucks. I <3 SBX. But I'll tell you, that if you are a coffee fiend, then the Starbucks in California Adventure (and the coffee cart in the back of Disneyland) still aren't that good or worth it. Get your coffee outside the park!

    Oh well…long diatribe. But we have spent almost 10 days there this year and are heading down again soon. We learn new things every time. And traveling with a toddler means that we STILL haven't even seen a half of what they have to offer!!! I can't wait to take her to Disney World (we haven't been since shortly after 9/11) and I'm envious of the cruises which I hope to take some day.

    • Wow! You are a Disney enthusiast – sounds like you and Bee have a great system going. Great tips – thanks for contributing so many! Sounds like the season pass is the way to go, especially for residents of the state. I had always wondered how the lanyard and pins worked – great ideas!

      We love amusement parks – primarily for the stomach churning rides (Bee sounds like a girl after my own heart!). Disney is pricey just for those type of rides, but so much more to appreciate as you explained. When are you going next?

  3. Great review! Thanks for sharing it!

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