Park Touring – WDW On The Cheap

Determining the Best Days for Each Park

Before you make any dining reservations or other plans, you’ll need to decide what days you will be in each park. To do this, to go EasyWDW.com, look at the right of the page and scroll down until you see your month and year listed under “Crowd Calendar”. Click on that, read the entire post and print the calendar. Be sure that as often as possible, the park days you choose are most recommended.

I know it seems sort of strange to be worrying about crowds if you are going during a slow season, but during the slowest times of the year, there are still masses of people at Disney World, add the fact that the slow season has fewer dining options, shorter park hours, and may have some major attractions closed for refurbishment, and you can still see wait times of over 60 minutes on some of the most popular attractions during certain times of the day.

Standing in a 60 minute line for a 3 minute ride is not optimizing your vacation dollars!

Building a Touring Plan

Before we start, let’s get one thing out of the way — You will never be able to see and do it all on this trip. We do talk about maximizing your park time, but running around the park like a bunch of grumpy zombies isn’t exactly a great use of your vacation dollar either.

Create a plan that mostly fits the way your family lives – normal waking and sleeping times, normal meal times, normal rest times. If you do have to change one (late night to see a show), be sure to adjust accordingly (sleep in the next morning). This is so important, we’ll say it again – you will not see and do it all on this trip – and absolutely nothing at WDW is a “must do”. Your main goal is to have a great time with your family. If that means 2 hours in the parks and the rest of the day playing in the pool at your resort, then that’s the best use of your vacation time, no question! Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, back to planning.

A great planning resource is EasyWDW’s Touring information, available here:

Animal Kingdom

EPCOT

Hollywood Studios

Magic Kingdom

Once you’ve determined what days you be in what parks and have a general idea of what attractions you are interested in experiencing, you will want to build a touring plan. This isn’t some commando raid that will require drill-team precision but simply a guide to keep you focused on what you want to do and the order it can be done in to minimize waits. Also, now that Disney is offering FastPass Plus (FP+), you’ll need to do at least some itinerary planning before you go.

If anyone in your family experiences motion sickness check out our ride charts here. On the ride charts, attractions that may cause motion sickness issues are marked with an M and then 1, 2, or 3 on the charts. M1 is the most likely to cause problems, M3 attractions are extremely unlikely to cause any trouble, and attractions without a number won’t cause any issues. Some movies have sections which were filmed from the air, these “swooping” views may disorient some people, simply look down quickly as soon as this occurs, wait 30 seconds, then look back up and the offending clip should be over. If you want to try a ride that may affect a group member, leave it until the last ride of the day.

View the park maps (see EasyWDW links above), and read ride descriptions here http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/parks/. If you have children who frighten easily, YouTube videos can be a great help in deciding if they are ready for a specific attraction.

FastPass Plus is something you will need to understand in order to minimize your wait times. Read up on it here.

Some families like to arrive early, tour for half a day, take a rest and eat lunch at their resort, then return to the park in the late afternoon. Other families would rather arrive early and stay until 3pm, then leave and have the rest of the day to relax at their resort. You can do a mix of the two options, but unless you have an extremely high-energy group, we do not recommend staying at the park from the minute it opens until closing time every day. Touring this way can lead to cranky people and a frustrating and tiring vacation.

Really effective park touring is an art form. Some people have perfected it, and are ready to create a wonderful plan that gives you everything you want from your Disney vacation, contact Help Around the Mouse. They do charge a fee, but if you’re overwhelmed with choices and don’t have the time to do the planning yourself, they’re a vacation-saver!

Character Meet & Greets

Your kids are going to want to say hi to Mickey, and maybe Pluto, and probably Cinderella, and gosh, there’s Daisy Duck! Oh, and did you know they sign autographs? Yes, of course they do. Disney sells an autograph book for that for around $15 a pop. Or you can buy an inexpensive version at Walmart or Ebay, or make your own (check the internet for projects like this one http://www.joann.com/disney-autograph-book/xprd830887/ )

If you are unsure if your kids will want autograph books, I’d recommend purchasing or making some cheap ones and bringing them along (with pens) just in case. Get a design that can be used as a small photo album if they don’t use it for autographs.
Some Character Meets have FastPass and FastPass+, others don’t. You can check all the schedules and details here: http://kennythepirate.com/disney-world-character-schedules/

Pin Trading

As if seeking out autographs isn’t enough work, there’s also Pin Trading if you or your family are so inclined. You’ll see Cast Members (Disney employees) everywhere wearing lanyards with pins attached – and you can trade with them for free! Oh, but you have to buy that lanyard and those pins. Pin trading can be a really neat way for kids to interact with adults, and some Cast Members wear special green lanyards that have pins that are specifically for trading with kids.

If you think your kids will enjoy pin trading, do not wait to arrive at Disney World to supply this new activity, if you do, you’ll be paying a minimum of $25 for a lanyard and four pins. Extra pins start at $4 and can go up to $15 or more.

Save money by purchasing the lanyards and pins through trusted sellers on Ebay. One that always comes highly recommended is http://www.ebay.com/sch/jeffreyyoung/m.html?_nkw=&_armrs=1&_from=&_ipg=&_trksid=p3686

Read up on the basics of Pin Trading before you go: http://eventservices.disney.go.com/files/Etiquette122004.pdf

Special (FREE) Adventures

These activities not only give families a break from rides and lines, but in some cases give you a souvenir to take with you.

Magic Kingdom: Sorcerer’s of the Magic Kingdom – Pick up free spell cards (one pack per person, per day) and instructions at the kiosk behind the Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe in Liberty Square. It’s a good idea to pick up the cards even if you don’t want to play. Play itself can be very time consuming, so it’s not recommended unless you have extra park time on your hands, or a kid that really doesn’t like rides.

Magic Kingdom: A Pirate’s Adventure ~ Treasures of the Seven Seas – Pick up the Magic Talisman at The Crow’s Nest in Adventureland. Follow the clues to reveal the treasure. Takes about 20 minutes to complete one mission (there are 5), and you don’t need to do it all at once.

Epcot: Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure – Start your adventure at any Agent P kiosk in the World Showcase. You will be given a cell phone that will give you clues and activate special effects when you figure them out. Each mission lasts about 30 minutes, you can return to the kiosk and get additional missions. If you have more than one child, it probably would work best to split up and do one parent per kid so they won’t fight over who gets to hold the phone.

Epcot: Kidcot Fun Stops – Start at any Country’s Kidcot stand and get a complimentary cardboard Duffy the Disney Bear for your child to decorate and personalize with the supplies provided at each station. Every country has a station, just ask a CM if you don’t see it.

Animal Kingdom: Wilderness Explorers – Pick up a field guide on the bridge between the Oasis and Discovery Island, or at Wilderness Explorer stops in Africa, Rafiki’s Planet Watch, Asia or Dinoland. Set out on a series of fact-finding challenges and collect over 30 badges and earn the right to echo the Wilderness Explorer call. This one can take as long as you wish, kids may want to just get a field guide, others may want to finish all the challenges.

Photopass and Memory Maker

You know all those tourist traps where they’ve got the annoying phalanx of photographers ready to snap your photo and charge you $30 for the results? That’s not the Disney way! Okay, when you walk in to a park on your first morning, you will see photographers – but they won’t accost you. Don’t ignore them – walk right up and tell them you need a Photopass card (or use your Magic Band). They will take pics, as many as you wish, then scan the card or band – this is your personal photopass card which you will hand to all the Disney photographers anywhere in the ‘World (soon this will be part of your Magic Band). Find out more about Photopass here: Photopass

Photopass photographers will also take pictures with your camera. Is that cool or what?

Memory Maker is all-inclusive Photopass access that gives you every Photopass photo, on-ride photo, and character meet pic for one price. Find out more about it here: Memory Maker

What to Bring to the Parks

Your goal here is to pack everything you might need during the day to avoid having to purchase it while you’re there. On the other hand, we don’t want you to be slogging through the parks looking like a pack mule, so we have to find a happy medium.

Families with Kids

STROLLER – If your kids have outgrown a stroller recently, you’ll want to bring it along ‘just in case’. They’ll be happy you have it by the second day! Airlines do not charge baggage fees for a stroller if you check it at the gate (be sure to confirm this with your airline). Stroller rental prices at Disney have gone through the roof, better to bring your own. If bringing your own seems like too much of a hassle, you can rent from https://www.magicstrollers.com/order/index.cfm.

ID TAGS – Make it easy for the Disney Cast Members (employees) to reunite you with a lost child by attaching a name and cell phone number to your kids. Keep in mind that your child will have to show the information to the Cast Member, the Cast Member won’t be able to turn out a shirt tag or check underwear labels! Some people purchase shoe ID tags, or silicone bracelets like those offered here http://www.mypreciouskid.com/products/wearable-id-products.html. A less expensive option is to create your own using Shrinky Dinks. A basic design will take you less than 10 minutes to create, and doesn’t take any art skills at all. We’ve produced an easy how-to guide here: https://pjguides.wordpress.com/creating-childrens-id-tags-using-shrinky-dinks/

HANDHELD GAMING DEVICES – Some waiting is inevitable, whether it’s standing in line for the bus, or waiting for the fireworks to begin. Having something for the kids to do can decrease the whine factor. The up-side to a gaming device is its size and weight, the down-side is that if your kid breaks or loses it you are out some money. Your other option is a book or favorite toy (with no small parts), a cheap MP3 player, or digital camera of their own.

A FEW SURPRISES – Reduce meltdowns in stores by having a few small “presents” that you’ve purchased in advance at the Dollar store and that you can magically hand out when the kids are in the “I want that!” mode. Glow sticks are also good if you’re planning on staying for any nighttime shows.

ELECTRONICS

COMMUNICATION – Even if you don’t plan on your group splitting up, carry your phone and be certain to turn up the ringer (shut it off during shows) or carry it close to your body so you can feel it vibrate. It is easy to get separated and finding each other in a sea of people can be frustrating.

CAMERA –

So, do you bring your DSLR or a separate point-and-shoot, or just use your phone? First off, we’re trying to save money here, so we’re not recommending you buy anything just for this trip –  including cameras, straps, or extra batteries, etc.

If you have a DSLR and are comfortable carrying it all day and have a waterproof way of safely carrying it on rides, I’d bring it. Disney World is an amazing place to capture family memories, and your DSLR with a good all-around lens will give you the best results possible.

Point-and-shoot or your phone? If you have a p&s that takes better pictures in low light or fast motion than your phone does, bring it, you’ll have more opportunities for fun night shots and on-ride pictures.

Selfie Sticks are not allowed in any of the Disney parks and will be confiscated if you bring them in.

Disney allows you to carry your phone or camera on any ride, be sure you have a safe way to secure it because they’re not stopping Big Thunder Mountain Railroad so you can retrieve your iPhone.  A neck lanyard keeps a point-and-shoot camera safe and ready to go, or use a wrist strap at minimum.

If you’re bringing a stand-alone camera – If you don’t already have an extra battery, now is the time to buy one. Check Amazon for deals, but beware of extremely cheap Chinese-knockoff batteries. Some are okay, some won’t hold a charge. Also be certain to have a large enough memory card. We recommend downloading photos to your laptop or tablet every night, but if this isn’t a possibility, have at least one 8 GB memory card for a basic digital camera, and a minimum of 10 GB if your camera takes HD video.

EXTERNAL BATTERY PACK – Using your smartphone to keep up with your FP+ reservations, take pictures, make dining reservations and everything else means you’re going to be sucking the life out of the thing pretty quickly. An inexpensive battery external pack is the best way to keep things running smoothly without being tethered to an outlet for an hour. Look for one with at least 10,000 mAh, from a trustworthy source like Anker, Jackery, or RAVpower.

WATER PROOFING

PONCHOS OR RAIN COATS – Even if you aren’t going during the summer monsoon season, Florida still gets its fair share of the wet stuff. Expecting sunny skies and being unprepared for rain will mean you’ll end up spending about ten bucks each for Disney ponchos. If you already have high quality rain PROOF (not just resistant) jackets that are long enough to cover your rump, these will always be more comfortable and easy to wear than rain ponchos, and will double as your windbreaker on cooler days. However, if you don’t have rain coats , then purchase Coleman rain ponchos from Walmart for around $3 each (in the camping section). The really cheap $1 ponchos are so thin that they are usually only good for one ride before they rip.

ZIP LOCK BAGS – Pack a couple of large (2 gallon) baggies so you have a place to stash that dripping wet rain gear without getting the rest of the stuff in your backpack wet. Also bring smaller ziplock bags for your electronics if you don’t have a waterproof place to store them.

FIRST AID

Every park has a First Aid station that is staffed by medical professionals, although there is no physician on site. They offer a large variety of nonprescription medications in both child and adult strength, and an assortment of band-aids, all of which are available for no cost. They even have baby powder available, if the heat is causing you to chafe!

You can also pack a tiny first-aid kit that includes a few band-aids, some liquid band-aid, a needle and thread, a few safety pins, and a glasses repair kit (if anyone wears glasses). Include a small bottle with a few aspirin, tylenol, antacid, antidiarrheal, and advil, along with any specialty medications you require.

Spray on sunscreen is available in small tubes that are easy to pack. Lotion-type sunscreen does a better job, but feels so yukky on sweaty skin that you may be better off getting a lightweight spray that you’ll use more often.

CLOTHING

Layers for the win! Weather is a changeable thing in Florida, so you may leave your resort in 40 degree temperatures, have things heat up to over 80 during the day, then finish the night with a light rain shower and cooling back to 40. We’ve toured the parks on below-freezing days wearing windbreakers, polar-fleece pullovers, shirt, jeans, and lightweight knit gloves. As the weather warms during the day, you can remove and pack the pullover and gloves, then the windbreaker.

Wear comfortable and breathable walking shoes with good socks. The average person walks 8 miles a day at Disney World – your feet will be tired!

WALLET, OR SOMETHING ELSE?

One option is to remove all but your essential cards from your regular wallet, and bring just your driver’s license, one credit card, and your park tickets (if you don’t use a Magic Band). Your other option is to have a lanyard that can carry all these things and is easy to keep track of.
If you do carry the wallet in your pants, we recommend only a zippered pocket. Sure, your wallet stays put during work, but how many times are you launched into the air at speed, doused with water, or thrown upside-down while working at the office?

LADIES, LEAVE THE PURSE AT HOME

Unless you have a backpack-style purse, a lightweight and small backpack will serve your park needs much better than any purse. The pack will be more secure, and if it gets dirty you can just throw it in the washing machine.

LUNCH

Don’t forget your lunch, drinks, and snacks!

Lockers – To Rent or Not To Rent

If you have a large family, the idea of poor Dad schlepping a heavy backpack full of food around all day, especially in the heat of summer, doesn’t sound all that appealing. If won’t have a stroller, renting a locker is a good option. Locker rentals to store your bag lunch do cost money, but it’s a small price to pay compared to eating at restaurants. The downside is that every time you get hungry, you will need to walk back to the lockers.

Large Locker (size varies, but smallest is 17”H x 9”W x 16”): $7.00 per day plus a $5.00 key deposit which is refunded when the key is returned. There are also small lockers for $5 a day.

Lockers can be accessed as often as you like.

When visiting more than one theme park on the same day: Return the key for the $5.00 deposit and get a receipt. Present the receipt at the next park, pay the $5.00 key deposit and you’ll have a locker for the remainder of the day.

Another option besides renting a locker is to evenly distribute the load among everyone in your group. If your kids can be trusted to keep track of a backpack or fanny pack when getting off and on rides, they can carry their own water and a snack. If this is not an option, at least have each adult carry a pack and split up the weight as evenly as possible. If you are one adult with two or more children, carrying water may not be an option due to weight. In this case, take advantage of drinking fountains and free ice water at counter service restaurants.

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