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How To Save Thousands on Trips to Disney World

If you’re planning a family trip and want to know how to save on Disney World, this is for you!

One question I get asked all the time when people hear I visit Disney World every year is, “how do you afford it?”

Yes, traveling to Disney World can be an enormous expense, especially when you don’t live within driving distance (we don’t) and you have a large family (we do!). A big family vacation including flights, hotel, tickets, and food could EASILY add up to $10,000 or more.

As much as I love Disney, I would NEVER pay that much for one trip there- not even close. So here I am to give away all my secrets of how I save on Disney World trips year after year!

(Don’t forget to bookmark or pin this post so you can refer back as you continue to plan your trip!)

How to save on Disney World

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click one of the product links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Plan Your Trip For the Off Season

This is my number one tip for all aspects of Disney trip planning! In addition to crowds being much lower, hotel rates and ticket prices are less too.

In fact Disney itself refers to off-peak times as “value season” because their prices are adjusted accordingly!

You’ll notice the busy seasons all include times when kids are out of school. It is worth it to at least consider taking your kids out of school in order to enjoy a less expensive, less crowded vacation.

Or, take advantage of any time your child’s school has days off that the rest of the country doesn’t get. Random teacher work days or bonus breaks that are specific to your area work great.

Seasons to avoid:

  • June to mid-August
  • Christmas week to New Year’s week
  • Easter week
  • Spring break
  • Thanksgiving week

Great off-peak times to visit:

  • September (actually late August to early October, but September is the best)
  • first half of November
  • January-February
  • end of April – first week of May

Read this post for more about off-peak seasons and managing crowds.

Book Flights On Points

I absolutely love to travel, and I love it even more when I don’t have to pay for flights.

And with a family of 6, paying for flights would be a total budget-breaker.

Luckily, thanks to lots of research and good credit, I have been able to leverage credit card sign on bonuses to avoid paying list price for any of my flights in the last ten years.

The one I love the most is Southwest Rapid Reward Credit Card because they always have sign on bonuses of 40,000 to 60,000 points, which covers three of our round trip flights to Orlando. (And with companion pass, my companion flies free so that means four of us are covered.)

It is intimidating at first to do the whole credit card points game, but once I started and saw how easy it was I quickly grew to love it.

And since I always pay off all my balances in full each month, I maintained my excellent credit score. No, opening new credit cards does not adversely affect your credit!

How to save on Disney World
Such a happy day when I got this!

Check out this post for more details on how to fly for practically nothing, including the best travel perk around: Southwest Companion Pass, which I’ve been using for two years now due to two credit card sign on bonuses.

Rent DVC Points

This is another huge, huge money saver if you read up and delve into it.

In fact, it is the best kept secret for staying at a Deluxe Disney resort for the price of a Value.

Here is how it works. Disney Vacation Club (DVC) members get points on an annual basis to use for their Disney stays (think of a timeshare). If they can’t or don’t want to use them, they can rent them to others for a fee. A service like David’s Vacation Club Rentals acts as the broker for these transactions. The points allow you to stay at Deluxe Disney resorts at heavily discounted rates compared to booking through Disney directly.

Another major perk of booking on DVC points is that there are many suites and villas available to accommodate larger families. (I love staying in a unit with a kitchen so we can save on meals too!)

Want to see how much you can save by renting DVC points? Let’s take a real life example.

The Connors family of 5 wants to go to Disney the first week in October. The first thing they do is check the Disney site for rack rates.

Rack Rates

  • Disney’s All Star Music Resort (a value resort) is the cheapest option at $313/night or $2,191 total
  • Disney’s Art of Animation suites, a value plus resort, costs $414/night or $2,898
  • The Cabins at Fort Wilderness are the only moderate that can fit you all, at $394/night or $2,758
  • A one-bedroom villa at Bay Lake Tower (Contemporary resort) is a deluxe option on the monorail and closest to the parks, at $850/night or a whopping $5,950 total.

Now we check the same number of people for the same dates at David’s Vacation Club Rentals using their Cost Calculator. All of these options are Deluxe one-bedroom villas.

DVC Rental Rates

  • The same one-bedroom with standard view at Bay Lake Tower will cost $3,780 (over $2,000 dollars less than rack rates!)
  • The least expensive one-bedroom suite is Animal Kingdom Lodge, at $2,592 (this is in between the cheapest value option and the value plus option found above)

It’s also worth mentioning that Animal Kingdom Lodge is my top pick for the best Disney World resort hotels for kids!

When I do one on one trips with my kiddos, we rent points to stay in a deluxe studio which costs around $600 for the three nights.

This is a great way to upgrade your vacation with a Disney Deluxe resort while keeping with the prices of the values and moderates.

Skip the dining plan

How to save on Disney World
You don’t need the dining plan to enjoy a meal at Be Our Guest

Or at least crunch the numbers.

Disney is smart (really smart) and good at getting people to spend their money (very good).

They came up with a dining plan as a way for people to essentially pre-pay for their meals, and give an all-inclusive feel to their Disney vacation.

ASSUMING that it would result in a net savings, people bought like hotcakes.

The truth? The Disney Dining plan almost never saves you money.

Lots of people have run the numbers on this one. In order to get the value of your Disney dining plan, you would have to purposefully eat at the most expensive restaurants and order only the most expensive menu items at every meal.

If you ever get water instead of soda, if you ever skip dessert, or if you ever feel like a salad or chicken dish instead of steak… you are going to lose money with the dining plan.

If you are a big eater, drink lots of soda, and never share meals or get too full, you MIGHT be a good candidate for the dining plan. Maybe. You will still want to run the numbers first.

Here is an excellent rundown of the Disney Dining plan including a handy calculator to help you out!

My family doesn’t drink soda and almost never gets dessert. We also tend to split meals and snacks between the kids. An adult size chicken tenders and fries is plenty of lunch for two kids, for example.

How to save on Disney World
Sharing is caring! There’s plenty of shaved ice here for two

Instead of doing the dining plan, we like to stay in a suite that has a kitchen and get groceries delivered to cover our breakfast and snacks. Then we do one sit-down meal per day and one quick service. If we get a dessert, it is shared.

Remember you can always get a tap water from quick service locations for free.

Get grocery delivery

Getting groceries delivered is an awesome way to cut costs on food.

Even if you don’t want to cook on vacation (I know I don’t!) it still makes sense to order some quick and easy food items like cereal and milk, bananas, peanut butter and jelly, granola bars, yogurt, etc.

Having a quick breakfast in the room each morning also lets you get to the parks early and take advantage of the short lines without wasting time on a sit-down breakfast!

You can also get beer and wine delivered with your grocery order to enjoy in the evenings after the kids are in bed.

We use Orlando Grocery Express and have had all good experiences. And don’t worry about having to be present for your delivery- your Disney hotel will hold and even refrigerate your groceries for you until you get to your room.

Take advantage of free fun

Disney parks are fantastic and full of WAY more than you could do in a day.

They can also be exhausting and overstimulating for both adults and kids alike.

If you are staying five days or more, I highly recommend doing a “down day” without a park ticket.

Enjoy your hotel pool and the other activities available at your hotel. Visit Disney Springs and check out the huge LEGO store and World of Disney. Rent bikes and enjoy the leisure time as a family.

how to save money on Disney World
Biking to Disney Springs was literally the highlight of Tiana’s one on one trip!

The change of pace feels so good in the middle of several busy park days. You’ll also spend a lot less money by not doing a park! Just try not to be upset if your down day ends up being the kids’ favorite day!

Don’t rent a car

I love staying at the Disney resorts for many reasons, but one great perk is being able to use Magical Express transportation to and from the airport.

Once you’re at your Disney hotel, you can use the free Disney transportation to go to and from the parks.

This eliminates the need to rent a car (estimated $250/week) and cuts out the $22/day parking fee.

If you want to go where Disney transportation won’t take you (from one resort to another for example), you can use Uber all over the area. Since the distances are short, the prices are very affordable. You can enter the trip into the app ahead of time to see how much it’s going to cost.

Don’t have the Uber app yet? Sign up for an Uber account here and use code johnp37188ue to get $5 off your first four rides!

Skip the park hoppers

Park hopping can be awesome, especially if you have only a couple days in WDW and want to cram as much in as possible.

But at $55 per ticket, it’s worth thinking about if being able to park hop is really necessary. For trips that are 5 days or longer, you should be able to configure your days without needing park hoppers. If you aren’t planning to cover all four parks, you could do without park hoppers with even fewer days.

I’ve had amazing Disney trips both with and without park hopping, so it’s certainly not a necessity!

Stay on top of souvenirs

how to save on Disney World
These dresses were bought on sale six months before the trip and hidden from the girls until that day

Kids can make this difficult, but don’t let souvenirs bust your budget!

I always make sure to manage my kids’ expectations as far as toys and souvenirs ahead of time. They know before that plane even takes off that they will see tons of things they want that they won’t be getting.

I know, I know, I’m the meanest Mom ever!

My favorite way to eliminate the entire problem of kids asking for stuff is to get them each a gift card. I have my kids save coins in a coin jar that they can then cash in for their Disney gift card. You could also give them one for Christmas or a birthday gift.

$25 or $30 have been amounts that work well for us.

The kids then have the freedom to spend their gift card however they please. If they blow it all on the first day, that is that. Encourage them to think about the one thing they really want, but ultimately the choice is theirs.

It also makes sense to buy certain souvenirs ahead of time at a lower cost, such as princess dresses, light up toys, or any plush toys that can be bought at your local Disney store.

Get discounted gift cards

Disney gift cards frequently go on sale at Sam’s Club or BJs at a discount of around 5%. You can also use your Target Redcard to buy them at 5% off.

5% might not sound like much, but considering you might need $2000 for park tickets and food, getting discounted Disney gift cards would save you $100 with minimal time or effort.

Some people throw in a $25 Disney gift card every time they go to Target. This won’t save you any money, but it does feel like you spent less by buying them slowly throughout the year and spreading out the expense.

There are tons of other little ways to save! What is your best tip for how to save on Disney World?

For more Disney planning tips, don’t forget to follow me on Pinterest:

Early Morning Magic at Magic Kingdom: Is It Worth The Price?

Early Morning Magic

Early Morning Magic: What Is it?

Not to be confused with Extra Magic Hours (the extra hour at an assigned park for guests staying at a Disney resort hotel only), Early Morning Magic is a ticketed event open to any guest who books it in advance.

Early Morning Magic is offered on select Sundays and Tuesdays from 7:45 to 10 am. (For specific dates, check the official Disney site). During this time, seven Fantasyland attractions are open including:

  • Winnie the Pooh
  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
  • Peter Pan’s Flight
  • Princess Fairytale Hall
  • It’s a Small World
  • Mad Tea Party
  • Under the Sea- Journey of the Little Mermaid

If you’ve done Early Morning Magic in the past, you’ll notice it now includes a few more attractions than it used to! (My review of EMM in fall 2018 took place before Princess Fairytale Hall, Mad Tea Party, and the Little Mermaid were added.)

The ticket also includes a breakfast buffet at Starlight Ray’s Cosmic Cafe (formerly at the Pinocchio Village Haus). It includes a good variety of breakfast foods and is all-you-care-to eat.

Early Morning Magic brunch
Just one of many trips we made through the buffet

At 9am, the park is open to everyone so this event gives you a nearly empty park from 7:45 to 9 where you can ride the aforementioned attractions as many times as you want with no lines. Then at 9:00 you can ride anything in the park (while people start to file in and lines are still short), as long as you get your fill of the breakfast by 10am.

So how much does all this magic cost?

The cost for EMM is $79 for adults and $69 for kids, plus tax.

It is important to note that unlike other ticketed events like the Halloween and Christmas parties, Early Morning Magic DOES require a day’s admission in addition to the event ticket.

EMM is actually booked like a dining reservation. You still need to use a regular day’s admission to enter the park.

Given this cost, let’s examine the pros and cons of Early Morning Magic at Magic Kingdom and determine if it is worth the price.

Our Experience at EMM

I took my 8 year old son on a whirlwind 3 day trip to Orlando to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal AND Walt Disney World. We only had one day to dedicate to WDW and try to get to most of our favorite Disney attractions (gasp!)

We decided on Magic Kingdom and Epcot as the two parks we wanted to visit that day. Even just scratching the service of these two huge parks would be difficult in such a short period of time, so I made the decision to splurge on Early Morning Magic as soon as I learned what it was.

Starting our day early was not an issue for us, as Zari is an early riser anyway. We were staying onsite at Universal so it was only a short Uber ride away from Magic Kingdom.

A quick timeline of our morning

Early Morning Magic

7:00: Uber to the TTC

7:30 Take the monorail to Magic Kingdom, check in and get our bracelets.

7:45 Enter Magic Kingdom. Walk down Main Street with the small herd, then take a few photos in the nearly empty park.

7:55-8:55 Fantasyland attractions (almost all walk-ons, the first couple Mine train rides had a wait of maybe 2-3 minutes): Seven Dwarfs Mine Train FIVE times total, Peter Pans flight, Winnie the Pooh, the Carrousel (not guaranteed to be open but it was for us), one bathroom break, and It’s a Small World.

8:55  We head towards Tomorrowland. At 9 o’clock they let us leave Fantasyland and we had only a few minutes wait to ride Space Mountain. My plan after that was to go on Buzz Lightyear Spaceranger Spin, but my son had a bit of a panic attack on Space Mountain which derailed our plans (whoops, forgot how intense that one is!).

9:30 ride Splash Mountain (10-15 minute wait). Debated riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad while lines were still short, but he was still a little gun-shy from Space Mountain.

9:45 Brunch at Pinnochio Village Haus. The brunch was delicious and we really enjoyed it. We didn’t feel rushed at all despite walking in during the last 15 minutes. We were even able to take some food for the road (pastries to eat later) since I always carry ziplock baggies in my park bag.

If you’re keeping count, that’s 11 rides plus a meal by 10am. 

And no, we weren’t running around or rushing in any way. I let my son lead the way and do as he pleased. We enjoyed ourselves every step of the way (well, except for the Space Mountain part!)

Here is a picture of him pretending to pull the sword out in front of the Carrousel.

Early Morning Magic carousel

After 10:00, EMM was officially over and we spent a couple more hours at Magic Kingdom enjoying the rest of the park. Then we took the monorail over to Epcot where our 3 pre-booked Fast Passes were, and enjoyed about 7 hours there.

Early Morning Magic Pros

It maximizes your time.

If you have a very short trip like I did and still want to be able to do and see a lot, EMM is a great way to do more in less time.

As you can see from our day outlined above, we were way ahead of the game by getting that early start and riding several of the most popular rides early. It set us up many steps ahead of the pack for the rest of the day.

It eliminates several of the longest lines.

In addition to having very little time, I also knew I wanted to do Early Morning Magic because my son has ADHD and can not handle long lines. I’ve done enough of these trips with him to know that even a “mild” 15 minute wait can break him.

For us, EMM was essentially the equivalent of having a Fastpass for Mine Train, Winnie, Peter Pan’s Flight, Space Mountain, and Splash Mountain PLUS the three FP we actually used at Epcot.

Even with the best Fastpass strategy imaginable, you won’t be able to accomplish what we did with EMM.

Being “alone” in Magic Kingdom really is magical.

Early Morning Magic
These crowds though!

When you first enter the park, you are grouped with everyone going to EMM plus the people with early dining reservations. So you aren’t exactly walking alone down Main Street. However if you wait a few minutes to allow people to pass, you do get the cool experience of seeing a nearly empty park.

Just don’t make the mistake I made allowing an 8 year old to take your fantasy castle photo, because it might end up looking like this:

Early Morning Magic
Oh no he didn’t. (Oh yes he did.)

It’s probably the only way you can ride your favorites over and over.

Early Morning Magic Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

I can’t think of any other way to ride Seven Dwarfs Mine Train five times in a row like we did that morning (and some people have ridden it many, many more times than that!) besides Early Morning Magic.

Even at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, when lines were very short, Mine Train still had a substantial wait.

If you love Peter Pan’s Flight (one of the longest lines at WDW), the same applies. Even if you do everything possible to beat Disney World crowds, these super popular rides will still have a wait.

My son was absolutely GIDDY getting off the ride and turning around to run through the empty queue and get right back on. He got to try riding in the first car, the last car, and the middle. Those are the little things that make the experience memorable for a kid.

You get a pretty great meal.

When crunching the numbers to decide if EMM is worth the cost for you, don’t forget about the cost you would pay for food without EMM.

Since we ate close to 10:00, it was essentially breakfast and lunch for us. We also had the pastries we packed up for later as a snack, and we refilled our water bottles with juice.

I had booked an early dinner reservation for us at Epcot, and aside from an ice cream treat we didn’t spend anything else on food for that day.

Here are a couple pictures of the buffet:

Early Morning Magic buffet

Pictured above is the cold food, including cold cuts and cheeses, sliced fruit, croissants and pastries.

Early Morning Magic breakfast

Not the most helpful picture because all the containers are closed! But I can see by reading the labels they had a vegetable frittata, sausage, bacon, scrambled eggs. waffles, and French toast.

We made several trips through this line and enjoyed everything!

Early Morning Magic Cons

It makes an expensive day turn into a VERY expensive day.

Ok so I always cringe when I actually do the math and figure out how much a fun-filled Disney day actually costs. To be honest I try to avoid doing that at all costs! But for the sake of this article, I will.

via GIPHY

 

The cost of a one day ticket to WDW is $109/adult and $104/child age 3-9 (this varies by day and is actually the low season pricing- it goes up from there!) = $213

Add on $55 each to make those tickets Park Hoppers = $323

Add the $79/adult and $69/child ticket for Early Morning Magic = $471

$471 for the two of us for a single day. That may or not be including taxes. It’s a big number.

It requires waking up early on vacation.

For the 7:45 start time, you’ll want to arrive at Magic Kingdom no later than 7:30. Considering how long you take to get ready in the morning and how far from the park you’re staying, this could mean getting up earlier than 6 am.

For us, this is no biggie. For others, it’s a deal-breaker.

It only includes the 7 Fantasyland attractions.

If those don’t include any of your favorites, it probably doesn’t make sense for you to spend those hours only having access to those.

Is Early Morning Magic Worth the Cost?

For some people, 100% yes.

For others, maybe not.

If you have a longer trip planned with more than one full day dedicated to Magic Kingdom, then I would say no, it’s not necessary to book EMM.

If you have teens who are going to stay up until midnight the night before and be impossible to wake up in time, it’s a definite no.

Lastly, if you have a tight budget and would rather spend your dollars on other experiences, this is probably not going to make the cut.

So who do I recommend Early Morning Magic for?

  • People with limited time, only 1 or 2 park days like we had. (A more enjoyable way to tour is a longer trip but when that’s not possible this is very helpful.)
  • People who don’t do well with lines.
  • Super Disney fans who want the experience of riding the rides over and over or seeing entire lands without people in them.

We most likely will not be booking EMM for every Disney trip we take from now on, as it is a substantial expense. But overall we had an amazing experience and I would LOVE to do it again on another one of our short whirlwind visits!

They also have Early Morning Magic at Hollywood Studios now at Toy Story Land, which I’m definitely considering for next year.

What questions do you have about Early Morning Magic?

Leave a comment and I’ll be happy to answer!

The Best Disney Fast Pass Selections for 2019

If you’re trying to figure out the best Disney Fast Pass + selections for a seamless 2019 Disney vacation without waiting in long lines, then pull up a chair and start taking notes!

I truly love helping people plan their ideal Disney vacation. I’ve brainstormed with friends who are 2 years away from booking a trip, and I’ve jumped in to help friends who are leaving in a week and haven’t booked a thing.

The mistake I see again and again that makes me die a little inside is people not using Fast Pass! (Cue horror movie sound effects.)

Almost as bad- when people book Fast Passes, but they chose rides that really don’t warrant it or weren’t the best use of their selections.

Since you’re here, I know you won’t make any of those mistakes!

Disney Fast pass 2019

 

Disney Fast Pass FAQs

Let’s start with some of the questions I hear over and over again about booking Fast Passes.

Do you have to pay extra for Fast Pass?

No, no, and NO! Unlike Universal, Disney includes 3 Fast Passes per day for EVERY ticket. You don’t need to be staying on site and you don’t need to pay extra. And after you use those 3 (or let them expire), you can book more one at a time.

Is it really necessary to book Fast Pass ahead of time?

It not a requirement to schedule ahead of time, and most attractions will have Fast Passes available on the day of. However, if you want the best chance at those extremely popular attractions, you absolutely should book your Fast Passes as soon as you possibly can.

There are a limited number of Fast Passes for each attraction, and the most popular rides do run out of Fast Passes well in advance.

When can I book my Fast Passes?

If you are staying onsite at a Disney resort, you can book your Fast Passes 60 days before the start of your trip (and you can book your entire trip on that day). If you are staying offsite, you can book 30 days in advance. You will need to book each day of your trip one by one, abiding by the 30 day window.

The booking window opens at 7am EST, so sit down at your computer at 6:50 on the day your booking window opens and log on to MyDisneyExperience to book!

What’s the best time of day to schedule my Fast Passes for?

There are two schools of thought on this, and it depends on your touring strategy.

Personally I’m in the rope drop crowd (arriving before the park opens to take advantage of the early morning low crowds). With this strategy, I recommend booking Fast Passes starting at 11am. You can take advantage of the low crowds prior to that time while still having them scheduled early enough in the day to then use a 4th, 5th and 6th Fast Pass after your initial 3.

Disney fast pass

How can I get extra Fast Passes?

Once all your pre-booked Fast Passes have been used (or expire), you can book another using the MDX app or at Kiosks located throughout the parks. You may only book one at a time with this method. Once you use your fourth Fast Pass, you can book a 5th.

For 4th Fast Passes and beyond, you can repeat one of the attractions that you already FastPassed and you can choose a different attraction from the Tier One category. Just remember these are subject to availability so it’s not incredibly likely that those will be available. People do change plans and cancel Fast Passes last minute however, so it’s worth checking.

What’s this I hear about “tiers”?

At Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios, Fast Passes are selected within a tiered model.

This means you may only select ONE of the two or three most popular attractions in that park. You can then select two of the Tier 2 attractions. My recommendation is to choose your most desired Tier 1 attraction and use Fast Pass for that. You can then prioritize the other Tier 1 attraction to be your first ride of the morning if you arrive at rope drop, or your last ride of the night if you take the late shift (both good times to ride a popular ride without a Fast Pass).

Want to know how I afford to go to Disney every year without going broke? Don’t miss this post that dishes all my secrets on how to save on Disney World!

Best Disney Fast Pass Selections For Each Park

Magic Kingdom (no tiers)

Disney fast pass
Seven dwarfs mine train: the best Fast pass choice for Magic Kingdom

Top 3 Picks

  1. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
  2. Space Mountain
  3. Splash Mountain

Other Solid Choices

  1. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  2. Peter Pan’s Flight (personally I think it’s overhyped, but the lines get VERY long so if you choose to ride, do it with Fastpass or at rope drop)
  3. Winne the Pooh (slow load times = long lines)
  4. Enchanted Tales with Belle
  5. Meet Mickey and Minnie at Town Square Theater (sadly this Mickey no longer talks)
  6. Pirates of the Caribbean
  7. Buzz Lightyear Spaceranger Spin

Epcot

Disney fast pass
Inside that giant ball is Spaceship Earth, one of my favorite rides

Tier 1 (choose ONE of these)

  • Frozen Ever After
  • Soarin’ Around the World
  • Test Track

If you have a Frozen fan on your hands, go with that as the lines are longest. Otherwise, choose Test Track. Don’t miss Soarin’- ride it first thing in the morning or last at night, or grab it as a 4th Fast Pass if you’re lucky.

Character spot is Tier 1 but probably not your best use of FastPass.

Illuminations is also a Tier 1 choice but nobody should choose it, there are plenty of spots all around the lake with great views of the show.

Also note-worthy is that Illuminations will be replaced by a new nighttime spectacular show at Epcot sometime in 2019. It remains to be seen whether or not this new show will alter the best choice of Fast Pass, but I will keep this updated if it does!

Tier 2 Solid Choices

The other attractions rarely get long lines so Fast pass should not be necessary.

Animal Kingdom

Disney Fast Pass
If you’re brave enough for Everest, you’ll want to ride it with a FP!

Tier One (must choose one)

  • Avatar Flight of Passage- The most sought after Fastpass in WDW. Get one of it you can!
  • Na’vi River Journey (only pick this if you can’t ride Flight of Passage due to height or other restriction!)

Tier Two Solid Choices

Hollywood Studios

Disney Fast Pass selections
Tower of Terror: A great choice for your Tier 2 FP

The addition of Toy Story Land has completely rearranged the Fast Pass tiers for this park. I imagine that, after the newness wears off, they will restructure the tiers again. For now, they look like this:

Tier One (must choose one)

  • Slinky Dog Dash
  • Alien Swirling Saucers
  • Toy Story Mania

Your best bet is to get a Fast pass for Slinky Dog and try to ride the others standby or with a 4th Fast pass or higher. The wait times for Alien Swirling Saucers have died down recently so should be the most reasonable of the three. Also, the queue for Toy Story Mania is a fun one, which helps if you choose to ride it standby.

Tier Two Solid Choices

  • Rockin’ Roller Coaster
  • Tower of Terror
  • Star Tours

Still have Fast pass questions? Leave them in the comments and I’ll do another Fast pass FAQ in my next Disney post!

If you are planning the ultimate family Disney vacation, don’t miss my picks for kids’ favorite Disney resorts and kid’s favorite Disney restaurants!

And don’t forget to follow me on Pinterest:

 

First-timer Tips For Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

If you’ve been following my blog, you know I’m a Disney fan through and through. But when it was time to take my second child on a one-on-one trip with Mom, my Harry Potter superfan son had other ideas.

We ended up doing a split-stay between Disney World and Universal Studios Florida/Islands of Adventure. The combo turned out to be amazing, and through our experience I came up with these first-timer tips for visiting the Wizarding World with your Harry Potter obsessed kid!

Do all you can to minimize crowds

As much as I love theme parks, I absolutely hate going when the parks are stuffed with people. And my hyperactive 8 year old can’t STAND waiting in line.

While the crowds at Universal are more manageable than Disney crowds in general, the two Wizarding World sections (Diagon Alley in Universal Studios and Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure) attract so many people, they almost always feel crowded. The design of the spaces with their narrow alleyways and small shops create bottlenecks all over.

I’ve written about how to beat crowds at Disney and many of the same principles apply to Universal. The most important of which is to go during a low crowd time of year!

We were there in September, which has the lowest crowds of the year, and it was fantastic. If at all possible, avoid going during holiday weeks like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. The whole summer also sees high crowds until the second of half of August.

Even minor holidays like Columbus Day will draw higher crowds at the parks.

The second best way to minimize crowds is to get there early! We had early park admission due to staying at a Universal hotel, so we were able to get in at 8am when the park opened at 9am. The crowds were non-existent at 8, and stayed low all the way until noon! This was when we enjoyed the parks the most.

If getting up early doesn’t appeal to you, staying late is another good plan. (Or do what we did, and do both!) Crowds start to die down around dinner time as people fatigue from the day. 8-9 PM was a wonderfully empty hour for us at Diagon Alley.

Finding Diagon Alley

Remember in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when Hagrid takes Harry to Diagon Alley for the first time?

In case you forgot, it is located behind the Leaky Cauldron, an unassuming little bar found in between a bookstore and a music shop. And, it’s impossible to be found by muggles.

As authentic as everything in the Wizard World of Harry Potter, Diagon Alley is hidden from view when you’re walking through the section of Universal Studios that looks like London.

In fact, it’s so well hidden, my son and I walked back and forth about five times without finding it!

I think I was expecting a big sign or something, not realizing how authentic all the Harry Potter details are.

Eventually we noticed a lot of people walking into this indiscriminate brick opening which I had assumed to be a bathroom:

Entrance to Diagon Alley

Once we passed through the brick opening, we found a completely hidden, bustling world that looked and felt completely different than what was on the other side. It literally took my breath away!

The stark contrast from the muggle world to the wizarding world is just the first of many times you will feel like you’re living Harry’s experience from the books.

visiting the Wizarding World

The interactive wands are a must

Yes, paying fifty-some dollars for a plastic wand stings for a minute. But that interactive wand was the highlight of the entire trip for my son.

If your child dreams of becoming a wizard like Harry Potter, this will allow them to make magic!

Hopefully, you’ve followed the first tip and are there without huge crowds. It isn’t nearly as much fun to do a spell when 10 people in front of you have just done it.

Here you see my son in front of Ollivander’s, dying to get in and get his wand, yelling at me for stopping to take a picture!

tips for visiting the wizarding world of Harry Potter

This is why our FIRST stop of the morning was Ollivander’s to get Zari his wand. He was out and about casting spells before anyone else so they were truly a magical surprise for him.

Letting the wand choose you

Another reason we got to Ollivander’s first thing in the morning was because I really, really wanted my son to get picked for the wand show where “the wand chooses you”.

We did end up being in the first group of the morning to get in, but Zari was not picked. A brother/sister pair was chosen instead.

My son loved the experience anyway!

I had planned on getting back in line and doing the show again until he was chosen, but when the time came I decided this was a bad idea. Once I saw how my son was a true believer in the magic of the show, I realized it would completely spoil the magic for him to see it again and realize it’s the same every time.

As it turned out, my son was secretly hoping for Harry Potter’s wand (they sell a version of the wand for each character from the movies) so it was completely a non-issue.

Zari scouring over his wand choices before choosing his perfect one:

Visiting the wizarding world of Harry Potter

If you aren’t picked to have the wand choose you in the wand show, there are still other ways for your wand to find its way to you: Look for the wall that lists descriptions of personality traits and the corresponding wand that goes with them. The description that best matches you will lead you to your wand.

If none of those work for you, you can also be matched with your wand based on your birth month.

Or just go with Zari’s method and get the same wand as your favorite character!

When choosing a wand, be aware that the boxes with gold labels are interactive wands. Boxes with white labels have wands that are only for collecting and don’t have the ability to cast spells around the park.

Avoiding frustration with the wands

A bit of a warning if your child is inclined to get frustrated easily- making magic with your wand truly does take practice.

In fact, we actually returned the first wand to the store thinking it was broken. In reality, we just weren’t doing the spells exactly right.

By the end of the trip, Zari had mastered casting spells with his wands using these techniques:

  • Keep your arm out straight and only make the motion with your wrist. Kids tend to want to wave their whole arm around and it makes the motion too big. Think of it almost like writing with a pencil.
  • Be sure to stand right on the plaque on the ground or just slightly behind it. If you’re too far away, the spell won’t work.
  • If the spell isn’t working, look for the black square censor hidden in the display window (it’s usually visible). Aim for that.
  • Other factors like direct sunlight on the windowpane sometimes interfere with the censor’s ability to read your wand. Try again later in the day if you think that’s the case.
  • Grab a cast member nearby to help if you still can’t get your spell to work. There are typically some hanging around the areas with a lot of spells just for this purpose.

This is what the plaques on the ground look like, indicating where the magic spells are. If you have a hard time deciphering the map that comes with your wand, just look for these on the ground.

Here you can see the spell is called “Aguamenti” and you need to move your wand in a wave-like motion.

Riding the Wizarding World Rides

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter rides are some of the most unique and immersive I’ve ever encountered in a theme park. There aren’t many of them, so I’ll go through each one.

Escape From Gringotts

Get up close and personal with the Gringotts bank goblins in the queue for this ride!

tips for visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Pottertm

A hybrid of roller coaster and simulator, this 3D ride is exciting and fun (and just a little bit scary). You do get jerked around a bit, but I did not experience any motion sickness.

It is required that you put all your belongings inside a locker to ride Escape from Gringotts. The locker room next door allows you do this for free while you ride. The machine is relatively easy to figure out and it has directions in many different languages.

Escape from Gringotts is the only ride in Diagon Alley, unless you count the Hogwarts Express (located at King’s Cross just outside the entrance to Diagon Alley).

The Hogwarts Express

visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

This train is not only an attraction, it’s also your transportation between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade (inside Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, respectively). For this reason, you need to have park-to-park tickets to ride.

The train ride is quick but a lot of fun for Harry Potter fans, because it looks just like the train Harry and his friends take to get to Hogwarts in the movies. And instead of looking out an actual window, there is a virtual window showing some of your favorite characters and places from the books, while moving to make it feel like you’re looking out a real window.

If you look in the opposite direction at the divider on your train car, you see shadows of various people and creatures and hear their voices, making it seem like they are riding the train with you.

The experience is different in each direction, so ride it both ways if you can.

Forbidden Journey

Get inside Hogwart’s Castle on this intense, in-your-face thriller.

first-timers tips for visiting the wizarding world of Harry Potter

Completely innovative, this ride is part virtual-reality and part being thrown around like a rag doll by a robotic arm. It is truly unlike anything I’ve ever ridden.

All of the scary aspects of Harry Potter including spiders and Dementors are way too close for comfort on this ride, which definitely frightened my sensitive 8 year old. And all the whipping around made me a little queasy.

But we were both still glad we rode it.

In fact we rode it again the next day! So put your fears aside, and just go for it. It really is that cool.

Flight of the Hippogriff

First-timer tips for visiting the wizarding world of Harry Potter
Photo credit: Themeparkreview.com

Right across from Forbidden Journey is a relatively small roller coaster called Flight of the Hippogriff. This ride is what I’d consider a family coaster (just a slight step up from Barnstormer if you speak Disney).

It’s a fun ride, and you get to see Hagrid’s hut, but it is very short. No big deal if you have Express Pass or the line is 5 minutes, but if it has a long wait I would probably pass it over.

Don’t Miss the Fire Breathing Dragon

visiting the wizarding world

The focal point of Diagon Alley is Gringott’s Bank, with its gigantic dragon on top. At various time intervals, this dragon shocks and awes all the guests by breathing a giant angry fireball.

As far as I could tell, there isn’t a specified time interval for you to be able predict when this will happen. One of the days we spent in Diagon Alley, it only happened once. The other day it seemed like it breathed fire every 10 minutes.

You may not be able to schedule your visit around it, but you will have a warning sign to take your camera out before the fire. The dragon starts grumbling and groaning about 30 seconds before it blasts. When you hear it starting to get angry, move yourself to a good vantage point and get ready!

Try ALL The Butterbeer Variations

If you’re planning a visit to the Wizarding World, you’re already planning on trying its signature drink, butterbeer. But did you know there are three variations of this marshmallow-meets-cream-soda deliciousness?

The regular butterbeer is carbonated like soda and comes with a marshmallow-y white topping. (Don’t try to order it without the topping- it’s a trademarked beverage so they will not serve it any other way even to accommodate allergies).

They also make a frozen version of butterbeer, with a consistency that’s more like a smoothie. This variety is great for cooling down on a hot day, but it isn’t carbonated so it seemed somehow less refreshing to me. Frozen butterbeer is also served exclusively with the white topping.

In the photo below you can see frozen butterbeer on the left, and the original on the right:

visiting the Wizarding World

Lastly, there is butterbeer flavored soft serve ice cream. It’s very good, as long as you’re in the mood for something super sweet.

You won’t get butterbeer anywhere in the Muggle world, so live big and try all three varieties while during your visit to the Wizarding World! I wasn’t planning on doing so, but my son talked me into it and I’m glad we tried them all.

The Secret Spell Locations

This is truly NOT essential to enjoying the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but if you have a spell-obsessed child like mine, knowing the secret spell locations will delight them.

Unlike all of the known spell locations, the “secret spells” are not found on the map that comes with the wands, nor are they marked by a plaque on the ground. (You can however spot the little black censor that you point your wand at, if you look closely.)

I can’t say for sure how many of these there are, but we can verify two in Diagon Alley:

Invisible Ink

the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Take a right at Gringott’s bank and walk a little ways down the alley. Just past the “Wingardium Leviosa” spell where you lift a feather, you will see this window (above).

Successfully cast a spell, and a secret message will appear on the scroll written in invisible ink.

Dragon Poop

When you walk into the main alleyway of Diagon Alley, look for a purple storefront on the left hand side called “Slug and Jiggers Apothecary”:

visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Through the store window you will see a big bowl full of brown mush (yup, that’s the dragon poop). Spin your wand in a small spiral motion, and the poop will rise up while a foul scent is emitted from the window.

As you can imagine, this spell was a favorite for my pre-pubescent boy!

So many photo opps

You could spend hours exploring every nook and cranny of the parks if you’re a big Harry Potter fan.

Even if you’re more of an Instagram fan, there are plenty of fun photo opps to enjoy. Here are just a few I got when I was able to pry my son away from casting spells:

The Knight Bus

first-timer tips for the wizarding world

Hagrid’s motorcycle

visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

The Hogwarts Express Train Conductor

tips for visiting the Wizarding World

If you get a minute to chat with the characters, they stay true to their roles and it’s very entertaining.

Got questions about visiting the Wizarding World?

Ask away in the comments!

The Cutest Disney Inspired Boy Names

The time has come for my two great passions- Disney and baby names- to collide! I’ve scoured all Disney movies and shows, princes and sidekicks, to come up with the BEST Disney boy names.

Here they are in no particular order:

Disney boy names

Disney boy names

Flynn

Ok so any Disney fan knows his real name is actually Eugene Fitzherbert. But that doesn’t stop Flynn Ryder (of Tangled) from winning us over with his famous smolder.

Eric

Speaking of The Little Mermaid, who wouldn’t want to name their baby after Ariel’s studly Prince?

Kenai

If you like more unconventional names, Kenai is an adorable choice from the movie Brother Bear.

Henry

Disney boy names

Perhaps the most classic of all the Disney boy names, Henry is the name of Cinderella‘s Prince Charming.

Sebastian

Sure he might just be a crab with anxiety in The Little Mermaid, but his name is pretty darn cool.

Milo

Milo Thatch is the main character in Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Milo would be a great not-so-obvious Disney boy name choice.

Philip

A classic name for a classic prince, Philip is the young prince who Aurora met once upon a dream in Sleeping Beauty.

James

Prince James might not be the first Disney prince that comes to mind, but he is the brother of Princess Sofia in Disney Junior’s Sofia the First.

Felix

Who can forget the well-loved good guy, Fix-It Felix from Wreck-It-Ralph? This name is on-trend and has a cool Euro vibe.

Terence

The sweet male fairy from Disney Fairies, Terence is a solid, underused name choice for the modern boy.

Jack

Disney boy names

Whether you want to say he’s named after the spooky Jack Skellington or the charismatic Jack Sparrow, either Jack will do for a Disney fan’s son.

Clayton

Clayton was the poacher in Tarzan who traveled to Africa with Jane to hunt gorillas. He may have been the villain in the movie, but his name is unique and classy.

Toby

Cute and sweet Toby was the turtle from Robin Hood as well as the basset hound from The Great Mouse Detective.

Victor

Raise your hand if you’re a fan of The Hunchback of Notre Dame! This strong, classic male name is both a character in the movie (one of the trio of gargoyles) as well as the author of the original novel, Victor Hugo.

Rajah

If you’re looking for an adorable name with a middle eastern flare, Rajah is a super cute choice. It pays homage to Princess Jasmine’s pet tiger in Disney’s Aladdin.

Apollo

Apollo, the god of the sun in Greek mythology, is of course found in the movie Hercules. The name Apollo has been increasing in popularity steadily since 2012.

Oaken

Disney boy names Oaken

Bet you didn’t think you’d find a name from Frozen on here! Do you recall the minor but memorable character Oaken from Wandering Oaken’s trading post? Not the friendliest guy, but definitely a cool name!

Nicholas

Nick Wilde is the con-artist fox from Zootopia who completely wins you over in the end. Maybe your little Nicholas would be similarly clever?

Elliott

Elliott is the clumsy but kind dragon of Pete’s Dragon. The name is better suited for an intellectual type child than an animated dragon any day.

Bruno

Ok, forget for a moment that this is the dog in Cinderella. It’s a totally underrated name!

Gus

Another animal from Cinderella with an awesome name. This was the chubby little mouse who palled around with the skinny mouse, Jaq.

Florian

Though he’s not named in the movie, the name of the prince in Snow White is actually Florian, though it was rumored to be Ferdinand. Florian is a much more on-trend name, so we’ll stick with that.

Arthur

Another name that is on the rise in popularity, Arthur is the scrawny orphan boy who becomes King Arthur in the Sword in the Stone.

Dashiell (Dash)

Disney boy names Dash

Who wouldn’t want a super cool kid with super powers like Dash from the Incredibles? He is mega fast, and I can see this name exploding after the recent release of Incredibles 2.

Phineas

While still unique, Phineas isn’t as rare as it once was after Julia Roberts used it for her son (although with a different spelling). It is still a quirky name though, just like its Disney title character from Phineas and Ferb.

Pascal

No one needs to know that your little one’s traditional yet whimsical name came from Rapunzel’s chameleon companion in Tangled.

Maximus

Another animal from Tangled, this white palace horse was all business on his hunt for Flynn Ryder. The name has good versatility, with the casual nickname Max a nice alternative to the formal (and somewhat stiff) Maximus.

Arlo

Arlo is the protagonist in the movie The Good Dinosaur and the name could not be any cuter.

Peter

Disney boy names

Go ahead, name your kid after Peter Pan. Don’t we all want to be young forever?

Thomas

Another classic name with solid roots, Thomas hails from the Disney classic The Aristocats. Smooth-talking alley cat Thomas O’Malley shows the rich sheltered cats the joy in a life of freedom.

Preston

The name Preston just sounds like it belongs to a rich person, so it’s quite fitting that the Disney character from Atlantis: The Lost Empire named Preston is a millionaire.

Otto

In contrast to Preston, the character Otto of Robin Hood is poor, hapless, and shown with a broken leg. That still doesn’t make the name any less adorable, however.

Taran

Disney boy names Taran

The courageous young Taran is the protagonist of The Black Cauldron. This simple-yet-different name is a great choice if you’re looking for something unisex.

Duncan

Don’t let Disney make you associate this name with Dunkin’ Donuts by naming the doughnut cop Duncan in Wreck-It Ralph. Given the rise in popularity of names like Deacon and Declan, it seems likely that Duncan would be well-received.

Boomer

Dinky and Boomer are a sparrow and a woodpecker constantly at work trying to catch a caterpillar in The Fox and the Hound. No one thought to use this name for a person until Michael Phelps named his son Boomer in 2016. Since then, it’s been popping up here and there.

Oliver

Oliver is the orphaned kitten in the Oliver Twist-esque animated movie Oliver and Company. It’s also a very on-trend name for a little boy.

Gideon

One of two con artists in Pinocchio, Gideon’s name is nicer than his character. (If you like old-fashioned baby names like this, you can find more here!)

Amos

Ok, so the bad-tempered old man Amos from The Fox and the Hound isn’t doing the name any favors. But if you’re looking for a name that everyone has heard of but no one has, this is IT.

Achilles

Disney boy names Achilles

Another name straight out of Greek mythology that appears in the movie Hercules, Achilles is a strong masculine name that will remind everyone of the hero with a weakness in his heel.

Louis

Louis, the alligator from The Princess and the Frog, just wanted to play his trumpet. While the character is a bit goofy, the name is a traditional favorite that will surely be exploding now after the birth of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s third child.

What’s your favorite Disney boy’s name? Let us know in the comments!

 

 

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