Every month for a year Amy Bashor drove, flew, or took the train from Savannah, Georgia, to Walt Disney World, sometimes solo and sometimes with her family, and she kept a journal of what she did, why she did it, and what she learned about getting the absolute max out of any Disney vacation.
The most important decision you can make when planning a trip to Disney is when you'll go. Each month has its advantages and disadvantages. Pick the wrong month and your pixie dust won't be as potent. No matter what month you choose, Amy provides advice and insights for enjoying your time at Disney World, with plenty of anecdotes drawn from her own trips.
A Year of Disney is no ordinary guidebook. It's a diary, a tips compendium, and a planning guide, all rolled into one:
Enjoy Amy's many adventures in Disney World and follow her advice to make your own adventures just as magical.
1The Perils of a First Visit
2January: It’s Cold in Orlando
3February: Riding the Rails to Disney World
4March: A Special Solo Mission
5April: Mommy and Me Weekend
6May: DVC Magic
7June: Moms Only Weekend
8July: Disney Three Ways
9August: Survival of the Fittest
10September: Eight Nights and a Party
11October: On My Own Again
12November: The Anniversary Trip
13December: Time Flies
14Cherish the Memories
The baby is crying. I’m frustrated and cranky. My husband is either off trying to get a FastPass or he has gone AWOL. What happened to the magical vacation I’d spent months researching and endless hours planning? Where did I go wrong? And how could I prevent this in the future?
Back in December 2012, in the first hour of the first day of our first family visit to Walt Disney World, these were the thoughts circling my mind as I tried to figure out how to get the magic back. My wistful hope of watching my daughter grow up Disney seemed to be going down the drain.
I took a deep breath and remembered I was on vacation. One way or another, we were going to have fun. And that’s when I caught sight of Minnie Mouse. I can’t say the heavens opened and light poured down on us, but I can say that watching my toddler run up to Minnie for her first hug was when I knew our family would deeply enjoy Disney World.
So, what did go wrong that first day? What could I learn from it? Figuring this out has led to many more happy trips to Disney World for our little family. Recently, I started thinking about what could I share with others to help them avoid the inevitable moments of panic that bedevil every Disney trip. This book grew from the stress of those first minutes of our first morning at Hollywood Studios. I hope to share a little of what I’ve learned while enjoying the Happiest Place on Earth. If these stories make you grin, or if you pick up something that enhances your next trip, then mission accomplished.
There are at least thousands and likely millions of Disney fans on the internet who can answer every question you might have about the parks. There are former Cast Members who can share “secrets” I may never know about. But what I can share are lessons we learned as a family—sometimes the hard way—in fifteen trips to Disney World over two years.
My name is Amy. I have a non-Disney, full-time professional job. I’m something of an obsessive Disney fan, as you can tell by the existence of this book. My husband, Craig, is a stay-at-home dad. He’s also a woodworker, handyman, and amateur engineer. Our daughter, Samantha, started going to Disney when she was two years old. She has yet to start kindergarten and she already has some definite opinions on having fun at Disney World.
All of us have grown to treasure our trips to Disney World. And, of course, that first trip did get much better. Craig returned from his FastPass mission shortly after Samantha and I waved goodbye to Minnie Mouse. While deciding what ride to go on first, we had our first Magical Moment. Behind my back, Donald Duck was walking backstage for his break. He came up behind us, surprising my daughter as he bent down to kiss her head. Samantha laughed, I laughed, Craig laughed. The Disney magic was working its spell. A Cast Member had taken a few precious moments to make our trip more special when he could have simply walked past and started his break. This book is also a tribute to those Cast Members who make the “magic” real. Thank you.
Amy Bashor is a coastal Carolina girl who is happiest near an ocean with a story in her hand. After picking up a couple of degrees from the University of South Carolina, she joined the working world and moved around the United States. She met and married her husband in Seattle and eventually settled in Savannah, GA. Together, they are raising their daughter to share their love of stories and imagination.
Amy goes on a "mission trip" to meet every Disney princess and video-tape their greetings to her daughter as a birthday present.
This trip was back in the “good old days” before the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train opened and the Frozen characters met in Fantasyland. There was still a rope drop, at which time all guests raced from the entrance under the train station to the magical land of their choice. Sadly, trampled guests and other logistical nightmares ended this human tsunami. Now, guests who arrive early line up in an orderly manner and, at a slow walking pace, follow Cast Members holding the rope down Main Street and to Fantasyland. It’s safer and more predictable, but some of the excitement is gone.
That weekend I happily joined the run down Main Street knowing I was going after one of the princesses with the longest waits first. I veered right in front of the Castle and was second in line at the tucked-away little corner in Fantasyland where Merida greets her guests.
After an entertaining chat with the family ahead of me, I set up my tripod and explained my mission to Merida. She was interested in the idea of putting together a show for my daughter’s birthday and had fun recording a short message. I had also put together a laminated “Happy Birthday” poster of the Disney princesses with my daughter in the middle. Merida signed this as well for me. I said thank you and was off to the next character.
While not technically a Disney Princess, Tinker Bell is one of my daughter’s favorite characters. I quickly stuffed my gear in my backpack and rushed over to Adventureland. Tink used to meet in a building just to the right of the main entrance to this land, but has since moved to the theater by the Main Street train station at the park entrance. This move has helped with wait times, as they could quickly get very long in the prior location.
I mention wait times because one of the best tips for planning what to do when at Disney is to knock out the attractions with the longest typical waits first thing in the morning, before most families make it into the parks, or late in the evening, after most families with kids have left. For example, I waited less than 20 minutes for the meet with Tink. Later in the day, the line stretched out the door and was easily 90 minutes or more. Figuring this out ahead of time is very helpful when you want to maximize what you do in a day—or when you have a mission!
As a bonus, Vidia was there with Tink, so that was a “two for one” meet. Both were great, quickly signing the poster and doing a video spot. Tinker Bell was especially funny, as she wanted to know how and why I trapped my daughter in the tiny little magic box. Vidia played along, a little put out that I had a photo of Tink on the poster but not one of her. That’s one of the best things about meeting characters—playing along with them!
I wanted to get Tiana next, as her location is in nearby Liberty Square. Sadly, she was “busy in the kitchen” and not available to meet, so I went to the Castle in search of the Fairy Godmother. When I didn’t see her, I walked in a store to ask a Cast Member if she was meeting. That’s when I learned that there is a number that Cast Members can call to find out where any given character is at that time. It turns out that the Fairy Godmother was needed elsewhere to grant some wishes, but that she would be back at the Castle the next day. Now, this was nice. It saved me quite a bit of time to know that rather than to stand there and wait.
Since I was already in Fantasyland, I walked back to the Teacups and waited to meet Alice and the White Rabbit. Again, there were many nice families in line to chat with. Some of the kids were a bit bored, which is totally understandable. I brought out the birthday poster and asked them if they knew the characters. This made the wait into an impromptu game/class and had most of the adults smiling. I’ve also seen other guests bring little bottles of bubbles and share them with random kids waiting in line. These little acts of kindness go a long way to spreading the magic for everyone.
While some of the princesses like Merida and Tiana are tucked away in hidden nooks, others are front and center in Princess Fairytale Hall. The good thing about this is the air-conditioned comfort of the waiting area. If you ever walk by and see lines stretching out of the building, keep going. There is a typical serpentine queue once you get into the building before moving to another room with another line with the princesses you’ve come to see. The other good thing about Princess Fairytale Hall is that it is a “two for one” meet. You will get to see two princesses, one after the other. Plus, there are lovely details like Cinderella’s glass slipper. It’s one of the best parts of New Fantasyland.
Continued in "A YEAR OF DISNEY"!
Amy goes through the "magical mirror" to experience the Magic Kingdom's best meet-and-greet.
Our six-day May trip was one of firsts: first Flower and Garden Festival, first stay in a one bedroom on property, and first birthday celebration in Disney World. We also learned more about using the Disney Vacation Club (DVC).
We started this trip thinking my brother and his family would join us for the first weekend. I wanted to make sure we would have a place large enough for everyone to enjoy and knew it was unlikely my brother would buy park tickets. So I rented points from a member for two nights at a two-bedroom in Saratoga Springs at the last minute. In DVC terms, “last minute” is one to two months before your stay. Many of these rooms are booked eleven months in advance, and points are “use it or lose it” after a certain period.
It’s lucky we got a good deal, as my brother had to cancel the week before we went down. This is one thing that I’ve found frustrating when incorporate others into Disney trips. Life happens. Work schedules change. Kids get sick. Different priorities come up. When any of these things occur, it can and does change vacation plans. Rather than stress about it, I try to go with the flow. There have certainly been times I have cancelled on others.
The cool thing was we were able to try two nights in a two bedroom at Saratoga Springs for very little cost. There was so much space. The master bedroom had a king bed, jacuzzi tub, and large separate shower in addition to the usual bathroom amenities. The living room had a couch, large stuffed table with storage underneath, chairs, and TV. It also had a balcony overlooking Downtown Disney. The full kitchen got plenty of use, as we made every meal for those two nights. The second bathroom had the normal sink/toilet/tub deal and two additional beds. Six people could easily spend a week in this space. Eight people could share it, but might get tired of dealing with the sofa sleeper bed. And it had a full size washer/dryer. Nice!
If you ever have a chance to stay at Saratoga Springs, my favorite part of the resort is Congress Park, which is closest to Downtown Disney. Especially now that the new bridge and boat dock have been opened, it is very easy to get from your room to do at Downtown Disney. As this area finishes the transformation to Disney Springs in 2016, it is only going to get better.
We were at Saratoga Springs for a Friday and a Saturday night. The plan was to spend most of Saturday at the Animal Kingdom. However, waking up to rain, we changed our plan. We hung out in our huge living space and walked over to Downtown Disney a few times. There was no need to get wet the first day of our trip. We would have lots of time to go see animals.
That evening, we took the bus to Magic Kingdom. With a little girl who is all about Disney princesses, that became the focus of the first night. We did FastPasses for Ariel and Enchanted Tales with Belle. For the latter, guests enter through Maurice’s cottage, which has some great details including a portrait of Belle’s mother. Then, after a short spiel from a Cast Member, the Beast’s magical mirror opens into the wardrobe room of the castle.
The magic wardrobe explains that tonight the Master and Belle are going to have a special dinner. All the enchanted objects hope they fall in love. Guests are asked to help by retelling part of the story. Every child who wants a part in the story is given one to play. Kids who do not want to act in the story, like my daughter, do not have to participate.
Dads are also called upon for a role. I’m not sure, but I think the Cast Members look for the fathers who seem the most uncomfortable to play these roles. Once everyone who wants to play has an assigned role and a chance to practice, all the guests are called into the library. Lumière reviews the story one more time, then calls Belle into the room. All the guests yell “surprise” when she enters.
Guests act out the story of the night Belle and Beast fall in love. The highlight is when the small child dressed as the Beast dances with Belle. After quickly role playing the early events in the Beauty and the Beast story, even kids who don’t act are invited to parade around the room with Belle at the end and get an individual photograph with her.
Samantha, while steadfastly refusing to act in the show, always joins the parade and photos. While they wait for their turn to meet Belle, the handler asks the kids their names. The handler then introduces each child individually to Belle as “Lady” or “Lord” and uses the child’s first name.
That particular evening, my daughter was dressed as Elsa. So when asked her name, she promptly replied: “Queen Elsa.” Laughingly, the handler introduced her as such. Belle was surprised into a giant smile.
Guests can take video and photos, but I think this is one where it is better not to use a flash. A PhotoPass photographer is there throughout, taking many pictures, and guests get a card on the way out with that session’s number and can add the photos to their MemoryMaker account.
Continued in "A YEAR OF DISNEY"!