Jan 07

To Fast Pass or not to Fast Pass

In December I visited Walt Disney World for the first time since Disney switched to the new Fast Pass Plus system and thought that in really changed the fast pass experience. But it left me with a question – do you need to schedule your fast passes before arriving at the parks? The answer is, it depends.

Let me explain:

Before arriving at Disney you can schedule your fast pass pluses, 60 days ahead for resort guests and 30 days ahead for other guests. When you schedule the system forces you to schedule 3 for your day in the park, all good! After you use your 3 fast passes, you can book additional fast passes in the park for later in the day, even better.MagicBand_8707

If you’re visiting and want to ride an attraction that is popular (Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Ana and Elsa, Toy Story, Soarin) yes, you will absolutely want to book your fast passes as soon as humanly possible.

If you’re planning to visit lesser attractions or attractions with a lot of fast passes (some rides seem to have half the ride dedicated to fast pass i.e. Space Mountain – these rides have an abundance of fast passes) then planning in advance may not make as much sense.

I visited with my 40something year old sister, our attraction demands were not that high.  Yes, we wanted to do many of the headliners (Seven Dwarfs, Soarin, Toy Story), but as adults we’re also able to make decisions about what ride is worth a line and are ok with riding some of the less loved attractions. We also don’t need to ride roller coasters multiple times.  When setting up fast passes I found I was often making at least one for an attraction that we didn’t care if we rode or not – since you have to make 3 fast passes reservations for the day.

Before the trip, I strategically planned the fast passes for 3 of our days in the parks – making the reservations as early as possible so that we could later capitalize on the extra fast passes.  For our 4th day, I made the reservations the night before – except for the super high demand ride of Seven Dwarfs, I was able to get fast passes early in the morning for anything we would want to ride. This actually left us waiting for our fast pass times to come up, of course doing other attractions in the meantime. But still, I had all these fast passes but had to work around them, when incidentally I could have practically walked on most of the rides.

I wonder if I had not made those fast passes and just walked into the park and scheduled as we went along.  Maybe we wouldn’t have gotten all 3 fast passes. But, maybe we would have gotten 4 since we wouldn’t have had to wait for all 3 to expire before getting a 4th. It’s an interesting gamble for two people who didn’t feel like we NEEDED to do anything to complete our trip, during a slower park period. While we did plenty in our 4th day and didn’t need any additional fast passes, I like the idea of testing to see if we needed those fast passes. I suspect we would have done about the same without them, or by scheduling them throughout the morning and we wouldn’t have been locked into the 3 time slots.

Fast Pass Plus Tips

1. If there are any must do attractions book ASAP! Particularly for high demand rides.

2. If you have a bigger group, don’t be afraid to break the group up into smaller groups and try and get overlapping reservations. There may not be 4 fast passes for Seven Dwarfs at one time, but you might be able to get 2 sets of 2 at an overlapping time. Even if the times are not overlapping, it seems to be easier to get a different time for an attraction you have a reservation for, than for one you don’t. Book the fast passes and keep looking around to find times that overlap.

3. Book fast passes for earlier in the day to allow for additional fast pass reservations later in the day.

4. Use the new fast pass system to allow yourself some later mornings. With this new system I did not feel the need to rush out and get to park opening every morning. While park opening still offers a great advantage, fast pass plus makes is possible to plan more later mornings without having to wait in lines all day.

5. Don’t be afraid to go into the park without fast passes booked. You can still book once you’re in the park and the selection may not be as bad as you think.

Aug 02

Website Review: Your First Visit

Having been to Walt Disney World several times I’m often asked about planning trips there, and often by people who haven’t been there in a long time, sometimes long enough to be considered a first time visitor.  Then I heard about this website – Your First Visit

YourFirstVisit.net is for first time visitors who may not be going back to Disney World, EVER.  The site has a very specific clientele, but might be interesting to more frequent visitors, they’ll rethink what they thought they knew about Disney World.

The site offers a 12 step plan for planning their trip, starting with when to go and then moving on to: how long, how old/tall your children should be, where to stay, how much to budget, when plans need to be firm, eating at disney world, how to spend your time, what to do when, families and special circumstances, and more resources.

This site is designed for people who haven’t been before and may never go again so their criteria is different then many offer to their own friends.  When choosing a time of year they take into account: weather, crowds, refurbishment of rides, and special events.  And although they do recommend the 3 weeks after Thanksgiving (a favorite of mine too), they do offer other suggestions if you can’t do that.  

For restaurants several of the choices are places you might only visit on a special trip, yet their itinerary is full of these ideas. At first I thought it was odd, but then realized character meals, and dinner shows are always fun and unique. If I was only going there once, yes, I would suggest doing several of these for the full experience. 

Some of those suggestions may be different from what more frequent visitors might choose, because they have different concerns than someone on a first and only visit.  What I like though is that this makes you rethink all the things you thought you knew. Maybe you wont change your favorite week, but you might rethink some of the restaurants you choose.  Or maybe you’ll add some new ideas to your Disney World Bucket List.

Jun 05

More Holiday Storytellers

In 2011 I had my first Disney World Christmas experience, and one of the treats of the season are the Storytellers Around the World.  In 2011 I saw about half of them and when I returned this past December I saw a few more.  This is a review of the news ones I experienced.  I will give one disclaimer though.  I had gotten sick at the end of this trip and was at my best when I saw some of these.

I did revisit the Los Tres Reyes Magos (Three Kings) in Mexico and La Befana in Italy.  Los Tres Magos seemed to be the same as the year before, still not my favorite, but still very good.  La Befana also seemed good, but not quite as good as I remembered from the year before, but I was feeling pretty sick at that time and I had just seen another really good one that day too.

Germany – Helga
With a name like Helga I expected an older woman, but I was wrong, Helga is a pretty young woman and this was a nice story.  Here we learned about the tradition of Christmas Trees and the first Nutcracker.  Even with German heritage I didn’t think this was the best one, but it’s a bit more contemporary then many of the others.  I think it did have the best setting though,  at least in terms of atmosphere.

The American Adventure – Hanukkah
This show has the best setting, it’s inside.  No dealing with hot or cold or sun in your eyes.  As for the show, it was just ok. The woman was nice and the story had an intimate feel to it.  But, I grew up with a lot of Jews around me and I felt like I knew more about Hanaukkah then I learned here. I suspect if you’ve had little contact with Jews this would be more interesting.  I did think it was a nice touch that the story teller played with dreidel with the kids after.

France – Pere Noel
Pere Noel tells the story of Christmas in France through a letter from a girl.  It’s a sweet story about believing in Pere Noel and santa figures.  But Pere Noel is too skinny!

Canada – Nowell
Nowell is a lumberjack, what?  How can you make all those gifts if your cutting down trees.  Or maybe you need the wood for all those toys?  I don’t know. But this was another good story, reminds me a lot of how Christmas in the US, as much as it’s the same for many, it can also be quite different depending on your heritage.

Norway – Sigrid and Christmas Gnome, Julenissen
This was my absolute favorite and you can tell the word is out, this story had the largest crowd of all the ones I have seen.  Sigrid tells the story of Julenissen, which she doesn’t believe.  Julenissen is a gnome who plays tricks on boys and girls.  And so Julenissen plays tricks on Sigrid, but since she doesn’t believe in him she doesn’t understand what is going on. It’s quite entertaining.

Even though Christmas is 6 months away, it is time to start planning your trips there!

May 15

One Year with Disney World

When I took my trip to Disney World in December 2011 I decided to get an annual pass.  The plan was to see if I could find some good deals on trips in 2012 and hop on a plane and go.  The plan worked in some ways and not in others, but it was still a good year.

I never really found good deals, but I had some vacation time and took several shorter trips.  Actually, one of my trips was not only not a “good deal” but included expensive hotels and plane tickets, but was a great experience.

My first trip was with my sister and her two kids.  It was a fun trip, but the 4 of us in one Polynesian hotel room was a bit much for me at times.  As usually happens with kids, the trip revolved around them, we went on lots of rides, and I loved the Polynesian.

The rest of the trips I took that year ended up being about experiences more then about rides.

On one trip I actually decided to ride the rides that no one talks about, the ones you can’t ride with other people because they want to go on the good rides.  It wasn’t one of my better plans, but now I have a list of rides I never need to go on again.

Another trip was all about the Animal Kingdom Lodge and Fantasyland.  While I did do some other things, having already been 3 times in less then a year, I didn’t feel the need to do much more then that. There’s no line for the new Little Mermaid ride, better ride it lots before the lines grow! I can ride Peter Pan, Space Mountain and shop another time!

Tour a resort, who has time for that? When you go 5 times in 12 months, you have time to tour an interesting resort (Art of Animation), you probably even have time to tour a boring one (as though they exist).

The biggest thing I got out of these 5 trips was that every one I had a slightly different goal, explore a resort, experience a new party or event, ride new rides.  The goal was not to see as much as possible in as short a period of time as possible. With that, I got to spend time with the charming lesser known things, instead of on lines. I got to experience the whole of Walt Disney World.

After that year though, I did get a little bored.  The average attractions that you might do because you don’t get to do them often, they lost there thrill. You run out of new experiences to have, or at least the list gets shorter. So yes, the thrill wore off a bit, but the ability to relax on a Disney vacation started to exist, and I really never thought that was possible.

A lot of people asked when I was going back, or commented that I wouldn’t be able to give it up.  But I have no plans of going this year.  While it would be easy to go back, the desire to explore something new is stronger.  I’ll be back there, but it might not be until 2015, GASP! But I wouldn’t be opposed to doing it with an annual pass again.