So Im back from Disneyworld and I find myself thinking that I need a blog. Where else can I unload all of my sage advice as well as my trip summary? Well I dont have a blog or an audience but Im writing this anyway. Ill put it up on Facebook and maybe a couple of Disney sites in the hopes that somebody somewhere will get something out of it. Please feel free to ask questions because I know *I* had questions up until the moment I left for my trip and even while I was on the trip. Our group was me, my wife Maura, and our five year old daughter Madeline. Keep in mind that most of what we did was focused around Madelines entertainment, so if youre planning to go to Disneyworld with a teenager, your mileage may vary considerably. Another thing to keep in mind is that we went at the end of April which is one of the slowest times at Disneyworld. When I talk about a wait time or crowd size, its going to be VERY different if you go during Spring Break, for example. When we went through queues and saw how much unused space there was for the lines well lets just say that I dont relish the thought of EVER going during a peak time. Our stay was 6 days, 7 nights. We spent a day at each of Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom. The other three days were at the Magic Kingdom (spread out throughout the week). That ended up being a pretty good split as far as our interests went. We stayed at the Pop Century Resort. This is on the lowest end of what Disney has but it was just fine for us as were quite used to staying at the Red Roof Inn while vacationing. We did see some of the other resorts and they were really nice, but I didnt want to pay for that. On our first family trip to Disneyworld, we had plenty of other things to do. If we go again, we might try out a different place just for the sake of variety. Pop Century has a food court area thats just as good as most of the places you might eat at in Disneyworld. They also have a large gift shop that covers most of your basic souvenir, etc needs so you didnt feel like you had to buy stuff at the parks since you could pick it up back at the hotel. There are a number of swimming pools (we didnt go to any of them), a video arcade (good enough I thought), and a small playground (which wasnt as good as the one we have at our subdivision at home). We did eat at the resort a few times, but mostly it was just a base of operations for us. We signed up for the Magical Express service (no charge) which took us to and from the airport and took care of our luggage for us. All of that went smoothly. We purchased the Quick Service Dining Plan. I would not recommend it unless youre in a special situation that would make it more appealing. Basically, this is just pre-paying for all of your food and you get a bunch of credits and rules as to what you can use them on. You dont really save any money. In fact, in our case, we spend more money because it was more food than we would have normally bought. For example, Im not a big dessert eater but I had one with every lunch and dinner on this plan. The rules are a bit vague at first, but you sort it out soon enough after going through the process and its not hard to deal with after that. The selling point is supposed to be convenience. Every person gets a Key to the Kingdom card which functions as well damned near everything. Whenever you buy something or want to get into the park, you just scan it and either give a fingerprint or type a PIN and youre done. I had my credit card tied to it as well though, so I could have just as easily used this card to make food purchases quickly. If youre nervous about that sort of thing, then maybe youd feel better having the plan, but I wont be buying it again. Oh, and you get complimentary refillable mugs with the plan. These mugs are refillable at any Disney resort, NOT the parks. They were handy to carry water around in because we were pushing a stroller with drink holders. If we were only using them at the hotel they probably would still have been worth it for us. They cost $15 each (if youre not a dining plan) and with one drink a night for seven nights yeah, they were probably okay. The cast members everywhere are very nice but Disney wants a little more out of them than common courtesy. They want the guests to have magical moments. As we exited the bus from the airport, there was a red carpet and a cast member blowing bubbles for the kids. My daughter loves popping bubbles so she was starting off her stay with a big smile on her face. Later, after we were done with check-in (which was quick and painless since I had done most of it online a weak earlier), I moved on to look at something else while my wife went back to the front desk to ask something. One of the cast members gave my daughter a pink carnation. They didnt give them to everyone (although Im not naïve enough to think she was the only who got one that day), but she was the only one who had a flower currently. Again, big smiles from my daughter. The front desk had buttons for all sorts of things. My daughter got one for being a "first-timer". My wife and I got one for our anniversary which we were celebrating. I can not begin to count how many cast members commented on those buttons during our stay and Im talking about every park, etc. They have to be programmed to do so. When my wife and I went out to eat a few days later for our anniversary, we were given a complimentary dessert and after-dinner drink. Disney is on TOP of customer service. I have one more story of exceptional service, but Ill save it for a bit later. Before we left for the trip, we had checked the weather and it was forecast to be 20% rain the entire time. We were concerned and had brought ponchos and a stroller cover, but it wasnt too much of a problem. Our first day it was a bit drizzly at times and there was a thirty minute downpour. We got a little wet, took cover on the paddleboat and rode out the worst of it, then just found things to do indoors out of the rain. The second day, there was a little drizzle. It was sunny for the rest of our stay. The free Disney transportation was easy to use. Buses ran constantly between the resorts and the parks. If you missed one, you waited maybe 15-20 minutes for the next one. Folding up the stroller for these bus rides was an avoidable pain, but we certainly werent alone there. There were also boats which we used a few times. And the monorail which we never used. Anyway, it was nice to not have to worry about driving. We brought our own stroller, but its definitely worth considering a rental. Kingdom Strollers were all over the place. It would have cost us $50 to have a decent stroller waiting for us at our resort for use for the whole week. Our stroller was better for holding the refillable resort mugs and it was handy for moving the luggage when we went back and forth from our car to the airport, but if Id have known more about these rentals ahead of time, I might have been sorely tempted. Oh, and heres another perk of staying at a Disney resort. You dont have to carry your souvenirs around. Any time you buy anything, theyll be happy to take it to your resort for you and it will be there by the afternoon of the next day. VERY cool. And now for some general advice for the parks. MOVE TO THE SIDE WHEN YOU NEED TO STOP. Good grief, if you thought it was frustrating moving around thoughtless people at the grocery store or the mall, youre going to get even more frustrated at the parks. Its unbelievable how many people will just stop in the middle of a walkway/road to sort out what to do next and not have a care in the world as to how theyre screwing up the foot traffic. Im even more sensitive to this as Im steering a stroller around, but Id have been irritated without one as well. MOVE TO THE SIDE!!! Youre probably aware that the parks have something called FastPass. You should be using this often. You dont need to do it all of the time, but its rare when the FastPass is not the best idea. Basically, right there at the entrance to the attraction you want to see, you will see the wait time for the line. This time tends to be an OVERestimate, but its still pretty accurate. Some attractions have interesting things to see or do in the line so maybe you dont want to bypass that, but those cases are few (Dumbo, Winnie the Pooh are notable examples at MK). Usually right there beside the attraction entrance is a FastPass machine. You pop your Key card in and get a ticket printed out giving you a span of time when you can come back and go through the FastPass line instead. That line is usually a LOT faster. You only need the Key cards to do this. Many times I would head off on my own and get FastPasses for all of us while my family waited in line to see a character or whatever. You cant use FastPass on every ride, but its usable on nearly every one that has any possibility of a long line. We did nearly every character meet available. I thought they were all better than I had imagined they would be. The characters took the time to interact with every child that came to see them. It wasnt just a rush to get pictures done and then move on to the next. You can take your own pictures and Disney will also take pictures and issue a PhotoPass to you. Once you return from your trip, you can go online and use the code on your PhotoPass to see all of the pictures that they took and purchase those that you like. Sadly, Disney is not 100% on this PhotoPass system. The pictures taken of you while on a ride are still only available as you exit the ride. I would have liked to have been able to look through those later. Anyway, my daughter loved every one of these character meets. In fact, she loved one a bit too much. When she spoke to Rapunzel, she was told that Pascal was playing hide and seek with Rapunzel, but he hadnt come home. Rapunzel asked my daughter to keep an eye out for him and send him back to her. Madeline said she would, but Rapunzel followed up with a plea ... "Promise me you will?!" and Madeline promised she would. She took that promise very seriously. She would NOT stop calling out Pascals name after we left the character meet and she walked all around looking for him. Its a miracle that we got her back to the resort empty-handed. I knew she wouldnt let go though and that it would all start up again the next day. So, while off refilling our mugs, I went to the front desk and asked if somebody could please call my daughter in our room and tell her that Pascal had been found. They were amused, but happily did this for me, and when I returned to the room Madeline was very excited to tell me that Pascal had heard her calling him and had gone home. WHEW! But the story doesnt end there. The next day we were out at Hollywood Studios until late in the evening. We returned to our room with one tired grumpy little girl and opened the door to see a stuffed toy Pascal sitting on her bed with a note. Rapunzel had wanted to thank Madeline for her help. Madeline was OVERJOYED. I looked for the next few days for the guy from the front desk who must have arranged this, but I guess he was off or his schedule didnt overlap my hunt for him. I hope he somehow knows how much his totally unsolicited gesture meant to my daughter! Youve probably heard about Extra Magic Hours too. Another cool thing. Basically, one (or more) or the parks is always open a little earlier or later every day and only people staying in the resorts can run around during that time. Youll want to sort that out when you plan where to go every day. Some special activities are only available during Extra Magic Hours, like the Disney Junior Dance Party at Hollywood Studios (a MUST attend activity if you have young kids, despite the late hour). I cant possibly list every ride and attraction we saw at the parks, but I did have a few comments here and there. If you want to know more about any specific attraction, please feel free to ask. We did just about everything a 40 tall five year old could do. The Magic Kingdom was the first place we visited and we returned for two more days later in the week. We saw everything we wanted to see and even got to repeat a few things as well. If we hadnt been doing every character meet, we could have easily done it all in two days instead, but I dont think the Magic Kingdom overstayed its welcome with us. Right away, I knew I wanted to check out the card game they had called Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. I found it a bit disappointing. It was really mostly mindless entertainment. We only ended up doing 25% of the game before giving up on it. My daughter really liked hunting for the portals, but she didnt care much for actually playing the game. She would probably have happily hunted for portals all day long, but we werent about to spend that much time on it. Id still recommend that anyone going to the Magic Kingdom go get their free cards for the game (great souvenirs!) and try out a few portals just to see what its like. Enchanted Tales with Belle was a great new attraction in the new Fantasyland that sadly has no FastPass. It was our longest wait of the trip, but well worth it. Madeline loved that she was selected to be part of the performance and she treasures the bookmark that Belle personally gave her. If you have small children, go do this right away when the park opens. Be Our Guest is a neat new restaurant in new Fantasyland with a gigantic waiting line to get in. Im talking about a wait longer than anything else we did all week. I would have liked to have eaten there, but there was no way I was going to go through that line. I'd say reservations are a MUST! Madeline loved the Disney playgrounds. One of them is inside the queue for the Dumbo ride. Basically you get into that playground with a pager and it buzzes when its your turn to ride. Im not sure how FastPass interacts with this, since we didnt need it for this ride anyway. If you have small children though, I dont think youll want to pass this up. Madeline was also crazy for dancing at the shows whether characters were there or not. We stumbled across these events more often than we planned for them, and she had a great time with it. The cast members and characters interacted with the kids and made them feel special as they danced and tried to pick up moves. Madeline got lots of kisses, pats on the head, and HUGE body swaying hugs! There are parades and stage shows which Madeline liked, but there were also some night shows that I thought was pretty neat. Im sure Im not getting the timing just right, but basically after 8 one evening, the whole Main Street area locked up as people started claiming seats for the shows. We were a little late to the party here but still got decent seats. First there was an electrical parade, then a neat movie projection show on the side of Cinderellas castle, and then finally all of the fireworks that youd expect at the park closing. We didnt watch all of this every night, but it was definitely worth seeing at least once. I found three attractions that I thought were totally lame and I mean that not even my daughter enjoyed them. They are the Enchanted Tiki Room, Buzz Lightyears Galactic Command, and the People-Mover. Buzzs whole ride concept was done much better in Hollywood Studios in the Toy Story ride. Buzzs ride was just a big frustrating pain. We got on the People-Mover just to get the sample platter of what Tomorrowland had to offer, but we didnt even get that much. It was just us gliding through totally dark tunnel after totally dark tunnel with absolutely nothing to actually see. When it was over, Madeline said, THAT was not a ride! No, no it wasnt. Next up is Hollywood Studios. We showed up at opening to sign Madeline up for Jedi Academy and found out that we could have gotten in even earlier for that purpose. Whoops! Still, it wasnt a problem signing up. Then we rode Star Tours. Madeline went berserk. I think the movement of the seats made everything just too real for her, and while I could have her cover her eyes and ears for most scary things, I cant help her block the motion. As we came out, the first Jedi Academy show was running and Madeline saw Darth Vader in the flesh, so to speak. That was it. She bailed on wanting to do her own Jedi Academy later. Again, they had a nifty Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground that Madeline wanted to explore. This one wasnt especially parent-friendly though because it was impossible to keep your eyes on your kid. The best you could really do was stake out the only exit so that she couldnt leave without you knowing. The Toy Story ride had a huge wait, something like 50 minutes, so I went to get a FastPass. It wouldnt be good for FIVE hours. Yikes! Popular ride. I got it anyway and we rode later and it WAS a good ride. We checked out the Disney Junior puppet show and, while Madeline liked it, my wife and I werent as enthusiastic. Imagine one of those big round above-ground outdoor swimming pools. Now imagine youre sitting on the grass and trying to watch a puppet show with all of the puppeteers in that pool. If they were near the edge (and they usually werent), it was okay, but mostly the visibility kind of sucked, especially for short kids sitting on their bottoms. The Beauty and the Beast stage show scared the hell out of Madeline and we had to leave in the middle of the show with her going berserk. Im still not sure what sparked that. She knows the whole story by heart. Maybe it was too loud? Maybe she was just too tired then? Fantasmic is Hollywood Studios big show/ender and we all enjoyed it. Definitely worth seeing. They tried out FastPass with it while we were there, but we waited for it in the standby lane because we didn't know FastPass would be available. Cast members suggested they plan to continue using FastPass for this extremely popular show. We had made a point to come to Hollywood Studios on a day with Extra Magic Hours in the evening because thats the only time when they run the Disney Jr Dance Party. As I already mentioned, Madeline is all about dancing with other kids, and throwing some Disney Jr characters into the mix doesnt hurt. Again, the characters were great about giving each child some individualized attention. Before the party cast members were available with hula hoops to entertain the gathering group of kids. The next morning was the princess character breakfast at Epcot. When we had seen Cinderella at the character meet at the Magic Kingdom, I slipped a personalized breakfast invitation my wife had made to a cast member and asked him to ask Cinderella to present it to Madeline as if she were specially chosen. Cinderella did a great job, but Madeline wasnt as excited about it as I had hoped. I think its because she didnt really understand what was happening and was just so awestruck by the princesses to begin with. Well, that morning we got up early and dressed Madeline in her Cinderella themed princess dress. She complained loudly and frequently, despite having seen plenty of other girls wearing princess garb in the parks. We finally got to the breakfast and they have it set up so that JUST as you turn a corner Belle is there to greet your child and talk with her and take pictures with her. When Madeline rounded that corner, all griping was forgotten. She LOVES Belle. Madeline actually CURTSIED for her! The food was good and our table was visited by four more princesses during our meal. At one point there was a Princess Processional where the kids got to walk in a little parade behind the princesses and zig zag through the tables. Cinderella was holding a little flower basket and she gave it to Madeline to carry during the Processional. Maddy was in heaven. I had thought Epcot was really going to go over with Madeline because its really just a giant interactive childrens museum (at least in Future World), but such was not the case. Oh, she liked it well enough, but the heat seemed to have sapped her strength too much and she was really gripy that day. I had heard that Animal Kingdom was the hottest park and had very little shade, but I disagree. Animal Kingdom had plenty of trees. Epcot is the place without any cover. Ironic because this is where the International Garden Festival was going on. Maura took a lot of topiary pictures but I cant say that it was all that interesting to me. It did provide Madeline with yet another playground though since they had a temporary Oz playland set up for the kids. Probably the best attraction we saw at Epcot was Turtle Talk with Crush. The kids enjoyed talking to the turtle while he replied with jokes that only the adults were getting. Madeline was bawling her eyes out at the end though because Crush never talked to her even though she was raising her hand. Its a shame since at least half of the kids he picked had NOTHING to say but there wasnt anything we could do about it. Epcot has a series of kid craft stations set up throughout the World Showcase called Kidcot. Sounded like something Madeline would like. Ick. First of all, they were NOT easy to find. I finally hit one by accident and she got to color a picture and have her name written in Arabic on it. OK. Then were moving on to find the next Kidcot and I see the SAME picture heading towards me in other strollers. REALLY? Were they all going to have the SAME craft with perhaps a different language written on them? BORING! We abandoned the Kidcot quest immediately. We tried out the Phineas & Ferb adventure and that was pretty neat. Madeline got a special cell phone which would play cartoon segments and then show her a picture of a place to look for. Wed walk to it and shed push the button and get more instructions. It was fun and she liked the hunt, but it just took too long, mostly because the animation bits were too long (as with Sorcerers). We completed the United Kingdom adventure and called an end to it. Illuminations is Epcots big closing show. I thought it was pretty lame compared to the other parks closing shows. I wouldnt recommend that anyone go through the hassle of getting a good seat for this. The last park we went to was Animal Kingdom. This was pretty much just a big zoo in my opinion. Madeline got a little fussy about not getting to do much and just have to walk around and look at stuff, but she did have some fun. Yes, they had another big playground for her. She was too little to get on Everest and too fussy about getting wet to ride the Kali River Rapids. I took her on Dinosaur because she wanted to go, but that just scared her again. I thought the ride was lame anyway. Only a kid around 12 could enjoy it because you have to be old enough to not be scared and young enough not to care about getting whiplash. Seriously, I enjoy roller coasters and the jerking around on this ride wasnt any fun at all. Animal Kingdom also had a series of Kid Activity Centers, but these were much better than what Epcot had. REAL activities with an actual cast member to teach the kids something. The Nemo musical puppet show was the best thing in this park. Really well done I thought. So thats the parks but we did more! Maura had heard of a sing-a-long at Ft Wilderness. Madeline would get to sing, and dance, and eat s'mores? Yeah, thats got to be gold. We took a boat from the Magic Kingdom in the evening to get there. It was a short hike to the actual site, but nothing like crossing one of the parks as we had been doing for days. Maddy had a good time, and even scored a free s'more from a visitor who had too many s'more supplies for her needs. We left before the free outdoor movie because we had other plans. We caught the boat back to the Magic Kingdom and were just in time to see the evening fireworks show while we were on the water. Great! Our wedding anniversary was the month before the trip, but we didnt have any great ideas as to what to do so we had put it off and decided to celebrate at Disney. One night we dropped Madeline off at Camp Dolphin, a kids activity center. Basically, it was babysitting but with lots of fun stuff to do with other kids. She loved it. Maura and I walked over to an Italian restaurant I had made reservations at (Il Mulino) and had a very nice dinner. We walked around the boardwalk area and hung out at a dueling piano bar (Jellyrollz) for a few hours until we figured it was time to go pick up Madeline. Delaying our anniversary turned out really well. I hope you were able to get something out of my meanderings and, again, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask. I had found out about much of this before I went on vacation, but I didnt really KNOW how some of it worked exactly and couldnt find answers online. If I can help somebody elses vacation go a tiny bit smoother then thatd be great and well if youre just curious and have questions, thats ok too.