July 09, 2020

Dealing with Disney Dollars and Details – Part 2 (Tips & Tricks)

This post represents another installment in The Big Switcheroo series – tales from last spring’s epic journey from the northeast to the Florida Keys and back – involving family, friends and an extraordinary range of adventures.  It’s also the fifth and final post regarding our one week visit to Disney World with our daughter (Kyra), our son (Ryan), and our son’s girlfriend (Anya.)  The photos included with this post are of some of the delightful creations on exhibit during the International Flower & Garden Festival at Epcot being held at the time of our visit in May 2019.

Now that we worked our way through my favorite Disney planning resources in the previous post, allow me to share a few of my favorite tips.  Keep in mind that changes are ongoing throughout the Disney Empire.  The information below was current at the time of our prior visits, but may no longer be correct or appropriate – especially considering the COVID-19 pandemic.

A map of Disney World property is available at the front desk of any of the Disney resorts, and at Guest Relations at any of the Disney theme parks.  The map proved to be extremely useful when driving “around the World” since it often felt like we were driving in circles.  Maybe we were.

Disney allows guests to bring snacks and (non-alcoholic) drinks into its theme parks.  Before your Disney vacation, consider stocking up on individual size packages of crackers, dried fruit, cookies, nuts or whatever portable snacks your family prefers that can be enjoyed “as is.”  We brought backpacks and packed enough snacks for all of us to have 3 or 4 snack breaks during the day.  This made it much easier when someone got hungry and we weren’t ready to stop for a meal.  It was also easier to plan for which treats we wanted to purchase in the parks, since we weren’t grabbing just anything when someone got hungry.

There are plenty of good, cold water fountains around the Disney parks.  We froze half a bottle of water every night for each of us, and then refilled the bottles at the water fountains or water refill stations around the theme parks.  The First Aid station in each of the parks is a sure bet if you’re looking for fresh water, and I’ve heard that you can ask for a (free) glass of ice water at any of the Disney dining locations whether or not you order any food.  Carabiners are useful to have on hand for attaching water bottles to belts, backpacks or strollers.

Consider bringing light-weight bandanas (in different colors) for each member of the family.  We tied them onto backpacks and strollers to make ours stand out from others.  When it got hot, we just soaked them under a bathroom sink faucet and wiped our faces and necks.  They were wonderful for cooling off and, since they dried so quickly tied out in the open air, we never had to deal with carrying around wet washcloths.  In fact, we’d often wet the bandanas and tie them around our necks, letting them work their cooling magic as we wandered around the theme parks.

Before you leave on your vacation, check with Disney to find out what color rain ponchos are currently being sold in the theme parks.  If they’re clear, as they were about ten years ago, then you should be able to see your kids’ (or your spouse’s!) clothes right through them.  But, if they’re all the same color – yellow was big some years back – you’ll find it hard to differentiate your family members from anyone else in the crowd.  One solution is to buy the same color rain poncho (in a different color than Disney's) for all members of your family before you get to the parks, and decorate each one with a favorite family symbol.  (In our family, it would probably be an ice cream cone.)  My point is that the last thing you’d want to see is a sea of plain yellow rain ponchos when you’re trying to spot your kids in a crowd.  (Yes, I am an overprotective Mom.  No, I will not apologize for it.)

Many of the attractions in the theme parks are loud, and some are very loud.  If you have any noise-sensitive people in your party, consider packing hearing protectors or ear plugs.

If any members of your party are more interested in seeing Disney’s famous characters than any of the attractions, be aware that cast members in any given theme park have a daily guide and/or phone number to call to find out where characters currently are or will be appearing that day.  Cast members who staff the Guest Relations station in any of the theme parks should be able to help with this, as well.

If those youngsters may also covet autographs from their favorite characters, I’ll suggest that you purchase autograph books and permanent markers (like Sharpies) before you arrive at the theme parks or as soon as you enter.  Otherwise, if your child or grandchild runs into a character early on, sees other kids collecting autographs and doesn’t have the opportunity to get one, it won’t be just the child with disappointment leaking from his or her eyes.  By the way, permanent markers like Sharpies work best.  Pens, pencils or thin markers are difficult for the cast members to grip when they’re in costume.

If you want to enjoy any meals at Disney restaurants during your visit – especially character meals or dinner at the more popular hot spots – make dining reservations as soon as possible.  Seriously.  ASAP!  If you have lodging reservations at a Disney World resort, you may make dining reservations up to 180 days in advance.  If you’re not staying on Disney property, you may make dining reservations up to 60 days in advance for most restaurants.  Reservations for specific times and specific restaurants go like hotcakes – especially for those dining venues with excellent reputations or perfect locations (say, for example, having the best seat in the house for the evening fireworks display).  I’m telling you, people, do not delay!

If you didn’t follow my advice and now have no dining reservations at Cinderella’s Table (or anywhere else) in the Magic Kingdom, Pecos Bill’s Café in Frontierland serves good burgers.  A small consolation, I know.  The prices were reasonable (considering the fact that you’re on Disney property), they have a great “fixin’s bar” with lots of extras to add to your burger (probably a thing of the past in the post-COVID world), and the restaurant is really roomy inside, although it doesn’t look it from the outside.  On more than one occasion, we’ve found this to be a good place to grab a bite to eat and get in out of the sun, but go early before the lunch crowd arrives or plan to arrive later in the afternoon.

The Flame Tree Barbecue in the Animal Kingdom has decent barbecue.  Plus, if you walk down behind the restaurant, you’ll find some really nice places to eat your meal with a great view of the water.  A lot of people were stopping at the tables right up top, but the walk down was definitely worth it.

The chocolate hazelnut beignets at Les Halles Boulangerie-Pâtisserie, the French bakery in the World Showcase section of Epcot, are delightful and well worth every single calorie they pack into them.  Just sayin’ . . .

If you ride the monorail in the Magic Kingdom, ask if you can sit up front with the monorail pilot.  It’s really neat to see him/her operate the monorail and the view is excellent – much better than what you'd have in any of the monorail cars.   If someone else has already claimed the front car, the cast members will usually let you wait for another one to come.  I think the front car only fits 4 or 5 people so, if you have a large party, you may need to split up and wait for an additional monorail if everyone wants to ride in front.  They come pretty quickly, and it’s worth the wait if you’ve never done it before.  Be sure to ask if the kids in your party are eligible to obtain “pilot’s licenses.”

If you plan to ride the Walt Disney World Railroad in the Magic Kingdom, try to ride the train round trip from the Main Street station – it’s usually less crowded than the other stations, so you won’t have to wait as long.

The playground in Animal Kingdom (The Boneyard) is excellent, but it’s big and it’s extremely difficult to keep your eyes on your kids all the time, even if it’s one adult to one child.  If that’s going to make you nervous, consider bypassing it entirely, or have an adult scout it out before the kids see it.  I can’t imagine the angst of getting separated from your children in a place like Disney World, and the Boneyard made me uncomfortable.

If you’re on a budget or simply looking for reasonably priced souvenirs (like Disney t-shirts, postcards, key chains, etc.), try one of the Walmart stores in the towns surrounding the Disney resort area.  Obviously the selection isn’t as large as what you would find on Disney property, but it’s pretty darn good – and it’s regular Disney merchandise.  Definitely worth a stop, especially if you have a number of kids who would be thrilled with anything that has Mickey (or Minnie or Pluto or Goofy) on it.  When she was young, we bought Kyra a plush Mickey Mouse at Walmart, and later saw the same size Mickey in the Magic Kingdom at almost twice the cost.

Pressed coin machines (most, but not all, of which press pennies) are plentiful in all of the Disney World theme parks and throughout the Disney resort area.  Lists of their locations are readily available online, and it would be easy to put together a scavenger hunt for the youngsters – or the young at heart.  Collectible souvenirs don’t come much less expensive than this; at 51¢ each for most of them, they’re probably the bargain of the day.  If you plan on pressed coin souvenirs, be sure to bring a small container of pennies and quarters with you, so you’ll always have the correct change.  (Film canisters are often recommended for this purpose.  Remember those?)  A small container to hold the pressed coins is useful, too.  For a list (and map!) of coin press locations in the Walt Disney World Resort, link HERE.

In my humble opinion, the best souvenir going for kids at Epcot has to be the Passport kit.  It’s readily available at many shops in the park, but I’d try one of the larger ones near the park entrance; that way, you’ll have them on hand at your first stop in the World Showcase.  At first, I thought it was pricey for a little kit, but I got them anyway thinking it would keep the kids interested and involved while we made our way “around the world” at Epcot.  Now I know it was worth every penny.  (I believe the Passport is currently priced at $12.99.)  When we bought them for Ryan and Kyra when they were young, each kit contained a kid’s Passport, which looked and felt exactly like a real one, except that it had a gold Mickey Mouse embossed on the front cover.  It seems like a pin of some kind may have been included, but it was so long ago that I can’t swear to it.  At each country, the kids had the Passport stamped, and a college student from that country wrote a personal message to each child – in their native language.  So the kids have comments in French, Italian, even Arabic in their Passports.  (Be sure to ask the college student exactly what he or she wrote, and immediately translate it on that same page in the Passport.  Don’t ask me how I know this is important.)  The kit also comes with stamps for the kids to put in the Passport, which are actually photos of the various countries in Epcot.  Even Kyra, who had just turned two when we first bought them, got into the Passport routine.  As we hit each country and announced, “It’s time to get your Passports stamped,” both she and Ryan would run to Alan because he always carried them, and each insisted on handing their own to the college students to get their stamps and personal messages.  Collecting the stamps and adding the stickers were fun activities and, when the Passport was completed, it proved to be an EXCELLENT souvenir.

Well, there you have it – the tips and resources that made the biggest and best impact on our travels throughout Disney World.  Drafting these past few posts, and recounting our Disney adventures, made me realize just how many heartwarming family memories can be attributed to Mickey Mouse and friends.  While I’ll never be the kind of die-hard Disney fan who visits the theme parks every year, I do certainly admire Walt Disney for his creativity, his vision and his perseverance.  In making his dreams come true, he brought the magic of Disney into the homes, lives and hearts of the young and the young at heart.  Nicely done, Walt!


  1. My brave (or reckless) oldest daughter and her family are flying to Orlando today. As members of the Disney Vacation Club they have reservations for the park and dining when parts of Disney reopen on Saturday. Flying from one Covid hotspot to another doesn't thrill either me or my wife, but they are absolute Disney fanatics and wanted to be some of the first ones allowed back in. With all the health and safety changes in place it should be an interesting and very different experience.

    1. Well, Bob, I'll bet they return home with an exceptionally intriguing and unique trip report! I'm risk-adverse (not to mention much older than your daughter and her family), so that particular trip wouldn't be my cup of tea. That being said, it truly would be interesting to see how Disney handles the reopening. I imagine if anyone is going to do it right, it will be Disney.

  2. Another keeper, Mary! It was nice to read this and escape for a little while from the nonstop malaise in the media. I rarely watch it anymore, but sometimes it's inescapable. Remembering the good times really perks you up, doesn't it? The wordsmithing was so perfect that I have nearly put out of my mind your writing the actual numerals 3 and 4 instead of spelling them out, as is old-school propriety for numbers one through ten. But don't worry--I'll be able to sleep, thanks to Ambien. I'm convinced you do stuff like that to tweak my OCD, and it works...I'm becoming a druggie!

    1. I agree with you, Mike. Remembering the good times we've had during our travels always brightens my day, and we've been blessed with many of them. It's not that I'm ignoring the turmoil going on around me, I'm simply plodding along toward my goal of documenting our journeys, and I'm enjoying re-living the adventures. Right now, I'm so far behind that I can't even recall where I left off in recounting our second cross-country National Parks trip, and I still have the third one to go. Sigh.

      On another note, I'm aware that I'm inconsistent in applying the grammatical rule you mentioned, and now I'm going to ignore it intentionally just to annoy you. First though, I think I'll buy some stock in whatever drug company makes Ambien.


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