As a Florida native, I grew up going to Disney quite a bit. I still remember being restless with excitement the night before a trip, and I still have that feeling of nostalgia when I hear “When you Wish Upon a Star.” I HEART Disney so much for so many different reasons, and I want my kids to have the same great memories of Disney that I have! We are so lucky as Florida residents to have several perks to take advantage of that make Disney even more enjoyable (and affordable) than it is for many others — and the short drive is only the beginning! Here are a few of my tips for taking on Disney as a Florida resident:
1. DO NOT go during peak seasons!
Yes, I am literally screaming this at you. Do NOT go to Disney over Christmas, Spring Break, Easter, really any holiday or, God forbid, SUMMER!! Crowds and waits can make for a miserable trip. We are lucky to live 2.5 hours away. Pick a random weekend and go, or better yet, if you can miss work and take the kids out of school, go on a random Tuesday or Wednesday. You will get to enjoy so much more and get so much more for your money.
2. Don’t try to do it all in one trip.
That’s what’s so great about living so close. Depending on what ticket you get (see no. 3 below) you can come back and try something different on a different day. Kids are so overwhelmed by Disney as it is; there is no reason to push your kids (and yourself) into meltdown mode. Choose a park or two and stick with that. Give yourself time for just strolling and enjoying the setting. (Did I mention Disney is the BEST ever for people watching? Hands down. Ever!) There is a lot to be said about enjoying the not-so-popular attractions and just taking it all in. Fast passes and dining reservations (more details below) really make this doable and help you enjoy your time in the parks!
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3. Take advantage of ticket deals for residents.
Disney is always running specials and ticket deals for Florida residents. Pay attention to the fine print, though, as some blackout days apply. For example, right now for a limited time, Florida residents can enjoy three days at a Walt Disney World theme park for $159 per person, plus tax with a Florida Resident 3-Day Ticket and have the option of adding a 4th day for just $20 more! These days do not have to be used together. So you could do two days this weekend and then two days, say, in May! They do, however, have an expiration date.
If you know you will be visiting Disney more than two times this year and want the ability to visit more than one park a day, becoming a Passholder is the way to do it! Disney offers the Seasonal Pass to Florida residents, which excludes peak-season time (and we don’t want to go then anyway, right!?) There are a variety of annual passes to choose from that range from Water Park-only passes to full Disney Platinum passes. You can also make payments, which makes paying for passes a lot more palatable when you are not dropping well over a grand in one day for a family of four. To me, these are by far the best way to go.
4. Call 1-407-W-DISNEY to make hotel reservations.
If you want to stay on property (and by this I mean at a Disney-run hotel vs. a Hilton or Marriott) call 1-407-W-DISNEY to make the reservation. Do not go on Disney website to do it; call and ask for a Florida resident rate at the hotel of your choice. Disney runs specials on hotels all the time for us Floridians, and calling and speaking to an actual person will help you quickly compare rates and see what discounts are available. Disney’s website for making hotel reservations isn’t the best. So go old school on this one and talk to a real person!
Now, I am not saying you MUST stay on property; we stay off property plenty, but it does have its perks. First, you will be provided transportation to all the parks through buses, boats, and the monorail. (This for kids is a treat in itself.) Second, you’ll have access to “Extra Magic Hours.” These “extra hours” allow you access to the parks before or after hours, when everyone else who is NOT staying at a Disney property must leave. For those with littles, the morning extra magic hours are amazing! Parks with Extra Magic Hours change, so check the schedule here before your trip to plan accordingly. Lastly, the best reason for staying on property currently is that you and your family will get this beauty…
…the Magic Band! Disney’s latest and greatest rollout of awesome technology. These bracelets are your room key, your credit card, your park ticket, your photo pass… EVERYTHING you will possibly need at the park (besides your phone/camera — though I imagine that will come in the future). Right now only people staying in Disney hotels will get these Magic Bands. Then you can download Disney’s My Disney Experience App and plan your trip with fast passes, dining reservations, etc., and all information is saved on the chip in your band. It’s seriously awesome — click here for more info about the Magic Bands.
5. Make dining reservations ahead of time — trust me.
This is still something that a lot of people, especially us Floridians who plan last-minute trips, often fail to do. Then we get to the park and are all huffy and puffy that there are no available tables at any of the sit-down restaurants. Disney’s online dining reservation system is fantastic now! Like I said, you can download an app on your phone (my Disney Experience) and have access to dining reservations at your fingertips. ALL sit-down restaurants on Disney property take reservations, and they pretty much all require a credit-card number to hold them. So you must cancel in advance or be charged a fee.
6. Get a “Tables in Wonderland” card.
This is a secret all Florida residents should be taking advantage of, especially if you have a large family and plan to visit often. This little card costs you $175 ($150 if you are a Passholder), but saves you 20% off your entire meal including alcoholic beverages. They do add an 18% gratuity, but the card will pay for itself quickly. It has saved my family a lot of money at Disney, AND you get FREE valet when visiting hotels or theme parks for dining purposes. The last perk of this little card is you get invited to all these wonderful seated dinners and wine pairings that different chefs do at various venues on property throughout the year. You can get your “Tables in Wonderland” card at any guest relations desk at the entrances to the parks. Click here for a list of participating restaurants and more info.