This year my girlfriend and I decided to take a trip to Disney World. She’s a huge Disney fan and had never been to Disney World in her 27 years of being alive, despite being born in Florida. Since this was her first time, and only my second time in 30 years, we decided to make an experience of it. We were going to go to all the main parks, stay on campus at one of the resorts, and basically live at Disney World for a week or so. This post is going to be me talking about what all we decided to do, what we liked and didn’t like, tips and tricks that we learned along the way, and a price overview at the end of what it cost to do all of that.
Let’s start with booking the resort. We thought we might have some other options available to us, but those ended up falling through, so we ended up booking the resort about a month out. Most places recommend booking the resort at least 2 months out or more, but we were able to make it work with just one. However, since we were so close, we ended up just booking through the Disney World website. We were able to take advantage of a Back to School discount package going on at the time though.
We planned our trip to be right after school was back in, but before Halloween or any other festivities would be planned. This was to try and go at a time when there wouldn’t be a ton of people. We also lucked out in that the timing of all that coincided with Labor Day. So we arrived on Saturday, September 3, 2016 and stayed till Sunday, September 11, 2016. This turned out to be perfect and the parks were relatively dead pretty much our whole trip. There were still tons of people there, but we didn’t have to wait nearly as long for anything as if you went during the summer.
We booked the Coronado Springs Resort for those 9 days, 8 nights. The Coronado is located in the Animal Kingdom section of campus and is themed with a Mayan feel. Other than the gift shop at the front of the resort, there wasn’t a lot of in your face Disney characterization to the resort. The Coronado is structured around a lake with all the rooms making a circle.
This lead to my only real complaint about the Coronado itself: you ended up doing a lot of walking to get anywhere. This of course depended on where your room was, but our room ended up being in the Ranchos which were on the opposite side of the lake from the lobby and dining area. So anytime we wanted to eat or get a snack or refill our drinks, we had to walk halfway around the lake just to get there. When we wanted to visit the parks though, there were 4 bus pickup stations located around the resort, so we didn’t have to walk very far for that.
The Coronado also has a convention center attached to it, and so its guests tended to be more business focused and less families with 4 kids. This was a big reason that we decided on the Coronado, not wanting to have screaming children around anymore than we had to.
I did have one other issue with the Coronado, though it could’ve happened at any of the resorts. I decided to do laundry while we were there and ended up doing loads twice throughout our week or so there. Both times, the vending machine that dispensed the detergent for use in the washing machines didn’t work. I had to call the front desk and get detergent brought out to me. This was very annoying as I was typically already tired from the long days during the week.
Overall, we enjoyed the Coronado, having only those two complaints (walking distance and detergent dispenser). While it was nice not having a ton of children around, I think next time we’d like to try a more Disney themed resort. Still, the Coronado seems like a great deal for your money and has a very relaxed and downtempo vibe, which can be great after a day at the parks.
Staying on campus at a resort also came with personalized MagicBands for us both, as well as access to the Disney Magical Express. These two amenities are really part of the whole Disney Experience. If you’re flying into Disney World, I highly recommend staying at a resort and taking advantage of these amenities.
The Disney Magical Express was a shuttle that took us from the airport to our resort. We received luggage tags in the mail similar to checked bag tags that we were able to put on our checked luggage and the Disney Magical Express took care of picking up our luggage and delivering it directly to our resort room.
When we left Disney World at the end of our trip, we were also able to check our bags at the resort and ride the Disney Magical Express back to the airport. During both trips, we didn’t have to worry about our luggage and were able to relax more while traveling.
The MagicBands get their own section in this review. These things are amazing. There’s apparently something similar to them in credit card form, but I highly recommend getting the bands. They came with the resort reservation for us. We were able to pick our colors and have our names put on the inside. Since we reserved the resort far enough in advance, they were shipped to us ahead of time. We wore them on the plane ride down.
As soon as we got off the plane in Orlando, we went to the Disney Magical Express pick-up area. We each tapped our MagicBands and were told what line was for our bus. No paperwork, no numbers or codes to remember. Everything was stored and verified with a tap of our bands.
When we arrived at the Coronado, we were able to go straight to our room without needing to talk to anyone. Our room number had been emailed and texted to me while on the Disney Magical Express bus ride to the resort. One tap of our MagicBands and we were into our room. No extra keycard to carry around, no need to check-in, just head straight to our room.
We arrived mid-afternoon on Saturday, so after looking around our room, we walked around the resort and got to know the place. We decided to purchase the Quick-Service meal plan for our stay. This included 2 Quick-Service meals and 1 Snack per day, per person, for our 8 night stay. These meals and snacks could be used at any Disney resort and any Disney theme park. The meal plan also came with a refillable plastic tumbler mug that could be used at any of the Disney resorts for free. You could fill the mugs with soda, water, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, etc.
I’ll talk more about the breakdown of costs at the end, but the meal plans could go either way. We didn’t quite use all of our meals or snacks while on the trip, so it would’ve been just a bit cheaper to not have used the meal plan, but if we had used all of it, we would’ve come out a bit ahead. We also probably ate more food because a Quick-Service Meal included an Entree, Dessert, and Drink. Most of the time we probably would’ve skipped the dessert if we were paying a-la-carte, but since it was included, it was nice to have.
Paying for the meals with or without the meal plan can be done the same way. Our MagicBands not only had our room key and park passes on it, but also I had linked my credit card. In our case, we simply picked out the food items we wanted and told the cashier that we were using a meal plan and tapped our bands. However, if we didn’t have a meal plan, they would’ve just tallied up our food and then we still would’ve tapped our bands just the same and the food would get charged to our room, which ultimately gets charged to my credit card I linked.
This was such an easy and seamless feature of the MagicBands throughout the entire visit. Getting into your room? Tap your MagicBand. Paying for food? Tap your MagicBand. Shopping at the gift stores? Tap your MagicBand. Getting into a theme park? Tap your MagicBand. Using a FastPass+ selection for a ride? Tap your MagicBand. Getting your picture taken by a photographer? Tap your MagicBand. Want to have that photo of you on the ride? Tap your MagicBand.
Everything was linked to that band and every place on the Disney campus accepted the MagicBand. There was even an outdoor mall area on campus called Disney Springs. It was open to the public just like any mall, and had things like Starbucks, Ghirardelli, various restaurants and clothing stores, and of course Disney specific stores. Every single store there that we went to accepted the MagicBands, even the chain stores. We never needed to carry a credit card or cash with us. We could do everything with our MagicBands.
I can’t overstate how nice it was to just have to have your MagicBand and nothing else. They were waterproof too, so when we went swimming at the resort, we didn’t have to worry about taking anything with us or watching our stuff. Just swim with the bands on and head back to your room when you’re done.
So for the first Saturday that we arrived we just stayed at the resort and explored and swam and ate. Sunday was our first day at the Parks, and we knew it was going to be intense. We had setup our FastPass+ selections through the Disney website before we left home. We got 3 FastPass+ choices each day. These FastPasses allowed us to use the VIP entrance for an attraction at a designated time. Thus we could plan out the things we really wanted to do ahead of time and make sure we were guaranteed to get in and not have to wait forever.
Once we were on campus, I ended up managing all of our FastPass+ and Dining Reservations though the My Disney World Experience app. It had all our of events for each day listed in it, maps of each park and resort in the style of Google Maps, park hours, wait times for rides, locations of restaurants and bathrooms for everything on campus, PhotoPass photos, and just all sorts of information about Disney World. This app is definitely a must have if you’re going to do Disney World. It has all the information you’ll need and was crucial for allowing us to keep up the pace and cram in as many things as possible while we were there.
For the parks, we each got 7-Day passes. This allowed us access to any 1 Disney Theme Park per day. We didn’t plan on doing any of the water parks this trip, just the main 4. Our original plan was:
Sunday: Magic Kingdom
Monday: Hollywood Studios
Tuesday: Animal Kingdom
Thursday: Animal Kingdom
Saturday: Magic Kingdom
Hollywood Studios seems to be a smaller park anyway, and there were parts of it that were closed, so we were definitely able to do everything we wanted to do there in one day. By Tuesday, we were becoming pros at using our FastPasses and the Disney mobile app and were able to tear through everything we wanted to do at Animal Kingdom. At this point, we had heard that Epcot took the most time to try and do and see everything, so we talked about doing 3 days at Epcot and not doing another day at Animal Kingdom. After a Wednesday of Epcot, we realized that we definitely would need the extra Epcot day, so Thursday we also did Epcot.
Now when using the FastPasses, you start off with 3 per day, per person. We always did everything together, but we could’ve split up and used our FastPasses on different things. However, once you use your first 3 FastPasses, you get an additional FastPass+. Once you use that one, you get another, so on and so forth. So it’s best to schedule your first 3 FastPasses for as early in the morning as you can, so that you’ll get to your bonus FastPasses sooner. It’s also important to use the Disney mobile app to watch the wait times of the attractions you want to go on. If something you originally planned a FastPass+ for only has a 5 or 10 minute wait, you can just go to that attraction’s Stand-by line and wait it out and use the Disney mobile app to change your FastPass+ to something else that has a longer wait.
FastPasses are not always available for all attractions. They do fill up, so make sure the stuff you really want to do, if it usually has a long wait, you get a FastPass+ for. These rides typically had a 60+ minute wait time each day, even though we went during a super dead week. I’d highly recommend grabbing a FastPass+ for these before your trip when you’re planning.
Buss Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
Peter Pan’s Flight
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Toy Story Mania!
Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain (this didn’t actually have much of a wait when we were there because of how dead it was, but I would still recommend having a FastPass+ for this during the busier season.)
Frozen Ever After
Obviously, the newness of rides and the time of year and tons of other factors go into whether a ride will be busy or not, but those were some of the more popular ones while we were there in early September of 2016.
FastPasses actually give you a timeframe for most attractions. You can be there anytime between 9:45-10:45 for instance. Most attractions don’t take an hour to ride or sit through, so you don’t have to wait till 11 to schedule your next FastPass+. Schedule your 3 FastPasses each day as early and as tightly as possible. If the park opens at 8 and you can have used your first 3 FastPasses by 9:45, then you’ve got the whole rest of the day to continue getting bonus FastPasses. But if you schedule 2 FastPasses in the morning and 1 right after lunch, then you have to wait till that last one is done before you get any more bonus FastPasses.
In our pre-planning, we actually scheduled 2 FastPasses in the morning and the last one right after lunch, as we didn’t want to be rushed and didn’t know how long things would take. By Sunday evening we were using the Disney mobile app to condense all our FastPass+ selections as early as possible in the morning as we could. On Tuesday, we ended up using 9 FastPasses that the app seems to recall and of course did many more things that we just waited in Stand-by for.
I’m going to try and remember all the attractions we did at each park and list them here, in no particular order. There were quite a few things we did more than once as well. This is more for me to have a list of everything we did, but can be used as a reference of stuff we thought looked worth our time while we were at Disney World.
Magic Kingdom (2 days)
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
Dumbo the Flying Elephant
Mad Tea Party
Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor
Peter Pan’s Flight
Pirates of the Caribbean
Prince Charming Regal Carrousel
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
Stitch’s Great Escape!
The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover
Under the Sea ~ Journey of The Little Mermaid
Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress
Meet Ariel at her Grotto
Meet Aladdin and Jasmine
Meet Pooh and Tigger
Dance Party with Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, and Frozone
Princess Elena Royal Welcome
Wishes nighttime spectacular
Main Street Electrical Parade
Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade
Hollywood Studios (1 day)
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith
Star Tours - The Adventures Continue
Star Wars Launch Bay
The Great Movie Ride
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Toy Story Mania!
Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream
Beauty and the Beast-Live on Stage
Encounter Kylo Ren at Star Wars Launch Bay
For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration
Meet Chewbacca at Star Wars Launch Bay
Voyage of the Little Mermaid
Meet Chip n Dale
Animal Kingdom (1 day)
African Elephants - Disney Animals
Black Rhinos - Disney Animals
Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain
Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail
Gorillas - Disney Animals
It’s Tough to be a Bug!
Kali River Rapids
Lions - Disney Animals
Maharajah Jungle Trek
Tigers - Disney Animals
Tree of Life
White Rhinos - Disney Animals
Wildlife Express Train
Festival of the Lion King
Finding Nemo - The Musical
Meet Favorite Disney Pals at Adventurers Outpost
Meet Dug and Russell
Meet Donald Duck
Meet Baloo and Louie
Epcot (3 days)
Advanced Training Lab
Bruce’s Shark World
Coral Reefs - Disney Animals
Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival
Ellen’s Energy Adventure
Frozen Ever After
Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros
ImageWorks - The “What If” Labs
Journey Into Imagination With Figment
Leave a Legacy
Living with the Land
Mexico Folk Art Gallery
Sea Turtles - Disney Animals
Sharks and Stingrays - Disney Animals
The Circle of Life
The Seas with Nemo & Friends
Turtle Talk With Crush
IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth
Meet Anna and Elsa at Royal Sommerhus
Meet Disney Pals at the Epcot Character Spot
Drink Around the World at Epcot
Phew, that’s a lot of stuff in 7 days. We ended up needing more time at Epcot because we spent some time Thursday afternoon at Disney Springs meeting up with some of Megan’s family. Disney Springs is really nice and there’s some great shopping there. As mentioned before, everything there takes MagicBand and the buses that take you to the parks will also take you to Disney Springs.
We also had all of our originally planned special dining reservations planned on Epcot days. These were sit down dinners that weren’t part of our Quick-Service Meal plan. We were still able to pay for them with our MagicBands though. I’d definitely recommend each of these dining reservations to anyone wanting to try something besides the Quick-Service options.
Cape May Cafe Dinner - Disney’s Beach Club Resort
This was a buffet style dinner that was mostly seafood based, including all you can eat crab legs. Megan loves seafood, so this was a must for our trip. I, on the other hand, don’t really care for seafood, so stuck to the various other options that were available at the buffet. I didn’t go away hungry, and I think Megan ended up eating 3 whole crabs, so definitely recommended if your party likes seafood.
Princess Storybook Dining Lunch at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall - Epcot: Norway
This sit down lunch had a salad bar of various meats and cheeses and fruits and you ordered from traditional Norwegian entrees. Before sitting down to eat however, you get to meet and have your picture taken with Belle. During the meal, there is a prince and princess parade, where 4 other Disney Princesses lead all the children around the castle dining room. After that, each of the 4 princesses come visit you at your table while you eat. We were visited by Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel, and Snow White. I believe this is the only way to see Ariel in her human form, at least that we noticed while on our trip.
Teppan Edo Dinner - Epcot: Japan
This is a Japanese Hibachi grill meal. You’re seated around a table with a flat grill in the center. Your chef comes out and cooks the food in front of you while doing little tricks and jokes. If you’ve been to a Hibachi restaurant before, this is very similar. While not wildly unique or inherently Disney, it was still a very good meal.
Those were all the dining reservations we made before starting our trip. We were also told we should try Boma in the Animal Kingdom, but there were no reservations left before our trip. There were also no reservations for Be Our Guest in the Magic Kingdom before our trip. However, since we became masters of the FastPass+ and constantly checking for openings using the Disney mobile app, we decided to start keeping a lookout for openings to Be Our Guest for our last day in the parks at Magic Kingdom. I was able to snag a Be Our Guest Breakfast Quick-Service Reservation and a Be Our Guest Lunch Quick-Service Reservation by randomly checking the Disney mobile app each day during our trip. I was never able to get a Be Our Guest Table Service Dinner Reservation, but I kept looking for all times during our trip. The Dinner service is the only way you can meet the Beast, but reservations for Dinner typically fill up 2 months in advance, so it’s very hard to get into.
Both the Be Our Guest Breakfast and Lunch were Quick-Service meals, so we were able to use our dining plan for those. We were able to choose from open seating in the three rooms of the Beast’s castle. There was a ballroom, a great hall, and Beast’s secret room in the west wing. We visited all three rooms before eventually sitting in the ballroom for breakfast and the great hall for lunch. Food was good, but was mostly for the experience of seeing the castle. We’re sad we didn’t get to do Dinner there, but we now know for next time.
Also while in Epcot, we did the Drink Around the World. We started in Mexico and ended in Canada. We tried to see as many of the country’s exhibits as possible as well, but there were many we didn’t get to. One of the coolest things about the World Showcase at Epcot though, is that every cast member who’s working in a country is actually from that country. Each of their name tags told the specific city of that country from which they were originally from. They all had accents and often would talk in their native language when conversing with each other, but of course all spoke english when talking with us. It was so neat to see all those different cultures represented so well.
While not a special reservation dining experience, there was a bakery in France called Les Halles Boulangerie-Patisserie. This place had wonderful food and I wish we would’ve been able to go back there a second time. I definitely recommend checking it out.
I’ve raved about how convenient and seamless the MagicBand experience at Disney World was, and how cool and authentic feeling the cultures in each of the countries of the World Showcase were, but I also have to stress how amazing the general cast members at the resorts and parks were. Every single cast member was happy and over the top helpful. Often going out of their way to do things for us.
During our time at Hollywood Studios, one of Megan’s cousins met up with us. They hadn’t seen each other in 15 years or so. Megan and I had FastPasses for the Tower of Terror but her cousin couldn’t get one for that time. We decided to try our luck and ask the cast member who was having people scan in the FastPass+ line if there was any way that Megan’s cousin could go with us in the FastPass+ line. After hearing that they hadn’t seen each other in so long, he not only let us all go together, but gave us a pass that would let the 3 of us use the FastPass+ line again, without actually needing a FastPass+.
We visited another resort during our stay to meet up with another of Megan’s cousins that worked at the resort. The buses that take you to and from the resorts and the parks usually don’t go from resort to resort. So Megan was going to have to take a bus from the resort she was meeting at to a park and then another bus to the Coronado. It was late and the parks were starting to close. One of the busses came from a park that was closing and dropped its passengers off at the resort Megan was visiting. She asked the bus driver if he was going back to that park because she was trying to get back to her own resort. The driver asked her what resort she was staying at and ended up just taking her straight to the Coronado with only her on the bus.
These cast members and others didn’t have to do these things for us, but they wanted to make sure our experience was as magical as they advertise it to be. Never once did we feel rushed when talking with any cast member, they always had all the time in the world for us. When talking with some of Megan’s family who works at Disney World, this is apparently a very serious core value of working there. All cast members, managers included, understand and put helping guests above all their other duties. I’m sure it’s not perfect all the time, but for our trip, it was even more magical than you’d expect. If you’ve ever been to Japan, it’s very similar to the over the top service you receive there. I spent two weeks in Japan in 2015 and all of Disney World reminded me of that level of service and helpfulness.
In between all the attractions and the food, we also went shopping in each of the parks for souvenirs and such. In addition to being able to pay for everything by just tapping our MagicBands, we were also able to have everything sent to our resort so that we didn’t have to carry it around the parks all day. Not once did we have to lug around a bunch of stuff that we wanted to buy.
We took lots of pictures while at Disney World. I had decided not to get the Memory Maker package, which allowed you to bulk purchase all of the photos that get taken of you while at Disney World. I planned on just taking a bunch of pictures myself (and I did, about 2000 of them that week!). The cast members were very nice and encouraged you to take pictures with Characters and landmarks with your own device and would even take pictures with your device for you. They still, however, would also have their professional photographers take your pictures as well. After any photoshoots, they’d simple tap your MagicBand and those photos would be linked to your account. You could view them in the Disney mobile app with the watermarks and choose to purchase them individually or purchase Memory Maker to be able to have them all. This included any photos from rides as well. After you get off the ride, there’s the screens that show you the photos as you’re exiting, and below each screen is a place you can tap your MagicBand to claim that photo.
There ended up being so many ride photos and character photos and photoshoots in front of landmarks that I ended up just getting the Memory Maker package so we could have all of those as well. I still recommend taking a lot of your own photos, but it ended up being nice to have the professional ones as well. Once we decided, about halfway through the trip, to just get the Memory Maker package, we also started to search out more random photoshoot opportunities as we were going through the parks.
Now I’d like to talk about what it cost to do all of this. I tried to break down each expense for our trip as best I could so that you could see what would apply to your trip and get a rough idea of what to budget at least. It was not a cheap trip, but for basically both of our first times at Disney World, we decided to go big and do as much as possible.
2x Round Trip Airfare
8x Disney World’s Coronado Springs Resort nights
2x Magic Bands
Disney Magical Express
2x 7-Day Park Admission Passes
16x Quick-Service meal plan days
Breakdown of used meal plan
$320.30 meals (16 accounted / $20.02 per)
$220.22 meals (11 unaccounted, used but didn’t keep receipt. Using $20.02/meal average)
$49.80 snacks (12 accounted / $4.15 per)
$12.45 snacks (3 unaccounted, used but didn’t keep receipt. Using $4.15/snack average)
$602.77 Total used meal plan
$642.36 Total used meal plan with tax
Breakdown of unused meal plan
$100.10 meals (5 unused)
$4.15 snacks (1 unused)
$104.25 Total unused meal plan
$111.10 Total unused meal plan with tax
Totals if meal plan was fully used
$707.02 Total meal plan value
$753.46 Total meal plan value with tax
Disney Memory Maker
$169.00 (If pre-purchased it’s only $149.00)
Long-term Airport Parking
2x Resort laundry loads
Other meals, drinks, travel food (All sit down restaurants are in this. Drink Around the World alcohol is in this.)
Overall, it was an amazing trip and Disney does such a good job of making the process of traveling and transacting at the parks be as silent in the background as possible. They really make it so you can just focus on your trip and enjoy Disney World. I’m sure we’ll go back.