Universal Studios is the competitive edge to Disney’s theme park empire. While the Universal Studios experience has existed since 1961, the theme park magic that we know today is a more recent concoction. While some attractions existed at their Hollywood Studio in the 1960s and 1970s, the theme park lands really expanded in the 1990s with the opening of Universal Orlando in Florida. Over the last 50+ years Universal has brought its own version of movie magic to kids young and old, offering imaginative and exciting adventures.
Disney Planning – What are you wearing?
What you are wearing to Disney is a huge question. The interwebs LOVES Disney Bounding and no doubt, I also find the cosplay meets every day fashion quite a treat (my stepdaughter and I will also be Disney Bounding in the Magic Kingdom in October). Then there is being practical to deal with the weather. Orlando is notorious for heat and rain, making a normal day hot, muggy, and sopping wet. Then there is the shoe question, if one is walking seven to ten miles in a day, what does one wear to ride rides, play in water, and stay comfortable.
For our trip to Disney, we are keeping things simple but cute. My stepdaughter’s Epcot day will be a tanktop and shorts. Her shoes for every day (including one day at Universal Studios) will either be Sanuk sandals that wrap around her face, or tennis shoes (my preference is the tennis shoes, she’s 12, so we’ll see who wins). For our magic kingdom day, she will be wearing a Minnie Mouse Disney Bound that is a red Mickey shirt, black Minnie overalls skirt (shorts underneath), Minnie mouse socks (with tennis shoes), and Minnie Mouse ears.
My Magic Kingdom bound (I have to miss Epcot) will be Mulan. I have a Mulan tanktop with the original movie poster, grey chinos, a green jacket (rain coat), and Chacos for my feet. I also bought an epic Mulan Backpack, and some cute jewelry and hair accessories along with earrings to spice up the outfit. My goal is to have fun with the outfit, but also be comfortable for the day, as there is no point in dressing up but being miserable and uncomfortable all day.
My little cousin Ivy, who is five, got a very cute Minnie Mouse tutu outfit for her birthday that I may have been involved in…she will wear tennis shoes with this, and shorts under the skirt (just in case we get tired of the poof). She also has a pair of ears that match my stepdaughter’s.
Other people may choose to show of former Disney swag, shirts, ears, etc. Kids under the age of 14 are allowed to dress up for their day in the park. If you are going to an after hours event, like Mickey’s Not so Scary Halloween, adults are allowed to wear costumes as long as they meet rules on layering, length etc. For more details, click here.
All around, I think the best advice, is plan to be practical, and wear what will bring you comfort and joy. If you want some inspiration, hit the Pinterest and Instagram for millions of options!
There is a lot of information on what to bring with you to Disney, so many different opinions and ideas and expectations. In fact, you could pack three backpacks and still not have “everything you need.”
While, I am speaking from what I have learned, and what we are planning to use. I am also speaking from experience visiting other theme parks, festivals, and traveling a lot in the last ten years. However, I may revise this sometime in November, depending how my trip in October goes.
The truth is that you need what you would need for any day out. If you don’t plan to return to your hotel halfway through the day, bring it. If you need it regularly at home, at work, at running errands, maybe bring it. If you don’t hardly ever use it, don’t bring it. This will vary on who you are taking with you to Disney, your medical needs, and your specific preferences, but I am a big fan that you should always pack light (believe me I have learned this the hard way).
For my family we will be packing light to make the day more enjoyable and not have to deal with so much junk. My group will be Disney bounding, but in like the most practical way possible.
My stepdaughter will be Minnie Mouse, as will Cousin Ivy. Ivy’s outfit has a denim jacket in case it rains, but I will also be buying dollar store ponchos for them. I will be Disney Bounding as Mulan, with a green rain jacket.
For bags, I will have a large Mulan backpack and my stepdaughter has a small glittery backpack. My stepdaughter should be able to have a water bottle, snack, sunscreen, and a poncho in this bag. I will have enough room in my bag for my stuff, plus any souvenirs we pick up.
We will also be minimizing additional things we’re taking. I will only take my cell phone (IPhone XR) and a mini-cam (similar to GoPro) for the day with only one tripod. My stepdaughter and Aunt will have their cell phones, but that’s it. The less gear we have the better. (I may bring a charger and/or a charger pack).
I won’t bring things we won’t use, but here is our comprehensive list.
|Rebecca’s Bag||Lily’s Bag|
| -Mulan backpack|
-Burt’s Bees Lip Balm
| -Water bottle|
Something I have invested in to make the trip easier are the Magic Bands that you can link your tickets to. I also got a gift card for my stepdaughter to use as her money. This is because she is traveling with my sister, Aunt, and Cousin Ivy on her day at Epcot. The magic band means her ticket is already set up, she just has to scan it when she gets to the park. If I make any fast pass reservations, they will also be on her band. Then my sister or aunt have one less thing to worry about. Her money is on a gift card so she won’t be tempted to buy some random thing at the airport and run out of money for food on her day in Epcot. If you also have kiddos that wants everything they see, give them a gift card and explain that’s their allowance for the trip. That way they will think twice about purchases and extras. I also got a magic band for myself, only because I feel it will be easier to deal with at the parks.
While it’s tempting to take everything “just in case”, know that Disney is also prepared for just about everything. If you need a band aid, go to guest services or a first aid stand. If you need a diaper, they have stations for infants (Baby Care Centers). Most importantly, have enough to have fun, and don’t worry about everything else!
Disney is well known for its food options at their parks. In days of lore it was the giant turkey legs and Mickey shaped ice creams. Today Disney is trying to constantly create and sell Insta-worthy options for a growing number of teens and young adults that capture everything. For those with diet restrictions, the theme park constantly makes strides in providing more and more gluten-free, vegan, and peanut-free options for visitors. The point is, you won’t go away hungry.
Even better than all of the what you CAN eat at Disney is that you can also bring in your own food. Unlike other theme parks, Disney still allows guests to bring food and drinks (non-alcoholic) into the park without issue. For those on a budget, or with numerous food needs (I have to do Gluten Free and Pescatarian, avoiding dairy and soy), this is a godsend. It means I can make sure I have enough food options for the day without having to restaurant to stand hop just to have a snack. However, that doesn’t mean I won’t partake in a little dining fun.
For those wanting something special, there are numerous options for adults, families, and kids to have a magical time. In my line of work, we get a lot of requests for Cinderella’s Royal Table and Be Our Guest which are the big “Princess” dining experiences. Beware that they can cost you a pretty penny. My group of four (including a five year old) will be dining for a late lunch at Be Our Guest and it will be $350 total, including gratuities. Granted, this is a special thing we are doing, a one and done situation, not the norm.
However, if you need to be more budget conscious, there are so many options to get food in the parks. For those of you wanting tips and information on what is available, I highly recommend the Disney Food Blog, click here, and their awesome YouTube videos. They also share a lot of other valuable tips and tricks, which I have found to be invaluable for my own planning and assisting clients.
If you are visiting during the Epcot Food and Wine Festival you can have even more fun with your budget by buying several small plates to share with your group, or hoard to yourself. This is a great way to try a lot for a little, and a lot of the international offerings look divine!
Don’t forget that you can order food from the sort of “fast food” locations around the park, using your phone and the Disney App, which will save you time and effort. If you have time, play with the app and see what pricing looks like before you go to the park, and practice what it takes to make an order.
All around, you should have a lot of fun! Happy Eats!
Once you have selected which Disney parks you want to visit on which days and with who, you will have to narrow down the rest of your ideas. Gone are the days of visiting a theme park and riding everything or eating everything in one day. In this digital era, you will need to plan, plan, and plan.
Probably one of the most important things to figure out is if everyone can ride everything. Like most theme parks in the world, you need to be tall enough to ride, healthy enough to ride, and within other size requirements. Naturally, this will make it harder for young kiddos, and bigger adults. My husband is 6’4” and a lot of things are not built for people of his height. I am 5’2” and many times things are not adjusted for my short (roller coaster pads sometimes give me headaches as I am jostled around). If you are plus sized, some of rides will be downright uncomfortable, so it’s important to read reviews and make a list of rides that work for your group. For a good list and information, click here. For those with health conditions such as heart, back, and neurological, pay attention to warnings and do your research before you travel. There is nothing more disheartening than telling your kiddo that they can go on Splash Mountain, but they have not quite hit the required 40”.
My personal tip, if you are traveling with littles, is to go
to the Disneyland, click
here, and Disney World, click here,
websites and review every single ride and their height requirements. Make a
list of everything that is small person friendly and then pick what are the top
rides for your group.
Also, as a side note, don’t try to push the rules and make the kids seem taller, these size guides are for your child’s safety and enjoyment and you will likely get caught!
IF you are not traveling with vertically challenged people, then select what rides you have not done, look the most fun, or are considered “classics”. I am looking at you Pirates of the Caribbean.
Once you have a list of rides, arrange them in a hierarchy of what is the most important. For my upcoming trip, it will be Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion, and Pirates of the Caribbean. As I have never been to Disney World I have set plans on these. Mostly, I NEED that photo of my stepdaughter and I coming off Splash Mountain! However, your priorities may differ, maybe you need to see Ariel in her Grotto, or Dumbo is your jam, totally fine. My tip is to get the My Disney Experience App and review what is the most popular on a similar day you are visiting. So if you are going on Tuesday in October, look at Tuesdays and see what have the longest wait times through the day. From there you can select were you can use your FREE Fast Passes.
Fast Passes are essentially a line skip option, or a reservation for a ride. Everyone gets 3 selections to start their time in Disney, pick 3 and use them, then get 3 more for your day. Passes can be cancelled and altered throughout your time in Disney and you can make initial reservations 30 days ahead with tickets. If you are staying on property, you can make reservations 60 days in advance.
Perhaps the most important part of all of your activities planning is so you get to see your top activities, and save time waiting in line. Fast Passes allow you to skip the 2-hour wait for Frozen Ever After and get on with your day.
As an additional tip, if you can’t get a fast pass for what you want, monitor availability throughout the day to see what may become available as people cancel or alter their Fast Passes.
If you are staying stateside you have two parks to choose from, Disneyland and Disney World. Disneyland is in Anaheim, California and Disney World is in Orlando, Florida. Pick a coast. Both will be about the same cost, per day, with all things considered. If you are smack in the middle of the country, as I am, airfare will probably be comparable. If you want other theme parks to visit, both are by respective Universal Studios, and other similar activities. Even better, both are near oceans and seaside activities that come with such a geography.
Disneyland is comprised of two different theme parks, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park. Both of these parks have unique activities, themes, “lands” and it is the original theme park under the Disney umbrella, opening in 1955. While California Adventure Park is the newest installment and expansion, which opened in 2001.
Disney World is by far a much bigger experience. The Disney World Resort complex has four theme parks for guests. The Magic Kingdom is the closest match to Disneyland, with many repeat rides and experiences, but also unique in its own right. The Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, and was followed by Epcot 11 years later. Epcot opened in 1982 as the first expansion of the Orlando property. Epcot has a focus on international cultures, events, food, and dining; which often labels it as an “adult” theme park. Disney’s Hollywood Studios, opening in 1989, is getting the most attention recently as it has opened a Toy Story land and Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge in the last year. The focus on Hollywood Studios is definitely on movie magic and connecting guests to that feel. Finally, last but not least is Disney’s Animal Kingdom, opened in 1998. The Animal Kingdom is actually the largest theme park in the world, covering 580 acres, and it is themed around animals and natural areas.
All of these theme parks will offer a good variety of activities and adventures for visitors. However, it is important just to grasp the size of these theme parks and how few hours there are in a day, or one’s patience. All of Disney World is 40 square miles, roughly the size of San Francisco, or two Manhattans. While a lot of this is not fully developed, there is a lot of space to get around between parks, hotels, restaurants and everything else.
That being said, do not plan to try to go from park to park all day. For your sanity, and your family’s or friend’s I would suggest doing all single day tickets and going to one park per day. Then at the end of your stay, if you have extra time, return to your favorite or favorite(s) by upgrading your single park per day ticket. For more information, click here.
Therefore, if you are planning a trip to Disneyland I would plan for around five days. Spend one day getting there, go to Disney Springs in the afternoon, or your first park if you want. Spend one day at the other park. Then have two more days to park visit or just relax. Finally, you have day five to get home.
If you are planning on Disney World, and you want to see every park, plan on at least a week. Day one to get to the park and Disney springs. Day two Magic Kingdom. Day three Hollywood Studios. Day four Epcot. Day five Animal Kingdom. Day six is be an extra day to see favorites. Day seven travel home.
Of course, you can mix this up, skip places you have already been, or only go to one park all the days. I suggest visiting the respective websites for lists of activities and entertainment for each park and select what makes your heart excited, or the inner six-year-old squeal with delight. If you have a favorite movie, go see those characters. If your five year old is just happy to exist, plan your days around what will inspire and excite them.
Once you have a good idea of what you are wanting from your Disney trip then you can start to make solid plans.
Most importantly I think it’s important to establish a budget and what your family can afford. While everyone wants an epic vacation, it may be important to plan another year and save. This is especially true if you are saving vacation days and want to make sure you get the vacation you want!
Be real – Disney isn’t going anywhere.
What I think shocks most people is how fast the cost adds up. Disney tickets are realistically $100+ a day for everyone. More for adults. You save if you do multiple days or if you do half-days (a new program Disney is doing), or if you do an after hours option instead (like Mickey’s Not so Scary Halloween party). However, tickets and pricing now varies day to day, with increased cost around holidays and on weekends. Cheaper days land on your Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday (generally speaking). This is because they’re trying to reduce congestion on weekends, but also bring people into the middle of the week.
When it comes to hotels, you have choices. Plan on around $200/night for your family of four to stay in the lower 3-star kind of hotels on property. This does not include breakfast or other amenities.
If you stay off property you will save , and I’ve seen hotels within 20 minutes for around $70/night. However, if you stay off property you have to consider the cost of transfers and resort parking. But no doubt you will most likely save, regardless.
If you stay on property you also have the opportunity to combine everything for a package savings. This means your hotel + theme park tickets + flights + dining can all be bought in one go. If you like the idea of being on property, this will probably be your best option overall. BUT, don’t just buy this without checking specials, rates throughout the year, and other important options.
An added perk to being on property is that every resort has public transportation to the parks and from the airport included in your stay. That means you DON’T need a car. This is especially true when parking is between $25 to $30 a day at the resort of parks. I’ll go into if you want to leave later.
Of course, this benefits Disney if you never leave. However, there are ways to avoid costs by packing food, having groceries delivered, and meal plans with the park.
For flights, if needed, you will likely pay around $200-500/person roundtrip. From Denver (my airport) we usually pay $330 with Southwest and $200 with Spirit. For us, Southwest is usually better if we have to change our flights, and when we’re taking presents to family in Orlando (use those 2 bags baby!).
With all of this in mind, figure out what your family will need to pay for the trip and what is realistic for your budget!
While looking at lists of everything you need to do when you plan your Disney vacation it’s all extremely overwhelming. With my work as a travel advisor (agent) it’s always best to break things into reasonable pieces. Think of it like cutting up your plate of food, the small pieces prevent you from choking and dying. This is important for Disney too. (Ok death is less imminent, but your headache is real).
If you don’t have a lot of time to break everything down and you need to make sure things get done, talk to an expert! There are thousands of travel agents that have specialized training to help you turn a Disney dream into a reality. AND it doesn’t have to be a bank breaking vacation to get help! Search locally and online and you are sure to get connected with an expert. Many times your fee is minimal or even free!
Also, check with your credit card perks, some even offer concierge and travel experts as a part of your card fees! This is especially true if you are using points for any parts your travel.
If you want to handle the whole thing yourself, then prepare for it to take a good chunk of time. Most importantly, start planning what you’re doing MONTHS if not a year in advance. Even if you have been to Disney since you were in pull-ups, the changes that roll out every few months will mean you need to update your mental picture of what you want to do.
My personal suggestion is to make a list of wishes. Ask your spouse and kiddos or friends what they want out of their Disney time. Some may be all about Star Wars, others may be into the Princesses, and some may not care. Make a detailed list of everything from rides, foods, events, shopping, and hotels. This will make putting the puzzle together much easier. If you can, have everyone pick their top 1-3 “things” they don’t want to miss and then narrow it down. Find the things that overlap, and work in the rest. Ultimately, this will help you understand what you need to plan for the most.
Once you have a good idea on what everyone is wanting (don’t forget yourself) you can get into reservations and solidified plans.
-stay tuned for part 3–
I have never been to a Disney Park. A weird admission from a travel and media geek like myself.
See my parents didn’t really love theme parks. I don’t think my dad went to a single one with us as kids. And the biggest theme park I had been to before 2015 (I was 24) was Elitch Gardens in Denver, Colorado.
It wasn’t that my dad didn’t like fun, or even Disney movies. In fact he adores the music from quite a few of them, it was the crowds and the noise and the heat, and most importantly, the cost.
When you’re living below the poverty most of your childhood, a Disney vacation is at the bottom of the list.
Therefore, at the age of 28 I am taking on the work of planning a day at the Magic Kingdom at Disney World!
What I thought would be a simple planning of a day or two has turned into months of opening dates and reservations and hourly details. It’s insane.
Therefore, what has been a deep dive into planning a Disney World vacation, and at times a headache, has lead me to thinking that other people could use some guidance. Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing my tips and tricks to figuring it all out, saving money, and having the best time possible! I look forward to helping others along the journey.
Why should you visit Colorado’s premier theme park? It’s a fantastic day for all ages, interests and thrill seekers!