If you are currently planning a trip to Disney, I highly recommend the Port Orleans Riverside. It is a beautiful resort.
Onto the lessons learned!
1. Eat breakfast in the room
I brought travel boxes of cereal and breakfast bars and grabbed some milk from the food court at our resort for breakfast. It saved both time and $$$, which enabled us to do a couple of character dinners while we were there. This is what I like about character dinners: you don't have to spend hours in the parks standing in line to meet your favorite character -- they come to you. And we found the buffets for both our character dinners at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian and Chef Mickey at the Contemporary to be delicious. But they were expensive, Lord, were they expensive. So be prepared to shell out for the Mickey Mouse table side service.
On the last morning, I did splurge on Mickey waffles. Because it is just not Disney without a Mickey waffle and a Mickey ice cream bar.
This came from my friend Cindy who took her kids to Disney World in September. Dollar Tree sells ponchos in tiny little bags, making them easy to pack in your day bag. Cindy buys two sets for her family so she doesn't have to lug around six wet ponchos all day. Once the rain passes, they chuck the ponchos because they have a backup set. I LOVED this idea.
3. Take breaks
This is where personal philosophy comes into play. The Engineer and I are at odds on number three. He is a park open -- park close kind of guy. I think he feels that is how he is going to get his money's worth. Thank goodness that he had a sidekick on this trip who is all about rides. Little Kid did not agree with this philosophy. She was intimidated by the crowds and she is not a big walker. We knew this before the trip and I already planned to take her back to the room midday to rest. I will be perfectly honest, it could be frustrating at times. I snapped at her once. It was not my finest parenting moment. My recommendation here is to see the parks from the short people's POV. They are large and crowded with strangers and different. You have to stay flexible or you are not going to have a good time. We saw a lot of meltdowns on this trip (and they weren't always children).
I snapped this photo before we headed back to the room for a siesta before the Christmas light show at Hollywood Studios that night.
4. Don't waste your money on Magic Bandits
We bought the Muppet set and they were constantly falling off our Magic Bands. By the end of the trip, my Kermit was the only one left. Save your money.
5. Fast passes for dummies
I did not get the hang of the fast passes until the last day and only after pestering my friend Selena, who is the definitive expert on all things Disney. You can schedule three fast passes from your mobile device but you cannot add any more until all three are used. You cannot cancel and change one on the day you are in the park and you cannot add additional fast passes from your phone that day -- those must be done from a kiosk in the park. Even with fast passes, some rides are notoriously hard to get and their wait times are ridiculous. Case in point: The 7 Dwarves Mine Ride had a two hour and twenty minute wait time the day we were in the Magic Kingdom.
The hard to get Fast Passes: schedule them as soon as possible -- we were unable to get these:
--Seven Dwarves Mine Ride (Magic Kingdom)
--Peter Pan's Flight (Magic Kingdom)
--Toy Story (Hollywood Studios) -- Little and I did this one and it was awesome! I was unable to get fast passes for the boys, though.
You have to go in with the mentality that you will not be able to do everything. Otherwise you will be disappointed. I was hard on myself for not being able to get fast passes for the above rides since Big Kid and The Engineer were all about the rides. I wanted them to experience everything but that is impossible on a four day trip. Or even a seven day trip, I am sure!
More lessons learned --
* Get there early & involve the kids in planning. This tip came from my friend Laurie who used to work at the Walt Disney Company. The kids both had the Disney app on their iPads so they could see what we had planned for the day and what they wanted to do. You would think that the crowds would diminish during the day as families get tired and leave WRONG! The mornings are a lot less crowded than the evenings.
* Crowd report websites are essential when planning. I also consulted my friend Angela who is a regular at the House of Mouse, but I definitely used the crowd report websites to plan our days. The middle of the week is the least-crowded time to visit. We went between New Years and the annual Disney World marathon, so crowds were not bad -- except in the Magic Kingdom, which I am convinced would be packed full in the middle of a hurricane.
Favorite Crowd Report: Undercover Tourist
* Dressing for Disney in the winter: layers, layers, layers. There are all kinds of fashion posts on Pinterest about what to wear to Disney World ... in the summer. Not so much in the winter. I am working on one right now but I will say that the weather is very unpredictable, so a wide variety of clothes are recommended. We were sweating on Sunday at Hollywood Studios, but then shivering during the Electrical Parade at the Magic Kingdom Monday night. Layers are your friend.
One last photo of my favorite ride.