Planning Park Days & Making Park Reservations
With new systems in place since the pandemic, you are now required to make park reservations. Disney gives you the ability to check park availability prior to purchasing your tickets so that you can be sure you can plan your trip accordingly. Disney highly recommends you make your park reservations as soon as you purchase your tickets. I noticed that Hollywood Studios was the only park consistently maxed out. We made our reservations 1 month prior to our trip, however now with more people traveling and with it being summer time again, I’d definitely make reservations as soon as you can to ensure you get the parks you want on the days you want.
Here is a picture of what the reservation calendar looks like. At the top you can select whether you have tickets or an annual pass. Then find the dates you are taking your vacation. Green dates mean all parks are available, yellow means 1 to 3 of the 4 parks are available and gray means none are available. If the block is yellow, you can see at the bottom which ones are available or not.
When we plan our trips, we are build in “down days”. These down days consist of pool time, hanging out at the resort, experiencing Disney extras (more on this below) and resort hopping. We don’t go to the parks every day because we don’t want to feel like we are killing ourselves and running our kids to the point of exhaustion. With that comes extra tantrums and meltdowns … from both kids and parents and that’s just no fun.
During our trip in April, we did 1 day at Magic Kingdom, a down day and then on the third day we went to Animal Kingdom in the morning, took naps midday and then park hopped to Epcot for the rest of the evening.
When park hopping, keep in mind several things:
- You can’t park hop until 2:00pm.
- You can only hop to a park that hasn’t reached capacity. To inquire on capacity, you can call this number: 407 560 5000.
- Park to park transportation doesn’t begin until just roughly 1:45pm. (the monorail to Epcot is still not running, but you can use the buses and the Skyliner)
- You must check in to your reserved park before you can park hop. (i.e. If you reserved Epcot but really only want to go to Hollywood Studios, you must first go to Epcot to have your magic band scanned before you can scan to get into HS after 2pm.)
- When making plans, keep in mind that each park closes at different times so plan accordingly so that you have enough time to travel and enjoy the attractions.
As pandemic restrictions continue to be lifted, more and more Disney dining options are opening up! To make dining reservations, you’ll want to calculate the days until your trip to figure out what day you can start making these reservations. If you are staying on Disney Property, you will be able to make them sooner than those staying off-property. Disney guests can make dining reservations 60 days prior to check-in and Disney resort guests can make dining reservations 60 days + length of stay (up to 10 days) prior to check-in.
Many people are still upset that the Disney Dining Plan has not yet been brought back. I personally think it’s a waste of money. It’s too much food to have be eating breakfast, lunch and dinner not to mention wasting time you could be doing rides and other park experiences. And then if you miss a meal, you just waste money by only being able to trade in for approved snacks.
We typically will splurge on one character meal and then we will get all of our other meals from counter service. However, because of social distancing and characters not being allowed to visit your table, we decided not to pay for a sit-down meal on our trip this past spring. We packed breakfast foods to be able to eat in the room while we got ready each morning and I packed snacks for the day in our backpack. Then, whenever we were hungry we ordered a quick service lunch and a quick service dinner. We could eat around what we were doing rather than the other way around.
Because of the pandemic, Disney has also started mobile ordering for their counter service. I honestly hope they keep it like this forever! Those lines used to get so tight waiting your turn and then having to squeeze through again with a full tray of food and drinks. Now you can order at any of the quick service restaurants in the park where you are at any time. You can either select your preferred pick up window time or ASAP. We would be able to order while in line for a ride and have our notification that our food was ready by the time we got off. Then you just go to the bay number given to you on the app, grab your food and go eat. So easy!
Ordering from your Disney resort is also handled in the same manner. Some evenings we would place a sweet treat and milk order that I’d run and grab before bedtime. It was encouraged that you only order from your home resort and not hotel hop to other hotel quick service. Though this may have changed since we were there this spring.
To see exactly where and what we ate during our park days, check out my Trip Recap blog post. (COMING SOON — I’ll link here once it’s posted.)
Did you know there’s even more Disney magic to experience outside of the parks? I’m dedicating another entire blog post to this. We tried one of these experiences on our latest trip and made the best memories!
Using the MyDisneyExperience App
Have you downloaded the MyDisneyExperience app? It houses all of the info you could ever need. You’ll be able to order food on property, open your hotel room, scan your park ticket, find wait times and any other resort information you may need. And if you’re a iPhone and Apple Watch user, you can now add your park tickets to your “wallet” and use that feature to scan into the parks from your watch. I had technical difficulties and opted to just wear my magic band but Brad was able to do it from his watch and enjoyed not having to wear anything extra on his wrist.
This can also be done from the app. You’ll want to do prior to arriving on property. It allows you to let your resort know when you plan on arriving and you can notate any special requests. We were lucky enough to have some pixie dust sprinkled on our reservation and got a free upgrade when we arrived at check in! Online check-in also allows you to bypass the front desk as they will text you your room number and you can go straight up to it with your magic bands.
However, if your app is having a hard checking you in, don’t worry, you can just do everything at the front desk when you get there.
In-Room Disney Magic
Want to surprise the kids with some extra Disney magic? Or are you going on an anniversary trip? Whatever the occasion, Disney offers several celebratory packages that can be delivered to your room. During the height of the pandemic, they weren’t allowed to leave the items in your room while you were gone — you could either schedule delivery when you’d be there or have it left at the front desk. Luckily when we went in April, we were able to give verbal consent for them to leave the surprise in our room.
Our trip was just a couple of weeks after my 33rd birthday. My in-laws surprised me with a belated birthday gift of a hydrangea bouquet in a Minnie Mouse coffee mug complete with hidden Mickeys and a gift card. The bundle also included 2 stuffed Minnies, one for each of the girls. Such a special surprise!
And here’s a throwback to our honeymoon back in March of 2011. We stayed at The Beach Club and my parents had called ahead to request a room upgrade. They also ordered this adorable monogrammed bag filled with Disney snacks that was in our room waiting for us. If you look closely, you’ll see that that the bag looks likes Mickey’s shorts!
Does giving the gift of a memory sound like a fun idea? Click here for the website where you can check out all of the different options.
What to Pack
The essentials I pack for our 8ish hour drive to Disney include plenty of snacks, coloring supplies, movies, books and a surprise new (small) toy. Snacks are self explanatory and the Target dollar spot is great for finding little things to pack to keep kids occupied. This spring, I had found mini clipboard coloring kits that included crayons, a notepad, stickers and a clipboard. The girls loved this! The girls love to flip through books and watch a movie or two as needed and they watch them with their Disney kids headphones that allow us to control how loud they get. Lastly, I like to surprise them with something new to pull out at some point during the trip. The girls had recently become fascinated with bubble wrap so I decided to get them those new bubble popping toys. If you search for them, you can find just about any shape and I found them in the shape of Mickey’s head. They were a big hit and now stay in the car as car toys when they get fidgety. I also bought our first set of Disney Doorables. If you aren’t familiar with them, it’s essentially a mystery box of little Disney character figurines. The box either has 5, 6 or 7 little mystery packets. I had this for the car if we needed extra entertainment but we didn’t open them until after we had checked in and unpacked. Our box had 6 which worked out great for each of my girls to open 3. They were so excited opening each one and we got some fun characters including Rapunzel, one of the evil stepsisters from Cinderella, Maui, Jessie, Bambi and Figaro. We have since become slightly addicted and have gotten at least 3 more boxes. So fun!
I bought a little entertainment for me and Brad too. I ordered a small card game from Amazon and it ended up being super fun and provided lots of laughs! The game can be played in a group setting with teams or you can improvise like we did. The cards have categories that then break down into subcategories with some sort of fill in the black, synonym, etc.. I would read the subcategory and we would have to try to match our answer. Each match was a point. I would count us down from 3 so that we answered at the same time. It was a lot of fun!
Food Bag: Car Snacks, Hotel Room Breakfasts & Park Snacks
Clif Z Bars (Clif’s kids protein bars)
Mini Water Bottles
Water Flavoring / Liquid IV
Mac & Cheese Cups
Peanut Butter Crackers
Baby Must Haves
Aside from the obvious must-pack items like diapers, wipes, sunscreen, cute Disney outfits, etc. here’s a few things I have used during trips with my girls that were great:
A comfy carrier (baby wearing makes waiting in lines, getting on and off transportation so much easier, etc.)
Fan (with mini screwdriver & extra batteries)
Baby food pouch tops
Plastic peel & stick placemats
Baby detergent (in case you need to wash anything)
Baby Banz (protection from loud noises like when fireworks are back)
Lightweight Easy Folding Stroller
Straws (because the paper straws are terrible)
Baby Banz (protection from loud noises like when fireworks are back)
Parent Pack List
I don’t think I need to list out exactly what I pack for everyone since it’s mostly just preplanned outfits, bathing suits, toiletries etc. but here’s few things I also throw in besides they normal necessities as well as things I took this time that I loved. I’ll also go into more detail of Park Backpack essentials in another upcoming blog post.
Magic Bands (or you can get plain gray ones at your resort at check in)
Phone Stand (Brad got this for my birthday and it was awesome for taking pictures of us without having to ask others to hold my phone)
Bike Shorts (Finally jumped on this band wagon and wow! So comfortable and cool for the parks. Especially loved that mine had the side pocket for my phone so I could quickly pull it out for photo ops.)
Did you know?
Did you know that Disney provides certain (baby) comforts from home to use in your hotel room? Most rooms already have pack n play. We have used them before and they are very clean, though I still give them a quick sanitizing session as we get the room set up. Along with the pack n play, you can request a crib, a bottle warmer and a diaper genie. We learned about the diaper genie when we went on a Disney Cruise with Morgan back in 2018. That was amazing since those cabins are smaller than the average hotel room. The diaper genie is also great for the resort since trash isn’t being emptied as often post-pandemic. Now you know!
Other Housekeeping Info — Literally
When checking in, you will be asked your preference on housekeeping. They are currently limiting the entry of housekeepers because of the pandemic. You can opt for them to not come and service your room at all or you can have them come every other day. If you do allow them to come in, all they will do is change towels and take out the trash. They aren’t making beds or doing any other tidying.
I hope this info has been helpful! Especially since a lot of this is likely different since your last pre-pandemic trip if you haven’t yet visited the parks since the world was turned upside down.
Stay tuned for more Disney fun coming your way:
Disney Trip Recap + Tips (Up Next!)
Park Backpack Essentials
Extra Disney Magic
Family Park Attire