OK so you have decided to swallow the poison and take your family to Disney. I know your kids are chomping at the bit to go as they dream of the perfect vacation. But let me caution you to make some plans before you drop about $5 to $8K and come home with sore feet and a broken soul (not to mention the need for a vacation from your Disney vacation). Trust me this advice comes from a guy that could have bought a Georgetown education with the $'s I've dropped at the Mouse Kingdom over my life! :(
But as they say the memories are priceless! :)
First, take considerable time to research the bajillion blogs about Disney and how to plan and make your trip better. There are in fact some very good websites and blogs out there that can really help.
Like this one: http://www.zencollegelife.com/50-best-disney-blogs/
Second, consider these few tips I leave for you here. I also wrote about Disney about this time last year here and here.
Disney's busy times are around Christmas, Spring Break, and through the summer. And trust me unless you enjoy the sensation of being a piece of bacon in a frying pan, Orlando in July is not for you!
The perfect solution is to go "off season." The slowest time is February but at that time even in Central Florida you may not be able to enjoy the pools. October is the perfect happy medium. The parks are not as crowded, the weather is cooler but still warm enough to enjoy the pool, and hopefully you won't have to dodge a hurricane.
Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party. True the park closes earlier and yet Disney does not give you a price break and to stay at the party you will have to cough up an additional $60+. But it is truly a unique experience. First, the last hour the park is open before the party starts is the one time that you can ride rides repeatedly without a wait. Second, everyone tends to bring their costumes so it is quite the party and people watching opportunity. Additionally there are some great shows that you will only get to see at this particular event like the Villains Dance Party mix and mingle show (trust me the villains are way more fun than those superficial princesses)! Of course there is a spectacular Hall-O-Wishes fireworks show and finally a parade lead by non-other than the Headless Horseman himself!
II. In fact do take a vacation from your vacation and take a day off from the parks to enjoy the resorts.
The average Disney vacation stay is 4 to 7 days. Consider taking some time to rest in between those park visits. You will walk about 10+ miles in a typical day at a Disney park. And that is on top of standing in lines and perhaps lingering in the heat and sun. I have gone through a lot of intense work-outs and nothing really wears me out like a day at Disney.
Given that I would never do parks on consecutive days. To re-charge and maintain energy I would always plug in a resort day in between park visits. Our family ends up enjoying the resort days more anyway.
IIa. The (moderate) resorts are worth it! I say stay on property. The rooms at Disney are not fantastic and no better than a Holiday Inn off property. But the amenities including the pools and parties, etc make staying at a Disney resort worth it. Now I would say the price of the Upper End resorts such as Wilderness Lodge, the Contemporary, and Grand Floridian do not measure out relative to value. However, many of the amenities at the moderate resorts such as Port Orleans Old Key West, and the Wilderness Cabins really offer another complete aspect of your vacation. The amenities do make the moderate resorts a good value relative to the rather sparse atmosphere of the Value Resorts.
III. Disney's Boardwalk a hidden gem and way better than Downtown Disney.
I'll say it, Downtown Disney SUCKS! It is poorly laid out, has no shade, and no experiential value in my opinion. The restaurants are the typical resort-style eat-er-tainment venues such as House of Blues, Fultons, Rainforest Cafe, etc so they tend to be mediocre and over priced.
A fantastic alternative is Disney's Boardwalk. It is much smaller but much less crowed and has a much better atmosphere. Restaurants include more unique experiences such as the ESPN Club (yes, it's eat-er-tainment as well but I'm a guy), Big River Grille, the Flying Fish Cafe (very good), and the Seashore Sweets which is a real throwback type place.
But the real enjoyment for me is the street performers that are free. Yes, you read that right - FREE (and at Disney)! But more importantly they are really good. My favorite is Brian Staron (see below).
Soarin', the Test Track, and Mission Earth are great rides but make sure the kids allow you a chance to enjoy the food.
A lot of great choices in Germany, Italy, and France. In England, the Crown and Rose does a wonderful job at replicating authentic British cuisine which means it SUCKS! For a really unique experience try the Restaurant Marrakesh or Teppan Edo in Japan (with that fancy Japanese display cooking). All things considered I like the San Angel Inn best (pictured above). After a hot day it is relaxing to rest inside and enjoy the view inside the Mexico pavilion and along the Three Caballeros river ride. The food is very good and moderately priced. And more importantly you can get a Margarita and/or a Dos Equis which you need for sanity!
Oh, btw that Kim Possible World Showcase thing at Epcot is a real time suckage endeavor. Make sure you understand the commitment before you start. It is a great way to experience the park but you will be owned by it and it will interfere with you setting your own pace much like those character autographs.
V. Remember this is supposed to be fun, don't kill yourself!
Don't try to do it all, as Scarlett says "tomorrow is another day."
But really it is ridiculous to expect to do everything at each park in one day. And it is further lunacy to do the Park Hopper and think you can see all of the Magic Kingdom and then hop over and take in Animal Kingdom. My suggestion, decide ahead of time your priority list, establish contingencies, and then do what you can. You will kill yourself and create disappointment if you set expectations to do it all in one day. In fact don't even try to go to the park at 8 am and stay until the end (you'll never make it). Either go early and leave early or go late and stay late. Believe me, after about 8 hours at the park that resort pool is going to feel orgasmic!
OK, that's it for now. Remember my advice is free and well worth the price you paid! :)
Author's Note: The lyric title above is from Brer Rabbit's ode to politeness and civility "How do you Do." My two favorite Disney movies are Peter Pan and the Sound of Music. To me both are the archetypal children's movies reflecting the joy and wonderment of childhood. Unfortunately you will really have to search to ever see the Sound of Music. You certainly won't see it on the Disney Channel or even TCM or AMC. It will never be out on a 50th Anniversary blu-ray edition, it's simply and understandably too controversial. I can certainly understand the offense taken with the overly joyful portrayal of the Old South. But do remember one thing, this movie was essentially the first time an African American actor (James Baskett) held a lead role in a major motion picture. Mr. Baskett won an honorary Academy Award for his portrayal of Uncle Remus in the movie, the first for an African American actor. So for all the inaccuracy in the depiction of a truly horrible time in American history do watch this movie sometime and simply enjoy it's celebration of kindness and caring and joy and wonderment.