This past year, during my coverage of various conventions, I mentioned plans for “something big” that my family and I were planning on doing in January 2016. With January having finally come and gone, and with this being part of a busy winter that will also include Katsucon and MAGFest, it’s time for the big reveal: my family and I had just had a vacation at Disney World.

While I’ve been to Disney World numerous times thanks to me having grandparents that lived ninety minutes away for the park, the rising cost of admission combined with less time to be in Florida during the year-end trips to visit my grandparents (with the trips coming to an end once my grandfather died) meant that it’s been 15 years since I last went to Disney World. However, with a niece about to reach the age where most people start to appreciate the park, it was high time for my family to visit the part again, this time with new members experiencing the trip (in this case, the wives of my older brothers, my niece, my eldest brother’s mother-in-law, and my younger brother’s girlfriend).

Originally, the plan was for this to be an eight-day trip for me, with most of the family flying down to Florida on the 23rd (my oldest brother, his family, and my mom would start driving down a day early). However, there was one small problem: Winter Storm Jonas. While my parents originally assumed that it was going to be a small snow storm on par with the snow that hit our home the Sunday before the trip (with it being too warm for the snow to stick on the roads) and made preparations for my father and me to stay at a hotel near the airport the night before our intended flight, the reality that this was going to be a major snow storm eventually settled into the rest of the family. It became apparent that if this trip was going to take place, everyone will need to have reached South Carolina by Friday morning. As such, the plan was changed for everyone to travel down to Florida via car starting on Thursday afternoon (as a precursor round of snow made it hard to travel via car between Wednesday night and early Thursday morning), with the only real change in terms of heading up was that my dad and I were now heading up by car (which wasn’t an issue, since part of the trip involved picking up a bunch of items from my grandparents’ old home).

In terms of the Disney World trip, the experience consisted of many different aspects.

The Villa: Rather than staying on-site at Disney World, my family instead stayed at a “resort villa” about four miles away from the park. The villa itself was pretty big, with seven bedrooms and four bathrooms. This meant enough room for everyone in the family, with those who are married sleeping in the same room, individuals sleeping in the other rooms, and the niece sleeping with either the parents or grandparents.

In terms of amenities, among the items that were included in the villa package include the following:

-A heated outdoor pool and hot tub (which definitely had a lot of use during the periods where we weren’t at the park);
-A game room with a billiard table and air hockey table (while I wish I could have played more on the air hockey table, I tried to play at least one round of pool during the “non-park” days);
-A washer/dryer unit, which was useful in terms of washing clothes and drying out the swimsuits and towels that got wet during the trips to the pool;
-Free wi-fi internet, which was a huge benefit, as it allowed me to watch the Royal Rumble at the villa (since it was happening in Orlando, I was hoping to buy tickets for the event, only for it to sell out rather quickly) and to pick up Final Fantasy Explorers without having to go to the store.

The only major necessity missing from the villa is some sort of “white noise” that will help me get to sleep at night. As such, much time during my first night there was spent trying to find the perfect “white noise” app to use during the trip (and any later trip where there isn’t a fan of some sort in the room that I’m sleeping in).

The Magic Kingdom: Like most people going to Disney World on vacation, the first stop that people go to in terms of the main parks is the Magic Kingdom. In the fifteen years since I last went to Disney World, there has been a number of changes in the Magic Kingdom. For instance, a number of the classic rides have received an update of some sort, be it Space Mountain getting a soundtrack, Captain Jack Sparrow appearing at the end of Pirates of the Caribbean, or the hitchhiking ghosts portion of The Haunted Mansion receiving modernized effects (now if only Disney can sneak in a reference to The Watcher in the Woods during that part of the ride).

However, the biggest amount of change can be found in Fantasyland. Among the major changes that happened between my last visit to the Magic Kingdom in 2001 and the park today:

-Fantasyland and a former part of the park, Mickey's Toontown Fair, have merged into one giant version of Fantasyland;
-A new 3D film, one that I consider to be a modern version of the old Disney World attraction, The Mickey Mouse Revue, debuted in the “theater” portion of the land;
-Snow White’s Scary Adventures was replaced with a new roller coaster set in the Seven Dwarfs’ mine (with wait times for it being more than an hour on regular days);
-Not only did the Dumbo ride move to a new location, but also, the ride received an additional set of flying elephants and a play area that youngsters can go to while they wait for their turn on the ride;
-New attractions were added based on the Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast (didn’t really care for checking out the Beauty and the Beast attraction, although the Little Mermaid ride continues in the fine line of “dark rides” that Disney theme parks are famous for;
-A number of “meet and greet” areas were added to allow park visitors to have their photos taken with the various princesses and other Disney characters (good luck trying to meet Anna and Elsa from Frozen).

However, while there’s definitely a good amount of change to the park, there are still some oldies but goodies for someone who went to Disney World almost annually when I was a child. The other two mountains of Disney World, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain, were still the thrilling rides that I remembered back when I last rode them (although it does feel like the experience on Splash Mountain is a little bit wetter). Also, thanks to me heading back to the villa with my eldest brother on Monday night, I did catch the major mainstay nightly event of the Magic Kingdom, The Main Street Electrical Parade. Now I wonder how many kids would recognize the Pete’s Dragon float without any knowledge about the upcoming remake.

Epcot: With me spending a full week in the Disney World area, I definitely had a lot more time to check out Epcot, especially given how itinerary for the vacation had me going there at least twice during the vacation.

Like the Magic Kingdom, Epcot has undergone a number of changes as well:

-Spaceship Earth has added a new ending inspired by the “choose your ending” portion of the old Epcot attraction Horizons (although it does come off as kinda cheesy).
-The Living Seas is now Finding Nemo themed (that’s the only one of the main attractions that interest me that I didn’t ride, due to time constraints).
-Test Track (which I did ride back in 2001) now has a “dream car” theme to it (with riders creating their own car and testing its performance against other riders).
-Journey Into Imagination has dropped the Dreamfinder character and is now centered on an institute that studies imagination. However, Figment is still there (not to the mention the ride contains nods to various Disney films set in Medfield College).

However, the most interesting change came in the form of Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros, an updated version of the boat ride that’s part of the Mexico pavilion at World Showcase. As someone who is a fan of old school Disney, this ride was definitely one of the park’s “hidden gems” in my opinion, with a lot of clever cartoonish humor coming from the Three Caballeros, with Donald Duck being busy touring Mexico while the other two members are looking for him. Another highlight for anyone who is an old school Disney fans: the ride’s finale just recently included the Audio Animatronic figures of the Three Caballeros that were originally part of The Mickey Mouse Revue, giving older viewers a flashback of that classic attraction (and those who didn’t start going to Disney World until after the attraction was moved to Japan an idea of what it was like in terms of the Audio Animatronic Disney characters).

Along with checking out the changes to the rides that I rode before, my trips to Epcot also included some new experiences as well. To begin with, I checked out Mission: Space, with me going on the “orange” version (aka the one where the ride actually moves). Going on that, I can see why the ride can be a little too intense for some, as it does simulate what it feels to be launched into outer space (with me kinda feeling a tiny bit queasy afterwards). Also, I finally checked out the one pavilion at Future World that I had yet to visit, The Land. While I couldn’t go on Soarin’ due to ride renovations, I did check out the Living with the Land boat ride, and checked out some of the cool farming methods that is used to provide some of the food at the park.

Speaking of food, the last new experience at Epcot was actually trying some of the park’s regular cuisine, as some people say that’s Epcot is the best place in the park in terms of food. For starters, getting back to The Land, I had a late lunch there the first time I went there during my vacation, and let me tell you, The Land knows how to make a good pork chop. The second time I went to Epcot, my family had dinner at a German buffet restaurant. While there, I had some of the German food that was offered, while the dining area had a German town theme to it (complete with a group of musicians playing German music). Given the restaurant’s name sounds a lot like a restaurant my family goes to when visiting the niece in Philly (not to mention that there’s a decent amount of German blood inside of me), I very sure my family enjoyed the experience at that restaurant.

Disney Hollywood Studios: In terms of my visit to the park, Disney Hollywood Studios was definitely in a transition period, as a number of attractions are about to close down (or have already closed down) to make room for a huge expansion inspired by Pixar movies and the world of Star Wars. As such, a regular tourist with FastPass+ (see below for more details) can easily check out the main rides in the morning, visit another Disney park in the afternoon, and then return to the Studios in the evening for the two main events of the evening, the nightly laser-water show Fantasmic and a fireworks display set to the music from Star Wars.

While on the subject of Star Wars, I did get a chance to check out the updated version of Star Tours and the Launch Bay (with my younger brother getting photo ops with Chewbacca and Darth Vader when he visited the Launch Bay with his girlfriend). When it comes to Star Tours, it definitely looks as if Disney is pushing The Force Awakens big time, as both times I rode I it (along with the time my younger brother and his girlfriend rode it) featured the route where the ship travels to Jakku, with Finn and BB-8 interacting with C-3PO and R2-D2 during that portion of the ride. However, the ending was different for both times I rode it (with the ship arriving in Naboo my first go-round, then confronting Darth Vader and Boba Fett the second time). Also, there was definitely a lot interesting Star Wars merchandise, with my brother picking up a number of items during the stay at Disney World (with me finding an Ewok hoodie for him at Epcot when he couldn’t find it at the Studios). As for me, while I didn’t buy it, I myself was interested in those giant versions of the old Kenner action figures (not sure if I’d gone with an Ewok or Leia in her bounty hunter disguise).

As for other rides, I managed to get a FastPass for the hugely popular Toy Story Midway Mania attraction. Getting a FastPass ahead of time was definitely worth it because even in late January, there were a lot of people wanting to check this ride out. Heck, even with the FastPass, I still had to wait at least 20 minutes before I got to ride it. Quite honestly, I preferred The Rock and Roller Coaster over Toy Story Midway Mania, and given my situation (see below for more details), the wait time for the two times I rode on that ride were less than Toy Story Midway Mania.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom: By the time Animal Kingdom originally opened, my family stopped making regular trips to the main parks due to it becoming too expensive to purchase tickets to the park. As such, this was my very first time going to Animal Kingdom. Whereas other people went there around their second day, I myself went there on my first day after my initial Magic Kingdom run, as the plan was for me to do at least one FastPass+ activity with the niece the following day (that went out the window when her father, due to a lack of liquids, had a seizure and needed a day to recover from it).

In terms of attractions, I didn’t do as much as the other parks. This can be contributed a number of factors that include the limited amount of time I would have at that park (Animal Kingdom usually closes around 5:00PM), the safari ride having long rides, and the river raft ride being closed for renovations. However, I did manage to get on two of the bigger thrill rides of the park: Expedition Everest and Dinosaur.

With Expedition Everest, this is probably one of Disney’s best roller coasters yet, as the ride mixes elements that you don’t find in any other roller coaster in the main parks (such as one of the bigger hill drops in the park and a portion where you’re riding it backwards) with some decent storytelling and effects, as the ride involves an encounter with the Yeti. This was such a fun experience that after I went on it (and briefly scanned the ride’s gift shop), I immediately got in line to ride it again (with my eldest brother and his wife having the same idea when they rode it a few days later, and me having a similar idea when there wasn’t that much of a wait for Space Mountain Thursday morning).

Meanwhile, Dinosaur is a wild “dark ride” that involves guests going back in time to retrieve a dinosaur before the meteorite that supposedly killed off the dinosaurs hits Earth. While not a roller coaster, the motion simulation that the vehicles provide and the dinosaur Audio-Animatronics does lead to a thrilling experience. To give you an example of what I’m talking about, during the “photo op” portion of the ride, the photo snapped while I was saying one of those four-letter words that would make this post NSFW.

Disney Springs: Along with the main parks of Disney World, the other main part of Disney that I went to was Disney Springs, which is a huge shopping/entertainment area of the park that doesn’t cost anything in terms of visiting the place and parking. Back when it called Downtown Disney, this was where my family would go when visiting Disney World in the later years that I visited Florida, as the area had a huge arcade area that gave the family something Disney-related to do without having to spend a ton of money. However, while I would have gone to the arcade if I’d known about it having plenty of pinball tables, most of my time was instead browsing the various stores and restaurants.

When it comes to stores, Disney Springs has a wide variety of places to shop. Among the many stores that I stopped at during my two trips to Disney Springs (first on Saturday, while the rest of the family waited for my niece and her family to arrive in Florida; then with the niece on Wednesday while most of the family was busy in Melbourne):

-A store that sold soccer merchandise and apparel (with me picking up for myself a jersey of the the Barley Premiere League team that my eldest brother roots for as something to wear during sporting events);
-A candy/confection store where you can watch people make the various sweets that they have for sale (I tried my luck at eating a Mickey Mouse candy apple, but there was too much sweetness for me to handle, and with not much to finish it, I had to throw it out before I headed home);
-The Disney Springs branch of the Lego Store (which includes huge Lego versions of various Disney characters and a Lego sea dragon in the lake area);
-A huge store that is filled with various Disney merchandise (with some of the ladies in the family purchasing new purses there);
-A shop that sold various Disney pins (I’ll get to that later, as these pins play a big role in terms of my trip);
-A shop that sold various Christmas-themed items (with one section being devoted entirely to Frozen).
-A shop that sold various pieces of Disney art, with one of the artists actually being there to sign his works on Wednesday (I probably would have picked something up if the art wasn’t that expensive).

As for restaurants, while I usually would have a meal at Planet Hollywood whenever I go to Disney Springs, that place was currently closed for remodeling (with some of the movie memorabilia that’s usually found there currently on display at one of the shops at Disney Hollywood Studios). As such, it gave me a chance to try out different places. On Saturday, after meeting up with my eldest brother’s group, they, my parents, and I tried out some of the sundaes that were served at Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop. Later, when I visited Disney Springs with my niece and her family on Wednesday, we first had lunch at T-Rex, a family restaurant with a prehistoric theme to it (complete with robotic puppets of prehistoric animals and the occasional “meteor shower”). Afterwards, we stopped at Vivoli il Gelato to sample some of their gelato flavors.

Universal Orlando: Just because the main focus of my winter vacation was Disney World doesn’t mean I wasn’t going to visit any of the other big parks in the area. Around the time of the Disney World vacation, the Universal Orlando Resort was having their annual Harry Potter Weekend, which interested my younger brother and his girlfriend. As such, I decided to join them when they headed there to check out the first day of the event.

As you probably guessed, Harry Potter Weekend was a busy weekend for the park, with a lot people at the park dressed up in Hogwarts attire and the Harry Potter portions of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure being very crowded. While my younger brother and his girlfriend were definitely here for the Harry Potter experience (and I’m sure my parents would be more focused on the Harry Potter events as well if they went), my experience was different, since my main focus was towards enjoying the parks as a whole. As much as I wanted to check out the Harry Potter expo, the limited amount of time I had at the park that day (since everyone was starting to head back home the next day, my younger brother wanted to make sure we left the park by 5:00 PM) resulted in me having to take a pass on that. Also, after seeing how long the line was for the Gringotts ride, an hour long wait in line was going to affect my plans big time, and I opted to pass on it (hopefully, I’ll be able to go to Universal Orlando one more time during my lifetime and finally check that ride out). However, I did manage to take the Hogwarts Express train that transports guests between the parks (with Universal putting a lot of effort to actually make it feel as if you were on the same train as Harry Potter). Also, the wait time for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey wasn’t as bad as the Gringotts ride by the time I reached that ride, so I was able to enjoy that attraction while I was there. Finally, this trip wouldn’t be complete without buying some Harry Potter souvenirs of some sort, and while my brother and his girlfriend bought a number of cool items (including a replica of Lucius Malfoy’s wand), I kept it simple and unique by picking up something that can best be described as a Hogwarts soccer jersey (although I would have easily have bought a wand as well if the stores weren’t too crowded and I didn’t have to worry about saving up money for back-to-back conventions and a busy month for video game releases).

Again, the Harry Potter stuff was only a small chunk of my main focus of what I wanted do while at Universal Orlando, which was to enjoy as much of both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure as possible. As I also mentioned, I didn’t have much time given the 5:00 PM departure time and the fact that by the time I went through security and bought my ticket for the parks, it was already 9:30 AM. On one hand, I did have to cut a few things off of my itinerary (while I did wish I could check out the Harry Potter expo, the ET and Shrek attractions weren’t really necessary for me), and there’s some attractions (in particular, the roller coasters) that, if I had more time, I would have loved to go on again (although I did manage to ride the Transformers ride twice). However, thanks in part to a couple of travel tips that I’ll mention at the end of my report, I was able to check out most of the main attractions that I wanted to see (most of them without waiting that long in line).

The Florida Mall: Theme parks were the only places on my family’s itinerary of places to visit while we were in Florida. On Sunday, my family went to one of the major shopping centers in the area, the Florida Mall. The main focus for most of the family involved something that most of the females would be interested in: the American Girl store. With my mother and niece being huge fans of American Girl, a lot of money was saved up (and a few American Girl gift cards were purchased) in preparation this shopping excursion, which involved the purchase of various American Girl accessories, my niece’s American Girl doll getting her hair braided and “ears pierced”, and my eldest brother’s wife getting an American Girl doll for her own.

While it was interesting to check out an American Girl store, I wasn’t the type that would spend a whole bunch of time there, so while the girls were busy there, I went ahead and walked around the rest of the mall. In terms of stores, there were a few worth mentioning. For starters, the Florida Mall had a ThinkGeek store (I’m surprised that Orlando got one before the Washington D.C. area, given how ThinkGeek is based in Fairfax, Virginia). While there was a number of neat stuff at the store (including a number of replica props that tempted me), the fact that I still had some theme parks to go to (and the fact that the slippers were too small for my feet) resulted in me resisting the temptation to buy something. Second, the Florida Mall had The Crayola Experience, and while the family passed on the actual experience (as it cost more), we did check out the adjoining Crayola store. Also, while Gamestop has become a common store in most areas, I have to mention the one in the Florida Mall because I was finally able to find a PS Vita game that I was looking for there.

Last, but definitely not least, the Florida Mall featured M&M’s World, a store that’s completely devoted to M&M’s candy. Naturally, at this store, you can buy M&M’s candy in various colors, as well as some M&M’s merchandise (for instance, one thing that I picked up while at this shop was a couple of shirts that depict the M&M pieces as characters from Star Wars). However, for tourists like, there’s some additional things you do as well. Among them include seeing a replica of an M&M’s-sponsored NASCAR race car, taking a photo with the green M&M mascot, and seeing which color M&M you are (in my case, I’m an aqua-green M&M).

Pin Trading: One of the biggest aspects of the Disney World trip didn’t involve going on the rides at all. Rather, it involves a hobby that is very popular at the parks: pin trading.

At many of the Disney World gift shops and a few gift stands, there’s a section where you can purchase a wide variety of Disney themed pin. Furthermore, as you walk around the park, guest can eventually meet cast members who have their own set of pins, with their collections including some “Hidden Mickey” pins that you can’t buy at any of the park stores. As such, in order to get those pins, you are required to trade ones that you already have (usually duplicates of pins already owned or pins that you don’t mind getting rid of) with the cast member.

Realizing that this would add some more fun to the trip (not to mention already owning a couple of pins already), I made sure that prepared properly if I wanted to take part in the pin trading craze. For starters, I purchased a couple of starter sets (i.e. a lanyard with four pins of a certain theme) for me and the niece. Then, my mother went online and purchased a couple hundred pins. After sorting out the pins, I eventually had more piles of pins prepared: a huge one of the pins that I was keeping, a pile of pins that I didn’t mind trading, a few pins for the niece to have, and a pile of duplicates that I’m okay with trading.

Of course, by the time I got to the park, I completely underestimated the appeal of this hobby. For starters, during my first Disney excursion at Disney Springs on Saturday, I only had four tradable pins on me. After seeing the amount of staff members with these pins, I realized that four pins is just isn’t enough and, and I made sure I had my bag of trading pins with me the next few times I went to the park. Second, not only did I underestimate the amount of pins to give to the niece, but I also didn’t expect others (in this case, my mother and my eldest brother’s wife) to take part in this as well. As such, by the time I was visiting Disney World for the last time, I had split the remaining pins between the four of us to be used for trading. In the end, it turned out to be a decent success, with me being able to set a few chaser pins (i.e. silver “Hidden Mickey” pins that are more scarce than the regular “Hidden Mickey” pins), but I was also able to complete a “Hidden Mickey” set based on Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

Not all the pins that I got at Disney World were ones that I traded for, as I also bought a number of pins as well (along with a binder book to keep my pins in), with me buying at least one pin each day I went to a Disney park. Usually, the pins that I bought fell into one of two categories. The first category of pins involve those inspired by the various rides at the park, with me buying those pins that feature moving parts (and a pin inspired the now-closed Captain EO attraction). The other type of pins that I bought was limited edition pins. More expensive than regular pins, the limited edition pins that I bought either pertained to a certain event (Christmas, Mardi Gras, Star Wars Weekends), were pins that can only be bought if you were a member of a certain group (in my case, I bought a pin that was exclusively for members of the Disney fan club, D23), or were special “Piece of Disney History” pins that contained a small piece of fabric cut from an item that was used either at a Disney park or a Disney event (in my case, my pin featured a part of one of the Three Little Pigs costumes from one of the nighttime parades).

Also, not every pin I bought was meant exclusively for me. For instance, my eldest brother’s mother-in-law was looking for a souvenir to give to a friend that loves elephants. Eventually, I saw cute Dumbo pin and, wanting to help her find a gift, I picked it up for her. Also, I eventually found a line of pins that features various female Disney characters and birthstones. Knowing that this would make a great send-off gift for my niece before I head back home, I found the pin pertaining to her birth month, purchased it, and waited until the last day of the trip to give it to her.

Just to let you know, pins are only a small part of the souvenirs that purchased during my Disney World trip. Among the list of items that I got alongside them and the other stuff that I already mentioned in my report:

-A South of the Border t-shirt (stopped there on the way to and from Florida);
-A South of the Border Pedro plushie;
-Two Lego sets (the Doctor Who set and a Valentine’s Day set);
-A plushie of Roo from Winnie-the-Pooh (Roo has always been a favorite of mine when it came to Pooh characters);
-Two souvenir Disney World drink cups (one from Epcot; the other from Animal Kingdom);
-An Expedition Everest t-shirt;
-A Disney Hollywood Studios souvenir popcorn container;
-A pillow of Santa’s Little Helper from The Simpsons (won it at one of the carnival games at the Simpsons area of Universal);
-A souvenir Universal Studios drink cup (which allowed for free refills the day of my trip at the park).

With that all said and done, my Disney World trip has finally come to a close, and now the focus shifts towards Katsucon and MAGFest. Before I go, here are a few personal tips that I have if you’re going to visit Disney World or Universal sometime this year:

-Take full advantage of the FastPass+/Express Pass programs. With Disney World’s FastPass+ programs, you can book the times that you want to go on certain times, giving you more time to enjoy the park. You can reserve three rides per day at one park days before you even go there, and once those are used up, you can then make reservations for other rides, even if they are at a different park (i.e. on my first day at Disney World, I started out with three FastPass+ choices at the Magic Kingdom, then made one for Dinosaur at Animal Kingdom, and finally did one for the Haunted Mansion back at the Magic Kingdom).

As for Universal’s Express Pass program, while it can be costly depending on the day (for instance, the day I went there, it cost about $90, with it being much more expensive during the busier times of the year), it’s definitely worth it if you want to experience both Universal parks in one day and have limited amount of time (in my case, only eight hours). In my case, the Express Pass helped cut the wait time for the “simulator” rides (i.e. Despicable Me and The Simpsons), the Flight of the Hippogriff and Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coasters, and the Spider-Man ride big time. One little warning though: the Express Pass will not work on the most of the Harry Potter rides (hence one reason why the long lines for the Gringotts ride led to me skipping that one).

-If you’re going to the park alone, definitely take advantage of the single rider lines. There’s a few rides that I rode on twice on the same day while at Florida (Expedition Everest, The Rock and Roller Coaster, Transformers), with the wait time for these rides not being too long (usually around 5-10 minutes). The reason for this: I rode on these rides as a single rider, whose lines were much shorter if I waited in the regular line. Just note that while some rides may have single rider lines, that doesn’t always mean a smooth transition to get to the front of the line, as the Gringotts ride had its single rider line closed off due to the huge amount of people already in line for it, while the huge single rider line for the Spider-Man ride had me opting to use the Express Pass instead (as for the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, while I could have used it, I opted not to go Single Rider for my first go-round of the ride and opted to do the regular 30 minute wait instead in order to tour Hogwarts).

-Purchase a “photo package” (especially if you’re spending a number of days at Disney World). While it may be expensive, it does have one great advantage: it allows for unlimited download access to all the photos that the people at the parks took of you while you were there. This includes photos of you standing in front of various park landmarks, photos from character meet and greets, and photos from various rides at the park. While that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take photos yourself (as my family did take a number of photos while at the park), the “photo package” does add a professional touch to the memories that you made there.

-Try to make reservations for the restaurants that you want to eat at (and have at least one meal with the characters). With all the restaurant choices that Disney World has to offer, there’s likely going to be at least one sit-down place that you want to visit if you’re staying for a decent amount of time. As such, it’s a good idea to make a reservation at the restaurant where you’d like to eat, especially if it’s one of those places where reservations can fill up months in advance.

As for restaurant experiences, one that’s definitely worth checking out is having a meal with the Disney characters. Sure, it may be more expensive than the usual dining experiences (for instance, my character lunch experience, including tip, cost about $50, and this was a solo trip). However, the price is worth it (especially if you’re with kids), as the experiences are usually of the “all you can eat” variety, and as you eat, various Disney characters will visit your table, giving you a chance to have a photo op and to get an autograph without having to wait in a line that, depending on the character, can take up amount a good amount of park time.