By Character Diva
If you’ve come to this site, you’re probably looking for tips to help you with your next Disney vacation. And if you’re reading this article, you most likely have kids traveling with you. Planning a Disney vacation is no small task… there are Fastpass + and dining reservations to be made, Memory Maker packages to be pre-ordered, decisions on whether or not you wish to buy a hopper pass, what means of transportation you will use, and the list goes on and on.
In addition to Tips from the Disney Divas & Devos, our writers have found “The Unofficial Guide” series to be extremely beneficial when it comes to planning your trip. So naturally, when one of the authors, Liliane Opsomer, asked if we would be interested in reviewing her book, “The Unofficial Guide to Disney World with Kids 2016”, I was delighted to be offered the opportunity.
Unlike many of the writers on this site, Disney World is not my forte. In fact, I’ve only been there once. Growing up in California, Disneyland was my “home away from home” and I can ramble off Disneyland tips until Cinderella’s coach turns into a pumpkin. But seeing as my family is hopefully going to head to Disney World in the near future, I wanted to absorb as many tips and ideas as possible and compare them to my fellow writers’ reviews. So highlighters in hand, I began dissecting the book cover to cover.
If you’re familiar with the Unofficial Guide series and have “The Unofficial Guide to Disney World” aka “The Big Book”, you will find a lot of similarities. in fact, some of it is copied and pasted word for word verbatim. But the most obvious difference is this version is that it is geared for those of you traveling with kids. Whether you’re traveling with small children or tweens and teens, your family’s needs (and priority list) will most likely be very different than a group of college students on Spring Break, young couple on their honeymoon or senior citizens wanting to take a stroll around Epcot. The UG to Disney World with Kids takes all of these things into consideration. For example, in the attractions section, it focuses on each age group (Preschool, Grade School, Teens, Young Adults, Over 30, and Seniors) and provides a rating of how appealing it is, what it is, a scope and scale of how popular it is, how frightening it might be, how bottlenecked it can become, when to go, the duration of the ride, the author’s rating, the loading speed, the average wait in line per 100 people ahead of you and any other special comments. If there is a Fastpass available for the attraction, the authors also provide recommendations on whether or not it is worth getting a Fastpass, as well as when the best times are to use them, which is great if you’re trying to score some of those most sought after Fastpasses for attractions such as the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train or Peter Pan’s Flight.
Like Tips from the Disney Divas & Devos, the Unofficial Guide series shares their honest opinions about each attraction, hotel, and restaurant review. So why should you buy the book as opposed to Googling information or searching on a website? Well, to begin with, there may be things that you are missing out on simply because you don’t even know they exist. While some experiences such as the Jedi Training Academy or Bibbibi Bobbidi Boutique are well known, you don’t want your little one to miss out on getting to play Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom or the Pirates League simply because you didn’t know they existed. Secondly, there may be things that you might have previously dismissed for whatever reason, but after reading and gathering some more information, you may decide you want to try after all. If nothing else, I figure you can never be too prepared for planning your Disney vacation, and the sample itineraries at the back of the book are invaluable and worth the money in itself.
If you’ve never taken a look at their planning itineraries, you really should. You can find some samples in the back of the book, and they are broken down into categories such as “One day touring plan for parents with small children”, “One day sleepyhead touring plan for parents with small children”, “one day touring plan for tweens and their parents”, and the “One day happy family touring plan.” They are amazing, and completely customizable on their website, www.touringplans.com. I really recommend checking it out. After all kinds of statistics, research, and other trial and error methods, they have found the most efficient ways to tour the parks and experience as much as possible in any given day. After all that research, the authors claim that if you follow their plans exactly, you can save 4 hours of waiting in lines! FOUR! I don’t know about you, but I can think of a lot better things to do than spend four hours in line. Of course, if riding the teacups (aka The Mad Tea Party) is on your “Must Do List” and it’s not on your itinerary, you can still ride the teacups. It is your vacation after all. You can either go to the website and customize your own itinerary with the Mad Tea Party on your to do list, or you can look inside the book and figure out when the best times to go would be.
The book also contains lots of information for the practical logistics of traveling with kids. Knowing the locations of the baby centers, first aid centers, and where to find a missing child rank up there as some of the most important locations you should know before heading on your vacation. They also break down the larger special events that take place each year, the annual attendance patterns and the average temperatures for each month, which is also really useful in weighing the pros and cons of when to travel with your family. You can also download their “Lines” app to view Disney’s posted line waits as well as more accurate estimates to help decide whether the wait is worth it or not.
While the book is packed with great information and tips, the writing style is also humorous and witty, with some great allusions to help illustrate their point. For example, under Part 3 “Where to Stay?” under the Things to Consider Category, you will find this lovely point: “Larger families and groups may be interested in how many people can stay in a Disney resort room, but only Lilliputians would be comfortable in a room filled to capacity.” Such a great way of stressing the importance of space (even if you are only using your room as a place to sleep and shower) all while enjoying the reference to Gulliver’s Travels. I’m not going to lie, it made me smile.
Another nice layout of the book is that in addition to a brief overview of each of the resorts, it lists the strengths and weaknesses. For example, while looking at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort (where I would like to stay on our next visit), you will see the strengths listed as: Exceptional Theming, Family Suites are Well-Designed, Best pool of the Value resorts, Food court and in-room pizza delivery, and One bus stop. For Weaknesses, you will find: Most Expensive Value Resort, No on-site child care, No full-service dining or character meals, Terrible in-room mobile reception, and Limited recreation options. While I had already done some research and knew all of the strengths (as well as some of the weaknesses), I had no idea that the room had terrible in-room mobile reception. Not a complete deal breaker (you can always step outside and walk around if necessary), but it is nice to know ahead of time so you can plan accordingly.
And for those of you who are weighing in on whether to stay on-property or off, there are extensive reviews of the different resorts, a list of pros and cons to staying on-property or off, and even tips about how much traffic to anticipate so you can try and factor in how much driving time you’ll need. Of course, you can always look into DVC points, so if you wish to look into becoming a DVC Member, or have extra points you’re willing to sell, we recommend checking out DVC Resale Market.
In addition to covering the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios in great detail, you will also find lots of information on Disney Springs (formerly known as Downtown Disney) and the waterparks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. What if you want don’t want to spend your whole vacation hanging out with Mickey and his pals? If exploring other Florida attractions such as Universal Studios or Sea World is on your list of places to go, you will find information for those places as well and whether or not it will be appropriate for the members of your party. While I love the Harry Potter series and would love to visit Hogwarts some day, given the limited amount of time we have to vacation and how young my children are (three kiddos under five), I have a feeling I won’t be drinking a Butterbeer any time soon. Which is fine. Nothing makes the top of my four year old’s ‘to do list’ more than riding Dumbo.
The last tip I want to share with you that the UG writers mention is “When we work with an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner, we know we’re dealing with someone who knows Disneyland inside and out, including where to find the deals and how to use all the tricks of the trade that keep our research budget under control. Simply stated, they save us time and money- sometime lots of both.” Who doesn’t like saving time and money? Vacations are expensive… you might as well make sure you get the most bang for your buck. And unless you’re an annual passholder who can go all the time, spontaneity probably isn’t your friend when it comes to planning your trip. Remember, it’s the early bird that gets the worm, and the early bird has 180 (in some cases 190) days to tart making their reservations. Luckily for you, Tips from the Disney Divas & Devos partners with an authorized Disney Vacation Planner. If you’re looking for help in planning your next Disney vacation, making your Fastpass + and/or dining reservations, or just answering more of your travel related questions, we highly recommend Patricia Payne from All For Dreams Travel.
While I’m stating the obvious, your children are only young once. You only have so much time to spend making memories together and sharing in experiences as a family. You want every second to be both memorable and magical. Whatever you choose, I definitely recommend “The Unofficial Guide to Disney World with Kids 2016” to help plan your vacation. Not only is it a great book, but it has a lot of great information and tools for its readers. The writing style is the perfect balance of factual information, humorous wit, and simply “telling it like it is”, the reviews are wonderful at prioritizing where to eat or where to stay, and the travel plans are invaluable in discerning what is the best way to cross off as many items on your to do list as possible. But the best news is The Unofficial Guide Series has offered to GIVE AWAY one of ANY of their Unofficial Guide books to one of our readers. We will be running our contest, beginning tomorrow, October 18 and running through October 23rd, 2015. Come back tomorrow for more details. Good luck, and happy planning!!
Disney Diva Disclaimer: Liliane Opsomer from the Unofficial Guide series provided me a copy of her book, “The Unofficial Guide to Disney World with Kids” to review for free. She has also generously allowed our site to give away a copy of another Unofficial Guide book for free to our readers. I received no other compensation for my review, and my opinions are 100% entirely my own.
Also, all of the copyrights for the photographs used in the article belong to Liliane Opsomer and are being used with her permission.