Disney World 2015 Trip Planning Guide


Planning your 2015 Walt Disney World trip can be intimidating, especially for first-time visitors. This guide will give you tips to save money, time, and make the most of Walt Disney World, navigating its four theme parks, dozens of hotels, hundreds of restaurants, and a variety of additional entertainment activities and options that can make for really complicate planning. Walt Disney World is a busy place, so determining when to visit and how to tour the parks to avoid crowds is a critical step in the process. Add to that trying to save money on park tickets and hotels, and planning can be daunting, especially for first-time or infrequent guests who want to plan a memorable trip.

If you’re feeling yourself being sucked into the rabbit hole that is Walt Disney World vacation planning, our updated-for-2015 Walt Disney World trip planning guide is here to help…or perhaps drag you deeper into the rabbit hole. Think of it as Walt Disney World Trip Planning 101, organized into the 10 most important aspects of Walt Disney World vacation planning. As complicated as the process might seem right now, it’s really not that bad, and the ultimate payoff will be huge. You’re also a bit fortunate that you’re being sucked into the rabbit hole now, as many first-time visitors don’t realize Walt Disney World planning can be so complicated until they arrive, and are then overwhelmed. The commercials make it look like a carefree world where everyone runs around holding hands with Mickey Mouse while laughing and riding all of their favorite attractions without any problems…but that’s definitely not the reality.

Even after dozens and dozens of trips to Walt Disney World, we still don’t know everything there is to know about the place, but this post contains most of what we do know (most stuff, at least…not the nitty-gritty details like which drinking fountains are coldest!). We wouldn’t visit so much if we didn’t like it, so our opinions are colored by the fact that we are Disney fans. That said, we don’t see the world through rose colored glasses, and we try to stay as objective as possible here, sharing the good and the bad. If that’s not for you, there are plenty of other planning sites that offer only positive or only negative spins on Disney.

This vacation planning guide applies to the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. That might seem silly to point out if you’re a seasoned Disney fan, but a lot of people don’t know. (You did see the episode of The Middle where they made that mistake, right? All TV is obviously based on real life!) World=Florida, land=California. If you are visiting California, please consult our Disneyland Resort Trip Planning Guide. If you’re trying to determine which coast is right for you, read our Walt Disney World v. Disneyland post.

This page is a jumping off point to give you some background information on each aspect of your trip, with links to other blog posts that offer much more detailed information. Each post opens in a new tab, so click away as you read and prepare to waste the better part of a day or more reading all this.

We promise that the payoff will be worth it, so let’s get started! (more…)

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party 2015 Tips

The 2015 Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Parties at Walt Disney World will occur in September and October. This post covers our tips and tricks for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, which is scheduled for the following dates: September 15, 18, 20, 22, 25, 27 and October 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 15, 16, 18, 20, 22, 23, 25, 27, 29, 31, as well as November 1. You can purchase tickets (ranging from $57-77 per person) on Walt Disney World’s event page starting in April 2015.

On these nights, the Magic Kingdom closes at 7 p.m. to guests who haven’t not purchased tickets for the Halloween Party. So you can prepare for the Halloween Party now, here is our analysis based upon the last several years (we go to it yearly) to help you determine whether this expensive hard ticket event is worth it to you, and if so, what your “Plan of Attack” should be to efficiently conquer the various offerings. Between this party and Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival, plus improving weather, the fall months at Walt Disney World are one of our favorite times of year to visit!

Note that this guide covers Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, not Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland. For info about the latter, read our comprehensive Guide to Halloween Time at Disneyland!

Should You Attend?

So at over $60 a pop for tickets to the 2015 Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, you might be trying to determine, “is Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party worth it?” Our opinion, as Disney-biased tourists, is that it most definitely is worth the price at least once. Once you’ve experienced the party once (it doesn’t change much year-to-year), you might determine that it’s simply too expensive to experience again. For a one time event, it’s definitely worth it if your budget allows. While we prefer Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, we do attend both every year.

There’s a lot of special entertainment including one of Disney’s best parades and a great fireworks show, a great ambiance to the party including special decorations and lighting, lots of unique character meet & greets, and even seeing other guests in Halloween costumes makes for a fun experience.

If you do decide to do the Halloween Party, make sure to buy your tickets in advance, and use any available discounts (Disney Vacation Club member, Annual Passholder, etc.). Tickets are more expensive on the day of the party, and several nights each year sell out completely. It would stink to wait until the last minute and have your dates sell out!

If you’re a potentially returning guest to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, here’s what was new last year, and what’s anticipated for this year. Last year’s big new thing was a hard ticket event within the hard ticket event called Villains’ Sinister Soiree (we still wish they went with “Mickey’s Halloween Inception”). It’s essentially a dessert party in Cinderella’s Royal Table with reserved seating for the Boo to You Parade and HalloWishes fireworks. This costs $99 per person on top of the ~$60 Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party ticket. So, if you’ve been thinking that the Halloween party is just too darn cheap, this option is for you!

Seriously though, we have absolutely no intention of doing this party. The reserved viewing area is not a good spot for viewing the fireworks, as it’s too close to Cinderella Castle (for the best spots, check out our Magic Kingdom Fireworks Viewing Locations Guide), and there are just too many other great things to do at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (it’s unlikely you can do all of the regular entertainment in a single night) to justify attending a dessert party, especially at the $99 price point. In fact, we wouldn’t do this dessert party even if it were “only” $25 per person. It’s just not worth taking the time from the regular awesome entertainment of the Halloween party to do this. Plus, the idea of another upcharge event within an upcharge event just makes us cringe.

Fortunately, the other “significant” new thing (besides some minor changes to the Boo To You Parade and a couple of different meet & greet characters) is the Club Villain dance party in Frontierland, and it offers guests the opportunity to ‘mingle’ with some villains without paying the upcharge price. Beyond that, it looks to be mostly the same entertainment as last year.

As for what you should do during Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, here’s our guide to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party! (more…)

Disneyland 2015 Trip Planning Guide

This post is a guide for planning your 2015 visit to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. Here we cover tips and tricks for experiencing Cars Land and Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary, making 2015 a great time to visit Disneyland. We first posted this guide a few years ago when Disney California Adventure had its big reboot, and have updated it multiple times per year since. We have received messages from a lot of people who had great trips thanks to our recommendations, and this guide has been refined based upon numerous visits to Disneyland in 2014 (we didn’t do trip reports for the 2014 visits, but here’s our most recent Disneyland Christmas Trip Report) and will continue to be updated as we make regular trips to Disneyland in 2015.

Disneyland Resort has been on a roll as of late, expanding upon the success of its big recent addition, Cars Land, with the opening of Mickey and the Magical Map, plus World of Color – Winter Dreams, seasonal celebrations, and more. 2015 is Disneyland Resort’s “Diamond Anniversary”, which is slated to begin in May 2015. While all of the details have not yet been announced for the 60th Anniversary, we know that it will be based in nostalgia, and strong rumors suggest a new nighttime parade (a modified version of the Paint the Night Parade from Hong Kong Disneyland), new fireworks, significant upgrades to Fantasyland dark rides, and more.

We highly recommend a visit to Disneyland, as the 60th Anniversary sounds like it’s going to be awesome. Honestly, there hasn’t been a year recently when we haven’t recommended a Disneyland Resort visit. The place is firing on all cylinders. As long as Disneyland keeps doing new things and Cars Land keeps looking great, you may be hearing this same sentiment in 2015, 2016, 2017 and…you get the idea.

It may seem silly to point this out, but this planning guide applies to the Disneyland Resort in California. If you are visiting Florida, please consult our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide.

This guide contains all the resources you’ll need to plan your Disneyland Resort trip, including when to visit, where to stay, what to do, and much more… (more…)

Ultimate Disney Parks Photography Guide

Looking for the best camera (point and shoot or DSLR), lens, or other photography gear and equipment to buy for use at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and beyond? Want tutorials to take better photos in and outside of the parks? This photography buying guide offers helpful “real world” ratings and reviews on photography equipment from an actual photographer (take a look at my photo galleries to see my work), plus links to some of my articles offering tips for better photos. Although my specialty is landscape and travel photography, the gear reviewed can be used in a whole range of photographic scenarios. If you’re not interested in learning about photography, but just want to find Disney photos to download or print, click here.

Before considering any camera and photography equipment upgrades, it is a great idea to learn about photography. Use online resources (Google can find a tutorial on anything!), but if you want to learn the basics or read something more thorough, we recommend books (read our book reviews). The book we always recommend starting with is Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. Seriously, get it. All of the expensive equipment in the world won’t help you if you haven’t learned the basics, and that book is the best way to learn the basics. A book is a lot cheaper than a new lens, and if you’re a beginner, that book will improve your photography more than a new lens.

No camera “takes good pictures.” Some cameras can help an adept photographer more than others, but if the person taking the photos doesn’t do things right, photos taken with a $2,000 camera can look worse than photos taken with a camera phone. Likewise, many experienced photographers can take better photos with an iPhone than inexperienced photographers can with expensive DSLRs on Auto Mode.

The point being, it’s important to learn the fundamentals of photography in addition to buying shiny, new toys. This guide will start by providing resources for learning more about photography (the most important step) and then reviews and information concerning buying more tools to improve your photography. (more…)

Best Disney Dining Plan Snack Credit Uses

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Snack prices at Walt Disney World vary considerably, and snack credits included in all of the 2015 Disney Dining Plans, even $2 differences in snack prices can add up over the course of an entire trip. Since snack prices are lower than Table Service meals and Counter Service meals, there’s generally less of a difference between high and low snack prices than there is between high and low priced meals, but it’s still worth paying attention to snack prices if you want to maximize your total value on the Disney Dining Plan. Here are our top ways to use your Snack Credits on the Disney Dining Plan.

Since there are exponentially more snacks available on Disney property than there are other items, some snacks aren’t always available, and their prices can fluctuate (most prices have increased incrementally on the Disney restaurant menus), it’s not feasible for us to give a dollar-to-dollar breakdown, so this is more of a general top 10 than our Table Service and Counter Service credit-value maximizing articles.

This list is updated annually, but there aren’t many substantial changes this year, as most big changes occurred with the opening of New Fantasyland. LeFou’s Brew, the specialty beverage somewhat akin to Butterbeer (not in taste) from Wizarding World of Harry Potter, made the list. The Warm Cinnamon Roll available at Gaston’s Tavern did not make this list due to its price. However, it’s a borderline good value, and it’s worth noting that this is a cult favorite among Walt Disney World fans. We don’t care for the Cinnamon Roll, but we are definitely in the minority for that! The other signature item at Gaston’s Tavern is the pork shank (pictured above), and unfortunately, it is not a snack.

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When To Visit Disney World in 2015

People often ask, “when is the best time to visit Disney World?” Some days and times of year are better to plan your trip to Walt Disney World. The least crowded times of the year are typically after Labor Day until the week before Thanksgiving, early December, the entire month of January and early February, and late April. That said, nowadays especially in 2015 now that New Fantasyland is complete and ‘Frozen Frenzy’ is at its peak, there really is no “slow season” at Walt Disney World.

Crowds should not be your only consideration when planning when to visit Walt Disney World. There are some great seasonal events, such as the Halloween and Christmas seasons, Food & Wine Festival, runDisney, and other fun events. You may also be constrained as to when you can visit by school schedules, vacation time, and other factors. Add to that weather and various other considerations, and when to visit Walt Disney World isn’t as cut and dry as visiting in late September, early December, or February when crowds are low.

Of course, choosing which days to visit Walt Disney World is just one aspect of planning a trip. To make sure you tackle everything, make sure you read our Guide to Planning a Walt Disney World Trip, which covers all of the essentials.

With that said, let’s take a look at when you should and shouldn’t visit Walt Disney World… (more…)