February 2015 at Walt Disney World

February is a great month to visit Walt Disney World. The weather is starting to improve, crowds remain low most of the month, hotels are offering discounts and off-season pricing, and it’s a great time to see the parks in their “normal” states. All of this makes February a pretty solid time to visit Walt Disney World.

While I stated that I’m not much of a fan of January at Walt Disney World, February is totally different. The big thing for me is that it lacks that holiday hangover–that awkward time in mid-January when you’re “over” Christmas and there isn’t any seasonal entertainment, but the decorations are still oddly up and Christmas music is still playing. I’m a huge fan of Christmas, but I don’t enjoy seeing its remnants in the middle of January. Then, it’s just sort of like the Christmas tree in your house that you wish weren’t there, but you’re too lazy to take down. Additionally, February has better weather than January and pretty similar crowds.

Speaking of crowds, February really is a tale of two months. The first half of the month and last half of the month are both pretty slow, with low to moderate crowds most days. Then there’s President’s Day week. For most people, President’s Day isn’t a weeklong holiday, but in terms of crowds at Walt Disney World, it absolutely is. A lot of people visit for the long weekend, with some staying the rest of the week, but that’s not the only reason it’s busy. At the end of this week, it’s the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend. With the President’s Day holiday and the Princess Half Marathon effectively “bookending” the week, the crowds are really bad throughout the entire week, and it’s actually now one of the busier weeks of the year.

You can really see the difference in crowds reflected in the Because of this, expect February Walt Disney World Park Hours. On days that aren’t going to be all that busy, the Magic Kingdom closes at 9 pm or 10 pm. On days that are going to be busy, you’ll see midnight and even 1 am closings for the Magic Kingdom. For those wondering about crowds for any particular day (any day of the year, not just February) park hours are a pretty good proxy for crowds. Walt Disney World bases its operating hours on its crowd level forecasts (and it’s pretty good at forecasting crowds based on hotel bookings and historical data), and shorter hours mean lower anticipated crowds, whereas later operating hours mean higher crowds. For more tips on what times of year might be good for visiting, check out our When To Visit Walt Disney World post for the best and worst months of the year.

Let’s take a look at the other upsides and downsides to visiting Walt Disney World in February… (more…)

Guide to FastPass+ at Disney World

This guide to FastPass+ at Walt Disney World is a primer for using the new ride reservation system, the best FastPass+ selection, and tips on what to get for minimizing wait times, and a whole host of other things. As FastPass+ has been available in its current form for over a year now, this guide has been a long time in the making, but now that the dust has finally settled, so to speak, and FastPass+ and the rest of MyMagic+ (see our MyMagic+ FAQ post to fully understand this large Walt Disney World vacation planning program) is out of test-mode and is finished with its early growing pains, we felt it was time to finally offer a detailed guide for using FastPass+ at Walt Disney World.

To start, a bit of background is probably in order. FastPass+ is the second generation of FastPass at Walt Disney World, with paper FastPass ride reservations (or a virtual queueing system, whatever you want to call it) first came on the scene in the late 1990s for popular attractions. The idea then was to get people out of lines and allow them to do other things while waiting for their ride reservation window (read: spending money). The original FastPass system had its strengths and weaknesses, all of which were argued ad nauseum in various corners of the internet, but it undeniably worked to the advantage of uber Disney fans who figured out various ways to leverage the system, obtaining stashes of FastPasses over the course of the day and efficiently touring the parks.

There was hence some trepidation about FastPass+ when it first went into test mode and was officially rolled out in early 2014, as those who had spent years mastering the old system would have to learn a new system, and discover ways to use it to their advantage. To add to the ire of these guests, the initial roll-out was rocky (actually, rocky would be an understatement), with many Disney fans considering FastPass+ and the whole MyMagic+ endeavor to be one of Walt Disney World’s greatest, and costliest, blunders. The purpose of this post isn’t to debate the merits of this billion-dollar plus Disney project or discuss its sordid history. Suffice to say, FastPass+ had a really rough start.

Fortunately for you (and anyone willing to expend a little effort planning), the FastPass+ system now operates smoothly for the most part, and can leveraged by guests who understand it much like the previous system could. While FastPass+ can’t be taken advantage of to the same degree as regular paper FastPass, guests who are “in the know” can still make it work to their advantage. All it takes is a little patience and spending the time to understand how FastPass+ works.

While we can’t grant you patience, we will help you understand the system in this post… (more…)

Epcot Flower & Garden Festival 2015 Guide

The 2015 Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival runs March 4 to May 17, 2015 at Walt Disney World. This guide covers our tips & tricks for experiencing the highlights of the Flower & Garden Festival, as well as what to expect from the new for 2015 offerings. Actually, as of right now, it doesn’t sound like a whole lot has changed for 2015. The “Outdoor Kitchen” food kiosks return for 2015, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple more added, making this like a mini Food & Wine Festival.

Aside from the snacking, Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival offers Walt Disney World guests the ability to enjoy expert-designed flower and garden displays, Disney character topiaries, the “Garden Rocks” live music concert series (formerly Flower Power concert series), special programs and seminars by HGTV (the main sponsor), DIY, and Epcot expert gardeners. Most of the offerings for Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival are included with theme park admission to Epcot.

Because most of the event is basically a “plussing” of Epcot at no additional charge, we highly recommend it. Whether you’re a first time guest or a seasoned veteran of Walt Disney World, visiting during Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival is a great idea. Epcot is at its most beautiful during Flower & Garden Festival. (Disney often uses the #EpcotInSpring and #EpcotInBloom hashtags to promote the beauty of Flower & Garden Festival, and hashtags never lie! ;) ) Really, though, the park smells and looks wonderful, and there are a lot of unique offerings, displays, and photographic opportunities.

While Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival used to be our favorite time to visit Epcot, the prices have skyrocketed, as have the crowds of drunks. Flower & Garden is a nice time to visit for lower crowds, and you can still enjoy some of the snacking (albeit to a lesser degree) without the headache of the crowds and lines. In general, many of these spring dates of Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival are great times to visit Walt Disney World (consult that guide to avoid the busy weeks).

Thinking a visit to Flower & Garden Festival might be for you? Then keep reading this guide for our ins and outs, and top picks for the festival!


1-Day Disney’s Hollywood Studios “Daily Trip Blueprint”

If we were going to spend a “perfect” day in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, these are the attractions we would do, the restaurants at which we’d dine, the shows we’d see, and the details we’d try to enjoy. This post continues our series of 1-day park itineraries designed to answer the frequently asked question, “what would you do if you only had one day in ____ Disney park?” We call this series our “Daily Trip Blueprints,” or DTBs for short.

Frankly, “perfect day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios” in 2015 is sort of a misnomer. If I wanted to have a perfect day at Walt Disney World, that day would involve not going to Disney’s Hollywood Studios this year. This is because Disney closed a slew of attractions at Hollywood Studios around the start of the fiscal year, with the rumored reasoning being to save operating costs as expensive construction began to totally overhaul the park.

This overhaul is rumored to contain a massive “Pixar Place” expansion (that may or may not include elements of Cars Land at Disney California Adventure and almost certainly will include attractions akin to Toy Story Playland in Hong Kong Disneyland) and a huge Star Wars Land. Again, this is rumor, but construction is expected to begin at some point in 2015 with an announcement being made at the upcoming D23 Expo. The expansion will also include placemaking and other cosmetic and thematic changes to the park, the first of which is occurring with the removal of the giant Mickey Mouse Sorcerer’s Hat at the front of the park.

All of this, unfortunately, means that Disney’s Hollywood Studios is in sort of sad shape right now, and likely only get worse later this year and into next (and beyond) as the park becomes a sea of construction walls. If you’re planning a once in a lifetime trip and are dead-set on doing every park at Walt Disney World, by all means, go. You’ll still have a good time. However, if I were going to skip any park this year or thinking about devoting a day to Universal Orlando, well, Disney’s Hollywood Studios would probably get skipped. It’s not high on my “List of Places to Visit” for 2015.

With all of that said, this post assumes moderate crowds at Disney’s Hollywood Studios on the day of your visit; actual crowds and park hours vary. Consult our When to Visit Walt Disney World post to determine how bad crowds might actually be, or to plan your visit. If you’re looking for something more comprehensive to plan every aspect of your Walt Disney World vacation, from where to purchase discount tickets to transportation to what to pack and more, read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide.

FastPass+ is somewhat important for Disney’s Hollywood Studios (read more about FastPass+ in our MyMagic+ FAQ), especially if you want to do Toy Story Mania. The Studios uses a tiered system for FastPass+, and my top picks for each tier are as follows: Toy Story Mania (Tier A) plus Tower of Terror and Star Tours (Tier B). For the plan, we’ll assume you are able to make the recommended FastPass+ selections. At other parks, you want to make FastPass+ reservations for earlier in the day so you can get more FastPass+, but it doesn’t really matter here, as the other FastPass+ at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (besides Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster) are sort of worthless.

We’re also going to arbitrarily assume that you want to stay in a hotel that’s most convenient to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which is also a hotel convenient to Epcot, as the hotels in the Crescent Lake Resort Area are within walking distance of both parks. If you’re spending several nights at Walt Disney World, this area may not be your priority, but if Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios are your “most important” parks, and you might want a hotel in this area. My top picks here are BoardWalk Inn or Beach Club. While these are a bit pricey, the good news is that you can save money at them by Renting Disney Vacation Club Points. The Swan & Dolphin are also good options if you don’t need to use Disney’s Magical Express.

Once you wake up from wherever it is that you are sleeping, here’s what to do…


Disneyland Paris 2015 Trip Planning Guide

Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant at Disneyland Paris. Hundreds of Disneyland Paris photos in our trip report! http://www.disneytouristblog.com/disneyland-paris-2012-trip-report/

Disneyland Resort Paris is an amazing place, with several hotels, two parks, and more. This guide will cover what you need to know before heading to Disneyland Paris, along with some general travel tips for heading to Europe. It contains the most up-to-date information and advice, updated for 2015 after my most recent trip to Disneyland Paris over the Christmas season, following the opening of the popular new Ratatouille mini-land at Disneyland Resort Paris. Whether you are planning a trip to Europe and are considering a day at Disneyland Paris since it’s one of the most popular tourist destination in Europe, or if you’re a huge Disney fan who is planning an international trip solely (or mostly) for Disneyland Paris, this guide has you covered.

To start, as touched upon Disneyland Resort Paris (this refers to the entire complex, but the “Resort” is often dropped from the name. Disneyland Paris, the park, is known as both Parc Disneyland and Disneyland Paris, with most official materials dropping “Resort” from the complex’s name recently, also making it Disneyland Paris. Confusing, we know) consists of 7 official Disney-themed hotels, several partner hotels, the Disney Village entertainment and shopping district, and the two parks: Parc Disneyland and the Walt Disney Studios Park. Disneyland Paris is unquestionably a place that Disney fans should visit, probably for multiple days. In our conversations, there are generally two schools of thought with regard to Disneyland Paris, and why people don’t go. The first group doesn’t go because it would mean forfeiting a trip to Walt Disney World. We’ve previously implored this group of people to visit Disneyland Resort in California, and many who have made the trek to California have reported it exceeding their expectations.

Disneyland Resort Paris is similar to Disneyland Resort in that it is not nearly as large as Walt Disney World. There simply is not as much to do at Disneyland Resort Paris as there is in Walt Disney World, so it’s a tough sell as a bona fide vacation destination in itself. The upside is that Parc Disneyland in the Paris Resort is an absolutely amazing park, much like the original Disneyland, and a park that many Disney fans could spend days exploring. In fact, in my recent Disney Theme Park Rankings post, Parc Disneyland was #5, ahead of popular parks like Disney California Adventure and Epcot, and it mostly scored so high because of its beauty.

I would rate Disneyland Paris as the most beautiful Disney theme park I’ve experienced, and while the overall resort is not as nice as the US resorts or Tokyo Disney Resort, it is a great experience. The other upside is that Paris itself is only a 30 minute train ride from Disneyland Paris, and is a place every human should experience. The city of Paris also serves as justification for those who balk at a trip to Disneyland Resort Paris for the second reason: cost.

A trip to Europe is certainly expensive, but it’s a potentially once-in-a-lifetime trip that leaves an indelible mark on a person, and a trip that’s worth saving to experience. Even Disney realizes that Paris is a selling point–whereas Walt Disney World does not encourage people to visit other places in Orlando, this year’s official Disneyland Paris trip planning video implores people that “you can’t visit Disneyland Paris without visiting Paris!

If this has you tempted to travel to Europe to see Disneyland Paris and other lasting cultural experiences, or if you were already planning a visit and want more info and tips, let’s start planning!  (more…)

Tips for Buying Discount Disney World Tickets

Money-saving Tips for Buying Discount Walt Disney World Tickets (from authorized sellers!)

Walt Disney World offers a wide array of tickets. These tickets are expensive, but luckily, if you shop right, you can find good discounts on Disney tickets to save money. When it comes to a Disney vacation, the tickets are likely going to be your second-most expensive expenditure after your hotel room and perhaps airfare. For some people, they might actually be the most costly portion of the trip! Disney raises its ticket prices about once or twice per year with the last increase occurring in February 2014, so it’s best to buy your tickets as early as possible, before your trip. Given that there was an increase last year around this time, we would not be surprised to see another price increase in February 2015.

Given their cost, and the myriad of different ticket options, it’s important to know as much as you can about the different types of tickets, and what your family will probably need. Purchasing Walt Disney World tickets can be overwhelming, as there are many different choices and add-ons. If you’re willing to do a little homework, all of the options are a good thing, as you can buy exactly what you need and not waste money on unnecessary extras.

In this article we sort through the different options and give you recommendations on what types of tickets are best for you, plus where you can save money on Walt Disney World tickets. (If you’ve come looking for info on discount Disneyland tickets, you’ve come to the wrong place–but we do have an article on that, too.)

If all you’re looking for is where to safely buy cheap, legitimate Walt Disney World tickets from an authorized reseller and don’t need to read this entire article, click here.

Ready to get started? Here are our tips and tricks for saving money on 2015 Walt Disney World tickets! (more…)