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!


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…)

Star Wars Weekends 2015 Tips & Tricks

Star Wars Weekends 2015 are held May 15-17, May 22-24, May 29-31, June 5-7, and June 12-14, 2015 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World. This post covers when to visit, our tips for visiting, and more. Star Wars Weekends are geared towards all things Star Wars (from Episode 7: The Force Awakens, to Star Wars Rebels to merchandise like “Her Universe” to the animated TV show, Star Wars: The Clone Wars). Celebrities who have played a part in the Star Wars expanded universe are in attendance, there’s a special parade, shows, and every day ends with fireworks. It’s a lot of fun whether you’re a hardcore Star Wars fan or just a fan of fun (we fall into the latter camp).

If you’ve been to Walt Disney World countless times (and it’s probably not a bad assumption that you have if you’re reading this blog), you might be looking for ways to see the place a-new. One way to to find new experiences is to visit during a seasonal festival or weekend event. One such weekend event is Star Wars Weekends, held in May and June at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

This post has been updated for 2015 to reflect changes to Star Wars Weekends, including the return of the character meals, potential tie-ins with Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, as well as new strategy and tips. It also reviews the extensive changes that occurred last year. We attended Star Wars Weekends last year on the weekend of May 23, 2014, and did everything that was new for last year.

With those housekeeping notes out of the way, let’s take a look at what Star Wars Weekends have to offer, whether they might be for you, and how to make the most of your time at the event. We’ll start with why you should visit, and then cover the best weekend for Star Wars Weekend, and move on to other strategy from there…