Celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, honeymoons, and graduations, among other things, at Walt Disney World is extremely popular, and for good reason. Not only is Walt Disney World a great place to visit on any ole ordinary day, but it’s a great place for a celebration! (Note that while these tips are specific to Walt Disney World, many of the general ones also apply to Disneyland and other Disney Parks around the world.)
If you’re celebrating during your Walt Disney World vacation, there are a lot of special activities and add-ons that can make the trip even more special, but the overall “regular” atmosphere itself is pretty conducive to celebrations. You don’t have to spend a ton (or any) extra money to have great trip celebrating a special event…unless you want to do so.
Disney prides itself on its parks and resorts being great places to visit to celebrate (although to be fair, I think they want everyone to visit, no matter what the reason…they’d likely market the parks as being great places for zombie enthusiasts if it were profitable enough demographic), so much so that Walt Disney World’s year-long marketing campaign was actually once called “What Will You Celebrate?”
Celebratory fun at Walt Disney World can come both from pre-planned activities and via the spontaneous acts of Disney Cast Members. Obviously spontaneity cannot be planned, but here are some of our recommendations for celebrating your special event at Walt Disney World…
If you’re a planner and want your celebration to be as special as possible, there are a few things you can do. First, when making any reservations with Disney, note that you’re celebrating an event. This is easiest done with Cast Members on the phone, although if you make online reservations, you can tell the Cast Members when you arrive that you’re celebrating.
When we celebrated our honeymoon, we thought it wiser to do it over the phone. Not that the Cast Members will do any advance planning for your visit (they probably see dozens of guests who are celebrating something each day), but to us, it made it seem like less of an after thought. The only place where it definitely made a difference in our experience was Victoria & Albert’s, which had printed menus that congratulated us (it was a nice touch).
Other things that should be planned in advance are add-ons like cakes, gifts, flowers, or other surprises. Cakes can be ordered by calling the cake hotline at 407-827-CAKE (407-827-2253), and everything else is possible via Disney Floral & Gifts. We’ve never used either (and I doubt we ever will unless we do a vow renewal at Walt Disney World). Disney cakes are expensive and while they look cool…they’re still just cake. We’d rather allocate that money towards a unique Walt Disney World experience (plus, we generally love the unique desserts at Disney restaurants).
As for Disney Floral & Gifts, they can do a lot of great things and help make an experience even more special, but they are similarly expensive, and we would rather put the effort into making special experiences ourselves that aren’t part of a “package” done by numerous guests on a daily basis. I doubt our Walt Disney World engagement story would be nearly as special if I just called up Disney Floral & Gifts and booked the pricey “Princess Dream Come True” package. But if you don’t want to plan, or want to enhance something you’re already planning, these services could be helpful–just make sure to book them in advance!
The only other advance planning to speak of is booking any add-on experiences described below in advance. If you’re booking a honeymoon or other adults-only celebration, you might consult our Walt Disney World Honeymoon Tips and our Walt Disney World for Adults pages for additional planning suggestions for the trip.
What to Do?
The degree to which you celebrate the occasion is entirely up to you. Walt Disney World trips are usually a celebration unto themselves, so if you only want to do a little to acknowledge the celebration, that’s pretty easy. If you want the trip to revolve around the celebration, that’s possible, too!
Celebration Button — I am firmly convinced that City Hall at Walt Disney World has a button in stock for every conceivable celebration. Celebrating a birthday? There’s a button for that. Honeymoon? Check! Anniversary? No problem. International Talk Like a Pirate Day? Okay…perhaps if you’re celebrating that one, you’ll just have to go for the generic “I’m Celebrating” button. But still, the selection is pretty solid. Grabbing one of these buttons is the single most important thing you can do to ramp up your celebration.
Besides City Hall, you can obtain in a multitude of places on property: hotel front desks, restaurants, guest relations, etc. If you are celebrating one person’s special event, besides just getting the birthday button for that person, make sure the rest of your party gets the generic “I’m Celebrating” buttons. It is worth noting that if you are shy, getting these buttons may not be the best of ideas. Cast Members (and even other guests) typically pay extra attention to guests wearing these buttons. It can be as simple as a passing “Happy Birthday,” or as involved as a conversation and a complimentary food item.
Conversely, you shouldn’t wear the button with the expectation that you will receive extra attention or freebies. If you do, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. On our honeymoon, we wore the buttons and received free dessert (or champagne) just about everywhere we ate. I’ve heard from more recent honeymooners who didn’t receive a single thing. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were abuses of Cast Member generosity, and Disney tightened up on the freebies. (Which makes for a good reminder: don’t abuse the system with these buttons.)
Decorate – If you stay on site, chances are that you’ve seen decorated room windows at one of the Disney hotels. While we’ve only ever decorated with Christmas lights and a Figment plush ourselves, we’ve seen all sorts of stuff in windows. (The best thing we’ve seen was a full sized Christmas tree in a Bay Lake Tower window!). Christmas decorations seem most common, but you can decorate for any reason.
Surprises! – Try to spice things up with some surprises unique to the person for whom you’re celebrating. If you just got engaged, a bottle of champagne in the room is great. Same goes for a honeymoon…you can use your imagination for some other in-room honeymoon options…this is a family friendly blog. For a kid celebrating a birthday, consider an in-park scavenger hunt leading them to a present “from” their favorite character.
For example, if they’re a Figment fan (by the way, kudos on raising an intelligent child), buy some awesome Figment toy on eBay and have the clues lead them to the leapfrog fountains where they can “find” the toy. Just remember that 30,000 other people are enjoying the parks along with you, so don’t trash the place with clues (or presents!) throughout the park and expect them to stay put. Also remember that doing this might create unreasonable expectations for future trips and your other kids might wonder why characters aren’t giving them gifts!
Itinerary — If we ever visit Walt Disney World for my birthday, you better believe our day will consist of TTA, Carousel of Progress, TTA, Country Bear Jamboree, Tiki Room, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, and…repeat. Now, if my birthday demand was instead to ride Expedition Everest, Mission Space, and Rock ‘N’ Rollercoaster in the same day, I don’t think Sarah would be as accommodating with my birthday itinerary. (Although she should be required by law to honor my birthday wishes!)
This is an easy and cost-free way to make things extra special for the person celebrating the special occasion. Even adults will like this, as I’m sure most of us have at least one favorite attraction that the rest of our parties dislikes. In my case, the majority of my favorite attractions are disliked by others!
Snack or Drink Around the World in Epcot — We first drank around the World Showcase for Sarah’s 21st birthday, then again during our honeymoon. It’s a great way to celebrate a special occasion (lots of people do it with custom-made t-shirts). Both times we did it were incredibly fun, albeit pricey. Realizing we’re no longer in college or at the height of our drinking prowess, we’ve since snacked around the world a couple of times.
Evening of Signature Dining — With this, I don’t mean doing as many Signature Restaurants as possible in an evening (this isn’t “Signature Dining Around the World”), but instead having a slow-paced “date night” evening in honor of the celebration. Basically, this means booking a Signature Restaurant that will allow for a nightcap. Restaurants on the monorail loop are great for this (our favorites being California Grill and Victoria & Albert’s (the latter of which is the absolute best option for a romantic meal at Walt Disney World)) thanks to the Electric Water Pageant and Wishes!
You can either make your Advance Dining Reservation early enough so that you’re done with dinner by the time the evening entertainment begins, or time your meal so that dessert coincides with the fireworks (arrive early to the restaurant and request a window seat). Same goes for dinner at an Epcot-area restaurant (our favorites being Flying Fish Cafe and Yachtsman Steakhouse) followed by Illuminations. Conclude the evening in a lounge.
I’m of the opinion that this is best as an intimate experience for a couples’ celebration (not because I think kids don’t belong in Signature Restaurants, but because I think a big part of the experience is lost when you remove the intimacy), so if you have the extended family or kids in tow, think about ditching them…or I suppose you could go to a location that is more conducive to family gatherings, like ‘Ohana or Beaches & Cream (get the Kitchen Sink!).
If you really want to get ambitious with this, you could make it like a progressive meal. If the person you’re celebrating has a favorite appetizer at one restaurant, a favorite entree at another, and a favorite dessert at another, book three separate reservations spaced far enough apart to allow for transit between the two (and delays/waits at the earlier restaurants). Or, if you’re sane, you could do breakfast, lunch, and dinner that day at the person’s three favorite restaurants instead of a single progressive dinner. But
Private Event, Fireworks Festivities, or Tour — Depending upon what you want to do, this can be relatively inexpensive, or very expensive. On the inexpensive end of the spectrum is the Wishes Dessert Party at the Tomorrowland Terrace in the Magic Kingdom. Now, I’m not absolutely enamored with the view from over here, but these dessert parties offer a nice way to escape the crowds and provide all you can eat desserts! On the other end of the spectrum, the sky is the limit on private events, such as the Tower of Terror private party.
Somewhere in between these two options, price-wise, is the Illuminations Cruise. If fireworks aren’t your thing, try the Wild Africa Trek, the Keys to the Kingdom tour, or Behind the Seeds at Epcot. Note that kids are not allowed
Fun for the Kids — Since kids aren’t allowed on many tours, if the celebration is for a child, you’ll need an alternative. (Well, unless they’ve been really bad and you want to reward yourselves for surviving another year with the kid!) The Pirate Cruise at the Grand Floridian and the Wonderland Tea Party are out of the ordinary options that are geared towards kids. Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and Pirates League are two more common options, and are great not just for the experiences, but for the photos you can get of your kids all dressed up on their birthday.If your child really enjoys having their hair cut for some reason, try a pixie dust sprinkled hair cut on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom.
Shopping Spree! – If money is no issue, give the person celebrating your credit card and an hour in World of Disney or Art of Disney. On a side note, if you’re considering doing this…do you need a personal photographer for your next trip? 😉
These are just some of the basics for celebrating at Walt Disney World, and the unique ways you can celebrate are truly endless.