Disney Orlando January 1-8 recommendations

Friday, October 6, 2017 4:09 PM

Hello wonderful CBuzz friends,

I'm interested in heading down to Orlando with my SO for the first week of the new year, and haven't been since I was a kid. Obviously, my parents made those accommodations and many things have changed since the early 90s. All of my general research on travel websites doesn't provide much insight on affordable, but comfortable options and wanted to know what some of your favorite places are. My knowledge and experience centers around day-visits to parks, so I'm a little lost when it comes to planning out a multi-day excursions. Please help a long time lurker out!

I tried to do a search for previous forums regarding this topic but had no luck. Feel free to link me if there's already information detailed here. I would consider onsite and offsite options that are near to the park, and want to know if there are any other specific things to be aware of for a Disney trip during that time of year. Many thanks!

Friday, October 6, 2017 4:33 PM

Are you planning to go exclusively to Disney? Because if that's the case, there are generally good deals to be had on the value resorts. If you stay on property, you don't need a car, and transport to and from the airport is free (it's the Magical Express). I know some people don't care for Disney transportation, but I think if you're not going anywhere else, it saves hundreds in car rental fees. Booking on-property also means you can start booking FastPass, I think now (or soon).

If you can afford it, I think staying at Beach/Yacht Club or Boardwalk are so worth it. The convenience of being next to Epcot, especially if you buy a dining plan, is excellent, and Yacht/Beach frankly has one of the best pools at WDW.

The dining plans are honestly too much food, but if you pay attention, you can use the snack credits on beverages or pastries or whatever. They're a good deal if you want to enjoy the good restaurants (which you'll need reservations for post-haste).

The big strategy is just to go with it. I think people plan these trips to death, but if you'll go back "some day," don't feel like you need to try and do everything.

Friday, October 6, 2017 4:51 PM

I just got back from a Disney vacation and this is what I did as far as planning my trip.

First, I looked at crowd calendars, not just one of them, but a handful of them. Judging by the days you are choosing, prepare yourself for busy parks.

Next, if you're staying onsite, look and see if there are bundle packages on WDW's site. Again, judging by the dates you are looking at, you might be too late to stay somewhere affordable onsite. We stayed at Caribbean Beach Resort and got a really good package deal because part of the resort is under renovation. For the inconveniences of not having a great food court to go to, it wasn't a deal breaker for us. However, we had to book our trip about 5 months in advance.

The biggest advantage of booking a trip through Disney and staying onsite is that you can choose 3 Fast Passes 60 days in advance of your trip. If you're looking to do Pandora rides at Animal Kingdom, I highly recommend you set your alarm and log in as early as you can 60 days prior to get those Fast Passes because they will be snatched up in a hurry. That way you don't have to spend 2 or 3 hours in line for Flight of Passage or the River ride.

Speaking of Fast Pass. The system is a little different than you might remember (if you have any experience). I would highly recommend getting the Disney Experience app and link your tickets to your account (if you buy them ahead of time.) That way you can schedule Fast Passes from your phone instead of going to the ride entrance. You can still do that if you want, but I found myself getting my next Fast Pass while waiting in line for the ride I just redeemed my last Fast Pass on.

Don't be discouraged about rides that post absurdly long wait times at the end of the day. We got in line for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at the end of the night that posted an 80 minute wait time. The queue was empty, we were on in less than 5 minutes. It's simply Disney's way of telling you to start walking up towards the front of the park to leave :)

Good luck. I hope I gave you a little bit of insight into this.

Friday, October 6, 2017 4:59 PM

Jeff said:

If you can afford it, I think staying at Beach/Yacht Club or Boardwalk are so worth it. The convenience of being next to Epcot, especially if you buy a dining plan, is excellent, and Yacht/Beach frankly has one of the best pools at WDW.

Yacht Club was $1,624 a night for the days they are staying. If you can afford to stay there... then I want your job!

The dining plans are honestly too much food, but if you pay attention, you can use the snack credits on beverages or pastries or whatever. They're a good deal if you want to enjoy the good restaurants (which you'll need reservations for post-haste).

We did not do the dining plan despite everyone and their brother recommending it. It forces you to plan your day around meals and forces you to keep eating (in what I think is an unhealthy fashion) so that you feel you get your money's worth. We tallied up our meals, snacks, and our resort cups for the week and came out about half the cost of what it would have been had we gotten the dining plan.

But yes, reserve places to eat. We learned that the hard way...

Friday, October 6, 2017 6:48 PM

While staying on property has many benefits, I prefer to rent a car and stay off property. Orlando has a number of great thrift stores, and for me a visit to Orlando isn't complete without a visit to Beefy King.

But that's me.

I hate to disagree with Jeff, but I'm not a fan of buses. I'd rather hop in a car and go from point A to point B than hop on a bus and go from point A to point F making all intermediate stops.

You can book through AirBNB and similar websites for off property condos and houses, often signifigantly cheaper than on property resorts.

On property, my go to are the cabins at Fort Wilderness. They offer a bit of seclusion, housekeeping is in daily to make beds, take care of towels, load and run the dishwasher, and, if necessary, clean the grill.

Last edited by slithernoggin, Friday, October 6, 2017 6:49 PM
Friday, October 6, 2017 7:31 PM

How does the dining plan force you to plan around meals, especially if, as you suggested, you're booking dinner reservations anyway?

Friday, October 6, 2017 11:24 PM

I stayed in a deluxe one time (Contemporary), a moderate twice (Caribbean Beach), and a value on our kid-free trip in August. We went with a preferred room at Pop Century and I'm not sure I would stay anywhere else on future trips. We were in a building right next to the food court/front desk and it was a 5 minute walk from the bus loading area. We never waited more than 15 minutes for a bus and I'm not sure we waited more than 5 except for one afternoon. It felt like the best bang for our buck. The best advantage of Contemporary was the short walk to MK, but other than having a couch, the room was no better than any other I've stayed in. I really like Caribbean for the central location, but the multiple bus stops make it a little less convenient than a resort with a single stop. I've rented a car on one trip and used the buses on the other 3 and I would go with the buses for the money savings unless I planned to leave property.

I have mixed feelings on the dining plan. It was only around for the last 2 of our trips. We didn't use it on the kid-free trip and I would say that paid off. We didn't do any character meals and kept the one sit down meal each day to the more affordable side. We don't do breakfast and we shared a few counter service meals. On the trip with the kid in 2015, we used the dining plan and we came out ahead. We had multiple character meals, used 2 sit down credits for Royal Table, and used one of our counter service credits for lunch at Be Our Guest. The value of the mid level plan (1 table, 1 counter, 2 snacks per night) has gotten better since the counter service dessert was traded for a second snack. One of the tricks to getting value out of plan is using the snacks wisely. Don't waste snack credits on bottled water or sodas. Use them for more expensive options like Dole Whip floats or drinks from Starbucks.

You'll probably be limited on restaurant reservations this late in the game and for a week that will be pretty busy, but keep looking for opening, especially after you're on property. There will be cancellations. We managed to get a late dinner and a lunch at Be Our Guest just by checking the app for open reservations while we were in the parks.

I would agree on not killing yourself by overplanning. My only recommendation would be to book your 3 Fast Passes as early in the day as possible so you can try to book additional ones after you've used them. Watch the app for slower wait times and utilize those to avoid wasting FPs. Be flexible and go with the flow. Outside of Epcot World Showcase (and to a slight degree AK, hard for me to tell since it's my least favorite park and I've never spent more than a half day there), the parks are still small and connected enough that you can criss cross with relative ease.

Friday, October 6, 2017 11:33 PM

AK is a full-day park now, easily. If you do the two stage shows, Kilimanjaro Safari and Rivers of Light, those alone will take probably four hours of your time with queuing and travel. Then add the roller coasters, eating, the walk-throughs in Asia and Africa, Dinosaur, Tough To Be A Bug, the Avatar rides and staring at glow-in-the-dark stuff at night, taking in streetmosphere (the sitar player and band in Harambe are amazeballs)... it's a busy day.

Friday, October 6, 2017 11:54 PM

Jeff said:
How does the dining plan force you to plan around meals, especially if, as you suggested, you're booking dinner reservations anyway?

For us, we were finding ourselves to be done with the parks around 3. With the exception of Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. Had we got the dining plan we would have had to stay for dinner instead of making our own plans offsite like we did on our trip. We made reservations for lunch at 2 because at our pace that felt like the right time to eat.

That's just my experience. It's different for others. I weighed the options and felt that it didn't make sense for us to do the dining plan. And in the end we were better off.

Saturday, October 7, 2017 9:23 AM

For me, Orlando has too many great restaurants -- Le Coq Au Vin, for one, several great Indian restaurants, and please forgive me, Beefy King for another -- for me to want to tie myself down to the restaurant options at WDW. For me, the dining plan shifts "I'm hungry, are you, let's eat" to "We have to use our dining credits for today, what's available".

Saturday, October 7, 2017 9:27 AM

Hi guys,

I just got annual passes for my family for the first time in August and we've gone twice already with a third trip coming up. What I've found for my family is that the dining plan would not have been worth it especially factoring in the cost of accommodations on property. We stay off-property at either the Hyatt Lake Buena Vista or else the Doubletree near Disney Springs and we only pay about $100 a night and both hotels are Disney partners with free breakfasts. I also have been getting snacks for us throughout the day and then grabbing dinner once we're out of the park. It helps to save some money which is important for us since I have 5 children. If you are concerned about transportation and don't want to rent a car or be stuck waiting for a bus, may I suggest using the Minnie Lyft service that they just introduced, it seems like a great compromise between the two other choices.

Saturday, October 7, 2017 9:32 AM

You don't have to use a dinner credit in the parks... you can use them at the hotels or Disney Springs as well.

Orlando does have a lot of great restaurants, but if you're on vacation, do you really want to be driving all over town for that? (And undoubtedly making the rookie mistake of driving on I-4?) Even the great local chains like 4Rivers and Tijuana Flats are a haul. The stuff around Sand Lake is convenient at least if you're at Universal. Winter Park and Lake Mary areas aren't convenient, and downtown has the usual parking challenges associated with any downtown. I'm not saying any of it is impossible, it just wouldn't be my thing on a theme park vacation.

Saturday, October 7, 2017 12:11 PM

The dining plan doesn't include Beefy King, and it's not a vacation without a pile of sliced beef on a bun with a side order of tater tots :-)

Also vacations are my opportunity to drive -- I don't own a car -- so getting to drive anywhere is a pleasure.

Saturday, October 7, 2017 12:25 PM

If you like piles of meat, then you should definitely get to 4Rivers. I see there is a location in Kissimmee, but you don't wanna be in Kissimmee if you can avoid it. Go to the Winter Garden location instead. 14 minutes or so from the Reams Rd. end of the property.

Saturday, October 7, 2017 4:02 PM

Thanks for the heads up. I'm salivating at the very idea of the Messy Pig sandwich. I'll let my Windemere hosts know that's on the agenda for my next visit.

Saturday, October 7, 2017 4:16 PM

I'm not a fan of the dining plan and I can't think of many scenarios where it ends up saving you time, energy and money.

For me, I'm a fairly light eater and have the most random eating habits in terms of when I get hungry throughout the day. The dining plan offers a ton of food and for the sit down joints you still have to tip; so the feeling of just signing your name and walking out without even taking your wallet out of your pocket is lost a bit.

But if you are a big eater and you can plan your main meals in advance and like having the opportunity of ordering the most expensive entree on the menu with no stress, it might be something worth taking a look at.

I've just never been able to justify the break/even cost of the plan based on my eating habits.

Saturday, October 7, 2017 8:28 PM

We haven't done the dining plan in a while, but have not had an issue getting our money's worth when we did. We had kids on those trips and chose character meals over standing in countless lines to get autographs. The hours saved and fastpasses not used is just as valuable as the rest obtained from sitting for a meal.

We just got home Tuesday night from our third trip this year. We use two different strategies for FastPass+. The first one is to book 2 months in advance, but plan based on when you expect your people to be up. With my wife, we often don't make it to the parks before 10-10:30. The other is to completely wing it, which we did Monday and Tuesday. We decided on Sunday to switch our schedule for the last 2 days. So Tuesday morning, we showed up at the Magic Kingdom with no fastpasses booked, and then just started booking them one at a time. If you book 3 in advance, the time can't overlap.

Its amazing how some rides can have a 30 minute or longer wait, when fastpasses are available that are good 2 minutes after reserving them. You can book your next fastpass as soon as the system recognizes you've scanned into the line for that ride. The E-ticket attractions aren't going to be available like that, but lots of other rides can be had in a fairly short time frame working the system.

Sunday, October 8, 2017 11:18 PM

Do you get 3 fast passes a day; or for the whole trip? Can the gp get fast passes, or do you have to stay on property? I was thinking about revisiting Disney next year (haven't been in 20+ years since captain eo with Michael Jackson)

Monday, October 9, 2017 6:27 AM

Per the WDW website: If you link your Disney admissions to your Disney account online, you can make three Fastpass reservations each day of your visit, up to 30 days in advance. Once you've used all three Fastpasses, you can get additional Fastpasses. If you're staying at a Disney hotel, you can make reservations up to 60 days in advance. Reservations can be managed or changed using the Disney Parks app, which does me no good as I'm too cheap to pay for data on my phone :-) or at in park kiosks.

And Fastpasses can, I believe, still be obtained the old fashioned way by walking up to the attractions Fastpass kiosks.

Monday, October 9, 2017 6:31 AM

No, the Fastpass machines and paper Fastpass tickets are long gone here in Orlando. It is strictly the Fastpass + booking system.

The good news is that you can get free WiFi in the parks.

On another note, I guess I shouldn't take for granted the fact that I can get to Beefy King any day I want during my lunch break.

Last edited by BrettV, Monday, October 9, 2017 6:31 AM

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