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December 21, 2018

Disney like a Pro | Local Mom Shares Her Top Tips

By Rebecca Gonzalez

Doing Disney Like a Local Pro 

Being born and raised in Florida, I took many trips to Walt Disney World growing up. I have such wonderful memories with my family, and every visit was magical in its own way. Six years ago, my husband proposed to me at the Italy Pavilion in Epcot, only adding to my love for Disney. Now when I visit with him and our two daughters, Disney magic has a whole new meaning. As a local, chances are you will be traveling to Walt Disney World quite often like we do. Frequent visits give you and your family the opportunity to explore and experience things that many of the guests tend to look over or not have time for. 

Disney like a pro
The writer Rebecca Gonzalez with her husband Ralf and their two daughters.

Walls of Disney and Easter Eggs 

Some of the best backdrops for photos are the various Walls of Disney located throughout the property. The wall that started it all was The Purple Wall located by the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor. Disney fans have been taking photos in front of this wall for a while and posting it on social media with the hashtag #purplewall. There is also a #bubblegumwall by Spaceship Earth and a #popsiclewall at the exit of Toy Story Mania! just to name a few. So grab your phone and your family and plan a wall tour! 

Disney Easter Eggs are secrets and details that are placed throughout the parks. As a regular, it can be fun and exciting to go on a hunt for these hidden gems. In Toy Story Land at Hollywood Studios, you will notice Andy’s footprints on the floor. You are meant to feel like you’re a toy in his backyard, so his footprints are huge! On Slinky Dog Dash, you’ll see a price tag for Rex at Al’s Toy Barn. The price is $19.95, a nod to the year that Toy Story was first released in theatres.  

Next time you’re walking down Mainstreet U.S.A., notice the American flags on the top of the buildings. Did you know that they are fake and considered pennants? Some are missing a star and some a stripe! If the flags were real, Disney would have to follow federal regulations for displaying the flag like having it flown at half-staff for special occasions. An official American flag is located at Liberty Square and it is lowered every day during a ceremony. There are also no restrooms in that area since there weren’t any during the Colonial Times that Liberty Square was modeled after. How many Easter Eggs do you think you’ll be able to find with your family? 

Pixie Dust Magic 

We can never seem to leave Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios without a Mickey Mouse balloon! My toddler absolutely loves them and they make great stroller markers. Not to mention they actually last quite a while. On our last visit to Magic Kingdom we found out that if you take back a deflated balloon, the Cast Members will replace it for free! This is only for the regular Mickey balloons and not the special occasion ones such as those for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. 

Do your kids like to have their face painted? My daughters haven’t asked yet, but once that time comes, I know that between running around and eating a Mickey Ice Cream Bar, the paint is bound to smudge. Cast Members will touch it up at no charge, so those elaborate face paintings in Pandora can stay perfect all day long—talk about Disney magic! 

Florida Resident Disney Perks and My Disney Experience 

As a local, you probably already have the My Disney Experience application downloaded on your phone. We use it to book our dining reservations, reserve Fast Passes, and download photos from the Photo Pass service. You can make dining reservations up to 180 days in advance and for those last-minute trips, you’ll be surprised what can open up! Many guests will cancel reservations at the latest time possible to avoid fees. Fast Passes can be booked as early as 60 days if you’re staying on Disney property (30 days if you’re not). Checking the app often will almost always ensure you grab a reservation that was previously taken. There have been times when we’ve gone on a spur-of-the-moment trip just because a Fast Pass slot opened that we had been waiting for. With such a short drive time, why not?! 

We are Gold Passholders and feel it is the best deal for our family. We visit often enough that it pays itself off quickly and the free Photo Pass downloads are a huge plus for us. Disney is always running some kind of special for Florida Residents, so even if you’re not a Passholder, there are still great deals on tickets. Right now (as of December 2018), for example, Florida residents can save 30 percent on a 3-day ticket or 40 percent on a 4-day ticket with the Park Hopper option included. Make sure to look at the details because blackout dates and expiration dates often apply. 

UPDATED: A 3-Day Discover Disney tickets now start at $175 plus tax for Florida residents! Learn more here! You must purchase by June 27, 2019 and use by June 30, 2019. No blockout dates apply.

There are so many more things to do and look for as a frequent visitor to Walt Disney World. Go on a hunt for Easter Eggs, take a tour of the Disney Walls, scope out Hidden Mickeys, or eat your way through the best snacks. Take time to do some research and I promise every visit will have something new and exciting to see or do with your family. You’ll have a long list of memories at the most magical place on earth!

Going to Disney for the first time with a little one?

  • Kids 2 and younger get in for free.
  • Bring their favorite snacks and drinks.
  • If your child is an early riser, go to the theme park early when it first opens.
  • Don’t set high expectations. Select a few rides and character experiences and don’t try to be a warrior. Enjoy the moment—your child will probably enjoy the little things most like the monorail ride to the park and sitting in front of the castle eating an ice-cream bar. Kids have a way of making us live in the present. Embrace it!

Our favorite character dining experiences:

1900 Park Fare at Disney’s Grand Floridian Hotel-Characters from Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Poo and Mary Poppins pop in for a meet and greet during the breakfast buffet. There’s a tea party in the afternoon you can book, too!
Chef Mickey’s at Disney’s Contemporary Resort-This dining experience is an all time favorite for most guests who’ve been. Your Disney originals like Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto and Goofy all come by your table for a one on one meet and greet!
Mickey’s Backyard BBQ at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort-This is our favorite dining experience because you get so much interaction with the characters as they perform and dance with your little ones! The BBQ buffet is pretty good too! You’ll find Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and Chip and Dale at this experience!
Cinderella’s Royal Table inside Cinderella’s Castle at Magic Kingdom-This is pretty much the most magical experience for your little princess! You’ll feel like royalty as you dine and mingle with your favorite Disney princesses!

December tampa bay parenting magazine

Originally published in the December 2018 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.

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