My girls love their Disney princesses. My youngest could sing the phrase "Let it gooooooo!" at seven months old, complete with arm gestures. My oldest can give you a synopsis of every princess movie (and fairy movie) Disney has made.
Needless to say, our Disney trip is going to revolve around character meet-and-greets. Don't worry; we can go back when they are older and ride the rides.
How do you plan a Disney World vacation?
For every one blogger out there, two ideas on this subject exist.
Between our travel agent, the people at the Disney Store (who are FULL of information!), friends, and blogs, here is the approach I've taken to try and maximize our character experience while still leaving time for rides and shows.
1) Pick a date. Avoid peak times if you can, because your kid isn't the only kid who is jazzed to spend three minutes with Rapunzel. WDW makes projections about the upcoming year in the late summer and lays it out in a detailed chart. Planning before the projections are out? Just check out previous years and try to avoid holidays, marathons, and any weather you aren't fond of, like Florida summer.
2) Choose a ticket option. Really, just know if you are signing up for Park Hopper or not. The park hopper option gives you the ability to come and go from any park you would like in one day. We are not doing this option. Without Park Hopper, you can come and go from the chosen park for the day. The reason you need to have an idea about this now is that if you have a reservation at a restaurant in a park, you need to use your ticket for that park on that day. So if you start the day at Akershus Princess Story Breakfast and you do not have Park Hopper, your park for that day will be Epcot.
3) Decide which character meals you will attend. If your child has a favorite or two you don't want to miss, check out AllEars.net's handy chart on where to get your best shot at dining with that character. Disney does not guarantee any character at any meal, but if they are listed as a regular, odds are pretty high that they will show up.
4) Be ready to make those meal reservations at 6am EST 180 days out* for the most popular restaurants, especially if you are going during a busy time, do not have Park Hopper, or have a very specific time in mind. For my daughter's 5th birthday, we wanted to start the day at Cinderella's Royal Banquet and end at Be Our Guest. Given the specific date and that these are two of the three most popular reservations at Disney World, I was up at 5am with my coffee and notepad of reservation wishes, listed by popularity. Remember, if you don't have Park Hopper, you can not make a reservation at two parks on one day.
* If you are staying at a Disney World Resort, your 180 day count is from the day you check in. If you are staying anywhere else, your 180 days is from the day of the reservation. If there is a reservation you really want and you are staying on-site, you have a better chance of getting your time and date towards the end of your trip, since the least amount of people will have been able to request that reservation. You will also have the ability of having one giant, coffee-fueled reservation party at 6am about six months before your trip, making all your ADRs at once. If you are off-site, you'll need to make the reservations as the days pop up, or wait until 180 days from your last date and then make all the reservations at once. I don't recommend that last one.
5) Now that you know your meals and parks for the day, you can get an idea of where you will be on what day. Start to look into any meet-and-greets you want to sign up for ahead of time. Check out where you might find characters in any given park, remembering random run-ins are not guarantees.
6) FastPass + your character meet-and-greets. If you are a DWR guest, you can make your FastPass+ reservations 60 days from check-in. Everyone else has 30 days from the date of the reservation. Know the popular attractions (at this time, Elsa & Anna are the hot ticket) and be ready to make them as soon as you can. Once you use your three FP for the day, you can make a fourth at a kiosk or using the app, so making your first three for earlier in the day could help you later in the day.
7) Figure out the rest of your trip. Because you still need to sleep and eat.
8) The theme parks each have daily schedules you can get right at the gate. They give an idea of who will be seen where in the park that day.
That's my strategy. I know we won't see all the characters (nobody does, do they?) but the ones that matter most are in the bag. That is, barring any weather, toddler, or other life issues. I have done what I can. I'll let you know how that goes.