Following our wedding this past January, my husband and I hopped a plane from the cold Pacific Northwest to sunny, warm Florida, where we embarked on the most magical of honeymoons at Walt Disney World.
I've been traveling to Disney since I was a wee tot, and have learned a lot of tricks over the years. But I relish the opportunity to learn new lessons from each new trip to either Disneyland or Walt Disney World -- and our honeymoon was no exception.
For those of you planning (or dreaming of) a Disney honeymoon, here are a few tips to having a successful and magical experience:
The first stop on your Disney honeymoon should be to a gift shop, where you can purchase bride and groom ears. Your groom will probably complain (mine did). Make him wear the ears anyway (I didn't). The ears are not only fun to wear, but they let everyone know you're there celebrating your marriage. You'll get comments and congratulations from cast members and characters, and often from other guests, too.
To that end, seek out the Disney cast members handing out free buttons. The "Just Married" buttons have sadly been discontinued at Walt Disney World (they are still available at Disneyland), but the park offers a cute "Happily Ever After" button for newlyweds. That said, there are still some places in Walt Disney World where the discontinued "Just Married" buttons can be found - while the supply lasts, at least. We asked at the Garden Grill Restaurant in Epcot and were successful. A friend recently found them at the Coral Reef Restaurant, also in Epcot.
Whether you find the coveted "Just Married" buttons, or only snag the "Happily Ever After" version, wear them daily with pride. If you want to go a little extra, you can also find "Mr." and "Mrs." pins among the many offerings from the Disney Pin Trading pins that are for sale throughout the parks. (You can also stock up on other adorable, Disney bride & groom souvenirs, too!)
It's your honeymoon. You want to relax and enjoy your stay, and you definitely want to take advantage of all the perks offered to guests of Disney owned and operated resorts. That said, perhaps your budget doesn't allow for $400 per night at one of the top Disney World resorts.
That's okay - you still have options. We used the DVC Rental Store to purchase Disney Vacation Club points from an owner, and booked a room at Disney's Boardwalk Resort for almost half the price of a normal room! The staff at the DVC Rental Store was incredibly helpful - and though they are not Disney employees, they offered the same level of service I have come to expect from Disney, making the experience of working with them a true joy.
Just note that because you're staying in a time share property, staying in a Disney Vacation Club room does not include daily housekeeping service. But we thought the sacrifice was well worth the savings in the cost of the room -- after all, we couldn't afford to stay at the Boardwalk otherwise!
You can also choose one of the less-expensive Disney resorts - some of the value resorts have room rates around $125 a night, depending on when you visit.
No matter what your budget allows, staying at an on-property, Disney owned and operated resort is well worth the expense. In my opinion, it is the only way to go when visiting Walt Disney World.
Off Property Wind Down
To extend the relaxation of our honeymoon, and save us a few dollars, we spent the last two nights of our honeymoon off property, at a less expensive hotel. This allowed us to sleep in the day after our last night in the parks (when we wanted to max out our final hours on Disney property), do a bit of laundry, repack at a luxuriously slow pace, and just unwind before heading back to the real world. We even spent a few hours meandering through Downtown Disney, and picking up a few last-minute souvenirs, before relaxing again at our hotel pool.
You know how people always say they need a vacation after their vacation? This extra day, spent at a less expensive but still lovely hotel, allowed us to transition from vacation mode to real-world mode much more smoothly. It took away that need for a post-vacatation vacation we so often feel after a trip.
Disney Photo Pass/Memory Maker
Previously called PhotoPass Plus, the new Memory Maker service from Disney was the perfect add-on to our honeymoon. Purchased ahead of time for about $50 less than if we'd paid in the parks, Memory Maker allowed us to take home digital downloads of every photo taken by Disney photographers in the parks (including those at character meet-and-greets) -- as well as every ride photo from the parks. So that debate over whether you want to spend $15-20 on each ride photo is now a moot point. With Memory Maker, you get them all.
Plus, being on our honeymoon, we wanted lots of photos of the two of us together throughout the parks. Knowing we were on our honeymoon, the Disney photographers snapped extra photos, and I think we got a shot of us kissing in front of every park's landmark. We also had a hilarious photo shoot with Gaston in the Magic Kingdom's New Fantasyland, who was disgusted when he saw my wedding ring and tried to steal me away from my husband. (The husband valiantly fought for - and won - my favor, despite Gaston's efforts.)
MyMagic+ and FastPass+
Disney's new MyMagic+ and FastPass+ service is one of the greatest additions to the Disney World experience -- and though the systems were still in testing when we visited, we took full advantage of what they had to offer. Being able to reserve our FastPasses ahead of time made for a much more relaxed time in the parks. And even as our plans changed, using the smartphone app made it easy for us to make last-minute changes to our reservations.
In fact, my only two complaints about the service - being limited to three per day, and not being able to "park hop" with the FastPasses - have since been addressed by Disney, and changes are being made to resolve these issues. Even dealing with those disappointments did not take away from the pleasure we had on our honeymoon, and still created a very relaxed, easy-going pace for our honeymoon.
It's easy to get swept up in the excitement and mania of being at the Walt Disney World Resort. But take time during your honeymoon for a "date night" or two. During our honeymoon, our on property stay covered a weekend. We knew that Saturday would be the busiest day in any of the parks, so we planned accordingly. We spent the morning in Animal Kingdom, using our three FastPass+ reservations to hit our must-ride attractions there. Then we headed back to our hotel and took advantage of the great pool at the Boardwalk Resort. After relaxing all afternoon, we strolled over to Epcot for some Grand Marnier slushes and a romantic dinner at Les Chefs de France, before heading to Magic Kingdom to catch the Main Street Electrical Parade and the fireworks show. No rides, no fighting the crowds. Just my husband and I on a magical, romantic date in the Disney Parks. I will never forget the swell of emotions as we stood on Main Street, his arms around me, as we watched the fireworks finale -- or the kiss we stole, even as a rush of crowds was forced to detour around us while we smooched in the middle of the street.
Dining Reservations & Disney Dining Plan
To that end, be sure to make Disney Dining Reservations well in advance of your trip. If you think you will want to indulge at some of Disney's nicer restaurants, consider purchasing the Disney Dining Plan. This option does not always save you money, but it can -- and in our case, it most certainly did. We knew we wanted to have nice meals during our honeymoon, and by using the Disney Dining Plan, we were able to indulge on expensive entrees we might not have paid for out of pocket.
Which restaurants you hit up within Disney depend on your specific tastes and what sort of experiences you want to have while there. My husband and I wanted some Disney magic and good food. With that in mind, these are the restaurants where we had dinner reservations during our honeymoon: Cinderella's Royal Table, Biergarten, Rose & Crown, Les Chefs de France, Garden Grill, and the Sci Fi Dine-In Theater. That said, there are plenty of other restaurants to suite every taste. We could have easily spent another week or more trying out the other restaurants on property. In my opinion, the table service restaurants in Epcot, particularly the World Showcase, are among the best the entire resort has to offer.
Souvenirs & Scrapbooking
Be thoughtful in your souvenir purchases - and if so suited, look for wedding-themed keepsakes. I have always collected Christmas ornaments from my vacations, and we were able to pick up a bride and groom/Mickey and Minnie ornament, that for a small extra fee, we had personalized with our wedding date. I also snagged the "Mr. & Mrs." Mickey and Minnie picture frame, which we used to hold one of our favorite wedding photos.
My husband and I also sought out other, meaningful keepsakes to take home with us: a pair of crystal-and-pearl Mickey earrings. A lantern from the Morocco pavilion that we plan to use on our back patio. A piece of fine art from the Disney Gallery to hang in our home. (We also splurged on other, less practical souvenirs - like t-shirts, candy, and other assorted trinkets.)
One thing we did strive to do, and were only moderately successful at, was to limit the purchase of gifts for friends and family back home. We'd worked hard to save up for our honeymoon, and the intention was to treat ourselves. That said, we still came home with a few goodies for our nearest and dearest -- resisting the urge to spend on others was MUCH harder than we expected, but we knew it was important to make sure our honeymoon was about us.
Upon returning home, I'd recommend scrapbooking your trip as soon as possible. For one thing, the trip's details are still fresh in your mind. For another, it's a great way to fill your time now that you're home from the honeymoon, done planning a wedding, and facing a harsh return to the real world. (Plus, let's face it - your wedding photos won't be ready for a few more weeks, at least.) I used Shutterfly to create our photo book online, but you can either create a more elaborate, hand-crafted album - or simply slip photos into a pre-made photo book. Whatever suites you, put together your honeymoon photo album soon after returning to extend the magic a little bit longer. (If you are so inclined, Disney even sells scrapbooks and photo albums in their theme park gift shops.)