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The Joys of the Spare Key

I wanted to share a little trick that I learned the hard way…

On our first visit to WDW as a family, we had our 4 year old 21 month old daughters in tow. As you can imagine, the orchestrating the whole stroller, park bag, cooler extravaganza thing can be overwhelming. To make things a little bit easier, I designated the husband as “The Keeper of the Tickets”. Once we entered the parks we all promptly handed our tickets over and he filed them away in his wallet for safe keeping. Let’s face it – if they landed in one of the 42 pockets in my park bag they may never have been seen again!

One great perk we realized from having all of the tickets together is that we were able to optimize our FASTPASS plan. While I was doing potty runs, changing diapers, or standing in line for ice cream, my husband would take off to grab our next set of FASTPASSES. Genius! We were multitasking in a great way!

After lunch, little sister was in dire need of a nap. We thought it would be easiest for me to return to our resort 30 minutes ahead of my husband and big sister. We hoped that nap time would be a little easier with the least amount of commotion in the room as possible. Off I go with a tired toddler…

By now, I know you all have figured out what did not occur to me until I was standing in front on my hotel room door…Thanks to the handy dandy Key to the World card, my park tickets and my room key card were one and the same…and my card was safe and sound in my husband’s wallet in the Magic Kingdom. Oops!

I had to haul myself, the cranky tot and all of our stuff back to the front desk and wait for a nice cast member to become available to walk me back to my room and let me in. That was bad enough, but when the same thing happened a second time (my husband was in line for Soarin’ and I had to get out of the park STAT!) I realized that the Key to the World card had its draw backs! Instead of separating my ticket from my room key, I was able to get a “Spare Key” from the Front Desk. The Spare Key had no tickets or charging privileges attached - it was just a plain old room key. Problem solved!

The spare key also provided one extra benefit! One afternoon when I was getting ready to head back for naptime we realized that we would be able to get another FASTPASS in 30 minutes. There was no way I couldstick around that long with an irritable toddler, so we left along with the spare key. My husband wandered around for another 30 minutes, got our FASTPASSes and rejoined us at the resort. After nap, we headed back in the park and were ready to cash in our FASTPASS!

Now whenever we check in we plan ahead and ask for a “Spare Key” and tuck it into a designated pocket in the park bag…just in case!


Know Before You Go…FASTPASS

In a nut shell…

FASTPASSes are your FRIEND...they are FREE and will save you HOURS of standing in line.

Do I have your attention now?

Disney offers FASTPASSes to all of their theme park guests. FASTPASSes are essentially a “reservation” to enjoy an attraction at a future time. This hot little ticket allows you to enjoy other attractions while you are in a virtual queue for headline attraction. Properly used FASTPASSes can save park goers hours of waiting in line. There are few things you need to know…


There are only a few hard and fast rules when it comes to FASTPASSes:
  • You will not be able to use your FASTPASS for an attraction before the stated time on the ticket.
  • You will not be able to obtain another FASTPASS before the stated time on the ticket.
For planning purposes, there are a few guidelines as to when you are eligible to get a FASTPASS. In general, you can obtain your next FASTPASS 2 hours after you obtain your current FASTPASS or as soon as your current FASTPASS window opens. So, if your get your first FASTPASS of the day at 9:14 am and the return window is 9:45 – 10:45 am, you should plan on getting your next pass at 9:45. If you have a later return window, say,  11:30 – 12:30, you will not be able to obtain another pass until 11:14. There are a few exceptions to the rule, so always check the time on your ticket to be sure!

How to Get a FASTPASS

FASTPASSes are not offered for every attraction. In general, the only attractions with a FASTPASS option are those that routinely have long lines. To obtain a FASTPASS simply go to the attraction, locate the FASTPASS machine, usually off to the side of the entrance and insert your park ticket. I always enjoy the machines themselves.  Most are uniquely themed to the attraction.  If you are eligible for a pass, a ticket will be printed out for you. Take your ticket and tuck it away in a safe spot. Lost FASTPASSes cannot be replaced. Also, don’t forget to retrieve your park ticket!


  •  There are a limited number of passes available each day, so be sure to begin collecting them as early in the day as possible.
  • Due to limited availability, FASTPASSes for super headliner attractions will run out first. These attractions will also have the longest standby lines during the day. Be sure to collect passes for these attractions first.
  • Skip FASTPASSes for shows.
  • Skip FASTPASSES for attractions with wait times of 30 minutes or less unless you have already completed the other FASTPASS rides.
  • A FASTPASS is requires for each ticketed member of a party. The ticketless tots do not need a pass.
  • Note the time on the bottom of the ticket to see when you can obtain your next pass.
  • THE BEST UNADVERTISED FASTPASS TIP – You will be given a return window to ride the attraction. You cannot ride the attraction before the posted time on the ticket. However, you absolutely can ride after the posted time on the ticket. If the return window happens to fall during an afternoon break, a kiddie meltdown, or a meal no worries! Just show your pass when you do get to the attraction and you will be waved through with no problems.
  • Note the return time before you get a ticket! A FASTPASS will do you no good if the window opens after you are planning to leave the park! Plus, it will hinder your ability to obtain your next pass!
  • Be strategic about the water rides. Hold your FASTPASSES for the wet rides for the warmest part of the day, when you are ready to leave the park for a break, or at the end of the night.
  • You do not have to “cash in” your FASTPASSES in the order in which they were obtained.
  • If you are a slower moving group or have young children with you, seen a “runner” to obtain FASTPASSES for the whole group. A single person can take everyone’s ticket, dash across the park, grab passes and rejoin the group much faster. While Mom is in line for Dole Whips – send Dad off for FASTPASSES!
FASTPASS Attractions
For a complete list, visit FASTPASS Attractions .


What is an ADR and why is everyone so crazy about it?

An ADR is Disney–speak for an advanced dining reservation (sponsored by the Department of Redundancy Department). An ADR works a little differently than a traditional reservation. Instead of reserving a table and having it waiting for your arrival, you will be seated at the next available table for your party. Some franchise restaurants have a similar “Call Ahead” seating option. Unlike calling ahead to your local Applebee’s before you leave your house, in some cases your ADR’s must be made first thing in the morning almost 6 months before you plan to enjoy your meal. For those of you thinking that I surely made a typo, I can assure you I did not. Disney starts taking reservations 180 days* ahead of schedule and some restaurants book completely within minutes of the reservations window opening. Yes. I AM serious.

How Do I Make an ADR?

The good news for those making ADR’s is that you can now make your reservations online as well over the phone. Disney has also launched a new online reservation system that is much more user friendly than it's previous version. You can make a specific request for date, time, and restaurant and immediately book it if it is available. If your selection is unavailable, alternate times will be offered if they are available.  Alternate restaurants at the requested time will also be offered. This is a  HUGE improvement over the previous reservation system!

You can also be very broad with your request, which is a handy feature if you are closer to your planned dining date. You can simply input a date and “lunch” and all available restaurants and times will be returned for you to make your final selection. Easy! If you are not near a computer, you can still go the old fashioned route and call (407)WDW-DINE and a real, live will help you.

When Should I Make My ADR’s?

The short answer is that you can start making ADR’s 180 days in advance. The longer answer is that if you are a Disney resort guest you get an additional perk when making your ADR's. Instead of making your reservations 180 days in advance for each reservation (calling every day for several days in a row) you can make all of your reservations at one time, 180 days from your check in date. Disney calls this the 180 day +10 plan. You can make one call and make your reservations for the next 10 days of your trip. This can give you a 190 day window for some reservations - a HUGE advantage if you are trying to book the hard-to-get restaurants!

*Due to a current glitch in the new reservations system, reservations are being taken 190 days head instead of 180 days + 10. It is not clear at this time if this will become a new policy or if the glitch will be fixed. Knowldege is power on this!  This glitch occured between the 180 and 190 day mark for my trip.  I was lucky enough to get what I wanted, but I know of some folks who did not know of the glitch and were shut out by the 180 day window. 

The online reservation system opens at 6 am EST. If you have a “must get” reservation, make sure you are online and ready at that time.

So, Do I Really Have to Decide Where I Want to Eat Six Months From Now?

Absolutely - If you want to eat at a popular restaurant.
Yes - If you are traveling during a busier time – anytime that school is out.
Certainly – If you are traveling during a Free Dining period. More guests will be taking advantage of the Dining Plan and ADR’s will be harder to come by.

What are the hardest to get ADR’s?

The three hardest to get ADR’s are for Le Cellier (Epcot), Coral Reef (Epcot), and Cinderella’s Royal Table (Magic Kingdom). These restaurants regularly book to capacity 180 days ahead.

The next tier of hard to get ADR’s include Chef Mickey’s (The Contemporary), The Garden Grill Restaurant (Epcot), Tusker House (Animal Kingdom), The Crystal Palace (Magic Kingdom), Tappan Edo (Epcot) and 50’s Prime Time Café (Disney’s Hollywood Studios). These restaurants generally are completely booked 80-120 days ahead.

What if my 180 day window has already passed?

Do not despair! While the more popular restaurants may already be booked you will certainly find a place to eat. Also, you can count on the fact that many guests will end up canceling their reservations for one reason or another. The new online ADR system makes checking for cancellations a piece of cake! If you really are looking for a hard to find spot, be persistent! Check online a few times a day for cancelations. Be especially persistent in the 45-55 days prior to when you are hoping to find a reservation. Disney travel packages must be canceled 45 days prior to travel, so you may be able to pick up a reservation from someone who waited until the last minute to cancel their trip. I personally was able to get a coveted breakfast for Cinderella’s Royal Table in Cinderella Castle only 5 weeks ahead! If all else fails you still have one other option to try…the walk in. If you arrive promptly when a restaurant opens or at the end of a service period, you may be able to be seated without an ADR, even in the most popular restaurants. This is a last resort option and is highly unreliable, but it never hurts exhaust all options!

Anything else I need to know?

• Disney suggests you arrive 15 minutes prior to your ADR.
• I suggest that if you are using Disney Transportation to arrive at your ADR time, allow more time that you expect to get there. Leaving your resort or theme park an hour before your ADR would not be too early if you are depending on bus transport!
• Because you do not have a true “reservation” for a specific table you can expect to wait when you arrive at the restaurants. In most cases the wait will be less than 15 minutes, but in peak season, it is not unheard of to wait 30-45 minutes.
• If you make an ADR and your plans change, be sure to cancel! Not only will you make someone else’s day, but you may avoid a “no-show” cancelation fee. Such fees are only charged by a few restaurants that require pre-payment with a credit card.
• For Breakfast ADR’s, a great trick is to make your reservation before the park opens. You can get into the park before the masses and can get some great pictures of an empty park. I treasure my photos of my little princesses in front of Cinderella Castle with no one else in the background! Plus, you are already deep into the park when the park opens and can be first in line for a headliner attraction!
• Most restaurants are super casual – it is a theme park after all! However some of the nicer restaurants located in resorts have a “business casual” dress code. If you are in doubt, be sure to ask!
• You will be given a confirmation code for each reservation you make. Be sure to hang onto it in case any issues arise.


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Know Before You Go...Rider Swap

If you have already read my previous post about Height Requirements you may know that some attractions may not work for the whole family. If you are already pulling the coin out of your pocket to figure out who gets to ride Space Mountain and who is stuck on the side lines then you need to read up on Disney's Rider Swap. Essentially, the Rider Swap option allows a family to ride in shifts while only waiting in line once. This allows Mom to sit out the first ride with the too-small-tot while Dad and any one else in the party rides the ride. As soon as they are finished Dad can sit out while Mom and up 2 other members in the party ride with virtually no wait! Pretty neat, huh? And how cool is it that Disney doesn't make Mom ride all by herself?!? As an added bonus, the older children or others in the party get to ride twice (once with Dad and once with Mom) while only waiting in line one time!

So...How does it work?
It is all quite easy. Approach the attraction together, including the too-small-tot. Usually there will be a cast member working as a greeter at the entrance. Tell the cast member that you would like to take advantage of the Rider Swap option. They will instruct you as to what to do next. Usually, the swap option works one of two ways:
  • On FASTPASS attractions, you will be issued a special "rider exchange" that works very much like a FASTPASS. The "rider exchange" is good for up to 3 people. One parent, and the too-small-tot will then exit the attraction while the remainder of the party proceeds through the queue. When the first riders exit the ride, the waiting adult and 2 other members of the party can enter the FASTPASS queue by showing the "rider exchange" ticket.
  • On non-FASTPASS attractions, you may be instructed to enter the queue together. Once you reach the loading area one parent will ride while the other stays behind. The switch is made once the first parent returns.
The Rider Swap is a great option for families with small children, but it does have a few potential pitfalls! First of all, prepare your child that he may be waiting in line, but not actually riding the attraction. Second, let him know that the group will be splitting up temporarily, but will be together again soon. Finally, be aware that sibling rivalry may be an issue. Little Johnny may be furious that Susie gets to ride twice while he is stuck on the sidelines. If you think it may be an issue have a plan in place...an special snack or even another attraction may fit the bill!

Know Before You Go....Height Requirements

There is nothing that will make little Johnny sadder than to be all set to ride Mission Space only to get into the queue and find out that his is not tall enough to ride. It is always a good idea to measure your child before you go (and subtract a half inch to cover any discrepancies) before you promise any particular attraction. You can I know that Disney has minimum height requirements for safety purposes, but that can be very hard to explain to your budding astronaut.

If no height requirement is listed, you can assume the ride is safe for your tot...even an infant.

You must be at least 32 inches to ride:
Chairlift - Blizzard Beach

You must be at least 35 inches to ride:
Barnstormer at Goofy's Wiseacres Farm- Magic Kingdom

You must be at least 38 inches to ride:
Kali River Rapids - Animal Kingdom
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train - Animal Kingdom

You must be at least 40 inches to ride:
Stitch's Great Escape - Magic Kingdom
Splash Mountain - Magic Kingdom
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad - Magic Kingdom
Soarin' - Epcot
Test Track - Epcot
Wonders of Life / Body Wars - Epcot
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror - Epcot
Star Tours - Epcot
Dinosaur - Epcot

You must be at least 44 inches to ride:
Space Mountain - Magic Kingdom
Mission Space - Epcot
Expedition Everest - Animal Kingdom

You must be at least 48 inches to ride:
Sum of All Thrills - Epcot (54 inches to go upside down)
Primeval Whirl - Animal Kingdom
Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith - Hollywood Studios
Summit Plummet - Blizzard Beach
Downhill Double Dipper - Blizzard Beach
Humunga Kowabunga - Typhoon Lagoon
Mighty Ducks Pinball Slam - DisneyQuest

You must be at least 51 inches to ride:
CyberSpace Mountain - DisneyQuest
Buzz Lightyear's AstroBlaster - DisneyQuest

You must be at least 52 inches to ride:
Tomorrowland Indy Speedway - Magic Kingdom (to ride solo)
Bay Slide - Typhoon Lagoon

You must be at least 54 inches to ride:
Sum of All Thrills - Epcot (54 inches to go upside down; 48 to ride up right)

I absolutely do not advocate trying to sneak a child that is too small onto an attraction. There is no ride cool enough to risk your child's safety. Keep your Cowboy boots and your chunky heel shoes at home, and leave the shoe-stuffing-napkins in the restaurants...it is just not worth the risk. However, if your child is right at the height requirement and you are worried they may be turned away, here are a few things that may help that I think will not compromise safety:
  • Go first thing in the morning. Did you know that you actually "shrink" as you walk around during the day? The average person shrinks about 1% due to compression of the disks in their back. If you are right on the bubble height wise, you may be "in" in the morning and "out" by evening.

  • Wear newer sneakers. We all know that wearing new shoes in the theme parks is never a good idea. But a pair of sneakers that has been gently worn in still has a little extra "spring" in the step. The less compressed insole may just make the difference.
Hopefully, knowing the height requirements before you go will help your trip run a little more smoothly! And if you little guy or gal just doesn't make the cut...there is always next time!


A FREE Souvenir? Is there such a thing?

Yes! Disney will send you a large, beautiful set of park maps free every 6 months. The maps measure approximately 20" x 14" and are printed in color on a nice quality paper. You can order a map for each of the major theme parks. Each map can be customized with your favorite attractions as well as your family's name. You can choose one of two themes for your maps: Classic or Character. The Classic map is printed on a parchment style paper with a gold border accented with Hidden Mickey silhouettes. The Character themed map includes a picture of Dumbo, Nemo, and Woody. Disney will also include a map of the entire Disney property as well as a few tips for park goers.

The maps are too large to be useful in the parks, but are great for planning. Order a set a few months before your trip with all of the attractions listed so that you can map out your touring plans. A few months after your return, order another set and only list the attractions that you visited as a way to document your trip.

If you are a scrapbooker, I expect you are already scrolling to the bottom of this post to find the link to order! As you should! They pages are perfect for a background or a standalone page, but you will have to trim them to fit. The pages are not listed as acid free, so assume they are not.

The maps are also great tools for younger children. They will not only be a nice introduction to the parks, but a nice way to each children about reading maps. The Magic Kingdom map is especially useful for this purpose. Be careful using Epcot maps as a teaching tool...you enter the park from the north, not the south as usually depicted on maps. Try explaining to your 7 year old why Innoventions East is on the left side of the map and Innoventions West is on the right side!

A final note, be aware that these maps are "Disneyfied" and are not perfectly accurate or to scale. In lieu of parking lots and other not-pretty-things, expect to see a forest or nice grass land. If you want true accuracy, or to see how close the Haunted Mansion really is to it's a small world then check out Google Earth.

Now off you go to order a set of maps! Maps of Walt Disney World