Andrea Updyke grew up Disney. The Clearwater, Fla., native had lots of opportunities to visit Disney World as a child. And it didn't stop then. Now, the Raleigh mom of two has been to the parks for work and with her own young family.
In fact, she knows the parks so well that she's part of the Disney Parks Moms Panel, which fields all kinds of questions about visiting Disney. She also regularly writes on her blog, Just is a Four Letter Word.
"I feel incredibly lucky to be 'raising Disney Kids' because my childhood memories mean so much to me and I love that my boys are making their own," she tells me.
Updyke, her husband kids are gearing up for a big trip soon - their first Disney cruise later this month!
For Disney Week here on Go Ask Mom, I checked in with Updyke by email to learn more about her love of all things Disney and glean and few tips and tricks from her. Here's our Q&A:
Go Ask Mom: You're part of the Disney Parks Moms Panel. How did you get involved and what do you get to do as part of it?
Andrea Updyke: Yes! I was invited to answer questions on the Disney Parks Moms Panel in 2015 and I will be returning later this year. I applied to the panel during an open invitation period in fall 2014 and went through a pretty intense application process submitting essays, video and eventually a phone call. Throughout the year, I answered hundreds of guest's planning questions on disneyparksmomspanel.disney.go.com from choosing the right hotel to where to take breaks in the parks. I learned a lot from my fellow panelists in the process.
GAM: You have two young boys, who have been a few times. What are your tips for taking young children to Disney?
AU: My biggest tip for parents of young children is to slow down. Walt Disney World is an incredible place with entertainment everywhere you look.
Before you go, take some time to choose age-appropriate attractions and shows and plan a few activities each day with rest times built in so you don't get overtired. I've found that when it comes to visiting the parks with young children, having a basic plan for each day is a huge help. When you know where you are going, you can relax and follow the plan.
GAM: How many days do you typically recommend for each of the parks ... especially for first-time visitors?
AU: If your budget allows, plan for a week at Walt Disney World with at least one day in each park. My family likes to do two days in a row in the parks and then spend a day in our resort hotel, then another two days before coming home.
Don't underestimate time spend in your hotel! Disney Resort Hotels are almost parks unto themselves. My children love swimming each day and spending time in the lobby (watching Mickey Mouse videos of course!)
GAM: Can you recommend any kind of strategy for FastPasses? That seems to freak so many parents out!
AU: My first piece of advice is to embrace the FastPass+ system! It really does help out. I have heard a lot of people push back at the idea of planning your days in advance. But the truth is, making FastPass+ selections ahead of time only accounts for a very small part of your day and will free up valuable time to be spontaneous.
We love to arrive at the parks early, when crowds are lower and the sun isn't too high. Our strategy has been to take advantage of shorter lines in the mornings, take a break for a meal or snack, and arrange our FastPass+ selections for early afternoon. This allows us to wander around and ease into the day meeting characters, enjoying a few attractions or watching a show and then gives us a purpose in the afternoon when we might start to lose focus. Then, we can either take an afternoon break, park hop or stay into the evening for a dining reservation or more attractions.
GAM: Could you share one or two of your favorite best kept Disney secrets?
AU: I don't know that I would call these secrets, but one thing I always mention is to know and love the Disney Parks Baby Care Centers! Each of the four theme parks has one and they are a lifesaver for parents of small children. Use them for a diaper change, purchase baby care needs like sunscreen or diapers or even use the nursing room if you need a quiet (and cool) place to breastfeed.
My other tip is to bring a roll of pennies and a roll of quarters and let your kids go nuts with the penny press machines. These machines are located all over Disney Parks & Resorts and make for fantastic memories and a really inexpensive souvenir! We purchased penny albums and my boys had a blast searching for the machines and pressing pennies. We will bring the albums with us on future trips so they can add more pressed coins to their collections.
GAM: Is there a ride, a show and a food that you must experience/eat each time you go?
AU: There are many, but one of my favorites is the Magic Kingdom Welcome Show that occurs each morning before the park opens. To catch this show, make sure to arrive at Magic Kingdom Park about 30 minutes before it opens. It's my favorite way to kick of a magical day!
As for attractions, my husband and older son always take a ride on Splash Mountain together and Star Tours at Hollywood Studios is a must for the whole family. We also love to watch the Dream Along With Mickey show in front of Cinderella Castle whenever we pass by.
And, of course, the food. It's no secret that I plan our trips around the meals. There are so many great restaurants, it will take years for us to try them all. And yes, we will try! One of our favorite family restaurants in Magic Kingdom Park is The Plaza Restaurant on Main Street, U.S.A. It's a smaller venue, but reservations aren't that difficult to come by. The food is excellent and the prices are reasonable. I love the location and my kids love the ice cream they get for dessert, so, for our family, it's a must-do.
I also love visiting during either the International Food & Wine Festival in the fall or the International Flower & Garden Festival in spring. Both of these events at Epcot have an amazing selection of outdoor kitchens, which serve small portions of delicious food from around the world. My husband and I love to spend a meal (or three) eating around the World Showcase and trying as many as we can.
Read all about Andrea on her blog Just is a Four Letter Word.