Visiting DisneyWorld in Florida can be an ultimate Child at Heart experience for anyone. Around every corner is something new and fun that you’ve never done before. It’s a world that was created to appeal to kids but also to the child at heart. If you can’t enjoy something about Disney, then you may have a condition that requires medical attention. (Kim & Jason call this “adultitis”.)
On the other hand, I’ll admit that it is easy to fall out of your great Disney experience and into a meltdown if you’re not careful. Crying and tired kids, long lines, bad weather, and other factors can make Disney a difficult place to be in spite of being the most magical place on earth. Here I’ll share some tips to ensure that will NOT happen to you. If you’re going to Disney, it can be the most wonderful trip ever.
PLAN, PLAN, PLAN
When you’re spending a lot of money to make your Disney trip happen, you want to make sure you’re getting your value out of your investment. Spending time to plan your vacation time before you actually get to Disney will help make it will go well. It will also help you to build excitement and anticipation for what is to come. It’s part of the full experience.
We began telling our girls about seeing Cinderella’s castle and meeting all the characters nearly one year in advance. We watched movies so they’d know the characters. In fact, we used the trip as motivation for our youngest to get toilet trained. She had it down “Daddy, When I go potty in the toilet every time I get to go to DisneyWorld!”. I can see a new commercial for Disney.
Here are some steps in planning your Disney vacation:
1. Choose which of the four parks you want to see: The Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. For each park you choose, plan at least one day to see some of the major attractions. (They’re all great…so you can’t lose.)
2. Choose how many days you’ll be there and the time of year. If you can, choose to go in the off season when you’ll have fewer lines and lower costs.
3. Sign up for Unofficial Guide to Disney site. http://touringplans.com
4. Choose the least busy days for your particular parks according to their web site advice.
5. Buy a couple of books about Disney. Read them and take some notes so that you have the info in at your fingertips. When you’re actually at Disney is not the time to start reading about it.
6. Choose your dining options. If you want Disney dining to be a part of your experience (and it can be very fun), make your ADRs (Advance Dining Reservations) for character meals and special meals at specific restaurants you want to eat at for each day. That reservation will be an anchor spot for the day determining which park you’ll need to be at for a specific time. Arrive for your reservation 15-30 minutes early, and you may be able to get in earlier or on time. Arrive late and you may have a more difficult time getting in. We did the Disney Dining plan and it saved us a lot of money and made things easy once we got to understand the system.
7. Buy your tickets and reservations online through The Magic for Less Travel or Disney’s web site. Having a travel agent (no cost) to help and answer questions is invaluable. Depending on your budget, you can choose from value, moderate, or deluxe accommodations.
Tip: When purchasing your Disney tickets, add the water parks as an option after you arrive IF the weather is nice. We ended up spending $200 extra for the water park option that we didn’t get to use because the weather was too cool for swimming.
8. Listen to Disney planning podcasts. This builds excitement, anticipation, and your knowledge about the parks. Here are a couple I found useful and fun:
- Be Our Guest WDW Podcast – http://www.beourguestpodcast.com
- Netcot:: News, Trivia and Audio from Walt Disney World and Disneyland – http://www.netcot.com
Make a packing list. Here’s a list I use to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything.
Check your ADRs, flights, hotels, and car rental at least 1 month before the trip.
Clean your house before you leave. It’s really nice to come home to a clean place.
Set Some Ground Rules:
- While you’re at Disney, don’t do anything or eat anything that you could do or eat easily when you’re at home. Make your trip full of new and full experiences.
- Even though planning is important, don’t plan it all. Live in the moment. Take time to smell the roses.
Rent a Stroller
If you have any kids under 50 pounds…rent a stroller. We thought our 3 and 5 year olds were pretty active and wouldn’t need them. We were so wrong. Disney is a lot of walking. We rented one from Magic Stroller and it was a great investment of $125 for 1 week. The stroller was delivered to our hotel when we arrived and we just left it there for pickup the day we left. The Disney strollers are expensive and quite utilitarian (not so comfortable for the kids). I also suggest paying $25 more for insurance and piece of mind that if it is stolen, it’s covered. Amazingly, we had no problems leaving our strollers in various places in the parks. Disney has people there to keep them in neat rows and assist you. We just never left anything valuable in them when they were by themselves.
The stroller worked great for reserving a place for us to watch a parade or fireworks, carrying kids and other essentials around, and giving the kids a warm, dry, out of the sun or rain place to rest their feet. The stroller also allowed our youngest to sleep through portions of the trip while we continued enjoying ourselves late into the night.
This trip we skipped baggage claim by shipping one box to our destination hotel via UPS instead of bringing a suitcase on board. Airlines are now often charging $25 or more for checked bags. We sent a 16x16x16 box via UPS to our destination hotel for $30 with a tracking ID and $500 insurance. Then all our family members took our full allowance of 1 carry on bag and 1 backpack each onboard the airplane. It takes a little more planning to ship, but can be worth it. In the box we put extra clothes, shoes, all the girls princess costumes, a soft side cooler bag (thermal tote), and any liquids (sunscreen) that were in bottles too big to bring on the plane. It was so much easier.
Here is a link to the liquid and gel requirements for airport security.
We rented a van from National Car Rental. It was convenient to drive to the Publix grocery store, the Animal Kingdom, and some dinner events at other resorts. We took Disney transportation (busses or boat) to the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. We stayed at the Beach Club resort so we walked to Epcot since it was so close.
Here’s a big tip: You CAN’T see all of Disney in one trip. Admit it. We were there for 7 very full days and we saw a lot…but we could have seen more parades, characters, fireworks, rides, restaurants, etc. We didn’t even get to go to one of the water parks due to weather. The important thing was that we had a ball. Everything we did was fun and we were enjoying the moments together as a family. At minimum I’d suggest spending 1 day in each major park: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios.
So promise yourself that your will come back to Disney in the future. It will help you avoid killing yourself from exhaustion when you realize and become so frustrated that you can’t do everything in one trip.
We were surprised at how important meeting the Disney characters was to our trip experience. Watching our children look up with wide eyes upon meeting Minnie and Mickey was incredible. Several times it even became so emotional that little tears of joy appeared. Arianna loves to dance. One evening at Hollywood Studios she had the opportunity to dance with Minnie at the Clubhouse Mickey. She was so star struck holding Minnie’s hand that she forgot to dance just reveling in the moment. Disney has made it much easier to see characters, get great photos, and autographs than when I was a kid.
We took care of a light breakfast each day with some bars or muffins that we got at the grocery store. That allowed us to get going earlier and take advantage of the parks when they were least busy. The Disney Dining plan offered plenty of lunch and dinner food and snacks.
Use Amazon Prime Now to deliver some essential groceries like water, snacks, etc. directly to your resort within 2 hours at a reasonable cost. This can save you some money and is very convenient.
The Disney Dining classifies food as (1) Quick Service – A place where you stand in line and get your food. (2) Table Service – A sit down restaurant (get reservations or ADRs for these). and (3) Snacks – Fruit, popcorn, drink, etc. Nearly anything under $5 at participating restaurants, gift shops, or food stands is considered a snack.
In fact, we ended up having extra snacks on our plan at the end. We stocked up on Minnie’s Cookies which we found in the gift shops. They’re individually wrapped so you can even bring them home. My favorite was chocolate chunk peanut butter. Yum!
Among all our amazing dining experiences, a few stood out…
- Cinderella’s Happily Ever After character meal at 1900 Park Fare (Grand Floridian resort, Magic Kingdom) – Here there was an great buffet meal that almost got lost because the entertainment was so fun. There was a processional of Cinderella, Prince Charming, and her evil step sisters. The step sisters were a hoot. They were bossing everyone around and making funny faces when they posed for photos.
- Princess Storybook Dining at Akerhus Hall (Norway Pavilion at Epcot) – Here the girls had the chance to meet almost every Disney princess at one meal.
- Les Chef de France – We felt like we were really in France. Everyone spoke French, the food was amazing, and the surroundings replicated Paris. It was incroyable.
- Ohana at the Polynesian Resort – Great bar-b-que food served family style with entertainment and joy.
- Boma at the Animal Kingdom – An amazing buffet with unique foods.
Everyone at Disney addressed our girls as “princess” (especially when their hair was styled and they were wearing costumes). Some people even called them “your highness”. One time we were having lunch at Epcot and Arianna spilled chocolate milk on her shirt. Being tired, she began to melt down. A new friend from a nearby table chimed in…”I saw Sleeping Beauty do the same thing the other day. When a princess spills something, it’s OK. It won’t matter in the long run. You can just wash it later and everything will be OK. In fact, it looks kind of nice.” It saved the day.
It turns out she was a Disney employee in training. We had a great conversation. It was meeting people like that that made our trip so special. We also met a new friend from Africa at the Animal Kingdom lodge. We learned a lot from him about the country he’s from and had fun interacting with someone from the other side of the world. Disney employs people from all over the world. At the France restaurant at Epcot, I had the chance to speak French with several of the wait staff. It made the experience authentic…just as if I was in Paris.
Use the “extra magic hours” if you’re staying on site. This is when you can go into the park early or late if you’re staying on Disney property. It’s a great way to enjoy the rides with less people.
Use Fast Passes
Disney has special ways to get through lines faster with FastPass+ that allow you to skip the wait on select rides throughout the day. You can choose your favorite rides for FastPass+ online 60 days in advance of your reservation if you’re staying at a Disney resort. Be sure to do this. Check throughout the day to see if you can get a FastPass for additional rides after you use one.
If you can’t get a FastPass for a favorite ride, be at the park gates 30 minutes before opening. See the opening ceremony and head directly for the most interesting attraction in the farthest reaches of the park.
I used technology effectively to help make the trip better. Since I was on vacation and I work with computers every day, I purposely did not use my laptop. My iPhone provided all the essentials to make the trip work. The best resource I found was “The Unofficial Guide to Disney World” and their mobile Lines web site that tells how long the wait is for each ride as well as park hours, etc. http://m.touringplans.com. It cost $8.95 for a year membership. Sign up at http://www.touringplans.com
Fall back is Disney’s paper maps. They don’t need batteries and are easy to read in the bright sunshine. All my dining plans were made well in advance to get ADRs…and I thought the wait times were not as accurate or easy to read as the Lines mobile site listed above.
I checked the Weather and the time of the Sunrise Sunset using free applications on the iPhone.
Ordering all your meals and looking at your phone all day will take a toll on the battery. Put your battery into low power mode. Order a back up battery and take it with you to carry in a fanny pack or purse.
I also used the iPhone keep up with Mail so I wasn’t overwhelmed when I returned. I had two specific rules for minimizing technology interrupting the fun: (1) If it was an important e-mail, I would file it in a folder for “Action When I Return”. (2) Anything else I would simply delete it. This really helped. I made the decision that I could do without most e-mail for 2 weeks without anything coming crashing down. It’s a good idea to keep backup copies of your travel documents in your e-mail InBox if you need to reference them or if you have a Mobile Me account, you can store copies of your travel documents on your iDisk.
Another technology bonus came via Facebook on the iPhone. I happened to see a friend I hadn’t seen for years post a photo with his kids in front of a ride I had just been to the day before. I didn’t have his contact information with me, but Facebook had his mobile number and so I was able to contact him. Turns out he was staying at the same resort and we were able to meet up and talk for a while.
Here are the attractions that we felt (as a family of two young girls, mom and dad, and sometimes grandma and grandpa) were the must sees for each park. (Updated rides 1/3/20)
- Avatar Flight of Passage
- Kilimanjaro Safari
- Expedition Everest
- Na’vi River Journey
- Finding Nemo The Musical
- Tree of Life – It’s Tough to Be a Bug
- Festival of the Lion King
- Characters Trails
- Rise of the Resistance and Smugglers Run
- Mickey’s Runaway Railway
- Tower of Terror – Surprisingly, this was our girls favorite ride of all!
- Slinky Dog Dash
- Beauty and the Beast
- Muppetvision 3D
- Block Party (parade)
- Rockn’ roller Coaster
- Lights, Motors, Action car stunt show (no longer)
- Big Thunder Mountain
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Peter Pan
- Jungle Cruise
- Dumbo or Aladdin Magic Carpets
- It’s a Small World
- See Mickey and Minnie in Toontown
- Cinderella Character dinner at Grand Floridian
- Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
- Mission: Space
- Test Track
- Living with The Land
- Honey I Shrunk the Audience
- Frozen Ever After ride – Norway
- Impressions of France – Movie
- O Canada – 360 degree movie
- The American Adventure – Voices of Liberty, Fife and Drum
- Grand Fiesta Tour – Mexico boat ride
- Chinese Acrobats
- Princess Dining at Norway
FREE THINGS (no tickets required)
- Check out Disney resorts – Try the hammocks at the Polynesian Resort
- Shop in Disney Springs
- Visit the city of Celebration
And now for some photos and videos to give you a flavor of the fun…
- Arianna driving the Jungle Cruise at Disney World.
- Arianna and Brielle Jump Roping in front of Cinderella’s Castle. What a smart thing…to entertain people while they wait for the parade. If you’re going to jump rope, what better place?
- Arianna on the way to see all the princesses at Disney’s Epcot Center (near France)…
- The princess dining at the Norway pavilion at Epcot. Interaction with Belle, the Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Snow White. Snow white even had the famous voice!
- Dancing with Minnie – Arianna was so starstruck they forgot how to dance!
- Mini Golf (not at Disney but great fun for the family)…
WRAPPING IT UP
You’ll have many memories from your vacation. Anytime you want a little reminder, take out your photos and videos or listen to Magical Mouse Radio. The music will bring you back there in a moment.
We had such a great time together, we know we’ll be back to Disney. Got to get to planning…