Our family has been to Disney World over 50 times. Now before you think we are crazy, let me explain that we lived in Orlando for a year and had season passes for 7 months of that. My husband and I also both worked from home and had days off (we worked mornings, evenings, and weekends). So, with three (at the time) little ones, what better way to keep them occupied than by going to Disney World? It was perfect — we could go for a few hours and come home. We all loved it!
One of the really good things about all the time we spent at Disney is that we learned a LOT about the place and have been able to help others who are planning a trip. So, since I seem to answer questions a lot I thought I would just share my top ten tips for a trip to Disney World (please note that I am going to assume for the sake of these tips that you are traveling with small children. I know there are adults who go without kids, but really, Disney is usually a kid trip).
1. Pick your dates wisely. Don’t go in the summer or over Spring Break. Now I know that some of you aren’t able to avoid these times. However, if you have any say in it at all do NOT choose to go in either of the times. Summer is HOT HOT HOT. Seriously hot. And spring break is CROWDED . So, so, SO many people. Check HERE for some other tips of when to go, including average temperature for various times of the year.
2. Make reservations for character meals early. The more popular character meals fill up fast (especially places like Cinderella’s Castle). Disney allows you to make reservations up to 90 days in advance (a change from a previous 180 days). If these meals are important to you, make your reservations early! On a side note, I would HIGHLY recommend the Play ‘N Dine meal at Hollywood and Vine. For preschoolers it is just so much fun! Little Einsteins and Jo Jo and Goliath spent LOTS of time with the kids, there is a ton of fun music, the kids get to dance, and more. Some of the other meals allow you just a minute or two with the characters and then you just sit there.
3. Plan to bring or rent strollers. I think most people know to do this, but I thought I should mention it anyway. Obviously you would need something for the wee little ones but I mean plan to bring or rent strollers even for bigger kids. There is so much walking/waiting involved that even older kids — 5, 6, 7 — get so tired. You can rent nice big ones at the park, both singles and doubles. We brought our duo stroller every day (and used it for all three kids!)
4. Set a money limit for yourselves. A place like Disney can drain your wallet very fast if you aren’t careful. Decide ahead of time what you want to spend on the whole vacation and then stick to it. Don’t get sucked into tons of souvenirs (really, how many Disney hats and mugs and sweatshirts do you need?) You don’t have to eat everything at the park, either. We always brought lunch with us and found a bench and ate. It saved us so much money! Remember, too, that sometimes less is more. The kids don’t need to go to character meals every day. They are more likely to remember one really good one then going to six or seven in one week. If there is too much going on, they don’t know what to enjoy. I would suggest choosing one or two special meals and one or two special souvenirs. In our whole seven months we did two meals — Princess Lunch at the Castle in Epcot and the Play ‘N Dine Meal. We bought one souvenir — a Mickey and Minnie ornament to remember our time there (we also won quite a few things like Mickey Ears and pins for pin trading).
5. Set a spending limit for your kids. We always said that if we were coming for a week we would decide how much each kid could spend on extras. Decide on an amount for each child and then make sure you stay within that budget. If the kids just has to have a set of Mickey Ears then that comes out of their total. If they really “need” a Mickey shaped ice cream bar then okay, but when the money is gone it is gone. This helps the kids realize that they can’t have everything, helps them be in control of what they get, and helps keep you from going broke. It also helps with the constant whine of, “But I want it!” (a little P.S. on this one — stay out of gift shops. If you don’t go in the shops you won’t see stuff you don’t need!)
6. Don’t go to Magic Kingdom on Monday and Epcot on Tuesday. Disney World has four parks. Most people arrive in Orlando on the weekend and then see the parks in this order: Magic Kingdom on Monday, Epcot on Tuesday, and then Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios on Wednesday and Thursday. While I understand wanting to see “the good stuff” first, I disagree with the approach for two reasons. 1) Everyone does that making Magic Kingdom incredibly crowded on Monday. You are better off going to another park early in the week where there will be few people and then hitting Magic Kingdom later in the week when the rest of the crowds have moved on. 2) Magic Kingdom and Epcot aren’t necessary “the good stuff.” While the Magic Kingdom is the most “Disney” it is also the most crowded and not nearly as fun for older people. The rides and activities are more tame and geared for younger kids. Our favorite park — by far — was Animal Kingdom. Great rides, great scenery, and not nearly as crowded.
7. Be prepared that you won’t get to see everything. Even with over 50 trips to the parks, there are still a few things we haven’t seen. Decide ahead of time what your priorities are. If you really want to hit all the rides, don’t spend hours waiting in line to meet characters. If riding in the front of the shuttle trains is what your kid would really love, forget other time consuming activities and head up to the front of the train and wait your turn. Just know that you cannot do everything in one week. Don’t let that disappoint you!
8. Take breaks during the day. While taking breaks may not seem like a good way to see as much you can, you will enjoy your trip much more if you get some rest. I cannot tell you the number of parents we saw literally forcing their tired and worn out kids to just keep going and just see or do “one more thing.” With the heat and the overload of sensory stimulation, kids get tired! They don’t want to be dragged from character to character and ride to ride. Don’t force it just to get the most of your trip. Instead, plan on a few hour break in the afternoon. Go back to the hotel, take naps if needed, play in the pool, and then if everyone is up for it, you can head back to the park. But be prepared that the kids may just want to stay at the hotel! Remember to ask yourself “Who is this trip really for?
9. Be prepared to split up. With kids of different ages and the whole family with different ideas of what they want to see, be willing to split up. If your little guy is willing to spend an hour in line to meet Lightning McQueen, don’t force your little girl if that is the last thing in the world she wants to do. If one of your kids is tall enough the ride the big rides and the other is not, just take the opportunity for time with the the kids apart. Mom and dad can split up and take kids (and themselves!) where they really want to go. Obviously you don’t want to spend your whole trip like this, but a few hours apart might be really good for you!
10. Go see the Festival of the Lion King show at Animal Kingdom. This was, hands down, the best part of my Disney experience all year. It was free, incredibly well done, and fun for the WHOLE family!
So there you have it — my best tips for a trip to Disney. Whatever you do, think clearly, breath deeply, and love the experience. It truly is a Magical Place!