We took our kids to Walt Disney World for the first time about a year and a half ago, and absolutely loved it. We not only thoroughly enjoyed the park, but we had an awesome place to stay, ate amazing food, and saw SO much. I credit the reason for our success to the mastermind behind our whole trip…our very good friend, Dale Schmidt, who joined us, along with his family. He is, in my mind, the Disney World Master. ☺ I can’t even tell you how many times he’s been there–without kids, with small kids, with older kids, and a mix of older and younger kids. He’s stayed both on and off property, with large groups and small groups. He does an incredible amount of research, pays close attention to detail, stays up on what’s going on, and loves Disney! Our trip was mapped out so that we were able to see and do everything we wanted to, plus have down time to relax and let kids nap and swim in the pool. ☺ It was perfect.
So…I decided to ask Dale to share his VERY BEST, Top Disney Tips, and he very graciously and kindly agreed. If you are planning a trip to Disney World, these practical tips are an absolute must-read. You’ll glean important pieces of information that will make your trip SO much easier, plus links and extra resources that will help you make the best plan possible!
#1 Buy a guide book. No, seriously – you are intending to spend thousands of dollars for a dream vacation with your kids to visit The World and you don’t want to spare less than $20 for a guide book? Buy a current-year guide book and use it to get the most out of your vacation. I have heard good things about Birnbaum’s Official Guide to Walt Disney World and PassPorter’s Walt Disney World, but my personal favorite is the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.
#2 Avoid peak season if possible. Hotels are cheaper and parks are not as crowded. However, since peak season exactly coincides with school vacations, that can be difficult to do without taking kids out of school. Christmas week (Dec. 25–Jan.1) is the busiest (and most expensive) week of the year as crazy crowds fill parks to capacity. Spring Break (mid February to mid April) is crowded but the weather is usually perfect and crowds are manageable unless its Easter Week, which is the second busiest week next to Christmas. Summer (June to early August) is crowded and hot and ridiculously humid. Crowds do thin in late August, just in time for Hurricane Season (buy trip insurance). Other busy times include Thanksgiving Week and every Holiday weekend except Labor Day.
#3 If you have a large family, consider renting a house or condo. The Disney faithful will happily explain the many virtues of staying on property, but a large family crunched together in two connecting hotel rooms is not many people’s idea of a magical vacation. For a similar price, you can rent a 4-bedroom, 3-bathroom house with a fully equipped kitchen and a private backyard pool and only a 15 minute drive to the parks. A larger 6 bedroom house can be perfect when traveling with extended family or friends. Putting the kids to bed in their own rooms and then being able to retreat to your own master suite is priceless! I like All Star Vacation Homes (http://www.
#4 Have a plan. Visiting Disney World is akin to shopping on Black Friday or throwing a birthday party for a 6 year old. Spontaneity and winging-it are just not rewarded. Read the guide books and decide what attractions are your top priorities and then plan your day to make sure you get to them. Use the cheat sheets on EasyWDW (http://www.easywdw.com) to see which rides get busy first to avoid long lines. For the true Type A personality, subscribe to Touring Plans (touringplans.com) and create your own personal touring plan for hitting the park.
#5 Pass on the Park Hopper. A park hopper allows you to go to more than one park in a day and costs $60 for a 4-day or longer ticket. With little kids, you will probably be ready to call it a day after visiting just one park, so don’t buy this option unless you are sure you are going to use it. If you are on the fence, you can easily wait until after you get to the parks to see if you need it because Disney will let you add the Park Hopper AT ANY TIME during your visit. You can also add days to your tickets and even upgrade them to an annual pass as long as they have not yet expired (see https://disneyworld.
#6 The Disney Dining Plan may not save you money. Many people staying on property just assume that buying the dining plan is a great deal, but whether it is a good deal depends on how much your family usually eats and what restaurants you were planning to visit. Use the Disney Dining Calculator (http://www.distripplanner.com
#7 Make dining reservations early. You can make “advance dining reservations” for Disney’s sit-down restaurants up to 180 days in advance and that is just what you will need to do to score a seat for breakfast with the princesses at Cinderella’s Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom. Other restaurants vary in popularity, but the earlier you can book your time, the better. If you need help figuring out where you want to eat, check out the Disney Food Blog (http://www.disneyfoodblog.com
#8 Make FastPass+ reservations before you get to the park. Disney’s new FastPass+ allows you to reserve up to three attractions for a specific time before you even get to the park. FastPass+ can save you literally hours in line for some attractions (Toy Story Midway Mania, Soarin’, Peter Pan’s Flight) and maybe 3-5 minutes for others (Muppet Vision 3D, Captain EO, Mickey’s PhilharMagic). The FastPass+ system can be confusing and Disney is still experimenting with the details and things change almost monthly.. One of the best and most concise sources of current FastPass+ information I have found is this post by Mesaboy2 on the Dis Boards (http://www.disboards.com/
#9 Use FastPass+ for the Anna and Elsa meet and greet or skip it. Thanks to the popularity of the movie Frozen, the meet and greet with the Princesses Anna and Elsa is the hottest attraction are the Magic Kingdom. People arrive at rope drop and dash to the Princess Fairytale Hall so they can wait for 2-3 hours just to have their picture taken with two college-age girls dressed up as the princesses. The FastPass+ spots fill up fast so if your child loves Frozen, this is your top priority. If you can’t get the FastPass+ reservation, I suggest you tell the kids that Anna and Elsa had an family emergency and had to return to Arendelle to rebuild poor Olaf.
#11 Bring Food. Granola bars, crackers, treats, easy stuff that fits in the suitcase. Sometimes the right granola bar at the right time is all that is needed to prevent the impending child (or adult) melt down. Also works well as a quick breakfast so you can get the kids to the park in time for rope drop (see tip #9).
#12 Bring the stroller. The parks are huge and kids legs are small. If in doubt, bring the stroller! If you want a stroller but do not want to lug it on the plane, Disney will gladly rent you one at the park or you can rent strollers from several companies in the area (see https://disneyworld.
#13 If you have babies, use the Baby Care Centers. Each park has one. No more trying to nurse under a blanket on a hot bench. These centers have a private nursing room with rocking chairs, a changing room with tables, a feeding area with highchairs, a kitchen with microwave, oven and sink, and an on-site shop offering those things you forgot to pack like formula, baby food, juice, diapers, wipes, sunscreen, over-the-counter medications and clothing. This is also the location that lost children are brought to until claimed by their parents.
#14 Use rider switch. No more rock, paper, scissors to see who gets to go on Space Mountain with the fearless children while the loser must settle for another loop with the 3-year old on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority People Mover. With rider switch, both parents get a turn to ride without having to wait in line a second time and the fearless children get to ride twice! (See https://disneyworld.
#15 Swim in the pool. Long ago, I read in the Unofficial Guide to Disney World that when children were polled after a trip and asked what their favorite thing about visiting Disney World was, the most popular answer was swimming at the pool at the hotel. This certainly has been true for our family. Leave the park early in the afternoon (when it is the most hot and most crowded) and go back to the hotel for a swim. The kids will love it, It will recharge everyone’s batteries to have a little break, and you can return to the park later that afternoon or early evening refreshed and ready to go.
#16 Have a rest day. Disney is exhausting and after two days of park touring you need a break. Take a vacation from your vacation. Sleep in, relax, read a book, swim in the pool., and you will be charged for the rest of the week.
#17 Embrace the bracelet. If you stay on the property, the new magic bands act as your room key, your park admission ticket, your FastPass+ reservation ticket, your Magic Express shuttle ticket, your Dining Plan charge card, and your charge it to my room charge card. They are awesome. No more searching your pockets or purse, all you need is right on your wrist. You can wear them swimming, your children each have one so they can get in the hotel room themselves if you are not there, and they were comfortable. We loved them.
#18 Phineas and Ferb: Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure in EPCOT is a great way to get kids to see the World Showcase. If you want to see the countries of the World Showcase but your kids say its too boooorrring, then get them on an Agent P assignment and they will be dragging you through the countries to discover the clues to defeat Dr. Doofenshmirtz (https://disneyworld.disney.
#19 If you choose to ignore Tip #2 and your are there during Christmas Week, go and see the New Year’s Eve Fireworks Dec. 30 instead of Dec. 31. It’s the same show, just one day earlier and without the crazy, crazy crowds.
#20 Be flexible! Things will go wrong, rides will break down, people will get sick, buses will be late, and ice cream will be dropped on the ground. Don’t let these things ruin your vacation. Be flexible and adjust your expectations and remember to have fun!
#21 Don’t forget Universal. Disney is a fantastic vacation destination and you could easily spend an entire week there without ever leaving the property, but if you have a true Harry Potter fan in your family, there is nothing that would make them happier than a trip to Universal to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The theming at Hogsmeade is as good as anything you will find at Disney and the Harry Potter & the Forbidden Journey ride is perhaps the best themed ride in all of Orlando, (although both may be challenged once the new Diagon Alley area and the new Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride open later this summer).
THANK YOU so much, Dale! I hope these tips will help you plan the BEST trip ever! My favorite tip is #20, because after all of the planning, things will happen that can’t foresee, especially when traveling with little kids. We certainly experienced our fair share of unexpected circumstances, but because we planned well, we were able to be flexible, and still completely enjoy our trip.
Have a GREAT time!!!!