You want to talk complicated? Try planning a family trip to Disney when you’ve barely been there yourself! I had never really “been” to Disney World. My two brushes with the theme park included a quick trip in the 90’s and a few days at a conference last year. But to my 5 year-old son and husband who have never been to Disney I was the trip planner and the Supermom who was going to make this trip the adventure of a lifetime!
I’m happy to say that our 8-day Disney World vacation was pretty amazing. I thought I had all of the tricks down ahead of time. Between the hours of vacation blogs I waded through to the YouTube ride walk-through videos I watched I thought I knew everything there was to know. Those of you who are laughing right now have been to Disney World yourself, haven’t you? Yep. You can never know it all. But here are a few things that I learned the on this trip. Some I found through research, some I learned the hard way. No matter how I learned them, these tips made our days at Disney World a lot less complicated!
Use the many official and unofficial resources at your disposal
Disney World is probably one of the most documented places on earth. Take advantage of the work everyone did who went before you. There are travel agents who specialize in Disney vacations and know many of the ins and outs. I used Melisa Kriz at runawayvacations.biz who did a lot of the research for me. I also subscribed to AllEars.net, an unofficial Disney newsletter. And, because my son is somewhat on the timid side when it comes to the dark and loud noises, I took advantage of the many ride walk-through videos on YouTube to make choices when planning our days. It’s a good thing I did, because I almost reserved us Fastpasses for rides that would have caused serious melt-downs.
Take full advantage of your park days
With our resort vacation package, we had six days and five nights. That meant six days of park tickets. In order to take full advantage of those days, we arrived in Orlando the day before our Disney Resort reservation, and left the day after. So we needed to book a hotel for our first and our last night. Thanks to the Allears.net newsletter, we found a very nice hotel just outside of Downtown Disney for only $97 a night! It even had a kids room with bunk beds and a gorgeous swimming pool. This allowed us to drive down on Friday, stay in the hotel, and start at Disney World first thing Saturday morning. On our last day, we checked out of the Disney Resort, spent the day at the park, and checked into the hotel before dinner. We then went back for the electric light parade, castle show, and fireworks to end the trip. We got to enjoy every minute of those 6 days in the park.
The Disney transportation system is time consuming
If you stay at an outlying Disney Resort, it could take over an hour to get from your room to the character breakfast you so innocently planned from the comfort of your home. You didn’t realize that 8am character breakfast would mean a 6am wakeup call, did you? By the time you wait for a bus, get on the bus, and get to the park or resort for your breakfast/dinner it really can take an hour or even more. Keep that in mind when scheduling your times. If you have a car, you’ve got another option. Your parking pass for your resort gets you free parking at any of the parks or resorts at Disney. The additional bonus for driving? You can leave your car there all day and have a quick way back to the resort that night.
Dine with Cinderella at the Grand Floridian
Your child is just crazy about princesses, but you’re cringing about the two table service credits it takes to dine at Cinderella’s Palace? There is another option. The Cinderella dinner at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian resort is pretty amazing, and it only costs one table service credit. We met Cinder herself, the prince, both stepsisters and the wicked stepmother. The by-play between the characters was entertaining and even my son who is not really into the princesses enjoyed it thoroughly! Don’t have a Disney dining plan? That’s OK, you don’t have to be on the dining plan to enjoy the character meals, you just need a reservation.
The perfect fireworks watching spot
While there is much to be said for watching the fireworks from in front of the castle, one time fighting the crowd is plenty. We accidentally happened on the perfect firework watching location on our last day in the park. It’s at the corner of the Tomorrowland Speedway and the Teacups. Not kidding. You get an amazing view of the fireworks and the night we were there only a handful of people were around. There were empty benches for the taking. Not to mention the incredibly short wait times on the rides during and after the show. Five minutes for Buzz Lightyear? Who could ask for better?
Use your table service credits at Downtown Disney
We used up many of our dining plan table service credits on Character Dinners, but for two of our nights we dined at Rainforest Cafe and at T-Rex in Downtown Disney instead. You can choose anything from the menu, including non-alcoholic drinks and dessert. This is only worthwhile if you choose the more expensive menu items. If you’re going to order hamburgers instead of steaks, it’s best to pay out of pocket.
Strollers are a must if you have a young child. Period.
Do not underestimate the value of the stroller. We stopped using strollers with our son about a year ago, but I dusted it off for this trip. Hubby thought I was nuts. Until the first day. Any way you slice it, Disney World is a lot of walking for those little legs. Allowing him to take breaks in the stroller not only enabled us to move quickly through the park, but it kept him going for longer periods of time without wearing out and melting down. It also allows you to cart along extra supplies in that backpack without putting your back out. While our son isn’t a napper, even he conked out in the stroller a few times. You can rent strollers at Disney World, but we had no problem using our little umbrella stroller.
Be smart with your Fastpasses
If you’ve used Fastpasses before, the game has changed. This was my first experience with Fastpasses, but I quickly picked up on the fact that very few people understand the new Fastpass+ system yet. You can schedule your Fastpasses weeks in advance using the Disney website or app. But you can only schedule three per day, and only in one park. To make a long story short, there are two secrets we learned that it seemed the people around us hadn’t picked up on yet. First, once your three initial Fastpasses are used, you can go to any of the Fastpass kiosks in the parks and get a new Fastpass, one at a time. So when planning your trip, get all of your Fastpasses early in the day. You can’t get more for that day until all three are used. Second, if you have Parkhopper you can still get Fastpasses for your second park of the day. You need to use the initial three in one of the parks. Then you can go to the second park and get more Fastpasses for that park at the kiosk. Our mistake was using one of our Fastpasses in Magic Kingdom, and then trying to go to Epcot. We had to use all three in Magic Kingdom, and then were able to hop over to Epcot and get more Fastpasses there.
Ask questions multiple times
I was a little disappointed when we learned this particular trick, but it did come in handy. It seems that communication around the parks isn’t what it used to be. I can’t really fault Disney for this. There are so many incredible things happening over a huge amount of space, there is probably no way to truly keep up with it all. Unfortunately, we often got the wrong answer from Disney cast members when we were trying to solve a problem or figure out the best way to do something. About halfway through our vacation, we realized that we had to ask an average of three people in order to figure out the correct answer. For example, one cast member and her manager told us dessert was not included in our quick-service meal plan and refused to give it to us. One other person wasn’t sure, and a third person had me pull up the documentation on my smart phone and showed me that it was indeed supposed to be included. That was over a three day period where we were pretty confused about exactly what we had paid for and if were were getting our money’s worth on the meal plan. Similar scenarios happened with parking, transportation routes, and Fastpasses.
Epcot is actually pretty cool
Everyone told me that my 5 year-old would be bored out of his mind at Epcot, but nothing could have been further from the truth. He had a blast playing The Great Piggy Bank Adventure and I could hardly drag him out of the amazing aquariums we found when we exited the Nemo ride. We walked past real firefighters giving a demonstration about fire safety and he asked us if he could join the other kids practicing stop, drop, roll and cover your face (yes, that was a new one for me!) If I had it to do over, I would schedule more than a half-day for Epcot. It does have a calmer and more leisurely feel than the other parks because there are less rides and more interactive things to do. It would have been perfect for that mid-point in the trip when the exhaustion starts to catch up with you. If your kids are 12 or younger, you should consider scheduling some time there.
I’m sure by my next Disney trip many of these things I learned will have changed and there will be a whole new set of things to master. I can’t wait!
Do you have any great Disney tips to share? Add them in the comments below and help your fellow Mom’s make their next trip to Disney World less complicated.