So you’re planning a trip to Disney World? Awesome! Get ready for one of the most memorable vacation experiences of your life. Having traveled to Disney World multiple times—most recently in February of 2013 with my little family of three—I’ve put together a guide of tips, tricks, and general info to help you plan your journey and make the most of your trip. This guide is broken down into five separate sections:
- Planning Tips—when to go, how long to stay, etc.
- Packing/Travel Tips—reminders of what to buy ahead of time and bring with you, as well as tips for traveling to Orlando
- Park Services Tips—information on various services that Disney offers and how/when to utilize them
- General Park Tips—tricks for making the most of your experiences in the parks
- “Extra Magical” Tips—fun ways to make your vacation even more magical for your kids.
Take advantage of the info provided here, and most of all, have a blast in Disney World!
Have realistic expectations. This is probably my #1 tip. There was a point during our last Disney venture when my husband & I looked at the family in front of us—a dad with an Ergo strapped to his chest, what appeared to be a three-year-old little boy, and a frazzled mom trying to deal with her 18-month-old mid-meltdown—and then at each other, and we vowed to never do Disney with a child under three. Some of my very best friends feel the exact opposite and trek to Disney annually with their infants and toddlers in tow. There is no “right” way. But you do need to realistically assess what you and your kids can handle. A baby or young toddler will not have the energy for a full day at Disney World without stopping, and waiting in line, diaper changes, and feeding will obviously be more challenging with a much younger child. That’s not to say don’t go—just know what you’re getting into and evaluate whether it sounds like a positive experience. Disney World is expensive. Unless you have the means to visit often, you’ll want to make the most of your trip.
Avoid peak season if at all possible. For many, this won’t be an option, and that’s fine. Yes, you can go to Disney World during peak season and still have a good time—as long as you and your kids prepare for the crowds and the Florida heat. BUT, if you can possibly avoid going during the summer and can instead opt to vacation during an off-season month (October, November, the end of January, and February are fabulous times to go, when the crowds are light and the weather is as close to perfect as it can get in Orlando), then you’d definitely be smart to wait. For a highly realistic indication of how crowded Disney World will be on any given date, check out the crowd estimator on UndercoverTourist.com before planning your trip.
Plan for a 5+-day vacay. Give yourself a day to get there, a day to get home, and at least three days to enjoy the parks. Ideally, plan for four or five in-park days (or more if you can afford it). Disney World is massive, housing four main parks: the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, the Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios. You’ll need a bare minimum of three days to scratch the surface of all four parks—and that’s without even considering time to visit Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park, Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park, Downtown Disney, and/or Disney’s BoardWalk. When my husband & I were planning our trip, he had originally advocated for three in-park days. Having been to Disney World many times before and being the bull-headed woman that I am, I pushed him hard to allow us to extend this to four days, and after listening to me blather on about it for almost a week, he begrudgingly agreed. However, upon leaving Disney World, he admitted that four days was definitely the right call, and that next time we should plan to stay even longer because there truly is that much to see and do. (I may or may not have responded with a “See? I told you so.”)
Fly direct if at all possible. Traveling with kids isn’t easy to begin with, and traveling with excited kids who know they’re going to Disney World is even more challenging. Avoid the hassle of longer travel times and potential layovers by scheduling a direct flight to Orlando if you can. Southwest Airlines flies nonstop to Orlando from San Antonio—and with Southwest, you don’t have to pay extra to check your luggage (two bags are allowed per person free of charge in addition to two carry-on items), which is really convenient when traveling as a family.
Stay on-site. Off-site resorts are usually more affordable, but in my opinion, staying on Disney property is totally worth the extra money. Not only do Disney Resorts make the experience magical from the second you arrive, they are extremely convenient and include many “perks” you won’t receive if you stay off-site. Many resorts feature character breakfasts at hotel restaurants, ALL include free transportation to and from the airport via Disney’s Magical Express shuttle bus (so there’s no need to rent a car), and ALL include free transit to every park as well—some even have multiple transportation options (for example, monorail or ferry boat in addition to shuttle buses). Plus, by staying at a Disney Resort, you’re automatically granted entry to the parks during Extra Magic Hours—times when no one else is allowed inside the park gates except for guests staying on-site. And, if you book your hotel and park tickets together via one of Disney’s “Magic Your Way” Vacation Packages, you’re eligible for the Disney Dining Plan—which you CANNOT add on unless you’re a Resort guest. (You can read more about Extra Magic Hours and the Disney Dining Plan in the “Park Services Tips” section of this post.) Disney offers three main categories of on-site resorts: Value Resorts, Moderate Resorts, and Deluxe Resorts, each located near a specific park and decorated around a certain theme. In addition, the Deluxe Villas are an option for larger groups, and the Campgrounds are available for those looking for a more “rustic” experience. No matter the size of your group or budget, you can easily find a Disney Resort that suits your needs.
Do the math on tickets. Which tickets you buy depend on a number of factors, such as how long you’re staying, whether you’re staying on a Disney property, the ages of your children, whether you want to spend a day at a water park, how often you’ll return to Disney World in the future, etc. Base tickets provide access to one park per day. By contrast, tickets with Park-Hopper option allow you to “hop” from one park to another each day. Park Hoppers are a great option for those staying on-site (since Disney’s transit system makes it easy to go from one park to another), those with small children (since their mid-day nap allows you to spend your morning at one park and your evening at another), and first-time Disney World visitors (since little kids may enjoy one park more than another and you won’t really know until you get there). For example, my daughter loves the zoo, so we expected her to be really excited about the Animal Kingdom. But after a few hours, she was ready to move on to something else (e.g., “We can go to the zoo at home, Mama!”). If our tickets hadn’t included the Park-Hopper option, we would’ve been stuck at the Animal Kingdom for a full day and wouldn’t have been able to go elsewhere. In addition to the Park-Hopper selection, tickets can also be customized to include the “Water Park Fun & More” option. This allows for access into the four main parks in addition to daily access to Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon as well as other areas.
Don’t waste a park ticket on the day you arrive. You’ve been traveling all morning and have finally made it to Orlando. The kids are pumped and ready to hit the parks. But, understandably, you don’t want to purchase park tickets for the day you arrive because you’ll have only a half day, if not less, to spend in the parks. What to do with your over-eager kids who are dying to see Mickey? Head to Disney’s BoardWalk or Downtown Disney. Entry to both is free, and there are tons of things to do to keep your children entertained. Reminiscent of Atlantic City in the 1920s, the BoardWalk abounds with carnival-style games, amazing kid-friendly street performers, arcades, shops, and restaurants, including the ESPN Club. Meanwhile, Downtown Disney is home to an AMC movie theater, bowling alley, DisneyQuest® Interactive Theme Park, live music and shows, as well as dozens of restaurants and shops catering to kids, such The LEGO® Store, Dino-Store, Disney Design-a-Tee, Disney Pin Traders, and World of Disney® just to name a few.
Check each park’s operating hours for every day of your trip. Each park’s hours of operation vary from day to day. (Animal Kingdom always closes the earliest.) Particularly if you choose NOT to purchase Park-Hopper tickets, you’ll need to plan out your days according to the operating hours of each individual park to maximize your time.
Rent a stroller (and other baby/toddler gear) off-site. One of the best Disney tips I’ve ever received comes from my friend Carrie, who is a veteran Disney traveler: Do NOT pay Disney’s outrageous prices for daily stroller rentals, and do NOT bother with the hassle of traveling with your own stroller. Instead, rent a stroller (and/or additional baby gear) from a private rental company. A Baby’s Best Friend is an Orlando-based company that allows you to rent strollers, Pack & Plays, toddler bed rails, coolers, and all kinds of other stuff for a LOT less than you’d pay in the parks. All of the items are delivered to your resort so they are waiting for you when you get there. You can even add 12-packs of Cokes or bottled waters to your order to make things more convenient. We used A Baby’s Best Friend during our last trip, and I have nothing but great things to say. The stroller and 12-can cooler we rented were in perfect shape, and the delivery/return process couldn’t have been easier.
Yes, you need a stroller. Even if they’re what you would consider “too big” and typically refuse to be carted around, your kids will probably need a stroller in Disney World. The average guest walks between 6–13 miles A DAY in Disney World. That’s tough on grown-ups’ feet, let alone kids’. Plus, most strollers have a storage bin or basket beneath the seat, which is super handy for storing small coolers and tote bags that you’d otherwise have to haul around on your shoulder.
Schedule character dining reservations ASAP. You can make reservations for character dining experiences online or via the “My Disney Experience” app 180 days in advance—and if you’re traveling during peak season, this is imperative, as reservations fill up fast. In-park character dining venues include Crystal Palace (Winnie the Pooh & Hundred Acre Wood friends, along with Pluto, Minnie, etc.) and Cinderella’s Royal Table (most Disney Princesses) in the Magic Kingdom; the Garden Grill (Chip, Dale, & Pluto) and Akershus Royal Banquet Hall (most Disney Princesses) in Epcot; and breakfast & lunch ONLY at Tusker House Restaurant (Mickey & friends) in the Animal Kingdom. However, for smaller crowds, greater flexibility, and more personalized attention, try to schedule your character meals at Disney Resorts rather than in the parks. Except for the princesses, all core characters can be seen at select resort eateries, and you don’t have to be staying at a resort to make a reservation for character dining at one of its restaurants. Insider tip: For those with daughters dying to dine with the princesses, consider the Akershus Banquet Hall (located in Norway along Epcot’s International Walkway) instead of Cinderella’s Royal Table. The latter is Disney World’s most popular character dining experience, and many people report infrequent, less-than-magical interactions with the princesses. However, when my family & I dined with the princesses at Akershus Banquet Hall in Epcot, it was a very positive experience, with delicious food and lots of personalized attention from the princesses, not to mention a free commemorative photo:
Check out the rides ahead of time. Take a moment to browse the online descriptions, pictures, and height restrictions of various rides before building them into your mental itinerary. You can view the height requirements for all rides online, which not only helps you to plan out your route but also avoids the inevitable result of disappointed kids (and parents) who have waited in line only to discover that they’re not tall enough to ride. Also, viewing YouTube videos with your kids before you leave helps them know what to expect from a particular ride ahead of time and can help them rule out any attractions that look scary or too intense.
Plan, but don’t overschedule. There’s so much to take in at Disney World that people tend to think they must plan, plan, plan, down to the last detail. Try not to do this, as a super detailed itinerary not only adds stress—especially since it depends on unknown factors such as ride wait times, etc.—but also makes it difficult to simply enjoy the moment. Your kids might love a ride so much that they want to do it again, or your brood might need to restore depleted energy with an hour-long break in an air-conditioned ice cream parlor—even though neither are on the schedule. So, decide which parks to visit on what day, plan character dining or “special” meals, and have a general idea of which rides/areas to hit first, but build in opportunities for flexibility. This is especially true with dining. Unless you’re on the Disney Dining Plan, resist the urge to make reservations for EVERY meal. Sometimes kids are too tired or prematurely hungry to wait for a scheduled sit-down dinner reservation.
- Buy sunscreen, hats, small battery-operated “mist” fans, etc. before you go to avoid paying top dollar for these items in the parks.
- Prior to your trip, buy one of these, which are sold at Walmart and gas stations around New Braunfels and Canyon Lake—anywhere close to tubing rental shops:
Carry this small waterproof case around your neck and use it to store your tickets, room key, ID, and credit cards so you don’t have to bring your entire wallet with you everywhere you go.
- Before you go, buy cheap rain ponchos in bright colors (available at Walmart for less than $5 each) and take them with you daily when you visit the parks. Orlando is notorious for its light rain showers (which don’t usually last for more than an hour but do happen often!). Ponchos at the park are expensive and also clear in color. It will be much easier to locate your family members if you’re the only ones wearing brightly colored ponchos amidst a sea of clear ones.
- Bring a backpack or larger tote bag with lots of pockets for storing sunscreen, sunglasses, etc. I am obsessed with this bag, which features a zipper-top enclosure, one outside pocket, and four large interior pockets, and is available via Lands End:
- Pack a box of Ziplock bags in your suitcase to store wet clothes, snacks, etc. The uses for them are endless.
- Bring a powerstrip with you. Depending on the size of your family, you might need to charge 6+ devices overnight, and unoccupied outlets are a rarity in many hotel rooms.
- Take care of your feet! Make sure to bring comfortable, broken-in shoes. If you opt to wear running shoes in the park, pack a pair of flip-flops in your bag so you won’t be stuck with soaking wet shoes if it rains (and in Florida, it often does!). Don’t forget to pack Vaseline, Aloe Vera, and Band-Aids to help with blisters should you develop them.
- To cut down on souvenir spending, purchase Disney-themed goodies at the Dollar Store prior to your trip and give them to your kids once you arrive. Autograph books are perhaps the one souvenir that’s well worth the price—they cost between $6–$15 in the parks, aren’t easy to find locally, and are tons of fun for the kids when meeting characters. (Alternatively, you could make your own autograph book beforehand if you’re the crafty type and would like to further cut down your spending!)
- If you know that you likely will not escape Disney World without having to buy a princess dress for your daughter (substitute pirate costume, etc. for son), buy it from your local Disney Store before you go, pack it, and surprise your child with it once you’re there. Disney Princess dresses cost about $50 at the Disney Store but run a ridiculous $70–$100 in the parks.
- For the plane: Download Disney apps for the iPhone and iPad. Print out free coloring pages and activities online and create your own “Disney Travel Activity Binder.” These are great ways to keep kids who are excited about Disney World occupied and entertained on the plane ride to Orlando.
- Another plane ride tip: The changing pressure of air travel can be rough on kids’ ears. Before you leave, consider talking to your doctor about the possibility of prescription ear drops that contain both a pain reliever and numbing agent for your child to use in-flight. This made a world of difference to our daughter during our flight to Orlando.
Park Services Tips
Utilize the (new) Fastpass+ system. If you haven’t visited Disney World since summer 2013, you might find it surprising to learn that Disney World has disposed of their old “FASTPASS” system and replaced it with a newer, more technologically-advanced service, dubbed “Fastpass+.” Like its predecessor, the main benefit of the Fastpass+ system is the ability to visit a popular ride at a specific time, allowing you to bypass the standby line and go directly to the Fastpass+ queue, where you will enjoy a significantly shortened wait time. How is it different from the old system? Whereas previously you obtained a FASTPASS simply by showing up at a desired ride, printing out a ticket that told you when to return, and then doing so, under the new Fastpass+ service you can now schedule three Fastpass+ experiences in advance via the Disney Web site and/or “My Disney Magic” app. Each guest is allowed three scheduled Fastpass+ experiences to use at select Fastpass+ attractions in the same park each day. If you’re NOT staying on-site, you can schedule your Fastpass+ selections up to 30 days in advance; guests of Disney Resorts can book theirs up to 60 days ahead of time. Once a guest has used his/her three planned Fastpass+ selections, he/she may be allowed an additional “bonus” Fastpass+ experience that acts as a rolling Fastpass+ selection—it can’t be scheduled in advance, is dependent on ride availability, can be obtained only by visiting an in-park kiosk, and can be “replaced” by another one after it is used (much like the original FASTPASS system). The Fastpass+ system does have further limitations in addition to the total number of selections you’re allowed to book each day. For example, you can only book a Fastpass+ experience for any given ride once a day, so if you loved Pirates of the Caribbean and want to ride it again, you’ll have to wait in the regular standby line one of those times. However, if you reserve your Fastpass+ selections for the most popular rides, you can easily shave HOURS off of your wait times EACH DAY as long as you familiarize yourself with the system and how it works. Click here for a detailed explanation of Disney’s Fastpass+ system and its rules; and for a list of rides that offer the Fastpass+ service, click here.
Research the Disney Dining Plan. Available only to guests staying at Disney Resorts who book their vacations through a “Magic Your Way Vacation Package” (meaning you book your hotel and park tickets together), the Disney Dining Plan can be a great way to cut down on food costs. A number of different dining plans are available to fit the preferences of your group, but all include breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack for each guest in your party over three years old. The drawback is that not all restaurants participate in the Disney Dining Plan, so you’ll need to outline where you want to eat ahead of time. (Click here for a list of restaurants that participate in the Disney Dining Plan.) When my family & I visited Disney World, we opted out of the Dining Plan because we wanted the flexibility of being able to eat wherever we wanted—and because we didn’t see ourselves eating three set meals in the parks every day. But a number of friends have strongly recommended the Disney Dining Plan, particularly when it was included for free with their vacation package (this wasn’t the case with ours). Jill, who has visited Disney World twice in the past few years, says, “The free dining package is a really great deal, in my opinion. [My daughter] was under three so she was free, but she was able to share off of our plates everywhere we went, even the buffets. [The Disney Dining Plan] allows you to do a lot more of the expensive meals (like the character meals) without feeling the sticker shock!” However, warns Emily, a mother of two, “Another drawback is that it only covers nights stayed, not days; so you could be at Disney World four full days, and only three of them would count toward the Disney Dining Plan.” To determine whether the Dining Plan is the right choice for you and your family, read the specific terms of each plan and evaluate the additional costs of each package by clicking here.
Take advantage of Extra Magic Hours. As previously mentioned, Extra Magic Hours are certain times each day when only guests staying at Disney Resorts can enter the park. They often occur in the early morning or late at night, but the inconvenience of the times pales in comparison to the benefit of being able to enjoy smaller crowds and shorter lines, especially for popular rides and character greeting opportunities. During our trip, my husband and I bit the bullet and returned to the Magic Kingdom with our almost-four-year-old around 9:00 P.M. during Extra Magic Hours, thinking it was a decision we would either really regret or highly recommend, due to our pushing bedtime back so late. I’m happy to say it turned out to be the latter. Our “Extra Magic” night in the Magic Kingdom ended up being one of our most fun and memorable experiences in Disney World; Harper was able to walk right on to the Dumbo ride (which had two-hour wait times earlier that same day) and meet all of the core characters without waiting more than five minutes, and the feeling that the park was “ours” only added to the magic.
Buy the PhotoPass CD. Disney’s PhotoPass system is a convenient feature that makes it easy to ensure you always get those fabulous family vacation pictures. Here’s how it works: The first time you see a character or pass by a popular photo opportunity (Main Street with Cinderella’s Castle in the background, for example), a Disney photographer will ask if you have a PhotoPass. If not, they will create one for you. The photographer will take pictures of you and your family, swipe a plastic card that now contains your family’s pictures through his camera, and give it back to you to hold onto. You will keep the card with you from that point on, and whenever you see another Disney photographer and want a picture, you’ll simply hand him your card. They’ll take pictures, load them onto your card, and then return it to you. Then, when you’re back at your hotel (or at home), you can log onto the Disney PhotoPass Web site, enter in your account info, and view all of the pictures taken by Disney photographers during your trip. It’s super easy, and the PhotoPass CD, which contains ALL of the images from your trip, is a great value compared to the price of buying select individual images.
Don’t miss these “must see” attractions. Disney World is kind’of like London or New York City: It’s darn near impossible to see it all in one trip. And while opinions on what’s imperative will of course vary, there are a number of attractions that I can’t imagine NOT visiting at Disney World. Here are my picks for absolute must sees/dos:
- MAGIC KINGDOM: Adventureland—Jungle Cruise®, A Pirate’s Adventures: Treasures of the Seven Seas, Pirates of the Caribbean® (for older kids or very brave little kids!); Frontierland—Big Thunder Mountain Railroad® (for older kids), Splash Mountain® (for older kids); Tomorrowland—Space Mountain (for older kids); Fantasyland—Peter Pan’s Flight®, “It’s a Small World”®, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Dumbo the Flying Elephant®, Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid, Enchanted Tales with Belle, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train; Liberty Square—The Haunted Mansion® (older kids or very brave little ones!)
Tip: Do not skip out on Mickey’s PhilharMagic®, a 20-minute 3D movie in the heart of Fantasyland. It’s super entertaining, a wonderful break from the heat, and a welcome rest for your feet.
- EPCOT: Captain EO, The Seas with Nemo & Friends®, Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros (the first of only two rides within the World Showcase, located in Mexico), Maelstrom (the second of only two rides within the World Showcase, located in Norway), Spaceship Earth, the countries in the World Showcase, ImageWorks: The “What if” Labs, Mission: SPACE® (for older kids), Soarin’® (for older kids), and Test Track® (for older kids).
- ANIMAL KINGDOM: Kilimanjaro Safaris®, Pangani Forest Exploration Trail®, Maharajah Jungle Trek®, The Boneyard, The Festival of the Lion King, DINOSAUR (for older kids), Primeval Whirl® (for older kids), and Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain® (for older kids)
Tip: When riding rides at the Animal Kingdom (or anywhere else, really), take fewer pictures of random animals and scenery and more photos like this:
Guess which type you’ll care more about once you get home.
- HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure, Muppet*Vision 3D, Toy Story Midway Mania!, Disney Junior: Live on Stage (featuring Jake from “Jake & the Neverland Pirates” and Sofia from “Sofia the First” as well as other characters), Rock’n’Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith® (for older kids), The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror™ (for older kids), Star Tours® (for older kids)
Another must-see: At least one parade and one fireworks show. If you’re of the mentality that essentially all fireworks are the same, think again. Disney’s Wishes nighttime spectacular fireworks show (in the Magic Kingdom) is like nothing you’ve ever seen, and Fantasmic (in Hollywood Studios) is an incredible laser show experience culminating in an amazing fireworks display. Main Street Electrical Parade is a definite must, and the Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade is perfect for princess-lovers. FYI, if you’re seeing a parade, plan to be there at least an hour in advance if you want a good spot. To keep the kids from getting bored, divide and conquer with your spouse—one of you can spread out a towel to mark your territory and wait with your family’s belongings while the other takes the kiddos on a ride or for a snack.
Capitalize on the Ride Switch Service. Ideal for parents of children who are widely varied in age (or those with one daredevil child and another who is timid when it comes to rides), Disney’s Rider Switch Service ensures that you won’t miss out on an attraction just because one of the members of your party is too small or scared to ride. Here’s how it works: Let’s say, for example, that you’re a family of four waiting in line for Space Mountain, but one of your children has no interest in riding. Using the Rider Switch Service, your husband can take the child who wishes to ride on Space Mountain while you wait with the non-riding child. Then, upon returning, your spouse can “swap” with you so that he now waits with the non-riding child while you board the coaster—and if you have no other children who wish to ride, the child who just rode with your husband can now ride a second time with you. (This only applies for two children. If you had three, for example, two of whom wanted to ride, you would simply take the second child along with you while your husband waited with the non-riding child and the child who originally rode with him. Make sense?) To use the Rider Switch Service, simply speak to a Cast Member at the attraction you wish to ride. He/she will provide you with a Rider Switch Pass and ask you to wait in a designated area. Swapping will commence following the ride. For a list of attractions that offer the Rider Switch Service, click here.
General Park Tips
- Pack a small cooler filled with snacks and drinks and bring it with you to the parks each day. Remember that you can ask for a glass of ice water ANYWHERE in Disney World and receive one free of charge, so it’s not really necessary to bring your own bottled water unless you want to.
- Use your iPhone to take a picture of BOTH SIDES of your park tickets whenever you receive them. That way, if your tickets are ever lost or stolen, you can show the pictures to Guest Services and ask for help. Guest Services is not required to replace lost or stolen tickets—this is mentioned in the fine print—but if you have a photo of your tickets as proof, they will usually replace them free of charge.
- Plan to be there for “rope drop”—that is, arrive at the parks when they open for the day. This gives you a major edge, as most people don’t enter the parks until at least an hour or two after they open.
- If you’re visiting Disney World for the first time or in honor of a special occasion (a child’s birthday, anniversary, etc.), stop by the Guest Services window before entering the park and let them know. You’ll receive a pin-able badge that indicates such, and it can merit you a little extra attention from the characters.
- Character meet & greet times, as well as parade & show schedules, are printed on a pamphlet that’s available right as you enter the park. You can also easily access this information via the “My Disney Experience” app on your mobile device, which provides ride wait times and other features as well.
- If your kids want to meet the characters, try to do so during scheduled character dining experiences and/or parks other than the Magic Kingdom if at all possible. Epcot and the Animal Kingdom are great places to meet all of the characters besides the princesses, with significantly shorter wait times for meet & greets.
- Buy and wear those Mouse Ears proudly. Seriously. If you’re going to do Disney, allow yourself to have fun with it and be a kid again. Besides, it’s impossible to look stupid in Disney World.
- When visiting the Magic Kingdom, start at the back and work your way to the front. By far the most popular attractions reside in Fantasyland, not only because it is home to many classic favorites but also because it contains a number of new attractions (e.g., Seven Dwarfs Mine Ride, Enchanted Tales with Belle, Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid, etc.). Make a dash for Fantasyland as soon as you enter the park, and save the other areas for later.
- Those with small children, build in a break. Head to the parks in the morning, return to your room mid-day for a nap, relaxation by the pool, or just general downtime, and then venture back to the parks in the evening. Parks are always most crowded in mid-afternoon, so by taking a few hours mid-day to recharge, you not only avoid the worst time of day to be in the parks but you significantly decrease the likelihood of dreaded Disney meltdowns. Two birds, one stone.
- Mark your stroller with a name tag AND a brightly-colored ribbon (or scarf, etc.) so that you can easily distinguish it from other strollers, particularly if yours is black in color. Disney Cast Members constantly move strollers to condense space, so your stroller will not always be right in the exact spot where you left it (though, of course, it will remain in the vicinity).
- Always be on the lookout for Hidden Mickeys! Hidden Mickeys are, quite simply, images of Mickey Mouse (either the classic “mouse ears” logo or the character himself) that have been discreetly placed into the design of a ride or attraction, and they are all over the parks. Even our three-and-a-half-year-old daughter delighted in finding Hidden Mickeys throughout the parks during our trip. Hidden Mickey-spotting became a fun game for our entire family, and it was an excellent way to keep Harper from getting bored in lines.
- NO ONE does Customer Service like Disney World, which is why its approach is used as the customer service model for thousands of other businesses. If you have a question, concern, or need anything during your visit at Disney World, just ask a Cast Member (Disney’s term for “employee”). They will go out of their way to assist you.
- Last, but not least, if your child happens to suffer from awkward hand placement while meeting one of the characters, just smile and nod and continue on about your day. (Sorry, Pocahontas!)
“Extra Magical” Tips
- Create a Disney Countdown Calendar before you go. This is such a fun way to get EVERYONE in the family amped about your upcoming trip, and since time can be a rather arbitrary concept to little ones, an interactive Countdown Calendar gives them a hands-on approach to understanding how long they have to wait until the big day.
- If you’re staying on-site, mail a care package full of inexpensive Disney-themed items to your hotel a week before you leave, with instructions to deliver the package to your room after you check in. (Include the date of your arrival, your name, and your reservation number on your package.) When a hotel employee arrives with the package for your kids, tell them it’s from Mickey (or whoever their favorite character is). We did this for our daughter on our last trip, and it was absolutely priceless. She still talks about the stuff that “Mickey” sent her, and it cut way down on our souvenir purchases.
- Pre-print little notes “from Mickey” (or your child’s favorite character) that explain your family’s plan for that day. This is a great way to give kids some semblance of structure by allowing them to know what they’ll be doing that day (at least what park they’ll be visiting)—and, let’s face it: If you’ve already planned to visit Epcot while your kids are dying to spend the second day in a row at the Magic Kingdom, they will be a lot less likely to argue with Mickey than you! Here’s a blank, printable note that you can customize yourself simply by adding a textbox.
What are your best Disney tips or tricks that I’ve forgotten? Let us know!