I have been going to Walt Disney World since I was a little girl, and continue to travel there as often as I can! I’ve actually lost count, but I think the total number of visits is around 20. I knew my husband was really the one for me when we went to WDW a year after we had been dating and he felt the same magic that I always do. And now he’s more of a Disney expert than I am (except on the princesses - I always win in that category!). Why is it so magical? I think it has to do with Walt Disney, the genius behind it all. The company is run brilliantly because it was started with such a strong "why." It truly is the most magical place…but I digress! I am here to help you plan YOUR trip to Disney. I am speaking from a family point of view, and more specifically, a family with young children. There are so many people who know way more than I do, but these are my tips. Take them or leave them. :)
- Don’t overdo it
- This is my #1 tip for a reason. When you take young children to Disney, it can be very overwhelming, and as parents we often want them to experience everything. Plus, you are thinking, “I spent a lot of money on these tickets, we have to get the most of them.” WARNING WARNING!!! Going all day and all night with young children = MAGIC FAMILY MELTDOWNS (for kids and parents).
- Go early in the morning when it’s not as hot and plan to do 2-4 activities (rides or shows). Eat lunch and then head back to the hotel to swim or rest or nap, etc. After eating dinner (more on that later), then go back and do some more activities. Everyone will be fresh and much happier for the break.
- Don’t feel like you need to get to every park your first time to Disney. This year we are going to do Magic Kingdom twice and Animal Kingdom because of the ages of our kids. If your kids are older, try to get to Hollywood Studios. But for the first visit, you certainly don’t need to see them all. Remember, they are kids and really don’t know what they’re missing. They would rather get to experience two parks feeling really good and happy than 4 parks being hot, tired, and miserable; and so would you!
- Eat dinner at your hotel
- If you can get a room with a kitchen, the upcharge will totally be worth it in the amount of money you’ll save on eating out. Dining in Disney is expensive!! We are renting a car to buy groceries, and even with the added cost of the car rental, we will save $100’s on our food budget. We plan to eat a good snack or early lunch in the morning and then eat dinner at our room every night. We also buy things for breakfast like yogurt, cereal, eggs, etc. It is healthier and so much more affordable.
- Stay on Disney property
- It might seem much more affordable to stay just outside of Disney, but in our experience, it’s just not worth it. The “free shuttles” to the property operate on set times (often two times in the morning and two times at night) and don’t run continually. This is a problem if you stick to my #1 rule about taking a break in the afternoon. The Disney transportation is easy and is part of the experience! Their transportation runs every 20 minutes throughout the day and into the late evening. Plus, many of the Disney resorts will have characters show up, Disney movies playing for free on the TVs, and all sorts of other awesome activities. Plus, the pools and restaurants are excellent.
- Make the anticipation of the trip part of the trip!
- Every moment at Disney will not be magical, especially with young children. There will likely be meltdowns, tantrums, illnesses, long lines, etc. So you have to use that time leading up to the trip as part of the magic! We talk about it every day, show the kids videos of different attractions and highlights, and plan.
- We made a paper chain and remove a link every day. Making the chain was just another way to get excited!
- Our family is also designing matching t-shirts (nerd alert!) for this trip. Designing the shirts and shopping for them increases anticipation for the adults, too!!
- We are going to make some super simple autograph and sticker books for our children to take with us. Simple and easy, made with scrapbooking paper and Disney stickers. It’s way more affordable than buying them in Disney, and again the preparation and creation of these is part of the joy!
More tips from my mom, who is the Disney Queen!!
Get to the Magic Kingdom early! Catch the bus at 8:00 am for a 9:00 am opening; the buses get crowded. You don’t want to miss the “Good Morning" welcome song and the countdown to opening! It’s part of the excitement to be there when the gates open, and you’ll enjoy much shorter lines early in the day.
We can usually get in 4 attractions before lunch since we beat the crowds. We eat lunch around 11:30 am. We do one or two more rides after lunch and then head back to our room. We come back in the early evening after dinner.
The nighttime "Illuminations" show at Epcot is our favorite! When it’s over, escape the crowds by using the back exit right next to France. A short walk will take you to Board Walk. A fun way to end the evening! To leave Boardwalk, catch a bus or the boat to connect back to MGM and take your resort bus from there.
We follow the Dave Ramsey plan even on vacation by having a written budget of the amount we will spend in each category. We prepay the things we can, and take cash envelopes for the other categories. When we use cash we are a lot more careful about spending it!
Since we’ve been to Disney so many times, we look for new things that we haven’t done before. Sometimes the most magical experiences are the unexpected. Here are a few ideas away from the crowds:
- Take transportation to visit other resorts; have ice cream at the Grand Floridian, or enjoy lunch at Animal Kingdom. The glass walls there make you feel like you are eating with the animals. Each resort is an experience, so we like to walk around and see what each has to offer!
- Fort Wilderness has some fun things to do away from the crowds - horseback riding, bicycling, or checkers on the front porch! This year we’re renting golf carts to drive around the area. They are only $59 for 24 hours. If you stay in Fort Wilderness until evening, you can watch the electric parade of boats from the beach area. It’s magical!
- We’ve done the behind the scenes tour, but beware…it may spoil some of the magic! We did learn a lot of things we didn’t know.
- Boardwalk is a fun place to visit and, depending on the time of day, you may catch some entertainment, rent a surrey (bicycle built for 4), or just enjoy some cotton candy or a drink. Be sure to check out the lobby of the Boardwalk hotel. It’s like stepping back in time!