Disney World is one of those vacation destinations people are magically drawn to over and over again. I happen to be one of those people and this past spring break we made our third trip to the Magical Kingdom in the last seven years. That makes me sound like we LOVE it. Let me be clear. I do not love it. I tolerate it. We spend boat loads of money to visit multiple theme parks, pull muscles we didn’t know existed, and suffer through endless lines and crowds of people.
This year however, was different. We had new companions on our adventure, my parents, Gamma and Papi. It was great to have reinforcements. In fact, every family should have them. A vacation to Disney World can be a lot of work, but a lot of fun happens along the way.
10 Things to Know Before You Go:
Disney World Park Tickets
Unless you are staying on property and they come as part of a package deal, try to buy your park tickets ahead of time. Doing so will save you the headache of waiting in line with all the other slackers on the day of your visit. There are ways to purchase discounted tickets for Disney World. If you or a family member is a military service member, works for certain corporations or government groups, or is a member of AAA, there are discounts available to you. Since none of these applied to us, I found our tickets on www.undercovertourist.com. They have discounts on all types of theme park tickets. The website is fairly straightforward, and since we are going for a week and I know we want to see all of the Disney parks, I opted for the 4 day park hopper. As luck would have it, it came with the 5th day free. I will take it!
Character Dining Experiences
If your child is desperate to have a meal with a Disney character, do yourself a favor and book your reservation in advance. Go to www.disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining where Disney has created a stream lined reservation process. You can select the time, date and location of your meal. When dining at Disney, it is extremely helpful to plan any sit down meals in advance or you may find yourself scrambling when the kids are screaming for dinner.
Staying On Property Versus Staying Off Property
While it sounds great to stay on property, each time we found it to be cost prohibitive. It would have been extremely helpful when we took a 5 month old to the park, but now that the kids are older and can schlep through two parks per day, there is no reason to stay nearby. We have stayed at a Disney affiliate property the Swan and Dolphin, which was nice, with access to Disney character meals in some of their restaurants, shuttle service to Disney parks, and the benefit of Disney extra magic hours (entering the parks early or staying late on certain days). We also rented a condo with another family, which was nice to be able to cook meals and spend time together. We also stayed at two different “vacation clubs”, Marriott and Hilton. You do not have to be a time share owner to stay at these resorts, and they have all the amenities you would expect from a resort and time share property.
Renting a Car at the Orlando Airport
Orlando may have my vote as one of the easiest places to pick up a rental car. After you deplane, a tram takes you from the arrival terminal to the baggage claim (have your kids sit at the front of the tram for a great view). Pick up your bags and take the escalator downstairs to the rental car counters. If there is a long line, there may be a kiosk available to check in. I would highly advise using one as long as your driver’s license has a bar code on the back. Once you have your paperwork, walk across the street, show the agent your papers, pick out a vehicle and you are on your way.
For many of us, toll roads are a part of our daily commute. This does not change because you are on vacation. Traveling from the airport to your hotel (or the theme parks) will require at least one or more tolls. Bring change with you because not all booths will have an attendant. We learned this the hard way at a Sun Pass booth, where we had to take an envelope to mail in a fine of 75 cents. I think the stamp and the paper the check is printed on may actually cost more than that.
Download an App for Ride Wait Times
There are several apps to choose from, but we found these to be extremely helpful when planning our time at the parks. The app will list the majority of the rides and the approximate wait time for each. This eliminates the disappointment of walking halfway across the park only to find the ride you want has an hour long line.
Have a Plan
The night before you head out, sit down and lay out your plan of attack for the next day. What are the must see rides/attractions? Which three attractions will you Fast Pass+? Allow for plenty of time to make your way to the park, especially if you are using Disney transportation. It will always take longer than you think. We also like to head straight to the back of the park when it opens to avoid the crowds at the front.
Disney allows you to bring your own snacks and you should take advantage of this. This is very helpful if you have a child with allergies. We stock up with snacks once we arrive in Orlando so we don’t have to bring them on the plane.
Make a Souvenir Budget
It is a given that your kids will ask for every single thing they see in the gift shop and then some. Do yourself a favor and buy a Disney gift card ahead of time with a pre-set dollar amount for each child. Once the child has spent all their money, no more souvenirs for them.
If you have a stroller that is lightweight, be sure to bring it with you. The kids will get tired, and it is convenient to have your own instead of renting a costly Disney stroller. We would also recommend a ride along stroller board. We used it for our older children and it was a lifesaver!
If you are planning on going at peak times, it will be crowded, so bring an extra dose of patience and some good walking shoes. It also helps to bring your own water bottles and save yourself some money. There are plenty of drinking fountains around the park when your bottle needs a refill. Disney is rolling out their new program called FastPass+, which allows you to reserve your experiences before you even step foot in the park. For more information, click on this post about Fast Pass+. Disney World can be overwhelming for any family planning a first time trip, but hopefully some of these tips will help get you on your way to a successful Orlando vacation.
Is there anything else you would add to the list? I would love to know.
This post may contain affiliate links, however, all recommendations are my own.