If you haven’t taken the kids to Disney World yet, sooner or later, you will. Children always find this magical place enjoyable, but for us, adults, It can be a total blast or a total misery. Luckily, my husband is one big kid and when I suggested a Disney vacation he was more excited than the kids!
We had a great time, despite the aching feet and the steaming hot temperatures….
There really is a lot to know before you visit the park. Or rather, parks, since Walt Disney World Resort includes the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. Disney is very helpful in assisting you plan your trip, so take advantage of their website, call center and app. But before you do that, make sure to read my top five tips for making your trip super magical:
1. How to never wait in line-
Waiting in lines with little ones can be a nightmare. Luckily, we never waited more than 10-15 minutes on any ride! Here’s how we did it:
FastPass (FP)- yes, everyone knows about it, but the trick is to know the secret sauce to using it! If you sign up to my-disney-experience and upload your tickets, you will be able to book your fast passes 30 days in advance (60 days if you’re staying on Disney property).
The real secret is to book all 3 fast passes early in the day (you can change the time of your FP on the disney app). This way, after you use the 3 FP you book in advance, you can book more at the park kiosks (one at a time, but they are everywhere, so just keep booking them every time you get off the ride).
Disney Experience App- download the app as soon as you know you are going on a disney vacation. The app has real time waiting times for rides, so you can figure our which rides are most popular and prioritized your FP.
Some rides rarely have a long waiting time - so they are not worth booking a FP for. This applied for most of the shows (Disney Jr. Live, Mickey Philharmagic in Magic Kingdom, Lion King in Animal Kingdom and Frozen Sing Along in Hollywood Studios). Keep your FP for most popular rides (seven dwarfs mine train in Magic Kingdom, expedition everest in animal kingdom, soaring in Epcot, rock-n-roll in hollywood Studios).
Parent Swap- Use the app to check height restriction and appropriate age for the rides. Some of the rides offer parent swap, so if you have a little one, they will let one parent go with the older child and then give you an extra FP for the same ride. That FP will be valid for about two weeks! so you can come back to that ride later on your vacation and skip the line.
–Refresh the FP booking- I learned this trick from a cast member- if you are trying to book a FP for a popular ride, sometimes it wouldn’t show since the FP sold out. However, if you keep refreshing your app or the at the kiosk, it might have a slot if someone just cancelled…
–Arrive early to meet the characters- My kids were so excited to meet the characters and get their autograph in their autograph books. The app tells you exact location and time of character greetings. We always arrived 5-7 minutes before the character, so we were first in line when they came!
–Off Pick Hours- Take advantage of slow times of the day-early morning, late lunch time and evening/night are the slowest time of the day-you can do 2-3 rides in less than an hour.
2. How to not break the bank-
There are a lot of ways to save money going to Disney. As parents, we decided to allow our kids to pick one gift per day from the park stores. We wanted them to feel rewarded for good behavior and feel the excitement of the vacation. The way we saved the money was by bringing our own water and snacks!
Yes, Disney is one of the only parks that let you bring food and water into the park (no glass bottles)- so instead of spending $2.75 for a bottle of water (and you need at least 8-10 per day for a family of 5!), we stopped at the nearest target and loaded our car with water bottles and healthy snacks.
At a store like Target you can also pick up some glow sticks and misting fans that cost a fraction of the price at the park.
3. Avoid meltdowns
We were brave enough to go in the midst of summer! So the fatigue was also accompanied by heat exhaustion… So I can’t say there were no meltdowns, but the following really helped keep it to a minimum:
Use a Stroller- we brought a double stroller with a rider board, so the 4 and 3 yrs old were sitting and our 7 yrs old was standing. We still had some arguments, but altogether it was manageable. Even if your kids are older, a stroller is always a good idea if someone gets tired or wants to take a nap. You can also rent a single/double stroller at the park.
Take a mid-day break- We did it a couple of times, and we all recharged (nobody napped but nevertheless!) and went back to the park for another 2 hours. Late night at Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios is really awesome!
Baby Care Center- Each park has a Baby Care Center that is cool and quiet for when you need to get away with the little one to decompress. You’ll find changing tables, rocking chairs in the private nursing area, high chairs… even a full kitchen where you can prepare food or warm milk. They also have a store with all kinds of baby items like jars of food, extra formula, diapers, wipes, and sunscreen. You know, the stuff you inevitably forget to pack.
4. Disney’s best value for your dollars-
Disney offers a lot of things that are really worth the money, even if some sound expensive. Here are the top three for me:
Disney family tour- This hidden gem is really such a great way to experience Magic Kingdom in a different way. The tour is about 2 hours and is basically a scalage hunt with a cast member. My kids had so much fun looking for the clues and finding them! It also included all of us going on the Winnie the Pooh ride on the FP lane (never wait in line right?), and a meet and greet with Peter Pan (again, no wait!). At the meeting point each one gets a bottle of water. at $34 a person, this was really a great experience for the whole family.
Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique- When you walk around Disney you see all the beautiful girls with their hair up in a bun and a small tiara and all in their princess costumes. I knew a Disney vacation for my 4 yrs old girl, who just by accident was born to our family and not to an actual royal family, wouldn’t be complete without it. $60 sounded pricy when I booked it, but it was worth every penny! The hairdo lasted to 8 days (don’t judge me-I couldn’t convince her to take it off!), and with it she got a nail polish, a make up set, a cute bag and a comb. the experience for her was really priceless. Small tip: if they don’t have a spot at the salon in Magic Kingdom on the day you want, book the boutique in downtown Disney and go early morning to the one in MK, they have cancellations almost every day and availability early morning, so you can switch it right at the park.
Multiple day tickets- Once you go over 4-5 days tickets, the additional amount you need to pay for every day is about $10-$15 a person, so it’s really worth going to a longer period of time and spread the trip to multiple days. Especially with little ones, you will find it beneficial to spend half day at the hotel pool and then go for 5 hours at the park rather than try to squeeze your trip into 3-4 days with full days at the parks. Skip the park hopper option. It’s hard as is to get to one park a day, nonetheless multiple ones…
5. The never ending dilemma- park shuttles vs. Car rental-
If you are staying at a Disney property, it makes sense to use the shuttles/monorail/boats. But if you would like to save some money staying at an off site hotel is really not that bad!(we booked our hotel with Hilton Honors points so we didn’t pay for our hotel stay..).
Staying around Downtown Disney or even a little further can make your stay much cheaper. As long as the hotel is close to the highway, driving a car to the parks takes no more than 20 minutes (even in rush hours!). Taking a car makes carrying strollers, water, and all hundresds of items you need when traveling with kids, much easier than if you need to go on the shuttle bus. Apart from Magic Kingdom, all parking is a walking distance to the park entrance and also have trams if you really get lazy (for us walking was much better since we had a double stroller). At Magic Kingdom, the parking is off site, but the boat and monorail that takes you to the park entrance are working all the time, so even if you have to wait, it’s not more than a few minutes. Parking is $17 a day, and if you decide to leave for a break in the middle of the day you just need to present your receipt from the morning.
We really found it convenient to have a car. We could go to Target to stock on the things we needed, without having to schlep some of it all the way from NY. We also went to eat outside the park, spent one afternoon at downtown Disney, and just felt we had more freedom in coming/going whenever we wanted without looking at the shuttle schedule.
Enjoy your trip!