We took our girls — for the very first time — to Walt Disney World. And our eldest is 10 years old and our youngest is 6 years old. Don’t judge us. We waited simply because I had awful memories when I was younger of waiting in lines for hours and getting on 4 rides the whole day and I knew that our girls wouldn’t be able to deal with it; we wouldn’t be able to deal with it. Well, we are so glad we waited. And from our first trip, we came up with our 11 Disney World Tips for Families…so here you go!
1. Wait until your kids get older. Much older than you think. This might be controversial. People might give you a “tsk tsk” look. You might feel guilty. But wait. Just wait until they are older. My girls are 10 and 6 when we first took them this past weekend. I had guilty pangs all these years with people taking their 2-, 3-, 4-, and 5-year olds to Disney. But I was right on this one. All around us were meltdowns — both from parents and their kids who were just too young to walk around all day, in the sun, waiting for rides and not really caring whether they got on the Peter Pan ride or The Barnstormer.
Older kids can really appreciate a trip to Disney World. They will remember it, and will be able to wait in lines, walk around and still find it magical. And most of all, you’ll be able to enjoy your trip, because they are enjoying the trip.
2. Use the services of an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. I used the services of my old college friend, (and fellow sorority sister), Gina from In the Mouse House. Because my husband was there for a conference, our hotel was taken care of (at least at a discounted rate), and we had paid for our airfare, so all we needed was to buy tickets to the park and figure out what to do when we got there.
After consulting with me, she had recommended that we buy a 3-day pass, with one day at Magic Kingdom, one day at Epcot and one day at Animal Kingdom. But after a second consultation, we decided that two days at Magic Kingdom and one day at Epcot would be the best for our first trip. It was nice to have someone who had experience to bounce ideas from.
Gina then gave us a step-by-step itinerary of when to get on the park shuttle, and which rides to go on in order. Based on my girls’ ages and interests, she booked our Fast Passes and our dinner reservations, which all worked in tandem with our park itineraries. As a result, each of our park days were easy, not hectic, and smooth. We rarely waited on lines even though we hit all the big rides and never waited for them. (The longest line we stood on was for 30 minutes, and that’s because we wanted to ride Speedway and Winnie the Pooh twice.)
3. Link up your tickets, restaurant reservations and Fast Passes to My Disney Experience, and download the My Disney Experience App on your Smart Phone. When you are in the parks, the app is your lifeline. It will tell you your dining reservations, your Fast Pass times, and wait times for all the rides. It is just crucial to have all the information at your fingertips, so you aren’t guessing — you’re making smart decisions.
4. Don’t take the Disney’s Magical Express Bus. If you can spend the extra $65 to and from your hotel, I highly urge you to take your own taxi. The Disney Magical Express Bus is included with your tickets, but there is a cost: your time. You have to wait in line to get the bus tickets, board the bus, wait for other people to board the bus, then wait for everyone on the bus to get dropped off at their hotels (which are all different from yours).
Instead of getting to the hotel in a 30 minute taxi ride, it took 1.5 hours: we spent 30 minutes waiting for the bus to fill up, then an hour getting to the different resorts and dropping off the different passengers. For us, it wasn’t worth it. We took a taxi from our hotel to the airport.
5. Rent a stroller ahead of time for your younger kids. Our youngest is 6-years old, but I knew she wouldn’t be able to walk around the park for several hours, every day, in the sun. We rented a Citi Mini Stroller from Magic Strollers (about $47) for three days. It was delivered to our hotel in a big black bag and had a huge ticket with our name on it, so we could tell it apart from the rest of the strollers while at the park. This was such a good suggestion on Gina’s part. The stroller carried our snacks, extra clothes, water bottles and sunscreen. And when both girls got tired, they both sat in the stroller.
6. Have breakfast in your hotel room. Gina had given us another great tip. Instead of taking the time (say 1.5 hours) and money for breakfast, have breakfast in your hotel room! Pre-order groceries ahead of time from a company called Garden Grocer, and groceries will be delivered to your hotel on the day you get there. (For those of you in the NYC tri-state area, it’s just like FreshDirect.com.)
I ordered breakfast staples like milk, orange juice, cold cereals, yogurt, bagels, cream cheese, paper bowls, plates and plastic utensils. When the girls got up in the morning, we set out the small table that was in our hotel room, and we all had breakfast. All in, it cost about $57 for breakfast for three days for the four of us. That’s $4.75 per person which is cheaper than any breakfast at the resort. Also, we were able to bring bagels for a snack at the park, and the yogurt was a yummy and healthy afternoon snack. By the time we got up, got dressed, and ate breakfast, it was 45 minutes and we were out the door.
7. Get up early and get to the Magic Kingdom (or any of the parks) by 8:15am. If you stay at one of the Disney resorts, there’s a free shuttle bus to the parks. We would take the shuttle bus at our resort by 7:45/8:00 a.m. to get to the park by 8:15, which may seem a bit early, but trust me, the first and second day we got to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot at 8:15 and we were one of the first people in the park. It was a breeze to get through bag check and the ticket lines. The third day, we got to the Magic Kingdom only 15 minutes later and it took much longer to get in and we had to wait in line for bag check and to scan in our Magic Bands. Use the extra 45 minutes to have your coffee, slather on sunscreen and let the kids run around.
8. Bring snacks for your kids. Don’t laugh. I packed a hand-carry case with a bunch of snacks like nuts, banana chips, Veggie Straws, yogurt covered pretzels, GoGo Squeez, and dried cranberries. I also packed gallon sized zipper plastic bag and smaller zipper sandwich bags. Each kid got her own gallon sized zipper plastic bag with their name on it and they each filled it with snacks of their choice. Then they made their own “trail mix” out of the banana chips, nuts and cranberries. I would give the kids a mid-morning snack around 10am so that they can be good until lunchtime, and on the shuttle bus ride back to hotel so that they could last through dinner. It was definitely money-saving and much more healthy! (We did, however, always splurge once a day on an ice cream treat at the park!)
9. Eat lunch at 11:30am while you are at any of the Disney World parks. A proper schedule will have you eating early. Any later will mean that you will have to wait in line, which means everyone will get cranky. Get to your lunch destination by 11:30 and you’ll be out by 12:30. When you leave, you’ll see a HUGE line because all those people waited until the “normal lunch hour of 12:30″, and you’ll be saying, “See, aren’t you glad you we ate early?”
10. Always schedule the afternoon for a break at your hotel’s pool. When you use the services of an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner, you will have time, I promise, to spend 2-3 hours in your resort’s pool — and this is after going on all the rides that you need to go on with hardly any wait. This was when our Disney vacation felt like a real vacation. The kids would stay in the pool for hours, play and just have a great time after a long (but fun!) day at the park.
11. Make reservations for dinner. If you’re going to make any meal reservations, do it for dinner so that you aren’t waiting in a line (again, just trying to make sure no one gets cranky). Make reservations well ahead of time so you can get the time and venue that you want.
I promise that if you follow the above 11 Disney World Tips for Families, you will have a happy family trip to Disney World (and you’ll even want to go back!).
What are some of your Disney World tips? Let me know in the comments!
For help with your next Disney vacation, contact Gina at In the Mouse House. To order a food delivery for your next Disney World vacation, visit Garden Grocer. And, to rent a stroller for your Disney world vacation, visit Magic Strollers. And don’t forget to visit My Disney Experience to link up all of your vacation information!