Our family just got back from a fantastic four-day vacation to Walt Disney World, and I wanted to share all of my Disney World tips with you! Some of my best Disney World tips actually came from all of YOU! A few weeks ago, I put out a plea on facebook for help and all of you delivered with invaluable Disney World tips, tricks, and advice. Thank you! I also googled my heart out to make sure I was thoroughly prepared. One of you suggested booking the trip through Brittney B Smith–an authorized Disney Travelplanner–to take advantage of a professional’s insider tips. I took you up on it which was so incredibly HELPFUL! More on Brittney in tomorrow’s post.
***I am going to preface this post by saying that I am NOT a Disney fanatic. There are a bazillion blogs and websites out there devoted to nothing but Disney by people who eat, breathe, and LIVE on pixie dust and Mickey Mouse fumes. I am not one of them. I think Disney is a fun place for kids and I enjoyed many trips to both Disney World and Disney Land growing up as a child and teen, but it’s by far not my first choice of places to drop major cash for a vacay. I would rather take a family trip to Costa Rica, or Yosemite, or Hawaii or a thousand other places. (I’ll spare you the details in this post on my social anxiety disorder and how I feel like biting someone when in a crowd… True story.) However, the boys voted for Disney and I think every child should experience the magic at least once in their life. My boys are 8 and 5 (almost 6) and are at the PERFECT age for a Disney World Vacation! I’m so thankful we were able to take them this year before Asher becomes an “adult” in price at age 10.***
Tip 1: Plan your trip at least 6 months in advance.
Yes, you can certainly decide to go to Disney spur-of-the-moment and still have a fantastic time. However, if you want to secure dining reservations or take advantage of additional activities which require reservations, then you will want 180 days notice to be able to pounce on the time-slots that work best for you. My kids are dinosaur crazy and I KNEW that they would love to dine at the T-Rex Restaurant in Downtown Disney.
Literally the ONLY slot available at ANY time during our stay—6 months in advance mind you—was a 1pm reservation on Sunday. I booked it and planned the rest of the vacation around it. I was able to secure reservations for all the other restaurants we wanted at the times we wanted. While we’re speaking of food, let’s talk about the Disney Dining Plan.
Tip 2: Research the Dining Plan Before Your Trip
I’m just gonna say it. I found the Disney dining plan unnecessarily confusing! Most sites that I visited recommended purchasing the dining plan. We did the 2012 Magic Your Way Package Plus Dining which entitled us to 1 table service meal (entree, drink, dessert), 1 quick service meal (entree, drink, dessert), and 1 snack per person per day. Was this a better deal financially? I really don’t know. Yes from the perspective of the amount of food we got for the price we paid and no from the perspective of what I would have eaten if we weren’t on the dining plan. I’m incredibly cheap and wouldn’t have purchased nearly the amount of in-park food that the dining plan entitles you to. However, some travel weeks even offer the dining plan for FREE when you stay at a Disney resort which is awesome. You just have to decide what your budget is beforehand and how you want to handle food. I knew beforehand that we wanted to stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge and that we would be flying and not renting a car. Not having a car sealed the deal on the dining plan for me, and honestly it was nice to not have to worry about food costs since we pre-paid.
Tip on food allergies: Although I did research all the gluten free options available for my kiddos, things change and options I thought would be available based on others’ info wasn’t. They never went hungry and the chefs were incredibly accommodating, but this did mean longer wait times on food at each restaurant. A chef will come out to talk to your table about whatever allergies are present every time which is amazing service, but indeed means waiting for a chef to be available before you can order your food. Most restaurants went above and beyond accommodating the boys’ diet and even allowed us to order gluten-free adult desserts for them at no extra charge.
I also didn’t learn until our last day that a $5 Edy’s waffle cone sundae drenched in delicious hot fudge counted as 1 snack and so did the waxy-coated chocolate frozen banana from the street cart. I think I’d rather have the sundae, how about you? Again, do more research on what SPECIFIC items are included in your dining plan and don’t be scared to ask at each food source. Another tip that somehow I missed beforehand is that this purple DP symbol means that the item is included on the dining plan. I should have figured that out earlier, but I didn’t. Look for the symbol at all of your quick service restaurants to see if that item is included and certainly don’t be scared to ask! I’ll give you more food tips as to where we ate as I review each park.
Tip 3: Make your trip a SURPRISE!
My boys knew that we were going to Disney and they even knew it would be sometime in October, but I didn’t tell them the exact day. It was so much fun to surprise them in the morning with the news :). You can watch their surprised reactions below (just don’t judge the mess).
Tip 4: Bring snacks, water bottles, & goodies along with you.
I gave each of the boys a belted pack filled with a watch, their schedule, sunglasses, candy, snacks, and coloring books/word searches for the plane. I wanted them occupied on the plane, and I wanted to prevent having to dig in my own bag for snacks. I also wanted to pre-empt the incessant what are we doing next question. Asher (my oldest) is mildly “on the spectrum” which means he has high-functioning autism. Knowing “what is next” is incredibly important to him, but honestly Zephan (who is not autistic) is even worse when it comes to bugging me about our daily schedule. I created a basic itinerary for the boys which worked like a charm. When they asked what we were doing next, I could just remind them to look at their schedule.
I also purchased a myriad of dollar store glow sticks, glow swords, glow masks, etc. for the evenings. This saved us from having the boys covet the $15 glow thingies that Disney sells. I also bought small gifts to surprise them with at night. Spider man coloring books, Ninjago and Angry Birds undies, Mickey Mouse rice krispie treats, etc. This helped keep the crazy-over-consumerism-materialism at bay. I also took your advice and let them know beforehand that they each had a $20 budget to purchase a souvenir. Once that money was spent they knew they couldn’t ask for anything more.
Tip: You can get a cup of tap ice-water at any vendor free of charge; however, you may have to wait in line to obtain your water. Bring at least one large water bottle for your family to avoid lines. The tap water has a strong chlorine taste to it so bottled water might be in order.
Tip 5: Bring your iphones along, buy a portable battery sleeve, and download your Disney apps beforehand.
Kelly from Nest of Posies suggested that I buy a portable battery for my iphone 4S. I found a rechargeable case that has a battery within it that gives you about 5 additional hours of battery life–perfect for traveling! I also downloaded three free Disney apps and used all of them at various times. I found the Disney World “Undercover Tourist” app the most helpful for predicting ride wait times and park schedule. I used the other two apps for their map features. Download your apps beforehand and play around with them so you’re not trying to learn how to use the apps when everyone is depending on you for direction. Just sayin’.
Here is another great tip for you! Make sure you have your iphone camera (or any camera) ready to snap photos of the monitors showing your family on the rides. You might not want to dish out the money for each photo but it’s very fun to snap a quick keepsake of the experience!
Tomorrow I will share with you my in-park tips for each Disney World park, so be sure to come back for more!