My family of three just got back from Walt Disney World and we are already planning our next trip! I know many people who go ALL OUT for a Disney vacation – and why wouldn’t you? You are spending a TON of money to HAVE FUN and darn it, your family will HAVE FUN, right?
Next time you are there, really look around at the families. Do they appear to be having fun to you? They are sweaty, feisty with each other, and generally not thrilled with their current situation. Sure, we had our moments, but generally, we were actual happy campers, feeling the magic.
Here are my low key, no fuss Disney tips. For what it’s worth – I worked there one summer, so you can even consider some of this “insider information.” A little background before I give you my tips. I have been to Disney World numerous times in my life and I know that I will go back. This recent trip was my little one’s second trip to Disney. We took her as a 10-month-old and she was 2.5 years old on this trip.
Give yourself PLENTY of time to plan, save, and pack for your trip
We decided to head to Disney over a year ago. Disney is expensive and you want to be able to enjoy yourself. Also, infants and toddlers need so much STUFF. I literally started packing about two weeks before our trip. That way, if I needed something, I had time to go to the store and pick it up. Toothpaste is way more expensive at the hotel than it is at Walmart. Just saying.
Research and plan, but do not get overwhelmed
You will find so much information about going to Disney World on the Internet and you will see so many people who do some awesome things – matching outfits for each day, cute gifts for nice cast members, special envelopes for tipping Mousekeeping. Don’t feel like you need to do any of that to have a good time! The main place I went to for information was the Disney Junkies group on Facebook. I could ask a question, (“Best rides for a 2.5 year old at Animal Kingdom?”) and have an answer in usually about 10 minutes.
My husband and I both cannot stand to be in the car for long periods of time, so this works best for us. Since you will listen to me and plan your trip well ahead of time, you can watch for good prices for flights. It’s a quick one hour flight and well worth it, in my opinion. At the airport, have your partner board first and install the carseat (if you bring one, which I recommend on a flight). You hang out at the gate and let your little one run around until the last possible second. Bring snacks, toys, and iPad with movies loaded that do not need WiFi.
If you fly to Disney, use the Magical Express
This takes some planning ahead of time, but this bus is indeed, magical. It takes you to your resort, handles your luggage for you, and takes you back to the airport on that sad day that the trip is over. It will take longer to get to your resort than if you take an Uber, but I think not having to worry about bags is worth it. Also, it makes the magic of Disney start right away. The cast members at the airport are nice and the driver can be super fun, depending on who you have. There are also televisions on the bus, playing Disney information.
Stay at a Disney resort
There are many resorts and all kinds of price points, so do yourself the favor and stay at a resort. You will have transportation to the parks and lots of different Disney amenities that you would not have if you stayed somewhere else.
Consider using a dining plan
I have never used the dining plan, but I know that option is available and may be best for your family. There are only three of us and we only ever really eat dinner together. The rest of the day is usually snacks. Since we fly, I use a grocery service (Garden Grocer) that delivers groceries to your room. I purchase what I need to make breakfast and lunch each day in the hotel room or to bring with us to the parks (bagels, hummus, pretzels, bananas, etc.). That saves money and helps us not eat as much heavy food during our trip. I also purchase snacks and bring lots of snack size freezer bags.
Depending on where you stay, you can request a toaster and microwave, and there is usually a fridge in the room. Whether or not you do a dining plan, buy a resort cup (if you are staying at a resort). You purchase this cup for $20 (if you do not have the dining plan) and then you have free refills for your entire trip at the resort. If you drive to Disney, just pack a box with snacks and other foods that you can prepare/eat in your room.
Make meal reservations
When our daughter was 10 months old, we went to Disney for the first time in years. I did not realize at the time how important it is to make sure you have a reservation for any meal that you want to sit down and eat. There are plenty of fast food options in the parks, but for dinner, we like to sit down. I am also quite picky and do not eat meat or diary, so fast food is usually not something that will work for me.
That first night, every single restaurant that we walked up to in Epcot was booked or had a very long wait time (and this was in January – not typically a busy time for Disney). We ended up using room service, but we learned our lesson. This trip, we had a reservation for each night. Just like with resorts, there are many restaurants with different price points, so you can find something within your budget.
I also find that making reservations at a restaurant that does character meet and greets is the BEST way to meet characters and get pictures. You do not have to wait in line, they come to you, and everyone is happy and cool (if you go in the summer, you really do not want to wait in line for these characters! Trust me!). Disney is VERY allergy/special diet friendly. You just need to let them know. When I make my reservations, I indicate that we have special needs with food and they mark your reservation and have obviously been very well trained to ask specific questions.
Wear your child
If possible, wear that kid! Have you seen the stroller parking lots? Also, it seems difficult to navigate through the parks with a stroller. Both times, I have been lucky enough that my little one still enjoys being worn (and is little enough to make it happen). This has made it so easy on rides and getting off and on buses and monorails. If you must use a stroller, know that there are places where you can rent them and they will deliver them right to your room. Both times, I have rented a stroller from Kingdom Strollers. I have not actually used the stroller either time, but I was happy to have it. Next time, I will probably purchase an inexpensive umbrella stroller from Amazon and have it mailed to the resort.
If there is a ride you want to go on that is not baby/toddler friendly, use the rider switch. You can ride while your partner watches the kid and then your partner can ride.
Do not stress about rides
I probably rode 2 – 3 rides each day. There are some Disney folks out there who will try to do 8 – 10 rides a day. This is just too stressful to me. I chose rides that I thought my little one would enjoy this go around and did not stress that I couldn’t do them all. We loved It’s a Small World (Magic Kingdom), Kilimanjaro Safari (Animal Kingdom), and the Disney Jr. Show (Hollywood Studios). We also had a great time doing Enchanted Tales with Belle (Magic Kingdom).
Use the Baby Care Centers
I am in love with the Baby Care Centers at Disney World. They are clean, air conditioned, and a great place to take a break. My favorites are the ones in Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, but the others are better than the public restroom any day. The changing tables are huge, so they are a great place to go if you have a special needs older child/partner and need to change something other than a diaper. There are also companion bathrooms in the Baby Care Centers, if needed.
Try to keep the schedule you have at home
We got up at the same time we do at home, stuck to nap times (generally) and ate around the same time we do at home. Our basic Disney day was a park in the morning (we’d get there around 10 a.m.) and then back to the hotel (around 2 p.m.). Take a nap and relax and then head back out around 5 p.m. This is another great reason to stay at a Disney resort. You do not want to be hopping in and out of your car all day and dealing with traffic and parking. Many naps were taken on Disney transportation.
Have a date night!
You do not need to travel with a nanny or babysitter. We have used Kids Nite Out both times and have been very happy. If your children are older, your hotel may even have some sort of babysitting service that offers a movie night or something. Do what you are comfortable with, but know that these services exist!
LET IT GO and HAVE FUN!
Once you get there, just like with anything else, things are not going to go as planned. Your kid (or you) might get sick, it WILL rain, your family will argue. Whatever happens, just try to have a good time. You are in the most magical place on Earth, after all!