With a number of my friends getting ready to do their first Walt Disney World trips this year, I thought I’d do an almost completely off topic post to share my best tips for a great trip. I’ll throw in a couple of sewing projects, just to keep it a little more on topic, hah!
My first trip to Disney was with my husband on our honeymoon. We rocked up at the gate at maybe 11am, bought our day ticket and then hardly saw a thing because we had no clue what a fast pass was, what attractions we should prioritize, and we had no interest in taking photos with the characters. Fast forward 9 years, and we took our first trip with our little family of five – our daughter (who turned 5 while we were there), our son (almost 3), and our baby (10 months). We saw a ton and had a ball!
I’m an information hoarder by nature. So in planning our trip, I went into overdrive researching every little thing to ensure we maximized our time in Orlando. I got most of my advice from the Walt Disney World Facebook planning group and WDW Prep School. I pinned my favorite Disney planning ideas to Pinterest.
About Our Trip
Since we were also visiting friends in Tampa, we opted to drive from DC to FL. Our kids are used to this kind of long haul trek, since we drive to NYC a lot. This was like two back to back days of this! A lot of people will drive through the night so that they don’t have to stay at a hotel along the way, but we decided to stay overnight in Savannah, GA on the way down and Florence, SC on the way home.
We opted to stay at the resort (“on property”) – at “Art of Animation” which is considered a Value Resort. We had a great suite on the ground floor of the “Cars” themed area. We had 3 beds – the master was in its own room with a bathroom, and the other two were a sofa bed and murphy beds in the lounge/dining room – also with a second bathroom. It was about a 5 minute walk to get to the shuttles, pool, main hall and parking lot.
We stayed at the resort 5 nights, and spent 3 days in the parks (2 days in Magic Kingdom and 1 day in Hollywood Studios), and 1 day in Downtown Disney. We were there in late October til the first week of November.
My 20 Top Tips!
Anyway, onto my best tips. Some of these are things we did, and others are things I wish we had done. They’re in no particular order 🙂
- Use Mouse Dining to get alerts for difficult dining reservations you want to get. We were able to score Be Our Guest dinner and pre-park opening breakfast with this tool. You can cancel any reservation 24 hours prior, so grab what is ok when you can and cancel it if you find something better.
- Buy a copy of the Disney Jr. Character Encyclopedia* and some Clickable Sharpies* for your autographs! (Use the Encyclopedia for all your trips!).
- Bring your own costume, wand, jewelry and shoes to Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique – we did this for my daughter’s 5th Birthday. The basic package provides hair and makeup, and a tiara (if you get that hairstyle) – they get to keep their makeup, nail polish, and comb.
- Buy Disney Memory Maker in advance. Disney Photographers will take your photo at multiple locations in each park and at Downtown Disney (including Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique) and these will automagically get loaded onto your Disney account and you’ll see them on your phone within the app.
- Learn how to use Fast Pass with Rider Swap if you have children under the height requirements for certain rides.
- Use Touring Plans before you go on your trip to work out your daily itineraries. I used this but didn’t set it up until the day before, which was a little stressful. Even still, it was helpful for seeing more accurate line information and making changes on the fly.
- Bring costumes that you can easily swap while in line for meet and greets. I used the Boo! Designs Skater Dress Patterns for most of mine. (Note the age restrictions for wearing costumes at Disney).
- If you’re going to go to Disney during Halloween, get tickets for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. We decided NOT to get them but kinda regretted it. This is your one chance to get photos with the villains and there are fewer people in the park so you can knock out many rides in a shorter amount of time. Make sure your kids are well rested before you go though since it’s from 4pm – late night. We were in Hollywood Studios on the actual day of Halloween and they did provide some candy to the kids but not a whole lot. There was also a Halloween party at the resort with a character appearance, but we were in the park at the time so we missed it.
- Download and work out how to use the WDW App before you go.
- Pack your own lunches and snacks (you can bring food into the park). We bought an insulated backpack* to store it in. We refilled our water bottles at kiosks around the park. Note, there was no freezer in our hotel room – just a fridge, so we had to load up the bag with ice in our water bottles since we couldn’t freeze our ice packs. You can also eat your lunches while waiting in line for things.
- Buy ponchos from the dollar store before you go.
- Buy a used double stroller (or rent one outside the park) before you go. Even if your kids have grown out of the stroller phase, they may still need one at Disney since there is a lot of walking. Ours also doubles as a portable bed. We picked up a used City Mini double* for $200. I also brought along our bag hangers* and two of these parent caddies*.
- I read a lot of reviews that said to go back to the resort in the afternoon and then come back in the evening. We did this on the first day but really regretted it. Our kids are accustomed to sleeping in the stroller and when we went back to the resort to “rest” they had more fun jumping up and down on the beds. The following day, all of them took turns napping in the stroller while we saw some shows, did some rider swaps, and ate Dole Whip in the shade. The biggest disadvantage in leaving and returning is having to go through security multiple times. On the up side, we were able to get really good parking in the afternoon which made for a quick exit from Fantasmic that night. Now, an exception to this would be if you are staying right next door to a park, or you will be staying for more days than we did!
- Bring your own glow sticks* to Hollywood Studios on Fantasmic nights. They’re also fun at the Magic Kingdom night time dance party in Tomorrowland.
- Use a Disney authorized agent to plan your trip – they are paid by Disney so there’s no cost to you. We did not do this but I have read that it is highly recommended, especially if you can get a good agent.
- I bought little trinkets for my kids to open each day as an incentive to get ready quickly! I had some Cars toys (I picked them up from a local buy/sell/swap for $2.50 each) and a pack of Disney Princesses with clip on dresses (I got a 10 pack from Costco and gave her 2 each day). These doubled up as activities for them to play with while waiting in lines too.
- Get a portable battery charger* for your phone.
- Plan to book Fast Passes in the morning and then once you’ve used your initial lot, continue booking your next ones as you are in line for rides. (As soon as they scan your magic band you can theoretically start booking your next one). If you see a hot ride appear (e.g., Peter Pan or Seven Dwarfs Mine Train), jump on it!
- Keep an eye on the app to see when random characters appear. You can also use the app to see where Disney photographers are stationed.
- If you’re driving to Disney, we loved having the following things in our minivan: A tablet headrest mount*, car seat snack/activity trays*, a tote bin to keep all the toys and books contained, various audiobooks downloaded from our local library’s Overdrive (depending on the books you want, you may need to put them on hold a few weeks or months in advance), lots of snacks, various activity books, this train set* for my son (we used electrical tape to make tracks on his activity tray and it kept him occupied for over an hour!! I also suggest just bringing the trains and leaving the mat and book at home), our cooler bag for fruit and milk, and of course phone car chargers.
Well, there you have it. 20 of my top tips for Disney. If you’re planning your own trip soon, I hope these tips help you out! You’ll have a great time :-). Sound off in the comments to let me know what your best tips are!