Walt Disney World is one of mine and my wife’s most favorite spots. We just love it. There’s just something magical about the place that makes all your worldly cares drift away. In fact, I proposed to Heather at the wishing well near Cinderella’s Castle. It’s certainly a place that holds special memories for us. Well, after the year we’ve had, we felt we all needed a little getaway – something to really celebrate Heather’s graduation from NP school and to celebrate a little something else I hope you’ll find out about soon. So, it was obvious that it was time to take our little guy on his first trip to Disney.
In short, we had a blast. But don’t expect Disney World to be a relaxing vacation. It’s one of those where you’ll need a vacation from your vacation, but trust me… you’ll have so much fun, you won’t realize how tired you are until your head hits the pillow.
Now, I will never claim to be a Disney expert, but I think some of these tips and tricks might help you when you’re planning your own trip to the House of the Mouse. Share them if you’d like and be sure to comment below with your own tips and suggestions!
There are tons of great websites out there to help you get things planned. My favorite sites include DisneyWorld.com, AllEars.net, InsidetheMagic.net, WDWInfo.com, MousePlanet.com, and PassPorter.com.
When it comes time for booking, there are all kinds of options. You can go through a travel agency, AAA travel, and websites like Expedia.com, etc. But I have always booked directly through DisneyWorld.com and have always been very pleased. The trick is more about knowing when to book for the best deals. Traveling in the off season is the best bet to get the best deals. We always go between Thanksgiving and Christmas (avoiding the holidays, of course), and seem to fair well when it comes to heat, cost, and crowds. January and February are usually good months to go as well. If waiting for the perfect deal makes you too nervous, you can always book the trip and then when you see the right deal come along, you can call Disney and almost always change your package to the new deal. Just keep in mind some offers are resort specific, so it may mean a change to your existing package. We used this option most recently and it really worked in our favor.
Many folks toy with the option of staying on Disney property versus an independent hotel off-site. It’s certainly a matter of preference, but we always opt to stay in a Disney resort – for a variety of reasons. Guests staying on Disney property have the option of using Disney’s own extensive transportation system. That means you can park you car in the hotel lot and never crank it again until you leave. If you’re flying in, it keeps you from having to rent a car. Those flying will be met at the airport, you’ll board Disney’s Magical Express straight to your hotel, and your bags will magically appear in your room. And though Disney transportation can become crowded during peak times, we think it’s totally worth it. Disney guests also have the option of using the package delivery service. If you make a purchase in any park, most of the time you can have that purchase delivered to your resort and can pick it up when you get back to the hotel. It’s nice not having to lug around souvenirs and then try to find a place to stash them while you board Space Mountain. Extra Magic Hours are a great perk, too. Each day one park opens an hour early or stays open a few hours later especially for Disney resort guests. If you play your cards right, this could give you the opportunity to get on that one specific ride without having the long wait.
Disney offers three categories of resorts: Value, Moderate, and Deluxe. Again, this is a matter or personal preference, but we usually go for the Value resorts based on the cost. If you’re hanging out in your room, then you’re not doing Disney right. For us, the hotel is only where we sleep and maybe hit the pool a couple of times. It’s not worth the investment in a higher category resort for us. And with the addition of the new Family Suites in Disney’s Art of Animation Resort (which is where we stayed), you can sleep up to 6 folks comfortably in a Value resort.
The package we booked included a Disney Dining Plan. The plan that came with our package was the Quick-Service Plan and offered two quick-service (think fast food) meals and one snack per person per night of the stay. We opted to upgrade to the standard Dining Plan which includes one table service meal, one quick-service, and one snack per person per night stay. It was WAY more food than we imagined. With each lunch and dinner you get a drink, an entree, and a dessert. By the end of the stay, I was growing tired of dessert at every meal. ~I never thought I’d hear myself say that.~ The best part is that you don’t have to use one quick-service and one table service every day. You can do two table services in one day if you’d like. You just get that number of meal credits per person per night stay. If you stay 5 nights, each person gets 5 snack, 5 quick-service, and 5 table service credits and they can be used in any combination.
When it comes to eating, you can rest assured you will have plenty of options at Disney. I STRONGLY recommend reservations, though. You can book dining reservation up to 180 days in advance of your vacation by visiting the Dining Reservation site or by calling 407-WDW-DINE. Our favorite spots from our most recent trip include Be Our Guest, Coral Reef, Yak and Yeti, Tony’s Town Square, Rainforest Cafe, 50′s Prime Time Cafe, and Sci-fi Dine-In Theatre.
Each day we take a lightweight backpack into the parks with us. It’s great to keep up with small souvenirs, but most importantly to keep up with a few snacks. Yep, I said snacks. Disney has no problem with you bringing in your own snacks and drinks. They don’t broadcast it, but they sure do allow it. And with $3.25 20-ounce Cokes and $4.99 cinnamon almonds, you might want to bring something in. At some point you’ll have to break down and get the Mickey-shaped ice cream and the Dole Whip, but at least you can have some bottled water in the bag.
Other things we keep in the bag: cheap plastic Dollar Tree ponchos – for the rare shower or even the wet rides like Splash Mountain and Kali River Rapids, band-aids, blister bandages, Friction Block Stick, moleskin, hand sanitizer, Pepto-Bismol tablets, small camera. You get the idea.
Disney has photographer stationed around all the parks in the best spots for photos. They’ll use their professional cameras to capture the perfect images of you and your family in those spots and give you a nifty little PhotoPass card. Then every time you have another photographer take your pictures, you get them to scan your card and then you can view your photos online and purchase your favorites. It doesn’t cost anything to have them taken, so if you end up not liking what they’ve taken, you’re not out anything. And a little hint, if you ask them, they’ll take the same photo of you with your own camera.
Disney has a great new app, My Disney Experience for iPhone and Android, that you should really look into if you’re a techy like me. It provides you with interactive maps, park hours, current ride wait times, and much more. You can even make dining reservations right from your smart phone. I also recommend the WDW Dining app to managing reservations and to look at restaurant menus in advance.
Things You MUST Do
If possible, stay for the fireworks/extravaganzas at the end of each day in Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios. It’s amazing to think they end every single day at Disney with these kinds of shows.
Ride the Dumbo ride. It’s required.
Even though it’s early, try your best to make it to the opening show at Magic Kingdom. It usually starts about 15 minutes before the park opens and is pretty fun. Plus, your family might get picked to help open the park!
Get the Mickey Mouse-shaped ice cream bar. It’s almost like a rite-of-passage for Disney guests. Do it.
Get your picture taken with your favorite character, be it Mickey, Goofy, Stitch, or Mary Poppins. It doesn’t matter that you’re 31. I promise.
Get the Dole Whip when you’re in Adventureland in Magic Kingdom. It’s pineapple or orange flavored soft serve. You can even make it a float by adding pineapple juice. It’s totally worth it. Dang it… now I want one.
Let go of it all and have fun! Disney is one of the very few places where it’s acceptable for a grown man to act like an 8-year-old. So, do it. Get the Mickey ears hat and don the Disney shirt. It’s okay to be silly and let it all go. It might be a little uncomfortable in the beginning, but I promise it will be worth it.
Make memories! Enjoy laughing at the crazy screaming woman on Space Mountain. She’s having fun and so should you. Delight in the wide-eyed gaze of a child the first time he or she sees Cinderella’s Castle or Mickey Mouse. They are only kids once, and though even today I’m still mesmerized by the Disney magic, it’s still not the same as being a part of the excitement of a child’s first visit.
Do you have Disney tips, tricks, or suggestions? Leave them as comments below!