Since returning from our week long Disney trip a couple of weeks ago, I’ve had lots of people ask for any advice, recommendations, tips, etc. for planning a Disney trip. I guess it’s pretty indicative of what stage in life a lot of my friends are at ;) To think: 5 years ago we would have been planning beach vacations with lots of tropical drinks….ahhh…the good old days.
But back to Disney- in addition to our two kids, we traveled with my sister, her husband, and my niece and nephew. So, 4 adults and 4 kids…still playing man-to-man, not too bad. Our trip was filled with RAIN, a couple of vomiting incidents, lots of meltdowns, cold RAIN, a sprained ankle (me), wayyyy too much food, and RAIN…and it was a blast! All part of the experience Russ! I hadn’t been to Disney in well over a decade (so needless to say, my first time traveling there with kids), and I will admit, a Disney trip DOES require significantly more planning that your typical family vacation. Here are a few things that I learned that will hopefully make your trip easier:
1. MagicStrollers.com – a.k.a. thebomb.com Seriously, this site is the shiz. Rather than renting a crappy stroller from ca. 1960 at the park, you can rent from this website, and they deliver it directly to your hotel. Our sweet double stroller was waiting for us when we arrived (which was super helpful because our resort itself was pretty large, so we used it just getting around the resort). When your stay is over, just leave the stroller with bell services, and the fabulous people at MagicStrollers.com pick it up- it’s so flippin’ convenient! PLUS, the strollers are infinitely better quality, yet cheaper to rent than the stroller rentals available in the parks. I think it cost us a total of $90 to rent a City Mini double stroller for the entire week: best money spent the entire trip! Speaking of which….
2. GET A STROLLER- Even if your child has not sat in a stroller in years, GET A STROLLER! There is SO much walking (my Fuelband [nerd alert!] was registering 15,000+ steps a day, and that wasn’t even picking up when I was pushing the stroller); your 10 year old will want a ride by the end of the day! Seriously, there were four kids in total on our trip and we had just rented one double stroller, thinking they would rotate using it throughout the day. By 5:00 p.m. on the first day, my sister had logged on to MagicStrollers.com from her iphone and rented a second double stroller for the duration of our trip. There were lots of tired little feetsies!
3. Book your dining reservations in advance….and then be prepared to wait for your table- Holy shnikes people! Dining at Disney is quite the production. We just so happened to book our trip almost 6 months to the day before our arrival. Within a couple days of booking, I was on the Walt Disney World website checking out our dining options and I was SHOCKED to see find out that we couldn’t get reservations for a number of restaurants already. I had no idea. I mean, really, am I dining in Cinderella’s Castle or the White House? Apparently, you are able to book reservations starting 6 months from your stay- and trust me, you need to do it, especially for the character meals! We ended up getting into a number of great restaurants (O’hana at the Polynesian was our fav), but fair warning: even when you have a reservation, be prepared to wait about 20 minutes to be sat. Planning your dining in advance kind of forces you to pull together a game plan for your stay as well. For instance, if you have reservations at The Crystal Palace, you’ll want to do the Magic Kingdom that day, rather than having to hop on the monorail or bus and head out to a different park.
4. Use a travel agent- Yes, you can plan a Disney trip on your own. BUT, be prepared to spend a LOT of time online researching. Our agent also saved us a boatload of money by finding a special promotion for us, weeks after we had booked. She ended up cancelling our reservation and re-booking at the promotional rate…it was awesome: kind of like going to buy a pair of shoes and when you bring them to the register they ring up for 30% less than you were planning on paying. Your agent can also help you get dining reservations at some of the sought-after restaurants and offer age-specific recommendations for things to do, etc. We had a great experience with our agent; feel free to e-mail me and I can pass on her contact info!
5. Pack a rain jacket- Or risk having to buy and wear the Disney poncho ;)
6. Stay on the property- I can’t imagine NOT staying on the property for the sake of convenience. Really, all the Disney resorts make everything so easy and accessible and all the buses and/or monorails come very regularly. Disney has resorts for all price points: they rank them by “value”, “moderate”, and “deluxe”. I believe the biggest difference between the value and moderate hotels is the pools and hotel amenities (the size of the standard room doesn’t vary all that much), so if you plan on spending a lot of time at the pool, you’ll want to take that in to consideration.
7. Diapers.com- Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably already familiar with Diapers.com. I had all of our diapers, wipes, baby food, snacks, and some other essentials shipped right to the hotel for us. I was even able to ship my niece’s special dairy-free milk :) I can’t imagine how much our suitcases would have weighed had we packed these items. Diapers.com has free 2-day shipping if you spend over $50, and Disney hotels will accepts packages for you up to a week prior to your stay. Of course, this isn’t exclusive to a Disney trip: I’m not sure why I have never thought to do this before.
8. Bring your own food- As I mentioned above, I had a bunch of snacks delivered to our hotel. Ben was a couple of weeks shy of his third birthday at the time of our trip, so while his admission was FREE to all the parks, he also didn’t have a meal plan like the rest of us. By packing some snacks each day, we were able to save a ton of money- and he had a lot of healthier options. I saw a number of families parking themselves on benches and busting out pre-packed pb & j’s and other homemade sandwiches too. Plus, let’s be real: sometimes a little guy just wants to be pushed in his stroller and snack on some cheddar bunnies!
9. Don’t forget to check out your hotel pool- With all of the sensory overload of the parks and ongoing entertainment the entire trip, the kids were so happy when we took an afternoon to chill at the pool. In fact, it was probably one of their most favorite days :) We stayed at a moderate resort, and it had a couple of pools, and kids’ pool that the anklebiters LOVED. I wish we had planned in an extra day just to hang at the pool. Then again, that would have necessitated the sun making an appearance…
10. Get a meal plan- the dining plan is more food than you could ever eat in a day, BUT it saves you a TON of money. We would have spent an arm and a leg on food at Disney had we not used a dining plan. Our meal plan consisted of 1 snack per day, 1 quick service meal per day, and 1 table service meal per day. This may not sound like a too much food- but trust me; it is! A lot of the table services meals are actually family style or buffets, so it is a TON of food. A quick service meal is still a FULL meal (i.e. burger and fries, drink, and dessert), so you don’t need to worry about going hungry at Disney.
11. Pack practical footwear- Ladies, ditch the vanity and wear sneaks. Or Toms. Or something of the like. I totally rocked my mom sneaks all week and was soooo happy to!
12. There will be no boozing with Mickey- The Magic Kingdom does not serve alcohol (the other parks do). Not so much a tip…but just an FYI. Word on the (Main) street is that the Magic Kingdom’s newest restaurant, Be Our Guest, serves alcohol- but otherwise the park is dry. Kind of a bummer for a tired mama who just wanted a glass of wine with her dinner. BTW- Be Our Guest was one of the restaurants that I tried to get reservations for, but couldn’t. Hmmmm….I wonder why….
13. You’re kid is never too young for Disney- Okay, well maybe that is an exaggeration. We did have a lot of people telling us that taking Ben- just shy of three- was silly because he was too young. NONSENSE people! This was such a great age to travel with him: he 100% believed that everything was truly authentic, and Disney does such a good job catering to kids of ALL ages. The Toy Story ride in Hollywood Studios was a big, big hit with the little ones. Other fan favs were: the Flying Dumbos, Pirates of the Caribbean (kind of surprised by this one), Peter Pan’s Magical Flight, meeting Cinderella, and the Muppets 3D show at Hollywood Studios. Another perk: admission for kids under 3 are free to the parks.
14. Use the My Disney Experience app- Download this before you go! It will save you a TON of time. You can sign up for your FastPass(es) and check wait times for every attraction from your phone. It is SO convenient, and will revolutionize the way you tour Disney ;)
15. You’ll need a vacation after your Disney “vacation”- Holy shnikes! Disney is exhausting. I was back in VT for 3 full days before I felt like I had regained my energy. If you’re going back to work: build a buffer day into your vacation. While we had a BLAST, we were pretty drained by the end of the trip.
Finally- on a totally random side note: if you’re traveling with someone with food allergies, Disney is AWESOME about accommodating to them. My niece has a dairy allergy, and she even got to eat dairy-free pizza at one of the restaurants, which was a huge treat for her! When you make reservations, they ask you if anyone in your party has allergies, and then when you order, a manager has to come out and sign off on the order for whomever has the allergy. I was very impressed with how they handled allergies :)
So- that’s it! All of my tips- hope these help! Any other Disney travelers have some good tips?!?!