There are MANY great blogs and YouTube videos available on tips for traveling to Disney World that I hesitated to even write about it. However, perhaps our family dynamic and preferences will be relatable to some and perhaps others can benefit from what we’ve learned. Some of these tips may be obvious to folks, but for us they just were not. I felt quite overwhelmed by the all the information and felt like I needed a degree in Disney. We did not use a travel agent and chose to manage the logistics ourselves. Travel agents can be super helpful getting everything organized and perhaps extra perks, so if you have that option definitely consider that as well.
We’ve now traveled to Disney World with our kids three times in a year, including flying commercial. While frequent to some, others are even more frequent visitors than us with more experiences to share. So three trips definitely doesn’t make us experts, each time we learn and see new things. I would love to learn from your tips and experiences, so please leave comments if you have other suggestions.
Dates / Hotels
Our trips were the following months and hotel locations:
- September 2017 (post major hurricanes) – Polynesian Resort
- February 2018 – Contemporary Resort
- June 2018 – Polynesian Resort
There is information about the best times and the worst times to go to Disney World. We ended up seeing a variation of that because of the timing of our trips. September 2017 ended up being our hottest trip so far, February 2018 had the best weather, and June 2018 was our most crowded experience. However, each trip stands out with unique memories as each time we saw new things and tried new restaurants.
This will not be a recap of each entire trip, but a summary of the tips we have picked up along the way that are making each next visit that much more enjoyable.
So in no particular order, here are tips and tricks we’ve done in our Disney World travels:
Tip #1 – Know your family dynamic and preferences.
Our personal preference is to make the trip fit you and not the other way around. I know that’s hard to say based on the level of investment it takes to go to Disney World. Yes there are ways to make Disney World more affordable, but for the whole it can be a pricey experience. The money spent coupled with perfect photos on Instagram/FB can bring a pressure to maximize your experience to your own misery. It’s SO unfortunate that multiple times my husband and I walked around with grins on our faces and noticed how tired and unhappy the majority of the crowd was. Even if it’s Disney World, I desire it to feel like a vacation (even if there are times when it doesn’t). Therefore, we chose to honor some things about our family over the pressure to maximize the Disney experience.
The aspects we took into account were:
- Our children are young (ages 2 and 4, eventually 5 on our last trip). Our kids need naps/bedtimes to function.
- Our kids are snackers and our 2 year old will sit still for a meal for about 15 mins.
- Our daughter prioritized meeting characters for our first trip.
- I have little patience and my 2 year old has even less, which means not standing in line over 30 minutes, even if that means missing some cool rides or character visits.
- We knew we needed to fly 2.5 hours vs. drive 16 hours, direct flight is best.
- We likely won’t be in cute matchy-matchy outfits. As much I adore that in other people’s photos, it just wasn’t going to happen. It takes extra money, time, and stress to accomplish. It was less pressure to make sure we all had on the right clothes and kept them nice, especially since our son is a messy kiddo and it was super hot on 2 of our 3 trips.
Our first time at Disney World – September 2017
Tip #2 – Bring more extra clothes than you think…add two extra outfits per child, at least
So if you have little ones I’m not telling you something you don’t already know, except above your normal “extra clothes” plan for a trip, add two more AT LEAST. And here’s why that was a lesson learned for our family:
On our first trip, I had an extra outfit for each day for our son, Nash. Little did I know how fast we would go through those extra outfits. He was extra messy eating new foods and playing around on various things. Before I knew it we were leaving for home with one spare outfit left, which felt like I just squeezed by until we ended up having a super long bus charter ride (Disney’s Magical Express) and a long wait to get through security to our gate that Nash had peed through his diaper and clothes. I took him to the bathroom to change into his very last clean outfit. He was so unhappy about this situation he refused to lie down for the changing so I had to change him while he was standing up. He then proceeded to pee when undressed and ruin his socks. So we end up with no socks, shoes, and his last outfit. Then the flight takes extra long landing as they are in the pattern for an extra 30 minutes, followed by a 30 minute taxi to our gate. I’m not able to get Nash changed and it turns out he has again peed through his diaper and pants. Due to our quick repacking of bags, all I have left is a pair of Chase’s PJ pants and a shirt. I have to change Nash in the seat right there and put him in his sisters clothes. He was so upset and kept pulling at the clothes in frustration because he knew he had on his sisters stuff. LOL We are the hot mess express! 🙂 So many lessons learned here. Triple the extra outfits, more ziplock baggies for change of clothes, and definitely more diaper changes when there is time on the plane because Nash drinks more fluids when on trips and he’s tired. 🙂 I can say that we haven’t had a situation this bad again so far. 🙂
Our first Disney World Trip – September 2017
Our second trip for Nash’s 2nd birthday.
Our third trip we had a 2 hour rain delay, but luckily we were just held up in the terminal and not stuck on the plane.
Tip #3 – If you have a toddler, have an exit strategy for meals and experiences
Nash is a great eater and a great sleeper. However, he is not one for standing or sitting still. Our boy is always on the go. He will sit down for dinner, but after he’s eaten all of his food he’s ready to get down and go run. This doesn’t work well for table service meals and there were some character experiences we wanted to enjoy. Also, neither of our kids are very distracted by a tv show or game on our phone. We might be able to get 10-20 minutes, but they would rather go explore than be on a phone. Therefore we have implemented an ‘exit strategy’ plan. Basically if Nash gets too fussy and is disrupting other patrons I will take him to wash his hands or go for a walk outside. Either seems to help him reset and then come back to the table. However, sometimes the meals can take up to 45 minutes to an hour. Nash is off schedule for naps and overstimulated by all the new things going on so he gets fussy even easier on a trip like this. So without a big conversation, I will just leave with Nash and Rob knows if I don’t return to just box up our food, pay the bill, and then text us to see where we are. In some cases we’ve been able to walk around near a restaurant, in other cases we just head back to the hotel room.
Since we’ve finally seen many character meals on our last trip we spent dinners taking food back to our hotel room and it was the best decision ever. The kids were able to relax and focus on their meal.
Tip #4 – Don’t stress over experiences being on opposite ends of a park
When planning our first visit I was stressing over which rides to fast pass and should we see and do things in a certain order based where they are on the map. This turned out to be unnecessary. Fast pass have an hour long reservation and I think you can be 10 minutes early or 10 minutes past those set times. Plus the parks are all very walkable (well the ones we saw: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom). I felt like rides appeared to be further apart on the map for Magic Kingdom and then in reality it was a very easy walk to the opposite end of the park.
Our third time at Disney World, but Nash’s first time riding the tea cups. – June 2017
Tip #5 – Research restaurants and balance scheduled meals with flexibility
Each trip we’ve had the Deluxe Meal Dining Plan, just so we wouldn’t have to think much about what and where to eat. I wouldn’t say this plan is necessary, especially if you are like us and don’t need to have a giant meal (appetizer, dinner, and dessert) at every meal or more than one snack a day. Now that we have a good idea of the restaurants we like, I would consider just paying for meals and see if the budgeting is better versus the meal plan or reduce our meal plan category. Here are some other things to think about:
- Consider Character buffets to maximize seeing characters and getting a meal that works for everyone (note these types of dinners may require more points on your dining plan or separate payment). Not all character meals are the same. Our favorites are:
- 1900 Park Fare at Grand Floridian Resort – You get to meet Cinderella, Prince Charming, the evil step mother, and both step sisters. They spend more time meeting your family and cracking jokes.
- Chef Mickey’s at Contemporary – A character filled (Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, and Pluto) and large buffet that has food for everyone. The character visits move quickly (including a fun dance party) that keep things interesting.
- Cinderella’s Table – The menu for breakfast and lunch are extensive and well done. You get to meet a lot of princesses and the ambiance of the castle is so nice.
- Our least favorite character meals:
- Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom (I know some hard core Disney folks may hate our assessment) – I found meeting Winnie the Pooh and friends a low priority, but also the food was sub-par, and the worst part is that the size of the facility is so large that the character greetings are spaced out far a part making the meal way longer than it needs to be.
- Lilo and Stitch Breakfast at O’Hana (again I know others enjoy this one) – The best part for us was Mickey Mouse being there. The breakfast is okay and we are not a fan of the Hawaiian juice they offer here. I felt the service was slower and personally I haven’t enjoyed the sit down meals at the Polynesian. I feel the quick service meals are there better at the resort.
- Akershus Royal Banquet Hall at Epcot – The line just to wait for your reservation is very long and slow. The buffet is has smoked fish and other more unique items that personally I wasn’t interested in trying while being out in the blazing hot sun all day. While you get to see a lot of princesses, the service is slow. Between the long line, slow service, and an impatient toddler I just felt like it wasn’t worth it. I would have rather had a nice quick meal in the park somewhere instead.
1900 Park Fare (on our first visit – September 2017) The step mother was so wonderfully in character and begrudgedly said “milk” instead of “cheese” since Nash was not interested in taking a photo. 🙂
Chase asked the sisters to sing “sweet nightingale which then they required her to sing it first and then then they joined in. 🙂
Lunch at Cinderella’s Castle for Chase’s 5th Birthday – June 2018
Chef Mickey’s – February 2018
We get so many photos at Chef Mickey’s every time we go. This one is a lot of food and character experience for your time.
Chef Mickey’s – June 2018
Be Our Guest – Magic Kingdom – June 2018
Tip #6 – Never pay for a bottle of water (if you can help it)
So this was a rookie mistake the first time we went. We had our refillable cups from the Disney Dining Plan, but we weren’t noticing the water fountains. We were so thirsty that we kept buying bottled water and not once did an employee tell us we could have a cup of ice water for free instead. I wouldn’t have thought to ask for this, but I found out from a youtube channel that had Disney tips that every snack and quick service spot will provide you free ice water upon request. Don’t make the mistake we did and pay for water if you can help it! 🙂
Tip #7 – Memory maker is worth it
I would say the memory maker is worth the money. You can get professional photos from photographers throughout the park. They sync with your magic band and become available quickly in the Disney World App for download. It was just one last thing to think about that we had photos of our vacation quickly and easily, including photos from some of the rides.
Also we got beautiful photos as a part of the Bippity Boppity Boutique package we purchased.
Our first trip Chase chose to be Princess Belle from Bippity Boppity Boutique – September 2017
Our third visit was to celebrate Chase’s 5th birthday. She chose Princess Elena from Bippity Boppity Boutique
Tip #8 – Download the Disney World App and consider other apps to enhance your experience
The Disney World App is a must have. You can manage your fast passes, view line waits, monitor your Disney dining plan, see photos, and more. Plus also research grocery delivery apps and consider adding Lyft as an option in case you need to get quicker transport to/from locations.
Animal Kingdom – February 2018
Magic Kingdom – September 2017
Tip #9 – Find ways to chill out for your little one (or for the whole gang)
We spend most of our time in the Magic Kingdom and we’ve come to love the train rides as a way to relax and enjoy the breeze for a good 20 minutes. We also found the Casey Jr Splash and Soak Station in Fantasy Land to be a hit. Nash could splash around on a hot day while Chase and Rob would ride rides. I would do this before a diaper change and then just fully change his clothes as well so he was good to go to the next spot afterward. We also found a playground area at the exit of Splash Mountain that is fully shaded. Nash also enjoys looking at the birds and fish in the lagoon in Frontier land. Also, the baby center behind Crystal Palace is a large, well air conditioned area to get a little one’s diaper changed, fed, etc. before heading back out to the park.
Tip #10 – Park extra events may sound like a good idea, but don’t forget the dynamic of your family
This was a complete gamble, but we have purchased the extra tickets for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and for the Fireworks and Dessert in Magic Kingdom and neither worked out for us. Chase isn’t into scary things so despite the fun decorations and truck loads of candy, she was ready to leave early because she said “I think we should go before I get too scared.” 🙂 Another time then. 🙂 For our June 2018 trip we had tickets to the dessert and fireworks event. You get all you can eat treats and drinks and special park seating for the fireworks. Despite a good nap our kiddos were too tired and fussy to enjoy this. It was just too much too soon. Also, another time. 🙂
To wrap up this post (because I could go on forever about things we seen and enjoyed in Disney), make sure to also consider the following when planning your trip:
- Bringing a stroller versus renting versus other options
- Bringing your own stroller allows you to use it during your entire trip even outside the parks and can be an economical option. However, you have to be willing to lug it on and off gate check of airplanes if you fly commercial.
- You can search and rent strollers delivered and picked up right from your hotel.
- You can also rent a stroller inside a park, but you are not able to take it out of the park to use as you travel to other locations.
- Some people purchase an inexpensive umbrella stroller via Amazon, have it delivered to their hotel, held in their name and then leave it or give it someone else.
- Selecting your parks and park hopping or not
- As I’ve stated before our family is young and requires a lot of breaks. Therefore we never park hopped and we also never spent open (“rope drop”) to close in a park. We even took time to enjoy the hotel pools and play areas to help the kids unwind for naps and bedtime.
Aloha Disney – Leaving the Polynesian Resort after our first visit – September 2017
I hope this was helpful in some way, or at least entertaining. I will finish the post with a bunch of character photos. 🙂