We recently took a family vacation to Disney World and had the absolute best time! We’re definitely more ‘spur-of-the-moment’ kind of people so we decided to take the trip only three months before we were going to go. To put that into perspective, most people plan a Disney vacation with kids a year or more before the trip. Whoops.
When I sat down to start researching and planning the trip, I was instantly overwhelmed. There are only, you know, about 10,000 articles online about traveling taking a Disney vacation with kids. I was a little over my head and had no idea what was actually true advice and what was complete crap.
Fast forward to today and we had a super successful trip and I definitely discovered some very helpful tips and tricks that I thought would be helpful to share for your next Disney vacation with kids.
1. Familiarize Yourself with the My Disney Experience App. Spend a fair amount of time playing in the mobile app and familiarize yourself with where everything is located and everything you can do in the app so when you’re in the parks you don’t have to waste your time figuring it out. A few of the key things you can do in the app include seeing the park maps and where you’re located in the park with the GPS, check the wait times of all of the different rides, mobile ordering of food and checking your “plans” for the day. Make sure you use the app ahead of time to make notes and plans for everything you want to do and the time that they are – for example, the main parade at Magic Kingdom is once a day at 3PM.
2. Save money by not staying on a Disney Resort. But, make sure to get yourself a Magic Band. Taking a Disney vacation isn’t cheap. One of the best ways to save money is to stay off resort at a non-Disney hotel. This is what we did. I couldn’t justify spending an extra $100 a night on a hotel when we knew we wouldn’t be spending time at the hotel. This worked out great for us. We stayed in Buena Vista and it was only a 10 minute drive to the parks. If you are going to be staying off-resort, you will want to consider getting a Magic Band. When you buy a Magic Band, you link it to your My Disney Experience account and it stores all of your tickets and reservations. This saves you a TON of time in the parks trying to find your tickets and Fast Passes all day. It’s definitely worth the $15, in my opinion. Plus, your kid will be excited to have a “magical band” that gets them on to all of the rides.
3. Straws! This one is going to sound silly but if you have a toddler who loves smoothies and lemonades then you will want to bring your own, reusable straw! Disney World is great and they have converted all of their plastic straws to paper but when you have a toddler that just chews on them non-stop it turns into a nightmare for parents very quickly. Save yourself the headache and tantrum and bring one of those handy little re-usable straws. Or, ask for five anytime your order a drink. Trust me.
4. Tag your stroller or create a custom sign with your name on it. And use the designated stroller parking areas. Omg, the strollers! There are SO many and they are EVERYWHERE! When you go on any rides or to any shows there will be little sections next to each attraction for stroller parking. Make sure you use those sections to park your stroller. If you don’t use the designated sections, the Disney employees will use them for you and they will move your stroller to the section. I accidentally made this mistake and it took me quite some time to find where they put our stroller. Also, consider putting a ribbon of some kind or even a custom little name sign on your stroller. That will help you quickly find yours when you’re done with rides.
5. Water, water and more water. Florida is hot. That’s all there is to it. You’re going to want a TON of water throughout the day. Do yourself a favor and pack as many as you can carry with you into the park. You’re allowed to bring in as much as you want so go ahead and do it. You should also consider freezing them and bringing them in frozen so they are still cold throughout the day. Also, keep an eye out for the water fountains to fill them up and save yourself some money. I also heard on our last day that you can go to any beverage stand in the park and they will give you a free cup of water. Save yourself some money on the bottles and just ask for the cups.
6. Plan for a down day. If you’re in the early stages of planning your trip, add an extra day or two to give yourself some down time. The days in the park are long and you’re on your feet in a hot, humid park with crowds of people for a good 12 hours or more. You will definitely want to give yourself that time to recover a little bit. There are a ton of other options around Orlando with fun activities for the kiddos on down days. We checked out Disney Springs and also spent a day at the Kennedy Space Center. Both were very calm days but also a lot of fun! And without lines!
7. Measure your kid and use the caregiver swaps when you need they aren’t tall enough. Before you start planning any of the rides that you will be going on or getting your Fast Passes, make sure you measure your kid! You will want to know exactly what rides they can and can’t go on in the parks. If you kid isn’t tall enough for a ride and the parents or older sibling(s) want to go on it, they do offer a caregiver swap option. That means you wait in line once and then when you get on the ride you let the cast member (staff) know that you have a caregiver swap. Then, they’ll let your spouse go through the Fast Pass line to get on instead of waiting in the full line again.
8. Consider skipping the character breakfast. When I was planning our trip the very first thing I booked (even before our flight!) was the character breakfast with Goofy. For some reason I thought that the only way you could meet the characters was to do one of the meal reservations. Boy was I wrong! The character breakfast was fine but we didn’t feel like it was worth the cost. The breakfast buffet is pretty mediocre (especially for $50/person), you really spend a good chunk of your morning having breakfast and you still only get a couple minutes with the character. We found it to be just as much time – if not more – when you wait in line for 10 minutes in the park to meet the characters. HOWEVER – if you have a little girl who wants to meet princesses, this is likely not the case! We didn’t see the princesses anywhere in the parks so make that reservation!
9. Make your reservations at least a month before you’re trip. If you’re going to opt for a character breakfast or if you want to do any sit down restaurants in the park, you need to make a reservation. And you will want to do it early! We booked our lunch reservation a month before our trip and we got the very last reservation they had available. Don’t over book yourself though because you will want enough time in the park(s). The restaurant reservation was a very welcome sit down meal for the family when we needed a break from the heat. The sweaty, cranky toddler definitely appreciated the air conditioning. I’d recommend doing one sit down a day. Save yourself some time in the restaurant by pre-looking at the menu. We found the service to be very slow because the restaurants are packed. The faster you can order your food, the less time you’ll spend sitting around wasting the day waiting for your food.
10. Fast Passes are your best friend. If you’re staying at a Disney resort, you can book your fast passes 60 days before your visit. If you’re staying off-resort, you can book them 30 days before your visit. Make sure you book yours as soon as you possibly can because they go quick! Each visitor gets three fast passes each day and you want to use them on rides where the wait is usually pretty long. Once you use your fast passes in a day, you can go to any of the fast pass kiosks and see if there are more available for the day. There are usually more available so make sure to check! You can continue to add more all day – as you use them. Don’t forget to research the rides you want to go on ahead of time and see their average wait times. That will help you know which rides are best to get a fast passes. Keep an eye out for an upcoming blog post on all of our favorite rides and which ones I’d recommend fast passes.
A final bonus tip: plan ahead and know where the closest urgent care clinic is before your trip. No one wants to end up in an urgent care when they’re on vacation, but the reality is that it happens. The last thing you want to be doing is trying to search for an urgent care in another state when you’re in urgent need. You could end up driving around looking for one that’s not in a sketchy location.
A Disney vacation with kids is what you make it. It can either be a magical, amazing experience or a stressful nightmare. It can also either be insanely expensive or you can find ways to make it more affordable.
We found it best to prioritize what was important to us in the trip – less on the hotel and more fun in the parks. We also made the best of everything the day had to offer instead of stressing about the little things. Don’t expect everything to be smooth sailing but with a little prep work and planning, I promise you’ll have a magical family vacation!