i grew up in california so my disney experiences growing up all revolved around disneyland. disney world was completely foreign to me. that all changed a few years ago when we attempted our first disney vacation to disney world. at the time, we were traveling with four kids...the oldest was seven and the youngest was six months old. we learned a few things on that trip and we enjoyed it so much that we decided to try it again...this time with five. we drove down to orlando and enjoyed our experience...this time with five kids ranging in ages from 14 months to 9 years. if we can do disney, anyone can.
through both of our disney adventures, we picked up a few tips. if you are planning a disney trip of your own, here are some things that saved us along the way.
- plan a visit that is several days long... disneyworld gets increasingly affordable per day the more days you spend in the parks. in reality, you need at least one day for each of the parks you are visiting. plan on a four or five day pass to see most of the things the parks have to offer. note: if you are active military or retired miliary with 20 years of service or more, you can get discounted tickets to the parks. my parents traveled with us and my dad is retired miliary. through the military discounts, he was able to get up to six four-day hopper passes for just over $150.00 a piece. that is unheard of. i think disney deserves commending for honoring the military that way. contact the local military base for more information.
- pick a park a day... there is so much to see in disney. picking a park to start at each day at least keeps you focused. look at the park map ahead of time online and see the things you really don't want to miss. by preparing yourself and your kids, you will not only build excitement but you'll make sure you don't miss something.
- be aware of resort extra magic hours... certain parks open early and stay open late for those staying at the disney resorts. the list of the specific park hours and the "extra magic hours" can be found online. avoid the parks they have extra magic hours on a certain day as they are likely to have more crowds.
- work the fast passes... head into a park and right away head to a ride that requires a fast pass. get a fast pass at the beginning of the day and be aware of the time printed at the bottom that will let you get another fast pass. if you don't want to send the whole family, send someone to get a new batch of fast passes when your time has arrived. fast passes save a ton of time in lines and allow you to ride a great deal more rides than you would standing in the regular lines.
- make restaurant reservations in advance... if there is a particular restaurant where you would like to dine, call that restaurant a few weeks in advance to make your reservations. all the information for the restaurants can be found online and many of the restaurants fill up and do not take reservations the day of. be prepared and make sure you don't miss something wonderful.
- bring in drinks and snacks and pack a lunch... you can bring a cooler, food and drinks into the parks. pack water bottles and snacks to make it through a day. if you are not staying at the disney resorts, it is also more economical to pack a lunch and bring that in to the parks. if you are staying at the resorts, look to see how much it would cost to purchase a meal plan for your family. these are generally very cost effective when you add up the cost per meal. if you are not staying at a resort, save yourself a ton of money by bringing in a lot of food to help make it through the disney days.
- bring reinforcements... this may not be necessary if you only have two kids but with five, we needed some extra hands on deck. my parents flew out and went on our disney adventure as well. we had the best time with them and it combined a visit with the grandparents and a disney vacation...two great things that go amazingly well together. i highly recommend having some extra adult hands...it makes the trip so much easier.
- use the rider switch service... this service is the best thing ever at disney. if you are ready to ride one of the more exciting disney rides but you have a child or a baby in your party that does not meet the height requirements, you can approach the cast member at that ride and ask for a rider switch card. this card acts like a fast pass for the person staying out of the line with the small children. when the first group exits the ride, the person holding the switch service pass gets to enter in the fast pass line along with two other people. my kids usually took turns and got to ride each of the fast rides twice. this makes disney enjoyable for everyone so no one has to miss out to care for a small child.
- get a AAA parking pass... i have my dad to thank for this one. he checked with AAA before we left and found out they give special parking passes to their members. we had one mailed to us one trip and picked on up at a local office then next trip. this priority parking pass saved us a significant amount of time walking from our car into the park and back each day. it generally lets you park right next to where the handicap parking is and then you are able to walk to the entrance in much less time. it is fabulous!
- visit downtown disney... we like to visit downtown disney the day before we are scheduled to go into the park. this gives us an evening to explore unhurried and to start our experience. the lego store is a fantastic place for all the kids to play and explore. there are also some amazing interactive dining experiences in downtown disney to try. this is a great introduction into all things disney and free chance to enjoy some of the disney magic.
- give yourself a day of rest... disney is exhausting. going five straight days is not a great idea. it can be done, but you will be beyond spent. it worked much better for us to break the days up and take a much needed rest day in the middle of our trip. the kids played in the pool, took good naps, played outside and generally just let out some kid steam. disney requires a lot of patience, good behavior and endurance for kids. a day to let loose and, conversely, to relax, is just the thing.
- buy disney gifts for your kids in advance... this idea is thanks to a great friend of mine. she had the brilliant idea to go shopping before she left for little disney toys for her kids. each morning, the kids were greeted with a disney surpise. then as she explored the parks during the day, the kids were reminded they already had souvenirs back at the hotels. the kids didn't know the difference and it saved the family a ton of cash. we tried this too and our kids were so happy. it also worked perfectly as we were then able to get each child one special souvenir to purchase in the park.
- pack ponchos... florida weather can involve rain...big rain. on our last visit, it rained for one solid afternoon. we had packed some ponchos and umbrellas on the off chance that the rain was unbearable. we were so thankful! there is nothing worse than wet, miserable kids. the ponchos saved us and helped us to make the best of a less than perfect situation.
- if you are watching the magic kingdom fireworks, watch it from as close to the park exit as possible... the only way to get to magic kingdom is by boat or monorail. you have to park off site and travel in by one of those methods. that means that when the park closes, everyone exiting the park has to leave by one of those two methods as well. when the fireworks end, it is a mass exodus to leave the park and the lines can be hours long. the last thing you want to do as you are ready to leave a park is to stand in another line for two hours waiting to get to your car...especially late at night. watch the fireworks from close to the park entrance and you can be among the first to leave and catch the monorail.
- take advantage of the playgrounds in certain parks... kids have to work hard to be patient and well behaved while in line at disney. the playgrounds in the different parks give them a chance to wiggle around for a while. take advantage. your kids will need a break and so will you.
- if you ever have a chance to see epcot's flower show, take it! the flower displays that epcot has in the spring are absolutely amazing. if you can plan a trip to disney in the spring, besides having very short lines, you will also enjoy some beautiful displays. the kids were in awe.
- take lots of pictures... disney vacations are memories in the making. my kids look through photo albums of their disney trips more than any others. they are happy memories and ones you'll want to share for years to come. you can't take too many.
if i am forgetting something or you have another great tip, please feel free to share. as parents, we need to rely on the expertise of those who have gone before us. if you have something wonderful to share, please don't hesistate to add it here. here's to the hopes that disney is magical for you all!