Your vacation of a lifetime is coming up and the kids are wild with excitement! Talk around the dinner table includes Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, fireworks and parades. Maybe you’ve never been to Walt Disney World or maybe it’s been 20 years since your last visit. If two decades have gone by since your last visit, there is plenty to catch up on. For all its timeless charm and fun, WDW expands and changes frequently and planning ahead will ensure those priceless smiles, and memories depicted in the ads, will come true for your family. Whether your goal is to see as many characters as possible or not missing out on a single ride, there are plenty of well-kept ‘secrets’ that will improve your Disney magic significantly. As a mother who has dragged 5 children through Disney World successfully over the past 20 years, I thought I’d let you in on a few tips I’ve discovered over the years.
Down Time Is Key
Book a hotel in Orlando that is ideal for relaxation and actually schedule downtime into your vacation. While the parks may be your main focus, relaxation is also an important part of your holiday. Some of my best family memories are poolside afternoons with a cool smoothie in hand and happy kids playing in the water. I find our family functions better with relax time built in and kids are less likely to be cranky when you get to recharge.
Be An Early Bird To The Parks
Have your tickets bought and sorted out prior to arriving at the parks, as those lines can be horrendous, especially in the morning. Make sure you find out which parks have ‘extra magic hours’ and plan your days around the extended hours. Each park has different opening and closing times so make sure you know that schedule. If you’re among the first to enter the park, you’re more likely to experience more attractions and feel better about leaving early or taking down time.
Animal Kingdom Insider tip: Always arrive to Animal Kingdom as soon as the doors open and go straight to the Safari; they feed the animals in the morning and your kiddies will get to see significantly more animals than an afternoon safari.
Fastpass – Disney’s Greatest Gift To Parents!
Disney offers a little gem called a Fastpass at no extra charge. Use this to your advantage by studying the attractions and choosing which one to wait in line for and which ones to Fastpass. There is a daily limit for Fastpasses on each ride as well as a ‘one Fastpass per hour’ for each guest. This is why you have to choose wisely and make an informed decision as to which rides to Fastpass and which ones to just wait in line.
Magic Kingdom Insider tip: Always get a ticket for Splash Mountain because that line is always long and exhausting with loops that defy reason even by theme park standards. However, we don’t mind waiting longer at Space Mountain because the wait is inside the air-conditioned building with interactive games to play along the way.
The Amazing Parent Switch
Like most theme parks, many Disney attractions have height requirements. Measure your kids and know which rides to skip or take advantage of the parent switch option. Tell a cast member (employees are always cast members) you need to parent switch and they’ll allow you to wait in line together up to a point. Then one parent goes with the family members tall enough to board the attraction while the other waits with the little one. When the riding party gets back, the second parent, along with one or two members of the family, is allowed to board again with no wait.
Book Your Sit Down Meals Months In Advance
At Disney World, dining options are plentiful. WDW has everything from snack bars to fast food and amazing sit-down restaurants. We usually book one big special meal a day and eat simple the rest of the time. Make sure that you book any sit down dining 3-6 months in advance and for breakfast, try to get the earliest time slot. That way, you’re through eating just in time for the parks to open. Talk about a head start to the day!
Hollywood Studios Insider Tip: Dinner and a show options are available too for some of the special evening shows. For example, you can relax and enjoy a pleasant meal just before Fantasmic at Hollywood Studios and be guaranteed a place to sit without having to arrive an hour early as suggested.
Disney Is More Than Just Rides
Make sure not to miss out on the vast amounts of parades, musicals, & firework events while at Disney World. While my oldest children wait for the parades in order to take advantage of the smaller queues during parade time, I would highly recommend any first timers to watch a parade or two. We do, however, tend to find the day parades less exciting than the awe-inspiring night parades & firework displays. Also shows like Mickey’s Philharmagic (Magic Kingdom) and Festival of the Lion King (Animal Kingdom) are not to be missed and make sure to check the times to avoid long waits.
EPCOT Insider Tip: The Beauty & The Beast show is brilliant but it is outdoors so while you’re running to get Fastpasses to Rockin’ Roller coaster first thing in the morning, stop and see the early show to avoid overheating.
Overall, to get the most out of your Disney vacation, plan, plan, plan, just not at the expense of fun. It’s not a race or a scavenger hunt. There is so much to enjoy and missing a particular attraction won’t be a vacation spoiler. Take those mental preservation breaks and relax. Grab ice cream and laugh when it gets all over your shirts. Wear comfortable, weather appropriate, clothes and shoes and have fun. Make wonderful memories at the happiest place on earth.