10 Tips For a Family Vacation To Disney World

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Eeyore needed a hug. TT was happy to provide one.

By Eileen Gunn

We’ve just come back from Walt Disney World in Orlando, where Tiny Traveler dined with Cinderella, danced a silly dance with Goofy, went on a jungle safari and ate a lot of food shaped like Mickey Mouse’s head.

I wouldn’t call myself a Disney Expert (the people we met who have been there 19 times probably know a few tricks we don’t), but I can tell you what worked for us and pass along god advice we received.

Here are ten tips for your first trip to Disney World, plus a peak at the amazing holiday parade we caught.

And now, the advice…

1. Stay at a Disney Hotel

I used to be skeptical about this, but staying on the Disney property is incredibly convenient. We got to and from the parks effortlessly by boat, bus and monorail, often without having to fold our stroller. We also came back to the Wilderness Lodge every afternoon to rest and swim in the pool. This made the long days and late nights manageable for our 5-year-old.

2. Don’t Overlook Small Activities

The hotels provide poolside kids’ games, movie nights, arts & crafts, and even animal encounters (AK Lodge). You might think that these low-key activities are not what you visit Disney for, but they were a nice counterpoint to the noisy parades, fireworks and shows at the parks.

We went one night to the Fort Wilderness campfire where TT toasted marshmallows, sang songs with a guitar-playing cowboy and did the chicken dance with Chip & Dale. It was intimate and laid-back. She went home believing that she and the chipmunks were good friends.

3. Don’t Stress About Character Meals

I’ve never seen TT as giddy as she was when she met Minnie Mouse. Knowing how important these encounters would be we booked two character meals and considered a third. But it turned out to be easy enough to meet everyone we wanted to without the significant extra cost and we canceled our second meal.

At the meal we did do—Cinderella’s Royal Table—our time with the princesses wasn’t longer or more intimate than when we met them in the parks; each came to our table once. We had fun (and the food was better than we expected), but as a character-meeting opportunity I can’t say it was totally worth the money. I’d like to hear whether other character meals provide more hanging out time.

4. Look For Characters Outside the Magic Kingdom

We found more characters than we expected at Epcot Center and Animal Kingdom, and the lines to meet them were often shorter than at the Magic Kingdom. We had fun with a sombrero-wearing Donald Duck at Epcot’s Mexican pavilion and had a rare Pocahontas siting at AK.

5. Understand that Disney World Is Big

The Disney World campus sprawls across 47 square miles. It takes at least 15 minutes and up to an hour to get from one park to another or from your hotel to more distant parks. Keep this in mind if you plan to hit more than one park in a day or have reservations for a dinner or show.

 The FG Hotel Guide lists Orlando hotels in every price range.

6. Bring A Stroller

I would say don’t rule it out for even a 6 or 7 year-old. With all Disney transportation, we still walked a lot. The stroller kept TT from tiring out too quickly and gave her a place to fall asleep when we were out late.

7. Don’t Expect Your Kids to Eat Meals

TT spent a lot of time not eating her pricey Disney meals because she was too excited, distracted or exhausted. She was often hungry afterward so we learned to order things we could take with us when she didn’t finish them (hint: order waffles with fixin’s on the side).

I also kept cereal bars in the stroller and bought apples and bananas at the hotel shop. This was some very expensive fruit but still cheaper and healthier than the ice cream and cookies we would have been buying otherwise.

8. Order A La Carte

A helpful waiter told us that while most kids meals and many adult meals are priced to include multiple items, you can order less—a good way to save money and calories. While the breakfast entrée at our hotel café included eggs, bacon, pancakes, hash browns and biscuits, we could just order eggs and biscuits. Likewise, most kids’ meals came with an appetizer that we skipped.

9. Be Ready to Repeat Rides

Rides like It’s A Small World, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Journey of the Little Mermaid have so much to look at that kids can’t take it all in at once. Be prepared for encore visits to at least a few. We rode It’s a Small World four times (yes, four times), with TT pointing out new details each time. Video game fans will definitely want more than one shot at Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin.

10. Use Fast Pass

I don’t know why more people don’t use Fast Pass, which is free with all park tickets. By taking advantage of it we didn’t wait longer than 20 minutes for anything and walked right on to rides that had a 75-minute wait. My husband would usually round up some Fast Passes while TT and I waited to meet characters. It takes some planning to get to a ride at a specific time, but it’s absolutely it’s worth it.

After all, there’s absolutely nothing magical about standing in line for an hour.

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8 Responses

  1. Great tips. We stayed at a Disney hotel too and it was super convenient – loved it!

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  2. I would say that the biggest benefit to the Character Meals is that you don’t have to stand in line. It’s efficient to get your dining and character meeting done at the same time. You’re also guaranteed to meet them. We once stood in line for 20 minutes to meet Pooh and Friends, and they went “off to eat some honey and thistle” (aka went on break) before we got to the front of the line.

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    • I think a lot of people book them for this reason and during the peak weeks especially it can probably save time and cranky kids. But on an off-peak week, we often waited just a few minutes and never waited more than 20-25 minutes, even with “honey breaks.” And after these waits we usualy got to meet a few characters at one time (minnie and mickey or tigger, eeyore and pooh). But when parents are weighing the 20-minute wait vs. $150 or more for a family meal (where the kids might not eat much) I just want to make sure they know how the time with the characters compares.

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  3. These are great tips for a Disney visit. I’m glad your family had a wonderful time. My kids have only done one character meal and there were characters there that we were unfamiliar with. We’ve usually skipped Magic Kingdom since we live near Disneyland and prefer the other parks. it is true that the lines are shorter and more character variety. We love it’s a Small World too and we always spot something new no matter how often we ride :)

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  4. Great tips! We have been to Disney World 6 times and always stayed at a Disney hotel until the most recent stay when my kids were 15 and 8. When they were younger we loved to be staying at a Disney hotel on the monorail so that we could go back to the hotel and hang out for part of the afternoon. On the most recent trip we knew that they had the stamina for a full day in the park and it was more important to have a 2 bedroom apartment to spread out in than to be on site.

    I agree that character meals are great for younger kids so that they can meet their favourite characters without standing in line – the older they get, the less important that is. We also discovered on our last visit that EPCOT now has great opportunities to meet characters – we even met the Beast there and have never seen him anywhere else.

    We visited Disney when my older daughter was 2.5 and we rode It’s A Small World 8 times – I think it was weeks before that song stopped playing in my head! :)

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  5. A fantastic blog you have here. Thanks for all the great info I have found on here.

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