10 Tips For a Disney Worlds Family Vacation
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.