Confession–my first trip to Disney World was in college. Picture this…Early twenties with my two older sisters, all new to Walt Disney’s magic. Pre-kids, young, and looking for fun. That was us! And we had it.
You see, when we were kids, anytime we visited Florida, we begged to go to Disney World. “It’s too expensive. The crowds are awful. You’ll burn up standing in those lines.” Wah, wah, wahhhh….
You may be thinking the same thing, but I’m here for the sake of your kids. It’s my goal to convince you otherwise. So listen up!
“Disney resorts are highway robbery. We can’t afford that!”
I get it. For real. And that’s exactly why in my six trips to Disney, I’ve stayed in a Disney resort one time. That’s right. Once. On someone’s else’s dime. It was the Christmas party of the century for my husband’s work before the Great Recession. Needless to say, those days are gone but it hasn’t stopped us from doing Disney our way.
My first tip is to be sure to stay in an official Walt Disney World Hotel, which is located within the Disney World Resort. Let me tell you why.
The rates are around $100-$200 a night. They’re within easy walking distance of Disney Springs. Shuttles run every thirty minutes to take you to the parks. They offer extended hours at a Disney park each day of the week. They can deliver purchased items to your hotel. Many of the hotels offer “kids eat free” with the purchase of an adult meal. At the Holiday Inn, my kids were able to make their own Mickey Mouse waffles each morning. One of their favorite highlights of the trip! And their meal was free so score!
I’m telling you , don’t break the bank on a Ritz- Carlton style resort unless you’re just fancy like that. You’re barely in the room so save that money for your next trip! Like any good traveler, be sure to check reviews before you make a reservation. Just look for the Disney emblem on hotel pictures during your search.
“The meal plans are tricky. Is it worth it?”
Honest fact: I’ve never bought a plan. Like ever. And I’ve never felt like I needed one.
Our daily schedule went a little like this. Get up. Get ready. Late breakfast buffet at the hotel. Shuttle to the park. Rides. Snack instead of a true lunch. Ours was always a Mickey popsicle but you can pack your own snacks if you’re feeling froggy. Rides and shows. Early dinner at the park. Rides and maybe snack #2. Fireworks. Then shuttle back to hotel. Hit repeat the next day.
Truth is, we didn’t eat a true lunch any day we were there. We weren’t consistent with snacks either. If you don’t use it on the meal plan, you lose it so it wasn’t for us. It can be time consuming to stop for more than one meal at the parks daily and that’s time we preferred spending on rides.
I highly recommend making a dinner reservation as soon as you know which park you’re doing on which day. The best restaurants fill up quickly and you may get stuck with a mediocre restaurant at a crappy time so plan ahead!
“I hate crowds and I don’t intend to stand in line for two hours for a ride!”
I get it! You’re preaching to the choir. Fact is, it’s Disney so expect a crowd. Wish I could help in that arena but I’m not Aladdin, guys. There are certain days of the week and times of the year that are less crowded. One tip is to pick weekdays instead of weekends for your trip. Spring break is honestly a great time to go. It’s not nearly as hot and the lines aren’t quite as bad.
If you’re an early bird, which I’m not, get to the park early. I mean like as soon as it opens. Choose the most popular rides first before the huge lines form. Read my imaginary lips: Learn FastPass! It will become the highlight of your day getting to skip those lines. You get three per day so use them wisely and get them right away! There’s nothing worse than wasting a FastPass on something non-impressive that only had a five minute wait on a busy day. Been there, done that. Not cool.
“It is just so overwhelming. I’ve never been and don’t know my way around the parks. How do I reserve a FastPass? How do I know where to get a dinner reservation? Do I need Park Hopper tickets?”
Lucky for you (and me), Disney World has its own app, and it’s the best thing since Rothy’s. Get it today and start learning to navigate that sucker. Speaking from experience, you don’t want to become acquainted with it for the first time when you arrive at the park. Trust me! It will ruin your day, and you’ll get nothing accomplished.
On the app, you can buy tickets and make your FastPass reservations for each member of your family. You are able view restaurant options, pricing, and available times to place your reservation. It has the coolest map that will show you your location in the park and where you’re going. My favorite feature is it shows you wait times for each ride in the park. This is so helpful! If it has a long wait time, try to get a fastpass for it in advance because it is likely a trend for that ride.
Magic bands. Cute and handy? Sure! Practical to buy if you’re not staying in a Disney resort? I don’t think so. Each one is $14.99 and up. I have always used the ticket cards on our trips and kept them within easy reach to save at least $50. I’d rather spend that on dinner but to each to his own. If it won’t seem like a Disney vacay without those cute little bands, be my guest! I’m just cheap like that sometimes.
Park Hopper tickets…Don’t do it. It’s not worth it. Unless you have the energy of someone who’s drank ten Redbulls in a five hour span, you won’t have the time or stamina to do more than one park a day. Save that money and use it elsewhere! I’ve never once thought, “If only I could visit two more parks today…” Doesn’t happen! I bought a four day ticket pass for one park per day for the kids and I. It was perfect! We saved money and got to experience each park at a paced rate. That’s the way to go!
“What do I need to take with me to the park?”
I took my kids to Disney solo over Spring Break. Yes, I was quite proud of myself for wearing my big girl panties that week! If your children could be GOT extras for the Wildlings though, you may not want to try this one at home.
What worked best for me was a purse-style backpack. If there was a strong chance of much rain, I packed all of our ponchos. The cheaper and thinner the poncho, the better for your back.
You obviously want your wallet if you don’t have a Magic Band. I took my driver’s license, a credit card, a little cash, a room key, and my ticket cards. On your arrival the first day, you’ll want to take the email proof of your ticket purchase to exchange for the ticket cards. You’ll need sunscreen and sunglasses for all. Hand sanitizer and phone, duh… I’d also suggest a light weight windbreaker if you’re not going in the heat of summer. The mornings and evenings can get chilly, and you want to be comfortable for a long day. A water bottle is smart to pack too because the drinks can add up quickly for a family when you’re at a park for twelve hours.
Buy your ponchos and Disney gear before you go. It will cost you way more at the park so it just makes sense. There are many stores in Orlando that sell tons of Disney memorabilia like autograph books and Minnie headbands. They’ll be much cheaper than buying them onsite. Or just hop online to Amazon and get it before you arrive. Either way, you’re going to save.
We love some Disney and you will too. So get off here and start planning soon! Thanks for stopping by and hope your visit is nothing short of magical! xo, Christy