So we did it! We took our kids to Disney World!
After all, we put all this effort into work, we need to enjoy our time with our kids as well and what better place than the happiest place on Earth?
Now maybe some of you are Disney experts and this post may just serve as some light-hearted humor for you. For the rest of you, if you’re thinking of taking your kids to Disney, I hope you can learn from our experience.
1. Listen to the Crazies You know who they are, the people who as soon as you mention that you’re thinking about going to Disney start into a 10 minute soliloquy on what to do, where to stay, how to eat, and use acronyms you’ve never heard of.
Don’t block them out or ignore them.
Yes, they will overwhelm you with way more information that you can possibly digest; however, try your best to take lots of notes from them. Then realize NONE of it will mean anything to you until you are there (maybe half way through your vacation.)
2. Make a Plan Seriously, you need a detailed schedule when you go to Disney if you don’t want to spend all your time waiting in lines. If you’re going to spend this kind of cash on a vacation, you want to get the most out of it. When they say you need to decide six-months in advance where you’re going to eat dinner on each day – you really do! Especially if you want to eat with Mickey or the Princesses!
For our trip, it was not just my family going, but also my sister’s family and my parents. To co-ordinate all this crazy family fun we turned to a Disney vacation planner, who’s services are typically free. Specifically, we relied on Wendy Nichols, a Disney fanatic with four children (including a set of triplets). She was amazing, guiding us through the process and giving suggestions and recommendations. There is no way we all could have pulled this off without her!
3. Waiting Even with all your planning you will find yourself waiting. Waiting for transportation, in line for food, for the parade or fireworks to start. Just expect it and plan to have some activities to keep your kids entertained.
4. Fast Passes Get them! I had no idea what these were or how they worked before we used our first one for Toy Story Mania. There is a separate line for people with the Fast Passes. The Fast Pass gives your a specific time window to show up and go through your own line to get on the ride – and it’s soooo much shorter!! I overheard a Disney cast member say they let 4 people on the ride from the regular wait line for every 40 people in the Fast Pass line!
Bonus: If you plan and schedule your trip ahead of time with someone like Wendy, you can select and schedule your Fast Passes before your trip. If you don’t you have to do it in the morning when you arrive at the park, which means your Fast Pass may not be until 4 pm or 6 pm – if you can even get one.
5. Set Expectations Going into our trip, not everyone had the same expectations. Going to Disney is not like going to your local amusement park where you can ride a ton of rides in a day. Even with our Fast Passes, we probably rode about four or five rides each day.
6. The Characters and Autographs For my kids, meeting the characters and getting their autographs was a BIG deal. Put this in your plan. For character greets, we focused on the characters that we would not meet at our character meals. Get an autograph book ahead of time or make your own (of course there are a bunch of ideas on Pinterest). Also, get retractable Sharpies. Regular pens are too small for some of the characters to hold.
Con: giving Sharpies to 4, 6, and 8 year olds practically guarantees that marker will end up somewhere other than the autograph book.
7. Apps Download one of the Disney apps onto your phone. I used the Android version of the My Disney Experience app. (My sister and Mom used the iPhone version.) This app not only showed current wait times for everything, but it also linked to our schedule and allowed us to manage our Fast Passes. We used this multiple times a day.
Tip: Sometimes the system does have a hiccup, we simply emailed Wendy who changed our Fast Passes for us.
8. Downtime I didn’t get this before we went. If your children are younger (not teens), schedule downtime. This is one area we would definitely do differently. Whether it’s starting your day in the park later and swimming in the morning, or taking a break in the afternoon for naps, you need downtime. Even my husband said it was overwhelming at times. Don’t think you can go from park opening until fireworks, or do like we did and close the park with fireworks, then try to start the next day with a Fast Pass at 9:30 am. Schedule Downtime!
9. Split Up Since we had such a big group, we scheduled in time to split up. So at different points, it was just my family, or my family and my parents. We even scheduled individual time for each child with each parent. This not only gave us a break from each other, but gave us some nice quiet time among all the hustle and bustle. These were really special times for us to connect.
10. Transportation Since we stayed at one of the Disney resorts (The Wilderness Lodge), we were able to take Disney transportation to all the parks. At our resort, we could take the buses anywhere or we could take a boat ride over to Magic Kingdom or to catch the Monorail. The kids loved trying out all the different forms of transportation, boat being our favorite. However, when they say plan 60 to 90 minutes for transportation, it really does take that long! (See # 3)
11. Memory Maker/Photo Pass This is a great service Disney provides with photographers in the park who take your picture. After they scan your Magic Band, all your photos are saved to your web account. Pro: All of you are able to be in the picture and you can see all your pictures after your vacation. Photo Pass is free and you pay for each download, Memory Maker you pay for (do this in advance) and you can then download all your pictures for free. Con: sometimes you have to search out a photographer and not all characters have photographers with them.
12. Food There is no way you can go to Disney and be hungry, there are so many food options! Besides the dining plans, one of the great recommendations Wendy gave us was to have food delivered to our resort room. This worked great for us! We had fresh fruit, pretzels, coffee creamer, bottled water, and cereal delivered from WeGoShop. Amy and Cathy were fabulous to work with. (Again a recommendation from Wendy.) Having breakfast in the room made our mornings more relaxing and we were able to take snacks into the park with us.
13. Strollers Another great recommendation Wendy gave us was renting a stroller for the week. However, we really should have gotten the double stroller versus the single stroller. I was shocked how much my 8 year old son wanted to be in the stroller! So may I warn you, if you have a 7 or 8 year old and you have younger children, your older child may want to be “pampered and pushed” just as much as your younger child. Also, consider that you may be walking 6 to 12 miles a day in Florida heat. The other bonus of the stroller: my 6 year old daughter regularly needs quiet alone time. She could get in the stroller, pull down the cover, and simply color in her coloring book while we were waiting and have a quiet moment.
14. Shoes Disney is NOT the place for cute shoes or flip flops. With all that walking, your feet will hurt and you will get blisters if you try to wear those kinds of shoes. We all wore running or tennis shoes all week. I know, not my choice of shoe with shorts or capris; but none of us got blisters. If you must take your flip flops, save them for the pool.
15. Watch the Sun With my history of Melanoma, sun exposure was a big concern – even in late-March, early April. Standing in line for rides or transportation, or even simply walking around you are exposed. Wear sunscreen, reapply every 90 minutes to 2 hours. Wear hats. My kids picked out hats they loved and wore them the entire trip. Since nearly every tee shirt I own is a v-neck, I took several summer scarves with me to wear. So I looked pulled together and kept my chest from burning.
16. Pin Trading Okay, this is a tough one. For some people pin trading is a BIG deal for others, not so much. I didn’t know how much my kids would be into it and I didn’t want to get into the parks and find myself paying $8 or $10 per pin because they thought it was the best thing ever. Before we left, I ordered Disney Trading pins from Amazon, they come in lots of 10, 25, 50, or more. This way your price per pin is about $1 per pin. My kids loved going through the pins when they came and putting them on their lanyard (given to them by my mother-in-law). Once in the park though they didn’t think about them again, except for my son – once.
So final take away? Disney is an amazing awesome experience and seeing my kids light up was wonderful. However, you really need to put the time and effort up front to plan it well.
Would I do it again? Absolutely! In fact, I hope we can go back in 2016 🙂
Disclaimer: I do not have an affiliate relationship with Wendy Nichols; however, she was absolutely amazing and an invaluable resource! I do highly recommend her to anyone planning a Disney vacation and will most certainly use her again when we plan our next trip. She is just that helpful!