I know y’all are probably sick of hearing about our trip, and this is the last post about it, I promise (I think :))!
Now, as a preface to this post, I am no Disney expert. This is the first trip we took to Disney World as a family, and I am certainly a novice when it comes to planning a Disney trip and all the tricks and hacks and special secrets that come with experience. BUT, I do know that I did a LOT of research and asked my Disney expert friends TONS (and tons and tons and tons) of questions, and had an amazing planner help me out. So I wouldn’t necessarily consider these “tips,” but more like just an explanation of the things we learned from our trip– what we’ll do again, what we’ll do differently, and what we won’t do. And every family is different! Different budgets, different dynamics, different priorities. So the things that worked for us might not work for others, and that’s okay! But I wanted to share the things that worked for us in hopes of sharing good information that might help you on your next trip.
So, here’s what we learned on our first Disney trip:
Using a Certified Disney Planner was AMAZING!
Being our first trip, I wanted a professional handling all our reservations! And ours was AWESOME. I gave her our budget and what we wanted to do, and she made all our hotel reservations, got our park tickets, made our dinner reservations, fast pass reservations, and passed along any Disney info that she was privy to. She gave restaurant suggestions and other tips that we wouldn’t have known otherwise. The more trips you plan yourself the less you may need a planner, but for the first trip (and likely follow-up trips for us), the planner was great.
The Disney App is PRICELESS
The Disney phone app links your Disney account and all your plans and reservations so you could view them while in the park. You can also see where you are in the park in real-time, edit fast passes, view wait times of all the rides and attractions, and even see where characters were located to meet! I had the app open and used it constantly. And because I used it constantly…
Portable Phone Chargers REALLY Come in Handy!
I was taking so many pictures with my phone and using the app so much, that by about 2:00 or so, my phone was OUT of battery. I bought two portable phone chargers (about $10-15 each) before we left and kept them in my bag, and they were lifesavers! I could completely recharge my phone on the go with one, and go the rest of the day with plenty of battery life. Plus, these are good to have anyway, Disney or not!
For Us- the Stroller was a Necessity
The question of whether to bring the stroller or not was one I asked nearly every single person who I knew had been to Disney with their kids. And so many folks had such strong opinions! Some were adamantly no-stroller, and some insisted we bring it. So we brought it with the thought that we’d try it the first day, and if it was a bother, we would just leave it in the room. After the first day at the Magic Kingdom, it was very clear it was a necessity for us. Our three kids are all over 50 pounds, so carrying them easily for any length of time was not gonna happen. And we knew with such long days walking, they were going to get tired. We could fit all three on our sit and stand (though most often, two sat and one would walk with whichever parent was not pushing), and though it was hard to steer, once we got moving, there was no stopping us! We could move through the crowds, and it was so much easier than dragging whiny kids. It really helped us. And actually, we forgot it rushing from our hotel room to the bus stop on Day 2 at EPCOT. And after that day without it, we KNEW we’d use it from then on! And if you do decide to bring a stroller…
Add Some Flair to the Stroller
Our stroller was a back sit and stand, like every single other stroller there. I saw lots of strollers with signs and their family names on them, or ribbons wrapped around the handles, or some sort of easily identifiable characteristic. It would’ve made our stroller stand out a bit more to us, and easier to find in the stroller parking areas!
Backpacks were Good and a Small Crossbody was Better
Both Scott and I wore backpacks loaded with all the park necessities- rain ponchos, baby wipes, extra snacks, a first aid kit, etc. But I also had a very small cross-body bag that I carried all the time with my wallet, my phone, and my extra chargers. It was nice to be able to grab my phone out of my bag quickly, rather than having to keep putting it in and getting it out of my backpack. I even think next time we can combine all items into one backpack and one cross-body bag.
Memo App was Also Very Helpful
Being the chronic listmaker that I am, I was constantly thinking of things I wanted to remember. And I realized, about an hour into Day 1, that if I didn’t write down what we did, and my thoughts, and helpful hints, that I would NEVER remember everything!! So I used the memo app on my phone to make quick notes to myself. It’s actually how I documented the whole trip, how I kept track of all the ideas for this post, and even how I kept track of our remaining snack and quick service dining credits. It was certainly more handy than my typical notebook and pen!
Our Kids LOVED Getting Autographs!
Getting character autographs might not be for everyone (especially if you have older kids), but our kids really loved getting them. And instead of buying a pricy autograph book once we arrived at the park, I printed ours from home before we left, for free!
I downloaded the file, printed the pages out on cardstock, hole punched them, bound them with book rings, tied pretty ribbons and added name tags for three cute autograph books (CLICK HERE FOR THE LINK!) for free! And they worked great. BUT- I saw a really cute idea that I think we’ll do next time! Instead of autograph books, a few kids had a hardcover “Encyclopedia of Disney Characters” book that was no bigger or thicker than a traditional hardcover kids book. The characters would sign the book and the family would have a nice keepsake with character autographs! That would be easier than 3 small autograph books- have one hardcover book for the family, and then the character only has to spend time signing one book. And along the same lines, having click-sharpies made it much easier for the characters to sign the books with their big costumed hands!
Bring Your Own Bottled Water
This was one thing I wrote down to do, but just never did. You can buy bottled water at the park, but it’s like $3, or a snack credit. And with all the yummy food at Disney, I did NOT want to spend my snack credits on water!! But we did on the first day, just because we were hot and thirsty, and didn’t know the ropes yet. But after that first day, we brought a few water bottles in each backpack, and just refilled them throughout the day at the plentiful water fountains across the parks. I didn’t notice the extra weight in my backpack at all, and we were able to EAT our snack credits, instead of drinking them!
Our One-Souvenir Rule Worked Great
I knew with all the shops, and carts, and kiosks, and stands, that our kids were going to be tempted by Disney merchandise ALL WEEK LONG. We told them that they would be able to pick out ONE souvenir for the whole week to buy and take home with them. Ben got an extra one since it was his birthday, but the kids were really good and looked in the different shops before making their decisions on what they wanted to get.
But we aren’t totally heartless and did allow for a bit of junky Disney toy consumption too! Before we left, I scoured the Dollar Store, Walmart, and the Target Dollar Spot for small and inexpensive Disney toys, games, activities, etc. And every morning when the kids woke up, Mickey Mouse had left them a surprise and a note for them! They got a few small things everyday- crayons and a Disney coloring book, activity pad and stickers, a pair of Disney pajamas, a small figurine, a magic towel, and reusable sticker book, and personalized message from Mickey himself. I actually designed and printed the notecards myself (download them here for free!), then just wrote the notes while we were in the hotel after each day. The special surprises were fun for the kids in the hotel room, and deterred them from being tempted by other stuff in the park. Plus, it was MUCH cheaper buying it at home than in the inflated theme park shops! We will DEFINITELY do this again.
Send Packages to Your Resort
If you are staying on-site (which I would HIGHLY recommend, if possible), you can make purchases from any shop in the parks and have your purchases sent to the concierge at your resort instead of having to lug Rapunzel’s Tower playset around with you for the rest of the day! I saw so many people with their huge shopping bags, while we had our stuff sent to the resort and then didn’t have to worry about it. We took our claims check to the concierge and picked it up the next day. A great service if you’re there for a few days!
Take Advantage of the Celebration Pins!
We got the First Visit buttons for the kids and the birthday button for Ben, and all the cast members were so nice, and would strike up conversations from the pins. And Ben had “Happy Birthday!” shouted to him about a million times, which when you’re just five, is so cool!
Packing the Kids Clothes in Ziploc Bags was Genius
One of my best friends is pretty much a Disney expert and mentioned that she packs her kids outfits for each day in gallon-sized Ziploc bags. I tried it, and it’s LIFECHANGING! I will probably always pack the kids this way for any trip from now on. Each kid has a bag for each day (labeled with their name and day number) with their shirt, shorts, underwear, socks, and hair accessories, if applicable. There’s no more digging through the suitcase for that last pair of socks– each day’s outfit is all neatly contained in that one Ziploc bag and it’s glorious. It saves time and stays neat, and eliminates frustration while getting dressed. All priceless while on vacation!
Kids in Matching Clothes = Easier to Find Kids
Whether you are Team Matching or not (I’m sure you can tell my preference!), we learned that it is MUCH easier to spot your kids quickly when they are all wearing the same thing! Ben had a few different shirts from the girls, but I made all their outfits and they either matched or were really similar. The kids weren’t more than an arm’s reach from us but only a handful of times, but it was really nice to be able to spot them and keep my eye on them easily.
You Have to Register for Jedi Training at Hollywood Studios FIRST THING
I thought we’d be able to go to the Jedi Training Attraction and Ben would be able to participate. Well, we had one broken-hearted little Jedi when I learned you have to register for your child to participate as soon as the park opened. It was nothing that a $15 BB-8 souvenir cup couldn’t fix, but I’ll know better for next time!
Two Days at the Magic KIngdom was a GREAT Idea
Magic Kingdom is the smallest park, but there is DEFINITELY the most to do for kids! We planned for two days at the Magic Kingdom, which was awesome. We really saw about half of it on Monday and the other half on Thursday. There is way too much to see and do to cram into one day! Next time, we’ll plan to get tickets to the Not-So-Scary Halloween party (we were just WORN OUT by dark!), and hit one night of fireworks (plenty for us).
Next Time We Might Even Plan for a Park-Less Pool Day!
The resort pool was SO nice, and the kids had so much fun there, that we may plan on a day that we don’t even go to the parks, and just chill at the pool! It would be especially nice about halfway through the week. A bit of a recharge! Plus, they show movies, and play games, and make it a lot of fun for families.
Reserving Quick Service and Table Service Credits for Lunch and Dinners Worked Well For Us
We brought pop tarts, mini muffins, granola bars, and other quick breakfast items to eat in the hotel room and on the way to the parks, and saved all our snacks, quick service meals, and table service meals for use in the parks and for lunch and dinners. We are not huge breakfast eaters anyway, and it worked really well for us. Next time, we might reserve a character breakfast as one daily table service, since we liked our character dinner at Chef Mickey’s so much, and eat snacks for lunch and a quick service meal for dinner, since the portions are definitely big enough. Otherwise, our plan went well.
Meals Inside the Parks are Far More Convenient
We ate two dinners at Magic Kingdom Resorts (Ohana at the Polynesian and Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary), and two dinners inside parks (Via Napoli inside Epoct and 50’s Prine Time Cafe inside Hollywood Studios). Though we preferred the food at Ohana and Chef Mickey’s, it was kind of a pain to leave the park, get on the monorail to go eat, then ride the monorail back to the park to either catch the buses back to the hotel or go back into the park. But it was SUPER easy to just stroll right into Via Napoli and the 50’s Cafe to eat since we were already right there in the park. I’m not saying we would necessarily avoid restaurants outside the parks on future visits, but we will just keep it in mind when for time-management. And actually, we will definitely go back to Ohana and Chef Mickey’s, but will try different in-park restaurants for our other nights next time!
Next Time We Will Buy the Memory Makers Photo Package
I took over 500 pictures while we were in Disney, over the course of about 5 days. And there are photographers EVERYWHERE that will take your picture and allow you to take your own with your own camera! Even that being said, I wish so much that I had bought the Memory Makers package before we left. Before you check in, the rate is $169, but after check-in, it goes up to $199. You can also buy one day’s worth of photo pass photos (the pictures the photographers take)for $60, or download individual pictures for $15 each. THe photographers at Disney ended up taking almost 300 pictures of us while we were there, and so many of the five of us that I wasn’t able to capture with my camera. Since I didn’t buy the memory maker or daily photo package, I had to pay to download individual pictures which got expensive really fast (luckily they had a promotion going on!). I downloaded 7 pictures for half the price of the memory maker, which if I had just bought the memory maker, I could have gotten all 300!! If you’re only going to be there a day or two, it might be worthwhile to just buy the daily memory makers. But if you’re there for more than 3 days, and you want plenty of photos documenting your trip, you might want to consider the memory maker. I know we will! THat way, I won’t have to worry about making sure I get all the photos on my camera too. Less stress!
The Disney Trip was Worth Every Penny.
This was truly a trip that all of us will always remember. It was not cheap. We saved and sacrificed for it, and it was worth. every. penny. The memories made and bonds we forged, the things we learned and connections made will be there forever, and were because of this trip the five of us took together. It was magical. It was worth saving and sacrificing for, and we CANNOT WAIT for the next one.
I hope posting all the things that we learned on our trip will help you plan a trip in the future! And what do you have to add?? And tips? Tricks? OPinions that differ from mine? I’d love to hear your feedback and any ideas and information you have!