I saw some folks discussing Disney World in the comments and thought, let’s have some open threads to discuss the major theme parks! Have you been, what was your experience, what ages were your kids, what was your favorite ride/meal, and what did you think was overrated? What have been your favorite resources to research the trip?
We just booked last-minute tickets to Disney World for spring break, so… that’s happening. I’m still in research mode but dutifully bought a subscription to TouringPlans (haven’t used it once yet).
So, ladies who’ve been — do tell! What were your favorite things to do at Disney World?
Stock photo via Pixabay.
for us the big question was, spend the $$$$ for the close-in hotels? we chose not to because it would have been over $400 per day more and we would hardly be in the room. so we went with an intermediate “princess” room which was fine. but then the buses took so long and made us so grumpy that i wonder whether we should have just spent the money. our kids are 5 and 2.
The shuttle buses are so inefficient. Much better just to drive from the hotel to the park.
we gave up on them after waiting over 20 minutes for one and drove to magic kingdom. that was even worse! after parking, we had to take a tram and it brought us not to the park but to a monorail station. then we had to wait in line at the monorail to finally get in the park. it took us almost an hour from when we gave up on the shuttle to actually be in the park and we missed all the early ride time. i also was willing to pay for a minnie van by then but the waiting time was almost half an hour every time i checked.
on the way back there was a freak rainstorm and we had to do all of this in the blinding rain. that was when i started thinking i should have spent the $$$$ to stay at the polynesian. we may do that next time and just go for less time.
In my experience, if you have a car, it’s worth taking the car everywhere except Magic Kingdom. The parking/tram/monorail or boat situation into Magic Kingdom makes the bus a better choice, even if you have to wait. The bus situation to and from Disney Springs is usually OK too–my theory is that they want people shopping, so we’ve never had to wait long. But the new parking garages at Disney Springs also seem to be fine.
The deluxe/close-in hotels are sometimes worth it, especially if you’re mostly going to one park. If you stay in the Contemporary or Bay Lake Tower, there’s a walking path to Magic Kingdom. That walking path has its own security line, so it saves a ton of time! We stay at Bay Lake Tower and have a 10 minute walk to MK. If your kids are older and prefer Epcot/Hollywood Studios, the Boardwalk hotels are worth it (walk to Epcot, boat to Hollywood Studios). The Animal Kingdom Lodge is super fun, but I wouldn’t recommend it for accessibility to the park–you can’t even walk to Animal Kingdom from there, and it’s pretty far away from every other park. You’d be just as close off Disney property.
Thanks for these tips! We went last year when DD was <2 and stayed at the Four Seasons. For anyone considering, I’d recommend it (gorgeous hotel and pool, excellent service, still felt magic without being theming overkill and extra magic hours). BUT the bus is a haul. It’s on a schedule which has its pros and cons. When going to MK you get dropped off at a bus depot so you still have to walk and get on a monorail. When leaving the park, MK is the first pick up so you have to circle to all the other parks before getting back to the hotel, which takes about an hour. It was fine but when kiddo is older I think we’d like to be able to get in and out of the parks faster (and we’d be more inclined to go back and forth if it was a 10 min thing to get to our hotel and pool vs. an hour).
For my $.02, I surprisingly liked animal kingdom with a little one. Lots of shady spots to walk and look at animals or sneak in a stroller nap. We did the safari and the avatar river ride and the rest was shows (lion king, up bird show, etc) and they had a cute Dino playground. My daughter wasn’t into characters yet and I think she got a lot more enjoyment out of this park vs the magic kingdom given her age (though there were plenty of rides for the smaller set at MK) and I appreciated all the shady and quiet spots to have a reprieve from the heat and crowds.
One tip I have – pack all the food! We brought juice boxes and a bunch of nibbly-type snacks. (Trail mix, granola bars, etc.) Those seem to be the best way to satisfy kids who are getting irritable, and I just can’t with buying most of the stuff in the park. Little things that have some protein to them and you can dole out piece by piece are so much better.
As for attractions, kids will surprise you with what they like and don’t like. If you have little kids, be prepared for them to love the slow, boring rides a lot more than you expect them to. And see the Lion King show, because it’s awesome.
Where is the Lion King show?
Animal Kingdom. It’s called “Festival of the Lion King,” and it’s not really a story – more like an acrobatic/dance mix set to the songs from the Lion King. There’s a fire dancer, an aerial ballet, stilt walkers, all sorts of things. It’s great.
It’s in Animal Kingdom, it’s super cool, and it’s air conditioned.
Oh man, so many tips for this.
I was never (and still don’t consider myself) a ‘Disney’ person, but various factors have had me go to Disney World and honestly… it’s awesome.
– we stay in one of the on-property resorts, usually a moderate one (loved the French Quarter one!). I do hate waiting for the buses, but for the $$$ difference, I would just get an Uber or a ‘Minnie Van’ (comes with car seats) if that’s the big stressor.
-go before it opens and leave after lunch or the parade, then take a rest, then go back out for the evening. Do all the big rides in the first hour.
-amazon fresh delivers to the resorts. We like to have some fruit and granola bars and yogurts for breakfast and stuff right in the room.
-one of the best days we’ve had was a rainy day. Our kiddo (then 3) got to ride things over and over and over with no lines.
-bring a stroller. Even if your kid is 4 or 4, it’s nice.
– Don’t try to conquer. Take breaks, take a day just at the resort, let your kid swim in the hotel pool if that’s what they want.
-the characters are truly terrifying up close. That is all.
“-the characters are truly terrifying up close.”
My husband and I went with our 3 kids (5 year old daughter, 3 year old non-verbal son with autism, 7 month old daughter) over Thanksgiving and had a blast. Here are my tips:
Take advantage of the disability access service if you have someone in your party with a disability, and when you register for it don’t forget to get your strollers designated as wheelchairs. This simply made Disney World accessible to us. It allowed us to get to all the attractions we wanted to, saved us from waiting in any long lines and kept me from having to carry my huge 22 pound baby around.
Stay in a resort other than the DW resorts and rent a car. We stayed in a 3 bedroom resort room that was basically an apartment with full kitchen and full laundry room in our room with a full size water park on the property that was far less $ and far better than anything offered at the DW resorts.
Bring strollers. Even if you think your kids are too old for them they will be exhausted by the end of the day. You can rent them there but they are uncomfortable and you will avoid waiting in lines every park day if you bring your own.
Bring a lunch box or cooler bag with water, food or at least snacks for kids and perhaps the adults too. Again, this can save you from standing in lines and overpaying.
Use a planner. DW pays planners so it is free to us and if you buy your tickets through them they can make your dining reservations, secure your fast passes and give you great tips.
Plan out everything you want to do in a day at the parks. If you wait until you get there to decide what you want to do you could spend half of your park day wandering around in the heat and the other half standing in line.
Put wrist bands, name tags, temporary tattoos, custom T shirts or something on your child visible with their name and the parents’ cell phone numbers in case the child gets lost.
Remember there is a first aid center at each park. Our son came down with a fever on our last day and we went there for a temperature check and some children’s Tylenol. Everyone was so nice and it allowed us to get through the rest of our day at the park with him comfortable. If something comes up, don’t think you have to buy supplies like that at the park, they have it available at first aid.
+1 to the first aid station. Last time we were at Disney World, we went for a band-aid. They gave me supplies to clean him up and stick a band-aid on, but the quiet space really helped him calm down.
There are also baby care centers with diaper changing stations, chairs for nursing, basic equipment to prepare food or bottles (sink, microwave, ice), high chairs, seating for other family members, and small toilets for toddlers. They also sell supplies if you forget something. And they’re air conditioned! (These spaces can also be good for kids with sensory issues or autism.)
Yes, the baby care center was nice. I made sure to use one once to check it out. If I recall there was only 1 in each park and they tend to be near the park entrance. But it was nice with huge, padded changing tables that would be great for toddlers.
Another tip I forgot to mention was to be ok with dividing and conquering. My DH would board the rides with the older 2 kids and I would go to the next attraction and get the return time (part of the DAS program) and then feed the baby or hold a place in line to meet a character or something. When DH and the older 2 kids were done, they could meet up with me and meet the character, have a bathroom break and then go to the ride where I got the return time. At that point I would get the next return time, and so on.
CPA Lady says
I’m type A minus (mostly A but kinda lax about it) and of course I have a planning spreadsheet. If anyone wants it.
We’ve been to WDW twice in the last couple of years and I was “trained” on how to do it by a coworker who goes multiple times a year every year. Planning ahead is key and helps make the experience really smooth once you’re there. On our first trip we were there for 5 full days – 2 in magic kingdom and 1 each in the other parks. On our more recent trip we were there for 4 days- 3 in magic kingdom and 1 in Hollywood Studios
– get the WDW app. it is key.
– you can check ride wait times on the app. it’s not always accurate but gives you a good ballpark.
– on the app you can order food at quick service restaurants. I like to order food while we’re walking to the restaurant, then one parent takes kiddo and find a table to sit at and the other parent collects the food.
– also on the app you can get fast passes. most fast passes are for hour long windows. shows and stuff like that might have shorter windows.
– when you click on each ride in the app it will tell you the height limits
– book your first three fast passes 30 days out if you are not staying on property or 60 days out if you are
– book your fast passes for 10-11, 11-12, and 12-1 (ish). Do as many walk on and low wait rides as you can first thing in the morning. Use the first one at the end of the window (like 10:45 ish), and the last one at the beginning of the window. As soon as you scan in for the third fast pass, you can get on the app to get another fast pass. Once you use that one, get another, etc. I like to use time waiting in line to get my next fast pass lined up.
– not everyone in the party has to use their fast pass at the same time. So if, say, you have three people in your party and for example your kid is too scared to ride space mountain, you could get fast passes just for the parents, and one adult could ride space mountain in the first half of the fast pass window while the other parent takes the kid on something docile like the people mover, then switch out and let the other parent ride space mountain. hypothetically speaking. :)
– space mountain is really really fun but you may need to go directly to the chiropractor as soon as you get off.
– there is a reservation finder on touring plans dot com that you can use to alert you when a reservation at a particular restaurant becomes available if there is not one at a time you need.
– if you can, go to disney before your kids are school aged and go in January or February or some other “off” time. It’s crowded no matter what, but don’t make it worse on yourself than it has to be.
– it’s okay to skip big rides with long waits. you can go again someday. there’s no way in heck I’m going to spend two hours in line for something with a 5 year old even if it means missing flight of passage.
– with several of the roller coasters/big rides, there is a single rider line, which typically moves way faster than the normal group line. It’s a great way for parents (and other folks who don’t need to stay in a particular group) to switch off and get to ride some rides by themselves quickly. I did smugglers run in about 25 minutes using the single rider line vs the hour plus wait if you go in the normal line.
– favorite park for me and for 5 yo daughter. It’s the classic princesses, winnie the pooh, cinderella castle, etc.
– Peter Pan’s flight is not worth an hour wait. No way, no how. It’s the same as any of the other slow rides, but for some reason it has a ridiculous wait time.
– if you want to ride the mine train and cant get a fast pass, the best thing to do is get an early morning dining reservation (as close to 8 am as possible) at either be our guest or cinderella’s castle. As soon as you finish eating, you can go get in line at the mine train and wait til the park opens. We did this recently and only had to wait in line for about 10 minutes and were on the second ride of the day.
– at rope drop first thing in the morning, probably 75% of everyone rushes for mine train and the wait is immediately ridiculous. it’s a great time to rush for peter pan though. We did this an “only” had to wait 20-25 minutes.
– if you stay til the fireworks (which we only did one night), the ferry is a great way to get out of the park at the end. People rush to the monorail and it can take forever. We left a little before the fireworks were over, and it was really cool getting to see them from the boat.
– the tiki room and small world are the best thing my kitschy little heart could ever dream of
– get a dole whip and a mickey pretzel
– the dumbo ride has an indoor playground built into the tent that my kid begged to play on. it’s a really great “unstructured” break in the middle of the day. they give you a pager and you play until your pager goes off, then it’s your turn to go on the ride. it’s only for non-fast pass people
– do NOT wait a long time to ride the barnstormer. it’s a pass for me if the wait is longer than 15 minutes. it’s the world’s shortest roller coaster.
– I was underwhelmed. If you’re into zoos you may love it.
– The Lion King musical was amazing though
– the food was really good
– not a child friendly park for the most part. Except of course they put the Frozen ride in here. We skipped epcot our second time.
– was mostly a miserable slog because my kid doesnt care about watching videos about Canada or France and there are not a lot of rides in the park
– a lot of sloppily drunk people
– all the star wars stuff is here
– and the tower of terror
– get there before park opening so you can get on a boarding group for rise of the resistance. Your entire group has to be scanned into the park before you can get a boarding group and you need to do it the minute the park opens. It is hands down the most amazing ride I have ever been on in my life and I almost cried. I like star wars and all but I’m not an enormous fan-girl and it was still really amazing.
– lots of shows are here. The frozen sing a long is adorable
– and toy story land — shockingly I was able to get a ton of fast passes day of in toy story land (tragically not for slinky dog)
– food is more meh but woody’s lunchbox is good.
– so is the blue milk in star wars land. It’s a slushy.
I was really surprised overall at what rides my kid did and didn’t like. She was way more okay with high up spinny kinds of rides like the astro orbiter, and way too scared by “dark” rides like haunted mansion and pirates.
So my four year old’s FAVORITE ride was peter pan. She was willing to wait an hour with me for it twice (we did once with fast pass). Her second favorite was Winnie the Pooh and third favorite probably It’s a Small world? Similar types!
The venn diagram of rides that both she and three year old DS liked had approximately zero overlap so we did a lot of divide and conquer. And had a great time.
My biggest tip would be to splurge for a couple character meals. We did that and my kids absolutely loved it. They didn’t want to wait in line to meet characters (weirdly that made them shy), but seeing them at a meal? So fun! We did Cinderella’s Castle, Chef Mickey’s, and Crystal Palace, and all were great fun.
We love Peter Pan too!
CPA Lady, that was an amazing list of suggestions though!! Thanks for typing it out.
Strategy mom says
Rise of the resistance literally blew my mind! And I am not a major Star Wars fan. Do whatever it takes to get to Hollywood studios early to join a boarding group
Also, we use Marriott points to stay at the swan and dolphin. Bad points conversion but who cares and I love that you can take a boat to Epcot and Hollywood studios
I thought the Swan and Dolphin was horrendous…horrible service, gross rooms, bad eating options. I hate how many points we used to stay there…
We went when my kids were 3 and 5 and had a ‘meh’ time. We splurged on the Polynesian, but the main pool was closed on all of the days we’d reserved for swimming so we never actually got in the main pool–it was closed once for a turd, once for maintenance, and twice for thunder storms. Super disappointing.
We also had tons and tons of ride outages that really screwed up our Fast Pass schedule (combo of maintenance issues and thunderstorms), a fire in a Disney restaurant that ate up nearly half of a day, tons and tons of issues with our My Disney Experience account that required us to stand in long Guest Services lines 3-5 times a day, and grumpy kids that wouldn’t nap. Disney never made any of it right and even gave us attitude when we were frustrated about having to wait in a guest services line for our 5th time that day. It think they were overwhelmed with complaints about the ride outages and had made a decision not to do anything about it. But it sucks to spend 6 hours at Magic Kingdom with only 30% of the rides operational, and those few rides having 3+ hour waits. And then to come back for a second visit to Magic Kingdom later the same week to have every headliner (Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, 7 Dwarves) all closed for our whole visit that day. We may have just had spectacularly bad timing, but it wasn’t a good trip. Disney really let us down.
Um, I’m sorry this happened to you! This sounds terrible! I’m sad on your behalf!
Oh, that is a bad scene. :( There is so much planning involved with Disney that an experience like that seems almost worse, somehow.
OP here: I really am still recovering. It didn’t help that my husband wasn’t a Disney fan before the trip, so I over planned to make sure that we’d have a great time. I had backup plans and backups to those backups, only to throw it all out the window when nothing went our way. I’ve reflected plenty and there was nothing I could have done except not go at all.
The worst was that my 5 yo kept getting excited for the next thing on our itinerary only to melt when we were turned away, over and over. She literally put her swimsuit on four times, only to arrive and the super enticing pool to find it closed. She waited more than an hour in line (more than once) for rides, only to have the ride shut down and us not be able to come back. We woke up at the crack of dawn to rope drop, only to find every headliner closed (twice). She ordered food, only to spend more than two hours outside waiting out fire department clearance to get back inside to get our stuff (including my purse with my wallet) while starving. We had reservations, only to wait two hours in pouring rain to be seated because people weren’t giving up their table because of the torrential thunder storms. So many tears, and I can’t even blame her.
Oh yeah, and walking across the park to ride a ride, only to find My Disney Experience wasn’t working so we couldn’t get in with our FP, and having to go find guest services and wait in line again. Of course, then we’d be out of time to get back to that ride, so we’d have to choose which ride to skip, only to show up to that ride to find it closed. One day we only rode 3 rides in 6 hours. It was bad.
Oh, this is so sad. I’m a Disney fan, and this sounds like such a terrible experience. I don’t think there was anything you could have done. FWIW, I’ve found that Disney is good about “making things right” when something goes wrong that affects one family, but not when an event affects everyone in a particular park, hotel, or restaurant. Basically, most people are happy with a drink or appetizer or some fast passes if there’s a minor inconvenience, but Disney’s never going to give money back for ride closures, weather, apps being down, etc., even when people are understandably disappointed.
This sounds like a nightmare trip. I’m so sorry for you guys!
This is so timely! I have a question! We visit my parents in Florida in the Ft. Myers area every year for a week and I was thinking of doing a one night trip up to disney with my 2 and 4 year old, as 4 year old is obsessed with the classic disney characters (mickey, minnie). Has no experience with the princesses as we haven’t watched those movies. Would we have fun? Could we do a character meal with Mickey, or do they have to be planned super far in advance? Is it worth all that money if they are both two small for the rides and don’t know a lot of the characters? How should we plan our time, since we’ll be checking out of the hotel that morning and driving back to my parents that night? I am literally disney clueless, so look forward to reading all the advice- or if you have other resources to suggest that would be helpful too!
We went with my kids last year at ages 9 months, 2.999 and 5.5. We stayed off site and did a character breakfast one day, did 2 days at magic kingdom, and the other 3 days were at our hotel/pool. It was amazing.
FWIW we did the Rapunzel/Ariel breakfast but made an 11:30 reservation. It was our lunch and took the entire pre nap portion of the day. We lounged at the pool after. Highly recommend.
I think you could do it and have a lot of fun. 2 and 4 are definitely not too young to enjoy it – they would be able to go on the vast majority of the rides at the Magic Kingdom. At that age, my kids had just seen The Little Mermaid and were obsessed with that ride, so you might want to find one movie like that with a ride that they could go on and might like. If your kids like Mickey and friends, they’d probably love seeing them in the parade and show, too. But I think they’d still like the fanfare of the whole thing even without knowing the characters.
There are a lot of character meals, so I’d bet you can find one available not far in advance. If I were you, I would see if I could plan a character meal the night before (when you arrive), rather than trying to do it and the park on the same day. If you’re staying on property, I know they will keep your stuff for you and let you continue making arrangements for after check-out, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Or you could just keep your stuff in the car and park at the park and leave directly from there.
I think you could have fun! Last time we went, Kiddo was 3 and didn’t know the princesses or many of the movies, and he had a great time!
Personally, I’d plan to check in around mid-day and do something fun that doesn’t require park admission (depends on where you decide to stay and if you can get a character dining reservation that doesn’t require park admission). Then go to Magic Kingdom early the next morning until either after lunch or after the parade–there’s plenty that even a 2-year-old can ride if sitting in your lap. Buy tickets ahead of time so you can book fast passes. (Also, the 2 year old will get free entrance to the parks–3 and under are free.) You can get a list of every ride for which Fast Passes are available, but they’re usually a “must” for Peter Pan and Winnie the Pooh.
You might be able to get a character meal with Mickey, depending on when you’re going and how flexible you are with timing. Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Pluto appear at Chef Mickey’s in the Contemporary at breakfast and dinner, but that’s admittedly a tough reservation to get. Lilo, Stitch, Mickey, and Pluto are at Ohana in the Polynesian for breakfast. There’s also a Mickey’s Backyard BBQ at Fort Wildnerness with Mickey, Minnie, Chip, Dale, and Goofy, but it’s apparently only on Thursdays and Saturdays, and doesn’t happen in January or February. I’m not sure if the characters come to the table or if they’re just in the show for that one.
Inside the parks, Mickey, Goofy, Donald, and Daisy are in the Tusker House in Animal Kingdom at breakfast and lunch. (Animal Kingdom would be my choice for a second park with kids.) Mickey, Pluto, Chip, and Dale are in The Garden Grill at Epcot at dinner–probably the easiest character dining reservation to get with Mickey in it, but for good reason–the other restaurants at Epcot are better, and there aren’t that many rides for kids at Epcot.
Thank you so much! This is exactly the kind of advice I was looking for. If you have any suggestions for where we should stay to maximize the odds of all this happening that would be helpful too- willing to go $$$ since it’s only for one night.
If it’s available, the Contemporary. Especially if you can get Chef Mickey’s reservations because it’s in the Contemporary. I love, love, love being able to walk to the Magic Kingdom–it can easily save you an hour in the morning. Pack some granola bars from your parents’ house, wake up, and head straight to the park. If there’s availability elsewhere on the monorail, that’s my second choice. In all of the monorail hotels, but especially the Contemporary, you can find places around the hotel to watch the fireworks, and several will pipe in the music. Rooms with “theme park” views also have views of the fireworks (double check before you book). It’s great to be able to get the kids out of the park, get a nap, go to an early dinner, get ready for bed, and have fireworks (in pj’s, with teeth brushed) be the very last thing.
If you end up with Mickey’s Backyard BBQ, Wilderness Lodge is a good choice too. You can take the boat to Magic Kingdom. The hotel is pretty cool and has a decent pool. I also really enjoy the nearby Fort Wilderness area with small kids (that’s Disney’s camping/RV area). It’s one of the few areas with actual playgrounds, you can check out the Disney horses, and there are lots of walking paths. (Side note, all the RVs go nuts decorating at Christmas, and I love walking around then.)
The other expensive hotels are all great and entertaining in their own way. The hotels on the Boardwalk have access to the shopping/dining/entertainment area of the Boardwalk. The Beach Club and Yacht Club share the indisputably best pool at Disney World, if it will be warm enough to enjoy swimming. You can also walk to Epcot or take a boat to Hollywood Studios from the Boardwalk. The Animal Kingdom Lodge is inconvenient to everything but the Animal Kingdom, and even then you have to take the bus or drive, but it is fun–lots of art, great restaurants, and you can see safari animals.
Among the moderate hotels, people love the Port Orleans French Quarter. I haven’t stayed there (I’m from New Orleans, so it doesn’t have the same appeal to me). But for one night, any nearby hotel would work fine too.
Thank you thank you!
I will add that in certain days of the week the “classic” characters you are looking for appear at the Four Seasons for a meal (I think it was breakfast? But don’t hold me to that) as well. May be easier to score a reservation since it’s not thought of as a “Disney hotel” but it’s an option and doesn’t require park admission.
We went for a week when our kids were 6, 5 and almost 2. It was, hands down, the best week of my life. We had so much fun! It didn’t hurt that my daughters were in the height of their princess phase and every single thing was absolutely magical to them.
We spent 2 days at magic kingdom and one at each of the other parks. With the exception of the princess breakfast at Akserhus and the Frozen ride, Epcot wasn’t the greatest. We’d probably skip Epcot the next time around.
The best decision we made was renting a double stroller from Kingdom Strollers and having it delivered to our hotel. Even though our girls were older the stroller was necessary for hauling snacks, diaper bag, first aid supplies, change of clothes (at least one outfit for each kid and each grown up – water rides and inevitable kid messes made this necessary). It was a pain to haul on the bus, but worth it. Our little guy did well in our umbrella stroller and took longer naps in the double when needed.
If bringing a stroller and staying until dark, make sure you have lights or glow sticks. We bought some battery operated twinkle lights to wind around the handles so others could see our stroller when we were there late into the evening.
Fast passes are essential. Plan them for early in the day and use them up, so you can get more. You’ll need the app for this. If you have little ones in your group or kids who might be scared/unable/not want to ride a certain ride, the Rider Switch program basically lets your kids use the fast past twice to ride with each parent and can effectively double your family’s fast pass. https://wdwprepschool.com/how-to-child-swap-rider-switch-at-disney-world/
We stayed at Art of Animation, one of the “budget” hotels on property. Our girls loved the Little Mermaid theme and the 3 pools were great. They also had a food court that had options that satisfied even the pickiest kids in our family. We didn’t mind the smaller rooms or the distance because we spent almost all our time at the parks, with the exception of a planned afternoon at the pools. We were always at the parks for rope drop or earlier for scheduled character meals. Our kids are early risers and that’s what worked best for us. That first bus out generally wasn’t crowded.
We put the money we saved on the hotel towards the meal plan, which was worth it for the convenience alone. it was so easy to order from the app and just scan the magic band to pay. Bonus: Starbucks participates in the meal plan and most things on the menu count for one snack credit.
Dole Whip was our favorite treat. As a bonus for the grown ups, you can get Dole Whip with rum at Tamu Tamu in Animal Kingdom.
We just did Disney with our 4 and 8YOs this past spring. Was the 4YO’s first time, 8YO’s second but she really didn’t remember much from her first time. I am super type A but manage to chill on vacations :-)
– if you think you might ever go to disney, and you have kids and any kind of large recurring bill that can go on a credit card, get thee a disney visa asap. We put four years of daycare on the card (made paying a two step process instead of one, but worth it) and the points basically paid the difference between staying at a value resort and staying at the Poly. Monorail adjacent resorts are fabulous only because we could zip around pretty quickly. Also 4YO loves transportation of all kinds, so that was an easy win. We could see the fireworks from our room.
– do not get the dining plan. YMMV but packing nonperishable snacks that won’t make you feel gross, and (key for me) grocery delivery for breakfasts that aren’t super carby and calorific – meant that we dis not get our money’s worth. We do not want dessert with lunch and dinner. Also, the dining plan requires that kids order from the kids menu, and my kids were frequently NOT COOL with that!
– favorite buffet meal is still tusker house at animal kingdom, but that’s the park that i feel like you could skip unless you are super into Avatar.
– crystal palace and chef mickey’s were fine, kids LOVED them and chef mickeys was fun to take the monorail to
– Be our guest for lunch was GREAT
– Our kids actually loved epcot but YMMV. For us, I think it was bc our kids are adventurous eaters :-)
– plan a day in the middle for a rest day. We were going to go to the pool and chill but it rained, so we watched a movie in the room and then went to disney springs
– Oh, Homecomin’ at disney springs is fantastic. DH travels to orlando regularly for work and he always tries to eat there!
– highly recommend using Small World Vacations esp if you are a first timer. Super super helpful.
– do not get the photo package unless you just know that you will want all. The. Pictures. We bought seven photos a la carte and it was cheaper (i limited it to full-family shots where we all had our eyes open). We used our phones for candids.
We aren’t HUGE disney people, but we loved every single minute!
Fort Wilderness FTW says
I have so many tips, but no time to add them.
I will plug Fort Wilderness (Disney’s onsite campground) as an excellent place to stay. I went two years ago in a group of 9. It must MUCH cheaper than getting hotel rooms for all of us, and the campground itself is peaceful and serene.
We rented a luxury camper from a company that only rents out to people staying at Fort Wilderness. It was completely set up by the time we arrived. It was great to sit outside and chat/drink with the other adults while the kids slept inside. We only purchased one meal per day – all else was made at our campsite. We didn’t have pets, but I believe it is pet friendly too.
You take a boat to Magic Kingdom, which has its own kind of magic. Chip and Dale have a free campfire sing along every night before a free movie. The pools were nice.
I went reluctantly with a 3 year old and a 1 year old (with my in-laws) and I had a fantastic time! We went the week of spring break, so a busy time, but it still did not seem too crowded. The fastpass system makes such a difference.
I didn’t find the busses too burdensome, except for some poorly planned meals. It was worth it to me to not have to lug multiple carseats through the airport. We are not a stroller family in every day life, but appreciated having a stroller for the 3 year old. Babywearing was best for the 1 year old, and he could stay in there for most of the rides.
We enjoyed Epcot, and found enough stuff that the kids enjoyed. Besides Frozen, we liked the Nemo stuff and the Mickey shorts. There was more stuff for the kids than Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios, although that was before Toy Story Land and the Star Wars stuff.
I think the key to having a good time is not trying to fit in everything.
I’m exhausted just reading this thread. :P
Salmon mom says
We fully anticipate being given a trip as an inheritance kind of thing (it’s sort of a tradition in husbands family). I have a special needs kid and I do not want to go. If husband insists on taking kid I would go to help with kid but I know I would hate it (I hate crowds and lines and our kid might be overwhelmed and hate every second). It would be a jerk move to just get husband to do it himself even though he would deserve it.
So I think of Disney with dread. I could and would do a cruise so hopefully the money can go to that. Fingers crossed I guess.
FWIW, I have a special needs kid, and he loves Disney. We went two years in a row, each for 1 week during a busy time of year, and we’re planning another trip for next year. We go to the park every other day (so 4 days in the parks out of 7), and spend the other days enjoying the property. In past trips, we’ve limited our time in the park to about 5 hours per day–next year, we may try to stay until 3 or so, or take a mid-day break and then go back in the afternoon. We take advantage of early mornings and Fast Passes so that we can squeeze 6-7 attractions into 5 hours, avoid the worst of the crowds, and rest mid-day (he was still napping last time we went). Aside from that, if any member of your party has a special need and cannot stand in line, Guest Services will provide a card that allows you to virtually stand in line and return later when it would be your turn. Each park has a “baby care” room that also has a family area. Each park also has a few “hidden” quieter areas. And it helps to have dining reservations, avoid the counter service restaurants during busy times, place counter service orders ahead via the app, and/or eat back at the hotel. We also bring headphones for our kid in case he gets overwhelmed.
We did the Disney cruise last year, and it was actually more difficult for Kiddo. We requested a quieter table in the main dining area, and that worked well. He also enjoyed the pool. But he only stayed in the kids’ club for 2 minutes, and mostly, he just wanted to stay in the room whenever we weren’t swimming. We did have a good time, and we’re going on a shorter Disney cruise next week and hoping he’s more adventurous this time.
I think Disney does a better job managing the crowds in the parks than is possible on a cruise ship. I found the ship, especially the dining rooms, to be extremely crowded and surprisingly noisy. I would imagine it would be difficult for a special-needs kid.
You’re not alone. I know my kids will want to go to Disney at some point (they’re currently 5 and 4) and my husband has mentioned it. But I kind of don’t want to. Actually, I really don’t want to.
I don’t want to be the one who does all the planning (and the choices in our family are: a. I do all the planning; b. we have a long meeting to discuss how to divide the labor, and I end up doing all the planning; c. he does the planning and we end up showing up with maaaaaaybe a hotel reservation and winging the rest [ask me about spending a week of our honeymoon sleeping in the back of a cargo van])
We live 1.5 miles from an amusement park already. We spend nearly every weekend in the summer there or at their sister park 30 minutes away. And there’s another amusement park an hour away and a boardwalk with rides at the local beach. For the cost of one 3-day trip to Disney, we could have season passes to all 4 for the summer.
That being said, I’m obsessed with taking the family to Dollywood once the kids are older. I’m not opposed to destination family vacations, I’m just opposed to paying high prices and dealing with a lot of crowd and stress just for the Disney label. (And even Star Wars hasn’t changed that for me.)
Audrey III says
I’m definitely a Disney person, having gone a lot as a kid/teen/young adult and now two times with kids. Lots of great tips here! I’ll add some I didn’t see above.
-With littles, hands down, I would recommend the Magic Kingdom area resorts. There is so much more to do in the Magic Kingdom that my kids like; on our last trip, we often did the morning in one park and the afternoon at Magic Kingdom. Each resort has its benefits. We prefer the monorail resorts and particularly the Polynesian because we can walk to the ticket and transportation center and get on the Epcot monorail there. Also, you clear security for Magic Kingdom and now Epcot before you get on the monorail, which is a huge time saver. But, the Wildnerness Lodge has a boat to Magic Kingdom which is extremely convenient, and it tends to be less expensive than the monorail resorts.
-With older kids, I’d do the Epcot area resorts, and particularly the Yacht Club or Beach Club. The pool is amazing and you can walk to Epcot, and, if you’re up to it, a long walk to Hollywood Studios.
-We have such bad luck with the buses that we avoid them almost completely. Since we still have two car seat age kids, we generally take Minnie Van when bus is the only available option (for us, to and from Hollywood Studios). We never had to wait more than ten minutes for one to show up. But, the car seats are generally in the trunk, so it may take a few minutes to get going once one arrives, so plan accordingly. When my kids get bigger, we’ll take Uber or Lyft.
-On our last trip, we went to morning Extra Magic Hours. We found that the crowds in the park were higher on those days and we didn’t get as much done during the hour as you could with two bigger kids, so this time, we are specifically avoiding parks on days where there are morning extra magic hours. We will still arrive about 30 minutes prior to park open.
-If you are going for a longer trip and you think you’ll do a lot of character meals, get the dining plan. The character meals are crazy expensive, and sometimes one child price is almost as much or more than the whole day of dining for a child.
-The splurge for the club level at the Polynesian is worth it for us, because it gives the grown ups a place to hang out after kids go to bed – which for us is at 7. (We go with my parents and take turns leaving one adult in the adjoining room.) Unlimited beer and wine, and snacks/dessert, and a great view of the fireworks with music piped in. And, on the last night, we let the kids stay up late and watched the fireworks from there (w/ kids in PJs, teeth brushed, as recommended above.)
-We do not take a mid-day break as may people recommend b/c my kids won’t nap at the hotel. They crash out in the stroller if they need it. But we have early dinner (5 p.m.) and kids are asleep by 7 p.m.
-We get two single strollers instead of a double, for dividing and conquering. I recommend Kingdom Strollers and the Citi Mini GT, though the under basket storage is not great. But the ease of opening and closing more than makes up for it.
Biggest tip with fast passes is that you can amend and refresh to improve your day.
When you book your original three they have to be an hour apart so for example 9am, 10am, 11am.
As soon as you check in for the 9am, go onto the app and see if you can edit the 10am one to bring it closer. Say you get 9.30am, you tap into that one and the modify what was previously booked for 11am. Let’s propose you get a 10am. It’s now 10am and you’ve used your 3 fast passes up an hour quicker than anticipated. Scan in for your 10am and then you can start looking for your 4th. Find the ride you want and take a fast pass , even if the next time is 4pm. Keep modifying and refreshing and every time a time comes up that’s earlier take it. 90% of the time you’ll get what you want and earlier that it originally told you was available! Once you’ve scanned for the 4th you can go for the 5th.
Also there are same day fast pass drops for bigger rides like Flight of Passage so don’t give up if you don’t get them in advance.
Avoid extra magic hours unless you plan to make use of them and then move to a different park.
I allocate an hour to get anywhere via Disney transport. If we’re going to a dinner reservation and we’re late on time I get a Uber or lyft. If taking an Uber or lyft to Epcot get it to the beach club and walk into the international gateway, and to Magic Kingdom take it to the contemporary and walk over. If you get a Minnievan you can take them right up to the MK entrance.
If coming from the UK, collect your bags at MCO and carry them to the magic express – so not use the second bag drop. It’s worth the extra cardio to not be waiting all that extra time for them to arrive.
Also not a tip, but I do a fact of the day each day which pleases my husband greatly.
Use ubers between parks and hotel – affordable and so much faster than shuttle busses.
Love this thread so far! I was wondering if anyone could weigh in – I want to take my two littles before they both hit 3 years old – oldest would be just before cut off, younger would be 1.5. I know at that age there will be limitations in what can be done, but my question is – should I stay on resort or not? I have family in Orlando that we could stay with (which would save $), and I was thinking about saving the on-property trip for when they are older and have more stamina, and can appreciate the trip more (also I could convince DH for two trips if first trip was less expensive). Any thoughts, or general thoughts on taking 18 month old and near 3 year old?
Disneyland Daily website, instagram and FB – she is excellent. Not necessarily DW related but she will point you to the right group.
Ooh. Okay, I’ve never been the parent here, but I did just get back from a trip to Disney, so I can take a crack at this.
Your first order of business, for trips any time of the year and for any length of time: buy a copy of the Unofficial Guide to Disney World/Disneyland (as appropriate), updated for the current year. Read it cover to cover. Unless you and your family are all very into Maximizing Your Experience™ or just really like the idea of getting up at 6 AM while on vacation, don’t bother with the touring plans in the back, but the info in the rest of the book is incredibly useful. Do not pry your family out of bed at 6 AM or earlier to follow the plan if they’re not into it. Resentment and exhaustion do not result in an enjoyable family vacation.
I recommend staying on property at Disney World because it gives you better Fastpass+ booking, which will get you on three rides a day through much shorter lines. If you’re at a Disney hotel, you can book Fastpass+ slot 60 days in advance; if not, it’s 30 days. The Fastpass+ slots for some of the more popular rides are gone within the day. This is not a concern at Disneyland. At Disneyland, the equivalent is called MaxPass, it costs $20/person/day, and it is essentially easy mode for Fastpasses – everyone can get Fastpasses, but only the MaxPass users can check all the return times simultaneously and get the ones they decide on from a cell phone on the other side of the park. The time this saves you is impressive, but… $20/person/day. You do not need to be on-property to use MaxPass. (Fastpass+ is free, with above caveats re. the hotels.)
The food is generally acceptable at the normal-tier restaurants. They do have fancy restaurants, and the food at those is supposed to be better, but I haven’t tried it. Those require advance reservations and have a passing attempt at a dress code (boiling down to “nothing with visible holes”). They are excellent at working with dietary restrictions. There are options other than chicken strips and cheeseburgers, but there’s also almost always chicken strips or cheeseburgers. I was an extremely picky eater as a child and had no trouble eating at Disney.
Personal opinion on rides follows. My favorites, by park:
Disneyland: Matterhorn, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean
California Adventure: Soarin’, California Screamin’ (now Incredicoaster), Mission Breakout
Magic Kingdom: Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Seven Dwarves Mine Train
Epcot: Soarin’, Test Track, Spaceship Earth
Hollywood Studios: Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Rise of the Resistance (explaining how to get on this one has been the subject of several extremely long posts on the dedicated sites; Google can cover you better than I can)
Animal Kingdom: Kilimanjaro Safaris, Expedition Everest, Flight of Passage
Flight of Passage is probably the best ride on US Disney property, in my opinion, and would be a top priority for any trip. (Can’t speak to non-US property.) Most of these are extremely variable; obviously you’ll need a completely different set for little kids, who can’t go on three-quarters of these. But hopefully this is at least somewhat useful.