13 Walt Disney World Vacation Tips
My family just came back from our second visit to Walt Disney World. Unlike our last family vacation to Disney, this time there were no strollers or car seats. Just an excited 8-year-old girl and 5-year-old boy, ready to enjoy every minute of sunny Florida and Disney. Even though the kids were older and we were more experienced Disney visitors, we still learned a few things along the way.
Tips for Visiting Disney World with School-Age Children
- Consider the dining plan. The dining plan at Disney gets a bad rep. It’s often considered expensive, but when you break it down, it’s not that bad. The dining plan cost our family $160.00 a day. No, that doesn’t include tips or alcohol, but it does include bottomless soda, bottled water, dinner, lunch and a snack (which is anything from a bowl of cereal to a piece of fruit to a muffin – perfect for breakfast). Ice cream novelties and soft serves count as snacks too but an adult lunch includes a separate ice cream novelty (this meant our kids got an ice cream treat every day – it’s vacation after all). If you don’t want them to have ice cream, you can get fruit for dessert, which is a great afternoon snack or morning breakfast. Outside the dining plan, kids’ meals average $8.00 – $12.00 for every meal (not including drinks) while adult dinners are $20.00 – $30.00 or $10.00 for a lunch so you can see you’ll easily spend above and beyond the cost of the dining plan.
- Take advantage of the dining plan. As an adult, if you decide to skip the non-alcoholic beverage to get a beer or glass of wine instead (not included), order yourself a bottled water for dinner anyway. The tap water isn’t very good and remember, it’s included in the meal plan price. If you still have extra “snacks” left on your plan by the end of your vacation, buy items you can take home as gifts such as the chocolate-dipped rice krispy treats that are shaped to look like Mickey Mouse. It’s a great Disney souvenir solution.
- Don’t be a slave to fast passes. Fast passes have changed from when we visited Disney World three years ago. Now you have to book all your fast passes in advance – you can do this as far as 60 days in advance (which I HIGHLY recommend). If it’s a busy time at the park, you may be stuck with fast passes in the afternoon like we were. In fact, only one day could we get fast passes for the morning even though we booked at the 60-day mark. We built our schedule around the fast passes but once we got there, we realized how busy the parks were in the afternoon so we gave them all up and just arrived shortly after opening to beat the crowds and the lines. The plus side, we could spend the afternoon relaxing by the pool.
- Purchase Memory Maker in advanced. Memory Maker collects all the photos any of the professional photographers take of you in the park and is currently $169.00 if you pay ahead of time. While that sounds like a lot, in the grand scheme of the total trip expense, it will be one of the least expensive things you buy. For that price you get all your professionally taken photos up on a unique site for you to download when you get home. There are certain shows/experiences where no flash photography is allowed, but there may be a professional photographer capturing the experience (such as Enchanted Tales with Belle or in front of Epcot when the ball is illuminated). Professional photographers – who are plentiful and everywhere – can also do things called “magic shots” (in which a character or object later appears in your photo) or “animation shots” (in which you get a mini video that may be made from your ride experience or an animated character). You never have to awkwardly find some random person to take your family photo and hope they know how to use your camera – just find the uniquely-outfitted photographers
- Arrive at the park early. The rides have the lowest wait times in the morning. By about 10:00 or 11:00 a.m. the wait times will grow rapidly. The crowds and waits don’t really die down again until the next morning.
- Meet the characters at character meals. Option one: Stand in line for 30 – 120 minutes at the park and meet one character, maybe two. Option two: Have breakfast at Chef Mickey’s and during the 60 – 90-minute breakfast buffet you meet Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Minnie Mouse and Pluto as they visit your table, sign autograph books and take photos all while you leisurely eat breakfast. Attend a princess breakfast, lunch or dinner and meet five princesses. Visit the Crystal Palace and meet all the Winnie the Pooh characters. There are lots of character meals – book a few ahead of time and then you won’t waste your valuable park time standing in line waiting to meet just one or two characters.
- Try the California Grill (especially if you have the dining plan). The California Grill counts as two meals with the dining plan but is well worth it. First, remember this is Disney, so even though it’s a really nice restaurant, kids are welcome. Most restaurants in Disney don’t stand out for the food, but this one does. On top of that it’s located rooftop at The Contemporary, right next to the Magic Kingdom, with several outdoor decks giving you a skyline view of Walt Disney World, Cinderella’s castle and beyond. As an added bonus, even if you dine earlier in the night like we did, you’re invited back to watch the Wishes Nighttime Spectacular fireworks. This is one of the best views of the fireworks outside of the park.
- Research peak periods. I did this the first time we went to Disney but didn’t the second. Ironically, once we arrived, we learned that we chose one of the two busiest weeks of the entire year. Ugh! The parks were PACKED. Make sure you look at the previous year’s peak weeks and predictions for the year you vacation in. If you can, avoid those peak weeks.
- 9. Bring a power booster for your phone. Walt Disney World sucks the life out of your phone. Mine was dead by 2:00 p.m. almost every day. Not only does service seem to be weak, but you will be on it ALL the time to check wait times, looking for bathrooms, restaurants, characters or just using it as a map.
- Bring something to do while waiting in lines. Sometimes ride lines are really long and inevitably you’ll need to stand in a few. Be prepared to play I Spy or have a device ready with games on it (and not just your phone – see #9). 30 – 60 minutes is a long time for young kids to stand in line with nothing to do (and honestly, parents too!). While waiting in one line, I ended up pulling up Disney jokes on my phone to pass the time (and yes, depleted my battery).
- If you’re staying at Disney and your kids can be away from you, make time for pool activities. The Disney Pool Activity Teams are amazing. At our pool, they had poolside activities from about 1:00 – 5:00 p.m. every day. It was one of our kids’ favorite parts of the whole vacation. They had water balloon contests, played bingo, trivia, had hula hoop contests, t-shirt swimming races, hunts for toys in the water, etc. It was endless entertainment. Each time they participated in an activity they got a prize which ranged from small items like temporary tattoos and bracelets to larger items like stuffed animals and inflatable toys.
- Think outside the box when exiting the Magic Kingdom. Most people exit by walking down Main Street and navigating through crowds of people. More experienced Disney guests walk through the souvenir shops which are all connected and allow you to exit right at the entrance.
- Set aside time to relax. Most afternoons were downtimes for us. Whenever you have downtime, take it. Your feet need a chance to recuperate and this is supposed to be a vacation, so relax a bit. And of course, enjoy every minute of it!
There’s a lot to consider when planning a trip to Disney with kids. See more tips and ideas from me and the other Family Room bloggers for navigating the Disney World experience:
- Planning Your Family’s First Trip to Disney: Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3
- Visiting Disney World with a Toddler
- 10 Things I Discovered about Disney World