We just completed our third Disney World trip! I am by no means a Disney expert, but I have picked up some great tips along the way. Anytime I share photos from our vacation, I get so many questions. Planning a Disney trip is overwhelming and requires patience and organization. I do feel it very important to say though that Disney can’t be done wrong! It is magical no matter what.
We have stayed off and on property. We have gone with very short notice and no time to plan (our first time), and we have planned for nearly a year (our third time). We have gone with and without magic bands. We have taken full advantage of the meal plan and gone without (this third time it wasn’t even an option because it hasn’t returned from the craziness of Covid). We have tried numerous options, so I am getting much more confident in saying what options worked best for us. For reference, we are a family of 6. Drew and I have always had a really little one with us at the park (2 and under). And we have traveled all three times with a group of 10. Wild and crazy is an understatement. Our kids are 9, 7, 5, and almost 3.
Let me start by answering some of the most asked questions:
Is it worth it to stay on property?
Oh my goodness yes! We have stayed off property and still fully enjoyed our vacation. It was a huge money saver! However, the trip for us has been most magical when fully immersed. We have stayed at All Star Movies and Art of Animation. We have used the Value Resort Hotels because we have to stay on a budget. These hotels are affordable but still provide the magic. They are completely themed out. We stayed in the Lion King Suites at Art of Animation this time, and we were very happy with the amount of space in the room. (Don’t be surprised when you walk in your room. Two of three beds are a pull out couch and a murphy bed. They are plenty comfy though!) Being able to park your car at the beginning of your trip and forget about it is one of our favorite things about staying on property. There are a number of transportation options from the resorts. We loved taking the skyliner to Hollywood Studios and Epcot! The restaurants in the resorts make life easier! The food is always close by and easy to get. One of my favorite things about staying on property is that you have access to get into the park early and stay later. Just be sure to check the specific dates because it can change and each park has specific hours.
Should we fly or drive?
We always drive. I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer this question since we haven’t flown. But for us, the cost is just too much. I know gas isn’t cheap, but plane tickets are outrageous in my opinion. Plus, I don’t understand how you manage the airport with all the bags, accessories, and humans. We split the trip in half and do a hotel each way. We rock a Thule on the top of our car. We make a Disney playlist. We pack millions of snack and activities. And we get there.
How many days should I spend at the park, and at which parks?
This is a question that would best be answered by a travel agent or Disney expert. But I’m going to answer what my ideal Disney Vacation would be when we go back. *Quick tip! Currently you need to reserve a spot for each family member at each park the day you want to go. You can do this through the app.
Day 1: Magic Kingdom– This is just classic Disney. We always love to start our trip off with a beautiful walk down Main Street towards the castle. You can feel the magic. Expect a full day here. We always do open to close.
Day 2: Epcot -We skipped Epcot the first two trips. We almost skipped it the third. We left Disney and went to the beach for a few days. We were supposed to head back home, but we decide to turn around and surprise the kids with a spontaneous day at Epcot. Oops! We had been missing out. I do feel it has more adult themes, but it has really great rides! I love all the educational opportunities it holds too. Our nine year old loved walking through the countries and learning about space. My younger ones were super excited for the aquarium. I nerded out at the Earth Conservation exhibits. This could be a full day park, but it could also be a shorter day if you need some rest. Or you could do a park hopper and head somewhere else (maybe Hollywood Studios).
Day 3: Hollywood Studios– You can’t miss this park! It is our second favorite! You certainly need a full day here. If you can squeeze in more time for this park, do it. There is so much to see and do. And we have noticed the longest waits in line here. Star Wars and Toy Story alone could take up your entire day. This is another open to close park for us.
Day 4: Animal Kingdom– I hate to say this, but Animal Kingdom has become our least favorite. It has some incredible attractions, but we were completely done with this park by 4pm. Everest is currently shut down, and the weather was too cold for us to do Kali River Rapids. Those could have helped fill in our day. I would suggest using this park as a day to move slower and head back to the resort early for some pool time. Or if you really need time at another park, use this as a park hopper day.
Day 5: Back to Magic Kingdom– When I was a kid we used to always head back to Magic Kingdom to finish our trip. We haven’t been able to afford enough days to do this yet, but I hope we can make it work our next trip. Honestly, tickets get more affordable the more days you stay. We just haven’t gotten to that point yet. But I’m not sure there is anything more magical than walking away from the Disney Enchantment (the end of night fireworks at the castle).
Are the magic bands worth it?
YES! YES!! YES!!! I am not happy about the fact that magic bands no longer come with your Disney vacation when you stayed on property. Now you have to purchase them separate. If you have had bands in the past, they might still work. You can check through the app. But if you don’t already have bands, I do suggest you purchase them for everyone in the family. They save so much time and effort. You can scan into the parks without pulling out your phone. You can get into your room without digging for anything. You can make purchases without pulling a card out. Everything is on your wrist. Less hassle is what you need. Personally, I’m too worried about counting 4 heads over and over to keep up with anything else. Don’t worry, you need a pin number to purchase, and you can designate which bands can purchase and which can’t.
Is the lighting lane worth it?
I’m not sure this is a popular answer, but I don’t think the lighting lane system is worth it. There used to be a system that was free. It was difficult to use, but you planned everything in advance to your trip. Now, the system is still confusing, and it is expensive. We did not want to pay all that extra money when we were already spending so much on the tickets. And unless I missed something, a lot of the work needed to be done the morning of the park day at 7:00am. I’m not sure what all these other rock-star Mommas were up to at 7, but I was sprinting around getting kids ready for the park. No thank you! DID EVERYONE GO POTTY? Do You Have Your Magic Band? Where did you put your shoes? Has anyone seen the BABY?
I will admit that we ended up purchasing one ride. We didn’t think we would be able to fit in the Tower of Terror. We purchased it through the app and picked our time. It was confusing, but we did get to ride it.
How bad is it waiting in line?
You know yourself and your little ones. You will most certainly be waiting in some long lines. We did plenty of one hour lines with all 4 kids. You can use the app to watch wait times and determine what works for you. In line feel free to play games, watch shows, sing songs, have dance parties, eat, drink, crack up when one of your kids can’t stop farting, tell jokes. Do what you need to do. Be prepared to keep a good attitude. A lot of the lines are fun and interactive! *If you get to the park at the very beginning of day, you can catch some of the most popular rides with a very short wait time.
Now let me share some of the biggest tips I have picked up along the way:
Use and get comfortable with the My Disney Experience App!– Before you get to Disney, make sure your reservations are linked on the app. You should also check to make sure your magic bands are linked. This is a good place to go to make your park day reservations. Check out the maps of each park. We spent time checking out wait times for some of our favorite rides just to get an idea of what we should expect. This app will be your go to for the entire vacation.
Measure your kids before you go, and know what they can and can’t ride.-38″ seemed to be a magical number for us. Our youngest was right at it with shoes on. She was able to ride a lot more with us this time. If you are going with kids smaller, don’t worry, there are plenty of rides that allow any height. I like to plan ahead though so I already know who can get on what. It helped us plan who would wait with the little ones. *Heads up! (Pun intended) The cast members can be picky. Rightfully so. They are looking out for your little one’s safety. We made it all the way through the line at Smuggler’s Run to be turned down right at the end. They pushed her hair flat and determined her too little. Practice ahead of time standing up straight, feet together, and head back (just like at the doctor’s office). This brings me to my next topic. Some lines will allow you to do a rider switch. This lets one parent wait with the small ones while the first group rides. Then, when the riders get finished, the one that waited can jump in the lighting lane with one other person and still be able to ride. (Sometimes they are super nice and allow two kids to go back through. It doesn’t hurt to ask.) There are always plenty of cast members standing at the line entrance to help. They will guide you through the process. They were great at Smuggler’s Run and offered a rider switch so I didn’t have to miss the ride after waiting that long.
Take your stroller!-You can rent strollers at the park (as far as I know). Look into it before you take my word for it. But I prefer our stroller. I know how it works and folds. I like the way I can move the seats around when I need to. I want to have it during the transportation piece of the day. And until my kids completely don’t fit, I will take it. It is the perfect place to store all our extra belongings. It is a wonderful place for a napping child. We store our drinks and small stuff in the accessory tray on the back. Must have!
A good backpack and a belt/ waist bag (aka, the fanny pack we made fun of our mother’s for) will save the day.-We put anything we needed for the park in one backpack. Whoever wasn’t wearing a child was most likely carrying the backpack. It distributed weight so much better than a diaper bag or tote.
Mom, if you are reading this stop laughing! I’m aware I was wrong. The fanny pack is key. I didn’t want to leave anything important at the stroller while we waited in lines. We have never had any theft issues at Disney, but I wanted to be safe. The “waist bag” gave me a hands free option to have my cell phone, wallet, sunglasses, and gum on me at all times.
Bring a baby carrier.-I can’t say enough about our carrier! We have the preschool version so we can carry our kids longer than most. They would be on my back without it, why not make life easier?! I got the most intense workout all week, but this helped me make it through.
Plan outfits ahead of time.– I planned each child’s outfit for every day, packed it in a gallon size baggie, and labeled it with their name and park day. This might sound crazy, but I have 4 kids to get ready in the morning. At Disney, we go to bed late and wake up early! This allowed me to grab each kid’s bag fast and easy the night before and put it out for the morning routine. It included everything; shirt, bottoms, tutus for my princesses, underwear, socks, and any hair accessories.
This helped ensure we were all actually in the coordinating outfits I worked so hard on. *If you are looking for personalized shirts, shop Etsy, and shop early to guarantee it gets to you before you leave.
Bring a battery backup to the park for your phones!– Don’t skip this! We forgot. You will be on your phones a lot using the app, entertaining everyone in lines, and taking pictures and videos. At the end of every night we were rocking 1-4% on both of our phones.
Bring snacks and drinks with you to the park.– When Disney brings the meal plan back this one isn’t as big of a deal. Drinks and snacks at the park are expensive! Our babes eat nonstop. We take water bottles and plenty of easy snacks to the park (granola bars, protein bars, yogurt raisins, cheese sticks, popcorn).
Use the Mobile Food Orders section in the app. If you have time while planning, think about everyone’s meals ahead of time.– Here is another tip that might seem over the top. I had grandparents, aunts, and cousins look over multiple menus and makes selections. I printed out this list and took it to the park with me. Each time I needed to do a mobile order for 10 people, I had someone quickly read me the list for the next meal while we waited in line. You can pick a time slot, and when you are ready you go to the restaurant and click the “I’m here” option. Goodnight this is way better than expecting 10 people to look over a menu and decide what they want. Hangry is a term that will come up. Take charge and get that mobile order in before someone loses it.
Face masks are still required in every indoor location on property (I’m writing this in January of 2022). Bring lanyards for everyone!– You will be in and out a lot. Having our individual masks hanging around our neck made mask wearing no big deal. We should probably discuss the fact that my kids didn’t need backup masks, but I did every single day. I spilled coffee, ice cream, guacamole, and salad dressing in mine.
Bring backup clothes and a wet bag.– We have dealt with the poop accident and the broken flip flops. Bring what you think you can manage. But a wet bag has been helpful every time we have been. I’ve needed to get wet articles of clothing back to the hotel with the hopes of not getting everything else wet.
If you have a little one under 3 years old, they are free!– It has been our tradition to go before our little one turns three. It is a fun age! And it is a great way to save money.
I have a problem with being a bit too prepared. Here is the list of what I packed for the park. Ignore anything you think I was crazy over:
*Backup Masks & Lanyards
*Sunscreen & Bugspray
*First Aid Kit (Band-aids, Motrin (Adult and Children’s), Benadryl, Eye Drops, Contact Case, Tums)
*Snacks & Drinks
*Brush & Ponytail Holders
I will leave you with the most important piece of advice. You have to go with the flow! You must have an open mind. All the planning is fabulous and will help you have a wonderful trip, but things will change. As long as you are able to roll with it and keep a positive attitude it will go so much better. Just laugh when things go different than you thought they should. Everyone has seen a kid screaming like a maniac there. You are not alone. I even threw a gigantic temper tantrum our first trip. My entire family laughed at me, and now we laugh about it all the time.
Have the most magical vacation!! It is going to be GREAT!
Hugs sent your way!