I confess. I’ve been dreaming about our first family vacation to the happiest place on earth since my oldest was about 73 hours old. That dream came to fruition this year, and it truly was a wonderful (read: exhausting) experience. I am, by nature, an obsessive and detail-oriented planner. In spite of my planning, there were a few tricks I learned during our maiden voyage to Lake Buena Vista to make the next trip even smoother.
- Get to the parks EARLY. Like, set your alarm for 6:00 a.m. early. If you’re inwardly groaning about waking up before sunrise on your vacation, see tip #11 below. That rest day just might be the best day of your trip! In the case of theme parks, the early bird catches decreased wait times on the most popular attractions. We may or may not have jogged through Animal Kingdom to beat the crowds.
- Don’t waste your precious FastPass+ on attractions outside the hours of 11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. We made the rookie mistake of booking ours during the wee hours of morning when the wait times were at an all-day low. By the time we realized our mistake, there weren’t many FastPass+ options available. Which leads me to:
- Reserve your dining experiences and FastPass+ reservation AS SOON AS YOU POSSIBLY CAN. Especially if you’re hoping to take in a meal in the castle or check out that brand spanking new thrill ride. Depending on your accommodation, FastPass+ can be booked 30-60 days in advance, and dining reservations can be made 180 days ahead.
- If character dining is on your to-do list, aim for lunch time. The parks are busiest mid-day, so it’s a great time enjoy a leisurely (pre-booked, people; I can’t stress this enough) lunch and get everyone off of their feet for at least an hour.
- Splurge on the princess makeover at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, but let’s not get carried away. Shop for a princess gown ahead of time, and stow that sucker in your suitcase. The gowns at the boutique, albeit gorgeous, are outrageously expensive. Dress your little gal in her gown before you head to the park, and opt for the makeover sans gown. Your wallet will thank me.
- Bring reusable water bottles for the kids rather than purchasing beverages inside the park. All dining venues will give guests a cup of ice water upon request, so you can keep the kiddos hydrated without blowing your budget.
- Did you know you can bring your own food into the parks? Hit up a local grocery store or Amazon Fresh for some travel-friendly snacks to your home away from home. It’s worth the extra effort to pack heathy, protein-rich snacks to keep your kids fed without overdoing it on treats. We packed peanut butter and jelly, cheese sticks, fruit, trail mix, yogurt pouches, Lärabar products, and other snacky items — and it worked like a charm.
- Lollipops. Every time I sensed a tantrum brewing over a long wait, I pulled out a sucker and voila! Crisis averted.
- Give some thought to a vacation rental by owner (VRBO) in Kissimmee. We rented a fabulous VRBO house in gated community that was literally a five- to 10-minute drive to Disney World®. The neighborhood boasted a pool, several playgrounds, and walking trails. Now, I love a hotel as much as the next girl, but sharing a small room with my three and five year olds is just not a vacation. We spread out in the house, cooked our own meals, and swam in the pool. Most important, we had access to a washer and dryer. Because kids.
- Plan for more than a day at Magic Kingdom. It was a fan favorite in our group and in my opinion, the park most well-suited for children five and younger.
- Take a rest day. Sleep in, regroup, and rest your weary feet. Disney is an amazing experience, but it is not for the faint of heart, especially if you have tiny humans tagging along. It’s legitimately hard work (also, if THIS isn’t a first-world problem, I don’t know what is).
- Bring or rent a stroller. Even if your children no longer use one regularly, you will be sorry if you skip it. We used our City Mini, which provided shelter from the sun (and rain) and a place to nap.
- Pass on the park-hopping option. There is definitely enough to do at each park to fill a day with young children in tow.
- Download the apps to keep abreast of wait times and attractions closures. The app allows you to modify your FastPass+, get realtime wait time updates, and most important, locate the nearest coffee to your current location.
- Bring a change of clothes and a package of baby wipes. Even if your kiddos are past the potty accident phase, there are water rides and melting ice cream cones lurking around every corner. Be prepared. (See what I did there?!)
Godspeed, fellow travelers! What are your favorite Disney World secrets?