When you’re traveling to Walt Disney World with young children, especially for the first time, it pays off to plan and learn from other parents’ experiences. Aside from buying Disney-themed t-shirts and little toys before traveling, remember to take an autograph book where characters can sign their names for your children. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Disneyworld more than 25 times, sometimes for fun and others, for work.
Every single time I travel to Disney, I realize how important it is to know what you want to do, plan your days and keep in mind that you’re building new memories to treasure as a family. Last year during the Disney Social Media Moms conference, I also realized how limited our time is to actually create those unforgettable experiences when Meg Crofton, president of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts, pointed out we have eighteen summers to really enjoy our kids.
Here are our my top 10 tips when traveling to Disneyworld:
1. Check park hours before you go
Go to Disney’s official website and check the schedule for the days you plan to visit each park. Ideally plan on an entire day per park. Keep in mind that if you plan on visiting more than one park per day, you will need a ParkHopper ticket. Usually Animal Kingdom is the park with the shortest hours, so plan to start your day early.
2. Make a reservation to dine with Disney characters
If your family loves Disney characters, such as Mickey Mouse, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Winnie the Pooh or princesses, consider booking Character Dining for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Children under 3 don’t pay but ask in advance what the cost per person is to avoid blowing your budget. Some meals include a photo package. Reservations, especially for character meals and the new restaurant Be Our Guest, are a must and might require a credit card guarantee. You can make your Disney dining reservations up to 180 days in advance. For more info call (407) 939-3463 or visit http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/reservations/dining/ . Don’t forget your camera or autograph book!
3. Learn to use and take advantage of the FastPass
Your park ticket allows you to obtain a free FastPass for select rides, which gives you a specific time to skip the regular line for a specific ride. The catch? The system does not allow you to obtain several fast passes at a time. Some rides, such as Epcot’s Soarin and Disney Hollywood Studios’ Toy Story Mania, run out of fast passes early, even before noon, so make sure they are the first one you get.
4. Start your day early
Usually lines are much shorter in the morning. Once you’re in the park, work your way from the back of the park to the front and get your first FastPass as soon as possible. If you’re staying at Disney-owned resorts, you can take advantage of extra Magical Hours, which allow you to enter a specific park earlier. Other nights they allow you to stay extra hours at nighttime. You will need your hotel key card to use the extra Magical Hours.
5. Don’t let the weather ruin your trip
Orlando and Lake Buena Vista (where Disneyworld is) can get very hot and humid. In the summer, expect thunderstorms and rain. If you plan in advance, you can take appropriate footwear and ponchos to avoid getting wet. Protect your family with sunscreen and remember to keep hydrated.
6. Keep in mind your kids’ needs
When planning your day, remember to allocate time for meals, snacks, bathroom breaks and naptime if your child still needs to rest. Take snacks in your purse or diaper bag to placate hungry tummies while in line, have water with you at all times and take advantage of the baby changing areas that have A/C and other facilities to take a break with babies.
7. Take advantage of what Disney offers
Many fun things don’t cost extra money. If you’re celebrating a birthday, anniversary, first visit or other happy occasion, got to Guest Services and ask for a button. You’ll feel extra special! There are many professional photographers around the parks that offer Disney’s PhotoPass service. There is no obligation to buy and you can also ask them to snap a picture with your own camera. Usually their cameras and lighting are much better but you can always decide later whether to buy the professional picture or not. Check out my top 10 free things at Disney.
8. Remember that there are perks when staying on property
Free parking, extra magical hours at the parks and the Magical Express transportation service to and from the airport are just a few perks you get when you stay at Disney hotels.
9. Pack snacks and water to save money
Your bags will be searched when you enter the parks, but you are allowed to bring water bottles, small juice boxes and snacks. Not only will this allow you to save money, but it can also help you keep temper tantrums at bay.
10. Always keep in mind the big picture: enjoying time with your family
Don’t forget that the most important thing during your trip is to enjoy your time as a family. Create new and beautiful memories. If things don’t work our as planned, just go with the flow and enjoy the new experiences. Instead of going on all the rides, it’s best to focus on enjoying the rides you actually do.