We have been to Disney World several times in the past twenty-one years that my in-laws have been Disney Vacation Club members. I don’t consider myself an expert, but I’m definitely not a novice either. However, I made some mistakes this year. Here are the 4 things I should have done differently at Disney this year:
I didn’t plan ANYTHING in advance–I went in pretty confident, but really unorganized. With the hustle and bustle of school, sports, Vacation Bible School, and church camp, I just didn’t make planning a priority. I didn’t even buy my tickets until we got there. So…we didn’t have much choice when it came to FastPass or dining reservations. Luckily, we can be pretty flexible and we still made it work for us, but I’ll know better next time. Really, I knew better this time, but I still didn’t do it. Oops.
I didn’t show up with a customized tee–there were so many cute tshirts when we went to Magic Kingdom! Families had matching ones made to commemorate their trip, there were monogrammed tees, and lots of funny ones. You can find some cute ones here, here, and here, but there are also a ton on etsy. If you need something fast, try the men’s section at Target–they have many cute tshirts as well.
I didn’t pack enough snacks. You may know from previous posts that I’m frugal, but feel like living it up (sort of) on vacation. It seemed to me that food prices went up quite a bit since we were there last and we ended up spending way more than I wanted to on meals and snacks. Disney allows backpacks, so make sure you pack lots of snacks for your family, preferably things that won’t be squished in your bag (granola bars, fruit snacks, peanut butter or cheese crackers, etc). You can also take in bottled water and refill at the water fountains.
I didn’t take enough pictures. Don’t get me wrong…I took several, but I was so intent on getting my kids to rides that I didn’t pause and get any great photos. We didn’t take one picture with a character. Not one. Luckily, my kids don’t really care about that, but it would have been nice just to have one or two for the photo book I like to make after our trips.
BUT….here are 4 things I did RIGHT at Disney.
I relaxed and let the kids (and the app) guide us. I’ve mentioned before that I know we can’t fit every single thing in at Magic Kingdom so I make sure my kids each get to ride the one thing they’ve been waiting for all year. One chose the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, one chose Splash Mountain, and one chose Space Mountain. We did all of those (and many more) so I call that a success!
I got a Dole Whip! I almost didn’t. It was late and the kids wanted to ride Buzz Lightyear. My husband knew I was torn (haha) so he sent me for the treat while they all rode the ride and I met up with them after. If you have never had one of these, you have got to try one. It was perfect.
I took a long mid-day break. We left the park around 3 and didn’t go back until around 6, so we got a good rest period in there before we returned to shut it down. If you are staying on-property, I highly encourage you to stop in the middle of the day and let your kids nap or swim for a bit.
I counted my blessings. Every time we go to Disney, I remind my kids how lucky we are to get to be on these trips. Not every family gets the opportunity to go as often as we do or even ever. The only reason we are able to go is because my in-laws are members of DVC. I want my kids to be grateful for our experiences at Disney and they truly are.
Have any advice for Disney newbies? Have any weird Disney experiences you want to share? Post in the comments!
Hello, friends! I took a short break from the blog while on a 10-day vacation to Florida. If you have read my previous posts, you know that our family goes to Florida every other summer to enjoy Disney World and one of the many beautiful beaches offered there. My in-laws are members of Disney Vacation Club and it has blessed us many times over the past twenty years!
Two of my kids and I returned home from church camp on a Friday and left the very next morning for our vacation. It was a fast and furious time of laundry and packing, but we were able to fit in a dinner visit with my family before we headed out the next morning.
Day One: On the Road
We like to split the drive up on the way so we can enjoy the sights and eat at new-to-us places. Our journey started around 8 AM and we headed to Waco for our first stop. The kids amused themselves with coloring, drawing, card-playing, and time on their devices. We stopped at a local favorite, George’s, and shared a few different things. The atmosphere was fun and the food was delicious. If you are ever in Waco, you need to try this restaurant!
After lunch, we continued our drive and made it to Houston for dinner. Pappasito’s Cantina was on our mind (I had never been) as we were craving good Mexican food. Again, we shared a couple of dishes and some queso (of course!). We left pretty stuffed, but saved room for dessert. One of our friends offered up his apartment for us that evening (he was out of town) and he left us a fresh-baked cobbler and ice cream–not kidding. Everybody was pretty tired, so we hit the sack after dessert, with plans to head out the next morning by 6.
Day Two: Road Warriors
The next morning, we were up by 5 and out of the apartment before 6. We stopped at a Buc-ee’s for some breakfast items and had our sights set on lunch in New Orleans. We made it right on time and, based on a recommendation from some friends, went to Deanie’s Seafood. We tried many of the favorites, including some gumbo and crawfish etouffee’. One of my bucket list items was eating beignets in NOLA so we had to make that happen! We went to Cafe Beignet and had our warm, sugary treats at an outside table.
Our time in New Orleans was short, but we enjoyed walking around and people-watching. I can’t imagine how crazy it is during Mardi Gras! Then…back in the car.
This was our “long” day of travel (about 9 hours on the road) and our final destination was Crestview, Florida. We used Priceline to book a hotel on the way. The place we stayed was just average, but had an outdoor pool so the kids were pleased. I did pool duty while my husband went to get us some Zaxby’s salads and chicken. The kids swam for a bit and then we ate and went to bed early.
Day Three: Finally in Orlando!
Our third and final day of driving was pretty easy. After visiting the hotel breakfast bar, we hit the road a bit after 6 and made it to Orlando around 1. Our first stop? Wal-Mart. Haha! The Wal-Mart that is closest to Disney has an amazing selection of souvenirs and our kids had money burning holes in their pockets. Each of the kids picked up a Mickey tee and I bought a few items to bring home for family. We actually didn’t get any groceries because the rest of our party already food-shopped for us earlier that day (they arrived by plane three days before we got there).
Our room wasn’t ready when we arrived at Old Key West resort, so my husband took the kids to the pool and I hung out with my sister-in-law in their room while we waited. We were able to move in to our room after 5:00. Some family members had planned a burger cookout at the pool so we joined them. The kids burned off three days worth of energy by swimming and playing at the playground next to the pool and then we went to bed to prepare for Magic Kingdom!
Day Four: A “Magic”al Day
This day actually did not start out magically. My husband woke me up around 5 to tell me he felt awful. He took some Aleve and tried to shake it. We made it to the Disney bus stop around 8 and headed to Magic Kingdom. Ropes dropped at 9 and we practically ran to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. There was a wait, but we stuck it out and the kids loved it. We spent the morning hitting most of our favorites (Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain, Pirates), had lunch at Columbia Harbour House, got an ice cream bar or two, and went back for some pool time.
My husband still did not feel well, so he laid down while the kids and I spent a couple of hours swimming and snacking. We had FastPass reservations that evening so we were back on the bus by 6. After doing several rides and watching fireworks, we shut down the park at 11 and reflected on what a successful Disney day we had. Oh..and don’t worry…I got the Dole Whip Float I’ve been dreaming about for the past two years. Ha!
Day Five: Not in our plans
We were SUPPOSED to hit Universal Studios, but decided to go the following day to give my husband more rest time. My mother-in-law offered to keep the kids at the pool and my hubs and I went to an urgent care center, hoping for something to help him feel better. He got some medicine, we spent the rest of the day at the pool, and ended up at House of Blues at the Disney Springs area for dinner.
If you haven’t been to the new Disney Springs, you need to make plans to visit. The area is beautiful, with tons of restaurant and shopping options. After we ate, we walked around for awhile and found a few more souvenirs.
Day Six: It was “WAND”erful
My husband still wasn’t feeling better, but one of our main goals for this trip was Diagon Alley at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, so the kids and I drove over to Universal for the day. I don’t want to say a whole lot about the park because I think it deserves its own post, but we really enjoyed it.
After reading all of the Harry Potter books this year, my daughter was pumped to check out Diagon Alley and get a wand at Ollivander’s. Luckily, she was chosen for the wand ceremony, which made the day extra special for her.
We met the rest of the family for lunch at Margaritaville and then went back for more park fun. I knew we were in for a night of packing when we returned, so we finished at Universal in the early evening and went back to our Disney resort. Pizza at the pool was the plan (unintentional alliteration). We enjoyed that and packed up our room in preparation for our drive to the beach!
Every other summer, our family makes the 20+ hour drive to Orlando to visit Disney World (for road trip ideas, click here). My husband’s parents have been members of Disney Vacation Club since 1995 and we have been blessed to visit many times over the years.
I am in no way affiliated with Disney nor am I a travel agent, but, after having the opportunity to go so often, I feel like I have a good grasp on realistic ways to have a great time at Disney without spending my retirement money. Whether you are a Disney rookie or someone who has been in the past, there are tips below which can help when planning your vacation. We head out in a few weeks and I’ll do a follow-up when we return with anything new we’ve learned.
Also, I apologize in advance for the length of this post. There is so much to say about planning a Disney trip and I wanted to include everything I thought would be useful to someone.
1.Staying on Disney property
Being DVC members, we always stay on-property. We have the opportunity to try new places, but we always stay at Old Key West, which is our “home” property. There are many room options (studio, 1, 2, and 3-bedroom villas) and they are all very spacious. All except the studio include a washer/dryer and kitchen. The rooms are very clean and are all pretty close to a pool (there are multiple pools at Old Key West).
The Disney pools are all pretty amazing, with most offering some sort of a feature (slide, spray area, etc) and daily activities. At Old Key West, there are also “neighborhood” pools that are much quieter and allow my kids lots of space to swim without there being much of a crowd. We always spend our first day (after the 3:00 check-in) at the pool. This gives us a chance to release some energy from the car ride and to gear-up for parks the next day.
Rumor has it that DVC members can also pool-hop at many of the resort pools. We have only done this one time as we pretty much love our home pool, but that is a fun extra for vacation club members.
Also, if you stay on property, you get free transportation to and from the parks and other resorts/attractions. If you are not staying at a Disney resort, parking is $20+ each day at the parks.
If staying on-property, you also get complimentary Magic Bands.
I’ll be perfectly honest. This whole band thing overwhelmed me before we left for our last trip. It seemed confusing and more planning than I was willing to do. I was wrong. The bands are great. You can link your tickets, FastPass, and photos to the bands. They also serve as your room key and you can charge things at the Disney restaurants and shops using them. It is such an easy way to keep everything together. You control the band through the website and through the My Disney Experience app (more info below).
Disney resorts can be pricey, but the benefits are pretty great. Other amenities include free wifi, Extra Magic Hours, early access to FastPass planning, and the opportunity to purchase the Disney Dining Plan.
2. Navigating the Parks
Because we are able to visit Disney so often, we focus on one or two parks a year. On our last trip, we spent one whole day at Magic Kingdom and hopped between Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom on our second park day. We enjoy all of the parks (including both water parks), but our favorite is Magic Kingdom and we always plan to spend at least one day in this massive park.
We love to relax on vacation and sleeping in is great, but don’t do it on a park day. You need to be there when the park opens or you will miss so many opportunities to ride things with not much wait time. Last time, some family friends came on the trip with us and they didn’t make it to the park until after 10 AM. I later asked what they rode and they were only able to hit like 5 things before evening. What?! We rode 5 things in the first hour we were there. Get there early and be flexible with your plans.
Many people go with a ride/show itinerary (there are tons available online) and they are afraid to veer from it. I do think it is smart to go in with some idea of where you want to be at specific times, but if your goal is to get the biggest bang for your buck, you need to be willing to chill a little. We always start at Fantasyland because we have kids and they love it there. This year, we plan on doing the Seven Dwarves Mine Train first because that tends to get crowded and have really long wait times and then, honestly, we’ll go to whatever is close and has a short wait–which is where the app comes in handy.
The My Disney Experience app is, in my opinion, the best thing to use to have a successful trip. You can manage your Fast Pass (add, delete, change) and dining reservations, see show times, find which characters are out and where they are located, and see wait times for everything in the park. After each ride, I get my phone out and look at the rides in that specific area and we just head to whichever ride/show is close to us with the shortest wait. In June 2015, we went to Magic Kingdom on one of the busiest days of the month and our longest wait was maybe 30 minutes. If we want to stay in a certain “land,” but have a FastPass somewhere else, I check to see if we can change times for that ride. That doesn’t always work out for us, but it usually does. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for this trip!
Even though we don’t love waiting in lines, I do make sure each of our kids gets to ride their #1 pick for each park before we leave. It takes lots of money and planning time to do a Disney trip, so I want my kids to get to visit their favorite thing at least once. One time we rode Splash Mountain…five times in a row…and I was pregnant. It was interesting to say the least, but my daughter was happy as that was her favorite. Haha!
3. Eating at the Parks
I’m definitely not a Disney dining expert, but we do eat at the parks. We have never done the dining plan, but I know many people do and enjoy it. Normally, we eat a quick breakfast in our room (cereal, breakfast bar, fruit) before heading to the bus stop. I also usually pack a few small snacks in our cinch sac or small backpack that we take to the parks (granola bars, pbj sandwiches cut up) for the time in between breakfast and lunch. For lunch, we hit up a counter-service restaurant for some good Disney food. They all offer different things and can be pricey (maybe $10 or $12) so we share two or three meals and call it good.
In the afternoon, we usually take a park break and head back to hang out at our resort pool or nap. We snack a bit there and go back to the parks for dinner, more rides, parades, and fireworks. If you don’t already have dinner reservations, you can use the app or just hit another quick-service restaurant, which is what we normally do.
We all love a good Disney treat so make time to get one (or many!) of those. My kids love the ice cream bars and sandwiches and I go crazy for a Dole Whip. I’m not too particular on when we get treats. Sometimes we get them in the afternoon before we head back to the hotel, but we pretty much always have something around time for fireworks.
Disney drinks can take up a good portion of money we worked hard to save, so we are smart about not buying sodas and bottled waters all day long. We go to Disney in June and it is hot, so I take some empty water bottles (you can find cute Disney ones at WalMart) and fill them up at water fountains. You can also get free ice water pretty much anywhere they serve food.
Character meals really deserve their own post so I will just say this: they are expensive, but worth it if you want your kids to have some character time. Also, the food is good. You should plan to do at least one if your kids are little.
4. Dress Accordingly
I always applaud people when I see their cute photos and they are wearing nice clothing at Disney. I’m not sure how they do it. Again, we go in June and it can be pretty steamy, especially after the afternoon rain showers. I’m positive you will not catch me in anything with a button or zipper or made out of some non-breathable material. If I’m at a Disney park during the day, I have on a t-shirt or tank top and athletic shorts. If you ride Splash Mountain in the morning and have to spend the rest of your day in wet denim, you will not be happy. Trust me on this. Get a cute Disney tee and break out your black shorts. You will be comfortable and still cute. Promise.
Also, wear tennis shoes. You will walk so much at Disney. I tried to wear flip flops once and was mad at myself about halfway through the day. The kids wear tennis shoes also, unless we are just back for fireworks and are leaving again.
If you MUST wear cute clothing, maybe put those on after a mid-day break. That is kind of my plan for this year. I’d like to get some nice pics where my hair isn’t in a messy bun. We’ll see if that happens…
5. All of the extras
Fireworks and other nighttime shows
At the evening shows, Disney sells all sorts of fun glow-in-the-dark items. I’m pretty sure I’ve bought a few of these overpriced things in the past. One year, we saw a smart family pull out their bag of dollar store glow sticks and I watched their kids happily showing off the things that cost them $19 less than what we had. Guess what. We take the dollar store glow sticks now. Haha. I hit up Target a few weeks ago and got some glow necklaces and bracelets for my kids and nephews. My kids have never felt like they had something less than the kids who have the expensive glow toys. Plus, there are always kids around us who don’t have the items either and it gives my littles the opportunity to share because we always have extra.
We try to be really practical when it comes to souvenirs. I want my kids to have something to help them remember the experience, but I don’t like them asking for everything they see. When my oldest was really little, we started them on a souvenir budget. They take some of their own money, any money grandparents have given them, and a little from us (we save change all year, take it to the bank, and split it into thirds) and that is their souvenir money for the entire trip (including the beach part that comes after Disney). This eliminates so many problems for us. If they ask for something, I tell them they have to pay for it. Enough said. Sometimes they want a larger item (like the build-a-dinosaur at the T-Rex restaurant), but mostly they just want a cup or some little figurine. Whatever is left at the end of the trip is theirs to keep. If you are looking for cheap Disney items, there is a WalMart close to the Disney properties that has aisles and aisles of things at bargain prices. We always hit it up before we head out of Orlando to get gift items for friends back in Oklahoma.
While at Disney, I’ll use my cellphone to take most of our pictures and turn them into a photobook when we return. Disney does offer Photopass which means they’ll scan your MagicBand (or park ticket) and take photos throughout the day. You can see these photos on your account on the Disney website and purchase the ones you want OR you can buy MemoryMaker ($169 for advance purchase, $199 for immediate use). MemoryMaker allows you to purchase all of your digital images for one price. The Disney photographers have great locations at which you can stop and take your pics, but you also get ride pictures and videos. After you get off of the “big” rides (Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, etc), you will go to where they post the pictures. When you see your family, scan your MagicBand and those photos will link to your account. We bought this service on our last trip and were really pleased with our pictures.
They even add little extras (see Olaf above) and you get some stock photos of characters and rides. You can also link MemoryMaker to the accounts of your other family members, meaning you can SHARE photos. We split the cost among three families so it seemed well worth the $169 to have good, fun photos. Because we are only doing one Disney park this year (we are venturing out to Universal), we aren’t going to purchase MemoryMaker. However, I highly recommend it for people who are doing multiple days at parks and/or have friends or family who can split the cost.
If you are traveling from far and don’t want to hassle with bringing a stroller, Disney does offer stroller rental for like $15 or $20 a day. We rented a stroller once, but found that a cheap umbrella stroller worked just as well for us. If you are doing five days of parks, that is almost $100 just for stroller rental.
Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
This boutique will transform your child into a beautiful princess or a heroic knight, with packages for the girls starting at around $65. Yikes. I couldn’t do it. Unless this is an experience you just can’t pass up, pack your own princess dress, put your girl’s hair in a bun, and put some spray glitter on her. She won’t even know what she is missing.
Want to know what the experts say?
Before heading to Disney each year, I consult some real experts for updates or reminders about certain parks. My favorite website is WDW Prep School. It’s the best, but can be overwhelming because there is so much information. Take in a bit at a time and you will learn so much while planning your vacation.
I also consult books. I use this one, but there are many on the market. You can purchase from Amazon or find one at your local library in the travel section.
Anything I’m missing? Post in comments and I’ll add to my Disney follow-up.