We just got home from an absolutely faaaaaaabulous trip to Walt Disney World! We were gone from Sunday to Friday, stayed on the property at the Wilderness Lodge, purchased Park Hopper passes, attended one of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween parties, enjoyed a Princess Lunch at Akershus, and signed up both girls for a princess appointment at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.
It was just enough Magic without us feeling like we were rushed, or had tried to pack too much in.
For a bit of background, we are not Disney fanatics. I would say we are the average family who wants to take their kids once or twice to the Happiest Place on Earth while they are young enough to appreciate that type of thing.
We went a few years ago when Kate was younger than Maddie is right now. It was pretty much a torturous experience at the time, though we decided then that we’d return again when both girls were old enough to appreciate the wonderment that is Disney World (while not requiring naps to keep from losing their everloving minds).
There are sooooo many things I *could* say about our trip. For one, I’m so, so grateful we did this in the fall. The girls have a week long fall break. Both the temps and the crowds are lower than normal this time of year. Plus, it meant we were there for both the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, plus Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween party.
Second, we chose not to sign up for the Disney Dining Plan. While it’s a popular choice for some, many of the people we spoke with about the food plan option suggested going without it. While I can see the benefits of having a defined food budget and prepaying that amount before you leave home, it really doesn’t save you any money. Plus, it “locks you in” to a specific number of quick service vs. sit down restaurant meals. I didn’t want our food plan controlling our time at the parks, and I’m very glad we chose to dine on our own.
Also, I cannot stress enough how much benefit there is to planning your trip a good 6 months in advance (reservations of all kinds fill up!) AND with the help of a specialty Disney travel agent like Margaret Caffey (@MouseFanMags). Without Margaret, I guarantee our trip would have been much less organized, would have cost us more money AND would have required hours and hours of research by me to come anywhere close to amassing all I’d need to know in order to plan a proper Disney trip.
Margaret’s services are FREE, and she gets all the same prices & specials you’d get by calling Disney to book things yourself.
Just to give you an idea….
- Margaret made all our restaurant reservations, including trying every.single.day for a couple months straight to get us a reservation at a super popular restaurant.
- Margaret made our hotel reservations, including making a change from a mid-tier to top-tier hotel once Disney rolled out their seasonal discounts (Yes, Margaret went back and applied the sale to our existing reservation for us, too! I wouldn’t have guessed that was possible!).
- Margaret booked our stroller rental (we chose an outside provider for this).
- Margaret booked our tickets to Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween party.
- Margaret sent a folder full of information after we booked. Then spent 2 hours on the phone with me 2 weeks before our trip, giving me the play-by-play strategy for each park. Then sent a goodie-filled packet that included autograph books for the girls, Disney coloring packs for waiting in line, and rain ponchos for all 4 of us.
- She answered any and every question I had, and changed every reservation I asked her to.
- She responded to my question texts while we were on our trip.
- She sent a hand-written thank you note after we got home even though we really are the ones who are so very thankful for her amazing service!
Alright, so now that I have convinced you that you absolutely, unequivocally need to use Margaret when you plan your next Disney adventure, let’s get to the list of things we loved, things to keep in mind for your trip, and the one thing I would do differently.
Tips for your Disney World Family Vacation
In no particular order…
- Go during the off-season But ask Margaret to confirm your desired time to go is actually a less busy time. I know people who say, “Let’s go in the spring!”, though some schools’ spring breaks are actually some of the busiest times at Disney. She has access to paid crowd estimator tools to help you.
- Get a stroller, and NOT a Disney stroller OK, so not if your kids are teenagers, but if they are in and around my girls’ age, I would definitely recommend one. We used Orlando Stroller Rental, and they are actually a provider listed on Disney’s stroller web page. The Disney strollers are hard, upright, molded plastic strollers and they cannot leave the park with you. The Orlando Stroller rentals, however, were the Baby Jogger City Mini strollers with huge canopies, the ability to recline, cup holders, a rain cover, and cooler bag. They are at your hotel when you check in, and you leave them with the bell hop before you depart.
- Strollers are not allowed in line, so plan ahead! As wonderful as strollers are, they are not allowed in the ride queues. So if you’re heading into an hour long wait, you better hope your child is patient or has something to do while s/he waits.
- Plan for some afternoon rest time We only had an afternoon nap one day, however we got back to our hotel room in time for a regular bedtime a few of the nights of our trip. Before we left for Disney, I had heard and read countless times to “go back to your hotel for naps, even if your kids don’t regularly nap”. I even heard parents tell their kids that same thing during our trip. Keep in mind that it’s exhausting for an adult to be walking around the parks all day along, for several days in a row. Your kids are going to tire out much faster than that. If you are going to Disney World for more than a day or two, your kids will eventually hit a wall of exhaustion without some proper Z’s. And that’s not fun for anyone.
- Figure in travel time to the parks We had no idea the difference it made in the amount of time it took to get around and the difference in transportation options when we upgraded from a mid-tier property to a top-tier one. I realize there’s a price difference between the 3 levels of resorts, but I’d highly recommend comparing methods of transportation available, distance from the parks, hotel amenities and room size before booking. You might find that it’s worth your time, convenience and comfort to upgrade your hotel. Especially if you plan to be hopping between parks or going back to your hotel during the day.
- The food is good if you don’t eat just Quick Service Margaret will tell you that there’s more to Disney World than chicken nuggets and hot dogs. And she’s right. Of course, your food options vary by park and even section of the park. But if you eat at even a couple table service restaurants, you’ll see the variety and quality of food available. We loved everything we ate at Epcot (quick service as well as sit down at Biergarten and Akershus), plus 50′s Prime Time Cafe at Hollywood Studios, and even our hotel’s room service.
- The service is outstanding, as is their attention to detail From the yellow luggage tags that magically transport your checked-at-the-airport bags to your hotel room, to the hotel cast members who meet the Disney Magical Express transport bus with their iPads, ready to check you in, to charging everything to your room using your Key to the World card/Magic Band, to the “good bye” video magically starting on the Magical Express’ TVs when you cross over the property line on the way to the airport…Disney has thought of and put into place more details that you can even imagine.
- There is something for EVERYONE, even extra cool stuff you don’t often hear about! You can ride rides, watch shows, eat, and visit attractions all day. And then you can pick and choose to take part in all sorts of smaller, almost-secret activities for you or your kids. There’s too much to go into here, but if want to know about trading pins, Duffy the Bear, Sorcerer cards, Perry the Platypus secret missions or signing up for the Jedi Training Academy, send me an email (LizJostes@gmail.com).
- If you don’t get a Fast Pass, all hope is not lost Magic Bands are the new device Disney is rolling out that will serve as your room key, park passes and keeper of things like your Fast Passes. Fast Passes essentially act as a one hour reservation window for you to return to that ride and skip the line. We were – believe it or not – the last guests of the Wilderness Lodge to NOT have them (Exactly my luck!). Having Magic Bands means you get to select your Fast Passes before you ever leave your house! If you are unable to get a Fast Pass for your favorite rides, though, use the My Disney Experience app to check wait times throughout the day. Both popular rides we missed the Fast Pass for had big dips in Stand By time (that’s what us regular folks call “waiting in line” when you don’t have a Fast Pass) between 2:30 and 3 pm. Like, I’m talking we only waited 25 minutes for Soarin when the posted Wait Times dropped from 115 minutes to 50 minutes to 40 minutes. It went back up to 70 once we left the ride. One other point to make here…if a ride has a wait time of 30 minutes or less, just get in line and save your limited number of daily Fast Passes for different rides.
- Be strategic with your meals We didn’t do this, but I spoke with some people who planned a character breakfast at the park they were going to be at that day so they could get a jump start on the lines and Fast Passes.
- Get to the parks when they open. Especially the Magic Kingdom. The Magic Kingdom has an awesome opening performance that starts about 10 minutes before the park opens. I’m not going to give anything away, but watching it gave me chills. In general, though, you can get through 3 or so rides in that first hour before the park starts to fill up. That first hour makes a BIG difference in what you get to do that day.
- Plan time at the pool The pool at our hotel was really nice, and it had a slide and daily activities for the kids, too. Life guards are on duty during the day, and they provide different sized life vests free of charge.
- If you want to change your plans, DO We skipped out on Animal Kingdom entirely, and are still happy we did.
- Not all parks are ‘full day’ parks Not to harp on Animal Kingdom again, but everyone we heard from said they really consider it a ‘half day’ park. Many people will tell you that you could use more than a day at Magic Kingdom, too. A lot depends on your kids’ ages and interest. We had a full day at Magic Kingdom, plus our evening of the Not So Scary party. We had 2 half days at Epcot, and one day at Hollywood Studios. Also, Hollywood Studios is definitely more of a “show” and “experience” park. They have some character meet and greets and a couple rides (like Toy Story Midway Mania), but by and large each attraction was something you’d sit through from 10-45 minutes.
- Research the rides ahead of time Some are marked as “scary” on Disney’s website. Some can be spinny (for those sensitive to motion sickness). Some have minimum height requirements. And some are “shows” or “experiences” instead of rides. All of these can and will factor into what you choose and how you spend your time. In fact, we had no idea that Belle’s Cottage was so long and involved, we almost missed our Fast Pass window for Ariel’s ride!
If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you likely saw many of our photos. Here’s a link to a public photo album on Facebook. Here’s a link to the 5 videos I took during the Boo To You Halloween parade and HalloWishes fireworks show, both which happen as part of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween party.
My girls were head-over-heels about meeting the princesses. So outside of riding the rides (and getting hennas tattoos), we were on a mission to meet, get signatures from and take pictures with them.
Really, the one and only thing I’d have done differently is not bother with dinner at Ohana. Lots of people made it out to be THE place you MUST eat it, and it was “meh” at best (For the record, Margaret did not sell me on Ohana; other people did).
All in all, our trip really was perfect for us. And I can easily see how families with boys, and families with older kids have a fantastic time, too! You can create whatever type of magical trip is perfect for you and your family, and know it will include all the extra bells and whistles that only Disney provides.
What tips do you Disney pros have to add?