WASHINGTON, 5/2/11 — We recently got home from taking our three children (ages 2, 5 and 7) to Walt Disney World in Florida for the first time. After hours of research and some expert advice, I have compiled our tips for managing Disney — without losing your mind.
Get Expert Help
- Buy a copy of the 2011 version of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. It can save you hours of waiting in line and has tons of information on everything.
- If you’re a first-timer and clueless, try a Disney-approved travel agency. Just make sure it is free to the consumer. Mouse Tales Travel was suggested to us and they were great. Kimberly Hill answered all our questions, booked our whole trip (including meal reservations), saved us money, and helped us plan our days so that the kids got to see the things they were most excited about.
- Ask a Disney employee (they’re all called Cast Members) for help and advice. Most of them are really interested in helping and making sure you’re happy. If you get a dud, just ask the next cast member you see.
Do Your Research
- Some of the best advice we got was to get to the parks as early as possible each morning. Getting up at 6 am on vacation may seem horrible, but waiting in line for hours in horrific heat is infinitely worse. You can enjoy everything in the park in the first few hours, before the crowds arrive.
- Take a few minutes to plan your day. Consider what things in each park you’re really excited about. Figure out when they open, where they are located, and if they have a Fast Pass option. A few minutes spent doing a little research on what you want to do will pay huge dividends.
- Example #1: Our 2 year old LOVED the Dumbo ride at Magic Kingdom. At 8:00am when the park opened, there was no wait. At 8:30 there was a 15 minute wait. At 9:00 am there was a 30 minute wait. From 10:30 am-10:30pm there was a 60+ minute wait. We were so glad we prioritized it, and got it done early in the day.
- Example #2: Our 5 year old son is obsessed with Star Wars. In order for him to participate in the Jedi Training Academy, we had to figure out when to get to the park, where to go, and who to ask. It worked out great - he got to fight Darth Vader, and it was the coolest thing in the history of ever.
Avoid the Lines
- Don’t waste your time waiting in line to meet and greet with characters first thing in the morning. This is especially true early in the day, when the parks are empty. (This is a Kimberly tip and she is right on.)
- If you hate waiting in line, Fast Passes are awesome. Get them as often as you can, even if it means some back-tracking across the park. If there are two grown-ups, send one to get fast passes while the other rides a ride or waits in line with the kids.
- If you have a little kid (under 40” tall), request a “Rider Switch Pass” whenever you get a Fast Pass. Rider Switch passes are only for rides with a height requirement. They are intended for parents who have to wait out a ride with a little kid who is too small. The Rider Switch pass is essentially a fast pass that lets you take two other people with you. Here’s the catch – you have to ask for them when you’re getting a Fast Pass.
- If you can, get an app for your phone that will show you all the wait times for all the rides in all the parks. I used Disney World by Undercover Tourist.
- The parades and fireworks in the evening are magical – but they create a log jam from hell. If you plan to stay for the whole thing, prepare yourself for the cattle drive to exit the park afterwards. Otherwise, you might want to leave early. If you do, make sure you can get to the exit. because sometimes the parade routes block off the exits, and you’re stuck.
- Food at Disney can be really expensive. We purchased the Disney Meal Plan, and saw a 35% cost savings. The reason we saved money, however, is that we like to sit down to dinner every night. A sit-down dinner for our family of four was almost always over $120. Lunch, by the way, was almost always $40-$50.
- Bring food and drinks with you. We saved a lot on snacks, early morning breakfasts and bottles of water.
- Manage your kid’s expectations regarding treats and prizes. The merchandise is everywhere, and hard to resist. Some of our brilliant readers advised me to tell my kids up front that they got ONE THING on the last day of the trip. This good advice cut way down on both their pleading and my urge to spend money on toys, t-shirts and random stuff we didn’t need anyway.
The best advice we got: Take a break every day after lunch to go back to the hotel, let little ones nap, and have some downtime. Take a swim in the hotel pool and try to relax. This also gave us a break from the worst crowds and the worst heat of the day.
What are your tips for making the most of a trip to see “The Mouse?”
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