After talking about it for six years and planning for two years, we (the hubby, our two kids and I) finally made the BIG TRIP to Disney World. And it was so worth it!
The stress over travel arrangements, expenses, and family pets left behind were all forgotten as soon as we arrived in Florida. The weather was beautiful and everything from accommodations to multiple theme parks both met and exceeded expectations.
However, there were some ups and downs along our journey. I'm going to share some tips I learned for next time around.
1. Pack light
First, pack light. Only pack what you need. You will appreciate this on every step of your journey. From breezing through airports to quick packing/unpacking and light laundry loads, packing light will reward you from start to finish.
One small suitcase for each of us--that's all we took, and one small carry-on bag for the plane. My kids each took a small back pack to hold toys and games that would keep them occupied on the plane. My husband carried his computer bag, and I carried a tote that would hold miscellaneous items like water bottles, jackets, cameras and my small purse. Notice I keep using the word "small". This is key to easy maneuvering around the crowds, airplane seating and frequent trips to the bathroom.
Be sure to check with the hotel where you are staying and ask about laundry facilities. Ours was on the same floor as our room, and very convenient. I found there was time for doing laundry in the evenings after dinner. I got quite nostalgic for my college days running back and forth between loads with pockets full of quarters:) I only had to do laundry twice for our seven day trip--two small loads each time.
2. Check your bags!
We also checked ALL suitcases. Even though they were small and efficient on rollers, we checked them at the front counter as we entered the airport. My kids were so cute with their small sized kids' suitcases that had their names embroidered on them. I couldn't resist this splurge.
At the end of our journey, both to and from Florida, it was a breeze to pick up the suitcases at the baggage claim. This made our journey so easy, even with a layover in Atlanta. We watched others struggle with luggage at every step of the way, from airport security, to hoisting them up into overhead bins on the aircraft. I kept wondering, why? Traveling light is so much easier, and I never felt that I had left something important behind.
3. Stay at the Disney Resort, if you can...
We stayed at Sea World as my husband had free nights built up from work travel, and Springhill Suites at Sea Word was available. The room was clean and quiet, so I would recommend this hotel to anyone visiting Sea World. We also loved the Sea World theme park with sea animal exhibits and shows. Our favorite show was the one with the orca whales. There were five whales!
We saw the benefit in staying at the Disney World Resort, however, mainly for a quicker way to get on and off the parks as residents had their own Monorail and buses devoted to carting them back and forth. The Disney Resort also offers a meal plan that may help with the cost of eating every day. I have heard mixed reviews on this, though.
4. Start your days early
Try to start the days as early as you can. This helped us beat the crowds at our free breakfast in the hotel lobby each morning, get ahead of the crowds at park entrances, and allowed for shorter line-waits at our favorite rides. The lines were always shortest in the morning before noon.
It helps if you go to bed early the night before, which wasn’t difficult for us since we shared a room with our children. They conked out each night about 9:30pm, and we shortly followed so as not to wake them.
On the first day, we made the mistake of taking our time and didn’t leave for the Magic Kingdom until about 9:30am. After parking, we waited a half hour for a tram to get to the line for the Monorail. Then we waited in line for the Monorail for a full hour in the hot blazing sun. After finally getting on the Monorail, it took us to the park entrance where we waited in line to pick up our tickets, and then another line through the security bag check. It took us over two hours to get from the parking lot to the park entrance. We were hot, tired, and exhausted before we even got to the actual park! This wasn't a very good start to our Disney adventure. So, lesson learned, be early!
5. Get the App's for your iPhone
Disney has some great app's for your iphone that help you navigate the parks more easily. One of them, called Disney World Wait Times, listed the wait times for most of the rides and shows. This became our guide that helped us schedule all of our activities. We didn't go to any rides that had a wait longer than 20 minutes, which leads me to what may be the most valuable tip!
6. Use Fast Pass!!!
All the most popular rides and shows have a Fast Pass system. You go up to a little machine, sort of like an ATM, and get a Fast Pass ticket that tells you when to come back later in the day. Then, when you come back, you get to go to the front of the line! The only hitch is that you can only have one Fast Pass ticket at a time, until you have completed that ride. So, you can't run around and grab a Fast Pass for every ride and show that offers it.
So, here's how it worked. We (the kids and I) would stand in line for a ride that had a relatively short wait while my husband ran over to get a Fast Pass ticket for a really popular ride. The wait time for some of these rides would sometimes be over two hours! Then he'd come back in time for the ride we were currently waiting for. Then we'd go on more rides with relatively short wait times (using the Disney app as our guide), eat a meal, and go to the shops until the time came for the ride with the Fast Pass. When it was time, we'd go straight to the front of the line with no wait! You can't get better than that! As soon as we were done with the ride, we would repeat the process. As a result, we were able to go on all of our favorite rides and never had to wait more than 20 minutes. The only long wait we had was getting on the Monorail the first day just to get to the park entrance of Magic Kingdom!
7. Buy the fan!
This nifty fan was worth its weight in gold. It was very hot the week we were in Florida, so these fans were everywhere. They spray a fine mist of water while the fan cools you off. But, even though the kids begged for them, I was reluctant to plunk down the 17 bucks to get one. I was tired of spending money and didn't want another thing to carry. On the third day, my husband gave in and bought one, and it was so worth it! The kids loved spraying each other and it kept them cool and happy between rides. I could have kicked myself for not buying one (or even two) on the first day.
8. Stay hydrated and eat fruit!
Does this sound weird? Extra long days of walking around theme parks in the hot sun is exhausting, especially for us northeasterners who aren't used to the heat. We brought water bottles and juice boxes each day in our tote bags (they were allowed through at the security bag check) and still found ourselves seeking out beverages from food vendors along the foot paths. But, water wasn't always enough. I found that a good hit of potassium and vitamin C was required to keep up our good moods and energy levels. We found iced smoothies at a few vendors, and surprisingly a bowl of fruit at the restaurants was easy to come by and cheaper than French fries.
9. Choose pay-at-the-counter restaurants
Eating at Disney World is expensive. No buts about it. We found that eating at the restaurants that are cafeteria style or fast-food style were much more affordable for our family of four. We looked for ones that either had shade or were inside with air conditioning. I recommend Cosmic Ray's Starlight Café in Magic Kingdom and Studio Catering Co. in Hollywood Studios. If you're ready to plunk down the big bucks and give your family the fine dining experience, I would recommend Liberty Tree Tavern in Magic Kingdom, Yak and Yeti Restaurant in Animal Kingdom, and Tokyo Dining at Epcot (their green tea ice cream was divine:).
10. Make room for souvenirs
Did I mention this was a BIG TRIP for our family? So, I let the kids pick several souvenirs. My daughter bought two large plush toys, and against better judgment, my husband and I allowed our son to have not one, but two large swords. One was a Mickey Mouse sword that lit up like a flashlight. Okay this might make packing a challenge, I thought, but at least it collapses down. But the other was the grand mother of all swords, a six foot long, double sword like the one Darth Maul used in Star Wars. I have to say, it's pretty impressive. But packing for the plane? How would this feat be accomplished? I wound up separating it into pieces and dividing it between suitcases. We also bought T-shirts, several mouse ears, a few Christmas ornaments, a Star Wars piggy bank, jewelry, and several small toys. It was a tight squeeze. I had packed light, but next time, I'll pack even lighter.
So there you have it. My 10 tips for Disney World. My family had a wonderful time visiting all four parks, including Magic Kingdom, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and Disney's Animal Kingdom. I loved them all. I hope these tips help you and your family on your next BIG TRIP to Disney World.
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Elaine Ann Allen
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