Friday, 13 April 2018

Have Fun Storming The Castles - Tips for A Magical Family Vacation At Disney World

When we had kids I knew that a trip to Disney was inevitable, particularly since one set of grandparents snow bird in Florida.  I also knew it was going to be expensive, and pretty much a once in a childhood type of event, so we wanted to time it perfectly.

A few years ago I was at a work event and someone told me a Disney story that had me realize my biggest Disney vacation fear.  A family had planned the perfect Disney vacation to The Magic Kingdom with their three and a half year old daughter.  She got to meet all of the princesses, and it was magical, or so they thought.  Less than six months later the family was watching TV when an ad for Disney came on and the child said, "That looks like fun.  When can we go to Disney?"  She had forgotten ALL OF IT.

I knew I wanted our Disney Trip to be magical and memorable, so I put in a lot of planning and research so you don't have to.

15 Tips For A Truly Magical Disney Experience



Molly & Cinderella 

1. Plan the trip for kids who will remember it
I couldn't get over how many parents brought babies to Disney while we were there.  Recognize that if your child is three or under it's going to be all for you and they aren't going to remember it beyond the photos you show them and stories you tell them.
2. Talk to someone who knows what they're doing before booking
Talk to other parents who have taken their kids recently and find out what they're kid loved and what just didn't work.  The last time I was at Disney I was 10 years old, so my experience wasn't exactly up to date. A parent friend had raved about a service that interviewed you about your children, their favourite characters, and created an 'all inclusive' Disney experience based on your budget and helped you select the best parks for your family called Fairytale Dreams and Destinations and we booked with them. (I did not receive any discount, nor do I receive any commissions for posting this on my blog).  This was the best decision I made and it took all the stress out of the planning process.
3. Embrace the process
If you decide to go with an agency, put in the time to answer all of their questions about your kids likes and dislikes.  They'll even ask you things about your child's level of shyness to make sure that things don't get too intense for them.  By booking with Fairytale Dreams and Destinations we were able to get all of our meals and snacks covered at Disney with our price and were given suggestions of fast passes to book based on our kids and decide on the best parks for us (which were Magic Kingdom & Hollywood Studios because of the connections to Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Muppets, and ALL THE PRINCESSES)


Meeting Star Lord and Baby Groot
4. Get the character meals
Character meals are the best way for your kids to get to meet their favourite Disney critters and princesses without waiting in line for hours and it frees up your fast passes for other things, but more on that later.  Some of these meals book up months and months in advance, and booking companies often have preferred access to these services which is another reason it's worth the price tag.  We were able to get a dinner with Mickey, Minnie and crew on our first day and a brunch with Mary Poppins, Alice In Wonderland, The Mad Hatter, Winnie the Pooh and Tigger too.  The princess meal is the one that books up the fastest, so you'll likely need at least 6 months in advance to get in for that meal, we didn't get in, so used our fast passes to meet princesses at Magic Kingdom

Meeting the Mad Hatter
5. Make any breakfast buffets closer to lunch time
To get more bang for our buck, our agent booked us the last possible 'breakfast' seating at 11:20 AM this meant that after our big buffet meal (which was seriously delicious) we were raring to go, and not hungry until seven or eight at night.
6. Take a rest day
Our first day was amazing, but also long.  Our first event was at 10:30 AM, but we had to be up and check into the hotel first at around 8AM and we didn't get back to our resort hotel until after 11PM after the fireworks show.  The next day we were super tired, and didn't have the patience to put up with the lines that the rides at Magic Kingdom have, so we ended up bailing at around 4PM after our last fast passes were used up.  If your budget and time allows for it, take a day between parks to sleep in, rest your swollen feet, and just swim in your hotel's pool.  This is my only regret.
7. Don't expect a regular bed time
Our kids time was all turned around, but that was okay.  Things were exciting enough and they were old enough that they could handle it.  If you close the park be prepared to wait a while for your bus or trolley.  We ended up waiting 40 minutes for ours after the Star Wars Fire works show.  We were luck enough to be early in the line for the third bus because it meant we got seats.


Molly crashed out on the shuttle bus back to our resort hotel after Magic Kingdom
8. You can cash in unused meal and snacks
While waiting for the night bus was annoying after a long day, people were really friendly.  We learned by just chatting to people in line that if you don't use some of your allocated counter meals or snacks during your time on resort you can cash them in for snacks that you can enjoy in your room or on the road home.  We had enough left over snacks to trade for a big bag of dried cereals, trail mixes and other items we could enjoy on our drive back to Canada. Score!
9. Wear comfortable shoes
Think function before fashion for everything for Disney and pick clothes and shoes that can withstand a long day with a lot of standing for both the grown-ups and the kids.

Alice on the Tea Cups

10. Fast passes
Fast passes are basically appointments to avoid three line ups in a park each day.  If you use a Disney affiliate agency to make your travel arrangements you can book your fast passes 60 days in advance (otherwise it's 30 days before your trip).  We had recommendations on what to book.  Which in Hollywood Studios was The Frozen Sing Along Show, The Star Wars Ride, and a Muppet 3-D Movie.  On day 2 at Magic Kingdom we booked fast passes to meet Ariel, Cinderella, Tianna, and Rapunzel.  If we'd managed to get a princess meal we may have been able to save these fast passes for rides instead.  You can use the Disney mobile App at the park to book more fast passes once you've used your three passes. 
11. Pick your days carefully
If you want to minimize crowds avoid holidays and weekends and any time adjacent to them.  Our Magic Kingdom Day was on Good Friday which made lines extra long, but because the kids cared more about meeting characters we were fine to skip 90 minute waits for the Peter Pan ride.   Also for us two days was more than enough!
12. If you see a short line just go for it
If you see a small line it might be a fluke, so just go for it.  Thanks to short lines we were able to ride the tea cups, catch A Little Mermaid Show, meet Merida, Olaf, and Star Lord and Baby Groot.  When we saw the same lines later they were much, much longer! 

Molly Meets Merida
13. Dinner Drinks
Ask about extras.  Thanks to my mother-in-law asking if we could enjoy an alcoholic beverage with our dinner as a part of our meal plan, and it turns out we were allocated one drink per day, which was a nice add on.  Some restaurants will add on gratuity in addition to what you paid for your meal plan, but the service is fantastic and it's worth every penny!
14. Souvenir Shopping Smart
You can either shop at the end of the day so you aren't carrying around your kids purchases, or if you're staying on resort, just ask and they'll ship your purchases to your hotel for you - easy peasy!
14. Let Your Kids Pick What They Wear
Molly wanted to wear her Cinderella dress to Magic Kingdom, so we just let her.  Both kids wanted to wear Star Wars Apparel to Hollywood studios and it helped them both get into the spirit of the day!



In their Star Wars Apparel and Glasses Before The Star Wars Ride
15. Let them be kids & be one yourself!
If they can't be kids at Disney, then where else can they be.  Have patience for long lines and road bumps and be flexible, knocking off your must sees and must dos first, then everything else is gravy.  You may find the grown ups have more fun than the kids!



Us in front of Cinderellas Castle



What are your tips for making Disney a success?  Please share in the comments below!