Having grown up a “Disney Kid” in Celebration, FL, Walt Disney World is by far my all time favorite family destination vacation site. With so much to do and every age catered to, you just can’t go wrong with a Disney vacay in my opinion. That being said, and after YEARS of exploring the parks alone and now with my own family, I’ve found what I feel are the best ways to see the parks, get your money’s worth all while staying sane with the kids!
1.Create a park itinerary
The entire Walt Disney World Resort consists of 4 parks, The Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios (formally MGM Studios) and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Before you book your vacation, take into account two MAJOR things; how old your kids are and what they want to see. From my personal experience, The Magic Kingdom itself takes at least 2 days to get through at a reasonable rate with children under 10. Be sure you take a look at what rides your family will want to do, which parks have the things your family wants to see as well as when kids will need naps, food, or just a break in general. Creating an itinerary before you buy will help you decide what kind of tickets you want.
In my opinion, I feel AT LEAST a 3-day park hopper is a must! This gives you 2 days for The Magic Kingdom and half a day for both Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Animal kingdom is the furthest away from the 3 original parks and monorail transportation doesn’t go there, so you must either drive yourself or take one of the designated Animal Kingdom buses that run throughout the Walt Disney World Resort. I feel this is also an all day park as there are lots for littles to to do and see as well as some of the BEST shows in the resort.
All of Disney’s parks are huge, not to mention Florida’s weather normally tends to be hot or VERY hot. This can make walking around all day an even harder task, throw in some daily Florida rain and it becomes even more interesting. That being said, I highly suggest bringing or renting a stroller for any kids under the age of 10. We have a 7, 6 and 2-year-old and still bring strollers big enough to fit ALL of our kids.
I can’t stress how nice it is to be able to “contain” them throughout the crowds, give them shade or just have a place for them to sit when they get tired or watching the parades. PLUS, you have an instant napping station for anyone who’s passed due for a nap. If the kids want to walk for a bit, the strollers double as a great way to tote around souvenirs you don’t want to hold. All Disney parks do offer stroller rentals in the parks, however, the largest you can get is a 2 seater and these do not offer any kind of storage space.
3. Go during the off season
Booking your vacation during the off-season (late fall and late spring) can score you serious discounts, including lower hotel rates and restaurant prices. Disney tends to up their prices for the busy seasons (summer, Christmas and the winter and spring breaks). Many sources say, and I agree that November before the Thanksgiving holiday, is the best time of the year to do Disney, along with the two weeks immediately after that weekend. You’ll find great weather as well as smaller crowds.
4. Book dining ahead
Disney’s website makes it super easy to pre-book all your dining experiences and this can help make things much easier! If you’re looking to eat in Belle’s castle at Be our Guest Restaurant or feel like a princess at Cinderella’s Royal Table, themed restaurants in The Magic Kingdom can be booked up to 90 days in advance of your visit and I HIGHLY suggest doing so!!! DO NOT wait till the last minute to book these amazing dining options. Cinderella’s Royal Table is notorious for being booked solid 24/7 so snagging a table can be a chore. I’ve even had to call multiple times on a daily basis or even look online multiple times a day to see if a seating is available for the big restaurants but it’s worth it!
Pro Tip: Book breakfast as early as you can at one of the park restaurants. Be Our Guest in The Magic Kingdom and Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Epcot are the two biggest in-park breakfast destinations. The best thing about booking breakfast early is you get to be among the FIRST people in the park, even before it opens!! This gives you not only a great opportunity to hit rides early, but it gives you a VERY RARE view of the park with NO CROWDS! If you’re looking for a picturesque photo in front of Cinderella’s Castle at The Magic Kingdom, then grabbing one on your way to breakfast is the way to go!
5. Prepare your kids in case they get lost
One of my biggest fears as a child was getting lost in a big crowd from my family. Now as a mom, I make sure I always prepare my kids in case we somehow get separated while at the parks. For one, I ALWAYS take a photo of them with my phone the day we head to the parks. This is a great way to remember what they are wearing and to be able to show park reps. Two, I am a massive fan of Mable’s Labels custom kid’s safety bracelets. These disposable bracelets are a great way for kids to hold important info they may not remember, like cell phone numbers, who to contact and if they have allergies or health conditions. You get a full sheet and a half and they can be worn comfortably throughout the day.
Another great way to prepare your kids in case they lose you is to show them on a park map where all the guest service stations are. They always near the front of the park with other emergency stations and baby stations scattered throughout the park. All of these are great safe places for lost kiddos to get help. Disney employees are impeccable at getting kiddos back to their families and know how to make them feel comfortable, but making sure your children know what to do if it happens is important as well.
6. Pre-book your fast passes
Disney now offers the ability to pre-book fast passes for those using Disney’s Magic Band system. Now, instead of having to grab a fast pass in the park and wait for it, you can go to the parks with your rides already scheduled and all you have to do is show up in your fast-pass window, scan your band and your off! This is another major time saver, especially with kids and it cuts back wait times by the hours. You can pre-book your fast passes in your My Disney Experience account on the Walt Disney World website.
7. Stay on location
There’s nothing like staying in a Walt Disney World Resort. From the continued magic they offer to the convenience of on-site transportation, having your in-park purchases sent to your room or not worrying about leaving and having to drive back to the park, staying on property has major advantages. Disney offers different levels of resorts throughout their property and depending on your price point there is a resort for everyone. Again, booking in the off season is your best bet to get a great rate, however booking as early as possible can help as well. If you want the biggest convince to your favorite parks, look at the Contemporary for the Magic Kingdom as the monorail runs straight through it. The Boardwalk or Beach Club Resorts for Epcot and Hollywood Studios as these are all within very close walking distance plus you can take the ferry to the resorts as well.
8. Take a ride on Disney’s Magical Express
If you’re flying into Florida and want to get to Disney the best way possible, using Disney’s Magical Express is the best way to go. This pixie-dust filled bus system is a great way to start your magical vacation. Right after you get off the plane, you follow signs for the Magical Express, hop on and it takes you straight from the airport to your on-site resort. My personal favorite feature of the Magical Express is they grab your luggage for you straight from the plane! So no waiting at the baggage claim with antsy kiddos. Now I do recommend packing a carry-on with your theme park essentials, your tickets, hotel info, spare clothes and snacks and anything you may need to hit the parks right away. Your luggage can take up to 6 hrs to get to you so it’s nice to have these things handy.
PRO TIP: Use the extra luggage tags sent to you for the Magical Express and put them on your park back pack, diaper bag or purse. If the item gets lost in the park or left on a bus, Disney employees can scan it and return it to your on-site resort room!
9. Grab a popcorn bucket
Every Disney park has their own unique popcorn buckets which you can find at popcorn vendor stands throughout the park. These buckets double as a treat holder and a great souvenir! Not to mention they are usually limited releases and become very collectible. Plus, Disney popcorn is among the best I’ve ever had!
10. Become a Pirate or a Mermaid
Most everyone has heard of Disney’s Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique where little girls can be transformed into their favorite princesses, (read more about that here!) but did you know Disney offers an experience that will turn you into a pirate or real mermaid!? Disney’s Pirate’s League is located right next to the Pirate’s Of The Caribbean ride in the Magic Kingdom and is a wonderful experience for boys and girls and THE ONLY place where adults can get made up just like their kids! The adventure offers different packages like BBB but at a fraction of the price. Reservations are required in advance and photo opps with super cool Pirates Of The Caribbean movie set items are available. This is by far one of our favorite things to do at The Magic Kingdom and the kids love it!
Whether you’re doing Disney with littles or bigs, Disney with kids of any age is a magical experience. I hope your next Disney vacation is full of magic!
Heading to disney without kids or know someone who is? Check out my 5 Adult Hacks For Disney Without Kids!