Tanya is a mom of three and a Captain of our Care Force, assisting members via email and social media and helping her team with their cases. She has a knack for helping people. Which is why she jumped at the chance to give advice on one of her favorite topics – Disney World! Use this (or save it) for when you plan your family trip. Or share your own advice below!
I am a nut for Disney. 10 years ago, if you’d told me I’d be going every year and have turned Disney-trip-planning into a hobby – I would have laughed in your face. But something magical happened to us when we first went (I like to believe we were sprinkled with pixie dust). Whatever it was, we can't seem to get enough of all things Disney.
That first trip, we traveled with my husband's immediate family and I took the reins to get the 13 of us organized. I have now deemed myself a guru. We have returned every year -- and the planning has become part of the magic for me.
It gets me excited when someone asks me to share my knowledge. So if you’re planning on going this year, here are some of the tips I tell folks when they start to think about booking a trip:
- Book at off-times. September, October and early November are great times (and we love the fall in Florida). The weather in those months is typically still warm but not unbearably hot. Early February and early April are good too but avoid the school vacation weeks. Summer months when the kids are off are typically busy and the weather is the hottest which for me makes it least appealing. Holiday weeks have the highest crowds and the highest prices which makes everyone a little ornery. Become knowledgeable about Disney events happening during the year. We love to go during the fall for Halloween and attend the Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party – all of us dressed up in a Disney theme of course!
- Go to these 2 websites. Touringplans.com and Disneyparks.com are the two best sites to help you plan your trip. Find tricks to manage the chaos on one, plan your rides and character meetings on the other. You can download the My Disney Experience App which will keep track of all your plans (both meal reservations and Fastpasses) and tell you the current wait times at rides near you. I’d also recommend getting the free Disney planning DVD from DisneyParks.com which will get everyone excited for your experience. You can also order free customized park maps to get a feel for the lay of the land.
- Make a list of 5 things you must do each day. There’s so much to do, so be prepared that you won’t get to everything (that’s why we go to Disney each year!). But creating a list of five things for each day will help you plan while still leaving room for spontaneity (like when your son wants to go on the same ride 3 times!). Sometimes I get wild and print and laminate these lists -- and that takes my crazy to a whole new level. But these lists also give each person in the family a fair chance to plan ahead, so you can create lasting memories for everyone.
- Pre-buy trinkets. Warning: gift shops are everywhere. You will see a lot of things you -- or they -- want. But park prices are steep. Try to pre-plan. I usually bring a small prize for each kid to open every day. This keeps us from getting a case of the "can I have this?" begging and pleading. We bring our princess costumes and character t-shirts so kids come prepared to show off their Disney spirit. They each also get a $25 gift card to buy something special during the trip.
- Pack wisely. I pull out the suitcases about 3-4 weeks ahead and start tossing stuff in. I add travel and sample sized toiletries. We bring lightweight camping jackets or ponchos for rain, sweatshirts for cool weather, band-aids for blisters, and a good backpack or cross body bag to take to the park. Remember: you can do laundry and avoid over packing. I even bring a foldable mesh laundry bag that keeps our room manageable.
- Reserve Fastpasses. Using FastPasses will avoid long wait times on big attraction rides and certain popular characters. And it’s free. You can also take advantage of a “Rider Swap” that lets another person in your party go on the ride right away (this was great for us since someone needed to stay with our 1-year old while the big kids rode the bigger thrill rides!). I think we rode Space Mountain six times in one day!
- Splurge on Character Meals and the Memory Maker. Booking at least one character meal will make your time at Disney even more memorable for the kids. Making your reservations at the 180 day mark before your trip will guarantee you get to meet some of your favorite characters. I like to recommend a breakfast in Magic Kingdom so you can get in early and see the castle with a clear view from Main Street. The Memory Maker is Disney’s photography package. Their photogs are all over the place and will take your picture, so you don’t have to lug your camera (and all of you get to be in it). My trick is to ask them to take a pic with my phone as well – so I have an immediate picture to see and post!
- Have a stroller. Even if your kid rarely rides in a stroller back home, you may be relieved to have one in Disney. We now bring a double stroller and while most of the time only one kid is riding, having the seat to take a break in or to sit for a parade is great to have. There are also several rental companies that will deliver a stroller right to your resort at a very reasonable price. I’ve used this one twice.
Planning for any vacation can be tedious for some but make it your mission to be informed and plan for some serious magic. When you finally go and you are back home, you'll likely start longing to go back. My solution to avoid having Disney withdrawals is to start planning the next adventure. Until then, we’ll be playing rounds of Disney Trivia at the dinner table and blasting Disney music blasting in the car. It keeps the memories and magic alive for our family!