Parents’ survival guide to Walt Disney World Florida
Editor’s note: Disney is one of those places some parents just don’t get. Why is it so beloved by so many, yet loathed by others? Karyn is from a diehard Disney family, so we asked her to share her love and her wisdom with us in an ongoing Disney series. Although not every parent, or kid for that matter, may see the point of Disney, some do. Thousands do in fact. And every family deserves the chance to experience it for themselves… to find their magical place.
Whether you’ve never been to Walt Disney World or are planning your 100th visit but this time with a new baby on your arm, a trip to the Most Magical Place on Earth can be intimidating and even downright scary. You have to consider packing, travel to and from, accommodations, parks, itineraries, dining…yikes!
So what does a flustered parent need to help soothe those ever-frazzled vacation-planning nerves? A parents’ survival guide to Walt Disney World! With a family that’s passionate for all things Disney, we are drawn to the parks like magnets, and with each trip I gain more and more knowledge on making each vacation more successful and way less stressful than the last. After all, when has an overwhelming, stressful vacation ever been fun? Exactly. Here are my favorite tried and true tips for a fun, relaxing vacation at Walt Disney World.
Walt Disney World Parks are Huge- Prepare for it Ahead of Time!
Let’s get this out of the way: if you’ve never had the pleasure of stepping foot inside of a Walt Disney World park, you can do all of the research and plan your trip down to the minute, but you’ll never realize just how massive each park is until you’ve visited. The one thing I remember about our first trip? How exhausting it was! We raced to ride every ride and see every attraction simply out of sheer lack of knowledge. We hit the parks at rope drop and stayed until dark and not only was it exhausting, but it was a vacation that I barely remember except for the hustling from one spot to another. If your family is not used to 12-15 hour days on their feet, exhaustion will creep up on you and fast. My advice: pace yourself. Don’t feel obligated to see everything because you probably won’t be able to no matter how long your vacation is. There are simply too many magical, wonderful things to see and do.
Having written that, each park is created with families with small children in mind. There’s always a restroom with diaper-changing facilities nearby, garbage cans are never farther than 30 paces apart, and there’s always a snack cart or restaurant nearby to calm hungry bellies.
If you have a limited number of days on your vacation, staying in one park each day is the best idea to make the most of your family’s vacation time in the parks. Traveling to another park, AKA park hopping, can and will take time- and that’s time away from the parks. There are exceptions to this, particularly on days when one park is jam-packed and the others have low crowd levels. If you purchased park hopper passes, go ahead and hop to another park of your choosing.
If you take one hint away from this section, it’s this: make sure each family member has comfortable walking shoes. Broken in ones are preferable, so start looking for recommendations way in advance. You and your children’s feet will thank you. If you do end up with blisters or feet ailments, each park has a medical department that can give you adhesive bandages free of charge.
Cast Members Are There to Help You and Your Family
Cast Members (the official term for Disney employees) are always around and are happy to help you. It’s their job to make every vacationing family happy, so feel free to reach out to them- they love spreading pixie dust! Cast members can advise you on wait times for ride, where the nearest restroom is, and even radio to another cast member for assistance. Cast members in costume are always “on” , so be prepared for some whimsical fun when they’re around. If you’re dining at a Disney restaurant, let the wait staff know about food allergies and they can definitely accommodate your family’s needs.
Down Time is a Must with Wee Ones
I know when it’s mid-afternoon inside of a Walt Disney World park without even looking at a clock: the tired faces of small children make it a no-brainer. If your child takes a nap at home, guess who’s going to want a nap while you’re on vacation? You guessed it. Don’t feel bad about taking the kids back to the room for a quick nap and a little relaxation time. The downtime will refresh you and the kids and you can head back to the park with smiles instead of yawns.
If you don’t want to take time away from the parks, a great way to take a break is by queueing up early for a parade or show. Grab a snack, sit on a curb or bench with your family, and enjoy your time in the park by people watching.
High or Low Crowd Levels? There are Folks That Can Help You Decide When to Visit
My family has the flexibility to pick and choose dates for our Walt Disney World vacations, allowing us to choose our trips during low crowd level times of year. There are several popular crowd calendars online that are excellent at predicting busy times of year based on holidays, Spring Breaks, and the like.
My favorite is Undercover Tourist for a couple of reasons. One, their calendars are free of charge and accurate. Two, they are also my favorite company to work with if I choose to purchase park tickets offsite because they’re downright dependable. Three, if you need to return your park tickets, they will work with you with their 365 day refund or return policy. This is not an advertisement for them by any means; just giving you the facts and my top recommendations, folks.
If your only choice is to visit during peak season, study an online crowd calendar, pick the parks that are lowest in crowds for each day, and even consider a touring plan. Yep, there are online touring plans that will give you a step-by-step guide as to what to see and do in chronological order to make the most of your day in the park. The touring plans provide information such as FastPass+ priorities, busiest sections of each park, and when parade crowd levels are at their lowest.
FastPass+ is a Must
FastPass+ is my family’s BFF in the parks. If you’ve booked a WDW vacation that includes lodging, you can book a FastPass+ 60 days in advance on Walt Disney World’s official website. FastPass+ allows you to pick and choose times for three rides or attractions per day and lets you schedule them in advance. A new feature for FastPass+ allows families to schedule another FastPass+ selection once they’ve used all three. The popular rides FastPass+ times go quickly, so if you really want to take advantage of using one of your selections for a popular ride, jump on the WDW website on the morning of your 60th day out.
To Pack or Not to Pack a Stroller
Depending on whether you’ve got your hands full with multiple children and are flying or driving in, you may want to consider renting a stroller during your visit, either from Walt Disney World itself or an off-site company. Yes, there are stroller rental companies that are more than happy to drop one off at your resort whether you are staying on-site or off-site. Single and double stroller rental options are available either way, and as a given, Walt Disney World rental cost tends to be higher than an off-site rental company. Once again do some online research, or ask friends that have been to Walt Disney World and have rented strollers for recommendations for off-site stroller rental if that’s the route you’d like to go with.
Want some additional tips for packing for a trip to Walt Disney World? Look for our exclusive post on packing for a trip to Walt Disney World!
WDW Offers Free Items- You Just Have to Know Where to Look!
I know as well as the next parent that a vacation at Walt Disney World can get expensive. Is the premium price worth the magic, you ask? For my family, the answer is a huge, resounding yes! There are ways to cut costs on your vacation, and part of the reduction is knowing when and how to find free items that your kids will appreciate and like.
My first and favorite tip: Walt Disney World offers free cups of ice water at any restaurant or snack stand that has a drinking water supply. You can saunter up to any counter serving drinking water and ask for a cup with or without ice, and as long as the restaurant or stand is open, they will more than happily oblige for each member of your family. Take advantage of this especially on hot, humid Florida days even if you are used to warmer climates. Keeping your family hydrated makes everything better.
If you are planning on using Disney Transportation during your stay, ask for free transportation collector’s cards from the cast members working at each station.
Exhausted your smartphone’s data plan on vacation? Every park at Walt Disney World now offers free wifi. Charging stations are popping up as well, so check with a cast member for the nearest spot.
Visiting EPCOT? Make sure you stop at each country in the EPCOT World Showcase and pick up a Duffy the Bear on a stick at the Kidcot Fun Stops! At your first stop, the cast members will provide a Duffy and kids can choose whether or not they want to color him in. On each additional stop, the cast members will decorate Duffy with either a hand-drawn symbol or flag from their country and may add your child’s name in their language. My teen daughter still loves getting a personalized Duffy everytime we visit EPCOT. Club Cool in EPCOT has Coca-Cola products from all over the world fountain- drink style and you can try out all of the samples you want- for free! Make sure to try the Beverly (wink wink!) and have your camera ready for your child’s reaction!
Magic Kingdom offers a Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom interactive card game and players can get a new pack of cards at the Fire Station on Main Street every day that they visit and help to defeat some of Disney’s famous villains. I warn you: the game is a blast and my daughter is hooked! Special cards are given out at holiday Disney parties during Halloween and Christmas and these cards have become collector’s items to many.
Here’s hoping these few small tips will add up in a big way for your next Walt Disney World vacation and ease some of the anxiety. Stay tuned for more Disney tips to help make your trip as stress free as possible!