Resting our weary feet and catching a dance show (an example of when a stroller comes in handy).
By Stefania Moffatt, Contributing Blogger
Ah, the most magical place on earth has got to be Walt Disney World Resort. Perhaps some would argue with me that it’s not, but I’m sure they would lose this argument. I’m pretty sure that it is. Proof of that is that my family enjoyed the company of Mickey and his friends twice in the span of 11 months.
This post will focus on helpful tips on how to make your Disney vacation memorable. Hopefully you’ll return relaxed and with your sanity and relationship intact. When I refer to Disney I’m referring to Disney World in Florida. Our first vacation to Disney was in April 2011 and it was organized with the help of a travel agent. We decided to use an agent because it’s free of charge. Yes, it’s free! It was our first time visiting with our kids so we wanted to enlist the help of an expert. To plan for such an undertaking we enlisted the help of Christine Fiorelli, proprietor of Fairytale Dreams & Destinations. Christine was very helpful in planning our ambitious itinerary as we only had four days to spend at Disney.
In March 2012 we made a return trip to Disney. Although we had visited the parks not too long ago, there was still plenty to see and a general itinerary was still helpful. For this return trip we stayed off-site at a hotel not too far away from the park. This gave us some flexibility with meals and we were also able to do some shopping with ease because we had use of a rental car.
In both vacations we visited Magic Kingdom Park, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and in the evening, Downtown Disney (which has no admission). We’re saving the water parks for a return trip when the kids are older.
Granted, there are plenty of people who show up at Disney without doing any research (gasp!). If you treasure the relationship with your better half and value your sanity, I highly recommend reading about the parks and realistically determining how much time you have to visit what parks and when. If you plan to have the “Disney experience” (whether you enjoy it or suffer through it is up to you) and take in as much as you can, then I highly suggest you have some kind of plan in place. A conversation that goes something like this under a blazing Florida sun is sure to cause some discord, “I don’t know. What do you want to do? The wait time is HOW LONG?”
My oldest holding up her almost-full autograph book.
Whether you’re a returning guest or visiting Disney for your first time, here are my helpful tips for making your trip relaxed and fun:
* If staying on the Disney resort, make use of a travel agent who will book everything including park tickets, dinner reservations and organize an itinerary that suits all the princes and princesses in your party. A qualified agent will also stay on top of Disney-related deals. For example, we dined for free during our first vacation as Disney announced a promotion after we had booked. Our smart agent deducted the meal plan from our total;
* Pack plenty of snacks even if you go with the Dining Plan. Kids kind of get cranky and hungry while waiting in line. Munching on some nuts will quiet the kids for at least in-between bites. Great snacks include: granola bars; dried fruit; crackers; and assorted raw nuts. Note: Disney is not peanut and nut free;
* Bring empty water bottles since the parks have water fountains throughout to refill. Older parks such as Magic Kingdom do have older pipes so the water is not as tasty so be sure to bring a bottle with a Brita filter;
* Bring gum as Disney doesn’t sell any;
* Bring an umbrella(s). It’s not all sunshine in Florida;
* Bring at least one towel, more if you have room. You’re likely to get wet on some rides and a towel comes in handy when the kids are eating ice cream under the blazing sun. The towel catches any sticky drips instead of their clothes and skin. Towels also come in handy after it rains to wipe down tables to sit and eat;
* Eat during off-peak times. The restaurants and cashes can be chaotic at times. If you go with a meal plan then ask for reservations at the beginning or end of meal service. Speaking of meal plans, I highly recommend having a meal or two with a Disney character visiting your table. It’s worth the price of admission to see your child’s face light up when Ariel exchanges jokes with your child. Staying off site? Visit a store and fill a cooler with food, water and plastic cutlery;
* Bring a notepad or purchase one on-site for autographs. Remember to bring or buy a fat pen since many of the characters have fat fingers, making it hard to hold regular pens;
* Set a limit. To avoid your child asking to buy everything in sight, explain how much they are allowed to spend and towards the end of the trip they are allowed to buy an item. Many of the gift shops carry a lot of the same items so if your child sees something on the first day then chances are they will see the item again;
Checking out the local cuisine when filling up our cooler at the grocery store.
* Rent a stroller. I can’t stress this tip enough. Whether you’re traveling with a three year old or a nine year old, bring or rent a stroller. Trust me on this one. Florida is hot, kids get tired and there’s A LOT of walking at Disney. It’s not uncommon to see older kids being pushed around. It’s also nice for the kids to sit in a stroller while watching the fireworks (yes, totally worth it). Rather than dragging a stroller to-and-from Ottawa we decided to rent one from Orlando Stroller Rentals. This company will drop off and pick up a stroller from any hotel in the Orlando area. Do yourself a favour and rent one that folds easily like the City Double Stroller, which seats two children comfortably;
* Lube up. What I mean is to invest in anti-chafe balm and apply it liberally on feet. This balm, while pricey (what is your sanity worth?), will prevent blisters. It can be purchased at running apparel stores;
* Take advantage of the FASTPASS service whenever possible and make a mad dash for it upon arrival. FASTPASS saves your place in line for an attraction while you enjoy the rest of the theme park (you return at the time indicated on your ticket); and
* Bring items such as sunscreen, camera, wipes, sunglasses, hats, sweaters for cool mornings and nights, etc.
If organization isn’t your thing, I truly advise you to at the very least to read up on Disney. Disney is huge. Figuring out what your kids want to do when you arrive at the park isn’t suggested. Some basic research of various rides and their locations will serve you well.
I joke that organization is key for an enjoyable trip to Disney but so is a sense of humour and a laidback attitude. It’s a vacation after all – there will be rain, lots of sun and whiny kids. Be open and have fun.