1. Plan in advance. Snag online deals. Search “Disney Family Vacation Deals.” Disney is expensive, so go when the deals are offered! Never go at peak times, which are summer and holidays. The crowds are terrible and there will be no deals.
2. Bring everything you can, such as flip flops, sunscreen, sodas, and hats. These essential items will cost much more at Disney. Bring food and have family picnics. Disney allows food and there are lockers available for rent so you don’t have to tote the stuff around all day. Bring items that don’t require refrigeration: tuna salad kits, apples, oranges, cookies, chips, juice boxes, trail mix, packaged muffins, and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches or wraps filled with peanut butter, honey, and thinly sliced apples. Be prepared to splurge on ice cream. Few make it all day at Disney without succumbing to some kind of frozen treat!
3. If your kid has his or her heart set on dining with a Disney character, don’t even think about dinner. It is double the cost of a character breakfast or lunch. I recommend breakfast so that you don’t have to “clock watch.” Or if you’re really a bargain seeker, like me, skip the character meals altogether. Instead, meet the characters around the park. Make it a family game to find Minnie Mouse or Goofy. Hint: A daily schedule is available that tells where each character will be throughout the day! I think this “sporadic” meet and greet is more fun and interactive for the whole family.
4. Don’t overdo. There’s a lot of walking and waiting in lines at all Disney parks. Take a mid-day rest. If you’re staying on Disney property, go back to your room and have a family picnic (even better than renting a locker and packing lunch). If it’s not feasible to leave Disney, pick a show, attraction, or dining option that allows some down time. Consider how many parks are feasible. Can you really enjoy tackling Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom (not to mention two waterparks!) in one vacation, especially with small children?
5. Have a plan and know what you’re doing. Don’t crisscross the park chasing rides. Study the map and hit all the ones in the same area before leaving to go to another part of the park. Don’t try to ride everything. Pick the ones that appeal most to your family. If you’re staying on Disney property, you get into the park early and can stay late. More you can see and do! Be sure to wear sunscreen, good walking shoes, and stay hydrated. Rent a stroller or scooter if you have a small child or an elderly or limited mobility person in your family. If you want to see the parade, be sure to be on Main Street U.S.A. at the right time. If you want to see the fireworks when the park closes, plan for that. If you’re interested in a FAST PASS for popular rides, take care of that upon arrival. Do a little research before leaving home. There are tons of Disney sites chocked full of advice, tips, strategies, and so forth. One of the best, I think, is http://http://www.disboards.com.
There are lots of great apps too. The Mobile Magic App is free and helps users find their favorite Disney characters using GPS maps, reveals attraction wait times, FASTPASS info, can be used to make dining reservations, and much more. This is the only official Disney Parks App and is only accessible on Verizon mobile devices. Can download via Android Market or text MAGIC to 2777.
What about a Disney cruise?
Check out www.wdwinfo.com/disney-cruise-line/first-time.htm
(This site will answer all your questions and some you never thought of!)
Where Should I Stay During My Disney Vacation?
That’s a good question with a complicated answer. It depends on your budget and goals. Ideally, it is easier to stay on Disney property but better deals are usually found off site, especially in Kissimmee. Assuming you want to stay at Disney, there are numerous options: 34 resorts with 28,000 rooms and more than 3,000 Disney Vacation Club units!
The most affordable options are Disney’s Value Resort Hotels, including Disney’s Pop Century Resort (www.disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/pop-century-resort) and Disney’s All-Star Music Resort (www.disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/all-star-music-resort). These are the only options for less than $100 a night (excluding peak times). These have playgrounds, themed pools, foot courts, and more. And, just like the higher end lodging, free shuttle to the entrance gate, early entry, and late stay privileges are provided.
These include Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort (www.disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/caribbean-beach-resort) and Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort (one of my favorites, www.disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/coronado-springs-resort). They are a notch above budget, meaning they offer more, such as fitness centers, upscale food courts, in-room refrigerators and coffeemakers, and more.
If you want the best, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge (www.disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/animal-kingdom-lodge) (www.disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/animal-kingdom-lodge) and Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort (http://www.disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/animal-kingdom-lodge) are the way to go. My favorites are Disney’s Polynesian Resort (www.disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/polynesian-resort) and Disney’s Contemporary Resort (www.disneyworld.disney.go.com/resorts/contemporary-resort).
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