Well friends, we are back from our very first family vacation to Disney World, and I wanted to write a follow up post to share with you some things I learned on this trip. Some of them are big and some of them are small but I hope all of them will help you as you prepare for your family trip to the most magical place on earth! Don’t miss out on my other Disney vacation posts where I show you where to start when planning a Disney vacation, a Disney budget breakdown, and our Disney World Fastpass strategy!
Let’s start with the BIG lessons I learned on our trip.
1. Once again, having a Disney travel rep is worth its weight in gold! Working with a Disney travel rep is actually FREE (no, seriously!) and the value just can’t be underestimated, friends. I texted and emailed my rep, Leanne, several times during our trip, and she was 100% on the ball and quick to respond to me and help with any issues that came up during the trip (such as realizing we were going to be late for a lunch reservation). I just can’t emphasize enough that you are doing yourself a HUGE favor by working with a Disney travel rep. You can read more about the process and who we worked with on an earlier post I wrote about getting ready for a Disney World vacation.
2. FastPass Strategy. We really messed up our FastPasses, and if we had gone at a busier time of the year, it would have been a disaster. Fortunately, we went during a low crowd time, so it wasn’t a big deal. Here’s the mistake we made: we thought that once you use the first of your 3 pre-booked Fastpasses, you could go ahead and sign up for another one. WRONG! You have to use all 3 of your pre-scheduled fastpasses before you can get a fourth one. Tim scheduled our fastpasses throughout the day and well into the evening, so there was really no way for us to take advantage of a fourth or fifth fastpass. A better strategy would have been, for example, to pre-book an 11 am, 12pm, and 1pm fast pass so that we could be eligible for any remaining fastpasses later in the afternoon and potentially see/do more. Again, it all worked out ok for us, but if it had been more crowded, our mistake would have meant lots more waiting in line.
3. The Quick Service Dining Plan: Meh. We also took advantage of a free dining offer promotion that Disney was offering, so in that sense, I totally don’t regret having the quick service dining plan because for us, it was free! But let me tell you, if I had paid for it, I would have been disappointed, and there are two main reasons why. First, it is WAY too much food. Quick service meals come with an entree, a beverage and a dessert. The portions are overly generous, typically, so it’s more than one person can eat. If you bought dining plans for everyone you will be wasting a lot of food, and that also means wasting a lot of money.
The second reason I wasn’t overly impressed with the dining plan is because I actually thought the kid meal options were quite limited. Most establishments offer the same 3 options for kids, and when you have a picky eater like I do, that means that she is eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at every single meal. She was totally bored with that by the second day and I ended up packing extra food for her, even though she had dining credits. When you have a child with you, you are required to use the children’s dining plan for them. Otherwise, I would have gotten her something else for the sake of variety.
Ok, so now let’s dig into the minutiae a bit, and talk about things to pack.
What I’m Glad I Brought
There are two things that I’m really glad I brought that might not necessarily be on your packing list. The first is one of those over-the-door shoe organizers. I read this on someone else’s blog and at first didn’t think I would bring ours, but then I had a change of heart, and I’m so glad I did. We used this in our hotel room simply to hold all sorts of toiletries and accessories. It kept our bathroom counters from getting junked up, and since it had clear plastic holders, it made finding things we needed quick and easy. We didn’t hang up many of our clothes, so we just kept it on the coat rack. I will be using this trick the next time my family stays in a hotel for more than a night!
The second thing I’m really glad I brought was a linen freshener. You might think of it as Febreeze, though I use a different brand. Even though it wasn’t too hot while we were there, you still might find that at the end of the day you smell less-than-spectacular…especially your shoes, which will be doing some seriously hard work every single day for you.
What I Wish I Had Brought
We stayed in a family suite for most of the trip (switching to traditional rooms for the last third of it, simply due to booking issues). In a family suite you are actually provided with plates, cups, bowls, forks and knives. For some bizarre reason, you are NOT provided with spoons. I brought one of those plastic cutlery sets that has everything in it, but if I had to do it again, I’d just buy one with spooons, as we ran out of spoons rather quickly. When eating breakfast in your room, as we were doing, not having spoons kind of stinks. Alternatively, we also would have been ok if we had just brought some dish soap and a sponge.
I also wish I had brought extra zip-loc bags. It would have made dividing snacks for the park days easier to do. Just wasn’t something I thought of beforehand!
I would also bring at least one plastic bag for wet clothes that you might accrue toward the end of your trip, such as if you decide to swim in the hotel pool the night before you leave.
On a related note, I think it is a good idea to bring a change of pants, if nothing else, for your younger kids when going to the parks. Both of our girls at various points got dirty (spilled milk) clothes at the parks and we didn’t have new pants for them. Darah actually had on a new dress at one point, and we realized after we got to the park that the straps were too low. We had to buy her a new ($30) t-shirt on the spot. This could have been avoided if we had brought a change of clothes with us.
Notes about Hotel Location
When staying on property, you might want to do your best to see if you can stay in a room that is reasonably close to your hotel’s food court (side note: we LOVED Art of Animation, and we thought their food court had some of the best food we had during our entire stay). You may find, as we did, that your room is quite a hike from the food court. This won’t seem like a big deal at all until you start touring the parks, and then you will be reluctant to walk any more than is absolutely necessary, I promise! Furthermore, at least for our hotel, the food court is also really close to where you wait for the bus to go to the parks, which is yet another reason to stay as close to it as possible.
You might also want to note the distance from your hotel of choice to the parks. Disney World property is HUGE; just because you are staying on property doesn’t mean you are actually close to one of the parks. We were reasonably close to Hollywood Studios, but we were a solid 25 minute bus ride from Magic Kingdom. While using the bus system was totally easy, we really discovered that being able to go back to the hotel room and nap AND being able to actually do all the things you really want to do in each park are, in fact, mutually exclusive. I don’t regret staying on property, but I did realize during our stay that you still aren’t so close to your hotel that you can see everything and take a sizeable break. You will still have to choose one or the other, because there’s just too much to see, even on a low crowd day.
The Number One Thing I Would Change If I Could Do it Over
My family stayed on property for 6 nights, and we spent 5 days in the parks. If I had to do it all over again, I would actually stay 1 more day, and I’d spend that day just relaxing at the hotel. Disney resorts are marvels in and of themselves, and most kids really love to get to watch cartoons on the television, swim in pools, and just run around having fun and playing games (such things are offered throughout the day at the hotels). We were so burned out by our 5th and final day at the parks, which is the day we did Epcot, that we sort of hobbled along in that park and did about half of the stuff we likely would have done had we been energized. I think it was a mistake not to take a break in the middle of our park days to just chill out and enjoy our hotel. It would have been worth the extra time and money to get a little bit of rest and relaxation on the trip. While our Disney vacation was absolutely jam packed with magic and fun, it was VERY short of relaxation. An extra day just for that purpose would have been wise.
My family and I headed down to Walt Disney World this November, and based on a recent Facebook conversation, I realized many of you are eager for Disney tips related to planning a vacation there. I’m excited to share with you what we are learning as we go through the fun (and also overwhelming) process of booking everything, packing our bags, getting ourselves down there (it’s an 8 1/2 car trip for us…too expensive to fly!), and then figuring out how to make the most of our time while we are there.
This Isn’t My First Rodeo…Sort Of
I grew up about 6 hours from Walt Disney World, so it was close enough that by the time I was in college I had been a total of 6 times. But I haven’t been back since 2000, and I’ve never been at all when I have had to be in charge of children. I always WAS the kid! So while I know exactly what to expect in some ways, a lot has also changed (Fast Pass+, the dining plans, and lots of new rides) and instead of doing back-to-back Space Mountain visits, I’ll be doing back-to-back Little Mermaid rides. And I’m SO excited about taking my girls, you guys. One of the best things about being a parent is getting to relieve childhood through play with your children. And there’s no place on earth more magical than Disney World…I’m about to get to be a kid again (at least for stretches of time) for a whole week!
Fair Warning: Disney is Expensive
I’ve never had to pay for a Disney vacation, before (though I did pay for my own tickets the last time I went) so I get to experience that joy for the first time. ;-)I want to be clear with you guys about exactly what I’m paying for, and what I will be partnering with companies to review and/or promote (just like always!). My husband and I have been saving up for a Disney vacation since the month after our oldest was born, and she’ll be 5 in a few weeks. So we’ve been saving up for 5 years to do this. And it’s a good thing, because we’re footing the bill for our tickets, hotel, food and gas. If you haven’t been saving for half a decade, like me, don’t panic. Your trip doesn’t have to look like mine, and your budget may not be the same as mine, either!
In future posts I’ll be sharing a breakdown of our budget so you can see all the details. I’m not being sponsored to write about this process, so we’re talking about money that I’m choosing to spend. That’s an important distinction for many folks because you might be wondering if I would have booked this exact trip if it had been coming out of my own pocket. Wonder no more, because it is! 🙂
Tip #1: Where to Start When Planning Your Trip
When you are ready to start planning a trip to Disney (12 months out or less…but not less than 6 months, ideally) the first thing you need to do is get in touch with a Disney travel agent. Disney travel agents are paid for their time by Disney, and they are paid whether you book a ridiculously expensive and indulgent trip, a super budget-conscious trip, or no trip at all. There is truly NO PRESSURE from them to make a purchase, and that is awesome! I have been working with Leanne Phelps and I very highly recommend her. She has a lot of great ideas and she can get you a wide variety of price quotes based on your family’s needs. She has also vacationed at Walt Disney World (and been on a Disney cruise!) several times and has personally stayed at several properties, and this gives her some great insight into what to expect at various hotels, as well as how to maximize your time in the parks. If you are getting ready to plan a trip, reach out to her at email@example.com and tell her Tiffany from Stuff Parents Need sent you. I only get good karma for the referral, but I’ll gladly take it!
You can actually plan out the exact same trip that a Disney travel agent will plan for you, and the price tag will be exactly the same (so again, there is NO upcharge for using an official Disney travel agent). Since it is a free service, I can’t say enough what a difference it makes to take advantage of it. I’ve got someone watching out for any Disney promotions that come up, searching for character dining for me, making the reservations we want in a flash, and on standby to help me navigate the world of Fastpass+. She’s there to help all along the way, not just with ordering tickets and making hotel reservations. What an awesome service!!!
What Do You Want to Know About Disney Vacations?
My next post is going to talk about the package we selected, and the cost breakdown for us. I’d love to hear what else you want to know about when it comes to planning a Disney vacation. Or perhaps you have been, yourself, and have some tips and tricks that you’d like to share. I’m all (mouse) ears!