Ask any kid what their idea of heaven on Earth is, and they'll likely tell you that Disney is the ultimate fun spot. If you were to ask a parent the same question though, you'd probably get a much different answer. That's why planning your family's vacation to the iconic theme park can be intimidating at first. As a native Floridian, I'm all too familiar with the common concerns parents have about taking their kids on such a big excursion. That's why these Disney World hacks I learned when I visited the amusement park in Florida with my family are key to having a smooth trip that everyone could enjoy.
Whether you're looking to save time, money, or simply your sanity, there are plenty of easy ways to make your Disney vacation the magical trip it should be. For me, one of the biggest things I was worried about didn't have to do with the logistics — such as packing, driving, and the like — it was all about making sure I was present. Far too often I get caught up in capturing the perfect picture that I miss the opportunity to be a part of the memory-making moment itself. So when Chevy graciously offered to send my family to the happiest place on earth, I made sure to do my research for helpful hacks to navigate Disney World before I even set foot in the amusement park so that we could make the most out of our time there.
So if you want to go into this experience as stress and worry-free as possible, check out these insider tips I learned when I took my son to Disney World.
No matter what time of year you go to Disney World, you're likely to encounter crowds at some point during your trip. That's why, as former Disney employees told Travel and Leisure, "start from the back of any park and head forward." Since most people head for the closest rides as soon as the gates open, you'll have a shorter wait time if you work from the back to the front.
Even if you go with the whole family, feel free to split up so everyone can have a turn going on their favorite ride with a minimal wait. "There’s usually very few folks in the single rider lines at Disney World, and they move pretty fast — often even faster than the Fast Pass line," former Disney World cast member Lia told Practical Wanderlust. While your partner and kids stop for a snack, you can totally hop in the single rider line to squeeze in a quick adventure. In fact, my husband went on the Dumbo ride alone just to show our son that it wasn't scary. The things parents do for their kids.
Jess, our very own VIP tour guide from Walt Disney World tells Romper, "definitely plan your Fast Passes ahead of time and any dining reservations in advance." If you're not familiar with this handy tool, a Disney Fast Pass lets you snag a spot in line for rides, events, meals, and other activities. What's great about this is that the Fast Pass is free with your Disney theme park ticket purchase. You can also link your tickets and Fast Passes to your Disney Magic Bands which you can obtain if you are a guest of the hotel, an annual pass holder, or are willing to shell out the extra bucks for it (they start at $12.99).
Even if your child is able to walk on their own, trust me when I say everyone's feet, including yours, will start aching before the day's end. I definitely regretted not bring a carrier or stroller on the trip after my son's millionth time of asking to be picked up. So if you don't bring one of your own, I highly suggest renting a stroller. It's worth it. As for your own barking dogs, make sure you wear the most comfortable shoes you own, and bring band-aids in case your feet begin to feel irritated or chafed in a specific spot.
On our first day, I stopped by the front desk on our way to the park to ask the concierge from Disney's Grand Floridian Resort if he had any tips. Without hesitation he said, "bring water, you won't regret it." As a native Floridian I can confirm just how exhausting the weather can be and having some water on hand keeps you and your family hydrated and energized. Of course you could buy bottled water at the theme park, but not surprisingly, it will probably cost you more than you anticipated.
Luckily there are plenty of water fountains around the park to quench your thirst, many of which are stationed outside of restrooms. Bring your own drinking vessels to refill with H2O throughout the day, but know your restrictions. Glass bottles are not allowed in any areas and plastic lids and straws aren't permitted in the Animal Kingdom because they pose a choking hazard to the animals, according to the official site for Disney World. A plastic sippy cup or metal reusable water bottle, for instance, are perfectly fine though.
I found out the hard way that experiencing a theme park is not a race — there's no need to cram everything into one day if you'll be there for multiple days. Our tour guide echoed this sentiment when she recommended that we break our day (or night) up into shorter excursions. If you're worried that this means your little one won't get tuckered out and get to see everything they wished to, trust me, they still will.
"The best thing you can do as a guest is to talk to the cast members and get to know them," Jess says. "It's very themed in every area [of the park], so if you take the time to get immersed in it, that adds so much to your experience." She could not have been more right. Essentially everyone who works at Disney (Land or World) is considered to be a "cast member" since the whole experience is supposed to be completely immersive. They don't break character and are often dressed specifically to the area they're in (i.e., safari gear in Animal Kingdom or old-fashioned outfits in Main Street USA). Even the janitors are considered cast members and can provide a wealth of information if you just stop and ask.
To make sure everyone is on the same page, you can download the My Disney Experience app (free on iTunes and Google Play). The mobile app lets you create, manage, and share your itinerary, sync up your wristbands, and access your Fast Passes, too. There's also a handy map to help the directionally-challenged folks like me.
High on the list of priorities during our vacation planning was making sure we didn't break the bank. But, like my grandmother always said, spending a little more now means you can save a lot later. So whether you're a seasoned vet of the theme park world or not, you might want to consider splurging on one of Disney's tour packages (sometimes called the Plaid or VIP Tour). Not only did we get our own personal tour guide for the entire day, but we also got to take shortcuts which offered us behind-the-scenes access to areas that are off limits to guests. I can safely say this entire trip spoiled my family and me, but the memories we made were worth it.
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