As a kid, I always dreamed of going to Disney World. After making my first trip at 26, I was hooked and have been lucky enough to go four times in the last 10 years, most recently with 18 family members for eight days.
The clichés are true — it’s magical.
A trip to Disney is unlike any other vacation you will take, and it can be crazy and a little bit stressful. Over the years I’ve learned a thing or two, and I hope my advice is helpful to you! Once you decide on the dates that are best for your visit, it’s time to get the countdown to magic started!
Pick your hotel
First things first: Get a travel agent — there’s no cost to you! We used Victoria of Cupcake Castles, and she made the whole process so much smoother than if we’d done it on our own. We wanted to stay on Disney property, and Victoria presented us with a whole bunch of different options. We chose to stay at Beach Club, a New England-themed resort a mere five-minute walk from Epcot. We loved the theming of the hotels and rooms, the proximity to the parks and other resorts, and great transportation options. There are great lodging choices outside of the resort, but staying on property can’t be beat.
After you’ve got a hotel booked, it’s time to get planning. I get that it’s tedious to try to figure out what meals you want to eat and what rides you want to go on several months before your trip, but trust me on this one. Take some time and create a loose plan. Figure out what restaurants you have to try, and book reservations (Disney dining reservations open 180 days before your trip). Crunch some numbers based on the menus provided on the Disney website and figure out if a meal plan is right for you, and if so, which one. Decide what rides and attractions you can’t miss, and book your Fast Passes (you get three a day at one park and these open 60 days before your trip). Make sure your “musts” are on the agenda!
I know, I just told you to plan. But things change. And whether it’s a last-minute Florida thunderstorm or a fussy toddler, you have to be ready to make some adjustments. We were changing reservations and Fast Passes constantly and had an amazing trip, even though it didn’t go exactly as planned. The best part is that we were able to do some things we didn’t know we would love!
Enjoy more than rides
I grew up near a pretty major amusement park, so I assumed that rides would be the whole point of Disney. Boy, was I wrong! There are some great shows, fantastic interactive exhibits, character meet and greets, and even learning (but it’s so fun). Walk down Main Street USA and marvel at the castle, take in the awesomeness that is Pandora, or explore the countries in the World Pavilion. Try to take it all in.
Eat, drink, be merry!
I find there are two kinds of people — those who hate the food at Disney, and those who love it. My family (who believes the whole point of traveling is to eat) LOVES the food. We love trying new things, we love sharing meals, we love exploring new cultures, we love quick food, and we love fine dining. Think beyond the parks and take advantage of all of the hotels on the property to try something new to you. Enjoy a character meal with classic characters or princesses, eat a communal dinner at the German Biergarten, dine with animals at Animal Kingdom Lodge, and ask for all the ketchup at Whispering Canyon (or try the grey stuff — it’s delicious). There’s something for everyone at Disney, and it’s fun to let your hair down and indulge a little bit.
Relax — it’s vacation
Take time to rest. It can be tempting to think you need to do it all and see it all, but that’s impossible. Plan quiet time each day, and take care of yourself and your family. We made sure to head back to our resort daily after lunch for a little peace and quiet. The baby napped, my older two would go swimming or just chill out, and my husband and I got some much-needed down time, too. We would head back to the parks refreshed and ready for a fun night. We also made sure to leave a whole day with no agenda. A late breakfast followed by lazy time at the pool and a little shopping can do wonders for everyone.
Be a little silly
I’ve said it before — Disney is magic. So let loose and have some fun. Wear the sparkly ears, sport a silly shirt (though I’m not into the whole family matching shirt thing), geek out over every little thing, marvel over the details. It’s not often you get to enjoy a vacation where you get to be a kid again. Take advantage and have fun.