By Tess Williamson, Travel Contributor
“We believe in our idea: a family park where parents and children could have fun- together.” – Walt Disney
Photo by Tess Williamson
Walt Disney World is undoubtedly the most magical place on Earth, and I truly believe that there is no better place for families to build #intentionalmemories! As a frequent visitor and former Magic Kingdom cast member, I know that Disney World can bring frustration just as easily as it creates fun. With four parks, 150 attractions to enjoy, and over 20 million visitors each year, a trip to Disney World is nothing short of overwhelming. Just a bit of pre-planning can make all the difference in your family’s trip to the parks, so I’ve pulled together a few of my best tips and tricks to make any family’s Disney vacation a little more magical!
BRING JUST THE “BARE NECESSITIES.”
Personal space is a hot commodity at Disney parks, so avoid the tendency to over-pack for the day! If you need to bring a stroller, it’s best to bring one that is compact and folds easily. A small backpack is a great size to tuck under your seat on an attraction, and is perfect for storing a few snacks, a refillable water bottle, travel sized sunscreen, and character autograph books. Especially with little ones, you’ll find you end up carrying far more than what you brought, between stickers, maps, and souvenirs collected throughout the day! If you decide to purchase souvenirs in the parks, ask cast members to send the purchase to your resort or to the front of the park for pickup when you exit. This is a great service that allows you to purchase what you want without toting around packages all day! If you happen to forget something, most merchandise locations carry essentials like medicine, sunscreen, and other items. Food stands are also stocked with healthy snack options, if you prefer not to bring your own!
When I was young, I remember my mom bringing pages and pages of spreadsheets she had printed out with our park plans for the day. Now, Disney makes planning easy with the My Disney Experience app! Beat the crowds by using the app or going online to book dining experiences and FastPass reservations several months ahead of your trip. A FastPass can be used to skip lines for many of Disney World’s most popular attractions, and are a great way to plan your path through the parks! You can choose from several time slots to arrive at an attraction, and plan to experience other nearby attractions in the meantime. The My Disney Experience app can also be used to book dining reservations both before and during your trip. Always check the app during your trip if you weren’t able to book your preferred FastPass or dining reservation for a popular experience in advance, since reservations often reappear on the app as other guests change their plans. To make your stay at Disney World even easier, your family can link park tickets, hotel room access, FastPass reservations, and dining reservations to a “Magic Band” bracelet for touch-point access throughout the resort.
DON’T BE LATE FOR THIS VERY IMPORTANT DATE!
Fun begins at Disney World far before the parks even open! At Magic Kingdom, one lucky family is chosen to participate in “opening the gates” of the park and gets to join in the fun of the Welcome Show. Come early to view the Welcome Show and see your favorite characters arrive on the Walt Disney World Railroad to welcome everyone to Magic Kingdom! If you are looking to get the perfect photo in front of Cinderella’s Castle, try booking an early breakfast in Magic Kingdom. A best-kept secret, booking a breakfast at one of Disney World’s many restaurants inside the parks allows your family to enter the parks before other guests and ensures your family photos in the park won’t include throngs of people in the background. My favorite pick for an early morning breakfast in Magic Kingdom is Cinderella’s Royal Table. Get a chance to dine inside the castle and meet your favorite princesses- all before 9:00 a.m.!
FIND YOUR FAIRY GODMOTHER.
Disney cast members are exceedingly well equipped to create magical moments for guests- and many don’t take full advantage of this! Cast members are excellent resources for restaurant recommendations in the area, insider park tips, and can sometimes even pull a few strings to secure FastPass reservations or special character interactions for you. Stop by Fantasyland stores in Magic Kingdom for a dose of sparkly “pixie dust,” or head over to Jungle Cruise for your kiddos to be a “Junior Skipper” for the ride. They can also direct you to specific quiet areas for calming overwhelmed kids, phone charging locations, and even the best attractions for cooling off and taking a nap. If you are celebrating something on your trip, such as a birthday, anniversary, or anything else, be sure to pick up a celebration button so cast members can provide special experiences for your occasion! Be on the lookout for PhotoPass photographers around the parks as well. They’ll take great photos of your whole family that will be linked directly to your My Disney Experience profile!
KNOW WHEN TO BE A SLEEPING BEAUTY.
This tip isn’t just for the kids! Disney World is absolutely exhausting, and can spur quite a few temper tantrums and bad attitudes after a long day. Leave the parks between 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. for a quick nap or a dip in the hotel pool. You’ll avoid the hottest portion of the day, and hopefully skip a cranky afternoon. A midday break allows your family to be well rested to return to the parks for nighttime fun! The “Wishes” fireworks show at Magic Kingdom became my favorite thing at Disney World when I watched for the first time as a high school student. The experience was so wonderful it made me question why my family never chose to stay late to view the show. Even with little bitty kids, a nighttime fireworks show is a can’t-miss experience. All four parks have a spectacular nighttime show that is truly magical for the whole family. Skip the exit stampede following the show by riding an attraction or visiting one of the main street stores that stay open well past official park hours!
Featured Photo by Tess Williamson