Walt Disney World: Planning and Tips

Brace yourselves for a whole lotta Disney posts in a row! 🙂 Also, prepare for a lot of exclamation points…there’s just no way around it!

We had an incredible vacation…one that we’re planning to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, even though it was so amazing. I’m really glad that I did some homework before going, so that we could maximize our fun, spend a little less where possible (though, I will say, we did let our frugal thinking go out the window just a bit on this trip), and have the flexibility to do everything we wanted in just five days.

I’m going to start with planning and tips. Mainly because I want these tips out of my head and on a post before I forget them. I’ll add to it as I think of things along the way.

My biggest planning advice: Absolutely, positively, USE A TRAVEL AGENT. Unless you speak fluent Disney, there is really no need for you to go this alone. My friend Suzanne recommended an agency they’re planning to use (friends of theirs have already used this agency), and I would highly recommend them as well. Based in Kansas City, it’s called Magic Mouse Travel.

I worked with the owner, Maralee, at the beginning of our planning, and then finished our planning with Tracy, since Maralee was going to be out of the country during our trip and wanted to be sure that we got the best service possible. Maralee found us a deal on a hotel, which meant that instead of staying in a moderate like we’d planned, we got to stay in a deluxe resort for the same price (more space in our hotel room is a great thing).

pretty room, with more space than average and a daybed off to the right that you can’t see.

my kids are NOT good at sharing a bed in a hotel room, so luke devised this plan of pillows down the middle. it helped immensely. plus, most nights they were so exhausted, they were asleep within 10 minutes.

We decided to stay on Disney property instead of one of the surrounding hotels for many reasons:

1. We were flying into Orlando, and when you stay on-property, Disney offers a free shuttle service from the airport to your hotel (and you don’t even have to get your own luggage…they’ll deliver it later!). So there was no need to rent a car or take a cab from the airport.

all ready for their flight! this was JH’s first and L & B’s second.

2. Free bus/boat transportation throughout the Disney properties while you stay there. From any hotel to any park or any park to any other park. It’s not always super-speedy, but it’s still much faster than driving from off property, parking, and then taking a tram to the park. Plus, we were a 7-minute walk from Epcot and a 15-minute walk from Hollywood Studios where we stayed at the Boardwalk Inn.

3. Since we’re only planning to do this once, we wanted to maximize our time at the parks, and spending extra time driving around Orlando was not going to help us accomplish this goal.

i’d highly recommend staying at the boardwalk or somewhere near here (in one of the epcot resorts) if you can when you go!

so pretty at night!

Tracy was super-helpful in answering my questions and getting my packet of info to me in plenty of time. She also sent us a chart that included the predicted traffic patterns at each park for each day of our stay, plus which days had Extra Magic Hours for guests staying on property. I planned our days at the parks based on predicted traffic (not the extra hours) and it worked out really well!

Also, know that the longer you stay, the cheaper/day your tickets become. For instance, adding the 6th day on to our tickets (solely for the purpose for us of going to Epcot for a couple of hours the first night we arrived) literally cost about $20 for the whole family.

Now, here are some other tips:
1. Bring a backpack or two. We used one backpack for ponchos, and one for other miscellaneous stuff like cameras, sunscreen, our tickets, sunglasses, etc.

2. About those ponchos: either buy nice ones for all of you ahead of time, or be ready to buy them for $8/each at the park. It rains almost daily, and we saw more than the typical rainy afternoon storm, so our ponchos got a lot of use. Matt and I had ours from our honeymoon (!), and the ones I pre-bought for the kids were total crap, but we made them work.

3. And about that sunscreen: despite seeing some rain, we did finally get some sunshine, too, and our family of 5 went through 8+ ounces of sunscreen in 5 days. Fewer days than that when you factor in rain.

4. Hydration is KEY. We brought our water bottles along (we have these…I’ve finally found water bottles that are cheap and durable, and the boys use these every day…you can find them at Target for $7 for a 2-pack. You’re welcome.) but only used them for 2 days because what’s so much easier is going to any quick-serve counter in the park and asking for ice water, which is free. There are also lots of water fountains for a quick drink or if you prefer to fill a water bottle, but I did not prefer to carry around full water bottles, and kids get tired really quick of carrying them.

5. Pack some snacks. I brought a shoebox along in our luggage, and packed it full of Trader Joe’s cereal bars and those crackers-with-cheese sandwiches. We used the cereal bars for breakfast a couple of times (breakfasts aren’t plentiful around Disney, and they’re mostly pastries) along with a half-gallon of milk I bought at the little general store near our hotel on the Boardwalk (we had a mini-fridge in our room).

we used a drawer for our table…it worked great!

6. My friend Jamie, who used to work at WDW, suggested we bring glow sticks to the park with us so that at the light shows, the kids weren’t begging for the $15 light-up toys, etc. GREAT idea!

7. Jamie also suggested pre-buying some autograph books for the boys, which I did. I got a 4-pack on eBay of Lightning McQueen ones (Luke wanted a vintage Mickey-looking one, but I couldn’t find one anywhere, so he settled for one of these) for like $12. And if anyone needs a boys’ autograph book, let me know! I have an extra I can give you 🙂

8. Don’t forget your camera battery charger if you need one!

9. Our room had an ipod dock, so I put the boys’ sleeping music (explanation of what that is here) on the ipod and played it at bedtime. It helped settle everyone down, and it allowed me to stay up later getting things ready for the next day by having some music to cover up the noise I was making.

10. Ask people you know who have been for advice. My friend Kim, who’s married to my cousin Darren, emailed me 7 big emails FULL of details from their trip in early May. I used her comments on rides, food, etc. SO MUCH while planning. It’s helpful to talk with people who have been there!

11. Overpack. You’ll be glad you can change clothes if you come back to the hotel midday, because you’ll have sweated disgustingly through what you’re wearing (or it will be wet from rain). I cannot tell you how awful our dirty clothes piles smelled when I had to pack them to come home. Ew.

12. Pack a small first-aid kit for your backpack: a few bandaids and some neosporin, children’s Motrin and the adult version, too (I got a horrible headache one day and searched all over Magic Kingdom until I found some Advil at a store…and it was $2.50 for 2 pills! Obviously, I bought them, but I almost instead chugged the kids’ version.).

13. Bring a small wallet for your park tickets, FastPasses, some cash, your ID, and a credit card. I special-ordered this one from RaeLove on etsy, and I’m sure she could make one for you, too (total is around $15, and this will be useful for other things now that our trip is over)!

I’ll add to this as I think of things.

Next up: Epcot!

6 responses to “Walt Disney World: Planning and Tips

  1. I’m so glad Maralee/Tracy could help you out. I can’t wait for them to plan our trip! And I can’t wait to hear the rest of your tips.

  2. So what about the whole pre-buying of the souvenir idea that I’ve seen floating around? We kind of think there’s something to be said for picking something special during the vacation, but I get the idea behind saving $ on the little junk. Did you all succumb?

    • I’m not a fan of prebuying souvenirs, Corrie, for the reason you listed – I definitely think that takes away from the fun of it! However, we didn’t really buy them much except contributing to their Lego purchases at Downtown Disney…any other souvenirs they bought with their own money (2 made their own light sabers, 1 bought a t-shirt). they’d been saving up for a long time for this trip so that they could buy what they wanted!

  3. I’m taking notes like mad! Thanks for all the tips. I’ve done a ton of research on which rides to hit and in what order to see the princesses, but know nothing about ponchos and extra clothes. 🙂 Thanks for posting. Excited to see what’s next!-Casey

  4. We stayed in the same area as you and walked by the boardwalk on numerous occasions!! We were at the yacht club one trip and the beach club the next. However, both those trips were planned for us. I can’t wait to do it our own way for our family someday!!

  5. Great post, Nicole. Glad you had a good time & stayed on the property. Totally worth it. We’ve never used a travel agent for a Disney trip before (I didn’t know there were agents who specialized in Disney either!). After reading about your experience, I definitely want to use one next time. Thanks for sharing!

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