Our most recent trip to Disney World was in February of 2014. We took our oldest two children (our 9 month old at the time stayed with grandparents!) and had such a wonderful time! After our trip, I compiled a list of tips, and this has actually helped me make plans for our next trip (in January). Learning from each trip and figuring out what works and what doesn't makes a big difference in your planning!
I linked to each recap post (from my personal blog) in the title of each heading if you want a more detailed recap of each day!
-KNOW WHEN TO GO. This website has a great crowd calendar. We always go in January or February (trying to avoid Marathon and MLK Day). Ride closures are common but since we've been many times, this isn't a deal-breaker for us.
-I knew ride closures were common but didn’t know about transport closures (in our case, the monorail was down for maintenance during the day the entire week of our trip). It wasn’t mentioned on the hotel website and on the typical closure list. It was on the transportation page, which I never check. CHECK TRANSPORTATION NEWS.
-Magic bands need to COME WITH YOU on the plane, because you need them to board the Magical Express shuttle. A
-The location of the Magical Express can be a little tricky. Ask someone who works at the airport where to go (even we went to the wrong area and we've done Magical Express before).
-Downtown Disney is the best place for souvenirs, in the sense that the biggest selection is at the World of Disney store. The same merchandise is virtually everywhere, but if you want it all in one place, this is where you go. The Lego Store is also here, which is fun. If you want anything food-related that's Disney, go to Downtown Disney! This is where I've gotten Mickey-shaped pasta and more.
-Utilize storage in your hotel room. We fully unpack and hang things up. It makes for a much less stressful trip when you have things put in their place.
-We rent our stroller and crib and also order groceries to be delivered (snacks, breakfast items, bottles of water, diapers, wipes, etc.). See the resource list at the bottom of this post.
-If doing a breakfast reservation, either do it really early or realize that it WILL AFFECT your park touring. You'll end up arriving with all the late-comers. I won't be doing this again!
-Try to take your official “family picture” early in your trip so you don’t have to worry about it. The cove area on the way to Tomorrowland is great (no people). Wait til the sun isn’t really high. Maybe plan it for the day everyone matches.
-The Dumbo play area at the Dumbo ride is great!! Even if the line looks long and the posted wait time is a little longer than you'd like, try it anyway. They include play time for your kids in the quoted wait. You get a pager and it lights up and buzzes when it's your turn to ride. There are benches all around the play area for the parents. I don't even understand how it works so well, but it does!
-If characters are priority, do Princesses FIRST THING. Fab Five can be done more easily at Epcot so skip them at MK. I recommend seeing Rapunzel at the Fairy Tale Hall because you can't see her easily anywhere else.
-If you need last minute essentials or something you’ve thought of at night that you’ll need the next day (like an autograph book or poncho), there’s a small gift shop near the front gates that’s open before rope drop/welcome show so you don’t have to waste precious morning time stopping into a store!
-Stand to where you can just see the welcome show but where you are closer to the entrance tunnels.
-Disney photographers call the Disney photo system different things. Some still call it Photo Pass, others call it Memory Maker, and some just ask for your band. A photographer asked me “Do you have a photo package?” and since I hadn’t registered/pre-paid for one, I said no. She firmly corrected me and said “YES you do. You’re wearing a band.” Yikes. So whenever a photographer asks you anything photo related, I just learned to say, “I have a band” and they would scan it.
-Do Magic Kingdom over 2+ days so you can spend one of those evenings riding rides during the parade/fireworks. Low crowds!
-DO NOT MISS the projection show - Celebrate the Magic, I believe it's called.
-I'm now a big believer in a 5-day Disney trip. Doing Magic Kingdom over 3 days was WONDERFUL and I highly, highly recommend it.
-Don’t miss classic Disney snacks and souvenirs. We always get a Dole Whip, Mickey’s Premium chocolate bar, and I’d love to try a churro next trip. We also always get a magnet, ornament, and unique Disney Parks souvenirs. Browse the Disney Store website before you go (and even while you’re there in the Parks) to see what you can order online (and not have to haul home). But there are some items that are Park exclusives that are good to get while you’re there. My advice: if you see something you like in a store, do a quick check on your phone at the Disney Store website. If you see it there, I’d wait to buy it online. If not, grab it!
-Take time to stop and enjoy details, especially on your last day. Stop and eat a snack while sitting on Main Street, listen to the Dapper Dans perform, etc. Take a look at the book Hidden Magic of Walt DisneyWorld if you want things to look for – it’s really fun!
-Explore Tom Sawyer Island if you have time. I wouldn’t say it’s a must-do, but it’s a fun escape if you’re doing Magic Kingdom at a slow pace. Note that it closes at 5:00pm (or at least it did when we were there).
-Even if it’s your only table service reservation of your entire trip, I really recommend making the last meal of your trip really special. It doesn’t even have to be a character meal (‘Ohana is amazing!!), but just end on a really special note. We like to finish at Cinderella’s Royal Table and then watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks!
-Even when you think it would be fine to start late in the morning and get some extra sleep – DON’T. Transportation is JAMMED with people making late arrivals to the parks, and it’s not worth the stress! Arrive at every park before opening every single time.
-Toy Story Mania is the most popular ride at HS. Use your fastpass on it and also ride it FIRST THING in the morning so you get to ride twice.
-If you want to meet Woody and Buzz, jump in line right after you ride Toy Story Mania. You still might have to wait a little, but the line won’t get any shorter.
-We went to one of the later-afternoon Disney Junior Live On Stage shows, and we had a FP reservation, but we really didn’t see a huge benefit. It’s general seating and we were able to sit in the center area. The standby line sits in the side areas, but everyone is sitting on the floor. We used our FP on this because there wasn’t anything else we wanted to use it on, but if you’re picking and choosing, I think you would be fine just getting in the standby line early.
-There aren’t a ton of kid-friendly things at Epcot except the aquariums, Nemo ride, Turtle Talk with Crush, and a few boat rides. However, we made a full day of Epcot and enjoyed leisurely walking around World Showcase and just taking our time. It was really enjoyable!
-Be aware that some restaurants don’t open until 11:30am, even though World Showcase opens at 11:00.
-That being said, we were able to show up a little after 11 and get right in for an 11:30 lunch with no reservation.
-Epcot is a WONDERFUL place to get your Fab Five pictures. We went in the morning around 10:00 and there was no wait!
-Don’t miss Spaceship Earth with your kids. It’s about communication and they won’t really “get it” if they’re really young, but visually I think it’s so neat for adults and kids alike!
-Take advantage of the musical performances and shows in Epcot. We saw the acrobats in China and the Voices of Liberty in the U.S. pavilion (DO NOT MISS!!!!), but there are lots of unique things to see.
-The American Pavilion is a great place to go inside and sit, and to let your kids stretch their legs a little.
-Don’t miss Illuminations! There’s a terrace (by the bridge between France and England) where we stood and had a perfect view! Pick your spot about 30-40 minutes before showtime and then send one adult to go and get snacks/drinks to enjoy during the show.
-Don’t use your Fastpasses during any morning hours. Touring is very efficient during the early morning hours and you can breeze through everything then. Use your FP reservations for the afternoon hours which are the hottest and most crowded.
-Character meals have always been worth it to us. You knock out eating AND meeting characters, meaning you don’t have to wait in line in the parks.
-In our case, Kurt was the only one who wanted to (or could) ride roller coasters like Aerosmith. Some rides have a single rider line which is usually about the same wait time as Fastpass. He used the single rider line and really didn’t have that much of a wait. I got a snack with the kids or strolled them through shops while we waited for him.
-Let you hotel location decide if you go back for naps or try to nap in the stroller. We were staying on the monorail line, so we came back for naps on Magic Kingdom days (except the very last day). Hollywood Studios and Epcot were more of a trek and our kids were doing fine because of our slow pace, so we just stayed in the park. The only time we had a napping child in the stroller was our Epcot day when Liam fell asleep.
-This leads to the question of strollers: we always rent strollers! The ones you rent from the parks are hard plastic, don’t recline, and have little storage. We don’t like the hassle of flying with one (although they fly free). The benefit of renting is that you’re able to take the stroller anywhere with you – on the buses (be aware you have to fold up strollers on the busses), monorail, your hotel, etc. If you use the park’s strollers you have to leave them there in the parks.
-Extra Magic Hours in the morning can be helpful to get a jumpstart on touring. Even arriving 30 minutes early (instead of the full hour) can help give you an edge on the crowds.
-I mentioned this earlier, but note your times guide for special characters you want to meet. For instance, on our last MK day, there were extra Magic Hours starting at 8:00am, but Merida didn’t start greeting until 9:15am. We got a few rides in then got in line for Merida at 8:45 so we’d be one of the first to meet her.
Grocery Rental – Garden Grocer
Crib Rental – Orlando Crib Rental
Be Our Guest Lunch FastPass (doesn’t count against your rides!) – CLICK HERE
Our Most Recent FastPass+ Selections:
Keep in mind that these were our choices with young children. If there was a roller coaster the Kurt wanted to ride, he used the Single Rider line. There was also a time when I reserved FP for me and the kids for Winnie the Pooh, and I reserved Kurt a FP at Space Mountain for the same time. Think through what will work for your family.
Edited to add: This is reflective of the rides that were operating when we visited WDW in February 2014. Now that the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is open and Elsa and Anna now have a new meet and greet in Princess Fairy Tale Hall, these would definitely be a priority in Magic Kingdom!
Magic Kingdom (Spread out over 3 days, some repeated):
-Enchanted Tales with Belle (DEFINITELY use your FP for this!)
-Peter Pan (HUGELY popular!)
-Under the Sea (Little Mermaid)
-Winnie the Pooh
-Tomorrowland Speedway (Not a must-see for us, but use if you'll be in MK multiple days)
-Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
-Toy Story Mania (MUST USE your FP! Also ride in the morning if desired)
-Disney Junior Live on Stage (iffy on if this is a big benefit)
-Voyage of the Little Mermaid show (Large crowds go in for the shows, so a FP doesn't help a lot - mainly helps to reserve a time to plan your day)
-Turtle Talk with Crush
-The Seas with Nemo and Friends
-Epcot Character Spot (not used - we walked in at an earlier time with no wait)
Where We Ate:
‘Ohana - EXCELLENT - highly recommend!!! At Polynesian Resort.
Chef Mickey’s - Character meal at Contemporary Resort. Great for meeting Fab Five during a meal.
1900 Park Fare - Character meal at Grand Floridian to meet Cinderella, Stepmother, Stepsisters and Prince Charming
Be Our Guest (Lunch and Dinner) - This is quick service for lunch and table service for dinner. Different menus but same environment. Really neat and definitely recommended!
Hollywood & Vine - Character meal in Hollywood Studios with Playhouse Disney characters. Kids loved it and good food!
50s Prime Time - My favorite theme! Super cute and fun comfort food. Servers banter with you but if you have shy kids they will pick up on that pretty quickly and take it easy on them. :)
Rose & Crown - UK Pavilion in Epcot. Great food and great atmosphere - a new favorite of mine!
Cinderella’s Royal Table - Princess character meal in Cinderella Castle! We've also done Akershus in Norway and had a great experience there too.
We can't wait for our next trip in January 2015!