A planned but not overly-planned Disney vacation? Sounds like an oxymoron, right? Not true. I am an absolute believer that if you walk into a Disney park without a plan that a. you will miss out on fun rides b. you (and your family) will be overwhelmed (insert kicking toddler or mouthy grade-schooler) and annoyed c. your kids will want to go on the rides that have an hour plus wait and you will be stuck waiting in line entertaining them (or dealing with a Disney style tantrum). You need a plan. A flexible plan is even better.
Here is my list of 10 tips for a successful not-overly planned Disney vacation:
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1. HOTEL / RESORT
We wanted to stay somewhere nice where the kids could swim, and we could have a drink. We did not want to walk a 10k to get to our mode of transportation (some resorts are VERY spread out).
The best fit for our trip was Riverside – French Quarter. It had a pool with slide, water play structure (fenced in too!), a playground, a bar, and a fast food type restaurant. That (the bar) is what really sold us. On top of those amenities it was not huge. The bus stop was a quick walk from our room.
Our first trip we stayed at the Grand Floridian on the monorail which was amazing for convenience to Magic Kingdom. Unfortunately, the deal we received for that trip (Mr. Doing My Best had a conference) was not going to be duplicated this trip.
I am interested in trying the Polynesian, but we could not justify the price this time! I do hear it is a pretty expansive resort so that is my only hesitation.
We had two kids (ages 3 and 4), and we didn’t have room for a stroller (driving the second half of the trip).
I researched a few different stroller rental companies. I chose not to consider the strollers in the park because they are hard plastic. We MUST have an option for an over tired child to take a nap in comfort.
I ended up going with Kingdom Strollers (kingdomstrollers.com) and, I would use them again. We had no issues with our double stroller, pick-up and drop-off at the resort was super easy (at the bell hop stand), and we received a free delivery coupon for grocery deliver (tip #3).
You could buy a stroller and have it shipped directly to your resort. At the end of your trip leave it there for another family to enjoy. As crazy as this sounds it can be cheaper!
3. FOOD AND DRINKS
We wanted access to bottled water, healthy snacks, and quick breakfast in our room.
I ordered snacks, drinks, and breakfast items from Orlando Grocery Express (OrlandoGroceryExpress.com). See #2 for how we received free delivery. Ensure you have a refrigerator (or microwave if you are counting on it) in your room before making your list. My suggestions include snacks for the park (cheese sticks, goldfish, apples, bananas, etc.), breakfast items for the room (cereal, paper bowls, juice boxes, milk boxes or ½ gallon of milk, etc.), and bottled water (I do not care for Orlando tap water – not usually a picky water drinker but not a fan). I would not order soda. If you are a big soda drinker I would buy the refillable cup at the resort / park.
We have been to Disney twice. The first time we were not eligible for the meal plan (hotel was booked through Mr. Doing My Best’s conference), so we kept track of what we spent. We ate VERY well (including Chef Mickey’s, Coral Reef, etc.), and it was cheaper to pay out of pocket. Therefore, for this trip we didn’t even consider it. I am not interested in counting how many snacks or drinks everyone can have to save $2 (and in our case actually spending more!). I know some people prefer the plan so the food is prepaid, so to each their own but for us it doesn’t make sense.
4. FAST PASSES
We wanted to ride some of the most popular rides without waiting over an hour.
I planned our days based on the rides we didn’t want to miss and then filled in the rest for the day based on a map of each park. Here is the plan we used for a 4 year old boy and 3 year old girl. The most we waited was 20ish minutes.
Head to the MOST important rides first (less crowded at opening)! Then plan your fast passes for early/midafternoon. After you use your fast passes check the kiosks to reserve more if you are going to be at the park all day!
Before you get to the parks have a rough idea of what you want to ride each day, for example are you going to start in Fantasyland or Frontierland at the Magic Kingdom. Another example, if you have a fast pass for the Toy Story ride at 2 then what will be a low wait option for after the ride is over in the same area. Have a game plan!
Hollywood Studios – if you want to do Jedi training get to the park early (before it opens) as you will be able to get in-line prior to park opening (we missed this detail for our trip). It really was amazing…totally worth the line to sign up! Your kiddo that will be participating in the training MUST be with you when you sign up!
We wanted to avoid buying extra souvenirs (especially night time glow toys) that would break before we left the park.
Go to the dollar store prior to your trip. Load up on glow sticks, glow wands, glow anything…when you have those on hand in the evening break them out. Give out bracelets around you to other kiddos too (their parents will be so happy that they will hold your spot when you have to run to the bathroom during the parade this way)!
You will buy some souvenirs at the park but having things like this on hand will save you some extra cash! Another tip, if you do buy souvenirs in the parks ask about the complimentary ship to your resort.
6. MEET THE CHARACTERS
We wanted to meet characters and avoid lines for meet and greets.
2 words…”Character Meals”. Best way to meet popular characters while keeping your kids at the table to eat. We enjoyed Chef Mickey’s, the Royal Table, and Hollywood and Vine. Chef Mickey’s is all the classic characters (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pluto, and Goofy), and the food is good (plus wine is served!!!). This is a great spot to take a break from Magic Kingdom. I like it for dinner. Chef Mickey’s is located at The Contemporary, so you can walk or take the monorail from the Magic Kingdom.
The Royal Table is most of the popular princesses. Meet Cinderella at a special meet and greet before sitting down to the table. Ariel, Jasmine, Snow White, and others join the dining room and move around the tables while you eat. This is a pricey meal but if you have a little one who is in to princesses or royal life in general it is a good one. We did it first thing in the morning. This allowed us to get into the Magic Kingdom before hours and put us right in the middle to get to the next location quickly!
For the Disney Junior fans Hollywood and Vine is fun. They get to meet Handy Manny, Jake, Princess Sofia, and Doc McStuffins (as of Spring 2016). We have been for lunch and breakfast. I preferred the breakfast there, but be careful if you have a Star Wars fan that you don’t miss Jedi training sign-ups (it is right around the corner).
The other idea to accomplish the meet and greet without hours in line is fast pass or going there when the park first opens. We do not typically do fast passes for meet and greets, mainly because my kids are not obsessed with any character that we can’t see via character meals or first activity at the park. For example, in Magic Kingdom we went straight to meet Anna and Elsa (early 2016 – before “Frozen Ever After”). In Hollywood Studios we went to the Star Wars Launch Bay (right next to Disney Jr.) after signing up for Jedi Training. Lines were 20ish minutes both places.
7. LENGTH OF STAY
We didn’t want to spend more 3-4 days in the parks.
We love vacation, and we love Disney. But, we do not like Disney for more than 3 days in the park. Everyone is tired and crabby (insert non-magical fit from one of my kiddos). Many people go for an entire week, and I am amazed by them. I prefer a 3 day beach vacation combined with Disney (after the park). Then I go home feeling a little relaxed as opposed to Disney hungover!
8. PACKING AND ORGANIZATION
We (me) wanted to avoid a suitcase explosion and stay semi-organized (knowing we wouldn’t spend much time in our room).
Pre-package clothes in bags. If you want certain clothes on certain days then label it. For example, Mickey Mouse shirt for Magic Kingdom labeled Monday. I like to bag clothes for Disney days for simplicity for the kids.
Upon arrival take 20 minutes to put clothes in drawers by person. Then everyone knows where their stuff in. “Mommy where’s my jammies?” = “Check your drawer.” Mommy where’s my socks?” = “Check your drawer.” You get the idea.
Bring a pop up laundry bag for dirty clothes. You can get one at the dollar store…you can’t beat that! I then use it for the beach for sand toys for the second half of the trip. Dual use – SCORE!
Bring a Rope and clothes pins, make a clothes line for swim suits / wet clothes.
Bring a nightlight and liquid hand soap in a pump….just makes life easier. No explanation needed.
9. RAIN PREP
Be prepared for rain.
Get ponchos from the dollar store. Throw them in your stroller or in your “park bag” in case of rain. The End.
We wanted to maximize memories and capture them to treasure.
We (I) love pictures. What amazing memories to capture. The first time we went to Disney we bought the Memory Maker. I said I wouldn’t do it again because you can hand any of the PhotoPass Photographers your camera to take pictures.
Then it came to get ready for trip #2. I didn’t want to pack our fancy camera, but I wanted quality pictures. I folded, and bought Memory Maker again. It was worth it. I love getting all the pictures, and then you can download them all. Sweet Memories <3.
I have not been paid by Disney or any website or product referenced. This is only a review of my experiences. This post includes some affiliate links for your convenience. Click here to read my full disclosure policy. I will receive a small fee (at no cost to you) when you purchase some of these items for your Magical trip today!