Allegedly, everyone in the whole entire universe had been to Disney EXCEPT US.
There are pictures of happy families dressed in matching outfits all over Facebook and Instagram to prove it. So, when I had a work-related conference in Orlando this year, I ran out of excuses to avoid the
bankruptcy trip. My family and I took the plunge and hit the highway to the "Happiest Place on Earth."
Without further adeiu, here's my advice on what matters, what doesn't, and the potential nightmare lurking in the Disney bathroom.
Plan like a boss. We were complete failures here. The best thing I did was read a book called The Unofficial Guide to Disney, although I wish I'd read it months earlier. There are also Facebook groups devoted to EVERYTHING Disney; just type "Disney" in the search bar and you'll see! Some focus on planning extravagant trips, while others focus on budget friendly travel. If you're going for the total Disney experience, check out the Magic Your Way packages. Military families, don't forget to look into discounts.
Pick a place to stay. We opted for a swanky Disney property during my work obligations, then transferred to a larger (non Disney) property for the remainder of our trip. That was perfection AND easy on our budget, since we used hotel points for our stay. We got the resort experience, then got to spread out more in a hotel with separate rooms/kitchen/free breakfast. Tip: We dined outside Disney properties to make the trip a bit more affordable.
Focus on fashion. There are many style options for Disney patrons, ranging from booty shorts the size of panties to matching family tees to mouse ear headbands. The most popular wardrobe choice was the "Family Status Tee." This comes in the form of "Disney Mom/Dad/Pop", "Big Sis/Bro", and the classic "I'm not like a regular mom, I'm a Disney mom" shirts. If you want matching Disney themed shirts or mouse ear headbands, look anywhere from Etsy and Jane to Kohls for affordable options before your trip. Catch a sale, and you can outfit everyone for the price of ONE shirt at the theme park.
Check out FastPass+ once you get your tickets. This will save you time and tantrums - and it's FREE with ticket purchase! You can reserve a specific time spot up to 30 days in advance (or 60 days if you're at a Walt Disney Resort hotel, you fancy pants!) for a prime attraction - you know, the ones with LONG, 90+ minute lines. The FastPass+ allows you to take a separate (translation: VIP) line to hit the front of the ride immediately. I felt like Cinderella when I used my FastPasses to bypass the peons waiting in the regular line. You can reserve up to 3 attractions initially; then once you use those, you can reserve more using park kiosks. Disclaimer: We waited until the day before we did the parks to reserve our FastPasses, and while some of our "wish list" rides were taken, most weren't. This totally depends on the time of the year that you go and how flexible you can be on time spots.
While you're at it, go for the MagicBands. Your Disney ticket will be a card, similar to a hotel key. That's great for regular people who don't have excited children pulling them in every direction; although they are an additional fee, I suggest the bands for many reasons. They are cute, come in fun colors (also limited edition prints) AND don't get lost as easily as the card. They link to the FastPass+, so all you have to do is scan the bracelet.
Get the My Disney Experience mobile app. This provides a handy option to keep track of EVERYTHING - hotel info, maps, and wait times for attractions! It's great for planning... even if you plan your day less than 24 hours in advance, like we did.
Things you need, but might forget:
- WATER. Even in the off season, Orlando is HOT. We brought water bottles into the park and refilled them at water fountains. Tip: The Disney restaurants will give you a free cup (see below) of water to take with you if you ask. Make sure you remind kids to keep hydrated (even before they feel thirsty). Although we drank water like crazy, we still all ended up with wicked headaches on Day 1. Which leads me to the next point...
- Headache drug of choice. Because dehydration makes everyone crabby.
- Mom shoes. Birks, sneaks, whatever. Your feet probably won't be in the pictures, anyway.
- Sport sunscreen. Getting sunburned would make it a craptastic vacation, so reapply sunscreen frequently. While you're at it, toss in a hat. You and your dermatologist will thank me later.
- Snacks. Whether you opt for a meal plan or "playing it by ear," your kid (or husband, no judging) will likely get hangry at an inopportune time... Like when you've been standing in line for 45 minutes, watching all the FastPass people go by, thinking about whether the ride is really worth it. Snacks make everything better, so pack more than you think you'll need.
- Ziplocs. Bring one for your phone. Because Splash Mountain happens.
- Stroller. You won't need to leave the park for naptime AND you can do "big kid" rides that your little napper can't do. You're probably wondering "what do I do with my stroller when I'm on rides," right? Hello, Stroller Parking! Although the strollers were 100% safe, it is super helpful to add something unique to identify it quickly. Tip: If you're flying, you can rent strollers. Some stroller companies (e.g., Magic Stroller, Kingdom Strollers) will even deliver to your hotel, while others can be rented on site.
Now what? GO PLAY! Make sure you factor in the time it takes to arrive, parking fees, and getting through the gates. There is at least one bag check (unzip pockets and have it ready.) Also, you'll be scanning the bracelet/card AND your finger. Critical tip: Use the same finger and don't sub your finger for a kid's pass access. In the chaos of trying to get all five of us into the park, I scanned my finger for my 3-year-old's pass. The next day, I didn't remember which finger was used (or whose), so we got stuck redoing the whole thing while catching lots of dirty looks from people behind us in line.
Finally, beware of the bathrooms... Surprisingly, the "Happiest Place on Earth" has the most aggressively-flushing, nightmare-inducing toilets in the universe. They spit at you. They are loud. They will probably give your kids bathroom phobia even worse than those annoying loud hand dryers. Potty carefully, friends.
The bottom line is that a Disney trip is magical, regardless of how you do it or how far in advance you plan. Our trip brought me back to my childhood while simultaneously reminding me that I'm no longer a child. As a parent, it was an incredible joy to relive the magic through my children's eyes. If we weren't totally poor from our recent trip, I'd do it all over again next week. For now, we will cherish the memories, rebuild our bank account, and patiently wait until TimeHop reminds us of our trip next year. Toodles!