When we received orders to come to Washington DC, I knew that sometime during this particular tour of duty would be the time that the Davis Family would embark on no doubt what would be the first of many Disney trips. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. We were in a palce tht would allow us the ability to easily drive down the Eastern seaboard to Florida and our kids would be at the perfect age to really take in all that Disney and Univerfsal has to offer. We wanted to wait until diapers were no longer a thing for us and tht bringing a stroller would simply be a convenience option, not a necessity. Most of all, we wanted our children to remember going to the most magical place on Earth. Now I’m not knocking anyone who chooses to take their babies or toddlers to Disney. I just knew I couldn’t handle that. So we waited.
When the time finally came for me to book the trip, I was unaware at just how much planning is involved in creating a magical experience for your family. Like, there are actually people who’s only job is to plan magical Disney adventures for people. Among the things we had to do were to find a place to stay, plan on how to get there and how to get around the resort, figure out what parks to go to and what days on which to attend those parks, plan for food and meals etc etc etc. And to top things off, we were relative newbies. I hadn’t been to Disney as a whole since my senior year in high school a million years ago and my husband hadn’t been since the late 90s. Needless to say, Disney has changed alot in that time and we had alot to learn. Luckily I’m all Virgo and so planning is something I love to do… and there was alot that had to be done.
Planning a Disney trip can be overwhleming but it is doable on your own. Here are some tips that really helped us have an absolutely amazing time on our vacation.
- Plan to go when school is out.
I know this is a debatable statement but hear me out. WE all know the parks will be packed during those times that school is out and most Disney pros will tell you to go when the kids are in school. But if you are like me and have children who are differently abled, you know how important it is to keep them in school as much as possible so that they don’t miss anything. My kids struggle when it comes to trying to play catch up and I didn’t want to put that pressure on them when they got back home. If you are worried about crowds, try to be smart about how you plan your Disney days. For example, Epcot is known for their incredible festivals. Locals are known to flock to Epcot on the weekends to enjoy them. So be sure to plan your Epcot Day during the week. Another thing is to do your reserach on accomodations for people with disabilities. Both Disney and Universal have programs that allow people who have certain conditions to wait outside a traditional queue. You can read more about that here but basically how it works is that once you go to guest services and explain the situation, they will issue you a pass that will allow you to gain a return time for any attraction int he park. You essentially wait outside the queue for that time and then return at the stated time or anytime after to enjoy the ride. It will allow you to avoid standing in line for long periods and to possibly enjoy another attraction with a lesser wait time. In using this system, our family didn’t wait more thatn 15 mintues for any attraction, a miracle at Disney during Spring Break. Also, if you are on the fence about whether or not to go to Disney during this time, go! Disney is doing a great job wtih enforcing the necessary precautions to keep people safe. They are limiting the amount of folks they let into the park by making it madatory to make park reservations. So even on it’s busiest day right now, it’s not where close to how crazy it gets during normal times. So going while school is out isn’t as scary as it used to be.
2. Book a hotel on property
This is another debatable piece as advice. But staying on property is worth the money and here’s why. Time is money at Disney and Universal. The traffic on I4 is no joke and even though it might be cheaper on paper to stay off site, the time and money you’ll spend going to and from the resorts every day will more than make up for it. Disney and Universal will wear you out! And to have to look at either driving or getting a ride that will take anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes to get you back to the hotel after a long day is not all that attractive. Staying close to the parks will save time and headaches as well as give you the opportunity to get to the parks early which is always good advice. While some of the perks of Disney resorts are temporarily suspended such as FastPass + 60 days out or Extra Magic Hours where you get an extra hour or two in the park either in the morning or after park close, Universal hotels still offer their perks of Early Park admission and depending on where you stay, free Express passes which allow you to skip the line on several popular attractions. Staying on property also grants access to free transportation to and from the parks. And if you are worried about cost, don’t be! There are plenty of properties on Disney World Resort that aren’t owned by Disney and thus don’t carry Disney’s hefty price tag. Since we are a military family, we chose to stay at Shades of Green which is located int he Magic Kingdom area of the resort but is owned by the Department of Defense. We were literally steps from the Polynesian Resort and only paid $139 a night. Now, the cost of your stay at Shades will depend on the service member’s rank but it is an amazing resort with all the amenities one could ask for while on vacation and the rooms were huge. We fit comfortably as a family of five in our room which was nice during our resort day. If you have any affiliation with the military, you should definitely consider staying here. You get all the perks of a Disney owned property but without the hefty price tag.
3. Plan a Resort Day
Disney World and Universal are exciting but exahusting. And it is imperative if you want to conserve your energy to plan a resort day if your time allows it. Having a resort day is a great way to explore the amentiies tht your dollar are hard at work paying for. It’s also a great opporutnity to sleep in and then possibly explore the other resorts on property. It costs nothing to walk in the Grand Floridan and have lunch at one of their many restaurants. This is also a great time to have a pool day or even spend a day over at Disney Springs, City Walk, even explore some of hte local areas around central Florida and maybe hit up a beach. Either way, a resort day or a day off is just want the doctor ordered when your feet need a break from all the miles you will be in during a day at the park.
4. Learn the Apps… You will need it for EVERYTHING!!!
Everything runs on an app these days and Disney and Universal Studios are no different. You will need your app to book your vacation, reserve your room, book your park reservation, plan your dining experiences and book restaurant reservations, order quick service meals, get your Fastpass + and Express passes, check wait times, reserve popular ride times, and more. To make your visit more efficient and more enjoyable, it’s best to learn the apps and how to find everything and use everything available on them. On this topic, also make sure you have a portable battery because with all the checking on your phone that you will be doing, your phone WILL die. And that battery will really come in handy.
This one really depends on how you plan to get to Florida. Obvs if you are flying you are limited as to what you can take with you. But if you are planning to drive you have a little more freedom. Use this as an opportunity to bring just about anything you think you might need. We packed the essentials that we normally take on trips as well as food, toiletries and extra outfits for each day. I also pre-packed each kids’ outfits for each day and put them in individual gallon sized bags. This way the kids knew what to wear on what day and we avoided having to figure things out the morning of. 7 I included most of the items on this list and even though we left without using a whole of what we packed, I like the fact that now I have a ready to go bag for anytime we go anywhere for more than one day. I found that it’s better to have it and not need it then need it and have to pay Disney prices to get it. So pack wisely and then pack some more.
6. Buy and ask for gift cards
If you are like me, then you’d rather spend your money on fun stuff and not the boring things you need. Once we decided to go to Disney and Universal, we started buying gift cards that we could use for food, souvenirs, gas, etc. We also asked for gift cards as gifts for birthdays and holidays. This allowed us to better budget for our trip while saving our money. In the 8 days we were there, I maybe took out my debit card 3 or 4 times. Everything else was paid for with gift cards. We also found it a good way to help the kids budget as well. Anyone with kids will tell you once they see stuff, they want it. One way to curb their expectations is to gift them a gift card that is specifically for souvenirs and gifts. Once the gift card has been used up, that is it. It is on them how they plan to use the amount.
7. Break in your shoes adn bring more than one pair
You will do a lot of walking in Disney and Universal Studios. It is imperative that you bring broken in shoes. This is not the time to buy those cute pair of Adidas just for this trip. If you are going to buy new shoes for your trip, buy them months ahead and wear them everyday! The miles you will put in at Disney and Universal will probably be the most you’ll put in on a vacation and you’ll want to make sure you are taking care of your feet. In addition, you’ll want to make sure to pack extra socks, moleskin, and other necessities to prevent or treat blisters. How your feet feel can make or break your vacation. If you have children, train them! As we were preparing for our trip, I took the kids to the local track to practice walking in the shoes that they were planning to take with them. We also invested in a cheap stroller because even though our youngest is 6, she is a bit smaller than the average 6 year old and we knew all the walking would be too much for her little legs. So I would plan to take or rent a stroller if you have any child in your party under 8.
This is probably the hundredth Disney tips list you’ve read. It’s important to note that everyone’s experience is different and your way of planning may be different from mine. And that’s okay. The one thing I will stress is to plan early! The earlier the better. It will allow you to get the park days you want, stay in the hotel you want, and save enough money to have a truly magical experience. Not everyone gets the chance to revisit Disney or Universal over and over again. Make this trip your most magical experience yet!