The Disney World Tips you actually need

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It’s safe to say we could all use some Disney magic right now. Have you heard the good news that Walt Disney World is reopening?! You can read all the details about the new ways to make ticket and hotel reservations here.

I’m far from any sort of a pro at this, but here’s what helped me! Disclaimer: many attractions and rides may look and feel differently for the remainder of 2020 and beyond. (It helps to read those last two words in the voice of Buzz Lightyear).

Which park should we visit first? Should we take a break mid-day at the hotel or power through? Our youngest will probably need a nap…heck; we might all need a break from the stimulation. How in the world do you even get between the hotel and different parks? What should we pack in the bag? What does Fast Pass mean? Stroller rentals cost how much?!

If this sounds familiar, you might be a mom. A mom that’s planning a trip to Disney.  

IT’S ALL SO MUCH.

But this was an excellent opportunity for me. When a conference I had been eyeing at work was scheduled in Orlando—at a Disney hotel I knew I had to make a family vacation out of the trip.

Yet, at least ten times during my month’s long research, I wanted to take a break from all the planning and was ready to cancel the whole thing!

Now, before moving on, I’m compelled to say that I realize complaining about planning a trip to Disney World is 100 percent a first-world problem. I understand, too, that a bajillion families have come before us. And you could read at least that many blogs about planning a Disney trip online already. I did, and they helped, but more than what I researched, I hope here to give you some practical tips consolidated to one place.

Helpful Resources for Planning a Trip to Disney:

Smart Moms Planning Disney Facebook group.   I know a lot of Omaha moms are already members of this group. You can get a lot of help by searching past threads for feedback on your questions. Members get access to documents to download about what to use your Fast Passes on and a variety of other guidance. We only did two things the whole trip without a fast pass, by the way. Book them early, and keep checking what’s available.  

Orlando Mom Collective: The sister site of OMB has advice from local Orlando moms. 

TouringPlans.com: A few people I know recommended this site AFTER we got back from our trip in early March. It seems like the crowd calculator would be a helpful tool if you’re trying to figure out which month to travel.  

Disney travel agents.  Full disclosure, I did not use a travel agent, because I was receiving the Disney hotel and park tickets discounted via my conference. If that weren’t the case, I totally would’ve shared the planning burden and worked with an agent; they’re free to use!

Disney

Things you may want to think about ahead of time:

  •  Download the Disney app.
    •  A must! And don’t worry, you’ll still have plenty of battery to take plenty of pictures throughout the day. Most hotels also have apps you can download to explore the resort and take advantage of their amenities during your stay, too.
  •  Staying onsite vs. offsite is your first big decision. If budget is a primary concern, go with offsite. You will be fine without Magic Bands. There are plenty of reviews out there on the best and closest value resorts. This is the easiest way to save money on the trip, I’d say.
    • There are also Memory Maker photography packages and several Dining plan options. You can save money by skipping these as well. For large families, the dining plans may be worth a look.
  •  Consider a beach day to relax if you can. I’ve been to the beaches on the Gulf side of Florida before, and those are incredible. They’re just slightly further away from the Disney resort area than Cocoa Beach is, so we opted for Cocoa Beach. There are tons of places to park (we parked at this spot). We searched for seashells and had dinner and drinks on the pier. Our kids got a kick out of watching the seagulls and all the surfers.
    •   You can rent a car very easily in the area for just one day if needed. Be sure to bring plenty of change for all the tolls ($5-7 in quarters should be enough for the route to and from Cocoa Beach).

  • Bring a notebook of some kind for character autographs.
    • You need not get fancy, but I’ve seen people make some creative ones online. The official Disney autograph books and other simple ones are under $10 on Amazon and at all Disney stores onsite.
      • I read tips online about how characters appreciate a clickable Sharpie to sign with, so I went to buy one.  It turned out, a pack of them is almost as much as the autograph book. So no, we went with a regular Sharpie marker, and yes, that was completely fine.
  • Start preparing now for meals to cost a fortune. You can bring food and drink into the parks, so again, if budget is your top priority, consider doing so. If you can at least bring pantry staples and water bottles, that will help a ton (with controlling both the bottom line and moods:) 

Random Disney Tips

  • We lucked out that our hotel had a super sturdy trash can we could turn into a stool for the kids to reach the sink. That made it, so we didn’t always have to help them go to the bathroom, saving us time and sanity. So if you already own a small collapsible stool and you have room in your checked bag, you might want to throw it in!
  • Others I talked to also wished they would’ve packed a big bag (think Ikea blue bag or large Thirty-One tote). Something that would easily fit all their other bags and items for when you have to empty and break down your stroller for riding buses to and from parks and hotels.
  • You need not decorate your stroller, a recommendation you will undoubtedly come across. I repeat you need not personalize your stroller. And for safety, I wouldn’t put your family’s last name on everything.
  • And in general, what I’m saying is: don’t let strangers online guilt you into packing a bunch of things and booking certain “must-do” Disney activities.  YOU KNOW YOUR FAMILY BEST. So maybe you don’t need to have a bag of pennies, so your kids can press them for souvenirs or a giant box of blister bandaids (they have first aid stations at the parks if need be!)
    • I speak from experience here. I read online that my kids would feel left out and whine without bubbles and glow sticks and trinkets to play with while waiting in line. So I went to the Dollar Store and bought heaps of all of that. Because people also said I wouldn’t want to pay park prices for it. Instead, I should’ve reminded myself, my kids don’t throw tantrums or like junk like that at home, so why would they on vacation?! Don’t be a Blair.
  • Going back to safety for a moment, be sure to have safety conversations with your kids before and during the trip. You should be doing this anyway, but we had frequent discussions about expectations for Disney. Some of the things we reminded our kids about included:
    • If you’re not in the stroller, you need to hold someone’s hand.
    • Even if you don’t think you’re lost, if mom or dad can’t see you, you are lost. Stay close where we can all see each other.
    • If you get lost, stay put. I also pointed out a few times when I would see cast members and tell them if they had a question, any of us could go to the people with those name tags and get help.

This list is, of course, not exhaustive of all the factors to consider, but I hope they help you get started. Or calm you down if you’re reading this in the middle of your planning.

Because in my family, we are not matching-t-shirts kind of people. We are not packing-cubes kind of people.  We are not standing in lines for more than 20 minutes kind of people. We’re not even that much of “Disney” people. And we still had the BEST time. If you’re curious about the specifics of our trip—where we stayed, where we ate, from where we rented our double stroller, where we watched the fireworks from, etc., please feel free to contact me via comment, and I’m happy to share a full-on trip review.

Either way, remember, time fades our memories of the trip into holding onto only the best of the moments anyway. So try not to stress. Easier said than done, I know.

Note: Guests age two and older now require masks (including Disney Cast Members). There is no timeline for when/if this health measure will lift. You will want to consider this detail as you plan.

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Blair Bonczynski is a wife to one, mom to two. Born and raised in the Metro area, she finds great joy in playing intramural sports, listening to a good audio book, figuring out ways to save the environment, and indulging in a craft beer every now and then. She spends her days working as the marketing and communications coordinator for the Archdiocese of Omaha Catholic Schools Office, and she spends her nights playing with her kids and picking up toys at home. She is constantly discovering the joy in the little things.