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There are so many things I want to tell you about Disney to make your visit extra magical. This is my catch-all post of tips that apply to all four parks or random suggestions that don’t necessarily fit in any of the other posts. I hope this is helpful. Got a general question I don’t cover, feel free to leave a comment and I will answer!
Where is the best place to see Mickey Mouse (and other main characters)?
My favorite place is at Epcot! The reason it is so great is that you wait in one line (go right when the park opens and wait under 15 minutes) and you will get to see Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, and Pluto – one after the next. Saves a LOT of time! Plus if you are the lucky guest who gets there first you get to take a picture with all the characters together with you in one picture – HOW COOL IS THAT?!?!
Where is the best places to see / take pictures with the Princesses?
By far the best way to see lots of princesses is at the Akershus Character meal in Norway, Epcot. This is the least expensive Princess meal (the other being the Cinderella castle). You won’t have to wait in line, the princesses will come to your table throughout your meal, plus you get to participate with the princesses in a parade, get a FREE printed picture with Belle, and you will get to see lots of princesses. This was one of the best character interactions we had (and the BEST Princess character interaction) You will usually see Belle, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty (Aurora), Snow White, and Ariel (with human legs).
How do I know what the park hours are, what shows are happening, and if there are magic hours the day I am coming?
You can typically find all that information for the next 6 months – although do check when you go to the park as they can adjust schedules slightly – usually they add shows, not remove them. Go to calendar page for each park: Magic Kingdom Calendar, Epcot Calendar, Animal Kingdom Calendar, and Hollywood Studios Calendar.
Disney Trading Pins are a LOT of fun! We like to trade them with employees throughout the park. You will find most employees from street sweepers, executives, and employees who guide the characters around wear pins. Every time they come out they grab new ones. The ‘best’ pins are found 1st thing, but we do not collect them based on which ones are the ‘best’. We each have collections we add to. My hubby collects Villains, I collect pins of rides, Goofy collects pirates, Minnie collects Princesses, and then we all grab ones that look cool to us.
- Employees with green smocks can only trade with children
- You may also see the back only of a pin, that means it is a special mystery pin & you get what you get (they are usually super cool or unusual).
But if you buy them at the park they are at least $6 / pin and just go up from there; that can be expensive! Here is my tip – buy them online at EBAY! We got 100 pins for $10! We didn’t care what they looked like (although we did get some cool ones) because the fun was in trading them! So big away….. if you want to get the really good steals you need to bid months early. If you are willing to get a good deal, you can do a buy it now for $1/pin.
The other tidbit I wanted to share about pins is that although Disney sells them with lanyards I wouldn’t advise wearing them all. First, they will get heavy! Second, the backs do fall off and you will loose pins & have very sad children. I think we each lost a pin a day off our lanyards until we decided to just keep a ziplock back with all the reject pins (my hubby kept it in his pocket – you never know when you will see a cast member who has a bin you’d like). When the kids traded we put the ‘good’ ones in either a separate ziplock in our pocket or in the backpack.
Autograph Books – You will notice most kids have autograph books with them at Disney. Most characters will sign their name. It is a cool keepsake! Disney works very hard to make sure that not matter which “Mickey” you get they will all sign the exact same way! Here are a couple tidbits on autographs:
- If you want more than 2-3 choices of books, buy them online at EBAY before you go (this will help you tell them apart too!)
- I like the Spiral bound ones as you can just leave them open to the next page – a big time saver when you see a character
- I love using the click sharpie markers – they seem to be fat enough for the characters to hold well & no cap to mess around with!
- Leave a blank space next to the autograph page for you to glue/tape a picture of your child with the character when you get home - it makes the keepsake even more memorable!
- Keep your autograph book with you at all times! You never know where a character might pop up!! TRUST ME!
You are allowed to bring food in the park with you. I highly recommend a water bottle to keep well hydrated! I would also bring some snack food from home – a hungry kid is a cranky kid!! Plus it makes the wait for parades bearable! (We even brought some snacks while on the dinning plan, just a few were very helpful!) You are allowed to share meals (assuming it is not a buffet or a price per person meal). We found that many counter service & sit-down meals are big enough to share! (You can even share on the dinning plan! – We’d share 1 adult counter of pizza between my hubby & I and then 1 kids counter of pizza between Goofy & Minnie. Just make sure you use your kid & adult meals equally =)
Make Reservations for Dinning 180 days before your visit as they fill up QUICKLY! Make reservation for Pirate League at least 90 days early.
Pictures are one of the most precious keepsake of your trip! I recommend keeping a small point and shoot camera in your pocket at all times. You will want to capture expressions on rides! We change our memory card several times and leave the partially full ones in our room safe – just in case it gets wet, damaged, or stolen we will not be out all of our pictures.
The other thing that is nice is to have a back-up of the ‘big’ pictures.
I recommend having them take your picture & using the Photopass. Why? It costs nothing to take the picture. Then, heaven forbid something happens to your camera, you have back-ups!! Or in case you weren’t smiling or the picture was not in focus or what-not. Isn’t it nice to know there is another choice! If you are at all interested in buying the Photopass CD – BUY IT BEFORE your trip for $99 instead of the $149 it will cost you afterwards. Afraid you won’t like a picture, they will give you your money back if you are not satisfied!! The CD includes EVERY picture from Photopass Photographers at all 4 parks plus some freebies of the characters they throw in there. There is a release on the CD saying you own the rights to those pictures and can print & use in Christmas card, etc. No matter how many pictures you get taken it is the same cost – so get pictures EVERYWHERE you see the tan uniformed employees!
One of the amazing things Disney has done to make a Disney vacation a good option for families with small kids is the Ride Swap!! Here is how it works. If you want to ride Splash Mountain you need to be 40” tall so two of my kiddos are unable to ride. When you get in line tell the employee that you want a ride swap. He will give you a pass and then one parent and the child(ren) that can ride go wait in line and ride. When they finish the other parent & other child(ren) take the pass and go the quick way (usually the fastpass line) right up to the front – no long waiting twice! Isn’t that a GREAT idea!! If not we’d spend all day waiting for rides twice. I love that you can take all the kids back in with you so you don’t miss any of those special memories with your kids! And in case you were wondering you can save the swap for later that day (sorry it has to be used that same day!). Just one more reason I LOVE Disney =-)
STROLLERS - I HIGHLY recommend labeling your stroller! No where are you more aware that Graco made more than one stroller in your pattern then Disney where there are hundreds of strollers! And even if you are really careful, someone else may not be as careful and grab yours by mistake. Plus it just make it easy to spot. I make the colorful sheet with our last name & hotel name (in case it gets lost & needs to be returned to us). I put the sheet in a page protector along with our ‘agenda’ so I have it close by for quick reference. More stroller tidbits:
- You’ll want one for kids 4 and under – Disney is a LOT of walking!
- Bring your own from home – it will be more comfortable (reclining for afternoon naps), will have storage underneath that the park ones lack, easier to push (park ones are side by side) you wont waste time getting one & returning it, plus you’ll save yourself $15 a day for single and $31 a day for double! If you stay 5 days and use a double you could buy a new stroller for the cost to rent one!
- When we took kids aged 18 months and 4 years they actually both slept in the stroller throughout the day – we just let them sleep and got a snack or too the child who was awake on rides. I think anyone 4 and under will get tired from all the walking, excitement, and not to mention late nights. Either plan for naps or allow them to sleep in the stroller when they are tired.
- Bring a plastic cover! You can find these for $8 on amazon. Florida weather is beautiful, but you will see rain showers many days, but they come and go quickly. Many times you will exit a ride and head to your stroller to find it is wet! Did it rain? Yep. Strollers take longer to dry than people. Do I put it on every time we go in a ride, no! From your Disney hotel there is a button to check the weather for the next day – just be aware. One of the days we were at Epcot it poured on & off ALL DAY!! Our girls sat under the covering & were dry and we continued on seeing the park while most people lost the entire day. Sure we got wet, but it was fun & refreshing – and the girls & stroller stayed dry!
As dorky as it sounds, print off a plan so you know what parks you are visiting, hours (so you know when to get up), magic hours, reservations (dinning or Pirate League) and confirmation # (you WILL need this!), flight plans, etc. It is nice to have it easily accessible. I would make 2 copies (one for your stroller to have on you and an extra in the safe in case you loose the first one!) I also include address labels so that when we send postcards to family we just peel off the label and plop it on! Saves time & I know I will remember the address correctly =-)
Magic Hours are a special perk for guests staying at a Walt Disney World hotel. They are AWESOME and you must make use of them. Each day one of the four parks opens 1 hours early or stays open up to 3 hours late. The park will be much less crowded and you will get a lot more rides in!! A couple things to note:
- Only main attractions are open (see here for a list of open attractions by park)
- For the evening hours you will need to show your key to the world to prove you are a guest staying at a resort
- the evening hours are especially magical – I LOVE seeing Disney at night!!
- Try to play your days in each park to take advantage of these days! The evening hours are especially GREAT as it adds 3 hours to your day
- On days when we are going to stay late for evening magic hours (up to 2am!) we will go back and all nap midday when it is hot & crowded anyway. We’ve had some of our most magical times at these less crowded evening hours!
Make use of the Fastpass! At most of the main attractions you have the option of getting a fastpass. This is a FREE service for park guests – YEAH Disney! I’ve noted on my suggested itinerary which rides I would get fastpasses for. But here is how it works:
- You put your key to the world (park pass) in a machine & it spits out a fastpass.
- You will need one fastpass for every member of the family (use each of your tickets)
- You can return any time after the return any time between number (in the example 9:21am)
- Although Disney can choose to enforce the end time (10:21am) I have never seen them do this. I’ve always been able to come back anytime that day
- Notice on the bottom it says another fastpass will be available after 9:21am - you will not be able to get another fastpass until this time. It is usually the time your fastpass allows you to use it, but it will be no longer than 3 hours (for Toy Story Mania in Studios you may get a pass at 9am for 3pm, so there is a 3 hour cap)
- Fastpasses can run out, but usually don’t (Toy Story Mania usually is out of fastpasses by 11am; if you want to ride after that you will have to wait the 100+minutes to stand in line- YIKES!)
Disney has done a lot to attract families with little children in recent years. You will find playgrounds for kids under 5 who may not be able to ride all the attractions, water areas for kids to play & cool off, and the amazing baby care stations. There is a baby care station at each park. You will find changing tables (with liners), little people toilets, a TV playing Disney cartoons for kids to sit & cool off or wait for little brother or sister, private nursing room with soft lighting and rockers, and very helpful employees who are there to help. They can get you a diaper (for a cost) if you ran out. These are wonderful!!
If you are staying a week or longer consider leaving the park after lunch. After lunch until 3pm is the hottest part of the day, plus it is the most crowded. So why not zip back to your hotel and either take a rest (Mommy might appreciate a break too!) or take a swim in your hotel pool. Your hotel has a lot of magic to it as well – you might want time to explore it! Plus if you got a refillable mug you can get well hydrated in the process =-)
Again, I might sound a little odd, but I match our clothes. No it’s not just to look good in pictures (although it is striking). The main reason is so we can spot each other easily. If I am going on Big Thunder Mountain with Goofy my hubby can see us on the ride & we can easily spot each other when we are trying to regroup. Plus, heaven forbid, if we got separated we would know what color our child was wearing to tell guest services to be looking for.
Another tidbit is to make/order bracelets with your phone number. This is a simple thing to do, but will be a lifesaver if your child got separated from you!There a couple mismatch days (because of costumes or what-not) but here are four of our days – blue, brown, orange, and yellow.
Pal Mickey – Disney does not sell these anymore, but they still work. What is it? He is a Mickey with super cool features. When you walk by rides it will shake – if you push him he will tell you an interesting tidbit. He remembers and will not repeat himself on your trip. He also gives tidbits when characters are nearby or s parade or show is beginning soon. He is super hand & fun to have! You can still find them on ebay…although you may have to work to find a decent price. I got ours for $15, but most of them seemed to go for $75! YIKES!!
If you are like most families you intend on buying souvenirs from your trip. Unless you have a plan you can end up dropping a lot of money on things you probably won’t really care about once you get home. We are pretty thrifty. I think over our two visits we bought a mug for my hubby & I , postcards, and a stuffed animal for each of our kids. Before we go we have a way they can earn $ – helping with chores, behaving, using the potty – whatever is age appropriate and a skill you child needs to work on. Then they can earn money to buy what THEY want at Disney. I think we made it possible for them to earn up to $15 (cost of stuffed animal, action toy, or several smaller things). If they don’t earn that much – they have to pick something smaller. It is a good lesson in economics!! Our son Goofy (6) looked & thought for days until he decided on a light-up spinning Mickey. (Not something we would have ever bought), but it was what he truly wanted. So he bought it. He still plays with it at home. And he is so proud that he bought it!! Plus this way you are not the bad guy by not buying everything =-) (Note: If they are short by less than a dollar we do help them out =-)
Countdown to Disney & Preparing – To help our kids understand the time until we go we’ve done several countdowns in the past, but this mickey is my favorite. It helped the kids practice numbers, understand time, and it was FUN!! The excitement would build for 3 months; I know it is a long time, but the kid are like me and EXCITABLE!! We also prepare them by looking at picture books, watching Mickey Disneyland video (they don’t have one for Disney World), and YouTube videos of rides. Why do we do this? It helps the little ones know what to expect so they aren’t scared by the characters or rides (like Haunted Mansion or Snow White’s Scary Ride).
Get your ears! We resisted buying Mickey ear hats the first time because they weren’t practical (we both pretty thrifty.) But decided it is just something everyone should do so we bought them on ebay before the next. SO GLAD WE DID! It was so much fun!! Other than the infant size, all other ones are going to fit everyone. It will fit kids like a hat and adults like a beanie, but it will fit! There is an elastic strap (not noticeable & actually quite comfy) that will hold it on. I would check ebay before you go, Disney has a limited selection (the current models if you will). You can find TONS of choices on Ebay plus you can usually find several together. I got a princess & a pirate for $5.95 total! I also found a birthday hat for goofy that made him the star of the show at home & in the park. So go ahead, take the plunge & have some let loose fun memories! We even bought Grandma & Grandpa a hat which they proudly wore! And next trip maybe we’ll switch what we wear…. or maybe not =-)
What to Bring – Unless you are coming in January/February or camping I don’t think you will need a sweatshirt. If you have some odd weather you can always purchase one since chances are you won’t need one and you wont want to waste space in your suitcase!
- diapers or pull-ups (kids who are newly potty trained may want them as them may have accidents due to forgetting with excitement, not finding a restroom or there being a line, or being in the middle of waiting for an attraction) – You probably know how many your child uses. As a rule of thumb I take 8 diapers for babies (plus an extra 2 days in case we got stuck due to weather/airport or I miscalculated), 3 pull-ups for children who are mostly potty trained (one night, one day, one oops)
- wipes (also handy for mealtime clean-up) – plan 2 per diaper, and 1 per preschooler per meal. So we took 3 boxes for our 10 day vacation; plus a travel size for airport bag and travel size for park backpack. We had a couple left, but it came out about right!
- Disposable bibs – If you are bringing along a baby – 3 year old consider picking up disposable bibs to keep clean up quick & simple.
- Camera, charger, extra battery (charged and with you in the park), 1-2 extra memory cards (leave partially filled ones in room safe as back-up)
- Pins & autograph book (from home – WAY cheaper)
- Stroller (for kids 4 and under – take double front & back for easier navigation of crowds) and cover
- Costumes – many little girls wear princess dresses around the park & are treated as royalty! My son had a couple character shirts that he was pleased with (6 years) I buy mine at Wal-Mart (or sometimes Target) at the after Halloween sail when they reach 70 - 90% off!! You will pay $50 in the park for a princess dress!! Ebay is also a great option.
- Clothes (If you are staying a week or less bring enough shirts, pants, underwear, socks to last, (and extra bra in case yours breaks), swimsuit, flip flops (if you are staying more - you can wash at your hotel) – I don’t bring extra shoes. We did one year, but never used them. Just make sure yours are comfortable & worn in (at least 2 weeks after buying). If the get wet you can always throw them in the dryer at your hotel!)
- Laundry Detergent & quarters if you plan on doing laundry at the hotel
- Pedometer (if you are curious how far you will walk =-)
- Snacks (if you are on the meal plan just bring a couple cracker type snacks to have on hand for the park or airport)
- Entertainment – if you are coming during the summer the lines are long & boring for children. Pick up bubbles on a string, small coloring/activity/sticker book from Target dollar section (or Michaels dolls section), sheet of stickers (entertains my kids for hours!), or whatever else might be easy to stick in a pocket and entertains your kids.
- Sunscreen – you will be in the sun a lot & don’t want a sunburn to ruin your fun! (You won’t need bug spray – I think Disney must spray because I’ve never run into a single bug!)
- Feminine products (if you think you might need them)
- I bring a little pouch with a needle & thread (in case a button falls off or a tear in shorts), Neosporin & a couple band aids (in case someone falls & needs a band-aid to feel better), Tylenol (a headache is a bummer at Disney!), shout wipes (to immediately get out nasty stains), safety pin (for immediate help)
- Baby carrier (if you have an infant) this is the best and easiest way to carry them at the park and allow them to sleep as you get on and off rides (you won’t need to wake them to get on most rides), travel toilet seat (helpful for little types in the airport or hotel), and nursing cover (if needed – I ended up needing to nurse during several rides/attractions) I love mine you can find here. They have 25 different colors/patterns and it is discrete (even for large chested women) and will allow you to look down & still see baby!
- Hat or sunglasses – Florida is sunny!! You’ll appreciate it!
- Small notebook & Pen – Chances are there are precious memories or funny things the kids said you want to write down to remember. It is handy to just throw in a backpack in the stroller!
- Gifts – I make the drive or flight down fun by packing my kids suitcases filled with inexpensive gifts I wrap up. I look for items from the Target or Michaels dollar section throughout the year. Then before vacation I wrap up several: coloring book, crayons, socks, stickers (lots of stickers!), trinkets, book, playmobil character, snack, and mini Disney stuffed animal (you can find these super cheap on ebay). It is a huge hit & my kids look forward to traveling to vacation almost as much as getting there!
- ID pouch – I but this on ebay (or reuse from years past) but you can get one at Disney. It goes around my neck zips up to hold all our families key to world cards (with charging privilege's), Fastpasses, ID & health insurance cards (in case some emergency happened and one was taken in an ambulance – happened to my father in law last visit) and $20 cash (again in case you opt to take a taxi to a pharmacy or end up at the hospital and need to buy food or take a taxi back to Disney). The picture is from our first year & it was a slide in & ziplock type close. I got that on site at Disney & it broke twice! The next year I bought one on ebay (see picture left) that zipped close and had an outside plastic sleeve for Fastpasses and it worked great! It is in perfect shape to use again! See an example here.
Have a Question that I missed? Leave me a comment & I’ll happily answer it for you! I love talking about all things Disney =-)
And finally, remember that no matter how well you plan, how much energy you have, or how wonderful it is – your kids will probably get overwhelmed, over stimulated or just plain tired at some point. They are still KIDS! So I include our one and only fussy picture over our 10 days at Disney. But I wanted to keep it real. 99.9% of the time was happy, upbeat, memorable & wonderful. But for all of us there will be that moment when are kids don’t want to take a picture, want to go on a different ride, or are just plan tired & grumpy. Expect it, deal with it, and move on! Back to magical….
*Please visit Disney’s website for any updates, changes, and current ride closures/refurbishments.
LOOKING FOR MORE?!?
Check out other helpful topics in the Dreaming of Disney Series below!
- When to take your kids (what is the 'perfect' age)
- Planning for your trip (time of year, how long to stay, Disney hotels, and affordability/deals)
- Tidbits (20 tips from the best place to see Mickey to strollers to super cool Disney features you may not know about)
- Dinning: My top picks for snacks, quick meals, and reviews on 12 restaurants (including character meals)
- Magic Kingdom
- Animal Kingdom
- Hollywood Studios
- Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland, CA
And if you are ready to book your next magical vacation may I recommend:
Lori Watson, of Watson Vacations, is a stay-at-home, homeschool mom to 5. Watson Vacation's services are always FREE to you when you book your Disney/Sandals/Cruise/or any other vacation stay with us and our prices are the same as if you'd book directly through Disney and other vendors! Why use an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner? We offer so MUCH more for free! Our concierge services include (but aren't limited to) resort booking, dining reservation arrangements, ticket purchases, special events, special park itineraries and planners to help you avoid crowds. We also offer weddingmoon and honeymoon planning, family reunion planning and Much MUCH more! For your FREE, no-obligation quote, email Lori at email@example.com. Also, check out her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/
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