We took our first trip to Disneyland a couple of years ago. We booked our hotel and that was about it. We showed up at the park ready for the day with big D who was then three years old. What I didn’t realize then is that you can get so much more out of your trip if you do a little bit of planning first. So when we decided to go to Disney World last year, I knew I had to do some planning beforehand. Here are the 10 essential “DOs” of planning any Disney Vacation and my one big “DON’T'”.
I am not a huge Disney fan, I don’t dislike it either, I just had never spent a lot of time thinking about it. When we were pregnant with Tater Tot, we wanted to take Big D on one last vacation as a family of three before the new baby arrived. We knew big D would like Disneyland, and living in California, it is a fairly easy road trip. Big D LOVED it! The magic of the characters and the rides is unbelievable. The pure joy that we saw in big D’s face was incredible. I cannot encourage you enough to go when your kids are young and the characters still are real, it is like nothing else we have done as a family.
Don’t be like our family and just show up at the park. There is so much to see and do at Disneyland and Disney World that you will want to do a little reading up on which rides are most appropriate for your age children, which restaurants you might want to eat at, which areas of the park or which parks you will want to spend the most time at. We got the The Unofficial Guide to Disney World 2017 (they also write one for Disneyland too!) What I most loved about this guide was that it gave you a synopsis of each ride and what might or might not be scary for different age groups. It also gives you a good game plan to plan your days at each park.
There is a ton to see and do at both Disneyland and Disney World. Disneyland has California Adventures and the main park, Disney World has The Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, not to mention the water parks. Needless to say, there is a ton to see. We found that to do each park and not feel super rushed, we needed 2 days at the main park (ie. Magical kingdom) and then one day each at the other parks (ie. Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios)
The Disney App is amazing and where you will do most of your planning. From making reservations at restaurants to wait times at different rides, the Disney App is essential for helping coordinate your Disney vacation.
Now that you have the Disney app, you need to make reservations. Within the app, you can make your Disney World fast pass reservations (ie. reserve for your spot in line so you don’t have to wait as long), dining reservations, and more. You can make reservations for fast pass 30-60 days in advance of your trip. You can make dining reservations up to 180 days in advance. If you want lunch/dinner with the princesses or characters, you need to plan this far in advance, but if you just want a place to eat dinner, you do not need to plan quite this far out.
Disney is exhausting for both kids and adults. There is a ton of walking, a lot of stimulation and a lot of excitement. With small kids (1YO and 4YO), we wanted to have fun, but not be totally exhausted at he end of the week. Our plan for each day was to get out early (shorter lines), spend a couple of hours at the park, go back to the hotel after lunch and do naptime/pooltime/rest, and then head back to the park for evening. This was a great way to get enough time at the parks, but not totally burnout.
Although we had made reservations ahead of time for both dining and fast pass, I was constantly changing them while we were at the park. Our first day at Disney World, everyone was feeling sick and grumpy (see picture below), so we changed which park we were going to the next day, canceled dining reservations, and changed the rides we went to see. It was relatively easy to change our plans the night before or the day of, depending on how we were all feeling and helped us have a better experience.
For Disney World, there are HUGE advantages to staying at a Disney affiliated resort. The primary benefits of staying at a Disney resort there is shuttle service to the park (you don’t have to deal with parking!) and you can make your fast pass reservations earlier. This is not as applicable at Disneyland as there are many hotels within walking distance to Disneyland and fast pass reservations are not made online ahead of time for Disneyland. There are lots of Disney affiliated resorts to choose from at varying price points.
Disneyland and World can get REALLY crowded. If you can go in the off season, you will have shorter lines and therefore opportunity for a LOT more fun (check out how few people were at the fantasy parade, we had a killer spot to watch, no crowds!). We visited Disney World at the end of January when the weather was cool and it rained a ton the week we were there. Now I know Disney in the rain does not sound fun, but there were absolutely NO lines, Big D and Mr. H went on ride after ride after ride and had a GREAT time. They ended the day soaked and grinning from ear to ear.
Snacks, entertainment for kids while you are in line, stroller, water, rain jackets make sure you have the right supplies for a day of fun to keep everyone in the right mood. Do NOT bring your selfie stick or any of the other banned items.
and my one big don’t…
Yes there is a ton to do and see on your Disney vacation and for many it can be kind of stressful and overwhelming to try and pack it all in. When you start to feel this way, just remember you are on vacation and vacations are supposed to be fun.
What are your best tips from travel to Disneyland or Disney World?
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