It's the happiest place on earth. It can also be the most expensive and overwhelming—especially for first-timers. That's right, it's a Disney Vacation, and if you've decided it's time to haul the family to the Magic Kingdom this year (or next, or the year after that) preparation is the key to a fabulous (and blister-free) time for the whole family.
Here are 10 tips and tricks that will help you get the most our of your first Disney Vacation:
1. Do Your Research
This is the part that can get overwhelming and fast! There are a million different ways to do Disney—parks, cruises, stay off site, stay on site... the list is long and it will pay off to start researching the best package and options for your family well in advance. You can get an agent or hire a certified Disney consultant to help. But better yet, talk to a mom who has been there, done that. You know you're gonna get the best advice from her. There are great tools at at your disposal, like the My Disney Experience Planning Tool, which can help you customize everything from dining reservations and fast-pass ride tickets.
2. Download the Apps
My Disney Experience apps are available for iOS and Android devices so you can have them at your fingertips for your entire stay. They will help you monitor things like wait times for rides, provide maps for all the different lands and save your butt when you inevitably get lost.
3. Dress up & Gear Up
It's a tradition on a Disney vacation to go all out and dress in costume, Disney-themed t-shirts and of course, Mickey/Minnie ears! Obviously merch will be available for sale in the park, but it'll cost you. Pick up some Disney wear before you go. Disney Store has it all but you're not going to save much that way. Instead, watch for sales at Walmart, H&M and Amazon.ca. You can find things like this backpack for $4! Speaking of which, a backpack and comfortable shoes for the entire family are an absolutely MUST. You will do more walking than you can possibly imagine. Snacks, water, sunscreen and a change of clothing in everyone's pack will be a daily must.
Speaking of the walking, it's well worth investing in a good quality lightweight stroller if you have toddlers or pre-schoolers, even if they usually walk. A stroller is also great for carrying stuff like backpacks, sweaters, rain coats (it does rain in the Magic Kingdom from time to time!). If you prefer not to travel with a stroller, you can also rent singles and doubles at the park for a daily fee.
5. Pack Snacks and Lots Of Them
You are allowed to bring your own food into Disney parks. It's something you should take advantage of because although you should absolutely splurge on a few Disney restos and snack stops, it can get very expensive to eat exclusively from park vendors, snackbars and restaurants.
6. Reservations Required
Speaking of restaurants and meals, you have to book reservations early, especially the character experiences (another must!). These can book up months in advance, so be sure to book them when you book your trip. Knowing where you're eating at least one or two meals each day will also help you plan out the rest of your days.
7. Plan Your Route
As soon as you walk inside those gates there will be attractions (and distractions) left and right. Your kids are going to lose their minds! But take heed, a great tip I received from a Disney veteran (and mom of three) is to make a beeline for the farthest spot away from the entrance. Start there and then make your way back toward the front gates as the day wears on. This is a great way to avoid the biggest crowds, as most people will stop to ride, play and eat at the first exciting thing they see (which is everything!). The largest of mobs will be reaching the back of the park just as you are reaching the front. Plus, when you're exhausted at the end of a crazy exciting day you won't have a massive trek to get out.
8. Don't Forget to Chill
If you're going to be on vacation for longer than a few days, make sure to take a least one day off to just enjoy some relaxing (read: non park-traversing) time either in or outside of the park. A day lounging by the pool, whether you're staying in the resort or off-site, and just taking it easy will help you avoid what can add up to some pretty major overstimulation for kids and adults alike. Consider a nighttime or evening mission into to the park for a meal or to watch the famous nightly fireworks display—truly magical and not to be missed!
9. Keep Track of the Kids
In the crowds and excitement you'll find yourself and your kids looking every which way. It's very easy for the little ones to wander off, or stop to look at something while the rest of you keep going. Park security is amazing and helping lost kids in the park is a daily occurrence. They do provide plain wristbands that you can use to write your child's name and your phone number on, just in case. For older kids, identify a 'meeting spot' where you'll all congregate in case one of you gets you get separated from your group.
10. Capture Those Memories
After all the planning, don't forget to capture the magical memories you'll make on your Disney adventure. Of course you'll snap a million pictures on your phone, but this is one instance when it really makes sense to invest in the PhotoPass service they offer. It will allow you to make use of professional photographers throughout the park and give you access to the best photo spots, like in front of the castle or with your favourite characters. Plus, the pros will take photos with your own camera or phone too.
Are you a Disney Vacation veteran? We would love for you share your tried and true tips and tricks for surviving our first time. Leave them in the comments below.