So you made it to Walt Disney World! The months of planning, making reservations, and counting down are finally at an end. You have checked into your resort, dropped your luggage, and now you are standing in the middle of your room with a huge folder of park maps and schedules while your children run circles around you after having been in a car or plane for hours. Alright… now what?
Here now, a few ideas to help your family navigate the 40 square miles of the Walt Disney World Resort.
Arrive at the parks early! Most of us associate vacation time with the luxury of sleeping in and starting the day off a bit slower than usual.
Not at Disney World.
If you want to get the most out of your day, be at the park 30 minutes before it is scheduled to open. First of all, you will be treated to some fabulous opening ceremonies at some of the parks, which are sure to get your kids pumped up even more for what adventures are coming up.
Secondly, it allows you to experience the parks before the large crowds begin to flow through the turnstiles (the mass assault on the parks usually begins between 10:30 and 11 am). Being among the first guests to enter the park will give you the opportunity to experience a handful of attractions with virtually no wait.
Bonus tip: avoid Magic Kingdom on Mondays! It’s the park that 99% of guests want to visit first… which means Monday will be the most crowded day of the week.
Food, food, food. Meal times at Disney World can be an experience into themselves. There are so many choices in the parks and the resorts.
If you are on the Disney Dining Plan, I would suggest making the most of it. Our family usually does a breakfast to go, as in bananas and granola bars on our way from the room to the bus or monorail. This allows us to save our meals for later in the day, and helps us get to the park early!
Use a counter-service meal option for lunch, which will give your family some well-needed rest to sit in the shade and recharge for the afternoon. Take advantage of a dine-in meal option for dinner and experience the wide array of food choices that Disney World has to offer. Again, a nice air-conditioned meal time at dinner can give you just the rest you need from walking through the parks all day. Time it just right and you will be able to walk out of dinner feeling refreshed and ready to take on those Extra Magic Hours! Speaking of…
Extra Magic Hours. If you are staying at one of the Disney World resorts, you will be able to take advantage of one of my favorite perks: extra time in the parks!
Depending upon the season you are traveling to Disney World, you will be able to enter certain parks an hour before opening or stay up to three hours after closing. In seasons when the Magic Kingdom closes at 9pm, Disney resort guests are able to stay from 9pm until midnight with significantly reduced crowds.
There have been many times that we have been in the Magic Kingdom at 11:30pm and have been able to ride Space Mountain 5 times in a row or experience Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at night with no lines! It’s a fantastic way to do more in the parks in a condensed amount of time. I would advise to plan ahead and research which parks are open late on what days.
Stop and smell the roses. It’s easy to get caught up in the big-ticket attractions at Disney World. Splash Mountain, Expedition: Everest, and Tower of Terror (among many others) offer great thrills. However, I’ve noticed that many of my favorite memories of Disney World come from the times when our family has found some of the hidden gems throughout the property.
Buy a penny collectors book (they are cheap and can be found at almost every gift store) and seek out the many penny-smashing machines located all across the property. It’s a fun scavenger hunt for little kids when they run across another machine and look at the different designs offered at each location.
Or maybe visit your local bookstore before your trip and purchase a portable book on Hidden Mickeys (designs that look like Mickey Mouse heads that the Imagineers have scattered throughout the park). Slip the book in your pack and seek these out as you wander across the World. This is also an excellent activity as you are waiting in lines for the attractions.
Monitor your family. Of course, only you know your family best. While my family will attack the parks with abandon every day we are at Disney World, many families would rather have a nice break in the middle of the day.
Take a look at how everyone is holding up around 1pm. If your 5-year old is beginning to look exhausted or your teenager is turning into Mr. Grumpy Gills, take a couple of hours to head back to the resort for a nap or some relaxing pool time.
Even though you may miss a couple of hours in the park itself, you will only miss the most crowded and hot time of the day. Rest up and head back to the parks when the crowds are slightly thinner and the air is a bit cooler.
A trip to Disney World can be one of the most magical vacations that you and your family will ever experience. It will take multiple trips in order to see everything, so don’t try to cram it all into one trip. Hit the attractions that your family wants to see the most, take advantage of all the tips above, and simply enjoy being in this magical place with the people that matter to you the most.
Memories of the crowds, chaos and 100% humidity will fade, but those memories of your children laughing uncontrollably at Donald Duck, hugging Anna & Elsa from Frozen, or staring in awe at the nightly firework shows will stay with you forever.
For a few tips on how to plan for your Disney World family vacation, please see my previous article here.
Read more at Traveling Dad about how to get the most out of Walt Disney World:
- How to Plan a Walt Disney World Family Vacation
- At Walt Disney World, The Magic Is Truly Everywhere
- Man Snacks at Walt Disney World
- Why You Need to See Animal Kingdom’s Tree of Life for Yourself
- How to Enjoy a Butterfly Garden Visit at Epcot
For even more on Disney…there’s a wealth of information over at Traveling Mom. Click here.