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We are a Disney family. I share a birthday with Mickey Mouse so being a Disney Addict was written in the stars for me. And being such big fans of Disney, we visit the parks as much as we can, as often as we can, and it never gets old! After so many trips back “Home” we have learned a few things that make our Disney experiences easy and stress free.
We know every family has their own “tricks & tips” on how to plan the perfect Disney vacation but our tips are not for a PERFECT vacation ours are for stress free vacation planning. Believe it or not, planning a Disney vacation can be stressful if you’ve never been and are faced with ALL THE OPTIONS that Disney has to offer.
So, without further ado, here are our family’s tips for a stress free Disney vacation –
- Make a list of which parks to visit and on which day. Depending on the length of your upcoming visit, write down each day on a sheet of paper and decide which parks are a MUST and that you really want to visit. We always have a 5-7 day span during our vacation and we write down which parks we want to be at on each day. We ALWAYS make 3 lists with different parks on each day. This comes in handy when we move on to number 2 on our list.
- Make your dining reservations prior to making hotel reservations. I know this might sound strange. Why would anyone make dining reservations BEFORE making hotel reservations? Reason being, dining reservations can be made at 180 days prior to your arrival. That’s right, a full 6 months before you even arrive at the Happiest Place on Earth you will need to know where you want to eat. Dining reservations go FAST and if these aren’t done first, you may not be able to eat with Mickey Mouse or have a fancy night out at Victoria & Albert’s.
When you know you are definitely going to take that Disney trip, look at the restaurants and get an idea of where & what you want to eat and then plan to either be up & ready to call Disney Dining at 7 a.m. on your 180 day mark (depending on your time zone) or log on to Disney’s website to make your dining reservations. Trust me you will be glad you did this.
Remember tip #1? When making your dining reservations have your lists with you. This will help to plan your park days. Not all restaurants will be available on your first or second list options. Be flexible and re-work your days. Some people don’t want to plan their days around dining reservations but this is the best way we found to get the restaurants we want and enjoy the parks at the same time.
*Please Note: restaurants may require a credit card on file to confirm your dining reservations. This can be changed once you choose your hotel and dining plan.
- Make your hotel reservations. Backwards, I know but bear with me. Once you choose where you want to eat and on which day, you can then take your time and decide which hotel works best for you, your family and most importantly, your budget.
We have never stayed at one of the Deluxe resorts (although it is our dream to do that one day) we usually let our budget & special offers by Disney dictate which hotel we stay in. If we are lucky to plan our trip during a promotion we will usually stay at the moderate hotel. The last few times we’ve traveled it has been with 5 people (3 Adults, 1 child & 1 toddler) so a moderate hotel room gives you just a bit more space than a value resort. There was enough room that we brought along our toddler sized fold out cot. I don’t know about you but sleeping in a double bed with a 2 year old is not fun.
Our personal favorite resorts:
*Note: if you stay at Pop Century you can walk across the bridge that connects to Art of Animation and take a stroll around the hotel. It’s nice to do on a slow day. You can eat there but not swim. You can also hop on the AoA bus at the end of the night and walk back to Pop Century via the same bridge.
- Make sure you get the Fast Passes you want. For those of you who stay on property, Disney’s Fast Passes become available for choosing 90 days prior to your arrival. This means you can log- in to My Disney Experience and choose which rides you want to ride. Don’t get discouraged if you log in and the most coveted rides don’t show any times available. Keep checking back in. People tend to change their minds on what parks they are going to and will cancel their Fast Pass times. This happened to us when we went last year and could not get a Fast Pass time for Seven Dwarfs Mine Ride. A week before we left on vacation a time came available and we snagged it. If nothing comes available, all is not lost. Depending on the time of year you go there may not be any lines or short wait times. I’ve personally seen 20 wait times for Toy Story Mania in February and 5 minute wait times for Expedition Everest as well. It is rare but it does happen.
- Always check for hotel discount promotions and free dining before you leave. We always make sure to plan our vacation when Disney offers promotional discounts on room rates or when Free Dining is offered. Even if you have already made a reservation and paid off your trip, if a promotion pops up during your time of travel, Disney may be inclined to add the promotional rate to your existing reservation and issue a credit for any difference. (This is based off of the promotion availability at your resort) This happened for us a few years ago and we asked that the credit be applied to our room. Why? The credit helped with spending money and if it was credited to our room we could use it anywhere and apply it as a “room charge”. These promotions save money and if you can sneak your little ones out of school for a few days, it is totally worth it.
- We always use the Disney Dining Plan. This may not be for everyone but we’ve found that it is totally worth the money we pay for it. While we are on vacation we like to eat! Seriously, we are big eaters here and making our dining reservations, we tend to make reservations at one Table Service restaurant a day. Depending on where you get your dining reservations, paying out of pocket could add up. For example: Le Celliar or Chefs de France are pretty nice restaurants. They can also be expensive depending on what you order. With the Disney Dining Plan, you can order off the regular menu or off a set menu and it is covered by the plan. The plan also covers dessert and a non-alcoholic beverage. We try to take advantage of Free Dining when offered. If not we normally go with the Dining plan that offers (1) Quick Service meal (1) Table Service Meal and (1) Snack per day. This is usually more than enough food. If you have little ones that don’t eat a lot of food and are picky eaters, then the dining plan may not be for you. Unfortunately with Disney, it’s either all or nothing. You can’t pick and choose who gets the dining plan and who doesn’t.
- Don’t Park Hop (unless you really want to). I’m not saying that park hopping is a bad idea or that we have never park hopped before (we have). We just find that we get so much more out of our experience if we stay at one park per day. We plan our trip so that we usually visit (2) parks twice so that eliminates the need for us to park hop. We also travel with teenagers & younger children so to park hop with them is a major ordeal. If you only have a few days to enjoy all the magic Disney has to offer then by all means, hop away!!
- Plan something easy on your first day. If you’re like me, you want to hit the ground running when you arrive at your home away from home. You just want to immerse yourself in all the magic, sights, sounds and smells that SCREAM Disney. But, if you’ve been up since 3 or 4 a.m. to catch an early morning flight or if you’ve had to change planes or have had a layover / flight delays or a long drive, you may want to just ease yourself into your Disney experience. Whether we fly or drive, our first day is always a slow day. Depending on our arrival time, we take the opportunity settle into our room (if ready), unpack, explore our resort, and relax. We normally head to Downtown Disney (or Disney Springs as it’s now called), depending on the time of year, we head to the pool or we could possibly go to a park (either Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios).
- Schedule a day off. Again, depending on your length of stay, plan a “down day”. Our trips are usually 5-7 days. If we schedule a shorter trip then we don’t schedule a down day but on our longer trips, a down day is a must. I have travelled with teenagers, toddlers and my husband they ALL get fussy and cranky. A down day gives us an opportunity to sleep in, relax and take our time. On “down days” we have found that Hotel Hopping is fun! We catch the resort bus to Downtown Disney and then hop on another bus to other hotels. It is so nice to go and see all those Deluxe resorts and not have to pay the high dollars to stay there!
Our personal favorite to visit:
- HAVE FUN! You spend so much time anticipating your Disney vacation you deserve to have as much fun as you possibly can! Ride the rides, eat all the snacks and enjoy the fireworks! Remember that Disneyworld is HUGE and you won’t be able to do everything. We’ve been several times and still haven’t made it to Disney’s Boardwalk Area. The best part of our Disney vacations are the memories we make with our family. We have been to Disney our fair share of times and it is always a new experience when we go. The best part of our vacation is experiencing the magic with our children. Even the crankiest teenager or husband will crack a smile when Mickey Mouse is around!
I hope you’ve enjoyed my family’s tips for planning a stress free Disney vacation. To thank you for stopping by and hanging out with me, I have attached the printables that we use to help with making our park lists and keeping track of our dining reservations. Enjoy!