Our trip to Disney was our first as a family. I went to Magic Kingdom on a high school band trip when I was 17. I remember screaming my way through Space Mountain five times but not much more than that. So this truly was a first-time experience for all of us.
Now that I’ve completed my rookie Disney Mom experience, I thought I’d share a few tips with you. For those who’ve been there before, maybe this is old news. But if you’re planning for (or dreaming about!) your family’s first Disney trip, these tips might come in handy.
Freeze & hydrate.
Water was our best friend while we were at Disney. Our goal was to hydrate well before we left the resort and then stay hydrated through the day. Water is readily available in the parks, but it’s a bit more expensive than buying it at the grocery store. Fortunately we had a friend who was making a grocery run, and she brought us a pack of water bottles.
We popped a few water bottles in the resort room’s freezer each evening and then grabbed them on our way out the door each morning. By the time we were ready for them in the parks, they were thawing and oh-so-icy cold. We still bought some water in the parks, but this was a good savings (and refreshing!) for us.
Share the load.
If you’re going to go to Disney as a family, you might as well divide up what has to be carried. We prefer to be as hands-free as possible. That meant me using a small purse that was big enough to carry a small wallet, two people’s sunglasses, and a few other odds & ends. My husband dubbed himself “The Packmule” since he carried the bulk of our park gear each day. He opted for this tactical messenger bag (which we affectionately called his ‘man purse’). That thing was amazing! He was able to carry several of our frozen water bottles, sunscreen, maps, his wallet, Emma’s autograph book, and more. And I’m sure he was glad to do it . 😉
Look into staying at a Disney resort.
While we spent our conference days at The Contemporary Resort, we spent our last night at the Art of Animation Resort. AOA is similar to a standard hotel room, but with the Disney touch.
We opted for The Little Mermaid room since Ariel is Emma’s favorite princess. She was in awe when we walked through the door. From the Ariel shower curtain & treasure trove shower tiles to the Prince Eric painting & Ariel statue outside, it was Disney through and through.
Because we were staying at a Disney resort, we got free bus transportation between the Magic Kingdom and the resort. We also had a walk-up service restaurant with lots of food options. The Magical Express picked us up right outside the lobby too. Added bonus: The room was under $120. That’s less than we paid for a room at a regular hotel last time!
Take an autograph book, these markers, and a Ziploc bag.
Emma’s main goal was to meet as many characters as possible. We thought about just buying a standard Disney autograph book there, but I wanted something that could double as an autograph book and a scrapbook for her.
I found a little 6″ x 8″ spiral-bound scrapbook like this and some Disney die-cuts like this. I attached the die cuts to the front and back of the scrapbook and brushed several layers of Modge Podge over the top. This made the cover somewhat fingerprint-proof (a must when fingers are sweaty and sticky from ice cream sandwiches!).
You can even ask the characters to sign on specific pages in your autograph books. We spaced the autographs so that each character signed next to a blank page back. Now (whenever Mom gets around to getting some photos printed!) Emma can add a photo of herself with each of the characters on the facing page. I love that lots of her memories will be in one book.
I recommend taking these retractable Sharpie markers. They’re chunky enough for the characters with large gloves to use, and there’s no cap to lose. Of course we had a pink for the girl characters and a blue for the boys. That’s just how we roll. We carried the autograph book and markers in a Ziploc bag. That protected the book from water, and it protected my husband’s bag from markers that weren’t retracted correctly.
Rent a stroller.
We didn’t do this because Emma is old enough to walk the parks. But for our friends with littles, their rented strollers were lifesavers. They had double-wide strollers that came with smaller cooler packs for water and snacks. And if the kiddos wanted to walk for a while, they could stash their other bags in the seats. Of course, I saw more than one little one snoozing their way through Magic Kingdom.
My friend Amy rented a double stroller for $75 for 3 days. This included the optional insurance. I’m not big on optional insurance, but I would definitely get it in this case. When you hop on a ride, there’s usually a sea of strollers parked outside. I can see how easy it would be for someone to grab the wrong one.
Don’t skimp on the sunscreen.
I find it ironic that we went on a Florida vacation and didn’t come home with killer tans. It was sunny. It was hot. But we were well-protected. While I’m a huge fan of getting a little natural sun so your body can make its own Vitamin D, I’m also a fan of not getting a sunburn.
We opted to use Banana Boat’s Natural Reflect Kids sunscreen. (I had a little trouble finding it locally, so I recommend using that Amazon link if you want to try it.) It’s oxybenzone, PABA, and paraben-free and uses 100% naturally-sourced mineral sunscreen. It actually deflects the sun’s rays. That’s what we needed while we were in the Florida sun. We just bought the Kids variety and all used it.
Take some cash.
One thing that impressed us about Disney was how they handle payment around the parks. You can link your Key to the World (a.k.a. room key) to a credit card and set a PIN number (how cool is THAT!?) to use for park purchases (food, souvenirs etc.). Only the grown-ups have access to the purchasing power. The kids’ keys are just room keys. Even with this convenience, it was nice to have some cash for smaller purchases. We also needed a little cash to tip people who helped us with our luggage. So while you don’t need to show up with a ton of cash, you will need a little.
Disney is actually in the process of upgrading the Key to the World program and making the keys into wristbands. The bands will become your room key, park pass, payment option (for grown-ups), and more. This will be even more convenient and easier to keep track of.
Take advantage of the FastPass option.
With a FastPass you’ll also be able to do more and really get your money’s worth from your visit to the parks. If you’re not familiar with FastPass, it’s a way for you to make a reservation to move to the front of the line for certain rides and attractions. You print your FastPass for a certain attraction, and it will give you a one hour window when you can come back without waiting in line. We did this for the Dumbo ride, The Little Mermaid, Peter Pan, and a few others.
Disney is currently in the process of switching over to a wristband program. The wristbands will not only be your room key and park pass, but they’ll also function as your FastPass. You’ll even be able to schedule your FastPass activities ahead of time. I can’t imagine how much more convenient that will be!
Now it’s your turn.
Well, Disney veterans, chime in! I’m sure you all have some great tips to save time, save money, or just have an awesome parks experience. Feel free to share them in the comments.