There’s a small window in our lives when Pixie Dust makes you fly and meeting giant mice wearing clothes is better than winning the lottery. With a trip to Walt Disney World, we get a chance to channel our inner child and experience that magic.
Taking children to Disney should be on everyone’s list of life to-do’s because there is something truly special about experiencing the “Happiest Place on Earth” through their eyes. That task can also be a bit overwhelming if you are not sure what you are doing. After all, it is an investment. Tickets, dining and lodging are not cheap and you certainly want to get the most bang for your buck.
So here are a few tips for a successful Magic Kingdom vacation. When you finish reading this, if you still have questions – just ask me. I’m glad to answer any questions; we’ll post the answers here on the Travel Smart Blog.
Let me begin with the MOST IMPORTANT TIP OF ALL: Have fun and don’t overschedule your family to the point that you aren’t having fun. It can almost be sensory overload – in a wonderful way, of course – so slow down and take it all in, especially on your kids level. Smaller kids will move slowly and that’s fine. Tweens and teens may want to hit ride after ride – and that’s great too. Depending on how much time that you have allowed for your visit, you may not get to everything, but that just leaves opportunity for you to come back again some day.
PLAN YOUR ROUTE
The lines for favorite and new attractions at any of Disney’s Parks get very long very quickly so head to those first and/or grab your Fast Passes.
You don’t have to be militant about your daily agenda but you should look at park maps and decide with your group what you want to see/ride each day. Then you can loosely plan a course of attack. I am a big fan of allowing for spontaneity but navigating Disney does require some strategy in order to not spend the bulk of your time in line. If you don’t have an agenda, then it’s a good idea to head to the back of the park first and work your way to the front. This way you’ll get the shortest lines, at least during the beginning of your day, as everyone else will be starting from the front.
Master the FastPass system! Your park admission tickets do much more than just gain you entrance to Disney theme parks. They also enable you to get FastPasses, which keeps you riding rides instead of waiting in lines. They are FREE, simple to use, and will save you tons of time in line for the most popular rides. Get the most out of FastPasses– and your whole Disney World vacation– by using them strategically. Check out these Tips for Using Fastpasses.
Expert Tip: Have one person keep all the tickets for your group. 1. You don’t want to lose them and 2. You need them to get a FastPass.
MAGIC KINGDOM: Go Early – Leave – Come Back
The earlier you start your day, the better. Eat an early breakfast (or grab a yummy waffle sandwich at Liberty Park inside the MK) and then head over to the Magic Kingdom 30 minutes before the stated opening time. You can be first in line and catch the Magic Kingdom Welcome Show. You’ll never forget the look on your kids’ faces when they see the steam engine pull into Main Street Station with all the characters aboard waving at them.
Disney novices tend to sleep late, arrive at the park midmorning and then exit by early evening, exhausted by the heat and the crowds. My advice? Go early, have lunch at the park and then return to your resort for a nap or a swim. Re-enter the park around 5 PM when many families with young kids are on their way out. The dinner rush at the parks is between 6:00 – 7:30 PM. Eat before you go back or as soon as you re-enter the park; then hit the rides while everyone else is eating their dinner. Plan to stay for the night parade.
When you first enter the park in the morning, head for the attractions that are most important to your group. If you have bigger kids or you are a big kid yourself then make a beeline for Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Hitting these early might even get you multiple rides. For the little ones: head to Fantasy Land and hop in line for a ride on Dumbo or fly off with Peter Pan. If your kids are brave and over 44 inches tall, Goofy’s Barnstormer is a great first coaster for preschoolers. And don’t forget to make your way to Frontierland and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Skip Main Street for the Parade
If you’re returning to the Magic Kingdom at night for the parade, head toward Frontierland for a spot on the parade route unless you want to be out of the park as soon as it’s over. People start holding their places on Main Street, in my experience, very early, which isn’t really necessary. There is lots of “front row” room in Frontierland. If you have seen the parade before then take the time while the parade is making its course to also ride a few more rides.
For Little Princesses: Cinderella’s Royal Table Fairy Tale Dining. Little girls, dressed like their favorite Disney Princesses, will think they have died and gone to princess heaven when they are treated to a dining experience inside Cinderella’s castle complete with her and all her friends. Speaking from experience, the meal is surprisingly excellent, which helped to justify the cost. However, it was all worth it to see my daughter’s reaction to the whole experience! Throughout your dining experience, the Princesses visit each table, are on hand to pose for photos and sign autographs. For a sweet finale, desserts include a sampler trio and other irresistible treats. Reservations and pre-payment are required. To make reservations, book online or call (407) WDW-DINE or (407) 939-3463. If they day/meal you are looking for is full – KEEP CHECKING. I didn’t get in on my first, second or seventh call but we finally got five seats at the special event.
DISNEY HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS
If you are starting your day at Hollywood Studios then you want to head straight for the Toy Story Mania ride. Ride it and then grab a Fast Pass so that you can do it again. It’s one of my favorite rides in Walt Disney World.
For Star Wars fans: Jedi Training Academy. If you are visiting Hollywood Studios, you want to get to the park early and let “the Force” navigate you to the Jedi Training sign-up line. Kids ages 4-12 can participate and it is FREE to do it. There are multiple shows throughout the day but only 15 training spots per show. So be sure to sign up for a time early – check out the video of Travis, my son, taking on Darth Vader – just return at your scheduled time. You can even get your FastPass for the new Star Tours attraction. It is a great experience for the kids, entertaining for the adults, super photo ops and participants get a great certificate at the end.
Eating in the parks is not cheap so to avoid a potential financial hemorrhage you should stop and buy snacks when you get to Orlando. Fruit snacks, crackers, juice boxes, etc. – carry them in a backpack around the parks. Your wallet and the kids you are with will thank you. Dole them out while standing in line for rides.
It can actually be cold in Florida especially in the evenings. Check the weather and make sure to pack jackets for your visit.
CHARACTER MEET & GREETS
A great, affordable souvenir that also has a function during your visit to Walt Disney World is an autograph book. Buy one for each child at any Disney store (and a pen) and begin collecting character autographs and photo memories of your visit. Character locations are displayed on maps of each theme park. Mickey’s Toontown® Fair at the Magic Kingdom is a great place to meet Characters like the Princesses and Tinkerbell and her fairy friends. To see Mickey, go to the Judge’s Tent. You can take your own photos or get a photo pass card from a Disney photographer and review your photos post-trip.
USE DISNEY TRANSPORTATION
The Disney buses, monorails and watercraft make it easy to get around and can be part of the fun. I hate to say it but I think my kids looked forward to the “free” bus and monorail rides most of all.
RIDER SWAP PROGRAM
Theme Park “rider swap” program gives both mom and dad a chance to enjoy the latest attractions without the double wait. A parent who waits with a young child while the other parent rides the attraction can get on the ride with minimal wait time once the first parent comes off.
2012 will have some fun new attractions for Walt Disney World. The Magic Kingdom will introduce the new Fantasyland later this year complete with a new Under The Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid ride.
Thanks to 2012 being a Leap Year, Disney announced that there will be an extra day of magic called “One More Disney Day.” For the first time ever, both Magic Kingdom Park and Disneyland parks will stay open for 24 hours straight. From 6 AM, February 29 to 6 AM, March 1, 2012, local time, you can fill the extra day with a marathon of Disney Parks fun!
Wow! I could go on and on but as they say…”Now it’s time to say good-bye…” Share with me your best Disney tips. I’d love to hear them and we’ll share them right here on the Travel Smart Blog!