BY GUEST BLOGGER, SHARON LUI
For my recent birthday, my dad gifted me a pair of vintage Mickey Mouse ears that he bought in the 1980’s on our first family trip to Disney World in Florida. Seeing those magical ears instantly brought back memories of me at 7 years old, standing in front of Cinderella’s castle, wondering when I was going to marry my prince one day.
Of course, these happy flashbacks convinced me to book my own family vacation to Disney. However, I quickly learned that planning a one week family vacation for 7 people (myself, my husband, our 3 kids and my senior parents) was not for the faint of heart! Is it possible to book a Disney trip and do everything our family wants to see, ride and eat in only 7 days? Could we enjoy the high-energy atmosphere of the parks but also allow time for rest and relaxation? The answer, is a resounding ‘YES’.
With some strategic planning and having best Disney resources at my disposal, here are five tips that saved my sanity and allowed my family to have the ultimate magical vacation…
1) SUBSCRIBE TO A DISNEY PLANNING FORUM
Knowledge is power, and what better way to acquire this information then from the Disney experts themselves, who practically live at the parks and offer their tips at a small cost. Touring Plans are an extremely invaluable resource for Disney planning fanatics, as they offer customizable touring plan templates (complete with rest breaks!) and provide a unique crowd calendar that predicts the best time of year to vacation. For only $20 USD, a two year touring plan subscription also includes a restaurant reservation finder service, an in-park chatline, real time ride wait times and a personalized faxed room request. The website forum also provided lots of advice for age appropriate rides, fastpass tips and the best restaurants and shows worth your hard earned money. Subscribing to this site saved me time, money and most importantly of all, stress! It is my first recommendation to anyone who is planning a Disney World trip.
2) STAY ON DISNEY PROPERTY
If you want to take part in the full ‘Disney experience’, my advice is to stay onsite at one of Disney World’s 25 resorts. You will get access to a slew of on-site perks, including round trip transportation to and from the airport, a 60 day fastpass booking window (in contrast to the 30 days available to off-site guests) and the option to purchase the Disney Dining Plan. You will also have much closer proximity to the parks then your off-site counterparts (allowing the family time to head back to the hotel for a mid-day for a nap of course)! You will have unlimited access to Disney’s internal bus, boat and monorail transportation system.
Disney resorts also offers value, moderate and deluxe level accommodations for every budget, and even offers timeshare options (called Disney Vacation Properties) if you’re interested in actually owing a piece of Disney Magic. Whichever level of accommodation you choose, each resort is equipped with several pools, unique Disney theming, various kids activities and at least one restaurant and/or a quick service food court. There is so much to do at the resorts that you just may be tempted to skip the parks one day just to lounge and relax poolside. My favourite resorts on-site are the Art of Animation (a value resort with two bedroom suites decked out in a Lion King theme), Port Orleans French Quarter (a moderate resort which offer Beignets for breakfast – Oui Oui!) and my absolute favourite, Grand Floridian (a deluxe resort with magic castle room views and houses some of the best restaurants on Disney property)!
3) PURCHASE THE DINING PLAN
If you are a fan of all-inclusive eating, then this option is for you! The Disney Dining Plan (DDP) is only available to on-site guests as part of their resort package and is based on a credit system. There are 3 types of dining plans, each designed to suit different budgets and family needs. The dining plan can also be redeemed at most of the 140 restaurants on Disney Property making it very easy to be able to test drive various feasting options, including sit down character meals, signature dining experiences, exotic buffets and succulent dining and dinner shows. A quick note to state that it is also recommended that you make your reservations up to 180 days in advance as all the restaurants on property can get extremely busy. My favourite restaurants on property are Cinderella’s Royal Table (where you get to eat right in Cinderella’s castle), Crystal Palace (the only place where you can dine with Pooh and his furry friends) and California Grill (known for it’s mouthwatering filets and best views of Magic Kingdom).
4) TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ALL THE FAMILY FRIENDLY AMENITIES
Yes, I admit, it is pretty chaotic when you are stuck in an environment with hundreds of screaming kids waiting for glimpse of Mickey. However, the upside is that Disney caters to families (especially kids), so thankfully everything in the parks were developed with parents in mind. I’ve seen waiters dole out goldfish crackers to picky toddlers, crying kids being swooped up by Mickey himself in Disney parades and cast members giving out free princess dolls just to see a kid smile. There are stroller rentals on-site and baby sitting services (including kids clubs) that allow parents to enjoy a night out without their children. Crayons and colouring paper are always handed out to children in every Disney restaurant, even the signature dining where there is a dress code in effect. Another neat feature that Disney has employed is called the ‘Rider Switch’, which allows one parent to go on the ride while the other parent looks after the child and then they ‘switch’ out when the ride is done. As families mark the cornerstone of Disney’s business, the cast members bend over backwards to make sure that their guests are well taken care of, so never hesitate to ask an employee for help.
5) ENJOY THE ALL YOU CAN DO FREE ACTIVITIES
Let’s face it, it’s really hard to do Disney World on the cheap, hence why many people have to make this an every 5-10 year affair. However, there are actually plenty of activities on Disney property that are free and not heavily advertised. For example, some on-site hotels offer ‘Disney movies on the beach’, and all you need is to bring your favourite blanket and a buddy to cuddle with. Resorts like the Grand Floridian will host a princess parade where little princesses and princes can watch Cinderella and Prince Charming promenade down the castle staircase. Just a short boat ride away, The Stables at Fort Wilderness encourage guests to come and visit the horses that are used in various Disney parades and shows. Another fun thing to do is to resort hop, using Disney’s internal transportation system so you can check out the highlights of all your favourite resorts, including the Contemporary (where the monorail actually runs right through the resort). Lastly, my absolute favourite fun activity to do at no charge is to have a a free photo shoot done by any Disney Photo Pass Photographer located in the parks. There is no obligation to purchase any the photos and you can ask them to use your own camera to take pictures. These shots make great souvenirs, and like the saying goes, ‘the best things in life are free!’
Going to Disney World is meant to be an unforgettable fun experience for the whole family. Hopefully these tips will make your trip go more smoothly, and that your only stress will be which pair of Mickey Mouse ears to buy.
Sharon is a mom of 3 who loves listening to 90’s hip hop while eating chips straight out of the bag. When she’s not embarrassing her kids, she can be found trying to make the world a better place through laughter and charitable work. Follow Sharon’s Instagram adventures here.