The first time we went to Disney, we bought the Park Hopper option with our tickets. There is so much to do in every single park that there's no need to leave, make your way to a new park, go through the admission process to the 2nd park, etc. It's an extra $59 per ticket, and with a family of 5, that's a nice little chunk of change. However, if you are staying on property, it's a GREAT way to make use of extra magic hours and then hit a different park with smaller crowds.
Just for perspective, you need to understand that Disney World is over 40 square miles big. That's twice the size of Manhattan! This isn't something you do in a day. There are over 70 miles of road within Disney World.
The day you arrive, it is likely that you don't have time to make it into one of the Parks. After you settle in, do grocery shopping, or whatever is required, maybe head to Downtown Disney for dinner and ice cream. There is plenty of excitement without the cost of an additional day's ticket and the hassle of admission and security checks.
|Sharing ice cream at Ghirardelli Ice Cream Shop in Downtown Disney|
|Phineas & Ferb challenge at Downtown Disney|
When lining out your schedule, determine which parks you KNOW you want to see, and then possibly plan on an extra day to go back to your favorite park to either repeat your favorites or explore the things you didn't have the opportunity to on the first day.
Disney transportation always takes a little longer than what you might expect; remember, the park is HUGE!
We have done Disney every day for 5 or 6 days straight, but we have found that taking a day off here and there can allow you to really enjoy your Disney time more. On our days off, we may go through Downtown Disney (no entry fee), spend time in the Lego store, enjoy some ice cream, search for our Christmas ornaments (we get one from every trip,) or even head out to swim with the dolphins.
Doing two or three full days of Disney is exhausting for everyone. Some down time can really make the last few days more fun. Our last trip was perfect for us.
Day 1 - Arrival, groceries, settle in, dinner at the house
Day 2 - Epcot
Day 3 - Magic Kingdom
Day 4 - Hollywood Studios
Day 5 - Day "off" - Downtown Disney
Day 6 - Epcot
Day 7 - Day "off" - Thanksgiving dinner, laundry, packing, Disney movies for kids and football for my husband (We came home with CLEAN clothes instead of piles of laundry to boot!)
Day 8 - Fly home
Yes, you read that right, we chose to skip Animal Kingdom this time. Everyone has their favorite parks, and one of my dear friends and I have differing opinions on this. We LOVE Epcot (hence the 2 days for the massive park.) My friend and her family LOVED Animal Kingdom, and Epcot was their least favorite. I think some of it may have to do with the age of our kids, too. Epcot has a ton to do for the bigger kids, and Animal Kingdom is great for the little ones. More on the individual parks in a bit.
Most importantly (even if it's overwhelming), you really do need a PLAN/schedule. Yes, you'll still need the willingness to be flexible based on the needs of your family, but if you don't plan ahead with what you need to take to Disney, what you need each day in the parks, how much you are willing to spend (and what is realistic), what things are most important for you to accomplish in the park, then you will be frustrated.
Along those lines, if you see another Disney guest do something nice for you and your family, report it to the nearest Disney staff. Disney is great about recognizing good deeds. This is part of the Disney magic. Also, if you give each of your kids the challenge to do something nice for someone else each day in the parks, the focus no longer becomes "Me! Me! Me!" but those around you. Lead by example and extend that kindness to others; you may be surprised at the way it makes your trip even more magical.
The best day to go to a park is the day AFTER it has a late Magic Hour. Many of the other guests plan to attend those parks when they are open longer.
When you navigate the park, consider starting toward your left. We are programmed to "stay right" on roads, etc., but if you go left and work your way "backwards" around the park, you will be going opposite the traffic flow (and crowds.) Of course, FastPasses will dictate when you need to be in certain parts of the Parks as well.
Morning - Park Arrival & Naps:
I recommend getting to the Disney Parks as early in the morning as you can. (When they open is ideal.) However, you know your kids - we do NOT wake ours up in order to start our Disney days. If they are sleeping late and I wake them early, I'm setting myself up for a day of meltdowns and frustration.
Upon arrival to your first, pick up your FastPasses for the day (more below), and then redeem your voucher for your PhotoPass+ or pick up your PhotoPass(es) for the trip. They had said that we couldn't combine PhotoPasses and PhotoPass+ cards, but at the end of the trip, they did. So even when my husband and I were split up with the kids, we were still able to use a free PhotoPass for "regular" pictures and the PhotoPass+ for rides and other pictures. I'm not promising that they'll do it, but it worked out for us.
If your kids can nap in a stroller, then by all means make that happen at the time that works best for your family. (After lunch was our nap time.) The adults would either push the stroller around for continued motion or sit down and put their feet up for a moment. Alternatively, one of us would stay with sleeping children while the other took our oldest to do "big kid" rides. Another option is to find out about "slow" and "dark" rides, because they can be just soothing enough to lull little ones to sleep. We have a favorite for this at Epcot, Spaceship Earth, and we save it specifically for nap time.
Night Time Spectacular Shows - How long to stay at the park? Have a plan in place and know the times for the Night time spectacular shows at the park. For example, Hollywood Studios does Fantasmic twice at night. We knew that we needed to make the early show, or our kids wouldn't last. Also, know that Fantasmic is a little scary; no one told us that. It can be terrifying for a toddler. The Electric Parade at Magic Kingdom is great, but you need to arrive early if you want a good viewing spot. These people are SERIOUS. Epcot's IllumiNations is probably the easiest to see, and you have mobility while you watch it which is helpful when your littles are tired. The Magic Kingdom's Wishes Nighttime Spectacular is a must, and you can see it from the ferry if you choose to leave immediately after the Electric Parade. However, you can only see Tinkerbell's flight if you stand somewhere in the Cinderella Castle forecourt or on the surrounding bridges.
Know what rides you want to do in each park and the height requirements for each. As soon as you enter the park, have one person take the admission tickets for the number of people that will want to ride that ride to a FastPass kiosk if applicable. If you have little ones that won't be able to ride the rides, you can also get FastPass tickets with their admission tickets and then others can ride twice in a row. (Our oldest thought this was awesome!)
Another thing to know is that Disney offers "Child Swap" or "Rider Switch" or "Parent Swap." No, you don't get to trade your kid or spouse in for a new one, but it does mean that you can ride a ride while your spouse stays with your kids. Then when you finish the ride you hand the "Child Swap / Rider Switch Pass" (similar to a FastPass) to your spouse, your spouse can ride while you stay with your kids. If you have a child that does want to ride and one that doesn't, the "riding" child can actually ride with both parents and ride twice.
Random tidbit - they do not sell gum in any of the parks. This is an effort to keep the parks clean. Considering how many people come through the parks daily, they keep the parks immaculate!
Right when you enter the parks, there is an area with FREE special occasion buttons: First Time at Disney, Birthday, Anniversary, Family Reunion, etc. If anyone in your group hasn't been before, pick up a First Time Visitor button, and all week the Disney employees will congratulate you/her/him and ask how she/he is enjoying her/his first trip to Disney. Kids love the attention. Birthday buttons will get acknowledged with well wishes and sometimes with song. It is a lot of fun to watch!
If you made your own character Autograph Books and took my advice on noting where to find each character, then you've got a head start on making sure you meet your children's favorite characters. When you enter the park, grab a little sheet that has all of the meet and greet times for the day. The times CHANGE, so it's not something you can do too far in advance. Make note of the "must meet characters" and work them into the schedule you've already made. Don't worry about Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, or Goofy, because you will meet them either in Epcot or around each of the other parks. Also, if you've scheduled a Character Meal, don't worry too much about those characters either, because they will come by your table to interact with the kids and sign books.
You'll definitely want maps of the parks, and this is a great way to customize the maps based on what's most important to your family or specific to certain trips.
|Turk - before we realized the importance of PhotoPass so we could ENJOY the moments as they happened|
|Our sweet little man had picked up acorns to give to Chip & Dale on his |
very first visit and carried them around with him until he met them.
The Boneyard seemed like a great idea to let our (then) almost 4 year old run and play (mind you this was only ONE child.) We had 2 adults there to watch him as he entered on one end and then "catch" him to follow him on the other. He disappeared. It.was.terrifying. I approached a Disney cast member, and she wasn't much help. We frantically called for our son and finally found him happily playing, but I will *not* take my 3 kids in there by myself. Call me "chicken."
There are a ton of educational opportunities within this park, and for that I did like it. Our experience in Rafiki's Planet Watch was great, and it is definitely worth the Wildlife Express Train ride to get over there. Just be sure to do it earlier in the day, because that section of the park closes early.
Recommended Nap Time Ride: Wildlife Express Train (~10 minutes) or Kilimanjaro Safaris (~20 minutes)
|Our oldest made silly faces in almost every single family picture during the trip.|
It was chilly enough at night in November to put jackets on all of the kids.
Fairytale Hall is the only place I saw with FastPasses for character meetings (Cinderella and princesses), and I wish I had realized it BEFORE we stood in line for an hour.
Shopping on Main Street is still a must! It's a small town feel and great fun - candy shop and all.
Similarly, who can resist the giant Prince Charming's Regal Carousel?
Country Bear Jamboree is one of the very last attractions that Walt Disney personally helped develop, so although certainly not my favorite (or that of my children), it was interesting to see once.
Mickey's PhilharMagic 3D show is one that my kids all love. Seeing them reach out to "touch" the show is always awesome, because the magic is so real.
Under the Sea had an early reveal that we were able to see, and they did a great job with the "wait" portion for the ride. There were so many cool things to see during your time in line that you didn't mind waiting for the ride. People were actually stopping to watch elements along the "line" even when there weren't people in front of them.
Space Mountain is a must for the thrill seekers! This is one that with your PhotoPass+ you can get your pictures for free.
Pirates of the Caribbean is a little scary, so be warned.
If you don't have girls, this park may be your least favorite, but it's still worth seeing once.
(They do sell alcohol in The Magic Kingdom now, too. For years it was the only one that did not.)
|Silly faces continue...|
There is SO much to see and do in EPCOT that you could easily spend 2 days in this park alone.
Be sure to stop at the Character Spot to ensure that you get autographs and pictures with all of the major Disney characters.
If you have kids that are 5 years old or older, then Agent P's World Showcase Adventure can make the World Showcase much more fun and educational for them. (There's not truly an age limit, but it's certainly targeted at 7-13 year olds.) Your child will get a small cell phone and a secret agent name at one of the designated locations. They will receive directions and clues, and at each successful step in the mission, the world around them will interact with them when they aim their spy phone at the "find." It makes the details around them truly come to life and seem a bit more magical for the "too cool for school" age kids.
Kidcot Fun Stops can make the World Showcase more fun for even the little ones.
Journey into Imagination with Figment is a great little exploration ride and then interactive experience for little kids. I didn't know who Figment was the first time we went, but I made sure to take the twins (by myself) last time while my husband and older son did Mission: Space.
Mission: Space is definitely a thrill ride. I love rollercoasters. This is not a rollercoaster. I've ridden it once. I'm.good.thank.you.very.much. My husband and son LOVE it.
Soarin' is a great "ride," and although it isn't a 'coaster, it's still one of my personal favorites.
The Seas with Nemo and Friends is good for the little ones and Turtle Talk with Crush can be pretty funny, too. While doing that, grab a picture inside the shark, watch the diver in the tank, and look at the aquariums.
Beyond what you SEE at Epcot, there are so many other things to DO. Are you interested in cheese? Take a cheese class! What about wine pairings or mixology? They do that, too!
Each country has at least one restaurant that is themed with their native cuisine, and many of them require reservations (French and Canadian always seem to be booked.) The French restaurant, Chefs de France, is fabulous, and Ratatouille makes appearances as well. We have had a black & tan on the patio of the Rose & Crown Pub in England and had wood-fired pizza in Italy at Via Napoli. We've had a margarita in Mexico, too.
Slow down and enjoy it! There is entertainment around every corner, so even if you have an idea of what you want to do next, don't miss out on magical moments and discovery.
If you can stay for IllumiNations, it's worth it!
Recommended Nap Time Ride: Spaceship Earth or Living With The Land
I think this park is often overlooked. It is smaller than the others, but it has some really great attractions. If you book far enough in advance, you can even have dinner with an Imagineer.
Studio Backlot Tour is definitely worth seeing. It's a behind the scenes look at special effects, and it takes you through waterfalls, fire, etc.
If you like the special effects, you may also want to see the extreme stunt show, Lights, Motors, Action!, that even our 3 year old enjoyed.
If you have little ones (Disney Jr. age), then you'll want to go to Disney Jr. Live On Stage. The last time we went, the lines were incredibly long, and twice they cut the line short before we got up there, so if the line is short, jump in it!
Rock'n'Roller Coaster is a must for the thrill seekers.
Toy Story Midway Mania is a favorite for ALL ages. If you ask everyone to agree on one ride, this one is it. Be sure to get a FastPass for the 4-D moving target experience.
If your kids love the 3D shows where they reach out to "touch" the characters on screen, then head over to MuppetVision.
Need to book?
If you haven't booked your Disney vacation yet, I would LOVE to help you! I am an Authorized Disney Vacation planner (in addition to being a mom of 3 munchkins.) You can check out my website or Facebook page to contact me.
Other Disney trip topics:
Where to Stay
Preparation & Packing
DIY Autograph Books
All Disney posts.