Walt Disney World in Orlando is a magical place, especially for kids. In the spring of 2014, when our girls were five and seven, my wife and I took them on a six-day family vacation to Disney World. What we learned is that for children (and adults), hunger, fatigue, and overstimulation can dull the Disney magic. So, to keep everyone from dying on your first trip, here are some Walt Disney World tips.
Visiting Walt Disney World in Orlando is never cheap. Because you are spending so much money, the temptation is to maximize your enjoyment by doing everything in as little time as possible. To me, this is the definition of vacation insanity.
On our first day, we did the Magic Kingdom. And by ‘did’, I mean we rode, saw and experienced as much as possible between opening and closing time. At the end of an unending day, (not necessarily a good thing), we were beyond exhausted.
Waking up with sore feet and aching muscles the next morning, we regrouped. Using the following strategy for the remaining days helped us not to die:
- Arrive at the park when the gates open (before the big crowds show up) and do as much as you can
- After lunch, return to the resort, relax at the pool or nap in the room (especially helpful when traveling with kids who still need naps)
- Late afternoon, return to the parks, ride more rides, and stay late for parades or fireworks
This new strategy allowed us to focus more on the vacation aspect of our trip. We created space to enjoy our entire visit to Disney World at a more leisurely pace.
One of the best Walt Disney World tips for meeting characters is don’t believe the ads. Disney World ads show Mickey Mouse skipping down Main Street, waiting for kids to hug him. However, at Walt Disney World, costumed characters are accompanied by handlers who prevent them from being hassled on the way to their scheduled character meet-and-greet locations.
If your kids want to meet characters, then get in line, just like you do for Disney World rides. Some of these lines take Fast Passes, but some don’t. Honestly, on this trip, I think we stood in line for character meetings as much (or more) as we did for Disney World rides.
One option for meeting characters while avoiding lines is a character dining experience. If you’re not on the Disney dining plan and want to splurge, these are great opportunities for kids to meet characters. My girls loved two experiences in particular:
- Meeting Cinderella, Prince Charming, her stepsisters, and her stepmother at 1900 Park Fare at The Grand Floridian Resort
- Meeting princesses like Belle, Ariel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and (another) Cinderella at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Epcot
With planning and patience, your kids can meet their favorite characters, minimize your wait times, and keep everyone from dying.
3 | Staying at an on-site Disney resort
As the theme park capital of the world, Orlando has a wide variety of accommodations for every budget. To save money, some families stay off-site (at non-Disney properties). However, if staying off-site and driving to the parks (either your own car or a rental), you must pay $20 for standard parking each day. Even if your off-site hotel has a shuttle, you still have to travel to WDW each day. For us, staying at a Disney resort made traveling with kids simpler and easier.
Disney resorts cover a range of budgets. For this trip, we chose Art of Animation, a modestly-priced resort. We paid a little more for a two-room suite which had a queen bed, a sofa bed, and a table/ Murphy bed. In the evenings, our kids went to sleep while the grownups enjoyed quiet time in the other room.
We personally loved staying at a Disney resort because once we were there, we didn’t need to drive, preserving my personal sanity. This leads me to the next tip for not dying while doing Disney World with kids.
This is our family thriving (not just surviving) at Disney World.
4 | Free Disney Buses
If you have ever dragged your kids through a shopping mall or department store and you found it challenging, multiply that feeling by a thousand. Why? WDW is huge. Unbelievably huge. It is an empire unto itself.
The property covers about 47 square miles, or an estimated 30,000 acres. There are four theme parks, about 25 resorts, Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) with loads of shops and restaurants, two water parks, spas, golf courses, and more.
As you can imagine, getting around takes time. Going from point A to point B takes 30 minutes to an hour. However, the Disney people excel at logistics. Specifically, they excel at doing things which make your trip easier, like providing extensive and frequent bus service. Free buses load and unload near park entrances preventing you from dragging your kids all over every single parking lot and helping you enjoy traveling with kids.
If you stay at one of Disney’s resorts, just hop on a bus at your resort and go. They are convenient for park hoppers (tickets which allow you to visit more than one park on the same day). Even if you stay off-site and drive to the parks, you can ride the buses.
As an added bonus to the on-site buses, if you fly into Orlando International Airport and stay at a Disney resort, you get a free ride to and from the airport on Disney’s Magical Express!
5 | Parking
Staying off-site means that you will have to find your own way to the parks each day. As noted above, standard parking is $20 per car each day. The good news is that this daily fee permits entry into more than one parking lot, so park hoppers can drive from park to park if they wish.
Guests who are registered at a Disney resort can drive themselves from place to place too. These guests benefit from complimentary self-parking at most places in the Disney empire. For some families, this is good option if time is short, if they don’t feel like waiting for buses or if they simply prefer driving themselves.
Personally, I lean towards preserving my own well-being and staying alive. Therefore, if you stay on-site, save yourself and your family the mental energy of navigating the massive Disney empire and just ride the bus.
Packing for a week-long trip is challenging (check out this article for more packing tips and tricks). Yet one of the benefits of visiting Orlando is that the predictable weather makes deciding what to wear to Walt Disney World fairly easy. Count on sunny weather with a chance of rain. In the summer, Orlando is hot and humid. The rest of the year, it’s not as hot but still humid. Even in January, shorts and a T-shirt are suitable during the day.
Selecting what Walt Disney World outfits to wear is mostly about comfy clothing that wears well in heat and humidity. As a result, choosing kids’ Disney World outfits will probably revolve around shorts, skirts, tank tops, T-shirts, and maybe hats. However, when making your Walt Disney World packing list for kids, good walking shoes should be at the top of the list. No one likes sore feet!
On this first Disney trip, we put light jackets on our Walt Disney World packing list. Although the days were warm in April, waiting outside the parks each morning or watching the fireworks at night can be chilly for little ones. In addition, rain showers and thunderstorms are commonplace in Orlando, so packing a rain poncho for everyone is wise.
To keep your kids from dying of exposure to hot, rainy, humid and sometimes cool conditions, pack comfy clothing, good shoes, light jackets, and rain ponchos.
7 | Free Water!
Here’s a secret. Disney World isn’t cheap. A bottle of water costs $5 (or more). And I refuse to pay that much for water. You may ask, aren’t there water fountains in the parks? Can’t I take in my own water bottle? Yes and yes.
However, for thirsty kids, empty water bottles that will be refilled at the next water fountain offer little consolation. For thirst emergencies, asking for a free cup of water at a snack kiosk or quick-serve restaurant makes traveling with kids at Disney World much easier
Keep in mind though that the water is not actually free water. Because trust me, you paid for it.
We recommend the Klean Kanteen as the #1 water bottle to prevent dying in Disney World.
Bonus Tip: Birthdays!
One of my favorite Walt Disney World tips is to plan your trip on or near your child’s birthday. Your child will receive a birthday button to wear. Everywhere they go, Cast Members (Disney staff) wish them a happy birthday.
And if you eat at a Disney restaurant, your kid (or kids) will get free birthday treats! Since our trip was in April and both of our girls have April birthdays, they got more birthday treats than they could eat (at least 2 each day).
Don’t Die at Walt Disney World!
Walt Disney World is amazing, fantastic, and every other imaginable superlative. Or at least it can be. Having appropriate expectations of wait times, being prepared to travel within the massive Disney empire, planning your Walt Disney World packing list, and all these other tips will help you enjoy Disney World. You too can have less stress, more magical time traveling with kids, and fewer chances of dying! And remember, you’re on vacation!
Jamie Garrett, Freelance Writer
Jamie has been writing professionally for five years. He has lived in China, France, and Morocco. He has also traveled to 47 of the 50 US states and has visited over 25 countries. Jamie loves going to new places and revisiting favorite ones. When at home, he loves being with his wife and two daughters, reading, watching movies and watching soccer.