Sometimes, You Gotta go to Disney– How to Come out Alive and Not Completely Broke
Perhaps you’re a long time lover of ole Mickey, a Princess fanatic, a theme park guru; or maybe you’re someone who loves none of these things are are dreading the mere mention of your next family vacation being at Disney World. If you have little ones and haven’t been before, remember, this is like a rite of passage, a childhood milestone, a lasting magical memory, and you may just have to suck it up and take your family to Disney World.
However, there's hope for you yet! This post will help to give you an idea of how you might possibly come out of it alive and not completely broke!
#1. First things first: make a plan. You can’t really go to Disney and just “wing it” if you want a chance to see all the stuff you want to see. You’ve got to be strategic about it and you need a tactical plan. One helpful tool is the My Disney Experience App which allows you to hit those fast passes up to 30 days before your visit. The App is actually pretty great. It’s designed like a map of each park and it shows you how long the wait times are for each ride, when the parades and attractions are, where the meet-and-greets are happening, dining options, and more. It’s super helpful if you’re debating trekking all the way across the park for a ride you’re dying to go on, but then you check , and it’s 180 minute wait. Plan B. It keeps things moving and minimizes cranky kid behavior in terribly long lines.
#2. Rent a double stroller to lug around your gear. For real, you’ll thank me later. Even if your kids are too big for a stroller, you’ll want it for your stuff and at $27 for your entire stay not having to carry around your cooler and backpack and the kids new merch and the camera bag and the diaper bag and whatever else kind of bag you might need will be so so so worth it. There’s tons of walking and the Disney days are long, the last thing you want is to keep track of and carry around a bunch of heavy gear.
#3. Bring tons of water, both in the chilled canteen style and in the form of frozen water bottles. You will get so dehydrated walking in the heat from literally morning till night, especially if you’re there during the hottest months, so load up on more H2O than you’ll think you’ll need. If you happen to run low, all the snack shacks will give you free cups of ice water at any of the restaurants or food kiosks.
#4. Wear comfortable clothing and running or tennis shoes. Dress your kids in comfy clothes too. If they go dressed up as a character, remember to bring a back up outfit because they’ll absolutely want to change half way through the day.
#5. Again, bring a back up pair of clothes for the whole family [AND] pack ponchos or raincoats incase it rains. And yes, it’s always very very likely to rain.
#6. This one is a little obvious, but if you can, go in the off season when the weather is cooler. The humidity in the summertime can literally be smothering and go preferably during the week when the crowds are fewer.
Price: If you're booking solo, the price of the tickets are the price of the tickets, ranging from $91-$105 for a single day pass. Kids under 3 are free. AAA members and Florida residence get a discount and there are several sites online that offer tickets at a lower rate, but be careful of scams! That's where we come - The Travel Specialists at Diamond Family Travel are certified Disney agents and can really help you out in the "affordability" department.
Additions: If you’re visiting more than one park, getting a Park Hopper Pass for an additional $25 is totally worth it! The older kids and parents will likely find more rides and attractions they dig out of what the additional parks like Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios have to offer.
Dining: Bring your own food! Disney Parks will allow you to bring in a huge sized cooler – as long as it’s a soft cooler and not a standard plastic one. I usually bring a backpack filled with dry goods like trail mix, fruit snacks, granola bars, etc. and then pack all the food items that need to stay cold into the cooler, things like: pre-made sandwiches, juice boxes, sliced fruit, yogurt tubes, etc. I’m usually able to pack enough food to cover breakfast, snacks, and lunches, and then we’re only paying for dinner out of pocket at the resort. One awesome way to conserve space while keeping things chilled is to freeze water bottles and line the bottom of you cooler with them. As the water bottles thaw, you’ll then have additional drinking water, which you will need.
Hotel: With hotels, you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons to staying onsite at a Disney resort versus staying off site – in both cases there are shuttles that will provide a free ride to the park which means no parking fees. However, if you’re planning to visit more than one park in a single day, you’ll probably want to have your car. It’s hard to say if staying onsite is the most affordable option, it definitely can be reasonable and very convenient. Have your travel specialist do some digging on which hotels and resorts fit in with your budget. Either way, most of them can be fairly cheap and include fancy amenities like indoor heated pools and tiki bars.
Extras: Buy your own Pirate outfit or Princess getup from Amazon ahead of time and dress your kids in their new gear before heading to the park. They’ll be seeing tons of kids dressed as their favorite characters and unless you come prepared with your own, the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at Magic Kingdom charges a pretty penny to doll up your little ones, $59.95-$194.95 for attire, hair, and make-up. The dress up clothing is also really expensive in the gift shops, so plan ahead and avoid this extra cost!
Autograph books– if your little ones have particular characters that they’re dying to meet, they’re likely going to want to get an autograph or two. The blank page notebooks sold at Disney run as much as $15 a pop. Target dollar bins almost always have blank notebooks (for a dollar) with some sort of princess or super hero on the front. Paper is paper! I vote for bringing your own.
Glow sticks! Seriously, go to Dollar Tree and load up on multi-packs of glow sticks, glow bracelets, glow wands, whatever you can get your hands on. Once it starts getting dark and the nighttime parades prepare to begin, Disney carts filled with amazing light up toys are pushed through the streets. These one-time-use toys range from $25-$40 a piece and if you have more than one kid, geez, forget about it! Your kids will feel like they’re part of the action and the dollar store version is a big hit because a lot of the multi-packs include connectors that let you make crowns or crazy necklaces or wands, whatever you want, really. Last time we did this the kids sitting on the curb next to us crowded around asking if they could have a few, too– and at $1 per 10 pack, I’d say there’s enough to share!
All in all– have fun. Be silly with your kiddos, go on all the rides you can, run around in funny hats, eat ice cream shaped like Mickey’s head, watch the live Frozen show that your daughter is dying to see. Do all the things!
I think that in most cases, vacations are ones that the parents want to take, with some kid stuff sprinkled in. But a Disney trip is a vacation for the kids, so include them in making decisions on how the day will go. After all, they hardly ever get to be the ones to make any decisions – let em take over [or at least think there are] and tear it up at the most magical place on earth.