Thanks Disney for providing me this trip for free. All opinions represented in this post are my own.
When I was a kid, I remember feeling perplexed by my mother’s strange behavior whenever we were on vacation.
She would hover around us, peering intently into our faces, pestering us with questions every ten seconds. “Are you having fun?” she would ask anxiously. “You’re having fun, right? Do you love every minute of this trip?”
We would often wave her off like a buzzing fly, laughing a little at how weird she was. Why on earth was she so worried about the level of fun we were having? Asking us if we were having fun wasn’t very fun, you know?
But now that I am a mom of four kiddos, I completely and totally get why my mother acted the way she did while we were on family vacations. Because the truth is, taking a family vacation as a parent definitely isn’t the wake-up-early-stumble-to-the-car-eat-junk-food-and-play-all-day experience it was when I was a kid. Taking a family vacation as a parent means a lot of work behind-the-scenes, so planning a vacation as epic as a trip to Disney World means I am now officially the type of mother who will be demanding that everyone have fun, dammit.
As the designated planner in my household, I will say this: a family trip to Disney World can be a magical experience that you will treasure forever — but a few pre-planning and prep work “hacks” to help it run more smoothly so that it actually feels like a vacation for you, too. Here’s how …
1. Ship things in advance to the hotel.
This genius tip just about made my entire life because hello, packing with four children in tow stinks. To save me money on checked luggage and precious room in my carry-on, I shipped some disposable necessities, like diapers, wipes, swim diapers, and some baby food directly to our Disney resort. Just send to:
C/O Your Disney Resort
*Hold for Guest Arriving on (date)
And while you’re at it, it’s also a good idea to have snacks waiting at the hotel for you. After a long flight, you’re all going to be exhausted, cranky, and hungry. This Mickey Mouse cooler is full of healthy treats that will help you git the ground running.
2. Take advantage of the My Disney Experience.
The My Disney Experience page is like a “landing page” for planning your Disney vacation and it helped keep my OCD tendencies in check because I could literally plan every aspect of the trip right there. You can book all of your FastPass+ selections there (more on that later), make meal reservations, and keep all of your itinerary and travel plans together on one page. If you are traveling with friends or family, you can link them to your page, share travel plans and dinner reservations, and even manage pictures together.
3. Get the Memory Maker.
Listen, I know that when you are planning your Disney trip, you are all about saving money where you can because for most of us, this is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. But when it comes to the Memory Maker package, trust me when I say just do it. The package lets you get unlimited pictures anywhere in the Disney parks and resorts from Disney photographers for any of the guests in your party. The pictures will be sent right to your online Disney account so you can download them for free when you get home.
I loved the Memory Maker because when my girls met their ultimate idols in life — Elsa and Anna — I didn’t have to worry about choosing between capturing the experience on camera or just enjoying it.
4. Two words: Fast Pass
Here’s how it works: once you buy your Disney Park tickets, each ticket comes with an automatic FastPass+ that you can use to reserve attractions in advance. So, for example, if you want to meet Anna and Elsa, you can use your FastPass+ to reserve a time to meet them without having to wait in line. Genius.
The beauty of the FastPass+ is that you can book them ahead of time. FastPass+ services are based on availability, but in general, you can plan on being able to choose three per day with a “bonus” FastPass+ you can use the day of your trip to the park.
To use your FastPass+ you can make selections through the My Disney Experience account online, at your hotel lobby, using the Disney app, or at the kiosks located within the park. I also suggest browsing through some of the FastPass+ FAQs so you get the full low down.
5. Try and try again for your favorite character experience.
As great as the FastPass+ is, the character experiences at Disney World tend to book up pretty quickly. We planned our trip last minute, so of course the experience we wanted — meeting Cinderella — was booked up. However, the nice people at Disney recommended I keep trying and sure enough, the closer you get, the more likely that space will open up.
I downloaded the Disney World app on my phone and checked for openings at odds hours any chance I could get and eventually, we got the Cinderella dinner we were hoping for — all because I was up nursing the baby at 3 am.
6. Rent a stroller at the park.
With all the walking, it was a lifesaver to be able to keep our four kids contained while navigating the crowds. For guests who are flying and staying on-resort, you may not want to lug around a giant stroller the whole time, so my advice? Pack a lightweight umbrella or carry the baby and rent the double stroller when you’re in the park. Note: you can keep your receipt and get a stroller for each park you visit once you purchase a rental.
7. Scout out breastfeeding spots ahead of time.
With three other kids and a nursing 6-month-old, breastfeeding was one of my biggest anxieties going into this trip. Technically, I knew I could breastfeed anywhere, but I’m the type of mom who likes a little privacy. So it helped a lot to scout out some good locations for nursing and to try to plan our day with little “pit stops” along the way where I could nurse the baby and the kids could rest for a bit, eat a snack, etc. The Baby Care Center at Magic Kingdom was also a complete lifesaver for me — I brought in all of my kids for a little break from the sun, had my own room to nurse the baby in, and I was able to buy a pack of diapers when I (inevitably) ran out.
8. Use your baby to ride the rides twice.
If you have a baby in your party and someone has to stay off of a ride to hold them, you can simply swap adults and let the kids ride the ride again by requesting an Infant Rider Swap pass. So the scenario goes something like this: Dad holds the baby while you ride with the bigger kids; then, when the ride is over, you bring the rider pass back to Dad so he can ride with them again (and you don’t have to wait in line all over again!) Disney is nothing if not family-friendly, right?
9. DIY the Cinderella Makeover.
For this Disney trip, we had the chance to visit the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and it was an amazing experience — they make every prince and princess who visits feel so special and even let them keep their make-up and nail polish to take home so they can continue theDisney fun for days. (Bright blue eyeshadow is a good look for me.) But for those of us on a budget or time crunch, if you can’t make it to the Boutique, it’s relatively easy to DIY the makeover fun. The first time we visited Disney, I made sure to pack my daughter’s Cinderella costume and we made a big deal of doing her hair and make-up right in our hotel room before heading to our Royal dinner (see below).
10. Do this if your kid wants to meet Cinderella.
The prices and the wait for the actual Cinderella castle experience were a bit outside of my budget, so I came across the great tip to book a Royal Family Dinner instead and I’m so, so glad I did. The whole experience came with dinner tickets for the whole family and instead of just meeting Cinderella, the kids got to meet the entire Royal Family, and there was tons of time to take pictures with everyone. It was the highlight of the trip for us!
11. Get a diaper bag that doubles as a backpack.
There will be lots of times in the park when you will need to park the stroller and won’t want to lug a diaper bag with a strap around, so some kind of hands-free carrying option is a must. I brought a cheap and small backpack for the necessities, but I could have kicked myself for not realizing the genius of these diaper bags that convert into backpacks. Seriously a game changer. And they are totally unisex — an important point my husband wanted me to add.
12. Use the Disney App to avoid long lines.
You can download the Disney app to your phone and get updated on wait times for characters or fireworks, make or change reservations, and have all the park maps at your fingertips. It makes it a lot easier too if you’re traveling with other members of a party so you can share info easily.
13. Stay at a Disney Park Resort within walking distance to the park.
This is honestly a no-brainer. Staying at a Disney resort means that you are able to simply walk off the plane and board a bus to your hotel while your luggage is magically transported to your hotel without you doing a thing. And the same is true for going home. We checked our baggage right at the hotel before we left and it was ready and waiting for us at the airport baggage claim when we got home.
But besides the obvious benefits for transportation and practical logistics that are just plain easier staying on-site, staying at a Disney resort is like a vacation in itself. I think we could have never left our hotel and our kids would have been just as happy because it’s that much fun. This time, we stayed at the Disney Yacht Resort which was gorgeous, but more importantly, was within an easy walking distance of Epcot Park. I hadn’t considered it before, but booking a hotel within walking distance to a park was perfect with kids. We were able to come and go as we wanted at a more leisurely pace without boarding buses with our kids and it made it such a fun and relaxing experience. You can filter resorts near the park of your choice right here.
Now remember, this is by no means everything. So when in doubt, ask another mom.