Hi, all. Thinking of taking our kiddos (4 and 6) to Disney World this year. Any advice on times to visit, places to stay, and of course, BAGS to bring along? I think I may need a backpack for such an adventure...
Thanks for any advice. Also, has anyone used a Disney trip planning service that they liked?
Sorry, I have no advice on Disney World. For bags, I would recommend a Synapse 19 or 25, depending on what is more comfortable for your size. Both great day bags.
Man, I just wrote out a long response and it never posted. Cliff notes: booking through Disney.com is just as good as agent (which I have done many a time). Stay on property so you do not have to drive around or use a car. When at the parks go hands free with a crossbody or waist pack and anticipate getting your bag wet.
If you want to experience hard-core disney planning (ie: discussing even the type of shoes to wear) go to The DIS Discussion Forums - DISboards.com - Powered by vBulletin where they have a family forum.
It's been a while, and may be a (longgggg) while again until there are grandkids to take,
But one thing I do remember is that it s worth the cost to get the pass that gets you to the front of the lines to the rides.
Get that pass.
Oh, and don't eat your lunch before going to Space mountain. ;-)
(And when yo do, stay away from any saucy like meals.)
.....which gets me to thinking about bags,
Think of yourself as being strapped into a bobsled like cocoon, that sometimes may go upside down. ;-/
With someone on either side of you.
I would think it may be wiser to take a knapsack like bag that you could wear in front rather than a messenger like bag. Either of the Synapses. (With room to put your hats in)
And do your shopping at end, ( less to carry)
If u have sensitive ears, earplugs ( for when everyone is screaming at the top of the vocal scale.)
Hmmm, Dramamine, (yes I know it's for choppy waters on the ocean.)
Don't wear a suede jacket or other material that may have a dislike of sudden water.
Aspirin or Tylenol ( for you)
Wet nDry wipes
( for constant cleaning of hands after the rides, u clean the trays and armrests on the plane, yes?)
Comfortable shoes (with laces- slip on may tend to slip off at certain times)
A "snug" wrist strap for your point and shoot camera.
All great advice. I'd add a few more points:
There are many advantages of staying in one of the Disney properties including the awesome transport options to all of the far flung Disney parks and attractions. They also offer a "Magic Express" service from the Orlando airport which is really magical: special tags on your checked baggage (I usually carry on, but not for this trip) have them routed directly to your hotel room. Check them in the departure airport and the next time you see them they are in your room. You can then take the Disney provided bus directly to the hotel.
Also get a good app for your phone (we used Magic Guide on the iPhone) since they have park maps, attraction waiting times, restaurant menus, etc. Also consider the "park hopper" option for your Disney admission... it lets you visit multiple parks in a single day which is great if you want to, for example, go to Animal Kingdom in the morning, go back to the hotel for a nap and then go to Epcot for a while and dine there and see fireworks at night at Magic Kingdom. Without the park hopper you are limited to a single park all day which might not work for your family.
I can't over emphasize the need for comfortable shoes... there is LOTS of walking.
As far as bags, I'd go as minimal as possible (Side Effect is perfect if you can travel really light) since you will be carrying whatever you bring with you all day. If you need something larger, perhaps a Synapse 19 which you can share carry duties. Hands free carry is essential, especially with kids to hold hands with. Less is more as far as what you need during the day... perhaps some light jackets if rain is forecast, some light snacks, suntan lotion, hats, wipes, etc. Food and water is available everywhere at somewhat reasonable cost and many meal plans (which are often reduced price or free as part of promotional deals) offer snacks as well as full meals minimizing the need to carry lots of heavy water with you for the day. If you buy souvenirs at the Park there is no need to carry them with you... they will deliver the items to your Disney property hotel in the evening.
Giantsteve, very good points to staying inside of the park. By any chance do you know if you get the same perks if staying at Disneyland?
Disneyworld is on my list to take the kids but not until they are older so that the kids and myself can enjoy it more. But I will definitely want to stay in the park when we go there.
Good advice so far.
Another perk of staying on property is the ability to reserve your fastpass+ times in advance. All paper fastpass machines have now been removed from the parks as Disney continues the transition to MagicBands. If you stay offsite you have to reserve when you get to the park each day. Onsite you can reserve 180 in advance, I believe.
As for when to visit, I would pull my kids out of school to go during a slower time of year, but there are lots of differing views on that. EasyWDW is a great site for planning, with lots of detailed information on the best times to go and even best park each day.
Free Disney World Crowd Calendars, Ride Reviews, Resort Reviews, Restaurant Reviews, and More
For bags, I don't like having a backpack in the parks, as I don't like the constant on and off to get things out. I used a Co-Pilot on our trip in December and it worked great. The nice thing about Disney is you can take your bags on all rides.
Although this post is in the "Not about Bags" forum, there have been a number of queries about which bag to take for a trip to Walt Disney World. Echoing the minimalist bag theme, many people have opted for the Synapse 19. Here's a link to A Synapse 19 Or 25 for WDW trip… need help that includes a post with many photos taken of Maverick's trip to WDW with his son and the bags he used.
Also, Lani Teshima on the forums does some writing for MousePlanet.com -- a web site that focuses on Disney World Travel options. She doesn't do any promoting about this in the forums, but she does reference travel and packing tips in this context. You might take a look at her articles on that site's web pages to check whether there are relevant tips. She may also see your post here and offer some more direct advice.
Thanks for all the great insights, all! Keep em coming!
I'm not sure about Disney Land's on site perks. The park is much smaller than "World" so I'd imagine the logistics are easier to deal with and transport around the Disney property is easier. I looked online and they do not have the Magic Express service either but there is a Grey Line Disney co-branded shuttle from LAX, but there is an extra fee and it doesn't offer the baggage transfer service. Where ever you go, have a great time!
Someone rubbed the magic lamp and out popped... me!
OK be warned, this will be a very long post so I can answer everybody's questions. First off, I'm on staff at MousePlanet.com, an unofficial website that covers news and information about Disney theme parks. While most of the staff is on the West Coast and thus have more coverage of Disneyland in Anaheim, most of us also have Premier Annual Passports, which give us access to the Walt Disney World parks as well.
Since January 2013 I think I've made 5 or 6 trips to Walt Disney World for various things, mostly to do the runDisney half-marathon races. My most recent trip was a week to WDW for marathon weekend. That was two weeks ago.
Just be aware that asking for general advice about Walt Disney World is like asking someone, "I've never been to Europe. Do you have any advice on what to do?" Read: There's a TON of stuff, and a lot of what you wind up doing will depend a lot on your interestes. That said, since you are taking 4- and 6-year-olds, THEY will ultimately be the focus of your trip, because you will need to plan according to what they can manage.
Originally Posted by luvdabags
In a nutshell, I would suggest you consider these points:
- WDW is HUMONGOUS. I mean, HUGE. GIGANTIC. GINORMOUS. There are 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, hundreds of restaurants, a couple dozen resort hotels... and all of it sits on land the size of Manhattan. If you want to try to hit all parks, take LOTS of time for your trip. A week will barely scratch the surface, because it is not humanly possible to do all the parks all day long without burning out really badly. Make sure you schedule enough vacation time so you can relax and take it easy.
- Avoid going in the summer. It's hot and humid and it will sap the energy right out of you. Plus, it's super crowded. Even if it means taking your children out of school, consider shoulder season (spring, fall).
- Schedule a nap or down time/pool time after lunch. For the adults, too. This will let you go back into a park at night to enjoy fireworks and stuff. But it is not possible to run ragged from sunup to midnight everyday without getting grumpy.
My first suggestion, if you haven't done so already, is to start with a couple of guidebooks. My friend Jennifer Marx publishes a very successful and popular one called "Passporter's Walt Disney World" (passporter.com) that's a very nice starting point. It's not too daunting, and is very approachable. She and her family started the book many years ago and it's now turned into its own cottage industry for them, with many other Disney and theme park-related books. She also updates the books regularly, and you can go to her website for updates. She also sells a ton of ebooks as well. (disclosure: I helped contribute to her Disneyland guide book some years ago).
If you're OK with fewer pictures and smaller text, I am still very attached to the "Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World" by Bob Sehlinger. I love how they list all the attractions and hotels and rates them according to age group. This should be very helpful when planning on what to do with your children. Bob is a very nice fellow whom I met at a Dis meet many years ago. His books are part of the TouringPlans.com website (disclosure: They are one of MousePlanet's sponsors). They tell you when the parks will be crowded, and help you plan out your touring plans. It's a pay site though; not free.
As for bags, I use Western Flyer or Tri-Star exclusively when traveling to the parks. Which one I take depends on how much extra running gear I have to take, or if I'm tying it to a Disney cruise and I need to carry more stuff. I've gotten to a point where I never take check-ins with me for WDW, but that's a personal choice. If you aren't accustomed to carryon-only travel, that might not be for you. You might however, consider taking a WF as your carryon to make sure your important things (e.g. prescriptions) are with you.
Since I travel with a WF or TS, my day bag is typically the Packing Cube Shoulder Bag or the Packing Cube Backpack, because they comprise my "knick knack bags" when packing my main carryons. Both of them are extremely lightweight and can pack a ton of stuff, which I love.
Typically for a day bag, you will wind up taking some snacks for the kids, maybe a light sweater or jacket, sunblock, etc. (the guidebooks will have suggested packing lists for you of what to take into the park). Some things you don't really HAVE to carry, like Tylenol or band-aids, since you can go to Central First Aid in any of the parks... but if you have them on you you avoid having to make the long walk back (they are typically near the entrance to the park, etc.).
The Synapse 19 is a very nice day bag and one that might work well for you to tote around the parks. As the parent, you will likely wind up having to be the person in charge of lugging the day bag around, so you might as well use one that's comfortable to carry. Shoulder bags and messenger bags are OK but if you're going to walk around all day, I really recommend a backpack to balance your shoulders.
Be warned that some rides don't give you a lot of leg room to stash BIG backpacks. Space Mountain in the Magic Kingdom etc. all have room near your feet if the netting pockets are too small. Just make sure to put a foot through one shoulder strap to make sure the bag doesn't jostle too much.
The DISboards are great but be warned it is HUMONGOUS with a ton of people. Initially you might feel a little overwhelmed, and you can easily fall into the rabbit hole and wind up spending your whole day perusing threads, so be aware.
Originally Posted by MelissaL
As for helpful websites, please visit MousePlanet.com... we have a discussion board called MousePad you can join. And every Tuesdays, we publish a WDW park update that will give you all the news that's happening around the parks, and it's a helpful resource.
For a comprehensive website, I have to say, you can't beat Deb Wills' Allears site (allearsnet.com). Every piece of info you ever need for WDW is available at the site, down to the price of individual dishes at restaurants. Deb has a huge batallion of people who help maintain the data, so it's pretty up-to-date all the time. Deb is a wonderful person and I'm always happy when I run into her, which is about every time I go to WDW for a runDisney race, since her Allears team raises funds for breast cancer awareness for her (she is a breast cancer survivor).
As for booking... I've booked both by myself and with a travel agent, and here's the thing. *IF* you get an agent that specializes in WDW travel, who is customer service-minded and who is very easily available either via email or text on the phone, THAT is what you want to do. I have a travel agent I use (if you want a referral please let me know), and it's AWESOME. You know why? If anything goes wrong or Disney announces a new promotion code that covers the time period you already booked for, if you have a travel agent, you just email them and say "this and this, please take care of this for me. Here is my reservation number" and a few hours later, you get an updated confirmation and you're all set. If you have to do it yourself, you will sit on hold potentially for HOURS with Disney. Trust me, I have many friends who have had to do that.
Now... Disney has implemented their Next Gen initiative that includes the use of "MagicBands" and the "My Disney Experience" website and smartphone app. This is ONLY for WDW right now (it's not yet implemented for Disneyland). Regardless of whether you book online or through a travel agent, once you have a reservation number, you will be able to start making OFFICIAL plans with Disney through their website, including things like restaurant reservations and even Fastpass reservations for rides ("Fastpass" is a way to have them "save a spot" during a time frame so you can do other things instead of stand in line for an hour to ride a ride).
A couple of things you will want to learn about (I won't get into too much detail here):
1) Disney Dining Plan. This is an addon to your reservation but Disney sometimes adds these "for free" to your reservation as an incentive. PLEASE read the pros and cons for this; not everybody likes this because it really locks in how you eat. If you aren't big into 3 meals a day and maybe you prefer just to have Poptarts in your room in the morning... DDR may not work for you.
2) HOWEVER, enough people use DDR that it impacts your ability to just walk up to a restaurant. Many places simply do not allow space for walk-ups... so if there are any restaurants you really want to try, you need to make an "ADR" -- "Advanced Dining Reservation". This is particularly the case if you want to take your family for a "character dining experience"--where Disney characters like Mickey come by your table and interact with you. Those meals are expensive and some, like the ones with the Disney Princesses, are in VERY high demand so if you don't have an ADR for them you are completely SOL.
My husband and I aren't into character dining, and we're OK just popping in and seeing if a place has a table for two during off-peak hours. But we're VERY flexible travelers, and it helps that we have visit WDW so often that we don't get upset if we can't get into a particular restaurant. If it's your first trip, though you will want to make reservations for at least SOME meals.
The "pass" that Trailhiker mentions is the Fastpass system. BE CAREFUL! WDW is IN THE PROCESS of completely switching over from Fastpass to Fastpass+ (that's "Fastpass Plus") -- the "plus" is your ability to reserve a Fastpass place WELL IN ADVANCE. I hate it. Abhor it. We can't even decide what park we want to visit until the morning of. For me, it's ridiculous that the system wants me to put in Fastpass+ requests 6 months in advance. Blah. BUT. If you plan on going during a very busy time, it will help make things much less stressful for you.
Originally Posted by Trailhiker
And the Florida people are smart. You can even ask for a character meet-and-greet Fastpass+, so you can guarantee that your kids get to meet Mickey Mouse personally.
As for shopping, I'm of two minds. If you find something you like, you cannot be guaranteed that you will find it again somewhere else in the park.
If you stay on property, I believe you can have them deliver the packages to your room by the end of the day. So you can shop anytime you want. They do something similar in Disneyland, called Package Express, where you pick up all your shopping bags by the exit at the end of the day. So you don't ever have to carry all that stuff during the day.
Disney's Magical Express (DME) is awesome because it's absolutely free! For your very first visit to WDW, it's a really good option. HOWEVER, the reason they offer this free service is because they want you to stay on property, so that you are under the impression that there is nothing in Florida except MCO (Orlando International) and WDW. If you want to do any of the OTHER theme parks (like Universal) or visit the Kennedy Space Center, etc., you might consider renting a car. The route to WDW uses toll roads but these days the rental cars all have the ability to bypass paying cash, and it just gets taken out of your rental charge when you turn your car in.
Originally Posted by giantsteve
The biggest down side to DME is that it takes a heck of a long time. Whereas it might only take an hour from landing at MCO to plopping onto your bed in your hotel room if you rent a car, you can easily double that with DME. Also on the day you leave to go back to the airport, you have to be ready as much as 3 hours before your flight. So you have to make sure to take that into account.
That said, though, it's pretty exciting. Most of the DME buses are Disney-branded and they show you an intro "Welcome to Walt Disney World" video inside the bus, so everyone including your kids can get really excited right away.
As for a smartphone app, be aware that Disney now has an official one, and it's relatively good. It lets you verify your own reservations and whatnot, too, so it's really good. Regardless of what other apps you get, make sure you get that one.
Oh... and there's free wifi inside all the theme parks and resort hotels now. And as of this month, they seemed relatively stable.
The main perks that are the same is that at both WDW and Disneyland, you have access to early entry as a resort hotel guest.
Originally Posted by chrisc983
That's about it, though. For WDW, anyone wanting to visit the parks really should consider staying on-property. WDW is the size of Manhattan... it's HUGE, and it really makes you feel so much more into the magic by staying on property.
I cannot say the same for Disneyland. A lot of first-time Disneyland visitors assume it's just like WDW so they stay at one of the three on-property resorts, but it's really not the same. Disneyland is smack in the middle of a residential area in Anaheim, and there are literally dozens of smaller motels within easy walking distance to the entrance. Some are even CLOSER to the pedestrian entrance than the official hotels!!
Originally Posted by moriond
I'll be happy to answer whatever other questions you might have.
Lani--you are amazing! What luck to have your expert opinion. Thanks for taking the time to give us all the great inside tips.
I would love a recommendation for a travel agent who is a WDW expert. I will privately message you.
We are focused on meeting princesses (for the 4 yr old) and also seeing animals (for my 6 yr old son). What do you think of the safari hotel with the early morning safari?
Trying to decide on making a first short trip this spring (likely April), and then going again in a year or two for a longer experience when the kids are a bit older. Just really want the 4 yr old to see princesses while she is in her current OBSESSION with them in case it may wane in years to come. Is is possible to get a first trip organized in 2 months?! Seems like it may be tough.
Thanks again! And I have a pilot on it's way to me...think I may have to place another order for a synapse now...!
I would second the 'Unofficial Guide' book by Bob Sehlinger. Even if you have been to WDW many times like our family (20+), it has a huge number of tips & tricks to get the most out of your vacation. Make sure you get the most recent edition as it comes out every year with updated information.
For bags, it depends if you are 'alpha-type' (carries 3 days worth of emergency clothes, just-in-case) then something large - even a Guide's Pack ! If you are 'beta-type' (just phone & wallet, I can buy what I need) then a Side-Effect is perfect. And I have seen every size in-between.
Personally for me, a backpack is best as it does not affect ones ability to eat ice-cream whilst walking. The safety of my camera & lenses is my priority so I have a Lowepro bag.
Most important point - relax and have fun !
I just wanted to add:
1. Bring WATERPROOF/SWEATPROOF sunscreen and reapply through the day. You don't want cranky kids who are miserable because they are sun burnt.
2. Everybody's kids will be dressed up with Disney gear. (Princesses, Mickey Mouse ears, etc). Make sure you kids stand out from the crowd in case you are (temporarily) separated. We even let our blond hair boys use temporary neon green spray hair color.
3. Comfy shoes for you and kids. NOT the right time to break in those new shoes. And if you daughter is wearing a "princess" dress to the park, skip the matching sparkly shoes or sandals. If her regular all-day walking shoes aren't "pretty" enough for her, jazz them up with new laces, paint pink hearts on them, whatever you have to do so you don't have to carry her around the park because her feet hurt.
5. This will not be a budget vacation. Food is very expensive in the park. Water is expensive in the park. The park will have all the souvenirs displayed so your kids just HAVE TO HAVE IT. Just know it ahead of time. Lunch at one of the fast food stands can easily run $60 for a family with small children. More for older/teen boys who have hollow legs and bottomless pits they are trying to fill. Plan for it. That way it doesn't become a stress for you and your spouse.
ETA: Don't forget to look for hidden Mickeys!! Ask an "Ambassador" when you arrive in the park. They will get you started, and it will help keep kids occupied while in lines or during a needed rest break.
What a wonderful response !
Now, have you been to Nashville, Tennessee?
I should be going there next week, fo a long weekend.