I literally spent six months planning our trip to Disney. I mean, I say that I spent all that time loosely. I had the trip booked and made sure to make my reservations by the milestones like my dining and my FastPasses (ok, actually my planner did this – BLESS HER), but I was also in the middle of moving and generally mothering 3 children under the age of 5. There never seems to be enough time to even shower daily, let alone plan and research appropriately for this big vacation.
Still, I thought it was all planned out to perfection and I thought that anything that wasn’t planned would basically fall into place. And well, it did, sort of, but there were still some things that didn’t go 100% for us that might be helpful to you if you’re a first timer. Or if it’s just been like 25 years like it had been for me.
Check it out!
We stayed at the Contemporary Resort because we wanted easy park access. It’s a 10 minute walk to Magic Kingdom and then it’s the first stop on the monorail on the way back. The monorail actually runs through the center and my oldest thought that was just amazing. We planned on 3 park days – 2 at Magic Kingdom and 1 at Epcot. Epcot was slightly more complicated to get to, but still all monorail and easy enough, even for us.
We also had a park view which was perfect for viewing fireworks. Of all the fun we had, that was probably my favorite – sitting on our balcony watching fireworks. The first night, they were earlier than we expected and we made the kids jump out of the bath so that they could see them. I will always smile when I picture them watching from the window in their towels. They did fireworks every night that we were there. Two of the nights were later, around 10 or 10:30 because they were part of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. The other nights they were between 8 and 9, I think.
1. We Didn't Bring Any Toys
As background, my kids are almost 5 and 3 and we drove 2 days from North Carolina to get there. Thinking back on it, honestly I don’t really know why I didn’t think they would need any toys. I just figured that we were going to the happiest place on earth and that they wouldn’t need any of their toys from home. I dismissed the fact that we would be spending SO MUCH time in the car. Kids also need some kind of outlet, after said car ride, besides walking around sightseeing and doing things that adults want to do.
We ended up making a pit stop at Cracker Barrel for lunch so that they could each pick out a toy to bring the rest of the way on the trip. Problem solved. Well, mostly, anyhow. The 4 year old still complained that he missed his toys, even after we checked into our room with a view of Cinderella’s castle. Lesson learned for next time – let everyone pick one toy from home to bring.
2. I Didn't Pack Enough Clothes
Like, for any of us. With this being our first trip, I assumed that we wouldn’t last at the park all day. What I didn’t account for was, well, how blasted hot it was in Florida in September. And how much sweat was involved in that.
For the kids, we came back to the hotel and enjoyed the pool area outside (the splash pad at the Contemporary was amazing and perfect for them!), only so they could put the outfits back on that they had worn and sweat in all morning. It just didn’t occur to me that we might change clothes in the afternoon or want to wear different clothes to dinner, things like that.
But still, the amount that I needed to pack for 2 days of driving down and back and 3 days at the park just felt like such a monumental task. Even so, I could have thrown in a few more outfits – or just planned for a laundry day. We actually had to do laundry anyhow because of a car sickness situation on the first leg of our trip down, but I could have accounted for it and that whole thing could have been planned a little better.
3. The Disney Dining Plan
I got suckered into this because it sounded great and like a good value but I still don’t completely understand how it works and whether or not we got a good deal, which is possibly part of the problem. My husband, who wanted no part in planning the trip, had a rude awakening when we got our first bill. Most of the time, because we were using the dining plan, the menus we looked at didn’t have pricing so then when we got the bill, we were completely surprised by the price of the entire thing and then needed to leave what felt like an excessive tip on top of that.
Although the app does a good job of letting you know what credits you’ve used and what you have left, it’s quite frankly just confusing what can be used where and how and honestly, we got more snacks and treats than we normally would have and more than we needed because we had the credits to use.
It came with a refillable cup at a value of almost $20, but again, this value is based on your use of drinks that go in these cups – coffee, tea, soft drinks. We had the ability to make coffee in our room and basically don’t drink soda at our house so we definitely didn’t get our use out of those. We do have some pretty great cups to remember our trip, though! Not a total loss, but probably not something we would do again.
4. Scheduling Late Dinners
This, specifically, is mostly based on the ages of my kids. Normally, at home, we do dinner between 5 and 5:30. One of our restaurants we wanted to eat at only had a reservation at 6:45 – not ideal but our lunch that day was 12:45, which is also late for us, so I was hoping that would offset it enough. What actually happened is the 3 year old had a massive tantrum on the way and we resorted to pulling out our phones so the kids could play games at the table to at least try and salvage the dinner for us.
The day was simply too long and I should have anticipated that. We ended up having to cancel another dinner entirely and make a reservation at our hotel instead for a similar reason – too long of a day and too much travel. That one ended up working out ok, though (I was able to find available reservations based on the time we wanted to eat and reserve it from the app on my phone!). We went back to the room and had time to rest and recharge and it was much easier to get the kids to head down the elevator for dinner instead of onto a monorail or the other option of staying at the park all day. Tired kids don’t make for patient or happy kids or an enjoyable vacation.
I’m not going to completely trash Epcot because Frozen Ever After was there and I’m pretty sure it was my personal favorite ride of all. The line was even fun to stand in! And Spaceship Earth (the giant ball)! Additionally the Princess Breakfast at Akershus was on point. The princesses were great and the food was also delicious!
But it was hot. SO hot. And while we were there, it just felt like it was a shit ton of walking and a shit ton of food and drinks – and after our big princess breakfast we weren’t really into eating or drinking. While we enjoyed what we did get to experience, I think for us it would have been better to do a park hopper for that day and either try out Animal Kingdom or go back to Magic Kingdom.
Also, right now, as I’m linking up restaurants and experiences, I’m seeing more things that my kids would have probably liked that were even indoors – so that’s probably also my bad with some overwhelm and poor planning. Next time.
Some Other Things
This is the Disney picture package. While I really wish they were hovering more and taking more pictures, as well as having more picture taking opportunities on rides, I’m still actually a Memory Maker fan. Though my kids were assholes and didn’t want to get their pictures taken. Seriously (see Mickey photo where one kid is actually hiding behind Mickey). Even so, I did find about 14 pictures to download of us by the castle, on a ride or two and with princesses that made the price worth it. I’m told that you can purchase pictures a la carte without the Memory Maker, but that they are around $17 each. Yikes.
I paid $169 for Memory Maker and would have paid around $238 for those pictures otherwise. Next time, I will also do a better job seeking out the photographers, but again, my subjects were not very cooperative this visit.
Walt Disney World App
Get it. Like all apps, there are always glitches and things like that but it’s a literal map at your fingerprints. You can see where you are and where you need to go – you can see ride wait times from across the park (you can actually check them out right this instance even without being at the park), you can see your next dining reservation or scheduled FastPass (think ride reservations), you can even order food so that you don’t have to wait in line.
You can check your dining plan credits if you’re using the dining plan and this is also where you will see all of your photos. I believe you will see them here regardless and it would just be a matter of selecting and purchasing if you don’t opt for the Memory Maker package.
A Few Other Things...
While it’s all fresh in my head, something else I would have done would have been to have something distinguishing on my stroller – we had no bows, tags or anything really that yelled out to us that it was ours. Not a big deal – we found it every time, but it would have been helpful to have a little something on there.
Use a planner. I did. And I leaned on her heavily. She really helped me to navigate through what I was doing and make the most of our trip. She got us discounts that I never would have known about and made the whole process so much easier. You’re not paying for them – they are paid by Disney so getting help here is not costing you any more money. You can find them all over the place but if you’re looking for one, mine was Emily Cayton.
The Verdict - Will we do it again?
We will. We absolutely will. We have a 1 year old who we left with my parents while we were on this trip. We plan on waiting 2 years until he is 3 and then we will brave the travel seas once again.
Some things we will do next time will be choosing a different season to go in hopes that it isn’t quite so hot. There is a parade that they do, I think every day with dancing and giant floats and magic – I think we would all enjoy that but each day by the time we saw it we were all sweaty and tired and not into it. Which, all of this could change by the time we go next time. But now that we have our Disney feet wet, I think we can get details like this from Emily and she can help guide a little more on the day to day stuff that is easy to overlook. It’s literally SO much information and such a massive expanse to see that I was overwhelmed to paralysis. Now we know. So many things.
Next time, I will try even more to relax and take as much of it in as possible. My husband is very regimented and always made sure we got to our fast passes and dining reservations on time but would grumble a lot if we took time out to just browse along. It was also SO hot, as mentioned previously and we were pushing a double stroller so that also makes a little sense. Actually, I would say that he was really relaxed for him, but I think we could still do better. And now we know. We have done Disney once and it didn’t break us. I can’t wait to start planning the next trip!