It was almost a year ago that we embarked on our inaugural trip to Disney World. I had been when I was in high school but all we had back then was a brochure and a map. Times have changed! There are new parks, new features, and apparently there are a lot of ins and outs to the most magical place on earth. But, I learned a lot in my first venture. Because so many of my friends are taking their first trip with little kids, here are my words of wisdom. And big shout out to my friend Josh Albers who gave me a lot of these pointers before our first trip!

How to Save $$

  • We got breakfast sandwiches and heated them up at the hotel every day. Then ate them on the bus. No one wanted a big breakfast and your least busy time is early in the morning. We wanted to take advantage of that and ride the rides we didn't have fast passes for. Since we flew, we had groceries delivered by Instacart to the hotel.
  • We brought a soft cooler on the stroller as well as our Yeti-type cups. My husband actually bought a Bubba because he didn't want his Yeti left unattended when he went on rides. This saves a ton on snacks, lunch, and drinks. WATER is super important.
  • I bought a ‘Reveal Pack’ from the dollar section at Target and on Amazon before we left. Ears, special t-shirts, retractable sharpie, and, carrying case, and autograph book.  You can also buy toys or jammies ahead of time and give them to them on the trip if you want. SAVES SO MUCH MONEY.
  • There is a Walmart right down the road with a huge Disney section. If you plan on buying stuff there, check it out. It's way cheaper and the same exact merch as the parks.
  • If you can get off the Disney properties, try Pollo Tropical. It's kind of a fast-food restaurant but serves family meals. It's DELICIOUS and cheap!
  • There are hotels in Disney Springs that have magic hours and buses to the parks that are owned by Hilton, Holiday Inn, etc. They are much cheaper than the park hotels and offer some good amenities (FREE STARBUCKS)!

What Time is the Right Time?

  • If you go first thing in the morning when the park opens, you can do a LOT more than if you wait an hour or two. And, you can actually go through security before the park officially opens and be waiting at the gate. My daughter and I met ALL the princesses and rode all the Fantasyland rides before 9:30 AM.
  • Night time is fun in the parks so schedule some down time in the afternoon at the hotel. But the bus rides take about an hour both ways. Keep that in mind if you book dinner plans!
  • Parks open and close different days and there are extended hours on some days but they vary by park. Check the website for info.
  • Don't skip going to the park if bad weather is forecasted. We went when there was a tropical storm predicted for the area. We forged ahead and only saw a sprinkle ONE DAY out of our trip. We heard people on the plane complaining that they never went to the park because of forecasted rain. #wussies

What to Pack

  • Pack moleskin and at least two types of shoes (tennis shoes, crocs or sandals) because if get a blister, you are done.
  • A good freakin' stroller! We used our daughter's baby stroller. Big mistake! If I had to do over again, I'd buy a used three wheel industrial stroller in a heartbeat.
  • A soft cooler (that doesn't leak) and ice packs. You can bring in snacks and drinks.
  • Large stainless steel insulated cups. Cool water is KEY.
  • SUNSCREEN, hats, sunglasses, and other sun protection!
  • A fanny pack or cross body bag. Even dads need one. Promise.
  • When you get rained on (and you WILL get rained on) I liked having these little clip-on raincoats handy! And they are much more affordable than the park raincoats.
  • My daughter loved the glow sticks we brought at night and during the fireworks!

What else?

  • GET the app! Study the app. Have a couple of large printed maps on hand with notes. These came in handy when we were trying to find places.
  • When your daily Fast Passes run out you can get more on the app. You can also see ride wait times on the app.
  • Start an exercise routine months before you go. I lasted a lot longer and saw a lot more because I was in shape.

ANIMAL KINGDOM

  • Animal Kingdom is basically a big zoo. But, there's also a lot of cultural experiences to share. And Pandora is so amazing. Lots of photo opps!
  • We went straight to Dino World. BIG mistake – go to Pandora first! It’s the busiest… Dino World was NOT busy at all. Plus, the dinos are too scary for little kids.
  • Rivers of Light was amazing – try to get a seat if you can! We watched over a fence and it kind of stunk because you can’t see the screens to see the whole show.
  • Go on more than one Kilamanjaro Safari if you can. Each ride is different. The guides are different, and the animals move constantly. I've heard an early evening safari is also a different experiences.
  • I'd also recommend The Lion King. We went to the last show right after we ate at Tusker House which was GREAT. It’s kind of behind the restaurant. Then we went to the Tree of Life Awakening. It is okay – it’s projected images on the big tree.
  • Bug’s Life is really fun and you don’t need a fast pass but little kids might get scared.
  • Pick up a junior nature guidebook (or whatever they are called) to enhance the education and help focus in times between events. It's basically a child busy book.
  • I highly recommend the Satu'li Canteen in Pandora. Order from the app to walk right up to your food.
  • The only cool things about Rafiki’s Planet Watch/Conservation Station is seeing Rafiki, Doc McStuffins and the petting zoo. Otherwise kind of a waste of time, in my opinion.
  • Tusker House is really good and you see: Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy.

MAGIC KINGDOM

  • My daughter and I went when it first opened and headed to the back of the park. We did ALL the princess/little kid rides with NO wait because everyone goes to the Dwarf Train.
  • I wasn’t super impressed with Be Our Guest but some people love it. It was basically the beast’s castle and it thundered. A breakfast sandwich was like $25. Gaston’s Tavern had a very similar menu for cheaper. And it was still cool and a LOT quicker.
  • The fireworks show is cool and you can see if from several vantage points. If you stay for fireworks, camp out an hour before at Union Station. It makes the exit really easy, visibility is great, and you're away from the worst crowds.
  • Astro Orbiter, Magic Carpet Ride, or Dumbo. They're the same ride but different themes.
  • Also do Hall of Presidents (air conditioned and good rest time), It's a Small World, Jungle Cruise, Mickey's Philharmagic, Peter Pan, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Carousel of Progress (air conditioned and nap time), Monster's Inc. Laugh Floor, Under The Sea. None of these need a fast pass when we went in May.
  • We LOVED the Jungle Cruise (do it at night if you can). Pirates of the Caribbean is totally updated with appearances by Johnny Depp and is so fun. The Laugh Floor is a MUST. My husband was "that guy." Enchanted Tales with Belle can be fun for the boys and girls because they can be involved in the production. My daughter got to be The Beast! And The Haunted Mansion was fun but she was kind of scared… It’s not really that scary but little eyes believe what they see.
  • If you would like to fill time with low key events, Tom Sawyer's Island is a generic playground, the steamboat is ok, Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse is a good way to use energy, and the Carousel is classic. I kind of felt like they were a waste of time because we can do playgrounds whenever!

EPCOT

  • I'd recommend picking up Ratatouille's map from a vendor. That will keep the kids entertained.
  • This seems to be the best place to meet Mickey, but try to get a Fastpass for it.
  • Pixar Short Film Festival (4D film, air conditioned), Gran Fiesta (boat ride in the back of the Mexican restaurant, very short line generally). Journey Into Imagination with Figment is NOT worth your time or the line. Living With The Land (fun for adults), Mission: Space, Highly recommend Soarin' if they’re tall enough and is ok with thrills, Spaceship Earth, Stave Church Gallery in Norway. Turtle Talk and The Seas with Nemo didn’t need Fast Passes really. The lines were pretty short. But that was when we went in May.
  • I am not a big Frozen fan but the ride was so cool and totally worth the Fast Pass!
  • Pick up an ice cream on brioche in France! I ate it for lunch and wasn’t sorry. Fish and chips in Ireland was not good. We went during the food fest in May and they had little “snacks” for cheap. They were fun to try!
  • Don't eat at the sit down restaurant in Italy (it'll take an hour +).

HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS

  • It’s mostly Star Wars stuff but really fun.
  • Our five-year-old was big enough to go on the Rockin' Roller Coaster. But, mentally she was not ready. It's for kids at least eight or nine. She was traumatized!
  • Frozen Sing-a-Long is a show but cute for kids who like Frozen. It's air-conditioned!
  • Muppet Vision 3D is great, and it's recommended you get there early to enjoy the banter.
  • Fantasmic, which is highly regarded as the best night show in all the parks. Bring snacks!!! Worth the Fast Pass!
  • If you don't have reservations, check out some of the other less popular restaurants. We ate at the 50's Prime Time Cafe. We waited for about 20 mins in the AC and it was so fun! All the servers would yell at you for having elbows on the table and there were little 50s black and white TVs everywhere. They'll even do the mash potato airplane if you need help finishing your plate!