We just got back from Disney World! I must say I am pretty proud of how well it turned it. I did my research and planned as well as I could. Not to having a set schedule for every single thing was important. I read up on a lot of mistakes that parents make when trying to plan for Disney. I tried to learn from them. For someone who plans everything and tries to have everything organized, I really wanted the trip to feel carefree not only for the kids but for us too.
This was our first vacation as a family so the pressure was on. My daughter is 8 and is the one that is really soaking up the Disney experience. I wanted everything to be perfect but not at the expense of my sanity. Below are some tips that I used to make our vacation run smooth and enjoyable. It’s not easy planning a vacation for a family of 4 on a budget, especially when you’re going to the happiest place on earth.
The Dining Plan: I can see how the dining plan would not work for everyone or even for every Disney trip but for us during our 4 days at Disney it really was a lifesaver. We wanted to make the most out of every day we were there so including a sit-down meal at a fun character themed restaurant was something we wanted to do. With the dining plan you basically pay for all your meals ahead of time. At first this seemed like a waste of money but once I saw the prices of everything, I was relieved that we did it that way.
Our dining plan included 3 sit down meals, 3 quick service meals, 3 snacks, and 3 refillable souvenir mugs. All of that is for each of us. We had reservations at a sit-down restaurant for all 3 days and the quick service meals were great for the resort restaurants. We used the snack credits in the park and still had some food credits leftover at the end of our stay to stock up on some snacks. Especially for the character dining, the dining plan was beneficial for us.
Stroller Rental: Our original plan was to buy a cheap umbrella stroller at Wal-Mart or Target for our 2-year-old once we got to Disney. Packing it in the car was going to be a challenge. I knew we would be coming back with a lot more than we brought with us. The option to rent the Disney stroller didn’t appeal to me very much. They are hard plastic and not meant for kids to sleep in and I knew my son would fall asleep in the stroller every day.
I looked up stroller rentals in Orlando and the 2 most popular choices were Magic Strollers and Kingdom strollers. I figured that renting a stroller was going to run about $100 for the entire stay. To my surprise, we got a great stroller from Magic Strollers for about $40. It was $25 for the first day and $6.50 for each additional day. We ordered it online 2 days before and it was waiting for us when we got to the resort. Before we left I gave it to luggage assistance and they did the rest. It couldn’t have been any easier of a process. The best part was that I didn’t have to worry about not having any space for it in the car. I will definitely rent a stroller from them every time we go to Disney.
Fast Passes: We got 3 fast passes per person per day that we were at the park. I believe they came along with our ticket purchase. Some people didn’t feel the need to use fast passes for many of the rides. I can definitely say that even if a line was only 30-40 minutes, having a fast pass and only have to wait 5 0r 10 minutes meant that we were able to avoid the toddler meltdown. Every parent understands that 40 minutes to an adult is 4 hours to a toddler.
We used our fast passes for the rides and experiences that benefited our family the most. I was able to navigate the crowds well enough to get us on many more rides with minimal wait times depending on the time of day or night. The front desk woman even gave us an additional fast pass per day for no reason. The fast passes are important for toddlers. Any wait is too long of a wait so why not cut it down as much as possible.
DIY Welcome Baskets: I knew from the start that I wanted to surprise my kids with welcome baskets….or bags when we arrived at the hotel room. The welcome baskets that you can have delivered from Disney are hundreds of dollars and don’t include too much. I started stocking up on Disney items 2 months out.
I get emails from Disney store letting me know what is on sale….sooo dangerous FYI. In this case, it was great because when bathing suits were on sale I bought them. When the stuffed animals, buy one get one for $1, I bought the kids a new plush. We did this with everything from character shirts and personalized sweat shirts to pajamas and bathing suit cover-ups. By the time we were ready for our trip, the kids each had a bag full of Disney items and I got every one of them on sale. Don’t get me wrong, that was something special for their FIRST Disney vacation. I can’t spoil them like that every time….talk about breaking the bank!
Disney Gift Cards: We didn’t use this tip this time around but will definitely be using it the next time. Someone at the Disney Store told me that when they go to Disney she gives her daughter a gift card containing anything from $40 – $100. At first, I thought that was unnecessary and a little crazy to be honest. This was until I saw myself saying “No” a lot when my daughter wanted something. If I didn’t want to spend the money on it then I wasn’t buying it but what I should have realized was that if a silly little pen was what she wanted to make her trip special then she should have gotten it.
I might not have wanted to spend $15 on a key chain but if she had her own gift card then she would have been able to make that decision for herself. We decided that for the next trip which is coming up in a few months, we are going to set aside probably $50 on a gift card. This will be just for her and she can spend it however she likes. I would not apply this tip to my kids if they were too young and didn’t have a concept of money. However, this will benefit my daughter, as she is 8 and beginning to understand the value of a dollar.
These tips worked great for my family and me, however, might not be as beneficial for everyone. This trip taught me to plan but not to over plan. Have an itinerary but not a set schedule. You can have a plan and go with the flow at the same time. The most important thing is to have the best time you can with your family. I am so happy to say that our first family vacation was a huge success!!
Jackie- The Hot Mess Mom
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