St. Augustine moms are blessed! Not only do we live in a spot where people dream of vacationing, but we’re within a short drive of the happiest place on earth, Disney World! But if you’re anything like me you may not have been to Disney in the last decade and a lot has changed. These days a little advanced planning can make a huge difference in your enjoyment at the park.
My husband and I recently decided to take our first family trip to Disney with our 2-year-old daughter. I knew I’d need nothing short of a little pixie dust to pull off a successful trip. So, I joined a couple of Disney planning groups, read blogs such as WDW Prep School and Mommy of a Princess, which has all sorts of amazing resources and listened to a number of planning podcasts, such as Disney Deciphered.
There’s a mountain of information available and its overwhelming. Disney fanatics speak their own secret language! I’ve seen many moms new to the planning groups throw their hands up and give up; I almost did too. But after a lot of trial and tribulation, I managed to pull off a pretty seamless trip. I’m by no means an expert, but I want to help condense the information and share with you FIVE of my favorite tips and tricks to help your next Disney trip run a little smoother.
Download and Use the Walt Disney World App
Most importantly, I urge you to download and use the Disney World smartphone app. My favorite feature is the digital park maps, on which you can see current wait times for all rides and attractions. Even if you don’t take advantage of FastPass Plus, seeing the wait times before trekking over to a ride will save you a lot of aimless wandering. You can also use the app to reserve your FastPass+, view your PhotoPass pictures, use mobile ordering, reserve dining, shop, use GPS navigation around the park, and keep track of all your plans, including annual passes, tickets, and Disney accommodations. The app really is essential, if you want to streamline all your plans in one place.
Use Fast Pass+
Gone are the days of lining up for hours in the heat (well, sort of). The last time I was at Disney a very primitive version of Fast Pass had just been implemented. Guests would use their tickets at kiosks around the park to receive a printed Fast Pass for the next time slot available for a ride. These days Disney has evolved that system into something called FastPass+ (or FP+). With an FP+ reservation, you’ll wait in a much shorter line. Every ticket holder gets FP+ at no extra cost, but you are limited to three initial FP+ reservations, so choose wisely. After you’ve used your initial three FP+ reservations (in fact as soon as you’ve scanned your ticket or band in line for the last of the 3 reserved attractions) you can reserve one additional FP+ at a time for the rest of that day, using the Disney app on your phone or using a kiosk. There’s too much to cover in one short post, but here is a very helpful article from WDW Prep School that covers the topic extensively and explains how to make FP+ reservations, the tier system, and why there are rides you don’t want to use FP+ for while planning the day.
Bring a Stroller
The average Disney guest walks about 10 – 12 miles in one day at the park. It’s pretty common to see even older children using strollers at Disney. You’ll want to consider the max height and weight limits of your stroller, but I think it’s safe to say you’ll want a stroller if your child is 6 or under, unless you want to carry them around in the Florida heat. One of the advantages of driving to Disney is that you can bring your own stroller. I’d recommend something that’s lightweight, streamlined and folds easily. I purchased a used Britax B Agile for a steal, just for Disney and loved it. Disney just updated its stroller guidelines, so make sure you check here for their official Rules. You cannot bring your stroller in line or on rides, but there is designated stroller parking for each attraction. Make sure you label your stroller and put something on it to make it easy to spot in the sea of parked strollers!
Plan Your Dining
I won’t get into the complicated world of Disney dining plan packages, you can read more about those here. For our short Disney vacation we, like many, opted to pay for dining ala carte. My main objective in planning meals in the park was to find quick, self-serve lunches that we could enjoy at an air-conditioned table and affordable dining for dinner that we could wind down and enjoy before the evening fireworks. In Disney lingo “quick service” or “QS” are the self-serve/counter-service restaurants. Pay attention to what’s available though, a lot of quick service options have only outdoor tables or no tables at all and I knew my family would want to take a break from the heat. If you choose to use quick service dining I recommend ordering your food using the Disney mobile app, mentioned above. It will save you from the absolute madness that is the lunchtime rush.
For dinners, we chose to reserve “table service” restaurants, where you are waited on. You can get pretty fancy with these, but for most of our trip, we chose affordable options. One evening we splurged and dined at Arkurshus Royal Banquet Hall where our daughter could meet all her favorite princesses in one place. If you are trying to cram a lot into one trip, considering character dining might help you skip those lines to meet the characters individually, and of course, the kids will love it.
Lastly, I want to list some essentials to pack in your park bag. I saved money by ordering these items ahead of time instead of paying “Disney prices” in a pinch:
- Ponchos: For cheaper disposable ponchos than those in the park, check your local Dollar Tree.
- Water and snacks: Yes, you can now bring your own food and drink to Disney, and even bring a small cooler. Your bags will be checked at park entry, so check this handy list of items prohibited and the permitted cooler dimensions. If you’re bringing a stroller you can move heavier items to your stroller basket after bag check.
- Bubble wand, glow sticks, small souvenirs: When your kids see those glow sticks being peddled at sundown they’ll want them and you’ll pay a pretty penny in the park. You can grab an array of glow sticks and other small souvenirs at Dollar Tree. Disney Bubble wands are available at Target and Walmart and are very similar to the ones sold in the park.
- Portable Phone Charger: Because you’ll be using the Disney app a lot while at the park your phone will die and I highly suggest bringing at least one portable charger. You’ll save money by purchasing this in advance rather than at the park.
You can read more local moms’ tips, including enjoying Disney after dark, here on St. Augustine Moms Blog. I hope this post gives you some easy ideas, to make your trip with kids a little less stressful and a little more magical!