Note: this is a combined post from our first article about the tips-and-tricks to get the most out of a Disney trip and the follow-up I wrote a few years later of all our best Disney tips. Together, they provide the best family Disney travel tips that goes along perfectly with our June M Challenge on Travel! I know a family Disney trip is high on most of your wish lists, so I hope that these things we learned and still use will be helpful to you in planning your own Disney trip!
Our family has LOVED our Disney trips, and one of the reasons we’ve ALL loved them is because we have learned a few things that make the planning, preparation, travel, and time at the park much more enjoyable. Once you take your first trip, you learn a few “insider tips” and my hope is that if you’ve never been to Disney, you can use these family Disney travel tips to make your first time run as smoothly as if you were a seasoned Disney traveler!
Our Best Family Disney Travel Tips:
Preparation is Key
1. Financial Preparation- Set aside money into a separate savings account to prepare for your trip – consider talking with your bank about opening a special account. Have an automatic transfer made for $25 or more each month put into this account all year long and then you will have the money saved when it is time to make your family trip.
Savings can be had when booking your travel through places like AAA and additional savings can be found while visiting in Orlando by printing a free Orlando Magicard to take with you when visiting restaurants and attractions while you are in Orlando.
2. Safety Preparation- I don’t need to tell you that Disney is a big place and safety is very important when visiting theme parks. Each child was assigned a buddy to be their partner throughout the days and they were to hold their buddy’s hand while we were there. We took additional safety precautions by printing out recent pictures of our children to keep in our wallet and bags just in case something should happen and they were separated from us. With a handy Sharpie, I wrote my cell phone number on their arms so if they were separated from us, someone could call us and reunite us quickly.
3. Meal Preparation- You can bring snacks and drinks into the park with no problems. We packed fruit snacks, granola bars, and bottles of water for our day in a bag with no objections. Rely on these snacks and bottles of water to help cut some of the costs. I recommend visiting this MouseSavers page to find the best cheap eats while you are at the parks. We did get table service for the evening, but you want to call ahead since reservations can be made up to 180 days in advance of your vacation. Since we called the reservation number that morning when we arrived, we ended up at the Plaza. The table service was about twelve dollars more than the fast food service in the park and quite a bit better with a lot more food included with our meal. If you want to explore the menus before you go, you can view all the menus for the parks here.
4. Souvenir Preparation- Souvenirs are a big expense and children can be plagued with horrible cases of what our family lovingly calls, “a case of the gimmies.” At the same time, I remember the amazing souvenir ears I got and how much I wanted those items when I went to Disney. I hit the local Disney store for t-shirts and small toys which were a third of the price as they were in the shops and a girlfriend recommended picking up ears at a local party store (only $5.99 each). The kids were thrilled with their ears and shirts which they wore throughout the park and they did not even ask for anything while we walked through thanks to this little bit of preparation.
5. Navigation Preparation- When you pick up your tickets, you can pick up a handy map of the park. Thanks to my iPhone I was able to get some reinforcement on the map with Disney’s Magic Kingdom Tour Guide GPS+ from CXI Gaming (cost was $1.99) that helped us navigate the parks easily and find what we needed quickly. We also had everything in our GPS before we left for getting to the park and how to get back to where we were lodging.
Getting the Most Out of Your Ride Time
1. Make a Plan of Attack- Along with your Navigation Preparation, discuss as a family what rides are most important to you and order them in a list of importance. The rides with the longest wait times we rode first so that we could make sure that we got those out of the way before the crowds and wait times got really long. If you aren’t’ sure what rides would be best for the age group of your kids, I do recommend buying the Disney’s Magic Kingdom Tour Guide GPS+ from CXI Gaming (cost was $1.99) because this actually gives you a plan for your day based upon your age group. Oh, and one brilliant suggestion from a reader is to start at the back of the park and move forward while most other people will be doing the opposite!
2. Use FASTPASS to Make the Most of Your Day-FASTPASS isn’t anything you need to sign up for, it is simply a way to place a reservation on rides with long wait times. On your map that you receive when you come in, it will have a FASTPASS icon next to the rides that you can FASTPASS. Head to those rides specified and a machine will be available to insert your ticket and a receipt will print out when you can come back to the ride with a one hour window that you can cash in on. Head to other rides with shorter wait times and then come back at the designated time to go through a faster line.
3. Add a free Wait Time App to Your Mobile Phone- No need to invest in a pricey Wait Time App, just the free Disney World Wait Times app will work perfectly since all wait time information is user generated. Check the wait times on the rides and use that to help decide which rides you want to go on.
Capturing the Magic
The last thing you want on your kid’s magical day is terrible pictures that don’t showcase just how amazing the day was.
1. Capture Their View- When Emily saw the castle for the first time…well, I could start bawling just thinking about it. I wanted to see that moment over and over so I captured her first gaze at the castle and then got to her eye level and took a picture at her level at exactly what she was seeing. Having pictures of your kids seeing this magical beauty and the magical beauty itself are things that your family will never forget.
2. Capture the Movement- How can you capture the hilarious and dizzy feeling of some of those rides without movement in the picture. Capturing motion in photography is so much fun especially when riding on moving things like the teacups. My tip is to focus on one thing (like a bag, etc.) as you spin. I recommend this article if you are looking for more tips on how to capture motion blur in your pictures.
3. Take Fun Pictures on the Go- My camera equipment can get awfully heavy so we took turns with the big camera and I relied on my mobile phone when I wanted to capture details quickly and easily. I love Camera+ and Instagram for sharing fun pictures on the go. It is such a fun way to take a quick photo, add an effect, and send it to family and friends to keep them updated on how your day is going.
4. Get a Family Photo- I looked for someone who had a camera like ours to take our family picture. If you have a point-and-shoot, finding someone to snap a picture should be really easy. When I handed off my camera I switched it to Aperture Mode (Av on my Canon) and changed the Aperture to f/7.1. I then used a photo editing tool (like PicMonkey) to crop as many of the background people out of our picture.
They also have people all over the parks taking pictures and you can have them snap your picture for their portrait and then ask them to take one with your camera too. They know the best spots with good lighting and backgrounds for your family photos. Best of all, they know how to work cameras.
5. Capture the Nighttime Magic- Nighttime magic was tricky to photograph and may require a little research on your part. When I took pictures of the castle I was so disappointed. The colors were off and lights were blurry. It was not the magical pictures I had hoped for.
Over dinner, I went on this Disney Photography Blog and found this information how to capture the nighttime parade. I took test shots after our dinner until I was happy with the lighting and able to capture some of the nighttime beauty at Disney!
So, to recap, here is a condensed version of our family disney travel tips (just in case you’d like to print them out to help you prepare!):
1. Advance Preparation Tips
- Financially: start saving and looking for deals as soon as you start thinking about your trip.
- Safety: print out current photos to carry of each child, bring a sharpie to write cell phone numbers with, and assign buddies.
- Meals: plan for snacks and drinks before heading to the park.
- Souvenirs: buy them at a local Disney store or the party store and pack them with you!
- Navigation: load all needed GPS info beforehand.
2. Ride Tips
- Make a family plan: list the rides everyone wants to go on by importance.
- Visit rides with longest wait times first.
- Use FASTPASS to get through longer lines faster.
- Add the Wait Time App to your mobile phone to check ride wait times.
3. Photograph Tips
- Capture your children’s view – not only of them seeing things, but how they see it (get down to their level).
- Capture the moment – as many of the hilarious ride moments as you can!
- Take pictures on the go, too – in the car and at the hotel – using both phone and regular cameras.
- Remember a family photo: scope out someone who can take a picture of your family in front of something you like.
- Capture the nighttime magic – do a bit of research in advance to know your camera settings so you can get some good memory shots of the fantastic light displays.