I admit it took me a long time as a mom before planning our first trip to Disney. I wanted to wait until my kids were old enough to remember and, quite honestly, to walk around on their own. But our third child came right about when the other two were ready, so we put it off.
I also admit I lived near Orlando for 3 years of my childhood while my dad was working for a contractor who was building several buildings at Epcot. We went to Disney World. A. Lot. It kind of lost its allure.
But there was history too. I wanted to show my kids what their grandpa had built. Spaceship Earth anyone? That was another reason to delay the trip until they were older, so they could appreciate it more.
So when our oldest had a gymnastics competition in Orlando this past winter, it was finally time to plan our Disney trip.
If only I knew
Things have changed a lot at Disney World since I was there during the building of Epcot. Who knew there were two whole other new parks to visit?! I guess the rest of the parents in the world or at least the US.
So now in Disney World there is the good old Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood (which is opening up a Star Wars-themed section in 2019). Plus they have two water parks! It is 47 square miles of theme parks, water parks, resorts, lakes, golf courses and more.
When to go
Now I didn’t have much choice in when to plan the trip since it was combined with the competition. It turned out to be a decent time of year to go. A little cool for Florida for my taste but much nicer than the hot and humid of summer. It was a holiday weekend so maybe busier than a non-holiday weekend but still decent crowd sizes and lines, especially later in the week.
You may have more choice in planning a Disney trip and when you go. Obviously your schedule and your kids’ school schedule will play a major factor.
And while Disney has tried to spread attendance by offering special events during traditionally slow times, there are still periods of peak attendance. Typically if at all possible you want to avoid planning a Disney trip around the Christmas holiday, spring breaks, summer break and, well, any other holiday.
Which makes the best times to go:
- between Thanksgiving and Christmas,
- January to mid- February,
- early May and
- the end of August through September (this is a hot time of year and peak hurricane season.
Other than Disney special events, other events can affect the size of the crowds at Disney World. For instance when we went, there were so many sporting events at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney, the gymnastics competition was moved to another location. It was a holiday weekend, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so the parks were busy Saturday through Monday but the crowds died down on Tuesday.
How long to stay
This may also be dictated by your schedules but you want to take into consideration how much there is to do. We only had 5 days and the boys aren’t supposed to do anything too strenuous the day before a meet so I only ended up planning to be in the parks two days. We had to be really choosy about what we wanted to see and do.
My kids didn’t want to see much of the world pavilions at Epcot so we mostly got done what we wanted to there. They wanted some of the rides at Magic Kingdom but opted to do enjoy the rides at Animal Kingdom since they were older and didn’t care for princesses or Dumbo. But one day at Animal Kingdom was not enough. They could have done Flight of Passage in the Avatar section at least 5 more times. They weren’t interested in any of the themes at Disney’s Hollywood but that may change next time when Star Wars is open.
If you want to really experience the majority of attractions and shows, you’ll need at least 5 days just for the four main parks. Plan for longer if you want to include the water parks or any other parks in Orlando (Universal or Sea World).
Another factor in this decision is the price of tickets. Tickets to Disney World are expensive. Disney has set up its ticket pricing to encourage longer trips. So if you were thinking 4 days, you might decide 7 days since 7-day tickets don’t cost that much more than 4-day tickets.
What you’re going to do
Like I said, there is so much to do. Deciding what you want to do will also factor in to how long you want to plan to stay.
Even at this early planning stage, you’ll want to start mapping out your basic itinerary and even make reservations for any sit-down meals. Consult the theme park calendars and plan early, like 6 months in advance. Make a list of must-see attractions for which you’ll want to try to get a FastPass+. FastPasses allow you to reserve attraction times which allow you to skip the regular line and go to a shorter FastPass line.
With the purchase of a ticket, you can make FastPass+ selections as early as 30 days before you arrive—starting at 7:00 AM Eastern Time. Plus, if you are staying at a Disney Resort hotel, Disney Springs Area Hotels or other select nearby hotels, you can make your FastPass+ selections up to 60 days prior to check-in for the entire length of your stay. I highly recommend this. I didn’t know and waited to too close to our trip and had trouble getting anything good unless it was just before park close.
Make your way to Disney’s Vacation Planning Center, where you’ll find in-depth planning guides and online tools.
Create an account on Disney World’s website. This is where you’ll be able to access the My Disney Experience that holds your reservations and links your dining reservations and FastPass+ selections. You can download the My Disney Experience app on your phone to view maps, restaurant menus, your plans and more while at the park.
Where to stay
Obviously there are incentives to stay at a Disney resort, like earlier reservations for FastPass+. Each of the official Disney resorts is unique. They offer the ability to experience the Disney magic 24/7. Disney resorts typically have much larger pools and more recreation options than most off-site hotels. You also get access to “Extra Magic Hours” and some other perks.
On the other hand, off-site hotels often offer a better price. This can be especially good for larger families. Disney resorts options for 5 or more people are quite pricey. Orlando has plenty of timeshare and vacation home rental options for big parties.
Think about what amenities you want. Do you want to forget about cooking for the week? Stay at a place that offers breakfast. Do you have picky eaters and it would be easier to make breakfast yourself? Find a hotel or condo with a kitchenette or even a full-size kitchen. Planning on stay at the park from open to close? Might not be so important to have a place with a pool. It’s Florida it probably will have a pool but how big it is might not matter so much.
Another thing to take into consideration when deciding where to stay, is the age of your children and how you will transport them safely if you stay off site (or on for that matter). Planning a Disney trip is one thing, but how do you get around once you are there?
How to get around
When you stay at a Disney resort hotel, you get free transfers to and from the airport via Disney’s Magical Express. And you get direct access to the Disney buses, boats and monorails so you can take a break from driving for the whole vacation.
If you stay off-property, you will probably want to rent a car. This is an additional expense but is generally a faster way to get around than hotel shuttles and the Disney transportation system. Remember to plan for the parking expense. Parking at the park is $25 a day.Plus if you want to visit any sites outside of Disney World, you need a rental car or to plan on taking a ride share like Uber or Lyft.
Remember if you have young children, they still need to remain properly restrained whether you are renting a car, taking shuttles, or taking taxis or ride shares. If you are staying off site and ride sharing with kids to and from the park, you’ll need a child restraint you can also easily carry like a RideSafer vest (for kids 3 and up). Uber does offer UberFamily in Orlando. UberFamily is Uber with a car seat that will accommodate children who are at least 1 years old and are between 22 and 48 pounds and 31 and 52 inches. You’ll need to bring your own seat for younger children and bigger children will need a belt positioning device, like booster or RideSafer.
Now that you’re done Planning a Disney trip
Relax. If you planned well in advance as suggested, you have time to visualize every thing going smoothly, every one being happy and getting along, and even yourself feeling de-stressed during this trip with kids.
When it’s time to go, check the weather and pack comfortable walking shoes — and probably a rain coat or umbrella.
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
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