Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Everything You Need to Know About Disney - Tips and Tricks for the Perfect Trip Part 1

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We went to Disney World for the first time as a family of four back in March during Spring Break, and it was, by far, my favorite trip that our little family has taken.  It was pure magic.

Planning a Disney trip can be extremely overwhelming because there’s so much that you need to know and there are so many options to choose from for everything, so today I thought that I would share everything that I learned about the process while planning and taking our first trip.

I have an abundance of information to share, so I will be splitting this into two posts.  Today’s post is all about planning your trip and next week I will post about the trip itself.


Tip # 1 – Use a Disney Travel Agent

Are you a control freak?  Do you have trouble delegating or relinquishing control?  Yep, this is me.  However, from one control freak to another – LET IT GO.  Yes, for our Disney trip I happily handed it over to a Disney travel agent and I have zero regrets.  Our travel agent saved me loads of time, she got better deals for us than we could have gotten had we booked ourselves, and she was able to book meal reservations and fast passes for us that I’m not sure we would have gotten had we attempted to do it ourselves. 

Their services are free.  Yes, FREE!  At no extra cost for you, they will do all the work and then hand it to you on a silver platter.  Our travel agent booked our hotel accommodations, our dining plan, all of our dining reservations, our fast passes, our photo pass, and she assisted us with many other details as well!  She goes to Disney World several times per year so she can stay on top of all of the newest information/ride all of the rides/eat at all of the restaurants so she can put together the very best itinerary for each of her clients.  She knows way more about Disney than we could ever possibly know and she is truly a wealth of knowledge for all things Disney.  We will certainly be using her services again when we plan our next trip.  Please email me if you would like her information!

Tip # 2 – Stay at a Disney Property

While it’s cheaper to stay off-site, it is 100% worth every penny (in my opinion) to stay at a Disney property during your trip.  Here are the reasons why:

1.      You have access to Disney transit.  We used the Disney buses the entire time we were there and they were extremely convenient.  It was so nice to not have to worry about finding a place to park every day.  They are free, too!
2.      You can get Disney Magic Bands if you stay on the property and trust me, you will NEED these!!  They are truly magical!  More on this in just a few…
3.      You are granted access to the parks one hour earlier than people who are NOT staying on the property.  Trust me, you will want to use this hour to the fullest!

Tip # 3 – Be Sure to Get the Magic Bands!

As stated before, when staying on a Disney property you qualify to get Magic Bands for your entire family.  And the Magic Bands live up to their name… as a matter of fact, they will be the most important things that you bring into the parks each day.  Here are some reasons why you need these:

1.      They serve as your hotel room key.
2.      If you link a credit card to them in advance you can use them to pay for things in the park.  I literally never once pulled out cash or a credit card the entire trip.  Every single vendor has a special Magic Band pad on their registers for check-out and all you have to do is hold the band up to the pad.  Talk about convenient!
3.      Your Magic Bands are programmed with your Fast Pass information so you will use those to swipe yourself into the rides.
4.      You swipe these to use your meal and snack credits at restaurants if you have the dining plan.
5.      Your Magic Bands have sensors so the rides in the parks “know” when you’re on the ride, and therefore, it knows to link the pictures and videos that are taken of you on the ride to your Photo Pass.  Such a fun surprise to get those pictures back!

Tip # 4 – Book a Disney Dining Plan

Disney offers three different meal plans and you can choose one to suit your needs or you can forgo the meal plan altogether.  For our first trip, we decided to go ahead and book a Disney meal plan for each member of the family.  A lot of people have asked me my thoughts on this, and here is my opinion.  Overall, we did save some money with the dining plan but more importantly it was so convenient!  If you’re a big foodie, you will definitely benefit (save money) with the meal plan, and if you like to drink alcohol (more on that in a minute) you will also benefit (save money) with the meal plan.  We are both foodies and alcohol drinkers so we wouldn’t have done it any other way! 

In addition to the meals being covered, each meal plan also includes a reusable plastic cup for each family member that is refillable at all resorts.  We literally carried and used these cups the entire trip.  They are only refillable at the resorts, NOT in the parks, but we were able to fill them first thing in the morning with our beverage of choice, and then in the parks we would ask for free waters from kiosks and cafes and use those to refill our cups.  None of us wanted anything besides water while we were walking around the parks anyway, so this worked out perfectly.  The cups kept the drinks cold, and it was nice to have them on hand so everyone could stay hydrated.  It does get hot and you will do a lot of walking, so staying hydrated is a must!  Also, our stroller just so happened to have four cup holders so we didn’t have to worry about carrying them.

As mentioned previously, as of January 2018 alcoholic beverages are included in the meal plan as well.  Yes, moms and dads, you can now get an alcoholic beverage with every meal on your plan!!!!  And we’re not just talking about some tiny little cocktail or a can of beer.  We were able to choose from pretty much any of the alcoholic beverages at all of the restaurants including the 16 oz. OR the 20 oz. beer.  I bet you can probably guess which one we chose… ;o)

For this trip, our family selected the middle meal plan.  This includes:

1.      One quick service meal (fast-food) per person per day
2.      One table service meal (sit-down) per person per day
3.      Two snacks per person per day (This gave us a total of 40 snacks for the entire trip, and you can use them all anytime for anyone… you could even use all 40 at the same time if you wanted to.)
4.      One refillable plastic cup per person

We used all of our quick service meals for our lunches and all of our table service meals for our dinners (and one for our character breakfast on the last day).  I strongly urge you to book your table service meal reservations well in advance.  Our Disney Travel Agent did this for us around six months prior to our trip, I want to say.  (And there will be more information on our favorite restaurants in my next post.)  Our breakfasts were not included, but we brought granola bars and Larabars and ate breakfast on the go each morning since Disney allows you to bring outside food and drinks into the park each day. 

All meals have to be redeemed on the trip, of course, but if you don’t use all of your snack credits, you can load up on non-perishable goodies to take back home! 


Our last day there, we had 19 snack credits left so we went to one of the gift shops and got Rice Krispy Treats, gummies, lollipops, Cheez-Its, and all kinds of other fun items to take home.  Our kids are still enjoying the magic of Disney at home two months later.  ;o)

Tip # 5 – Book Fast Passes for Rides and Attractions

Your Disney travel agent will book these for you as well and it is a MUST for a Disney World trip.  The longest we ever waited with a fast pass was less than 15 minutes, but without them, you might possibly wait upwards of 2.5 hours for one ride!! 

As for when to schedule them, our travel agent scheduled all of our fast passes for the late morning/afternoon and she scheduled them for the most popular rides.  This meant that we had all morning to ride everything that we didn’t have fast passes for while the lines were short, and then we rode the popular rides with our fast passes in the afternoon while the lines were long and we were able to skip the lines.  That worked out beautifully and this allowed us to maximize our time and get the most out of our trip 

One more thing to note, once all three of your fast passes have been used for the day, you are then eligible to book more fast passes.  However, the couple of days that we did try to book fast passes after all of ours had been used, there were none left for the rides we wanted to ride.

Tip # 6 – Add the Disney Photo Pass Option to Your Reservation

I am a picture fanatic, so I didn’t even think twice about booking this.  Yes, it costs more money, but since we were planning our very first trip ever we decided it was worth the splurge.  Reasons to book it:

1.      It’s an easy way to get family pictures taken without having to ask a stranger to take a picture with your phone.
2.      You get access to special photo shots that you wouldn’t otherwise get.
3.      The photographers will have you take pictures in weird poses but when you get the pictures back it’s pure magic!  Your children will go nuts when they see Tinker Bell standing in their hands.
4.      A lot of the rides have cameras that photograph and video you during the ride, and you will receive all of these pictures as well if you book the Photo Pass.  When you have Disney Photo Pass, your entire party will have Magic Bands to wear and the rides have sensors and “know” when you’re on that ride because of your Magic Band!  That picture below?  PRICELESS.

Tip # 7 – Download the Disney App

When you’re at Disney World, this will be your bible!!  With this app, you have the following information at your fingertips:

1.      Up-to-date information for the wait times for all of the rides and attractions (we found these to be very accurate)
2.      Information about each ride and attraction including height requirements, descriptions, recommended ages for riding, etc.
3.      Lists of all restaurants, parades, and other events
4.      Maps and a built-in GPS that gives walking directions to any location in each of the parks (sometimes the GPS struggles when the parks get really packed, though.)
5.      A full itinerary for your trip including fast pass times, dining reservations, hotel accommodations, etc.
6.      Access to all of your Disney Photo Pass pictures and videos
7.      You can also order food at any restaurant from this app so you don’t have to wait in line to order.

And so much more, y’all!  I could go on and on about this app.  It.  Is.  Fabulous.  Super user-friendly, too!

Tip # 8 – Buy Some Special Items to Make Your Trip Easier/More Memorable

Since this was our first trip, and it will not be a trip that we take every year, we splurged a lot more than we usually do.  Aside from the usual vacation things to buy, we also purchased several fun/practical things to make the car ride and the trip easier and more memorable.

1.      Personalized shirts – family Disney shirts are so popular now and I had to have some for family pictures, not to mention when you’re all wearing the same thing it makes it easier to find each other if you are separated.
2.      Autograph books – all of the characters (with the exception of the Star Wars characters in Hollywood Studios) will sign autographs.  Most kids there had this blank Disney autograph book, but I thought it would be fun to get these Disney character encyclopedias for them to autograph.  The characters were all able to autograph their own pages, plus the books doubled as entertainment for the kids while we waited in line.  
3.      Dum Dums – we bought a huge bag of Dum Dums before we left because they were the perfect thing to give the kids in the car or while we were waiting in line to keep them busy.  They take a while to eat so it will bide you some time, but they’re so tiny that you don’t have to worry about giving your kids too much sugar.
4.      Bubbles – another fun thing for the kids to do while they wait in line.
5.      External charger – you will need this!  I repeat YOU WILL NEED THIS!  Disney is filled with photo opportunities so you will be using your camera a ton, not to mention you’ll be using your Disney app nonstop.  That will definitely drain the battery so you will need a way to charge your phone on the go.
6.      Disney Mad Libs – my girl, Marie, mentioned this Mad Libs book in one of her posts and I knew immediately we had to have it.  Jacob has been obsessed with Mad Libs for over a year now so it was the perfect way to get the kids excited for the trip and to burn some time in the car.  Not to mention they are educational as they teach your kids about the parts of speech – noun, adjective, verb, etc.  They also have a Star Wars version, a Frozen version, and many more!

Well, I’m going to stop here since I just bombarded you with so much info.  And I have SO MUCH MORE coming next week about the actual trip itself!  The next post will discuss what to take each day to the parks, transit, information about getting to the parks each day, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack information, maximizing your experience, wall murals to look for, and so much more!  I’ll see you back here for another Disney post next week!

And if you are new here and you missed the recaps from our trip, you can see them below!

Animal Kingdom
Magic Kingdom
Hollywood Studios
Character Breakfast

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  1. Saving this post for when we plan a trip to Disney!! So much has changed since I lived in Florida and used to go with my parents or even my friends! xo, Biana-BlovedBoston

  2. Great Tips! It is so WORTH the money to stay on property! Ben and I have always said "if we are going to Disney, we are going to Disney" We saved for each trip to make it worth all the magic!

  3. You are so on it girl, this is the perfect Guide for Disney goers!

  4. So many good tips!!! It's amazing how much things have changed over the years - definitely seems worthwhile to get an agent to be on top of everything!

  5. I look forwards to doing Disney when Ella’s a little older! These are great tips!!

  6. Love these tips! Someday we will need them. :) Pinned!

  7. Great tips. We stay in the Dolphin which is only kind of on property. I had to order the magic bands separately so I just got them for the kids!

  8. I am going to pin this because there is so much good info :) xoxo ERIN

  9. These are such great tips! Thank you! I pinned for planning our trip!

  10. saving this for our trip that we will take in a couple years. Love all the photos.

  11. One tip if for some reason someone doesn't want to buy the photo package- the cast members will take your photo for your with your phone/ camera. All you have to do is ask and they have to take it for you!

  12. These are the best tips Lindsay!! The travel agent sounds nice but in a weird way, I LOVE all the planning that goes into a Disney trip, I would have a hard time giving that away hahaha! And you have me re-thinking the dining plan next time we go, I may have to look into it now that the kids are getting bigger! This post is making me want to go to Disney NOW!!!!

  13. I love the idea for bubbles and candy for the kids. We are going in august with both kids for the first time, ages 3 and 6

    1. You are going to have so much fun! And you will definitely need the candy and bubbles! And don't forget the stroller!

  14. I know Disneyland and Disney World are a bit different, but I have heard you can apply these things (like the wrist bands, meal plans, etc) to DL. We are going to DL next December and I am totally using a Disney agent for it. Love this post and the tips and tricks.

  15. So, so, so much has changed since Luke & I went there on our honeymoon! I would love to get the Disney travel agent's contact information. We are hoping to start planning our trip soon. We, of course, have to wait until the new Star Wars attraction opens. ha!

  16. SO many great tips! We've always stayed on site and used the dining plan (though I fully admit we've never had ANY credits left over!). We typically use snack credits for things like yogurt, bagels, and bottled juice for breakfast or if we use a quick service or seated meal for breakfast we use snack credits for a snack luck of mickey ice cream bars or dole whips. So much fun and I can not get over how much it has changed since we first went with our oldest two (who were both under 3 on our first trip!).

    1. That's exactly what we need to do next time instead of bringing our own food! And I know, I'm sure technology plays a big role in all of the changes! That app and the magic bands are a game changer!

  17. I remember trying to book stuff with my sister the first time they went and it was a nightmare, using a disney travel specialist made such a difference the second time around! That is so cool how the band knows when you ride so you get a picture! And that picture is so priceless, Olivia looks so scared!

  18. These are such good tips. I did a similar post after our trip in 2017. We had some of the same ideas, although a few differences.

  19. LOVE this! We were passholders when they rolled out the magic bands a few years ago, and they had some bugs to work out and now they are a total game changer. And so is adding alcohol for the adults dining packages <3
    Green Fashionista

  20. These tips are awesome, Lindsay!! Definitely saving for later!

  21. WOW! So many great tips! Thanks for sharing. We haven't been to Disney since our honeymoon in 2004. I'd love to plan a trip with the kids one day. I loved hearing how you planned out your trip.

  22. As a former cast member, staying on property is a huge tip! There is constant transit to all the parks and if anyone gets hurt, sick, or people or items get lost, cast members have a lot more ability to make a little extra magic for you if you're staying on property.

  23. YES! And how exciting that you're a former cast member!!


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