Before we went to DisneyWorld, I spent lots of time researching what to do and where to go while at Disney. Some of these tips I learned really made our trip better! Some tips I didn't follow and I should have- those will be mentioned in another post. Here are 10 things that I feel really made a positive difference for us:
1) Following Disney Dining (and other fan sites) on Facebook. This is a fan page that posts different tips and tricks every day. For the year leading up to our trip it became my morning routine to grab coffee and read the morning article before the kids woke up. Actually, now I'm not really sure what to do with myself when I wake up. Maybe plan for the next trip?
2) Getting up early. I kept reading the "don't sleep in" advice and cringing. For us, getting to the park at 8am (morning Magic Hours opening) is the equivalent of hopping on a roller coaster at 5am. And I wouldn't really consider us morning people. BUT I have to say that after the first day we were totally sold. The difference between the park at 9:30 and the park at noon is honestly enough to make the experience.
3) Pulling the kids out of school to go on the off season. Look, I get that this can be controversial. I understand people may think we are irresponsible. Heck, my family is full of teachers and education has always been a big deal around here. My kids will have a lot of work to do to catch up, for sure. But I just can't believe that it wasn't worth it. They may not have learned math on the trip, but they learned a lot about themselves and we learned a lot about us as a family. Could we have done it in the summer? Yes. But, that would have been really hard on my work schedule. And the longest wait time we faced was 70 minutes- which had actually been miscalculated. We stepped on the ride 40 minutes after getting in line. Most of our wait times were 15-25 minutes.
4) Staying at a Disney resort. Granted, we didn't stay at the right resort for us (more on that in another post). However- even without really liking the resort we stayed at, we got some big advantages out of the deal. Extra Magic Hours are awesome. We kept walking on to rides that are super popular. Magic Bands are really cool. It really is like wearing a magic bracelet that holds the keys to your happiness. Disney Transportation was great! There are some areas I saw for improvement, but ultimately not having to drive and park in an unfamiliar place was fantastic. Having a park hopper option every day provided us with great freedom. Since our kids are old enough to kind of "go with the flow", I loved the idea of being able to go wherever we felt like going. Also, did I mention how valuable the Extra Magic Hours are?
5) Utilizing Amazon Prime, Disney's willingness to accept packages on guests' behalf and Florida's wonky sales tax laws. We are simply not meant to be eating junk food on a regular basis, and one of our vacation pitfalls in the past has been not keeping a healthy diet while we travel. It costs too much, it makes us feel yucky, and it makes us homesick. So before we arrived at our resort I had some of our go-to snacks and breakfast foods shipped to the resort. It was much less expensive than buying similar items at Disney and kept us well fueled. Not having to buy constant snacks for growing boys meant that when we DID eat out, we had more money for the food we really wanted. Bonus: when Dusty realized that his golf shoes were sitting at home, we ordered some Nike golf shoes for under $60, used Prime to get them before his golf day and simply picked them up from the front desk when they called to notify us that a package had arrived. Have you seen golf shoe prices in Resort Pro Shops? Let's just say that would have taken a chunk out of our t-shirt budget!
6) Making water a priority. Before we left for the parks I made every member of the family drink a glass of water (I had bought 6 gallons of bottled water and a few lemons when we arrived). Every day we all had Nalgene bottles filled with lemon water when we left. I've got to be honest- I couldn't drink the tap water there. But when we were at sit down restaurants with good filters they were happy to fill our bottles or give us to go cups at the end of the meal. Between those things and being willing to spend money on bottled water at the parks if we ran out, it kept us feeling happy and healthy while walking an average of 8 miles a day. The *one* day that my 9 year old didn't bring his water bottle, he almost missed out on the Magic Kingdom the following day due to a headache and generally feeling yucky. After re-hydrating we realized he was just dried out and we went on to have one of our very best days of the trip.
7) Making dining reservations ahead of time! And signing up for Disney Dining Buddy for the reservation we could not get. Most of our dining reservations were made about 1 1/2 months in advance. In retrospect, we should have made them 3 months in advance because some of the more popular reservations are SUPER hard to get. I was very disappointed to miss out on Be Our Guest, so I paid a total of $24 ($8/ea for 3 different slots to watch) to a service that notified me when a reservation came available. On the Saturday that we were at Disneyworld I got a text that there was an opening at Be Our Guest for lunchtime Monday. Getting in a restaurant I really wanted to see, when I didn't think it was possible, seriously made my trip more magical.
8) Staying late a few nights. Look, we opened the parks every day so by 7pm we were exhausted. The nights we stayed until close, Dusty and I looked at each other around 8pm and wondered if we should just throw in the towel and get on a bus or boat home. But then, the fireworks started at 9 and it was obvious that staying was a good choice. Having older kids it may seem like "eh, they've seen fireworks before"- but no, your local 4th of July show isn't the same. Disney isn't just in the fireworks business, they are in the magic business. And it doesn't matter how old you are, they are magic. Bonus: when you come home on Disney transportation after the fireworks, you ride with a whole bus full of excited and happy kids who are right in the middle of a childhood dream. It was adorable and inspiring, and in general everyone was in a better mood at 9:45 than they were at 7.
9) Buying the picture package. This is the thing I came closest to not doing. I *almost* made the mistake of not buying the Memory Maker package, but a more experienced friend encouraged me to do so. I am SO HAPPY with this purchase! Here it is, September, and I am aching to make Christmas cards because I have some awesome and professional photos. I didn't have to carry a camera around and the quality is good enough to hang up on the wall. Plus, I'll be honest that I am terrible at talking to strangers. I am just not comfortable asking someone I don't know to shoot a candid of my family. I paid $170 for this, but when you calculate how long we were there it was less than $30/day. It was also less expensive than a photo package from a local photographer, and I don't think we will need to do that for a couple years now!
10) Not being TOO frugal. Sure, there were ways that I wanted to save money. There were also some ways that I didn't. In the end I didn't pre-buy t-shirts and light sabers. I let the boys pay Disney prices and choose the ones they wanted. We brought snacks into the park but made sure to stop for some of the really good ones I'd read about (the turkey legs are awesome!). They both got yet another baseball cap, and they probably didn't need them. But the things we spent money on that we really didn't have to were certainly things that we will remember. And although I used the word "no" a few times, that wasn't my go-to answer and I'm pretty sure the kids won't remember hearing it much while we were on vacation. At home I feel like I say "no" all the time. It was nice to let up a bit at the happiest place on earth!