Disney done right: Making the most of your Disney vacation

At Pit Stops for Kids, we’re big fans of Disney, but we know planning (and enjoying) a Disney vacation with kids can be overwhelming! In our upcoming series of articles, Disney Done Right, we offer our (kid and parent tested) tips for making the most of your time in the happiest place on earth!

1. Plan an extended visit. If possible, book at least one week at Disney World or three days (This is especially beneficial if the most expensive single cost of your vacation is getting there and back.) You just can’t do these massive theme parks justice with less time, and you’ll only exhaust yourself trying. (You can’t see it all in a week, either, but a month or more isn’t an option for most families!) A longer visit equals more downtime, and while you may think R&R is hardly the goal at a theme park, without it, you’ll be miserable by Day 3. We made sure to rest every day, and reserved one entire day for simply exploring and enjoying our resort. More time also leads to more inter-family harmony: if you have two days to devote to Animal Kingdom, for instance, you can focus on rides one day and dining and shows the next. It’s simply more relaxing when you’re not sprinting through the Florida humidity, agreed?

2. Stay on-site at a Disney property. Yes, I know it’s much cheaper to stay half a block awayfrom the main gates. And yes, I happily advice families to take advantage of the price and convenience of rental properties such as HomeAway whenever possible,  but in the case of Disney, I am a purist. Why? Because never is the adage ‘time is money’ more true than during a Disney vacation. And I’m not talking about Extra Magic Hour: when you stay on-site, you’re simply closer to all the action…and to your hotel room should someone (you, most likely) need a nap, a snack, or a dip in the pool. Plus, you can use Disney transportation and have the opportunity to add the Disney meal plan, not to mention the fact that most Disney resorts are like additional theme parks in themselves. When we stayed at Disney’s Port Orleans Resort, we did our own laundry, ate all our breakfasts in our room, and returned to the hotel every day of our vacation to rest and swim mid-day. I like to think staying on-site kept us sane. (Extra tip: if you have very young children in strollers, consider staying on the Monorail Line at the Disney World resort–the Contemporary, Grand Floridian, or Polynesian–so you don’t have to disturb sleeping kids and babies to fold strollers!)

3. Make (and follow) an itinerary utilizing planning tools. I admit it: I’m a schedule Nazi. But even a generalized itinerary for your visit helps you to make the most of your day. We’ve all seen people wandering the happiest place on earth, grumbling about what to do next, and we certainly don’t want to be them. Start by looking up the exact hours each park will be open for each day during your visit, figure out what shows and parades you want to see, and which restaurants you want to try. It makes a difference: the parks open earliest will fill up the fastest but also empty the fastest in the later afternoon, as everyone who attended the morning Extra Magic Hour jumps ship for another park later in the day: consider taking an alternate path from the masses. If you’re very ambitious, I can personally recommend Tour Guide Mike, an online planning tool and wealth of park information that will change the way you look at touring Disney parks. ‘Mike’ will give you the ideal days to tour each park during your visit based on a scientific-(ish) using factors such as time of year, projected crowd levels, park hours and events, and more. The small membership fee is well worth your money.

Expedition Everest4. Take advantage of shopping opportunities. No, I don’t mean you should get out your wallet every time you’re fed through a souvenir shop, although that’s up to you. I mean that Disney’s shopping areas signify two things: crowd control and extended hours. For instance: Disneyland and Magic Kingdom‘s Main Street typically stays open up to an hour after official park closing. If you were planning on browsing the shops (or even having a late dinner or evening dessert) at the end of your day, don’t make the mistake the other thousands of visitors will do: there’s no need to hit the shops an hour before closing. Use that final hour to ride attractions, then shop and eat during your ‘bonus’ hour…the same hour everyone else is filing onto buses and into parking lots.  Concerning crowd control: you know how Main Street (and Disney’s other parks’ equivalents) become jam-packed before and after parades and fireworks? So does Disney…which is why all their shops connect. That’s right: there are no walls between 99% of Main Street’s stores, which allows savvy visitors to walk straight through (in the comfort of air conditioning) instead of elbowing through the crowds on the street.

5. Visit with characters at the table, not in the parks. You can spend half your day chasing down Piglet and Pooh in Fantasyland, or you can meet-and-greet in style at the Crystal Palace while dining on stuffed french toast. Seems like a no-brainer to me. Same goes for those princesses your preschooler is bugging you for some face-time with. It’s a huge time-saver, and you and your family almost always get extra attention than if you’d waited in line in the Florida sun. (Extra tip: for dining venues inside parks, schedule your character breakfasts for approximately one hour before park opening. You’ll finish eating and be released into the park right before opening, giving you the jump on all the rope-droppers.)

Read more Disney tips on our Disney Done Right page!