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Disney planning takes a lot of time, but you’ll be glad you did it! Here are things I specifically did or wish I had done for our trip this year to the Happiest Place on Earth.

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Budget Tips

Go Through a RELIABLE, 3rd Party Site to Book a Hotel and Tickets

You’ll come across many opinions on this, but our family saved a ton of money by going through quality third party websites to purchase our park tickets and hotel. Undercover Tourist is a great site, but we ended up using Park Savers for our tickets because they offered even better deals for the time we were planning our trip. We used Booking.com to search for a hotel, and we found one just 10 minutes from the parks for $55 a night (Keep in mind, this was for a February trip, which is “offseason”). The Red Lion Hotel was inexpensive, but it was a great, clean place to crash.

Consider Staying Off-Site

Again, there are many opinions on this. There are numerous perks of staying on Disney Property, such as free parking and transportation to the parks, Extra Magic Hours, the ability to book FastPass+ 60 days in advance, the magic of the Disney experience leaking into your hotel, and in some cases, dining perks.

For us, it was much cheaper to go off-site. We stayed in the Red Lion Hotel for $55 dollars a night and only had to drive 10 minutes to the parks. Even though we had to pay for parking each day, the cost per day still ended up being less than if we had stayed in a budget Disney hotel with their free transportation. We didn’t need magic hours with our young kids who could barely make it through the normal hours, or Mickey sheets on our beds. We needed a cheap, clean, close place to crash for a few days, and we got just that at the Red Lion Hotel.

That being said, consider what is best for your family!

Look for Promo Codes to Save A Few Bucks

Keep your eyes peeled for legit promo codes that you can use when purchasing tickets. While I was on the Disney Tourist Blog, I came across a discount code that saved me an additional $6 on tickets. That’s not a crazy amount, but every bit counts!

Buy or Make Your Disney Gear Beforehand

If you wait to buy Minnie ears in the park, you could pay $28 (or more!) per pair! I bought my girls rainbow Minnie ears for $4.99 each at Walmart in the party section, and they were adorable. You can find mouse ears on Amazon for a fraction of the park cost (like these Elsa, Snow White, or Ariel inspired ones!. Or a 2-pack Minnie ears for $6!). Etsy also offers some really unique ears as well for better prices, or you can even order straight from the Disney store for less if you use promo codes.

I loved some of the Disney shirts online, but I opted to make a simple one of my own using my Cricut. I also made my husband a Tennessee Vols Mickey shirt, because I wasn’t sure how else to get him to wear a Disney shirt ;). It was easy to spot him in Epcot that day!

And Disney Princess dresses? I saw some gorgeous dresses in the shops, but they were priced between $60-$80! Grab dresses at Walmart, Target, or JC Penny around Halloween or go the Amazon route. Some of our favorite costumes are Aurora, Belle, and Elsa from Amazon, and we paid between $20-$30 for each. Plus, many come with cute accessories!

Don’t forget to let your little guys dress up! I saw a little boy dressed as Aladdin, and I melted when he took a picture with Jasmine. My friend has this Prince Charming costume for her boy, and it is seriously the cutest thing. I would have loved to have seen some Peter Pans, Hiro Hamadas, or Prince Erics running around in the sea of princesses.

Plan Your Food Ahead of Time

If you do this, you can choose what you really want and have an idea of how much money you’re looking at dropping per meal. The Disney website lists the menus of each restaurant with the current prices.

Don’t count on splitting most meals to help with costs, because you likely won’t leave the meal full. Adults can order off the kid’s menu though, which helps in some cases. We ate one meal per day in the parks, and brought the rest from home.

We ate at Flame Tree BBQ in Animal Kingdom for one of our Disney meals

Eat Breakfast in Your Hotel Room or in the Car!

It is rare to find a hotel in Orlando with free breakfast. Bagels, muffins, fruit, and yogurt are easy to keep in a mini fridge or cooler to eat on the go. Save time and money this way instead of eating out for every meal.

Ask for Disney Gift Cards for Presents

If you have a birthday or celebrate a holiday before your trip, ask for Disney gift cards!

Tips for Traveling With Kids

Bring a Stroller Cover

Ok, so everyone knows to bring rain gear for themselves, but one of the best things I purchased before the trip was a clear stroller cover (also available in the stroller accessories section at Walmart for about $14)! The rain did come, and I was so thankful that our stuff was not soaked. Plus, the breathable flaps on the side allow your child to be able to ride in the rain and not get wet. We had so many parents comment on how they wished they had one.

Our two year-old (finally) taking a nap.

Make a Stroller ID

Speaking of strollers, I read this great post about having some kind of stroller id tag to help you locate your stuff easier in the massive stroller parking areas.

It doesn’t seem like it would be that difficult to find what belongs to you, but there are seriously SO many strollers, and sometimes yours will get moved by the cast members making more room in the stroller lots.

I made this sign for our stroller, and printed it on red card stock. It really did help to have a pop of color to spot our stroller from a distance, and to ward off other people with a similar stroller.

Snacks, Snacks, Snacks.

Even if you plan on eating the majority of your meals in the parks, BRING SMALL SNACKS. They come in handy for all sorts of scenarios. Fruit snacks especially work wonders in long lines.

Other parents brought small toys to distract kids in line, which is fine, but I don’t recommend bubbles. Other families had them, and it creates a mob of kids stepping all over strangers to try and pop the bubbles. Also, kids were always blowing bubbles around us when we were eating, and…it was kind of gross.

Don’t Wait to Go To Disney

Watching their first Disney parade

Go at any point of your kids’ lives! Don’t wait until they are “older”. I had so many people tell me that I should wait until our kids could remember the experience.

My argument was not only will I remember, but what is wrong with giving my young kids a few super fun days, even if they won’t remember them? I wouldn’t trade watching my two year-old break dance for Tiana and Cinderella, or sitting with my five year-old riding her first Disney rides. Plus, you don’t have to pay for kids under three! (My husband joked that “You’ll pay for them, just not in money.”)

Bottom line, you’ll have a wonderful experience bringing kids of every age, and all of the trips will have their own beautiful differences.

Don’t Judge Other Parents

Your kids WILL have some kind of tantrum or outburst. Consider all the factors here: possible time zone change, hours of walking, over-stimulation, excessive line waiting, insane crowds, nap schedules being thrown off… Oh- AND the constant reminders not to climb on things, leave the ropes alone, wait our turn, stay close, stay behind the line…It’s a lot for kids!

We got some really nasty comments from other people after my two year-old let out a sound of displeasure. No, she is not a brat. She was extremely worn out, and is still learning how to express her emotions properly.

Don’t be a jerk to the parents when they are already having a frustrating time. Keep your mean comments and looks to yourself.

Watch Disney Movies Before You Go

We spent a couple of weeks watching Disney movies before the trip, and I think it really helped freshen the girls’ memory of different characters, which made our character interactions more fun. We rented several Disney movies we didn’t have from the library. If you are driving, take along a portable DVD player on your trip and watch movies then!

Grab Beauty and the Beast, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Frozen, Tangled, Big Hero 6, and more on Amazon!

Consider a ID Tag for Your Child

You will have to watch your kids like hawks in the crazy Disney crowds, and even then, there is a chance you will be separated for a time. Having some kind of bracelet, necklace, or temporary tattoo with parental contact information is a great precaution to help reunite you faster.

I bought Anna and Elsa slap bracelet rulers for $1.44 in the Walmart party section and wrote the info on the underside. Use a sharpie, but remember to put clear tape over it so the information doesn’t rub off on your child’s skin.

Use RideSwap

We would have utilized this much more had I not been pregnant and able to go on more rides, but we did use this for Soarin’.

Bascially, one parent waits with a child that is too short to ride while the other parent rides. Then they switch, and the second parent gets to go in the FastPass line. We asked a cast member to help before getting in line. He scanned our tickets, and my five-year-old and husband went in the stand-by line while I waited with our two-year-old outside the ride.

When they returned, I was able to get in the FastPass line (and my daughter got to ride again) instead of waiting for over an hour in the stand-by line. This saved a lot of time!

General Tips

Plan Park Itineraries, But Expect Changes

I spent HOURS planning our vacation. I had our daily itineraries printed and FastPasses ready. Guess what? Planning helped, but our days ended up being completely different than I had planned. You would laugh if you saw my plans vs. what really happened.

So my advice is to plan, but be prepared to rearrange or skip things. Pick the most important things to do and be content with doing those, because you will not get to do everything.

Be Kind

I mentioned this in the Kid Tips sections, but this goes for everyone: BE KIND. PLEASE. Disney World is wonderful, but it is also overwhelming. Kids will melt down. You will be standing in lines for a long time. Things may not go exactly as you plan. But being rude isn’t going to make things better for anyone. Please be patient, especially with parents of really tired kids and the cast members who are trying to keep thousands of people happy and safe.

Download the MyDisneyExperience App

I kind of thought it was stupid at first, but the app was extremely helpful, especially for booking FastPasses on the go.

Book FastPasses ASAP.

No, seriously. As soon as you can whether it is 30 days or 60, book those bad boys for the experiences that are most important to you. The time slots get taken unbelievably fast. But check back frequently- you can modify your experience times as they become available if you don’t get the time you want right away.

With little kids, I actually preferred fast-passing character lines at Magic Kingdom. The ride queues were more interesting, and the kids were always restless waiting for their turn to meet someone. Save at least one FastPass for a busy ride though, and check back for more ride slots after you use your initial three passes. (Epcot lines for characters were wayyyy more managable than Magic Kingdom. Try to see the characters that you can see in both places at Epcot, like Mickey, Pluto, Goofy, Jasmine, and Belle.)

Don’t Have a Sign, Pose, and Run Experience

Some cast members assisting characters were really pushy about ushering people quickly through a character experience, and there’s not much you can do about that. But if given the chance, take a minute to really interact with the characters.

After apologizing to one cast member for my toddler talking Princess Elena’s ear off, the cast member told me that the Princesses love when they actually get to have a conversation with park-goers rather than just sign an autograph book and snap a picture. And I could actually tell that the characters were having a better time when they were asked questions and such.

Pocahontas enjoyed crafting a story for my five year-old about when she started cliff-diving, and every character loved busting a move with my two year-old when she asked for it.

Wear Good Tennis Shoes

Should go without saying, but I suffered from my day of wearing my “comfy” sandals to Magic Kingdom. Just wear the darn tennis shoes.

Bring a Cooler, No Matter What

Our hotel room was supposed to have a mini fridge, but there was not one when we arrived. Thankfully, we had our cooler for drinks, cold food, and leftovers. We just refilled it often with hotel ice.

Prepare For Stupidly Crazy Crowds

I thought that going in the off-season meant crowds would be more manageable. Even legit websites were saying the crowd levels were going to be great…ha!

I spent much of the time in the parks in a heightened state of fight-or-flight as we tried to navigate through the sea of people. It was extremely stressful, and I can’t imagine how insane the summertime crowds must be. 65 minutes was one of the shorter times to wait in line. Just understand that the streets can be complete chaos.

Rain Jacket vs. Poncho vs. Umbrella

No matter what rain gear you prefer- make sure you bring it. My daughters hated their ponchos, but happily wore jackets in the rain. I also loved my raincoat, which kept me dry, my hands free, and was less bulky than a poncho. My husband said he would have preferred an umbrella.

Look at a Park Map Beforehand

The parks are huge. I walked 7 miles every day we were in Disney World, and we didn’t even see everything.

When you are planning your trip, look at the maps so you’ll have a general idea of where you’re going. You’ll still want to grab a map at the entrance, but you save time and steps by mapping out a plan of attack before you go.

I hope these tips help you plan for your magical vacation! Have a great time!

-Mariah

Read all about my family’s 2019 Disney trip!

Our 2019 Disney World Trip
Song of the Week 2019: Supplement for Come, Follow Me
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