I’ve been wanting to do a series on planning a trip to Disney World (btw, thanks for all the emails asking for Disney advice – I get excited just hearing about all your trips to Disney!!) and I’m finally getting down to doing it.
This is by no means exhaustive but admittedly, I’ve spent (too) many hours researching this particular topic, plus I’m also throwing in some handy tips we picked up during our travels so I think this will be helpful if you intend to head on down to the happiest place on earth.
The most common question I get from people is “Is it really worth the trip down?” YES. My answer is always a shouty YES with big upper case letters. “It’s so costly”, “the flight is brutal” and “there are so many other gorgeous places in the world to visit” – all true, but there’s magic in Disney that I’ve never been able to find anywhere else in the world.
To me, Disney World is like fine wine, it’s meant to be taken in slowly and every time I’m there, I discover something new and magical to love. So yes, if you have the opportunity to do this, my sagely advice is hell yeah, GO FOR IT.
Next most common question, “Should I bring my kids?” Again, YES!! A thousand times, yes. We’ve done Disney couple trips and Disney kid trips and hands down, the kid trips are way, way, way more fun. Sure, kids will cramp your style (both in life and in Disney) and you won’t be able to tour the park as efficiently as you would as a single adult – they will want to nap, or ride Dumbo 5 times in a row, or spend 35 minutes queueing to meet Mickey Mouse and then have a meltdown just as you reach the front of the line but there’s nothing quite like watching your kids take in the magic of Disney.
On our first coupley visit to Disney, we were blitzing around the park, riding all the headliners multiple times a day and having a great time, but then every time I saw a kid grin goofily next to Buzz Lightyear, or spontaneously dance on Main Street, or watch mesmerised as the fireworks lit up the night sky, I’d stand there and look at them longingly like a creepy adult, just missing my babies and wishing they were right there with me to experience all of that.
Ok, let’s get down to it.
#1. Plan to stay for 4-8 days.
Remember what I said about fine wine? A trip to Disney World cannot be done in under 4 days. Well, ok yes it can, but WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?? There are 4 parks, 2 water parks, Downtown Disney, plus 28 beautifully themed resorts to visit. Even 4 days would make for a very rushed trip.
The optimum length for us is 8 days: 2 for Magic Kingdom, 2 for Epcot, 2 for Hollywood Studios, 1 for Animal Kingdom and 1 non-park day for Downtown Disney. This way, we get to take things slow, enjoy the resort, have smores by the campfire and movies by the beach. Which takes me to point 2.
#2. Stay in a Disney Resort.
It’s not so big of a thing if you’re visiting the other Disney parks in Anaheim, Tokyo or Hong Kong, but in Orlando, being part of the Disney bubble is half the fun. We’ve tried staying offsite (at the Waldorf Astoria, which was beautiful), but there’s just no contest, I’d pick staying onsite anytime.
Depending on your budget, you can go for a Value (definitely Art of Animation), Moderate (love the Port Orleans Riverside), or a Deluxe (Grand Floridian!! Boardwalk, Beach Club and Poly are my favourites).
This trip, we did a split stay between the Boarkwalk Inn and the Grand Floridian. They were both so excellent that I’m really torn between the two. I think we’ll probably do another split stay the next time we go back.
The Boardwalk Inn captures the charm of old Atlantic City, complete with street performers and lights and dance halls. Being there feels so Boardwalk Empire, but happier and minus all the gang violence. As a massive bonus, it’s a 5-minute walk to Epcot and a 12-minute walk/boat ride to Hollywood Studios. Being able to stroll back leisurely to the boardwalk after Illuminations (instead of jostling with the crowd for buses) was indescribable. Also, the Boardwalk Bakery has the best pastries and desserts in all of Disney World. FYI, the next best place for sweet treats is Les Halles Boulangerie Patisserie in Epcot’s France, just 5 minutes away.
Oh Grand Floridian, how do I love thee? This place is a dream. It makes me subconsciously hum tunes from Marry Poppins and it feels like little squirrels are about to break into song at any moment. There’s the horse carriage that makes its way around the grounds, the orchestra playing in the lobby, the beautiful landscaping, the posh-without-being-stuffy Victorian charm…it’s like I’m stepping into another world altogether. In terms of location, it’s a 5 minute boat/monorail ride to Magic Kingdom.
It doesn’t get better than this.
#3. Ditch the car and save on rental
If you’re staying at a Disney resort, there’s really no need to drive in Disney World. The Disney Transportation System will take you everywhere you need to go via bus, boat and momorail. There’s even a Magical Express bus that will pick you up from the airport once you arrive, all free of charge. As long as you’re in the Disney bubble, you should be able to get from point to point without much hassle.
Then again, if you really want to drive, parking is free at all the resorts and parks.
#4. Disney Dining Plan – do or do not.
What kind of advice is that? Well, this one really depends on your vacation style and stomach size. We went for the DDP in 2012 (free dining package with Port Orleans Riverside) and it was amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten this much delicious food in 7 days. We had 1 table service meal, 1 counter service meal and 1 snack per person per day, plus a refillable mug with unlimited drinks. If you plan your meals right, you can eat $90 worth of food a day for a $60 dining plan. This works out to be a ridiculous amount of food, so depending on how much you can/want to eat, this is one of those “your mileage may vary” sort of thing.
This trip, we decided to skip the dining plan and just pay out of pocket for meals. It was a more manageable amount of food and overall, we spent less than we would have if we paid for the $60 per day dining plan. We did get the refillable mug though – it’s $17.99 and you can have unlimited drinks (coffee, hot choc, tea, soda) for the entire duration of your stay.
Both options made for a very enjoyable trip. Maybe when the kids are bigger and need more food, we’ll do the DDP again.
#5. Bring a stroller along.
If you have kids under the age of 6, I highly recommend bringing a stroller along. Truett and Kirsten are great walkers with remarkable stamina but the jet lag coupled with the long days in Disney makes the stroller a necessity. The first 2-3 days after the flight, the kids will be wiped out between the hours of 1-5pm, possibly earlier if they’re younger. Just put them in the stroller and roll with it until they adjust their internal clocks.
We’ve tried the compact umbrella strollers, which are lightweight and easy to fold but it doesn’t offer much in terms of comfort when they’re passed out in the middle of the afternoon. Especially if you have multiple kids, do a solid double stroller like the Britax B-Agile or the City Mini. These 2 models were everywhere in Disney World. We got the Britax and I love this stroller so much. Sturdy, comfortable, individual recline, folds down real compact and so easy to manoeuvre.
Ok, this post took longer than I thought. I’ll wrap up part 1 here, more to come in part 2!