We just got back from our very first vacation as a family of four (which we were trying to squeeze in before we become a family of five in two months!) to Disney World and I have to say, it was amazing! I am so glad we went, but the planning of the trip did seem overwhelming at times. So I decided to blog about it in case it can help any other moms out there who want to take the family to Disney but don’t know where to start!
For me, vacations are all about relaxing, unwinding, and not planning. But with a Disney World vacation, you need to plan – and plan early! But even if you don’t plan far in advance (we didn’t) you can still have an amazing vacation.
How to Plan a Your First Disney World Vacation in Less Than 6 Months
I remember when I told my sister we decided to book a trip to Disney World, her first words were “but it’s less than 180 days out and you haven’t booked your meals yet!” And that’s when my vacation planning stress really started to pick up. You see, if you haven’t yet gone to Disney World, here’s the thing. If you book a room at a Disney resort, you can make reservations for your meals 180 days out. And at 60 days out, you can reserve your Fast Pass slots for the rides you want to go on. Sounds easy enough, right?
Here’s what happens when you don’t book your meals 180 days out. A lot of the ideal meal times and character meals/ popular dinner shows are already booked. Now, let me just say I have two boys ages 5 and 2. They aren’t into princesses. They had no expectations about the Disney World trip. So what they missed out on, they will never know. And that worked for us. But if you have a child who must see every princess at Disney or you must eat in Cinderella’s Castle at a certain time, try to reserve it at the 180 day mark.
Note: We actually did get a breakfast at Cinderella’s Castle, but I ended up cancelling that reservation because my sons’ just weren’t too excited about it and we opted for another character meal that evening instead.
Even though we planned our trip in less than 6 months, we still got to see and do almost everything we wanted. Here’s how we did it
Make as many meal reservations as you can
Remember I said you can start booking meal reservations 180 days in advance? Well that also means that you need to know which parks you will be at on which days, which character meals or dinner shows you want to see, and what times you want to eat 6 months in advance. I definitely didn’t know all of that. But the good news is you can make as many meal reservations as you want. You just need to cancel at least 24 hours in advance to prevent being charged for them. So I booked multiple character meals (really whatever I could get) every day and then decided the week before we left which we would keep and which we would change.
Map out your park plan as soon as you can
I was not a fan of mapping out our park itinerary months in advance, but it really was helpful once I did it. I used Touring Plans to figure out which parks would be the least crowded on the days we would be traveling to help us plan out which days we would go where. We spent two days at Magic Kingdom, one day at Hollywood Studios, and one day at Animal Kingdom. Once we had our park plan laid out, planning out meals and Fast Pass rides got a lot easier.
Figure out what rides you want a Fast Pass for in advance (before you can book)
Before you can select your Fast Pass reservations (which happens at 60 days out if you are staying at a Disney resort or 30 days out if you aren’t), create a list of the rides you want to reserve most and have a few backups ready to go as well. You may not get every ride you are hoping for, but if you know which ones you want the most and start there when reservations open, you have a better chance of scoring them.
Book your Fast Pass selections the moment you can
My husband made fun of me for setting calendar alerts for the day our Fast Pass selections opened up (and setting my alarm to make sure I was on my computer and ready to go at the time they opened), but I really wouldn’t wait. Even doing this, there were still popular rides I couldn’t get a Fast Pass for (and I have two kids 40 inches and under, so some of the really popular rides weren’t even an option for us).
And pay attention to the order you try to book your Fast Passes. I didn’t do this, and it made it much harder. Basically, they go fast. So even though I knew my kids couldn’t wait to see Dumbo, if I spent time searching for times for a Fast Pass for that, I’d be missing out as other people booked up the popular rides (side note- you don’t need a Fast Pass for Dumbo- it’s very easy to get the day off if you really want it, and it isn’t very crowded either). So reserve Avatar or Space Mountain first and then work your way down the list.
Book Fast Passes in the morning
Here’s another mistake we made. My husband was worried he may have to work from the hotel a few mornings, so he asked me to make later reservations. That’s fine to do, but what happens with Fast Pass is once you use your three allowed options during the day, you can book another one through the Disney app or in a kiosk at the park. If you don’t finish your Fast Pass reservations until late in the day, this is much harder to do. For us, it was fine because we planned to spend a shorter time in the parks with two young kids, but if you have older kids I would try to stick to early reservations.
Use a Disney Planner
I found trying to plan everything on my own entirely too stressful (I know that sounds silly, but it really did seem like a full time job). Then I found out you can use a Disney planner to help you and it doesn’t even cost anything. So we connected with one we loved, and she provided so much great feedback and advice I was SO glad we did it!
Stay at a Disney Resort
My husband insisted on this before we booked and I am really glad I listened. Honestly, pricing it out, I really wanted to just book a normal hotel in Orlando (for the price we could get a suite with a separate bedroom for the kids), and just rent a car. But I didn’t realize all of the perks that come with staying in a resort. From early Fast Pass reservations, to help with airport transportation, to even working with you to help make meal reservations at the resort with short notice, the service definitely made it worth it. My only regret here is that I wished we planned a day just at the resort vs a park so we could have enjoyed all of the amenities a little more.
Our vacation was fantastic, the kids never wanted to leave, and although it was jam-packed, the family time we got to spend together was what we all really needed.
But there were some things I wish I knew before we went to Disney World that I wanted to share with you as well.
10 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Disney World Vacation
#1 You don’t really need a meal plan
We booked a meal plan for 3 of us (our 2 year old ate free), but I don’t really know if this was a bargain or if we needed it. Basically, we ended up on our last day with 22 unused snack credits and 4 meal credits between the three of us. So yes, my kids ate A LOT of (no so healthy) snacks on our last day, but it also made us rethink our decision to get the plan.
You can make reservations for any meal without a meal plan. Some perks like your refillable drink cup can only be used at your resort, not at the parks. For character meals, I think it’s a cost savings, but for quick service meals I don’t really know. If you have big eaters, it probably is, but for us it seemed like we had way more food than we could really eat.
#2 Plan a day to relax at the resort
If you are staying at a Disney resort (we stayed at the Grand Floridian), they offer so many great amenities and family activities. But we were so busy with running back and forth to the parks and to our meal reservations, etc that we didn’t get to enjoy as many as we would have liked. I think planning to have one day where you just relax and enjoy the pool and the hotel activities would be ideal.
#3 You can’t see or do it all, and that’s OK
I’m a planner and when I have my mind set on something, I want to get it done. And with Disney, there were SO many things I really wanted to do and see (and wanted the kids to do and see). But honestly, if we tried to do everything on our list, I am sure we would have witnessed some crazy meltdowns by two tired kids. Don’t feel guilty spending only a half day at the park and the rest at the pool or resort. It’s just as fun and can really help to curb potential meltdowns.
#4 If a Disney employee gives you a Fast Pass it works a little differently
This is something I really wish I understood in advance! On our first night, we went to a beautiful character meal at the Crystal Palace. For some reason, no characters made it over to our table in the first 20 minutes. This wasn’t a big deal at all, since we weren’t in a rush and were just heading back to the hotel after. But the manager felt so bad we arranged to make sure we met them all and then gave us an extra Fast Pass to make up for the delay. When I looked at the Disney app, it looked like we couldn’t book any rides for at least a few hours so we forfeit the pass and left the park.
The next day, when we were at Toy Story Land and the Toy Story Mania ride broke down right before we could ride it (huge disappointment!) they gave us this same type of Fast Pass. But then they explained you can basically use it to walk onto any qualifying ride at any time and use the Fast Pass lane. If we had known that the night before, we definitely would have used it! So just a heads up if you get this bonus on your trip!
#5 If you need to cancel a reservation on short notice, call
The policy at Disney is that you need to cancel any meal reservation with 24 hours to prevent being charged. But if you end up needed to cancel in under 24 hours, don’t do it through the app. If you call and explain your situation, many times they will waive the fee for the cancellation.
#6 Amazon Prime Now delivers to your resort
This was the best news ever! In under 2 hours, you can order anything through Amazon Prime Now (we even ordered a case of beer- you just need to sign for it) and have it delivered to your hotel. I placed my order before we got on our plane, and our groceries & diapers were ready for us when we arrived.
#7 The Orlando Airport really isn’t that kid-friendly
I have been to a lot of airports and there are a good amount that have kid areas to play or explore, which I love. I was shocked that Orlando didn’t have anything like this. Being that half of its traffic is probably Disney-driven, I just expected that they would. Unfortunately, our flight was delayed 3 hours after we got through security, so we found this out the hard way. We had plenty of activities packed for them to do, but a play area in the airport would be ideal!
#8 It’s easier to meet Mickey outside the Magic Kingdom
My two year old’s favorite person in the world is Mickey Mouse. So meeting him was the biggest item on his Disney to-do list. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get reservations at Chef Mickey’s before his bedtime. And I didn’t want to send a Fast Pass on a meet and greet at the Magic Kingdom instead of a ride we’d all love. Thankfully, we were able to book a lunch at Hollywood & Vine at Hollywood Studios as well as lunch at the Tusker House in Animal Kingdom. Although they won’t guarantee which characters will be there, both had Mickey and he was thrilled! And he also asked every character he met is they had ketchup LOL. No idea what that was about, but you’ll be happy to know Disney has plenty of condiments available 😉
#9 Don’t panic if you book a character meal your kid’s aren’t thrilled with
Because we booked in under 180 days, we couldn’t always get the most sought after character meals. Our very first meals were a breakfast at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian and a dinner buffet at the Crystal Palace. Both were Winnie the Pooh & friends character themed. I had my doubts about these since both of my boys have never even seen Winnie the Pooh on TV or read any Winnie the Pooh books.
Well to my surprise, they were absolutely thrilled with the meals! My little guy hasn’t stopped talking about Piglet and his cute pink slippers since we saw him. And they both fell in love with Winnie and Tigger (I mean how couldn’t you love them). We got some of the biggest smiles and best pictures at each of these dinners. I am so glad I made the reservations. Sometimes surprises like these are the best. And just as an FYI, the dinner at 1900 Park Fare has gummy bears on the buffet (along with rice krispy treats and pizza)- my boys were in heaven (and their dietitian mommy was so proud LOL).
#10 It really isn’t a big deal to be pregnant at Disney World
One of my biggest fears for this trip was that being 7 months pregnant would slow us down (hello frequent bathroom trips). But honestly, it wasn’t a big deal at all. Yes there’s a lot of walking, yes it’s hot, but it really is doable. If you are pregnant, just plan to bring comfy shoes and clothes, make sure you leave time for bathroom breaks when needed (there are plenty of bathrooms and the lines were never too long), and think about seasonally appropriate maternity clothes in advance. My biggest issue was realizing it was still snowing by us yet I needed shorts for the trip (and figuring this out about 2 days before we left). If you find yourself in this situation, I highly recommend getting a belly band like this one to help you fit into any of the pre-pregnancy summer clothes you have around.