M-i-c … k-e-y … M-o-u-s-e!…..
Did you start singing the song in your head as you read those letters? There’s something magical and happy about those letters and that mouse. That’s why so many families look forward to planning their family trip to Disney World each year. First off, I have to say I got really lucky and married someone just as crazy about Disney as me — my husband and I collectively have been to Disney World nearly 50 times in our lifetimes. We’ve both been going since we were kids with our families, and now we love to take our own children. With four theme parks, two water parks, Downtown Disney and more, planning a Disney trip can seem like a daunting and expensive task — but it doesn’t have to be. Here are 12 tips for a magical and budget-friendly Disney trip, from our family to yours.
1. Use a Disney travel agent.
Disney pays these agents a commission, making them free for you. They give you great tips, in addition to making all your reservations, including hotel, fast pass and dining plus.
2. Bring a backpack & stroller.
Even if your kids are a little out of the “stroller age,” bring it because you’ll be walking a lot. I also always carry a small backpack so I can have water, Advil and any other necessities handy.
3. Park Hopper
Having a Park Hopper upgrade on your ticket allows you to visit different parks in the same day. We plan for visiting one park a day on our trip. However, if you happen to see a special offer or upgrade for this perk, snatch it up. It’s nice to have the option.
4. Getting there.
To save money, we usually drive to Disney. It’s about 16 hours from Cleveland to Orlando. If you’re on a budget, this option really isn’t that bad. Bring some games and make a fun family road trip out of it.
5. Pick Your Spot.
If you drive to the parks, remember where you park. Take a picture of where you parked using your phone. We forgot once and looked for our car for an hour. Let’s just say we won’t let that happen again.
6. Stay at a Disney World resort.
We’ve done our vacations multiple ways, from staying at a condo or hotel off-property to staying at one of Disney’s resorts. There are many perks, including Extra Magic Hours (early entry and extended hours for Disney property guest only), early access to Disney dining reservations, and more. Three levels of lodging — deluxe, moderate and value — are designed to fit different budgets. We’ve stayed at all three levels and have been happy at each. Do your own research online or have your travel agent help you decide what your needs are and what would be the best fit for your family.
7. Eat breakfast in your room.
We’re fine with eating a smaller meal in our room for breakfast. Keep it light. We bring food, or my hubby will run to the hotel lobby and get smaller items for us to eat quickly.
8. Meet and Greet.
If you have smaller kids, reserve at least one character dining experience. This is a perfect opportunity for the kids to talk, mingle and get an up-close look at the princesses and other Disney characters.
9. Get to the parks early for “rope drop.”
One of our favorite parts about arriving early at the Magic Kingdom is the welcome show where they sing the “Good Morning Song” and Mickey and the gang arrive on the train. If you want to experience shorter lines, cooler temperatures and smaller crowds, get there early. We typically can get in between five and 10 rides the first hour the park is open.
10. Rider Swap.
If you have smaller kids, utilize the unadvertised amenity called “Rider Swap” on rides the whole family isn’t able to ride. Rider Swap allows a parent to ride with the older children while the other parent waits with the younger ones. After the older children ride, the parents swap places and they ride again. Inquire with each ride’s cast member.
11. Disney dining plan.
Talk to your travel agent or do your research regarding what’s best for your family. It does make things very easy and adds more of an all-inclusive feel during your trip, but it could end up costing you more than just buying your own meals.
12. Bring your own souvenirs.
You’ll save a ton of money by bringing your own souvenirs from the dollar store or department store. Leave them in your room with a note from Tinkerbell, so when the family arrives back after a day at the parks, the kids are surprised with their “magical gifts from Tinkerbell.”
Sara Carnes is co-host of the Family Friendly Morning Show with Len Howser weekdays from 6-9 a.m. on 95.5 The Fish. She and her husband Russ are raising their two daughters, Makayla and Reagan, right here in Northeast Ohio.