Guide to Disney World, Part 1

By Guest Blogger Amanda Gurall —

Planning a trip to Disney World? Right now I know of 8 families planning a trip to Disney World so it is probably a good time to share my experiences when we went for 7 days last October.  I have given a few tips before but here are some very specific and hopefully helpful hints that parents can use.  After you have done all of your research (you HAVE done some, right? Please do NOT just show up unprepared unless you like wasting a lot of time, missing wonderful things and getting grumpy) and hopefully used a great service like www.touringplans.com to help you chose what park to see on which day, you will be ready to get into some of the finer points of visiting “The World”. (Read more after the jump)

We made it! Just another 15 minutes to the parking lot!

My husband and I took our 15 month old son and 5 year old daughter and I can say that everyone had an absolutely amazing time — only one bad rain storm and a weird encounter with a footless crane caused us stress and neither was Disney’s fault.  We had a rental car and stayed off property in a lovely time share, which we loved for the space and break from the mouse.  You really can find any sort of accommodations  in Orlando from the Disney properties to cheap motels and huge resorts, you can even rent a condo, some of which have been decorated with  a Disney theme by the owners!  If you have a large family, do yourself a favor and explore these off property options as you will get a lot more space for your kids to go bonkers in and you might even get some quiet for yourself.  Hey, they say dreams really do come true don’t they?

Since our kids are young and we are up by 6:30 anyway we made our days “rope-drop to dinner time” for the most part.

First Day:

Our first day at the magic kingdom we got there about an hour before the park opened, so we were right up front for the opening show. They do a little singing, a train brings the characters, it is such a fun way to start the adventure. As I stood watching it, looking at the kids and knowing how hard we saved and planned to make the trip happen, I cried like a sap.

TIP: If there is anything specific you MUST do, or a big attraction you do not want to wait an hour for, know the map and head there immediately!  We found the official Disney World app, the Touring Plans app and a character tracker from www.kennythepirate.com extremely helpful through the entire stay. There are plenty of paper maps throughout the parks as well, which our daughter absolutely loved looking at!

No matter what you do, do not get yourself too caught up in plans, deadlines and preconceived ideas of what the trip will be.  If the kids need a break, do not force them on another line! Nothing is worse than a crying kid and angry parents at Disney.  If you feel your family is headed for trouble, get cooled off, find a drink or snack and take some time to relax.

Some of the best areas for kids to be able to run around and be goofy are:

  • Magic Kingdom
  • The playground at Thunder Mountain
  • The rose garden by the castle
  • Splash center at Storybook Circus (bring water shoes and a possible second outfit),
  • Exploring the caves and buildings on Tom Sawyer island
  • Water spraying Tiki gods and Aladdin’s camel in adventure land!


Best Gift Shop to have fun in:

The gift shop at the Pirates of the Caribbean ride is one of the most fun, we had a blast trying on hats, swords and rubber shackles.

Playing at the fort on Tom Sawyer’s island

Epcot:

  • The area near the land and Nemo
  • Playing with the ducks by the lake
  • The movies they show for France, China etc. are nice for older kids, and the younger ones can run around the waiting areas on a non-crowded day.
  • Kids love just watching the fountains in future world and exploring Innoventions.
  • There is also a fun play area at the end of figment and mission space but you can access them without doing the rides! Lots of interactive technology and games for the kids.
  • There is an indoor spot called Club Cool where you can try free sodas from around the world, that was a nice mini break for us as well.

Animal Kingdom:

  • Excellent and cool playground and digging pit in Dino Land with lots of seating, watching and dancing with the musicians in Asia (India)
  • Strolling around the tree of life trying to find all of the animals.
  • There is also a nice area called conservation station where you can watch the vets do real work on animals (everything from checkups to live births! If anything may be scary they will warn you), learn about conservation and enjoy a nice petting zoo area.

TIP: This area is best accessed by the train but it can eat a lot of time, so go over if you have animal lovers or really need a peaceful break.

Digging in Dino Land. Don’t worry about getting dirty, the tiny smooth rocks slide right out of shoes!

Hollywood Studios:

  • The Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground
  • Muppets fountain
  • Running around the not-currently used but open backlot areas.
  • We grabbed an afternoon snack from Starring Rolls Bakery and sat outside on the wall to watch the Pixar parade. Not the best views but was a nice break and kids were happy.
  • You can also find some space in the animation courtyard and building where you may find artists at work drawing characters for your kids to color!

Tip: the animation presentation talks about character development, leading our daughter to ask some questions about the characters she thought were “real”…so if you have a little one you may want to skip it.

Phineas and Ferb joked and played with my daughter..definitely a highlight of Hollywood Studios!

Just taking a ride on the monorail or the boats between worlds can be a nice break for everyone as well. You can go to the resorts and explore them a bit, I have heard the beach at the Polynesian is lovely and doing a bit of looking around in the contemporary is nice. Both resorts are a quick and easy detour from a long park day, all resorts welcome non-guests and have plenty of sofas and quiet spots to rest.

Shows: Often I hear people skip some of the older shows like Micky’s Philharmonic  but they are a great break from the sun, are comfortable and all of the shows we saw were a lot of fun!
The ones I would not miss: The Muppet movie at Hollywood Studios, Turtle Talk with Crush at Epcot and the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor at Magic Kingdom.

All parks also have babycare centers where you can nurse, change and give your baby some quiet time.  Every park is also filled with live performers and it is nice to just sit and enjoy the moment!

TIP: We brought lots of  frozen water bottles, but because of the heat ended up buying some from the park on most days.  Even though it was October, one day it was 95 degrees, we were pretty miserable and my daughter ended up getting heat sick all over the restaurant at her Dad’s birthday dinner. They sell Mickey water bottle topper straws at every fruit or snack stand in all of the worlds and I highly recommend you buy one.  My daughter loved it so much from that point on she drank enough water and was never sick again. Best $3 we spent and we will definitely reuse it at home. You can also ask for free ice water from any restaurant.

If you had told me before the trip that she would love the second story Astro Orbiter, I wouldn’t have believed it!

I was surprised how many rides my daughter went on- do not make the mistake of assuming the child you knew before the trip will turn down haunted mansion or race cars, just show it to them and ask  — you may be surprised what they will do and love! 

TIP: If anyone freaks out at the last minute the friendly Cast Members (employees) will let you leave the line.

Scary Rides?
Show your child a You Tube ride video of a questionable attraction.  I did this for a few and it didn’t ruin her enjoyment, she felt more in control and knew it was dark etc.  You can also do a baby swap on many rides which allows one parent to wait to the side with a child who is not riding, then get on the ride right after swapping the child with their partner. Disney is soon to be releasing two new programs called My Magic plus/fast pass plus and Magic Band ID bracelets which will completely change the way you wait for attractions and do your business in the parks so make sure to keep up to speed and know how to use everything before your trip.

Money, Money, Money:

We all know trips like these can have no limit to their cost but did you know there are some ways to make it more affordable? We bought our park tickets from www.undercovertourist.com and saved about $50.

Food & Drinks:

Some people find the meal plan to be a savings, some do not. Before you sign up for one take a look at exactly what it will give you and consider your eating habits. The portions are always large and you may or may not like the options. A great site to see the menus, prices and food reviews is www.disneyfoodblog.com.  Adults can also order from kid’s menus at counter service restaurants  and its usually a really good value.  If you have a car, check out restaurant websites and Orlando Groupon, we found great deals including a BOGO at the delicious Earl of Sandwich! EDITOR’s NOTE: If you are traveling with young kids, you can order baby and toddler food, including snacks from us at jetsetbabies.com – shop here.

Souvenirs! Do you need them?

Around every corner there is a store selling everything you can imagine, and it can be hard to manage money with the kids.  Our daughter started saving in May and by the time we left she had a gift card with $125 on it, it went pretty far and was a good lesson in handling money because once it was gone, she was done. We did buy both kids some ears and a few small things but overall I think we were all happy without spending hundreds of dollars.  There is also a store in Downtown Disney where all items are under $10 so that may be worth a stop as well.  There are great postcard selections at every drug store in Orlando at a fraction of the cost of the Disney shops and to be honest, they have much cuter design options.

At Epcot’s Mitsukoshi Store you can choose an oyster, they open it up and you see what kind of pearl is inside! You can choose settings there or do it at home yourself.

Want more tips? Check out Going to Disney World  part two coming soon!

Our writer did not receive any compensation for this post from Disney World or any other entity. All opinions expressed are her own. This originally aired on TheMamaMaven.com in March 2013.