We here at Girls Crochet Headbands are all about family fun – and where is the ultimate place families go to have fun? Walt Disney World, of course! If you’re looking to take a dream Disney vacation within the next few months, we’ve got great news for you – vacations are on sale! You can save 15 to 30 percent on a magical family vacation at a variety of Disney Resort Hotels. Click here for all the details! If you do plan a trip, don’t forget to get a Snow White or Minnie Mouse romper for your little one to have her photo taken in when she meets her favorite Disney characters!
Whether you book a Disney vacation now or later, you’ll want to go armed with all the best vacation information from the seasoned Disney Pros – moms just like you who’ve been there, done that, and have the mouse ears to prove it. Emily Berry, who blogs at Mommin’ It Up, was kind enough to share her “Top Ten Disney Tips – Lessons Learned the Hard Way” – with us below. Thanks, Emily!
Last week, I shared this list of Disney tips… but that was before our big trip. This week I have more advice, but this time it’s with a “been there, done that” flair!
1. Use FastPasses, and use them wisely! FastPasses are offered on Disney’s most popular attractions, and they basically allow you to get a reservation to ride a ride. When you put your park ticket into the kiosk, it prints a ticket with an hour-long time frame in which you can come back and go through the FastPass line, which is generally much shorter than the stand-by line. FastPasses are a huge time-saver. All of the parks were quite crowded when we were there last week, but thanks to the FastPass option, we didn’t stand in line for anything with a posted wait time more than 30 minutes. FastPasses are free with park admission and there’s no limit to the number of them you can get in a day, but you can only have one at a time. So, if I got a FastPass for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad that had a time frame of 12:40-1:40, I’d have to wait until 12:40 before I could get a FastPass for Splash Mountain. Another tip – they rarely enforce the end time on your FastPass, so don’t worry if your time frame conflicts with a dinner reservation – you can use your FastPass after the printed time, just not before it.
2. Use the Rider Switch. The Rider Switch (also known as the Baby Swap) allows parents traveling with small children to take turns on rides without having to stand in line twice. For rides that have a minimum height requirement, one parent waits in line (or even better, uses a FastPass) while the other stays with the baby, and then when that parent exits the ride, the second parent can use a special Rider Switch pass to go through the FastPass line. The Rider Switch pass allows the second parent to bring up to three other kids with him or her, so this means the older kids totally make out – Kate got to ride every ride twice in a row! This is a great feature and one that really allowed us to get the most out of our time at the parks. To get a Rider Switch pass, just go up to the cast member who is working the FastPass entrance and ask for one – but make sure you have both parents and the baby with you, as they have to verify that you actually do have a baby with you! Once, not knowing this rule, Kate and I tried to get a Rider Switch pass for Andy to use while he was in the restroom changing Sam’s diaper. The cast member was very nice but said she had to see the baby, so make sure to keep your party together!
3. Remember the Baby Care Centers! I mentioned these in my post last week and also in my recap of my Disney Mom Blogger trip, but I just had to mention them again after actually having the opportunity to use them. I really think they are probably the most under-utilized place in the parks! Each park has one, and they contain huge (and very clean!) padded changing tables, restrooms, high chairs, nursing rooms and play areas, and you can buy any kind of baby item you might need, from formula and baby food to medicine and clean clothes. We used the centers in both the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, and they were so nice, cool and clean. It made cleaning up Sammy so much easier than trying to do it in a regular restroom! One evening, Sam was hot, tired, and fussy, so we took him into the Baby Care Center to change his clothes. He was so happy to be out of his stroller that we decided just to let him and Kate play in there for a while – they played with toys, books and watched a little bit of The Little Mermaid and it was just the downtime that they both needed. It also happened to start raining while we were in there, and it was the perfect place to wait out the storm.
4. Make a stroller plan. Kate is five years old and hasn’t used a stroller in quite a while – in fact, I never bought a double stroller after Sam was born because Kate just didn’t need one by the time he arrived. However, Disney is a whole other story!! I would recommend getting a stroller for any child under the age of 10, seriously! It’s just so. much. walking. And when we do Disney, we walk fast. There’s no way Kate could have kept up with us, and it would have been miserable trying to coerce her along. I’ve mentioned before that I have a stroller
problem addiction thing, so I put a lot of time into figuring out the best stroller for us to use at Disney. There are lots of options! First of all, you can rent double or single strollers from Disney. It’s not the cheapest route to take (single strollers are $15/day and double ones are $31/day, and there’s a slight discount for multiple-day rentals), but the strollers are easy to push and it’s very convenient to pick one up in the morning and drop it off in the evening. And you don’t have to lug them on the bus! But that also means that you don’t have a stroller to use to get to the bus (or car), or to get to your room once you arrive at your resort. They’re also not the most comfortable strollers in the world for babies to sleep in. I would definitely go this route, despite the cost, if my kids were both three or older. So what to do if you don’t want to rent one from Disney? One option, obviously, would be to bring your own. Or, you can rent them from other places, like Orlando Stroller Rentals. This is much cheaper than renting a stroller from Disney, and the strollers I saw from this company looked brand new and were awesome strollers – many of them were the double version of the BOB jogger that we have, and that’s a GREAT stroller. If I had it to do over again, I would have gone that route, but as it was, before we left I got signed up for a stroller swap through the DIS Boards. Basically, one stroller is passed from family to family – and use of the stroller is free (or nearly free). Great idea, right? Well, yes, in theory. However, in practice, I have to say I probably wouldn’t go this route again. First of all, the stroller we used was dropped off at our resort five days before our arrival, and the hotel staff had an awful time finding it when we got there. In fact, they told me several times that it just wasn’t there, and we didn’t get to use it our first day. They found it without any trouble the next morning, but it was still a hassle. Secondly, a stroller (even an awesome one like the Maclaren Twin Triumph that we used) that’s passed from family to family is going to take a beating, and even though the one we used was only a few months old, it had obviously been through the war. Finally, we lucked out and the family we were to pass the stroller on to was staying at the same resort we were, but had it not worked out that way, we would have had to spend a good portion of our last day taking the stroller to another resort, and that would have sucked. Overall, the convenience of renting a new, nice stroller would have been worth the cost incurred to me.
5. If you have a baby, bring a stroller and a baby carrier. Seems like overkill and one more thing to lug around, I know (and I know that’s what my husband thought when I presented him with this great idea!), but our Ergo carrier was a life-saver during our trip. I had actually planned to use it when we waited in line for rides, but thanks to the FastPasses that wasn’t so much of an issue. The time it really came in handy was at the end of the night on the bus. Most nights, both the kids were asleep in the stroller by the time we left the parks, and getting them and the stroller onto the bus was quite the ordeal. I’d put the carrier on and put Sam in it, Andy would pick up Kate and carry her, and I’d fold up the stroller and carry it onto the bus – which wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t have my hands free. Also, the carrier made it easier to hold him on the bus – and since there were at least a couple times that space was at such a premium that I had both kids on my lap, this was a tremendous help.
6. If you decide on the Disney Dining Plan, understand how it works before you leave home. As I mentioned last week, I’m a fan of the Disney Dining Plan, but it can be a little confusing. To get your money’s worth out of it, it’s really important to read up on it and figure out how it works before you leave, and to have a plan of how you’re going to use it. I overheard a conversation on the bus one day that nearly caused me to have a stroke – one woman asked another if she could use her table service meals at a counter service stand, because, and I quote, “We’re using none of our table service meals. None.” When the other woman responded, “I don’t know, but we used all of our counter service meals in the first two days,” Andy had to restrain me. Seriously, both of those scenarios are just such a giant waste of time and money! If you don’t have any desire to make advanced dining reservations or to plan ahead, don’t get the dining plan, it’s not worth it! Even with advanced planning, though, things change, so my other dining plan tip is to have a few options for table service meals that don’t require reservations in your back pocket – for example, we missed one table service meal, so we made up for it a couple days later by having lunch at Planet Hollywood at Downtown Disney.
7. Reconsider Extra Magic Hours. I never thought I’d hear myself say that, because after our last trip, I was a huge fan of EMHs, which are when one park opens early or closes late only for guests staying at Disney resorts. However, this time, they just didn’t work out for us. And the bad part was, I had based our entire touring plan around which parks were having them. We did have some luck with them, particularly at the Animal Kingdom, but for the most part it felt as though we were just following the crowds instead of avoiding them. So, I remembered a tip Disney Mom Panel expert Amber gave me in May – she said she tries start the day at the park that had EMHs the night before, banking on the fact that if most people stayed at that park late the night before, they’d be going somewhere different the next morning. We altered our plan to go with this theory, and it really did work. Looking back on it, it only makes sense. I had planned for us to be at the Magic Kingdom two particular nights because of EMHs… however, the EMHs were from 11 p.m. – 2 a.m., and by 10:30 both of those nights, our kids looked like this:
8. Take breaks. Again, never thought I’d hear myself say it, but the oft-given advice about taking a break from the parks in the middle of the day was crucial for our trip. By 11 or 12 each day, it was so hot and the parks were so crowded that we were all ready to go back to the hotel to nap and/or swim. I must say that I never thought I’d be a proponent of swimming while at Disney, either (we can do that at home!), but the pools at our resort were wonderful – the water was warm and we had so much fun swimming. We also found that we had plenty of park time despite these respites – they made the early mornings and late nights much, much easier. There were also times that we were at the parks and the kids were having total meltdowns, and a break for a snack or a meal was exactly what they needed. Sometimes we did more (and had more fun) when we slowed down.
9. Be flexible. Flexible is not my middle name, and if you could see the spreadsheets I had that outlined what park we were going to visit when and in what order we were going to ride the rides, you’d know what a big deal it is for me to say this… but being flexible and willing to chuck my plans was incredibly important to our trip. One morning, I hustled everyone out of bed so that we could get to Hollywood Studios before opening time (despite Kate’s cries of “I’m too tired!” as I woke her up). We rode one ride, and she was a complete disaster. She was crying and whining and begging to go back to the hotel to nap, so that’s exactly what we did (even though it pained me, I’ve got to say). We left the park before 9 a.m., and when we got back to the hotel she slept for three hours. The rest of the day, and really the rest of the trip, was better for it.
10. Help others, and let them help you. I was really pleasantly surprised with the community feel among Disney visitors. Each time we were on a crowded bus and I was carrying Sam, someone gave up their seat for me. When we were in situations like I described earlier with sleeping kids and a stroller to deal with, people would ask us how they could help us, and we did the same for others when we could help them. It was refreshing… this was not the case on our last trip, so I’ve decided that the recession is making people nicer.
And finally, my bonus – and perhaps most important – tip… do not set a wet child down on a paper toilet seat cover, unless you want to paper mache her buns.
This post originally appeared at Mommin’ It Up
Photo by Christian Lambert (DVCphoto92) via Creative Commons