As I write this it’s the deepest midwinter here in England: minus five degrees Celcius; grey and miserable. I am longing for sunshine and warmth and the chance to explore somewhere new. My thoughts keep wandering off ahead to our upcoming big trip to Boston and Cape Cod later this Spring, as well as nostalgically back to our adventures of the last couple of years – Lake Maggiore in Italy last summer and Walt Disney World Florida eighteen months ago. I still can’t quite believe so much time has passed since we had our holiday of a lifetime to Walt Disney World Florida – we still talk about it almost every day and my girls ask on a regular basis when we can go back (we need to save up first!). It seems that the Disney bug bit us all hard.
So I figured there was no better time than now to share my third and final Walt Disney World Florida post (for now anyway, until we return – hopefully in a couple of years time!). I’ve already written two posts with some tips for how to plan for a trip to Walt Disney World Florida: ‘Walt Disney World Florida: Tips, Tricks And Useful Things To Know Part One‘ (all about how to organise your trip before you go) and ‘Walt Disney World Florida: Tips, Tricks And Useful Things To Know Part Two’ (an in-depth look at each of the parks in turn).
This post is all about our top ten practical tips for how to get the best out of your trip to Walt Disney World Florida once you’re there, as well as what we’d choose to do differently next time. Please bear in mind that I am definitely not an expert – we’ve only been once! These tips are based purely on our experiences as first-timers at the happiest place on earth.
Top Ten (Practical) Tips For Walt Disney World Florida
1/ Take Snacks
Lots of snacks. And a bottle of water per person that you can refill at one of the fountains once it’s empty. It’s hot and hungry work walking around the parks all day and little ones need regular refuelling to keep their energy levels up and tiredness at bay. If you’re in a long queue to meet a character or go on a ride at what would normally be lunch or dinner time, a bag full of snacks will help tide everyone over for a bit longer. We took small, non-messy, non-perishable, easy-to-carry items like boxes of raisins, fruit bars, flapjack bars and little bags of biscuits, plus a couple of fresh fruit items like apples and pots of grapes.
Food and drink in the parks is expensive – we paid $5 (almost £4!) for a Mickey Mouse-shaped magnum! In our experience we also struggled to find simple sandwiches and salads or anything even remotely healthy to eat for lunch and we didn’t really want to eat a big or hot main meal in the middle of the day. Perhaps we were looking in the wrong places (after all, there are hundreds of food outlets!) as other people have said that they didn’t have this issue. We decided to take packed lunches with us in the end as it was more purse-friendly and so much easier to keep everyone happy with their various individual likes and dislikes. It worked out well for us – we timed our visits to arrive at the park at midday and then we’d eat the lunch we’d brought with us in the car before heading in for Disney fun. This also meant we could stay later into the evening as we’d not had a super-early start to the day.
There is so much amazing food on offer at Walt Disney World Florida though so definitely try out as much of it as you can – after all it is supposed to be a holiday! Epcot has an enormous variety of different foods from all around the globe in the World Showcase so if you’re a foodie, definitely head there to sample a bit of everything. Hollywood Studios also has some really cool places to eat – I really wanted to try out the 50’s Prime Time Café and the Sci Fi Dine In Theatre Restaurant but we just couldn’t fit it in with everything else we were doing on the day we were there. Also, we had the best ice cream of our whole trip from Hollywood Scoops on Sunset Boulevard (see photo below)
2/ Be Flexible With Your Plans/Itinerary
It’s tempting to want to plan your entire Walt Disney World Florida trip down to the minute with fast passes and dining reservations and shows because of course you want to make the most of it all whilst you’re there. I would definitely recommend leaving plenty of room for both flexibility and spontaneity in your itinerary though. Jet lag affects everyone differently and if you’ve not flown long-haul before or if it’s your first time visiting Walt Disney World Florida you have no idea how you or the children will react until you’re there. Thankfully I’m not usually affected by jet lag too much apart from being a little bit tired, but the girls were exhausted from the time difference and all the walking we were doing so they definitely needed a day off after spending a whole day at one of the Walt Disney World Florida parks.
A ‘one day on/one day off’ approach definitely worked best for us. We used the ‘day off’ to chill out in the pool at our villa or the clubhouse at Balmoral Resort (where we were staying) and we did half-day trips to places like Celebration and Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf in the afternoons once everyone had rallied round a bit. I know several people who have been to Walt Disney World Florida and visited all the parks in the space of a week, doing full days from 8am to 10pm every day and whilst I would have loved to have been able to do that, it just wouldn’t have worked for us – two days in a row at the parks was do-able but we definitely needed to factor in the third day to be a rest day.
Walt Disney World Florida is enormous. I definitely felt quite overwhelmed when I realised just how much there was to see and do, and I knew we would never be able to do it all in just ten days. Something that really helped was asking each member of the family what their priorities were. I asked them which characters they really wanted to meet, which rides they definitely wanted to go on, which shows they absolutely had to watch, which experiences they knew they wanted to have and which photographs they wanted to capture for their autograph books. Making sure we hit all of those priorities was quite tricky as there were six of us but it was so worth it because everyone got what they wanted out of our trip. Anything else we managed to do on top was a bonus (and we ended up having quite a lot of those too!)
My top priority was meeting Mickey Mouse and yes, I did get a little emotional as he gave me a hug. Ella wanted to meet Princess Jasmine; Mimi wanted to see BB8; Lola was desperate to meet Rapunzel; and all the teenager wanted to do was get a hug from Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger. The husband would like me to say that his top priority was having a cuddle with Chewbacca, but I know that secretly his highlight of the holiday was meeting Anna and Elsa from Frozen.
4/ Manage Your Expectations
This is perhaps one of the most important tips I can give. Walt Disney World Florida is marketed as ‘the happiest place on earth’ and any trip there is likely to be a holiday of a lifetime. If you’re anything like me, from the moment the tickets are booked you’ll be imagining the ‘perfect’ family holiday – everyone getting along all of the time, big smiles 24/7 and plans going without a hitch. I had to work really quite hard to manage those expectations as I know it’s not a realistic or achieveable thing to hope for! And I’m glad I did because our Walt Disney World Florida holiday had as many less-than-perfect moments as it did perfect ones.
Just remember that not everyone is going to love everything all of the time. Meltdowns will still happen thanks to boredom in long queues, people getting ‘hangry’, and tiredness/jet lag hitting at the most unhelpful of moments. There will still be arguments and bickering between siblings (and spouses). Compromises will need to be made – we found it useful to ‘divide and conquer’ from time to time with the husband and the teenager going off to do the bigger rides whilst the girls and I had a wander round the shops or met a character or simply had a sit down in the shade. Children will still do challenging behaviours. Rides could be closed for repairs or refurbishment. It might rain (we got caught in a downpour on our first day in the Magic Kingdom and I nearly cried because I’d been expecting sunshine for the whole time we were there).
These things happen because we’re human and our imperfections don’t get put to one side just because we’re on holiday, even if it is somewhere as incredible as Walt Disney World Florida. And hand on heart I can say that even though certain aspects of our trip were quite difficult, we managed them as best we could and still had a magical time; made happy memories that will last a lifetime; and would absolutely do it all over again if we can make the opportunity happen.
5/ Be realistic
Not only is Walt Disney World Florida itself absolutely huge, there is a ton of stuff to do in the surrounding area too. I love planning a trip as much as I love being on the trip and my research into what there was to do beyond the gates of Walt Disney World Florida led to me creating a long list of places I/we wanted to visit. On our list were places such as Disney Boardwalk, International Drive, Clearwater Beach, Celebration, Kissimmee Old Town, Gatorland, Cocoa Beach and more. Don’t even get me started on Universal Studios (we only bought tickets to Walt Disney World Florida as we’re hoping to return in a couple of years time when the girls are a bit older and when we’ve saved up enough again to be able to go and do Universal).
Out of all of the places on our list we only managed to do one of them – an afternoon exploring Celebration, which I loved. Beautiful houses, a stunning lakeside boardwalk to wander around, delicious ice cream… it’s well worth a visit. I still feel a little sad that we didn’t get to go to any of the other locations on our list as well but at least I know we’ve got plenty of places to explore next time!
Just remember that no matter how much time you spend in Orlando, you will never get it all done. You’d need at least a month just to do all of the Walt Disney World Florida parks properly, let alone the other surrounding attractions. Being realistic with the time you have and how much you can physically squeeze into that time will mean that you’ll enjoy the trip so much more than feeling let down that you didn’t get to ‘do it all’.
6/ Wear Comfy Shoes
It sounds so obvious but seriously, wear comfy shoes. Not brand new ones, not ones that that you know rub your feet after an hour and definitely not heels. Trainers, ballet pumps or sandals are perfect as you will be doing a LOT of walking. We averaged between 10,000 and 12,500 steps per person per day when we were in the Walt Disney World Florida parks and your feet will thank you for it if you keep them as comfortable as possible.
7/ Think About Safety
It doesn’t matter what time of year you visit, Walt Disney World Florida is going to be ridiculously busy. American vacation times don’t always tie-in with UK school holidays so even if you think it’ll be quieter, it probably won’t be. There are big crowds of people, exciting things that capture little ones interest and entice them to wander off and the parks themselves are absolutely huge – it can be really easy to lose your sense of direction (bear in mind that this is coming from the girl who still gets lost in shopping centres!).
Make sure you have a clear plan for what to do if you get separated, and that everyone in your party knows what that plan is. Decide on an easy-to-find meeting point; make sure all the children know who is safe to approach (the Disney staff all wear similar coloured uniforms); give everyone a map; and make sure that those of your party who have a mobile phone have connected to the free wifi so you can WhatsApp call to locate each other if you do end up going in different directions.
8/ Do Your Research And Be Organised
Some of the best travel experiences are had and favourite holiday memories are made when you keep things as loose and spontaneous as possible – after all, control and military precision do not make for a fun adventure. It is entirely possible to ‘wing it’ at Walt Disney World Florida for sure (we did with regards to fast passes!) and I’m certain that there would be some amazing stories to tell if you did decide to visit without doing any planning whatsoever. However, putting a bit of effort into doing some advance research and being organised can make a big difference to how smoothly a trip goes.
Things like knowing which restaurants serve food that your children will actually eat (as well as giving them the opportunity to try new stuff too of course) can be invaluable – this was a big one for us as everyone in our party of six has such different likes and dislikes that finding somewhere that caters for all of us can sometimes be quite challenging wherever in the world we are! I did quite a lot of advance research into restaurant menus for each of the parks and it made a big difference – we knew exactly which dining options to head for which massively cut down on the dithering and “What about this place? Or this place? Or this place?” conversations.
We all LOVED the Rainforest Café at Animal Kingdom which had a huge range of choices for grown ups and younger ones, decent portions, healthy options (actual vegetables!) and a unique dining experience. It’s expensive compared to the many fast-food places within the parks, but definitely worth it – we all voted it our favourite place to eat.
Keeping your park tickets and fast passes in one place; making a note of the start times of the shows you’ve pre-booked; and researching ahead of time which characters can be found in which Walt Disney World Florida park are also all vital things to do to make sure that you get the best out of your holiday. A little bit boring perhaps, but it really will have a positive impact on your overall experience. You can find most of the information you need in the My Disney Experience app which proved to be absolutely invaluable to us – definitely download it and use it.
9/ Be Prepared
Charge your phones and cameras every night without fail – the last thing you want is a dead camera battery right at the moment you meet Cinderella for the first time, or a dead phone battery if you’ve got separated from your family. A portable charger may be useful (though we didn’t take one or need to use one).
Make sure you take everything you need with you into the Walt Disney World Florida parks every day. We took the following items with us in a backpack each time we visited: a cold bottle of water per person; enough snacks for everyone; a bottle of suncream; sunglasses & sunhats for everyone; our park tickets; my Lonely Planet guidebook (pocket sized); my DSLR camera and compact video camera; our phones; the girls’ autograph books (and spare pens); a pack of wet wipes & a pack of tissues; cash (for parking – $20 per vehicle per day) and cards; hoodies for everyone in case it rained; plasters (for blisters/minor injuries); and entertainment for the girls for long wait times in queues or in restaurants (a crossword/wordsearch/soduku book to work on together plus a few sheets of plain paper for doodling/writing down memories). I know it sounds like a lot but honestly we really did use every single one of these things every day.
10/ Say Yes
Say ‘yes’ as much as possible. I can’t emphasise this enough so I’ll say it again: say ‘yes’ to all the things you would normally say ‘no’ to. Rules and routine and sleep patterns will go out of the window and that’s absolutely ok. Walt Disney World Florida is the trip of a lifetime. Make the most of it, make memories together, stay up late, laugh lots, try new things, do stuff that scares you, spend hours in the pool, let yourself get overcome with emotion when your son or daughter meets his/her favourite character, eat the giant ice cream, wear Mickey (or Minnie!) Mouse ears/TShirts, really talk with each other (I love questions like “What has been the best part of your day?” and “What do you think you’re going to remember most from today?”), get in the photographs with your kids, and know that the stuff that doesn’t go quite how you imagined it would will soon become nothing more than a funny “Remember when…?” story that you tell once you’re home.
If We Could Go Back To Walt Disney World Florida And Do It All Again…
…what would we do differently? It’s a question I get asked quite a lot and, truth be told, I spend so much time daydreaming about our next visit to Walt Disney World Florida that I’ve thought about this on an almost daily basis since we got home eighteen months ago! I asked the girls too and between us this is what we came up with.
On our next trip to Walt Disney World Florida we will definitely:
~ Go for longer. Ten days just wasn’t enough. We’d go for a minimum of two weeks, preferably three if we can save up enough.
~ Watch more stage shows. We’d aim for one in each park. ‘Beauty And The Beast – Live On Stage’ was one that we would have loved to have seen so that would be a priority next time.
~ Make better use of fast passes. Due to a mix up with ours we only got the option to start booking them a couple of days before we flew out to Walt Disney World Florida instead of a month in advance. Now we know how the whole system works we will definitely book as far ahead as we can in order to ensure we get to do all the rides and see all the shows we want.
~ Explore more of Epcot. We pretty much just wandered through each of the countries in the World Showcase without actually stopping for a proper look around and I’d like to see more of what it has to offer next time we visit.
~ Eat more Mickey Mouse snacks. Mickey Mouse-shaped magnum ice creams and giant cupcakes with Mickey Mouse sprinkles were a good start but I know there are a whole host of other snacks that we didn’t try – the ice cream sandwich and a Micky Mouse shaped pretzel being two that are top of our list.
~ Go on more rides. It was the girls first ever experience of a proper theme park (unless you count Legoland Windsor, which we visited several years ago) and they were all a little nervous of the rides. Next time we go they’ll be older and possibly a little more keen to try them out. I’m not a huge fan of rollercoasters either to be honest but there are a few rides that I would have liked to have gone on – the Na’vi River Journey in Pandora at Animal Kingdom and Splash Mountain in Frontierland at Magic Kingdom being two examples.
~ Do a character dining experience. The girls will probably be a little too old for this next time we go, but you can’t really beat having breakfast with Mickey Mouse can you?!
~ Go to the waterparks. We didn’t have time to do Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach which was a real shame as I think we’d all have really enjoyed them. Definitely a priority for our next Walt Disney World Florida visit.
~ Make sure we meet more of the characters. We did our best (and filled up our autograph books!) but there were so many we didn’t get to meet so we’d definitely make a beeline for them first next time.
~ Go on a safari at Animal Kingdom. I didn’t even know this was possible otherwise I would have been all over it whilst we were there. We loved seeing the baby gorillas playing on the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail and the tigers on the Maharajah Jungle Trek were incredible (tigers are my most favourite animal). To see other animals roaming a bit more freely and getting a taster of an experience of what a real safari might be like (a dream travel adventure for me) would be brilliant.
~ Collect Disney trading pins. The girls love collecting things from our holidays and if I’d known about the pin trading scheme before we went we would definitely have taken part. You buy a ‘starter set’ (comprising of a lanyard and four pins I believe), and then you can swap the pins with any Disney cast member as you visit the parks in order to build up a collection of your favourites. It seems like quite a good ‘pocket money purchase’ for children who have a bit of holiday money to spend too so that they can add to their collections.
~ Finish the ‘Sorcerers Of The Magic Kingdom’ quest. This interactive (and free) game at Magic Kingdom was brilliant but unfortunately one of the portals wasn’t working whilst we were there and so we couldn’t progress any further. I’d love to finish it and defat the baddies at the end!
~ Possibly stay a little bit closer to the Walt Disney World Florida parks. Our villa was enormous, beautiful, luxurious and had literally everything we needed – it was perfect for us as a family. It just meant a 45-minute drive to the parks each day (plus extra time spent stuck in traffic). It wasn’t an issue at all and we would happily stay there again for sure. If we got the opportunity to be a little bit nearer though I think we’d take it. The girls would love to stay in a Disney hotel too, but I’m yet to find one that has rooms/suites that cater for a family of five (or offer self catering options on-site) – if anyone can point me in the right direction I’m all ears.
~ Watch the night-time show at each park. We managed three out of four (The Magic Kingdom’s ‘Happily Ever After’ fireworks, ‘IllumiNations’ at Epcot and Animal Kingdom’s ‘Rivers of Light’) but missed out on ‘Fantasmic’ at Hollywood Studios, which is supposed to be incredible.
~ Visit Toy Story Land at Hollywood Studios. It wasn’t open yet when we visited so we have to go back and see that.
~ Wear more Mickey Mouse themed clothes. We wore the ears but next time we’ll get into the spirit of it a bit more and wear the TShirts too. After all, if you can’t do it at Walt Disney World Florida, where can you?!
~ Go to Disney Boardwalk and watch the sunset. It’s supposed to be really pretty there and it was somewhere I really wanted to go but we couldn’t quite make it happen. Next time, for sure.
~ Get a cupcake from the Sprinkles ATM machine. It wasn’t working at Disney Springs when we were there on our last day and the girls were so disappointed.
~ Explore outside the Walt Disney World Florida parks. I mentioned earlier that I have a long list of places I’d like to visit in and around Orlando and beyond – next time we’ll make sure we do at least a couple of them.
~ Go to Universal Studios! The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the biggest draw for us at the moment and the rest of it is supposed to be amazing too though I don’t know very much about it. I’d better get researching…!
Writing all of this has made me want to go back ASAP. The Disney magic is definitely real. This video covers our whole trip and all of us love watching it over and over again as it brings back such wonderful memories of our family holiday of a lifetime to Walt Disney World Florida.
I hope that this ‘Top Ten Practical Tips’ guide for a trip to Walt Disney World Florida has been useful in helping you plan your holiday-of-a-lifetime. If you’ve been to Walt Disney World Florida and have anything to add, please feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments so that readers can see them and use them too.
Please note: I have not been asked or paid to write this post. All thoughts, feelings, opinions, ideas, words and photographs are my own.
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