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I’m Going to Disney! Now What?

Next month 100+ social media mavens and their families will be converging at Walt Disney World for the first Disney’s Social Media Moms Celebration. With just four weeks to go, the excitement is starting to mount…and the nerves are beginning to fray. For many attendees, this means their first trip to the World with their children – in some cases their first trip ever – and now that the excitement of registering for the event has passed, the realization of what is to come has begun to sink in. It’s time for a crash course in Disney.

Step 1 – Plan, plan, plan! From clothes to food to days in the parks, you absolutely should not attempt a Disney vacation of any type or length without careful planning.
Step 2 – Repeat step one
Things to Consider
The bloggers attending this event will be entering the parks four days, and days one and four will in most cases be travel days. Before arriving in Orlando (before arriving…before), know which parks you would like to visit. While my family is able to see all that we wish to see at Animal Kingdom by arriving at opening and leaving at nap time, therefore allowing us to make an evening parade in another park or schedule a dinner show, not every family prefers the same things. No one knows your children better than you do, so head on over to the list of park attractions at Walt Disney World’s incredibly informative and fun website and make a priority list.
1. What are your children’s “must do”s and their “must see”s? If your kids are old enough to participate in this discussion, have them pull up a chair and check out the pictures and descriptions. Make a park by park list, and don’t forget to include special performances such as afternoon street parties or story times.
2. Ride the rides…virtually Before each trip to Disney, we search YouTube for the amazing videos Disney fans have made while on each ride. Not sure if you can stomach the drop on Splash Mountain? Hold on to your desk chair and ride along with someone’s (hopefully waterproof) video camera. My family has used these videos to up the ante of which rides we will try as our children mature and grow between each trip.
3. What can the caregivers handle…and be honest with them and yourself While I am soaking up the genius that is speaker Chris Brogan, my husband will be trying to convince both of our children to stick close and do as he says despite the lights and sounds of the Disney parks that are luring them in a million directions. In our case, my parents who love the World as much as I do will be joining him. However, if your little ones have your spouse or caregivers outnumbered, you need to take a look at your plans carefully. Will there be an adult available to return to the hotel with a younger child for nap, or will you have to send a blankie or other snuggly into the parks in the morning for stroller napping? Will you have enough adults to ride each ride with the children, or should your family avoid the two-riders only rides? The less surprises you encounter within the parks, the more smoothly your trip will go, and the more fun your whole family will experience.
4. Do not over-estimate the amount of space you can cover in the finite time of your trip I over plan every trip. Heck, I over plan every day. I always underestimate the time it takes to do anything, and on a Walt Disney World vacation, this can catapult the little ones into tears and fits. A couple things to think about regarding use of your time:
  • Know a ride’s typical wait time: Some rides simply load faster depending on the type of ride (stop and start or continuous load), popularity, and even location in the park. If you’ve chosen rides that all have long wait times, chances are you will not cover much ground. I always say two “It’s a Small World’s” in the hand is better than one “Peter Pan’s Flight” in the bush. The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World has the most useful information about ride wait times.
  • Travel from park to park takes time: While I always utilize park hopper tickets to move my family from one park to another in the same day, it comes at a cost, and that cost is time. There is no fast transportation from one park to another…anywhere. Period. If you’d like to see the animals bright and early at Animal Kingdom and view the Spectro Magic Parade at the Magic Kingdom later that evening, be sure to account for your travel time when planning to arrive to see the parade.
  • Travel within the park takes time: In my opinion, the easiest park in terms of transportation within the park is the Magic Kingdom. The layout somehow remained ingrained in my brain from my childhood, and we are able to cover ground while there with the kids in a fairly effortless and efficient way, dodging up and down less crowded walkways and taking advantage of loops. However, the other parks were not so kindly designed. Instead, the designs prevent crowding by spreading folks out everywhere…and I mean everywhere. I believe I’d pay just about anything to be able to teleport from The Land at EPCOT to the back of the World Showcase loop. Disney, if you’re listening, can we get to work on that?

5. Be prepared to spend money, but know that there are ways to save Two things that I never pay for at Disney: breakfast and “cheap” souvenirs. No, my children are not deprived, but I’m sure that some folks have heard me say politely to my children, “This trip is your souvenir.” That said, I’m not one for spending money on things that light up for an hour or two…so I bring my own. Try to anticipate these expensive little desires and then run to a craft store for a giant box of light up bracelets that are $1 for fifty. You’ll feel great handing them out on the dark buses on the way back to the hotel at night. Likewise, if Cheerios and milk fits the bill at home, why would that not be the perfect foundation for a day of walking in the parks? If you’re staying at a hotel with a fridge, you’re already set. Upon arrival simply visit the general store conveniently located inside your resort and buy a half gallon of milk. Pack a box of cereal and some paper bowls, plastic spoons, and napkins, and you’ve got breakfast taken care of before you head into the parks. We also pack snacks – bananas, pretzels, those little boxes of raisins – and refill sports bottles from the large water bottles we purchase at the hotel. If you have a large family, a lengthy visit, or are going with a group, consider having groceries delivered from Garden Grocer and you’ll even be able to take in PBJ for lunch!

6. Pack for strange weather The most predictable thing about a Walt Disney World vacation is the un-predictability of the weather. The two weeks leading up to our May vacation were the rainiest in Florida history…but our trip was four of the bluest-skyed, breeziest, most beautiful days I’ve ever seen. Just this week it snowed in Orlando without the help of Disney magic. If you’re planning a trip from July through September, be prepared for heat and humidity like you’ve never felt, and grab some bug spray wipes. If you’re travelling during the winter months, don’t assume that sunny Florida will deliver. Pack thin knit gloves and a cute scarf, especially if you’re planning on entering the parks after sundown.

7. Last minute dining reservations are a thing of the past During our last trip we were unable to make any dining reservations while we were at Walt Disney World. Many of the restaurants now allow online booking, and guests book multiple reservations for every meal in order to have options. Unfortunately, that leaves no reservations for the rest of us, despite open tables. Your best bet is to try to get a walk-in seating. The best meal of our last trip was enjoyed because we took advantage of the no-shows. Also, don’t discount the quality of the counter-service meals available to everyone without reservation. To see menus and prices for all restaurants – both full service and counter-service – visit All Ears.

8. Relax Chances are that if you miss a must-see or you can’t book the meal you wanted, the kids won’t even know. Yes, this is incredibly frustrating. I’m the queen of being bothered by a glitch in my intensely scheduled day, but be sure to take time to relax and experience the magic. Some of my favorite memories from past vacations resulted from events we happened upon while walking from one must-see to another. Don’t forget to enjoy your vacation. :)

Do you have more questions? Ask them in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer!

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