If you’ve never planned a Disney World vacation, or even if it’s been a few years, you probably have a million questions. I know I did! Even though we had done Disney two years prior, so much had changed. It felt like a whole new world! So if you have an upcoming trip, I’ve got you with the best Disney World tips for families!
Best Disney World Tips for Families
Where to Stay at Disney World
When it comes to accommodations, I’ll level with you. I’ve never stayed off property, so I’m a little biased. But the perks of being on property truly make it worth it. Early entry into the park, extended evening park hours, and free reliable transportation to and from the parks are a game-changer. Plus resort guests are able to purchase Genie+ Individual Lightning Lanes at 7 am, rather than park opening. That can make such a difference in the timing for your ride reservation for high priority (meaning the highest traffic!) rides.
Getting into the parks 30 minutes before everyone else might not seem like much, but it’s enough to squeeze in 1-2 rides before the park opens up to the public. Also, for the early risers out there like us, we love getting in early and being able to leave around lunchtime when the park truly starts to fill up. If you a more of a sleeping-in type, then early entry might not be as important to you! But you might be interested in extended evening hours that are available for guests staying at Deluxe Resorts! This is time when, like early entry, only resort guests are allowed in the parks.
Lastly, Disney resort guests are able to make all the dining reservations for their trip (up to 10 days worth) at the 60-day mark of their first day. When off-property, you have to make dining reservations as each day hits the 60-day mark. If you’re not planning on any sit-down meals, this may not be a big deal to you. But I would 100% recommend character dining for families with younger children! More on that later. 😉
Port Orleans French Quarter
On our last trip, we stayed at the Port Orleans French Quarter resort and loved it!! Previously we stayed at the Riviera Resort, which is a deluxe resort on the Skyliner. I would never discourage anyone from staying at Riviera because it is just stunning!! But if you’re looking for a more affordable option, we loved the French Quarter. It’s a smaller resort that never felt crazy-busy, even though we were there for Spring Break. It only has one bus stop, which also meant getting to the parks directly without multiple bus stops of the larger resorts.
Disney World Meal Planning
Our first family trip in 2020, I didn’t do much planning as far as meals went. I booked one character meal (Hollywood & Vine Disney breakfast!) and the kids adored it. So, for this trip, I was determined to be more prepared. This time we ended up doing lunch at Hollywood & Vine with Minnie, Tusker House breakfast with Mickey and friends, and breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table. I would highly recommend any of them!
Character meals offer a nice break to sit and relax in an air conditioned restaurant and a chance to interact with characters without a line. In each experience, characters come to your table for a quick hello and photo! For my youngest, the character meal experiences were some of her favorite of the entire trip. Three was definitely the max I would do for a trip of our length (6 days!)! But if you’re looking to just make one, I’d recommend either Cinderella’s Royal Table or Tusker House breakfast. Both were such unique experiences!
For other meals in the park, we relied on quick service restaurants that did not require reservations. I highly recommend utilizing mobile order through the Disney My Experience App. We would chose our pick-up window and order before we were ready to eat. (For example, I’d select a pick-up time for 11:30 around 10/10:30 am.) Then, as we were walking towards the restaurant, I’d tap “I’m here,” so that the restaurant would start preparing our food. It cut down on wait times and allowed our kids to stay out lines. Prior to heading to the park, I recommend checking out the quick service menus, especially if you have picky eaters. I had specific restaurants picked out before we even got to the park each day, which led to less scrambling once everyone started getting hungry!
If you don’t want to eat every meal at the parks, Disney makes it easy by allowing you to bring your own food into the parks. We packed a gallon-size bag of snacks every day for our girls in addition to water bottles! Water fills are free as opposed to water bottles, which cost about $3 each.
Prior to heading the parks each morning we had breakfast in our room, which allowed us to hit the ground running. We also occasionally took advantage of making sandwiches in our room for lunch. Although we didn’t have a suite with a kitchen, we were able to make do just fine with the mini fridge!
What to Pack for Disney World
When it comes to clothes, comfort is king. Check out our Disney family matching outfits if you need a little outfit inspiration! I also shared what I wore to Disney our previous trip! Overall, I highly recommend comfortable shoes and breathable fabrics. Want to go with skirts and dresses? No problem! I recommend packing bike shorts for underneath! Once you go to pack everything up, pack the outfits in order! I went the extra mile and listed each outfit for each day and then packed them in daily order. It made getting ready in the morning so much easier for both me and our kids.
Must-haves that we took to the park each day include gatorade powder or hydration tabs (we love these!), sunscreen, wipes, a stain stick, and refillable water bottles. Ponchos are always a good idea for Disney! We bought these for the grown-ups since they had drawstring hoods and a brim. Don’t forget a portable charger for your phone too. With everything at Disney going more mobile, you’ll run through the battery quicker than you expect! We packed everything up in a sling backpack and my belt bag.
I also highly recommend bringing a first aid kit for your room! Our first aid kit included several different tummy meds (you never know when you’re eating food you’re not used to!), Tylenol, IB Prophen, anti-septic spray, band-aids, anti-chafe cream, and moleskin patches.
Disney World Extras
For our kids, we utilized Apple AirTag trackers. With increased crowds at Disney World in general in addition to traveling during Spring Break, I didn’t want to get separated from my kids. While Apple does make watch bands, we preferred a more concealed method. I purchased keychain attachments, which we attached to the girls’ shoes or pinned into their dress pockets with a safety pin. Thankfully, we didn’t need them, but having them gave me great peace of mind.
If you plan on using Disney MagicBands, I also recommend purchasing Bitbelts. They slide onto the MagicBand, and provide an extra layer of security so they don’t fall off. Although we never lost our MagicBands on our last trip, mine did pop off my wrist several times. The Bitbelt keep them in place! And speaking of MagicBands, although they are no longer free to resort guests, we still loved having them. They allow for quick park entry, paying for items on the go, and unlocking room doors.
Disney World Park Tips
The Disney Mindset
Before I get into the nitty gritty details, let’s get down to the most important tip of all: patience and flexibility. I’m sure you already know this, but it bears repeating: traveling with kids isn’t for the faint of heart. And when you’re planning a big vacation like Disney, you likely have expectations for the amount of rides you’ll ride or things you’ll accomplish. But the biggest thing I can impress upon you is going in with an open mind. As a planner, I get it. But being able to go with the flow made it a much less frustrating experience over all.
Mentally prepare yourselves before arriving. There will be crowds and lines. Even if you have the best Genie+ strategy, you’ll still be waiting in lines! Budget extra time for everything, including transportation, walking to reservations or getting to your Genie+ times. It will relieve so much stress!
Rent a stroller
Having a stroller is a straight-up godsend. Even though my oldest is seven, she still got tired after being at the parks for a few hours. She used to stroller almost as much as my three-year-old. For both trips, we rented. I previously rented from Kingdom Strollers and loved them. They included a rain cover and small cooler with their rental, but they do require you to be present for pick up and drop off. This time, I rented with ScooterBug, which is the only company that the resort bell hops will handle pick-up and drop-off. We had no issues at all with ScooterBug, but they do not include a rain cover. (One can be purchased for an additional fee but they were sold out during our week.) If you’re flying, many (including both Kingdom Strollers and ScooterBug) have airport drop off and pick up, making stroller hand off less of an issue!
Identify Your Stroller
If you do rent or bring a stroller, be prepared to be searching for yours in sea of black strollers in the designated stroller parking zones. Since so many people rent, you’ll see the same exact stroller over and over. The best thing you can do is personalize yours with a laminated card with your name on it, or with a balloon, which is what we did. We purchased a Mickey balloon and tied it to the handlebar, allowing us to quickly and easily spot our stroller in the stroller parking areas. (Quick tip: Balloons are not allowed at Animal Kingdom!)
Disney’s replacement for FastPass, Genie+ is a paid service that allows you to reserve a ride time for some of the parks’ highest traffic rides. But utilizing it is a bit of a learning curve. Once you purchase it for your park day, you’re able to make a ride reservation at 7 am. Genie+ automatically offers you the earliest return time to ride available.
Then your next reservation can be made 2 hours later (or 2 hours after park opening), or after you’ve ridden the ride your first reservation was for. Sound confusing?! Trust me, you’ll get the hang of it after your first day. I set alarms on my phone to keep track of time. Or I’d start working on our next reservation after we tapped in for our ride. For some parks it seemed more worth it for us than others. But keep in mind, with smaller kids, we weren’t hitting up any of the big roller coasters! If you’re only going to do Genie+ in one park, make it Magic Kingdom!
My Disney Experience App
The My Disney Experience App is a must-have for your phone on your trip. Along with housing all of the Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane (ILL) reservations, it’s also the place you’ll use to Mobile Order food, check event times throughout the day, and view your photos taken in the parks. You can also use it to enter the parks (or your room!) with your linked tickets/reservations, and see recommended rides or parades/events based on your listed interests. What we used it for the most is to check ride times! Rather than walking up to check the boards or lines in person, you can take a peek via the app and decide before walking to a specific ride.
Catching at least one fireworks show was a must-do for us. We ended up seeing both Epcot’s Harmonious and Magic Kingdom’s Enchantment. I highly recommend getting set up with your spot an hour before the show if you don’t want to fight for space. Although we enjoyed both (and Layla thought the castle projections were magical), Aaron and I both agreed that Epcot’s show was better than MK’s!
Don’t Forget to Take Breaks!
Although it can be tempting to go hard straight through your trip, especially if this is the first or perhaps only Disney trip you plan on taking, breaks are necessary. Daily, we went back to the hotel for several hours. Typically, we were in the room from about 1-4, allowing for naps and/or free play time. We also went to the pool one afternoon and let the kids play on the playground another afternoon. Letting everyone have unscheduled time to just be helped combat the exhaustion of being on a tighter schedule the rest of the trip.