When planning a Disney World vacation, there are tons of decisions to make, from where to stay to what to ride. It’s a big undertaking, and along with that comes the feeling of responsibility that everyone have a good time on the trip. Talk about pressure! I’m the self-designated vacation coordinator for my family (yes, I did just make that title up. But I also made a name badge, so it’s official), and as such took on the seemingly monumental task of planning everything from the dates of our trip to an hourly itinerary. As such I tried to fit in every ride and experience I could in the short 7 days we stayed. We had a great time, but these are the things I wish I’d done differently.
Pass on the Disney Dining Plan
If you’re not familiar with the Disney Dining Plan, you can read my more detailed post about it here. It’s basically pre-paying for your meals as part of your vacation package, and then using meal credits while you’re on property. There are more details and restrictions but that’s the jest. On our first trip we were offered free dining, which made it a great deal. Not having to budget for food allowed us to breathe a little easier during our trip. When we started planning our most recent trip my dad specifically asked that we do the DDP again, even if it wasn’t free. It wasn’t free, and it wasn’t cheap.
Yes, we were able to again experience the carefree feeling of knowing we didn’t to budget food into our . But there were still rules. Not every restaurant accepts the dining plan, in fact there were no restaurants in our hotel that accepted our dining plan. Granted that can be attributed to staying in a deluxe hotel and only purchasing the standard dining plan. But even in the parks, there really aren’t a lot of options. When you look at the list of applicable locations, it looks like there are a ton – but it’s spread out over 6 parks, 32 hotels, and Disney Springs.
The other problem was that we just didn’t need that much food. 2 meals and 1 snack a day doesn’t sound like a lot, but the meals are huge. Sometimes the snack is a meal itself. We had so many credits left on the last day, we ended up taking 3+ bags of food on the plane. And that still didn’t use up everything we had left. I wish we would have skipped this add on and instead allow ourselves the freedom to eat where we wanted.
Schedule More Break Time
I am the type of person that cannot sit still, I mean that’s why I started this blog. I was bored. I hate just sitting and not doing, even on vacation. When the person planning the entire trip is incapable of resting and is obsessed with Disney, what you get is a jam-packed schedule. And that’s what we had. We got to do everything we wanted to do. But we were so friggin tired by the end of it. One of my sisters actually decided to sleep through most of the craziness instead of trying to keep up. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am super proud of how we managed to fit everything in, but I practically needed another vacation to recuperate.
I cannot bring myself to sacrifice arriving in the parks for rope drop – not gonna happen. But, I wish that I would’ve scheduled our group to take more breaks. It gets HOT in the afternoon, and instead of hustling around the parks we should have let my niece take a nap. Hell, I would’ve liked a nap. This next tip I think will help to alleviate this issue, so pay attention.
Split Stay Hotels
A lot of people aren’t familiar with this this type of trip. Basically, you stay part of your trip in one hotel then move and spend the rest of your trip in another. You could even do more than 2 hotels, if that’s your fancy. Walt Disney World is massive, 40 square miles massive. And there are enough people there to fill 32 hotels PLUS those that are off site, so there’s a lot of traffic too. When you stay at a Disney hotel you get to use their buses to travel throughout the property, and that’s how most people get around to the parks. However, it can take 30 minutes to get from hotel to park depending on where you’re coming from and where you are going.
We stayed at the Beach Club, which is AMAZING BTW. It’s located in the Epcot area, you can walk to EPCOT in 5 minutes. You can also walk to Hollywood studios inside 15 minutes. It is so convenient. But if you’re going to Animal Kingdom, or Magic Kingdom? Forget about it. EASILY 30 minutes, each way. You see why I wasn’t hip to the idea of going back to the hotel for a break? That’s an hour plus just in transportation, gone. That’s how split stays started.
I love the Beach Club, I can’t say that enough, but I wish we would have spent a few nights at a resort closer to the Magic Kingdom. For our next trip, we will probably stay a few nights at the Contemporary resort which has a private entrance to MK. Maybe I’ll even lobby for a few nights at the Animal Knigdom lodge, I mean who’s going to argue with me about walking up to giraffes outside your window?? Spreading out our time will let us take breaks more frequently and we’ll get to experience more of the hotels. Honestly, I can’t see myself ever going to WDW again and not staying at the Beach Club so a split stay is the only way I’m gonna get to see anything else.
Spring for the Upgrades
I know, I know Disney is already expensive as it is and then they have all these additional things they want you to pay for. We definitely went big this time; stayed in a vacation club villa that had2 bedrooms, 7 full days at WDW, park hopper tickets for 8 days – just in case. I know that we went overboard more than we needed to, but at the same time we only go once every 5 years so it was worth it to spoil ourselves. Even with everything included in our package, I wish we would have done more.
I wish we would have gone to a table service restaurant at least once. I’ve never been to one, and it just seems so special. I really would have loved to go to a character meal or something, since we didn’t see many in the parks. We ate at Be Our Guest for lunch and they did bring our meals out to the tables, but it wasn’t quite the same experience. This isn’t a must for me, but since I’m making this wish list I’m going to include it.
When we left for our trip at the end of February. I had read about the Disney After Hours event happening at the Magic Kingdom, but I passed on it. I thought it was ridiculous to pay $100 per person for THREE hours in a crowded park. The people paying for this must be out of their minds, I thought. I was so wrong. I saw this video last week on YouTube about a couple who managed to hide away and stay in the park after close. In the video they were walking on rides no problem, because the park was closed – deserted. Except it wasn’t closed. About ½ way through they revealed that they were attending the After Hours event. The park looked EMPTY in the video and I am kicking myself that we didn’t do this. I SO hope they do this again and we can attend on our next trip. I highly recommend looking into this if you’re planning a stay.
Just Buy the Stupid Souvenir Already
Not only am I crazy about doing everything all the time, I want to do it as cheaply as possible. I cannot tell you how many times through the course of our trip one of us said “this is so cute! I’ll have to remember to come back here on our last day to buy it!” Wanna know a secret? We didn’t go back. We didn’t remember. I even took pictures on my phone of the things I saw that I liked, so I would remember and so I could compare it to other things I saw. That last day came and we all forgot and there wasn’t time to go park hopping just to shop anyway. The things we did remember were sold out or not available in our sizes anymore. So we had to settle, and it sucked.
There are also quite a few things that I talked myself out of. “I don’t need another coffee mug, I have so many” or “another Disney shirt? I don’t wear the ones I have!” But in hindsight I really wish that I would’ve just bought what I wanted. I’m an adult, I have a job, and I have limited financial responsibilities at the moment. I treasure the things I did bring back, but they also remind me that I really should’ve gotten those limited edition Garden Festival ears.
Less Rides, More Experiences
Every trip to Disney is different. As the kids get older interests change and so will your itinerary. Our first trip to WDW was 5 years ago, and it was very much centered on my niece who was 2 at the time. We met so many characters and she had the time of her life. We had tons of pictures to show from our trip and videos of her being a goof that I cannot WAIT to show to all her future boyfriends! 🙂
Jump forward to today and that’s not the case. We only went to meet three characters. Balo, because my dad and my niece have watched this together a million times. Elsa + Anna, because my niece lives and breathes Frozen. And Snow White, just because we caught the line when she was first coming out and it was convenient. But most of our in park time was spent on rides. Rides that I never thought this little girl would ever get on in a million years. Tower of Terror was the first ride and I thought she’d sit it out, but nope. In the picture she looks like she’s having the time of her life. It was game over after that, she was not having any of this Small World nonsense. We went on every major rollercoaster, except rockin’, it kept breaking – so pass. This kid made us all go on Everest 6 times, back to back to back.
We just printed out the Memory Maker pictures, and there’s hardly any. It broke my heart a little to not see another picture of my niece hugging Tinkerbell, or kissing Goofy. Like I said before, every trip is going to be different and kids grow up. Still, I wish we would’ve taken the time to see more characters and take more pictures. Our next trip probably won’t be for another 5 years, by then she’ll be old enough that she’ll want to branch out on her own. I don’t think we’ll convenience her to wait in line for an hour for a picture with Mickey.
The moral here is to slow down. It’s so easy to get caught up trying to do everything – I do it every time, at Disneyland too. Remember you’re there to spend time with your family at Disney, not to spend time at Disney with your family. If you are like me and feel pressure to do everything, take advantage of some of the time savers I suggested. It is so worth the extra money to enjoy the luxury of being surrounded by family. You’re about to go to the happiest place on earth, don’t spend it stressed out and don’t let it fly by without truly making some memories.