As a mom, I vividly remember the first trip we embarked on as a family. It was a disaster that screenwriters in Hollywood would pay me to retell, and four years later I am finally able to have a sense of humor about the whole trip. Family vacations are kind of my specialty, and in my mind, one of the best places in the “world” to create memories with your family is Walt Disney World. Disney makes it so easy for families to be comfortable at their resorts and it truly is the happiest place on earth.
While planning my family’s first trip to see the mouse, I could not contain my excitement and I still feel that way even though I visit him multiple times a year. With each trip to Disney World, I try to make our time a little better than the last; flowing a little better, trying new things and being more flexible. Here are my top eight ways to have a Truly Magical Vacation:
1. Choose your timing wisely.
If you have children in school, note that when school is out of session, the already busy parks will be even busier. Consider going in the fall; with the weather cooling down and the lavish décor of fall harvest transitioning into holiday lights, the parks are truly spectacular.
For the foodies, the Epcot Food and Wine festival, held September through November, is one of the best events I have ever had the pleasure to experience. If you make it to this festival, make sure to take note of all of the specialty meals, demonstrations, and parties that are held in conjunction!
2. Plan ahead.
Disney definitely favors the Type-A personality people. People plan trips to see the Mouse years in advance, but I typically advise visitors to plan 7-12 months in advance. Planning ensures that there will be little stress to securing reservations for the perfect resort room, breakfast at Cinderella’s Castle, or that ever-important pass to skip the 3-hour line to ride Frozen Ever After.
3. Carefully consider what is important to you when choosing your resort.
Is it convenience? Or maybe price, theming, or luxury is the most important thing? There are so many options for accommodations at Disney and in Orlando that this decision can be overwhelming. Something to consider is that the bus travel time between parks and resorts is typically 1-hour to 1.5-hours, and with little ones and naps this can certainly narrow down the choices for you. Maybe your children love animals (Animal Kingdom Lodge), maybe Mom wants a place that is quiet, more relaxing, and true luxury (Four Seasons Resort), or maybe you need a large room on the best budget (Art of Animation Family Suites). There truly is no “best” resort at Disney, it is simply what is best for you and your family.
4. Book a few character meals.
Eating with the characters is a great way to see your favorite Princesses or Mickey and the Gang without waiting in line. I always suggest 1-3 character meals per stay depending on which characters are important to your family. I also like to heed a warning that only a few of the Character meals serves really great food and all character dining is expensive, so know that you are paying for the experience and not the buffet.
5. Go VIP for the Fireworks.
To me, the fireworks are the best way to end every day at Disney. They make everyone forget about the long line for Toy Story or the fact that you probably paid more than you would have liked for that Elsa doll your daughter just “had to have” this afternoon. Disney has so many ways to view their three spectacular fireworks shows; the most famous being the Wishes fireworks in Magic Kingdom. From an array of cruises, fine dining with private viewing, dessert parties, and more, there are so many ways to have a unique viewing experience for the world’s most famous fireworks display.
6. Consider having a date night.
After all of the walking and long days I think it is so nice to have a parents night out. Ride the rides that maybe your children are too little to enjoy, eat dinner at a signature restaurant, and wander around Epcot. Become a kid again. After all, it is your vacation too! Disney has several Kids Clubs that are reasonable in price and so much fun. My daughter begs to go to Lilo’s Playhouse instead of having dinner with us!
7. Enjoy a day away from the parks.
There is so much to do outside of the Disney Parks that you could fill an entire vacation without ever stepping into Magic Kingdom. From marshmallow roasting to tea parties to movie nights, character dining, fabulous restaurants, boat rentals, family games and activities, some of the best pools you will ever experience, and more, you might even decide that one day away is not enough!
8. Book your vacation with a travel advisor that specializes in Disney.
There are so many things to know about the ever changing world of Disney and a professional agent should keep in the know and create a seamless trip, which is so important when traveling with children. When interviewing agents, ask what services they provide, if they charge a fee (many agents do not, their services are paid for by Disney or the resort), and how often they visit the various Disney properties. A great agent will help you navigate your trip and can even save you money by applying discounts where they can and save you from making costly mistakes.