10 Tips for Planning a Successful Disney Vacation| Our Family Trip

tips-for-planning-a-disney-vacation_0703 When I find something that works I want to share it with the world!!!  There were many things that worked on our trip to Disney and there were many things that didn't work so well.  I am here to share my top 10 tips for planning a successful Disney vacation! Let me warn you ... this is a long post ... and I could've made it longer.  So if you want more information please just ask! I could go on for days about our amazing trip!

First let me tell you that we booked a 5 day park ticket package.  We stayed at The Caribbean Beach Resort, which is a moderate resort (see pics at the bottom of this post).  We saved quite a bit of money by doing this.  We also booked the basic dining plan.  All of this was planned with the guidance and expertise of our travel agent.

So without further or do ... here are my Top 10 Tips:

#1 Arrive the day before Disney check-in!

This definitely worked for us!  We didn't want to feel the pressure of "having to get there."  If the car ride took an extra hour, no problem.  We wanted to also maximize our day 1 of park passes.  By getting in the day before we could get up extra early the day our park passes started and get right into the park.  A huge bonus for me was that I was able to arrange a visit with my Aunt and Grandmother who live in Florida.  They met us in Orlando and I got to enjoy them for a few hours.

We stayed at The Westin in Orlando.  It is just a 15 minute drive from the Disney complex. I chose this hotel because I earn points with them PLUS they have the BEST BEDS!  So comfy! I also feel like The Westin is consistent with their quality from city to city.  I can rely on them to provide what I need.

Noah obviously loves the beds too!!!

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#2 Buy some Disney merchandise ahead of time!

Why wouldn't you do this?!  I went to Walmart and picked up some pajamas and t-shirts for 75% of what they would cost me at Disney.  Now we all had fun character shirts to wear to the parks and Noah felt like he got something super special!

I decided to pack some of his pre-Disney surprises in his suitcase so he would get excited when we got there! The autograph book was a gift from our awesome travel agent! (If you would like her info click HERE to find it in yesterdays post).

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#3  Plan your table meals ahead of time.

If you know me, then you know I have an eating schedule.  Thankfully, I was in good company because Jason and Noah have one too! But you know what?  Eating schedule or not ... plan your table meals!!  You could end up waiting up to 2 hours for a table or worse not getting a table at all.  I strategized with my table meals.  I knew that we had to meet characters while in Disney. Instead of taking up park ride time or fast passes we would meet the characters while enjoying our food! It seriously worked so perfectly for us.  Just let me remind you that we weren't catering to a little girl here. I don't believe that all the princesses appear at table meals. So if you are wanting to meet Elsa and Anna you might have to wait in line in the park for them.

Just at table meals alone we met the following characters: Mickey, Minnie, Daisy, Donald, Goofy, Pluto, Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, and Piglet.

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I decided to do something a little different for our character meet and greets!  Instead of using my digital camera I used my Instax Mini to capture Noah with each character.  I can now create a cool keepsake for him with the polaroids and the autographs! I'll have to share more on instagram soon!

Since 0ur MOST FAVORITE table meals were the character meals I want to recommend:

Chef Mickey's Dinner (Contemporary Resort): The food was delicious and I'm picky about buffets!

Tusker House Breakfast (Animal Kingdom): Grab an early reservation like 8:00am. Then head straight to the safari ride before it gets too hot outside.

Crystal Palace Breakfast (Magic Kingdom): Grab an early reservation so you can get out into the park before the 10:00am crowds start!

#4 Fast Pass Planning

This advice is based off of my experience during the trip.  It definitely took two days to figure this out!  I recommend planning your fast passes for 10:30 am and later!  Do not use your fast passes for anytime before 10:30 am.  Without fail, at every park we went to, the crowds did not show up until after 10:00 am.  This meant that we would wait less than 20 minutes for all the rides we could squeeze in before then.  No fast pass was waisted! After 10:00 am we could expect to wait up to an hour and a half for a ride. We didn't.  There was no way we were going to wait that long.  Thankfully we managed our fast passes well.

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(That is Noah celebrating his win against me at the tomorrow land speedway! This was a good fast pass decision btw!)

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#5 Park Planning

When planning out our trip ahead of time I had made the decision that we would probably head out to the parks early in the morning with intention of a mid-afternoon nap and more park fun in the evening.  I would definitely consider this strategy! Honestly, Noah could've made it full speed for 12 hours at time.  But Jason and I were the ones that needed the break! This was a reality check that I am not in my 20's anymore.  The first day we didn't use the "nap" strategy.  Well, we almost died.  Then the remainder of the trip we enforced the nap rule and it worked so perfectly.  Let me also remind you that this strategy works well with my Tip #4 above!

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If you get up early, like 6:00 am early, and can get to the parks when they open, well let me just say you will probably kiss me when you return.  I promise. You will avoid long lines and crowded bus rides.  You can also snap cute photos of your kids on the bus OR take photos of the castle with the least amount of people around!

#6 Disney Bus Transportation

Just do it! We considered driving into the parks since we had such an early start to each day.  We are so glad we didn't.  Parking costs $17 or more and the parking lots are far enough from the entrances that you will want to ride the little shuttle.  It just seems silly when you have free bus transportation that drops you off very close to the entrances of each park.

I remember when our travel agent told us to allow 45 min - 1 hour for transportation.  I was shocked and quite afraid of such a large chunk of time, which is why we even considered driving our own car.  I definitely can say that it is a fair time allotment, but can assure you that it was less than 30 minutes for us in most cases.  No matter what, plan for the 45 min/1 hour just in case.

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#7  Stock your backpack!

It's not necessary by any means, but I would encourage bringing a backpack into the park each day.  We stocked our backpack with the following:

- water bottles (which can be refilled at water fountains throughout the park)

- little snacks

- hand wipes and sanitizers

- bandaids

- tissues

- cameras and autograph book

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#8 Plan your maid service tips!

I wish I could take credit for this super awesome idea, but all the credit goes to my travel agent!  It is customary to tip your maid about $1 per person / per day.  So before we left for our trip I planned out each days tip by placing cash in envelopes marked with Thank You! Of course there was cute washi tape to seal the envelopes.  This made it very easy for us when leaving so early in the mornings.  I just had to go into my bag and pull out the envelope to be placed on the stand.

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#9  Get your picture taken!

You have an option at every park to stop at designated photo spots to have your picture taken.  You can also purchase picture packages ahead of time or purchase packages up to 45 days following your trip.  I definitely recommend that no matter what you do stop to have your picture taken! There is no monetary commitment to this so it's at least worth it to see if they capture everyone smiling! (hehehe)  I  was on the fence about purchasing packages ahead of time as well as stopping to let Disney photographers take our picture.  But I am so glad I did.  There are some great photos of my family together.  Plus Disney is genius and snapped photos of us while we were on rides.  They even put together video montages that included footage of us on the roller coaster rides.  Amazing, right?  Now I have recorded video footage of Noah having the time of his life on rides like Thunder Mountain and Mine Train! Even though I haven't included any of those photos in this post, you must trust me that they are worth it!

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#10 Do it all!!

Just kidding.  Kind of.  There is no doubt that this is an exhausting trip.  Honestly, the exhaustion matches the excitement perfectly.  There was one night, well it was only 4:00, when Jason and I looked at each other and debated on whether or not to just go back to the hotel and sleep the rest of the day! We almost did.  Then in God's perfect timing, our waiter at the restaurant came to our table and started asking about our evening plans.  We jokingly (seriously) told him that we weren't doing anything else the rest of the evening because we were so exhausted.  Our waiter, who was kind but not afraid to tell us what he thought, told us how surprised he was that we were ready to call it a night!  After he shared his thoughts and a few stories it made us think twice.  We left the restaurant and regrouped. We knew that we had to at least give it an effort for Noah.  If we only made it a couple of hours, that was much better than none.  At the end of that day, when we could barely walk another step, the most amazing thing happened.  I believe it was God's reward to us for sticking it out for Noah.  Do you want to know what happened? I'm not sure I should share this little Disney secret?!  If you really truly want me to tell you, then leave a comment below!

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Below is a little peek at our Caribbean Beach Resort pirate themed room.  It was perfect with ONE exception.  We were just steps away from one of the bus stops.  At first we thought we lucked out!  But when buses run from 6:00am til 2:00 am we didn't feel so lucky.  The only bright side was that by day 2 of our trip we were so exhausted you could've driven a train through our room and we wouldn't have heard it.  But, I still would suggest mentioning to the hotel that you would prefer a room not so close to the bus stop!

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