Disney has always been a big part of our lives, we have watched the films and fallen in love with the characters. With my eldest son, I watched the Jungle Book over and over until we both knew the whole film off by heart. My twelve-year-old son was a Winnie the Pooh fan and for his brother, it has always been Donald Duck. My daughter has added her own feminine touch dreaming of being like her favourite Disney princesses.
After our first visit to Disneyland Paris eight years ago, we were all totally bitten by the Disney bug and we have been dreaming of a visit to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida ever since. With four theme parks, two water parks, a wide range of resort and hotel options and endless opportunities for shopping, dining and entertainment (and more characters to hug!), we knew that it would be the holiday of our dreams. This summer, that dream became a reality. Once we had let the children into the secret that we were going, it was time to start planning. With a trip like this, putting a bit of time and effort into the planning beforehand meant that we were able to get on with the important job of enjoying our holiday as soon as we arrived.
Luckily, Walt Disney World resort have some cool things that really help you with planning your holiday and these are my top tips for planning a stress-free trip to Walt Disney World.
Using My Disney Experience
My Disney Experience has become my best friend over the last few weeks. It’s a really handy app that can be accessed on the Disneyworld.co.uk website and once the holiday was booked, I was able to set up an itinerary for each day of our holiday and pretty much organise the full holiday through it. I used My Disney Experience daily before our departure to book FastPass+, which allows you to select a time to ride your favourite attractions; you can also make dining reservations and find out information about the parks. It was only once the tickets were booked that I realised just how amazing My Disney Experience is.
Within My Disney Experience, I added the names and details of everyone going and had great fun allocating Disney characters for each person’s profile; my husband was Darth Vader, I was Tinkerbell and A was Alice in Wonderland as she always wears hair bands, just like Alice.
Not only is My Disney Experience accessible online but there is also a free mobile app which really comes into its own when you are at Walt Disney World Resort, as you can use it to check your schedule, change reservations, add new ones but also find things on the map and see current queue times for rides!
Draft an Itinerary and make full use of your FastPass+
Having just returned from our trip to Walt Disney World Resort, I think it is safe to say that whether you go for a week or three weeks, there is so much to see and do across the six parks that you will never do everything during your holiday. With that in mind, as much as I love the idea of going with the flow on a holiday, it really helped us to make the most of the week by deciding which park we were going to visit each day. We did leave one day free just in case but planned one day in each of the parks. I used the previously mentioned My Disney Experience to add a park to each day and then looked at the different rides, attractions, dining options and entertainment available in that park so I could add them to a wishlist.
At that point, we were ready to use FastPass+. This is a really brilliant system that allows you to book a Fast Pass for each person for three rides or experiences each day, free of charge! (you can then book a fourth FastPass+ in the parks when you have used the first three.) As the boys and my daughter like completely different things, I booked my husband and the boys onto lots of thrill rides, whilst my daughter and I were booked to meet some favourite characters or gentler rides or attractions. Because we all like different things, it was really useful to be able to split the FastPass+ selections into parties to include everyone or different combinations.
Two of the rides that were top of our list were Frozen Ever After in Epcot and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in Magic Kingdom, I’m so glad that I booked Fast Pass+ rides in advance as there were no FastPass+ times available to book during the week we were there and the queues were long for both! It would have been a shame to miss out.
The FastPass+ system was so easy to use and it made planning our days much easier. On those days when something else crops up, you can use the My Disney Experience app to cancel your FastPass+ or to change the timings, which came in handy!
Make some dining reservations
We also used My Disney Experience to book our dining reservations before our trip. Most of the restaurants in the parks get pretty busy, so it is worth booking before you go. Many resorts offer quick service dining options (self-service, no booking needed) and we used this for breakfast each morning before heading out for the day. However, I made sure that at least one meal was booked in each park, each day. Again, My Disney Experience was brilliant as it showed us restaurant locations, prices and also menus (which were really useful as A is a really fussy eater!).
We love Character Dining and discovered this on our trip to Disneyland Paris last year. Character Dining means that whilst you eat, a range of characters come to your table. It is the perfect way to meet your favourite characters in a fun and relaxing atmosphere, and we made sure to book two character dining experiences; one with Mickey & friends and the other with Pooh & friends.
In order to make these dining reservations, we had to link a debit or credit card to the reservation, no money is taken unless specified when you make the booking and you can automatically use the card to pay for your meal (they charge a cancellation fee if you don’t arrive). We did have to cancel one meal and change numbers on another while we were there and were able to do it via the My Disney Experience app, which was really handy.
Choose your MagicBand
Two weeks before our trip, we were able to choose our MagicBands. I had no idea what these were but they are brilliant! MagicBands are wristbands that are personalised to you (they even have your name inside) and they were included as part of our holiday package. Such a clever idea: they were our room keys, our park ticket, our FastPass+, they held official park photos, they activated special treats throughout the parks such as our names coming up at the end of certain rides and finally, we were able to link a credit or debit card which means that we could use our MagicBand to pay for things and it was charged straight to the hotel room account. They are sturdy, waterproof and you easily forget you are wearing them, but they make life at Walt Disney World Resort much simpler as you can leave tickets, keys and money at home. My daughter loves hers so much, she won’t take it off and says that she never will!
There are 8 different colour bands to choose from and the children enjoyed picking theirs. The MagicBands are then waiting for you at your resort when you check in. Once in Walt Disney World Resort, you can accessorise your Magic Band too with character magicbandits (like plastic charms) or different covers. The children loved accessorising them and there are lots of different accessories available in the parks.
Pack carefully for your holiday
A week before our trip, I really felt as though the holiday was under control. We knew roughly where we were going each day, we had rides booked in, dining reservations, MagicBands ordered and thanks to My Disney Experience, we already knew a lot about our resort and the different theme parks. All that was left was the packing. For two of the children, this was the first time they had flown and it was the first long haul flight for all of us.
I tried so hard to pack lightly and not go too overboard but as usual, I still managed to over pack and lots of clothes came back with us unused. Looking back, as each person travelling can check in one large case on the plane, it is worth leaving some space to fit in those holiday souvenirs on the way home (and definitely leave jumpers at home as you don’t need them in Florida, even on rainy days!).
For the flight, I packed a rucksack for each of the children and I am glad that I included a few things to keep them occupied during the flight. In each bag, I put a notebook and pens and pencils, which I thought might double as a diary or scrapbook while we were away. I also included a magazine and book for each of them, some snacks, a neck pillow (which was a lifesaver), ear plugs, puzzle book, a teddy for my daughter to cuddle, a couple of travel games such as Uno or Pass the Pigs (our favourites) and their iPads. Even with the in-flight entertainment, the bags came in really handy as nine hours is a very long time when you are young and most things were used.
Reflecting on our first holiday at Walt Disney World Resort, I am really impressed at how using My Disney Experience and FastPass+ really made a huge difference to our holiday. Not only are they both included in the price of the holiday but they really helped us to get to know more about where we were staying and the parks we wanted to visit. More importantly, being able to book FastPass+ and make dining reservations was so straightforward, it made our overall experience much easier and better. This is definitely one holiday where planning is worthwhile.
Come back next week for my blog post on how Walt Disney World caters for everyone; princesses and thrill seekers of all ages.
This post is in partnership with Walt Disney World. All opinions here are my own