It has been two weeks since our Disney getaway–just enough time for the “Disney amnesia” to set in (an amazing phenomenon that clouds all negative memories (like when your daughter had 3 potty accidents at Epcot) and highlights only the good, sparkly ones). Whether the moments were all magical or not, the week was such a special treat for all of us and one that we will undoubtedly look back upon fondly. It will go down in Gasperini lore as some of our best and most fun times together.
As I’ve been reflecting on our week, I wanted to be sure to make a list of recommendations to add onto Kellie’s awesome Disney post from last year that offered some really great suggestions, especially for larger families looking to make some Disney magic. Here are a few tips and insights from our Disney experience:
*A competitive spirit does not enhance the Disney magic: Both my husband and I suffer from a product-oriented mindset. We like to accomplish, to check the box, to feel like we are getting a great value for our time and money, to feel like we’re getting ahead. If you’re at all like this, I encourage you to take a deep breath and slow your pace. You will subsequently have a much better time! Don’t hesitate to stop on your way to a ride and watch a parade or wave at a character or marvel at the landscape and park beauty. Help yourself drink it all in. We plan to do a much better job of this in the future.
Also as Kellie suggested in her post, don’t be afraid to leave mid-day and play your itinerary conservatively. Manage according to everyone’s needs. My kids would have been just as thrilled to swim in our hotel pool than swelter in a line in the hot afternoon sun. On Wednesday afternoon, we went against our inner “do-everything” mentality and had a wonderful afternoon to swim and celebrate my son’s birthday that night. When played right, less is definitely more at Disney.
*Have a potty plan: If you have a fair amount of children, each with their own bathroom needs, you could wind up spending a lot of your Disney vacation in the bathroom (and finding/getting to/from said bathroom!) Throw in additional drinks for the kids to keep them hydrated in the heat and I would say each of my children used the bathroom 5x/day. That’s a lot of bathroom time! We had to consciously manage our potty plan right from the start. We made family trips to the bathrooms–right when we arrived, mid-morning, after lunch, and before we headed out of the park. Even if someone didn’t have to go, they had to go in and try. (I have a few ornery kids, so this last one was a little tough, but we prevailed) We carried extra diapers around for in-the-line emergencies (we used them three different times!) After day two, we got wise and put our 3yo (potty-trained for over a year) in a Pull-up for the remainder of our days. Trust me, having potty accidents in the happiest place on earth isn’t so happy!
*Get to know the new Fastpass+ system: Big changes are underway to Disney’s well-known and loved Fastpass system. If you’re not familiar with Fastpass, it allows you to reserve a time to visit a ride with a much shorter wait. It is really phenomenal! The old system required you to obtain the Fastpass at a kiosk outside each individual ride. Our family came in knowing changes were afoot, but assuming everything would operate the same way. WRONG! We learned very quickly that 1) Fastpasses were now limited to 3 attractions/day, 2) you could only obtain them at a Fastpass+ kiosk (usually with a lengthy line at the beginning of the day), and 3) you weren’t guaranteed a Fastpass and often they “sold out” because of magic band holders getting first priority. What’s a magic band, you ask?
If you happen to be staying at a WDW resort, you will receive your ticket in the form of a “magic band” that you wear throughout your entire visit. You use it as your ticket, your credit card, your Fastpass keeper, etc. AND it allows you to register for your Fastpasses up to 40 days in advance, giving you a huge advantage for times and availability. No kiosk wait-time, no morning hassle, no sell-outs because you have first rights to the Fastpasses. It is really nice and as vouched to me by a Disney representative, everyone in the future will have the magic bands. So if you go in the next 6 months, you might want to learn a little bit more about the system and figure out how to get your hands on a magic band!! As you can imagine, my hub and I and our competitive streak were just a little peeved about the discrepancy (heavy sarcasm). We plan to have magic bands for future visits!
*Plan on delays in transportation: As nice as it was to stay on WDW property (at the Shades of Green), don’t assume rides will be easy to come by. Shuttles run to and from the transportation hub on various schedules and sometimes it can feel like you’re waiting forever on already tired legs! During our time, the “off-season”, the monorail was also shut down for maintenance during a huge chunk of the day, throwing a major wrench into plans getting to and from the parks. Our morning buses were always packed and we usually had to stand for the majority of the trip.
I would be curious to compare notes with Kellie on the hassle of parking and driving since she and her family stayed in an off-resort rental home. There is a big part of me that thinks having the extra space of a house would help ensure better rest for a large family and keep everyone a little happier! I’m sure there are trade-offs in both cases, but I would be more willing to consider such an option for a future trip.
*Don’t overschedule your Disney meals: We learned that we would prefer one (or none) sit-down meals/day. At Epcot, we enjoyed a princess lunch and were still full by dinner when we had other reservations! Thankfully, we were able to cancel last-minute without a penalty. Other days, we felt a little rushed trying to arrive by our reservation times. If you have young ones and don’t plan to push through an entire day at the park, give yourself more dining flexibility for later in the evening. You’ll appreciate not having to lug everyone around again after doing it all day!
*Big(ger) kids do really well at Disney: Our three oldest (9, 7, and 5) did phenomenally well and had a wonderful trip. In our opinion, their ages are really perfect for the Disney adventure. They rarely whined or cried, could ride everything and walk everywhere, and didn’t need naps! We even returned with the oldest two to Magic Kingdom on the first night and rode rides ’til 10pm. It was so fun. I loved being able to appreciate how far we’ve come from their tiny years…
*Double strollers are nice: We took two single strollers to maneuver crowds better, but found ourselves wanting to have our double stroller around to offer an extra spare seat to some of the bigger boys when they were tuckered. If you’re going during a less-popular week of the year, brave the double and you’ll appreciate having the sun shade and extra space for hauling your many children!
*Shades of Green for active duty military and retirees (and their families) is awesome (and affordable!): If you happen to be in the military or have a family member who is active duty or retired, you can stay at Shades of Green–8 additional guests per military member. It is really nice, clean, friendly, and budget-happy. We got adjoining rooms with my in-laws for a steal! At least we got ahead on that one.
Walt Disney World, you were awe-inspiring, exhausting, and exhilarating… and we can’t wait to go back!