Lessons of a First Time Disney Mom
Last month, my five your old had her first trip to Disney World. I had been once before, but only for a couple of days and without a hint of planning. This time was different. I was determined to make sure that it was a memorable vacation for my daughter. We were blessed to be able to stay with my in-laws in their condo and to go to the parks with their Military Salute tickets. Because we stayed offsite and our tickets were purchased on base, I did not use a Disney Travel Agent. You may have read Jamie’s recent post with her advice while planning her 5th Disney trip.
I don’t claim to be an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but here are some of the things I learned on our first family Disney trip.
Gift cards help you budget
Disney is excellent at putting a little store you have to walk through at the end of every ride. If your kids are like mine, they will want to buy all the things in every store. Consider giving them a small gift card each day or one to use for the entire trip so that they can decide what they would like to buy. When the money is gone, it’s gone. It’s great for parents because you aren’t tempted to overspend. And it’s great for kids because it teaches them about making decisions with a finite amount of money.
Rides during the day are not the same as rides at night
We learned this lesson the hard way. On day 1, it was declared that Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was “THE BEST RIDE EVER!” When we rode it again on day 3, the sun went down while we were in line. Riding in the dark was like being on a completely different ride. Needless to say, she refused to ever ride it again.
YouTube is your friend
Not sure if your kid will like a ride? There are YouTube videos of people riding every single ride at Disney World. My daughter’s big fear is the dark and watching videos of several rides helped me to determine whether I thought she would like them.
Don’t skip the penny presses!
Coin pressing just might have been my daughter’s favorite part of Disney World! I had prepared by breaking into her piggy bank and getting lots of quarters / pennies for the trip. I stored them in an M&M minis tube for easy carrying. When we got to the park, my father-in-law bought her a book for her pressed coins. You pay 50 cents plus the penny, turn the crank (or push the button) and out pops a pressed penny. These coin presses can be found at all of the parks, Disney Springs, and many of the hotels!
Have a few tricks up your sleeve
The internet is full of Disney tips and tricks. One that worked for us was a trick for getting to ride on Frozen Ever After in Epcot. Because we stayed offsite, we couldn’t select our Fast Passes until 30 days before our trip (it’s 60 for people onsite). Frozen is a newer and very popular ride, and I wasn’t able to snag a Fast Pass. Instead, I made a breakfast reservation at Askershus, one of the best breakfasts for meeting princesses, at 8:00 am. The park didn’t open until 9 that day, and I let the waitress know that we were planning to get on the ride as quickly as possible. She let us pay for our meal right away and got us out the door with a few minutes to spare. We were the third people in line when the ride opened. By the time we got off, there was a 30+ minute wait. If there is a ride you absolutely must ride, try googling for tips and tricks to lessen your wait.
Bring your own snacks
My husband was skeptical when I told him we were taking a small cooler into the park full of snacks. In fact, he was prepared for it to be confiscated at the gates when we were walking in. Much to his surprise, Disney World allows you to bring in any food / drinks as long as they aren’t alcoholic or in glass containers. You can save LOTS of money if you aren’t on a meal plan by bringing your own snacks and even full meals!
Stop and smell the roses
I’m a major planner. I used an app to create plans for the entire trip so that I could mark off each item as it was completed. This is all well and good, but I made sure to remind myself that my five year old would never go along with it. I could have stressed myself out by trying to rush her from ride to ride, but it was so much better to let her take in all of the sights and sounds. Even if it meant letting her wander aimlessly and stop to look at every little thing.
Give yourself a break
If your trip schedule allows, I highly recommended having days without going to the parks. This was a lifesaver for us. We drove to Orlando on a Saturday and stayed until the following Saturday. We had 4 day park-hopper passes which meant that we had 2 full days without going to a park. It was sooo nice. My feet were sore and I was tired from the long days. Having a couple of days to sleep in, do some leisurely shopping at Disney Springs, and even do a few loads of laundry made the trip much more relaxing.
Plan wisely for fireworks and parades
Disney Word parades and fireworks shows are must-see events. Unfortunately, it can be tough to find a good spot without being crowded by thousands of strangers. I learned this the hard way on the night we had scheduled to watch the fireworks. I thought I had a good plan, but I didn’t give myself enough time and ended up part way down Main Street doing the best I could to hold a 40+ pound kid up high enough to see. I redeemed myself a few days later by being better prepared for the parade so that we had awesome, front-row views. (Hint: Check out the end of the parade near the fire station). Moral of the story, read lots of articles about the best spots and plan well in advance. It’s probably even worth having someone in your party scout out a spot early if you’re super serious about having an awesome view.