Are you looking for a trip that makes your kids smile? Do you believe a stress-free Disney trip is possible?
Planning. Some people despise that word. It removes spontaneity. It creates anxiety. But, when it comes to Walt Disney World, it can be the difference between happy kids and screaming kids.
Which would you prefer?
I’m a big planner before any Disney trip. In some cases, you have to be if you want to dine with characters or go on specific rides.
Do you want to go on the most rides you can without waiting in line hoping that no one has to go to the bathroom when you’re 5 minutes away from getting on your ride?
It takes a lot of work to make this happen, but you can have an (almost) stress-free Disney trip with the right amount of planning.
When to start? Start planning 190 days in advance for best results! Ok, don’t cringe at that timeframe! Read on to see why I suggest that…
Tools used for a stress-free Disney trip
Use the crowd calendar at UndercoverTourist.com to plan out which days you will go to each park. Ideally, you would visit a park if it’s marked with a green checkmark. This means that Undercover Tourist has analyzed its data and found this to be the best park to visit that day based on attendance forecasts and previous experiences.
You can make dining reservations 180 days ahead of time at 7:00 am Eastern. This is why it’s important to know what day you will be in each park.
If you haven’t already created a My Disney Experience account, go there now and create one. This will then form the basis of the itinerary for your trip. If you are staying onsite, add your hotel reservation so you can customize your magic bands and get your FastPasses early.
Create your dining reservations, including character meals. This is a great way for your child to meet his or her favorite character without waiting in lines.
For those restaurants that are within the Disney parks, you do need a valid admission ticket to enter the park for your dining reservation.
Choose a time that fits with how you want to plan your day. If you can get the coveted 8:00 am reservation, you will then be in the park as soon as it opens. However, reserving a table at the end of a shift (breakfast, lunch or dinner) enables the characters to spend more time visiting the tables. You can also schedule a time when you know the park is extremely busy in order to escape the crowds for a while!
You definitely want to order your tickets ahead of time so you can add your FastPass attractions (#4). I have found that Undercover Tourist has the best prices on multi-day tickets. In addition, their shipping is free! You can also reserve a hotel and car on this site if you need to, also at discounted rates.
The price per day declines as you stay more days. Don’t forget to include downtime days such as shopping at Disney Springs or swimming at the hotel. You may also want to consider non-Disney related parks such as SeaWorld, Universal Studios or Legoland.
You can sometimes snag an AMEX offer for Undercover Tourist that can save you around $30. Check your offers online on any American Express card you have
Get those FastPasses! If you are staying at a Disney property (or the Swan/Dolphin), you can make your FastPass reservations 60 days ahead from the first day of your stay for the length of your stay. Otherwise, you can access the reservation system 30 days out but will need to log back in each day. Again, log in at 7:00 am Eastern at My Disney Experience.
You can make 3 FastPass reservations per day to start. Once at the park and you have used your first three, you can make additional FastPass reservations, one at a time, for attractions that still have them available.
Choosing your selections is subjective. It depends on your child’s age and height. Little TFT isn’t 48 inches yet which is the height required for rides like Space Mountain and Tower of Terror. In addition, you need to consider the scare factor. You may not want to take your child to The Haunted Mansion or Pirates of the Caribbean because they are too dark.
The Unofficial Guidebook to Walt Disney World reviews all the rides, attractions and shows at each Disney theme park in addition to restaurant information. I refer to this book all the time. They are also the creators of the touring plan, #5.
Use a touring plan. This is for subscribers at touringplans.com only. I strongly suggest doing this if you want to save yourself from waiting a couple of hours in lines. A subscription costs $14.95 for the year. There is a discount if you have The Unofficial Guidebook to Walt Disney World.
Pre-made touring plans are available as well as the ability to customize your own where you input the rides and attractions you want to visit. It will then give you a specific itinerary for your day.
Schedule in breaks, dining plans, and your FastPass times. If you have never used a touring plan, you will be amazed at how it schedules your day. You can print the plan or access it via the Lines app on your phone.
The plan prints with a map of the park. If you are not familiar with the park layout, this helps you see exactly where each ride is located. There is a toggle button when creating your plan letting you minimize the amount of walking if you wished.
I can’t explain how much calmer it is when you know where you are going. The touring plan optimizes it so you are not waiting in lines as much as you would be. We have been able to hit all our main rides by noon!
I follow all of the above tips when planning a Disney World vacation. Disneyland in CA did not have the FastPass+ system when I was there for Christmas 2016, but I still used a touring plan for that park.
I can honestly say in the 5 times Little TFT has been to Disney, she has yet to have a meltdown. Of course, there are other things I do as well such as leave the park by 4 pm so she can be in bed by 8 pm and always take a stroller with us (I probably will until she is 7).
We have also stopped at Walgreens and bought a cheap umbrella stroller just so we didn’t have to take one on the plane. She is now 6, but I am still planning on taking an umbrella stroller for our Christmas 2017 trip. Kids tire easily (so do adults) with all the walking and excitement.
I hope the above tips make your vacation a success! It’s so much more fun to see happy kids rather than ones that are crying because they are overtired or waiting in line in the heat too long.
Read 7 tips for saving money at Disney for more great vacation ideas. Yes, they also take planning!
Have you followed any of the above suggestions? Do you have other tips that you swear by for an (almost) stress-free Disney trip?