2022 has presented numerous challenges and there seemed to have been very few breaks. So before the year came to an end, I thought it would be an awesome idea to take the kids on a surprise vacation. It just so happened Buddy – our Elf on the Shelf – arrived on November 30th to inform the kids they’d be flying out the next day. Here are a few of my takeaways from our trip to Disney World.
PAY TO PLAY
One of the main things people always talk about in regards to Disney, is the cost. If a trip to Disney is on your mind, you better put it in your budget and keep it in your heart. Since we recently sold our first home, we were able to use some of the proceeds towards travel. I knew even before the check cleared that I wanted to use some of it for a trip – a good, memorable trip.
If a house sell is not in the near future, don’t fret, there are other options. Many banks with high yield savings account allow you to open multiple accounts. By doing so, you can ensure the money is going to the intended place, while also earning interest on that money. We’ve used the Capital One 360 Performance Savings account for years; the current interest rate is 3.30%. Identify the amount of money needed for your trip(s) – then divide it by 12 and be sure to save at least that amount.
Also, don’t forget that every month, maybe every week, you are making necessary purchases. Put those on your credit card with the best point system, pay off the balance every month, and watch those points rack up. Then, once you’ve decided how and where you’re traveling, use your credit card points to pay for airfare, gas, or hotel expenses. Every little bit helps. We were able to use credit card points to pay for airfare.
When it comes to airfare, Google Flights and Skyscanner are good tools to identify the best day of the week and/or month to fly. If using an iPhone, try opening a Private Browser first before searching for the flights. This way, the system is trying to pick up where you left off and it is searching for the lowest rates. We selected December 1st through 5th because these dates had lower rates and they worked for our work schedules as well. In comparison to weeks where school is typically out, the prices were much lower.
TRAVEL AGENTS SAVE YOU TIME
Consider using a Disney loving travel agent! They have generally been so many times, they know all the tea, tips, and events. I used Jackie at magicalvacationdreams.com. Not only did she provide a quick response to my last minute requests, but she also hooked us up with a must-see list and itinerary for each park and day. She outlined everything that would have long waits, which was crucial in planning our days. Travel agents are great in that you don’t pay for their service but likely make better, more informed decisions based on their guidance. Also, many agents offer payment plans depending how far in advance you book. Gather all your questions and be prepared to ask away; chances are, they know the answers.
Consider value or moderate priced hotels inside the park to get convenient free transportation to the parks and feel all the feels of staying inside Disney World. We stayed at the Port Orleans – Riverside, which was set up in the charming New Orleans feel. Mossy trees and mini swamps were everywhere. Luckily, we didn’t run into any alligators. I was very impressed by the speed of fulfilling service requests and the kindness of the staff.
There are a kazillion different types of Mickey Ears to choose from at Disney parks. If your kids are anything like mine, you know they can change their favorite color on a weekly basis. Consider buying ears prior to arrival. Look for them at Five Below or on sale/clearance on Disney.com or Disney outlet stores. These cheap versions work great for kids since they may never touch them again or want a different style the next time. I unfortunately left my beautiful 3-year-old Lion King ears on a ride, never to be seen again. What did I do? Of course Mommy deserved 50th Anniversary fancy new ears – so she bought them. I will take good care of them and try my best not to lose them.
PLAN & ATTACK
Plan the entire trip accordingly. Use the My Disney Experience app to see the wait times, and locations for rides, shows, and character locations. They also offer MagicBands, an electronic watch that stores your payment and admission information, and allows quicker entry into the park.
Let’s Ride – Open the park or close the park with the most popular rides. Then work in the rides with the lowest wait times throughout the day.
Let’s Watch – Shows offer an opportunity to rest in between walking and rides. By day 3, we were using shows for nap time for the little one. Work in shows as a rest time, especially the 30-minute to 1-hour shows. This gives a little break but also reminds you of the awesome graphics and animation that Disney continues to create.
Let’s Eat – Research the various restaurants for each park and plan which you will list for lunch, dinner, or snack. By doing this in advance, you can plan for how much to budget for meals. Many restaurants now have mobile ordering, which is awesome when you are trying to make the most of every minute. I must say, I was not disappointed with any of the food we selected.
Let’s Rest – One of my regrets was not planning a rest day in between each park day. Imagine walking 20,000 steps one day and then having enough energy and strength to do it all tomorrow and the next day! It was a lot. The kids missed a couple school days, so we were trying to take full advantage of each day. By day 3, my 4-year-old was exhausted and I felt sorry for him. Our itinerary included Hollywood Studios on Day 1, Animal Kingdom on Day 2, and Magic Kingdom on Day 3. The strategy was to visit Animal Kingdom on Day 2 to provide a bit of rest, as we were able to arrive later and leave earlier while still seeing all of the attractions we were interested in.
You are allowed to bring bags into the park. So, pack snacks and refillable water bottles. Bring at least one backpack capable of holding multiple granola bars, crackers, non-melting snacks, and water bottles.
Also, for all those selfies and videos you need to post, bring a portable charging stick or attachable battery to charge your phone. Remember to pack meds just in case the change of environment negatively impacts you, your allergies, or digestive system (lol). My go-to for dehydration is Pedialyte powder packets. You can mix these into water and help speed up the replenishment process.
WHAT TO WEAR
Plan what you will wear each day. Not only does this cut down on time to get ready but also cuts down on what is packed and hopefully number of bags needed for travel. One of my awesome neighbors turned out to be my t-shirt lady. I was able to download Disney designs from Etsy for around $2 and used them for heat transfers for our shirts. This was very convenient and everyone knew what to wear each day. Bring your most comfortable shoes because you will likely get 20,000 steps per day.
WAITING FOR RIDES & SHOWS
What used to be the FastPass, that could be used for all rides by reservation is now part of their Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lane (LL) passes. This basically means there’s a general admission and a VIP/Skip-to-Front line. The crazy thing (in my opinion) is now there are separate LL passes for popular rides and shows. Although this saves a lot of wait time, I honestly feel like it’s a rip off. The tickets themselves are expensive enough, then to pay again for a 2 minute ride just because it’s popular? Child please!
An option we used was taking advantage of the extra time they give you in the mornings for staying at a Disney resort, to hit the popular rides first. Another option is saving these rides for right before the park closes. Additionally, getting in line for shows at least 15 minutes in advance worked well for us.
While you stand in those lines with those impatient kids (or adults), play games to pass the time. We did 1,000 rounds of rock-paper-scissor and quite a few rounds of Heads Up!
MEMORIES LAST FOREVER
Plan to purchase the Memory Maker. A selfie just won’t capture everything. In addition, many of the photographers have ideas for posing, as well as different graphics and effects they can add to the photos or videos. Remember, one day these memories may be the only things we have left to cherish. I am that chic that scrolls through old photos, while smiling or literally laughing out loud. Take a look at the photos below captured by the Memory Maker photographers or rides.
Everyone’s experience will be different and interests will vary. But, I do believe Disney is a magical place that everyone should visit at least once. It brings out your inner child and gives a chance to just let loose and have fun. We didn’t have time to worry about work tasks, because we were too busy figuring out our next move in the park. It was a break we all needed – a refresher and bonding trip for our family. Let me know in the comments what you think about Disney!