We are not big Disney people. Pre-kids there wouldn’t be a reason for either of us to do or even say anything Disney-related. At the same time, we weren’t anti-Disney either. We were just indifferent. However, we made the choice to do a Disney World Day Trip.
Kids Change Everything.
As all you moms know, having children changes everything. I thought it would be some time before visiting a Disney theme park was on the agenda, but there were a lot of good reasons for us to take the plunge and make a day of it just before my daughter’s third birthday. The fact that she begged to go was the main reason, and that she was still free was a motivating factor for sure. Kids 2 and under are free.
Deciding to Go to Disney World.
Once we decided to Disney Day Trip, I felt a little overwhelmed by the whole planning process. I knew that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And I didn’t want to make some big mistake and miss out on what could have been if only we’d known. So, I reached out to someone who did know – our certifiable Disney-nut former nanny, now framily (friend-family) member, Olivia. She and her hubby are annual pass holders who frequent Disney parks regularly even though they don’t yet have kids. This blows my mind, but I’m sure there are others like them.
Of course, she gave me great advice and answered all my questions. I did also reach out to my sister-in-law for a few kid-item specific questions. Her relationship with Disney is hard to explain. Let’s just say that if Disney offered some sort of frequent flyer miles for visits, then she would be able to fly around the world monthly by mouse ears. I’m pretty sure all cast members know her by name.
Armed with great advice and a dash of luck, we had an absolutely magical day that didn’t break the bank. In fact, we had such a good go of it that I’ve decided to share what I learned with you so that you can hopefully make the most out of your upcoming Disney day too.
Here are my tips for How to Disney World Day Trip from Tampa Bay:
- Utilize the desktop website and phone app. Not every browser supports a robust flash. I had to use Google Chrome to be able to do everything I needed to. There is also a Disney World phone app that is very helpful while at the park. You will want to use this app to view the park map, check wait times for rides, and set up your day-of fast passes. More about fast passes later.
- Pick a slow day. There are seasons to Disney. Value tickets are the least expensive and can be used only during non-peak days. I suggest starting with these. You can see a list of blocked out days here. The summer is probably the worst time to go. It’s hot, it rains in the afternoons, and everyone is out of school. Winter is ideal. Once you have your season, go with a day that’s in the middle of the week. Tuesday or Wednesday are probably best. People do not usually make long weekends out of these days.
- Buy tickets online ahead of time. Try to buy them 30 days ahead of time so that you can pick your most ideal fast passes, but even just a week early works too.
- Build your itinerary and utilize fast passes. Using the desktop, review the rides, performances, and meet the character opportunities that you’d like to do. Reserve your fast passes and have your itinerary marked with the performances you’d like to see. Some character lines do not allow for fast passes. If you really want to meet those characters, then you will need to check the wait times on your app and go when you feel the time is the best. For our itinerary, I started with the performances and then filled in the gaps with fast pass selections. I allowed for some overlap because I knew each thing wouldn’t take an entire hour. You can select 3 fast passes before your visit. You must scan all 3 before you can plan your next fast pass. As we scanned the fast pass for each subsequent ride, I immediately hopped on the app to add the next fast pass. For those of you with bigger kids or no kids at all, the roller coaster fast passes fill up early, and the lines remain long all day. If you want to ride these, make fast passes a morning priority.
- Bring your own food and water bottles. It’s no surprise that Disney is expensive. When it comes to eating, money isn’t the only issue. Time is also a precious commodity because you only have so much time in the day to jam pack as many elements of fun as possible. We packed lunch and snacks into small and medium sized coolers. There are regulations on what size bags you can bring that can be found here. We ate snacks on the fly and found shaded tables for lunch. It took about 15 minutes and then we were off to the next experience. We carried empty, reusable water bottles that we filled from fountains around the park.
- Pack your bag right. We brought a backpack; we loaded it with diapers, wipes, a change of clothes for each kid, Advil, sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, and a phone charger. We didn’t bring ponchos because there was a zero chance of rain. Also, we didn’t bring first aid items because there are kiosks around the park for that. If it were warmer, we would have brought bug spray. We probably should have brought jackets, but we left before dark so it wasn’t entirely necessary. There are numerous blogs and Pinterest pins that outline key items for Disney parks. You can skim them and decide what’s right for you. I also had a small purse for my valuables because we left our backpack with the stroller during rides.
- Bring a stroller. We have a one-year-old and a two-year-old. Having a stroller wasn’t even a question. If your kids are a little older and like to walk on their own, you may still want to bring one. I envision us bringing a stroller until one of them is a teenager. Ok, maybe not that long, but it could be close. All that stuff you packed can ride in the bottom of the stroller, and there is complimentary stroller parking all over the park.
- Splurge for parking. Basic parking is $20. Premium parking is $40. For a day that is already costing you somewhere in the hundreds just on entry tickets, splurge an extra twenty. This meant parking and walking over to the entrance rather than folding the stroller, situating the bags and kids, riding a tram, and then unloading. It also meant that when we were ready to leave, we could just leave.
- The ferry is usually faster. If you haven’t been to the Magic Kingdom in a while, you may not realize that there are two entrances. You park and go to the first entry. Then you take a ferry or a tram to the second entry. Most people go to the tram which does not hold as many passengers as the ferry. This means the tram line is longer. As you’re walking that way, ask a cast member which is faster right now. We walked up and onto the ferry then immediately crossed over. No wait.
- Pick up your special button! There are complimentary buttons to wear if you are celebrating something. I know they have buttons for birthdays, first time visitors, and anniversaries. I think they might have them for honeymoons. There are generic “I’m celebrating” buttons if they don’t have a button to match your occasion. This was super fun for us since most of the cast members noticed and said, “Happy Birthday” to my daughter. You can pick them up at the will call window.
- Get your spot for the parade early and save seats with something physical like a t-shirt, bag, or towel. People can be cray cray, even at the happiest place on earth. While my daughter was watching a stage performance with my husband, I took our son to find a curb spot for the parade. I asked a nice couple if the spot next to them was open, and they said yes. So I set our stroller in it and then bent to change my son’s diaper. When I stood up, I stood into a young woman who had cozied up on top of me from the other side. I said “oh, I need a little more space because my husband and daughter are meeting me here.” She ignored me, planted her feet wide and crossed her arms like a club bouncer. It was funny and cray cray. Had I set a towel next to me before I changed my son, there wouldn’t have been an issue. Lesson learned.
- Ask the professional Disney photographers if they’ll also snap a picture with your phone. Or, just snap the photo yourself alongside them if that works. They will do this free of charge.
- Ask your Disney fanatic friend. When all else fails, find the Disney fanatic in your life and ask them questions. They will have answers for things like character dining, how to decide if an annual pass is right for you, what hotels are ideal for the various parks, and so on. Disney also offers great help from cast members themselves. You can visit their help page here or their moms panel page here.
If you are planning your first Disney World Day Trip to the Magic Kingdom, I hope this was helpful. If you have other useful tips, please share them in the comments below. Have a magical day!