Header photo by Thomas Kelley
Vacation used to mean lounging by the beach in an exotic locale. But now you're a parent, and it means a Disney vacation that will cost you the same as flying to said exotic locale.
We just returned from Disney a few short weeks ago and I can honestly say, despite all my grumbling, and exhaustive planning it was some of the best time we have spent as a family. We all had a BLAST! (Not just faking it for social media blast, either.)
I had a great time, but in sharing my joy I quickly learned how many fellow parents had Disney horror stories and dashed expectations. So, in my effort to solve as many first world problems as I can, here’s the unfiltered guide to doing Disney like a pro, and the three things having a great time depends on: A little booze, good friends, and timing. Which, come to think of it, might be the key to everything.
Read on to find the best time of the year to visit Disney World, the extras that are actually worth buying, if Space Mountain is too scary for kids, and all the other questions you might have before your first visit to Disney World.
The most important part of planning your vacation goes into the actual time of year of your visit.
That alone is the key to a good experience. Period. Think January through early spring, the week after Thanksgiving, and generally most of the fall. We went the second week of February and it was amazing. We never waited over 40 minutes for any ride. The definition of insanity might be waiting 80 minutes to take a two minute ride. Don’t be that person.
There's also timing as it pertains to the ages of your kids. Our experience taking our then two and three year old paled in comparison to going with our now five and six year old. What were we thinking? They barely remember it and it was so much harder dealing with meltdowns, strollers, and missed naps. The best ages to take kids to Disney is four years old and up.
I just can’t imagine a “vacation” that involves waiting in long lines, in the heat, with thousands of other people’s kids...without the slightest buzz. First off, Magic Kingdom is a dry park, but please don’t let that stop you. Bringing in booze is pretty easy. Might I suggest these lovely sunscreen flasks—easy to transport and no one suspects a thing. Pro tip: Don’t forget the actual sunscreen or you will be forced to buy a $100 bottle of the stuff inside the park. We packed vodka, but pick your own poison. The best mixer that is readily available are the frozen lemonades, which come in a different flavors. Another bonus is that the food is so bad at Magic Kingdom, the buzz will come quickly.
All the other parks serve alcohol and drinking at Disney is a fun way to try lots of different beers from around the world. I've done the "drinking around the world" at Epcot, and its fun to do as a group with adults, or drinking around the world lite-- where you just take a sip or two from each location, but not* recommended to go all-out if you are with kids.
My other big suggestion is to not make this a nuclear-family only event. We went with one of our best friends and his daughter. The distraction of having a friend meant no sibling arguing and their excitement was doubled by getting to share it with a pal. Same went for the husband and I; we were more relaxed and fun with one of our friends along for more adult conversations. It felt like our own little party. It makes waiting in line go faster.
Also, Disney-people watching is also pretty epic, so bring your snarky friend and make up hilarious backstories about the possible sister/wife situation in line behind you waiting to meet Goofy.
Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at Disney Springs is pretty awesome for little girls, and I recommend it overall. One of the kids in our group came out looking like a drag queen-- not a princess, so be aware it might not turn out perfect.
Epcot is a damn good time, folks. Despite the popular belief that it’s more for adults than kids, my kids (ages five and six) had just as much fun at Epcot as any of the other parks. Bonus if your little darling is Frozen obsessed—this is the only park where they get to meet THE Princess Anna and Princess Elsa.
At ages five and six, both my kids loved Space Mountain and weren't scared. I was more freaked out than either of them.
Cinderella's Royal Table is expensive and hard to book but if you can get a reservation it's worth it.
Just say no to the Disney Photopass. You already pay lots of money for your fancy cell phone, so pass on this upgrade.
The Disney Meal Plan is also something I'd pass on. Pack your own snacks, and lunches if possible, the food really isn't that great anywhere at Disney.
Animal Kingdom is just a really expensive zoo. The only reason to go to this park is if you have a Dinosaurs obsessed little boy. There are lots of cool Dinosaur rides and exhibits.
Use your Fastpass for the most popular rides, and pick them as early as possible.
It's going to be crowded, it's going to be fun, and your kids will have a blast.