If this is your first trip to Disney World, you have a zillion questions I am sure! Because I simply can't answer them all here, I will just list some things that have helped us. I know I will not cover it all and certainly not for every season, but it's a good list for milder seasons and homeschoolers! :)
Take with you to have at your base (wherever you will be
returning to at night):
inexpensive rain ponchos or small umbrellas that you can take in the park as weather dictates
basic first aid kit (bandaids, Neosporin, headache meds, nausea meds)
Battery and phone chargers
Nail clippers, tweezers
Matching your young kids can save some stress-3 green shirts are easier to keep up with in crowds comprised of many, many children than one in yellow, that striped one and was she in purple or red today? Plus it looks better in photos. hahaha! Bring shirts, socks and underwear enough for each day in the parks, but rewear pants/shorts to save space and keep from needing to work in laundry.
It works both ways-if you all wear matching shirts, it's easier for the kids to spot you as well. If you forgo the matching attire, just take a family photo as you start each day so you have exactly what your child is wearing right there in front of you. If they wander off, it's a huge sanity saver. A description takes time to convey. A photo takes just a second. The easiest thing to do is each day when you park, while you wait for the tram to come around, have your kid(s) hold up fingers for the number row you are parked in and snap a shot.
The average person walks over 10 miles a day in the parks, that's not getting to and from them or anything else-that's just walking around inside the parks.
Bring Good Shoes. Not flipflops, flats or mules or anything other than broken in, comfortable shoes with arch support. Disney covers 47 square miles and you will walk most of that, some parts more than once. For us Alabamians, that's the size of Anniston or Hoover. For everyone else, that's just barely smaller than San Francisco.
So, what should you take in the parks?
Your bags will be searched to the smallest zipper pocket upon entry to every park, so the more you bring, the longer it will take.
If your kids are able to walk and don't need strollers and diaper bags, I suggest mom and dad each have a SMALL daypack or fanny pack and leave the kids to run loose. Anything more and it will feel like you are hauling bricks by the 4th hour.
Pack-camera and spare batteries, cell phone, wallet, some sunscreen (the tube kind that looks like a large chapstick is great), snacks and if you can't wait for a water fountain get a collapsible water bottle for each person that will roll up flat when empty. There are fountains all over. You can also bring in MiO or other water flavoring substances to counteract the soft water smell of the local water.
You can bring in outside snacks, but not knives. Slice
your apple before you arrive. Spoons for yogurt are fine, but yogurt tubes are
Really good/simple snack ideas would be jerky, almonds or cashews, dried fruit, protein/snack/meal bars and trail mixes. You want things that can be bumped around, withstand some heat, not be heavy, pack a protein wallop and/or provide a little sugar for a boost. There are picnic tables and outdoor seating scattered all over, particularly near play areas. Something like a Snickers fun size would be a good pick-up treat, but avoid large amounts of junkfood, you don't want to crash and burn.
That's it. Even the wallet is optional now with the Magic
Bands holding all your ticket, fast pass, room key and bank card info.
You can bring a small first aid kit with bandaids, Neosporin and some headache meds if you are prone to need such things, or just get it from First Aid if something pops up.
You don't need ponchos, jackets, spare socks, towels, your iPad, lots of extra food, solid water bottles, or anything else you may think, 'just in case' about. If you really really do need it, take it the next day. Same goes in reverse. If you hauled around something you did not need, leave it behind the next day. Obviously this does not apply to EpiPens or other emergency meds.
You can jump under cover during quick rain showers, most
of the time rain blows through in minutes.
If the weather has a big hot/cold swing in the day and you are not going back to your base, wear zip-off pants and a jacket that can be tied around the waist easily and a fleece hat. Think light layers.
When you stop for a rest break, ask everyone how their feet feel. Treat hot spots (places the foot feels hot/rubbed) right away by covering it with a bandaid. Treat it back at your base and use Moleskin to cover it the next day as added protection. A bad blister can ruin a trip. I usually put Moleskin on my foot AND in the shoe where it rubbed.
You know best about hats and sunglasses and whether the hassle of taking them off and on and keeping up with them all day is worth it. Contrary to popular rumor, if you lose them in the park, Disney won't replace them.
Set your daily spending limit before you leave home. Once you are there, it's easy to decide you don't REALLY need to make the house payment-look at all the stuff they have with Mickey on it! If you are really bad about sticking to a budget, get cash for each day and once it's gone, you are done. And, if you are only going to wear it in the park (Goofy head topper or Jack Sparrow dreads), think twice before buying it. Also, check online before you buy, there is very little you can't get elsewhere if you get back home and find yourself lying awake over not buying an item.
Before you buy anything, consider you have to put that somewhere for the rest of your trip, on the ride home and when you get home.
If you are a photographer, there are SO many details to shoot. EPCOT and Animal Kingdom have the best multi-cultural vibes, people, posters, the colors, tiny detailing, artisans, musicians, animals, foods. Magic Kingdom has all the classic rides and theming, the castle, the Mickey and Walt statue and hollywood Studios has gorgeous neon signs, art deco and of course Star Wars themeing. Don't forget to plan some time to wander and shoot photos.
Do some research and decide where you will eat at each
park. Food prices vary wildly and even things like eating at a table inside
a restaurant as opposed to buying the exact same food from the counter can add
as much as $10 (or more) a person to the bill.
If you are going with a homeschool group and part of your ticket package is a class, go to the class! They are really cracking down on people who buy the discounted package and don't attend the class, that's the deal for getting the discount after all. And the classes are fun! We learned a good bit and are looking forward to going again, plus you get on a ride or attraction ahead of everyone else and get to see some of the back stage bits! There's no downside. :) There is to missing it though, they are starting to cancel the remaining days on tickets if the class is skipped, which is embarrassing to all homeschoolers that we would need to be policed in such a way. Straight from the Disney Youth website: Disney Youth Programs reserves the right to void ticket packages without notice if the student does not attend the scheduled Disney Homeschool Days Program.
Check online for info you will need-are any rides going
to be closed, what are the height requirements if you have small kids. Avoid
heartbreak by checking ahead before you shell out for tickets. Our first trip,
the baby was tall enough to ride all the real coasters, but too short for the
virtual coaster and roller coaster design was his life at the time. We went
back as soon as we were able so he could finally ride the coaster he designed!
This attraction was only at Disney Quest at the time, but there's another one
in EPCOT now! It's different and accomodates smaller kids and is not as 'real'
feeling, but you can still go upside down-FUN! It's called The Sum of All Thrills.
Head to guest services on your first visit or if there is a birthday in your party, they will give you a badge. Our youngest had 2 different birthdays in the park (7th and 9th) and different cast members wrote Happy Birthday in their native languages on the back of his badge and everyone who saw us wished him a happy birthday, it was great. The kids all loved having 1st Time badges and they got lots of welcomes and well wishes. They have the pins in different languages as well, so check them out! They are located just inside each park entrance. If it is your first time, wear the badge! Cast members will single you out for tips like the best section at a show or put you in a better seat on a ride.
Matt and the kids on our very first day!
There's so much to do and see, you won't be able to do it all in one trip, so relax and hit your personal high points and must do's and don't stress about what you missed. Some people swear by planning and following one of the many, many 'how to do Disney and avoid the crowds!' lists, but there are so many 'secrets' out there that it's about 50/50 now-the people who just blunder through on the MK, then EPCOT, then Hollywood, then AK regime to those who mix up days and go counterclockwise and so on. Your best bet is still getting there early or staying late, going when school is in session and avoiding any and all holidays in which people get a day off attached to the weekend, and it always will be. Park order and navigation just adds to the stress, go and enjoy and stop when you want and marvel at the magic. Early magic hours are good for hitting popular rides with no lines, late magic hours mean crowds.
Dance with your kids, look at the lights, enjoy the amazing
gardens, ride things, see shows, take advantage of meet and greets. Our best
bam bam bam was at ECPOT just before closing in their meet and greet. The kids
got 10 character autographs and photos in under 20 minutes. Early in the day
they are not as swamped, but there is often a line, particularly for a newly
minted princess or beloved character. You can decide if it's worth it to wait.
Everything will take longer than you think-getting to and from parks or riding different rides and meeting back up. If you are on site, plan a full hour to get from your base to the park entrance that you want to visit. There are delays all the time for all kinds of reasons on the transports and on rides. Most take just a few minutes to clear up, but if you are swapping around-taking a bus to the monorail and taking that to the park, plan that whole hour. If getting up early is a huge issue, set your alarms the 2 weeks before your trip and get yourselves on a better schedule for park touring. Buy portable breakfasts you can eat while on the move, lay our your clothes the night before. Shower before bed, pack your snacks for the next day the night before, plug your stuff in to chargers the minute you walk in your room. You know what your delay issues are, think them through and come up with a work around.
Prep your kids that there will be waits-the British are know for their love of queueing and Disney will give you lots of practice pretending to be British. You wait for everything from transport to rides to shows and even just entering the parks. The more popular rides have things to do in the lines, Soarin' is my favorite with the interactive games the whole line competes in groups that are sectioned up by whatever panel you are in front of at the time. There is themeing and other distractions and it's cool to just listen to people-languages from around the world are everywhere! There are also irrate parents and screaming kids, so if you are a peaceful family like we are, be sure your kids know they may see some stressed out people yelling at their kids. That nearly ruined our first day in Magic Kingdom where everyone with anyone under age 5 spends 90% of their Disney time because of the little kid-friendly rides and frequent character events. You don't expect blowouts in the Happiest Place on Earth!
To avoid blowouts of your own, you need three main things-nourishment,
patience and back-up plans. Nourishment comes in the form of enough rest and
good food. Try valerian root and melatonin at night to get everyone off to sleep
naturally and with no side effects the next morning. Try them at home first!
Valerian root is good through the day as well if anyone in the group is high-strung,
it won't knock you out, it's a natural calming herb. Head back and take a midday
or evening nap if you need it. Food needs to be often and healthy. I made a
list of good snacks and there are plenty of places for snacks in the World.
Look for kiosks with cinnamon almonds or pecans, fresh fruits, hearty muffins,
cheese and turkey on grain and so on for good food options. If you want to try
a cupcake or other sugary treat, split it. Too much sugar will crash you!
Patience and a back up plan are nearly the same thing. If the ride you want to go on has a long line, come back and check it later or get a Fast Pass. Rides close, shows get crammed full, characters have ridiculously long lines. Prepare yourself and your kids for the fact that you will be standing around a good bit and that you may not get to do every single thing on your list, the consolation is all the stuff NOT on the list-a special interaction with a cast member, an unplanned treat stop, an extra time around the coaster before the park closes.