My Disney Top 5 - Tips From a 2023 Walt Disney World Newbieby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another Disney Top 5.
I have a familiar look in my eyes right now. It's the look of someone that just booked a trip to Walt Disney World! Just a short weekend but that's fine by me. I just want to head back, see my sons, relax at the resort and spend some time back in the parks. My last trip was cut short, so I need to make up some of that lost time in the magic. When you're able to go as much as we have been going this past year or so, you can really settle into the things that you really love to do most. It'll only be a three-day weekend, so time will be precious, but I know just want I want to do and that's escape. Right now, I need that escape in a big way. You Walt Disney World veterans out there know just what I mean. But what about you Disney newbies out there? If you've got a trip planned, do you know just what to do?
It's coming up on 20 years since the first family trip with my wife and then 4-year-old daughter and I can barely remember planning that trip. I didn't know much at all. We got some tips from a friend or two and off we went. Here on MousePlanet, we like to give as many tips as possible to you readers out there to make the somewhat arduous task of planning a Disney trip as smooth as possible. Over the years I've given you plenty of my favorite suggestions. But what about tips from someone that just took their first family trip to Disney? Is that a different take on the whole experience?
I'm sure a lot of you out there are just like me. You're the one they all look for when it's time to to ask the Disney questions. Friends, family, coworkers – they all come out of the woodwork and land on my doorstep when it comes time to plan their big Walt Disney World vacation. And don't get me wrong, I'm more than happy to oblige. I could talk Disney all day. Who am I kidding? Sometimes I do, in fact, talk Disney all day. I like to think that most of my advice pans out. I haven't gotten many complaints over the years, so I must be doing something right.
I have a good friend at work that recently returned from just that kind of trip. She has been picking my Disney-filled brain for advice for about a year now. She was looking to spend some spring break time with her family of four at the most magical place on Earth. Her kids are 3 and 5 years old and this would be their first time down there. I heard from her a lot when they were down there. When she got back, we obviously discussed the trip and how it all went down. She boldly suggested that I write an article on a first timer's tips instead of hearing all my old proven war stories, so these are her tips. And all of them do, essentially, gel with the tips I have been giving friends and family and you readers for years. Now that she's gotten her first sip of the Kool-Aid, let's not look at my age-old tips, let's see what hers are with my Top 5 tips from a 2023 Walt Disney World newbie.
5 - Water is Essential - Paying For Water Is Not
Let's remember that this trip was in April. That's a sweet time to travel to Walt Disney World as far as weather is concerned. It's certainly warm and you could have some real hot days, but it's nothing like the sweltering Orlando summers. That said water and hydration is still key to getting through a day in the Disney parks. What most people don't seem to be aware of is the fact that just about every single counter service food location in the parks offers cups of free ice-cold water. Now a couple of things. No offense to those of you that live down there, but it has to be said, Florida water can be nasty. Maybe I'm just spoiled because New York has consistently been voted as having some of the best tasting water in the country. However, I've had the free ice water in the Disney parks and it must not be straight tap water. The water from my faucet at the Disney resort? Not good at all. The ice-cold water from the big free jugs at Disney counter service restaurants? Actually…quite good. My friend felt the same way. "I didn't notice any bad taste at all." was her comment.
Now I have to go on record as saying that the current price of $3.75 for bottled water in the Disney parks isn't so bad. I've paid way more at concerts and ski resorts for sure. But considering you can buy a whole case of water for $3.99, this is a pretty solid tip. She paid a lot of money to go to Disney, the least they could do is give her some free water. My friend went during a peak season and spent a boatload of money to be there, and she was going to save anyway she could. Let's face it, free water is better than spending extra money on bottled water several times a day.
4 - 38 Inches Seems to be the Magic Number
One of the most common questions that people ask me when I get approached for Disney advice is how young should the kids be for their first time down there? I almost always say 4-years-old is the perfect Disney age, but it's really a loaded question. Not every 4-year-old is the same. Her kids, being 3 and 5, were close enough to that threshold to have similar experiences on their first trip. What she quickly realized was that the governing factor should not have necessarily been age, but rather the height restrictions on the Disney rides and attractions.
When his big sister, who's a little tall for her age, was allowed to go on rides and he was not, because he's a little small for his age, well, if you've raised kids, you could imagine that problem. He was wise enough to know he was missing out on something and there were some tears because big sis could go on things that he could not. So, the tip to read up on the height requirements and make sure your little one can actually go have fun before you get down there is a solid tip. Don't make the assumption that your little one can go on everything just because it's Disney, and they cater to families.
3 - Stay on Disney Property and, with Little Ones in Tow, French Quarter is Perfect
Back in 2003 when my wife first suggested we take our little girl down to Disney for a few days, I found out that teachers get a pretty decent discount at the Swan and Dolphin so that's what we booked. A Disney experienced coworker soon corrected us and said something to the extent of, "Never mind that discount, stay at a Disney resort. It's a must." Circle wipe to the three of us at Caribbean Beach and absolutely loving it. That was the first and best Disney tip we ever got and it's one that I have never failed to follow. It's the first one that I give everyone that asks for advice and that includes this particular friend we are talking about today. My suggestion to her was Port Orleans French Quarter. She took my advice and once they were down there, she wholeheartedly agreed.
They didn't want to break the bank but wanted something special. They wanted a Disney owned property, but they also didn't want to be hit over the head with Disney when they retreated back to their resort. They didn't want to be at a huge resort carrying two exhausted kids back to the room at the end of the day. French Quarter ticks all of those boxes and then some. Her comments? "It was just perfect for us. Being able to just hop a bus back to the resort whenever we wanted definitely made things so much easier. I loved that we were the first and only bus stop. The boat ride down to Disney Springs was a nice option for our arrival day. The pool was amazing. The resort wasn't too big. It was subtly themed here and there to Princess and the Frog but not too much, and yes…the beignets were awesome!" I've always said that staying in the Disney bubble is a no-brainer, and she experienced that first hand at one of Disney's best hotels. This tip will never get old.
2 - Rope Drop is a Must
I hate getting up early. My job starts at 7:30 AM and this particular friend loves to bust my chops that despite living about a mile from work I struggle to get there on time every day. What can I say? I'm a late night person, not a morning person. The early bird major exception in my life is Walt Disney World. At Disney, we soon found out that when you get to a park early, your entire day is off to a much better start. While I personally feel that Disney's latest resort guest offering of an extra half hour in the parks each morning is kind of lame - the old days of a full hour were much better - anything that can get you into a Disney park early is essential. My friend was consistently texting me each morning about their early morning conquests. She was killing it in the morning when it comes to banging out big attractions before the crowds built up. Here are some examples.
At 8:42 AM from the Magic Kingdom: "Got on Seven Dwarfs already. Kids loved it!"
At 9:11 AM from Epcot: "Already did Frozen. Meeting Elsa and Anna and then Guardians virtual.
At 8:55 AM from Hollywood Studios: "Did Slinky and Mickey And Minnie's already." Then they finished the rest of Toy Story Land before 9:45 AM.
At 9:24 AM from Animal Kingdom: "Done with Safari, Everest and Navi River, now headed to Festival of the Lion King."
Those are some solid mornings. If I look back through the texts, on their early day at Magic Kingdom they hit the Seven Dwarfs, Barnstormer, Dumbo, Pooh, Tron and Buzz all before their 10:50 Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique appointment. All of that was possible because they got up and got there early. Then, when the park is at peak capacity and the sun is at its highest, around 1:00-2:00, they would head back to the resort and hit up the attraction that the kids will inevitably love the most, the swimming pool! Rope drop is indeed the best way to go.
1 - Know Your Limits
You need to always remember that Walt Disney World is the size of Boston. It's two Manhattan islands. It's huge. Can you storm the parks all day, everyday and see everything? Probably not. If you go to Boston, you can't see it all in one trip, same with New York City. It's impossible. And yet, so many Disney guests feel the need to storm all day, and then they wonder why they come back and say things like, "It's great, but it's not a vacation. It's exhausting." Yes, it can be. But it doesn't have to be. Don't push your children so much that they're having meltdowns every night. And while you're at it, try not to do that to your spouses either!
My friend and her family knew when to leave, knew when to cancel reservations and just grab food at a counter and when to just chill. And they still had an awesome time. A trip to Walt Disney World can be daunting. There's a lot to do and see and after 20 years, I'm not lying to you when I say that I still haven't seen it all. And that's just fine. It gives me a reason to go back now, doesn't it? My newbie friends felt the need to see as much as they could, but they also knew that Disney wasn't going anywhere and that they could someday go back and see what they missed. Her number one piece of advice was to know your family's limits and I'd have to say that's an extremely wise piece of information to offer. I've always said that some of our best memories were when we slowed down, changed plans, canceled dinner reservations, ordered pizzas at the resort pool or laid out on the Yacht Club lawn and watched the nighttime movie. They did the same thing and that wasn't derived from my preaching. She paid attention to her kids needs, didn't push them too much and the results were a lot more relaxing than most other guests vacations. And I do think they want to go back, so this tip must've worked for them.
Any Walt Disney World fan will tell you that planning a Disney trip is all part of the experience. Now, for obvious reasons, I love planning my own trips most of all. I'm currently doing that right now and it's making me pretty darn happy. But I also love helping out other people with their Disney plans and then, thanks to modern technology, I love getting texts and phone calls from those friends and families while they're down there. I get a kick out of that. I like to hear where they are and what's working or not working and I'm always willing to throw some more tips their way. People seem to appreciate it.
It definitely seemed like Brittney, her husband Zach, 5-year-old Eva and 3-year-old old James were all having a blast down at Disney and I loved getting those texts filling me in on what was happening and asking for last minute advice. I'll do it again if – or should I say when – they head back, if they ask me to. Judging from the tips listed above, it seems like she got the place and made the most out of their time there. I gave her my two cents on how we've been doing our trips all these years, and she ran with it. It's important for people to tailor advice to their own family's needs. She did that and the magic definitely flowed. If you're a newbie like her, these are solid tips. Take them to heart and build your own magical Disney vacation and you'll be in good shape.
Brittney is a good friend, but she does like to bust my chops about my Disney fandom. Perhaps I'm asking for it by walking into work everyday with Mickey watches on my wrist, a Disney refillable mug in my hand, Disney Parks shopping bag holding my lunch and those cool Mickey Mouse limited edition Stan Smith Adidas sneakers on my feet. (Yes…they're adult sneakers!) But circle wipe to her and her brood standing in front of The Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom, husband Zach wearing a classic Mickey Mouse T-shirt, son James with the Hakuna Matata shirt on and Brit and her daughter Eva wearing matching animal print Minnie Mouse ears - themed specifically to the park they were in, mind you – and just who's the Disney geek now? Welcome aboard Brittney. We'll make room for you on Walt's train!
That's all for this time. As always, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below to share your thoughts on this list and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.