When I was ten, we lost my grandpa at Disney World. Everyone was so busy worrying about us kids that he just slipped away from the group! My grandma didn't know what to do. Should we stay in one place and hope he comes back? Should we go and ask an attendant to make some kind of announcement?
We finally found him, an hour later, eating ice cream in the shade. His excuse was that he'd run into an old golf buddy from back home and the two of them somehow became separated from the rest of us. To this day, I think he just slipped away to grab a cone and couldn't find us again.
A Disney vacation with the family is a wonderful, time-honored way to make memories that last a lifetime. With an all new Toy Story Land opening at Disney World, this summer is an especially great time to plan a visit.
It's never going to be cheap, but with these tips, it can be doable. Here's how.
1. My Disney Experience
The bottom line of planning a family trip to Disney World is this: victory loves preparation. And, when you're planning ahead, the internet is your friend. Gone are the days of walking up to the gate the day you arrive and buying your passes in person.
My Disney Experience is the part of Disney's website that's tailored to help you plan your trip well in advance. It's a great place to find bargains, plan which parks you want to visit day-by-day, and figure out how much different packages will cost.
Don't worry: it's user-friendly. You can even make a profile and invite everyone else you're traveling with to do the same and join an online group. That way, everyone can see what the game plan is and have their input.
You will also want at least one tech-friendly member of your group to download the My Disney Experience phone app. Why?
One of the things that turns people off about theme parks is the thought of waiting in line. There's nothing worse than milling about like cattle for three hours, working on your sunburn, only to spend 5 minutes listening to some robots sing "it's a small world after all."
But it doesn't have to be that way.
Using FastPass+ on the My Disney Experience App, anyone with a ticket can actually reserve a spot on a ride at a predetermined time.
Now, there are limits. You can only reserve three rides per day ahead of time. And only one of those can be a 'Tier One' ride --- naturally, these include all of the most popular attractions. For example, you can bet the new Disney Toy Story Land will be tier one.
You'll need to have a sit-down with the grandkids (and the kids, if they're tagging along!) to figure out which blue-chip rides you absolutely don't want to miss.
But there is a loophole here. Plan your FastPass+ rides early in the day, because once you've used them, you can reserve more on the fly!
3. Plan Your Meals Ahead Of Time
Are you sensing a theme here? If you like to plan things, preparing for your Disney vacation can be a vacation unto itself!
Seriously, though: making reservations can save you major headaches. It's also necessary if the grandkids want to eat at some of the more enchanting eateries in the park, like Cinderella's Table or Be Our Guest (a Beauty and the Beast themed restaurant).
Besides, planning your meals can save you time. If you arrange to eat slightly off peak hours, that will leave you free to line up for rides while everyone else is struggling to find somewhere to chow down
4. Stay Off Site
If you're traveling with a larger group (5+ people), you can probably save money by choosing not to stay in Disney's themed hotels --- nifty as they are. There are hotels, condos, even homes you can rent nearby, likely for less than what you'll pay onsite.
However, staying offsite means you'll probably have to rent a car and pay $20 per day to park at Disney World. So... break out the calculator!
You also may be able to purchase rooms at Disney resorts online for substantially less money than you would normally pay. Disney Vacation Club members get access to premium rooms in some of the park's most exclusive resorts. Sometimes, these folks have to sell off time they've booked in these hotels online in places like ebay.com. If you want to stay on the property but don't want to pay full price, you might be able to find a bargain if you do a little digging.
5. Disney Gift Cards
There's a neat little trick here to save some coin. Some outlets that sell Disney Gift Cards will offer discounts on your purchases via customer loyalty programs. For instance, Target Red Card holders can save 5%. That may not be a ton, but Disney is expensive and little savings add up!
You can use gift cards to buy meals and souvenirs in the park.
6. Save On Tickets
The per day cost of a Disney World ticket goes down as the number of days you're purchasing goes up --- bulk savings, if you like. So the key is to find the perfect balance for your family. But there's another way to save.
You'll pay extra for a 'park-hopper' pass, that is, a ticket that will get you into different Disney Kingdoms in the same day. If you can stick to one park per day, you can cut out that expense.
7. Go At The Right Time
As you can imagine, Disney World is always busy when school is out. If you don't mind the crowds, or if summer is the only time of year you can take the grandkids, it's still worth going.
However, if possible, you should consider going closer to the edges of peak season --- i.e. May or August. It may be a little cool in May and a little hot in August, but you won't have to contend with as many fellow visitors.
We hope these tips help you make your family's Disney dreams come true. Safe travels!