Disney Vacation Secrets Revealed: 10 things that surprised me
As you know from my prior post, “Disney Family Vacation: My top tips for your Disney Family Vacation,” we just returned from our first Disney Vacation as a family of five. Even with all my list-making and pre-planning, there were some “secrets” I learned while at Disney that were helpful to know. I hope you find these helpful in making your Disney Vacation magical as well.
- Pack snacks. For some reason, I assumed you could not bring food or drink into the Disney parks, because they’d want you to buy them there. Wrong! You can, indeed, bring snacks into the parks, and drinks, too. So if you have a child who will only eat Cheddar Goldfish or a specific kind of graham cracker or they reach meltdown mode, go ahead and tuck the critical snacks in your backpack (which, rest assured, will be looked through at the park entrance for security).
- Some in-park snacks are refillable! If you’re buying something at a snack kiosk in the park, check all options available. Some may be refillable, so you get more bang for your buck. For example, I bought an ordinary bag of popcorn, and learned afterwards that I could have purchased a souvenir plastic bucket of popcorn and refilled it later in the day. As the mother of three hungry, growing boys, that would have been a smart move!
- There’s an app for that: Use and love the free “My Disney Experience” app. It is a world of helpful information at your fingertips, giving you the ability to check on your plans for the day (did you reserve FastPass, for example), to modify FastPass reservations, show park maps . . . and, what I found most valuable was its accurate report on wait times for the attractions throughout the park.
- The devil is in the details: Disney Dining Plan: If you’re on one, be sure you know its details. I learned late in the game, thanks to one waitress telling me, that if we were too full for dessert, she could swap in a take-home drink like a bottle of water instead (perfect for bringing to the park the next day, since you’re allowed to!). I also learned that a quick service meal is the equivalent of 3 snacks. So, if you miss out on a meal, simply stock up on snacks instead! (Be sure to check the details of your plan to make sure that’s true for yours.) Our resort was full of a great variety of options, from hummus with pretzels to fresh fruit to trail mix to cookies.
- The early bird . . .gets on the rides first: If you’re staying at a Disney resort, check for Extra Magic Hours. The parks open early on certain days for people staying at a Disney property. Getting in early can help get you on a popular ride early, or to check other attractions off your list before the park gets too busy.
- Roll with it: Bring a stroller! (even if your kid is slightly too old for one). You can rent a stroller at Disney – I think starting at $15/day depending on the type of stroller – but we decided to buy an inexpensive umbrella stroller (like this) before our trip and count it as one of our checked bags on our flight. It was so helpful to have for our 3yo, but also for an occasional seat for the 6yo or even the 8yo (yes, his lanky legs looked funny in it, but who cares!), and was a great tool to help carry souvenir bags or our backpack. The little umbrella stroller also supported D’s daily “progressive nap,” as I now call it. It begins with a head nod, then a slight lean, then progressively folds him over.
- The classics are classic, so don’t miss them! Today’s less popular rides are gems from the past that still delight. It’s Disney, after all. They do it right. Classics like Small World have some high tech upgrades without having lost the magic you remember from your own childhood. And since rides like this are less popular and less glitzy than they used to be, wait times are minimal! Great for filling some time and triggering some nostalgia for you.
- Take turns: As if I haven’t said enough about FastPass yet, here’s one more tidbit. Rider Switch (aka Child Swap). Imagine if you’re at the park with your significant other and your two kids, one of whom is too short to go on a certain ride. Have your significant other use FastPass with the child who can go on the ride, and have him ask for Rider Switch as he is getting on. The ride operator will give you a printed ticket for Rider Switch, allowing you to then go on the ride with that same child through the FastPass line while your sig other watches the other child. A nice surprise to me, which we used in every park.
- Meeting characters: There seemed to be more character meeting spots and shorter lines at Hollywood studios. 15 minutes to meet Goofy, 20 for Donald Duck when we were there.
- Eat up: Last, but possibly most important, navigating Disney with nut allergies is EASY! When booking your trip, let the hotel and any pre-booked restaurants know o food allergy in your party. For our pre-booked meals, the wait-staff proactively asked, “Who has the nut allergy?” and then proceeded to tell us what we needed to know – info like “There are no nuts on premises, but if cross-contamination is an issue, please be aware the rolls and the desserts come from a bakery where they also process nuts.” They provided us allergy-friendly menus, just in case we were still worried about what was on the main menu, and in many cases, the chef himself came to our table to ensure he understood the allergy situation and to answer any questions for us. Often, our meals also came out with a special toothpick marked “allergy,” to signal to us that this had been prepared separately. So helpful! So reassuring! Even better than that – we found the same wealth of knowledge throughout the Disney parks – at a popcorn stand, at an ice cream shop – essentially everywhere! Every time I asked about ingredients, they whipped out a big binder and flipped straight to the page with the food I was asking about so I could read the ingredient labels. It took the stress out of something I thought would be quite stressful! I imagine navigating other food allergies is similarly easy, as I hear a chef offering one mom non-dairy milk alternatives due to an allergy in her family.
OK, so maybe these “secrets” don’t reveal how Disney puts the magic in all they do, but these sure were helpful, interesting and reassuring to me on my trip. I hope you find them helpful, too!
Stay tuned for Parts 3 and 4 in my Disney Vacation series: Part 3: Disney Vacation: The really, really real (really) and Part 4: Vacation with Boys, what I (re-) learned . . . again.