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We just got back from a week in Disney World and as promised – I’m sharing some tips and tricks that worked for us! Disney World takes SO much planning and prep, but it was all 100000% worth it – we had an amazing time! This is going to be a long post but hopefully will be helpful for anyone planning a trip!
Quick facts about our trip:
⭐️We went with my parents, brother and his girlfriend – so we had 6 adults to 3 kids 🙌🏻 Highly recommend upping your adult to kid ratio whenever possible when you have little ones!
⭐️My dad drove down and brought a lot of our stuff – pack n play, second stroller, souvenirs, snacks, etc
⭐️Stayed on property at Art of Animation – 10/10 recommend – literally the perfect place to stay with little kids! Super cute Disney character theming, 2BR/2 Bath family suites, on the Skyliner for easy access to Hollywood Studios and Epcot.
⭐️ We had a 5 day park hopper that we got with a military discount through my brother who was with us. We split our days in half – got to one park at opening and left around 11, then went to the hotel to rest/nap and back to another park around 3. We also did a full rest/pool day at the resort. This worked for us but next time I will probably do less hopping around, and would maybe add in one more rest/pool day!
⭐️ We did 2 full days in Magic Kingdom, 1 day in Epcot, and half days in Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom (this is also how I would rank the parks in order from favorite to least favorite!)
⭐️ Our schedule was as follows:
- Sunday – Arrive at hotel by 1. Get to Magic Kingdom around 3:30, stayed until after fireworks
- Monday – Morning: we were exhausted and took the morning off, explored the resort and relaxed at the pool. Afternoon – Epcot
- Tuesday – Morning: Magic Kingdom (rope drop), Afternoon: Hollywood Studios
- Wednesday: Off day at the resort
- Thursday – Morning: Animal Kingdom (rope drop). Afternoon: Magic Kingdom
- Friday – Morning: Epcot (rope drop). Afternoon: Magic Kingdom
- Saturday – Fly home!
One of the number one questions I got on instagram was the cost for a family to take a trip to Disney. It is a lot! And this is not a trip we will do often. There were ways to save like staying off-property, military discounts, visiting in off-peak seasons, bringing your own food, etc.
Here is our breakdown:
- Room – Finding Nemo Suite – $475/night. Room rates vary by size and time of year. See this link for 2023 pricing.
- Park tickets: Using the military discount, we were able to get a 5-day park hopper for $369/person, with my youngest child being free (kids under 3 are free)
- Flights: Southwest flights were $385/person round trip – you can definitely find a better rate than this, but this is what we paid.
- Character dining – this was our biggest splurge in the park. We loved it (especially the convenience) but if we are looking to save money I would probably would narrow it to just one next time or skip it all together – certain princess meet and greets are reopening this month in the parks, making it easier for your kids to meet their favorites. This was a birthday trip for the twins, so part of their gift was princess dining at Akershus. The cost was $63 ages 10+, and $41 ages 3+, plus tax and gratuity. The cost was the same at Chef Mickeys.
- Food: we mostly ate breakfast in the room with our own food. Most days we would grab lunch in the dining hall at the resort for about 12-15/adult, $6/kid. Dinner varied but if we grabbed it at the park the cost was around $15/adult, $7/kid.
Art of Animation Resort
We stayed in a family suite at Art of Animation resort and I cannot recommend it enough! The resort has 4 themed areas. The Little Mermaid area has regular (small) hotel rooms and its own pool. The three other sections – Lion King, Finding Nemo and Cars – all have family suites. All sections have their own pool except for the Lion King section, which has a small play area. All the sections are amazingly themed – it was so fun to walk through and see the different huge sculptures of characters, murals, etc. – we spent a morning just walking around and taking in the resort and it was honestly one of my favorite parts! The main “Big Blue Pool” is located in the Finding Nemo section with a HUGE Nemo themed pool (the biggest pool of any Disney World resort!) and a splash pad.
We booked a family suite and ended up in the Finding Nemo section. You can request a certain area but there are no guarantees. We did not request an area but next time I will definitely request to be back in this same section! The Nemo section is the most centrally located with the big pool, splash pad and the cutest reef-themed playground. It is also the closest to the Skyliner and very close to the main lobby/dining hall.
Our room slept up to 6. It had a bedroom with a queen bed and its own bathroom and a door that shuts (important detail if you have kids!) There was a large living area with a pullout sleeper sofa and a kitchen table with a Murphy bed that folds down on top, as well as another bathroom. We ended up putting all 3 kids in the bedroom so we could contain them in there at night. That way we’d have access to the rest of the suite and one of us could leave the room and get food or drinks or whatever without waking the up!
My parents stayed in a Little Mermaid room, which was about a 10 minute walk from our building (this resort is huge!) Their room was small, but would work great if you have a family of 4 or less.
The resort has its own dining hall called “Landscape of Flavors” and I was honestly pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food! The prices weren’t terrible either – kids meals for around $6 (my kids could split these) and a nice adult meal for around $12-15 for the most expensive options. Some of our favorite adult entrees for the Tandoori chicken and the braised beef – SO good! The dining hall offers mobile ordering which I can’t recommend enough. We typically only ate there for lunch – we came back to the resort for naps mid-day so we would place a to-go mobile order when we got on the bus from the parks, and I would be ready for pick up as soon as we got back. So convenient!
I also recommend purchasing a souvenir drink cup for free refills at the resort. The cups are fairly small for $21/each but we definitely made good use of them. We filled up on our way back from the parks and used it for coffee in the morning. The cups have a chip in them that only allows free refills through 10 days after your trip, so you can’t re-use them on your next visit. You can either bring it home, or find someone to pass it on to. As we were leaving I stopped a family that was checking in and offered ours to them. *TIP – for quick and easy drink refills – I liked using the refill station at the side of the “Drop Off” pool bar. There was never a line and they always had ice (sometimes the indoor cafeteria would run out of ice). We also used this spot to fill our water bottles before the park.
Other Resort Info
The resort had tons of activities, including character meet and greets (we met Daisy Duck and Chip and Dale), poolside games, and nightly s’mores in the Lion King Section. There is also a huge arcade that we never ended up visiting.
All the pools in Disney are heated to around 82 degrees and open year-round. This made is so comfortable to swim even when the outside temperature was only like 75! The main pool is the Big Blue Pool with a Nemo theme – it is great for kids and has a beach entry. It gets to around 4 feet at its deepest point but the vast majority of the pool is around 3 feet which made it great for my 5 year olds. The Nemo section also has a huge splash pad – the splashed water is heated as well! The cars section has a cute themed pool with Cozy Cone cabanas, but the pool itself is more of a basic hotel pool. The little mermaid section also has its own pool – again, a basic hotel pool. Each pool also supplies life jackets in various sizes that are free to use. Toys and beach balls are allowed in the pools, so long as they aren’t bothering other guests.
If you have magic bands, you can use them to pay for things at the resort, and even unlock your hotel room door. This was so helpful when I would be carrying a bunch of stuff – I didn’t have to mess with a hotel key or my phone.
There are tons of ways to travel to and from Disney parks, but I will share what we used from our resort! From Art of Animation you can get to the parks via bus or the skyliner. Both are free and convenient. The skyliner takes you to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. The buses go to all 4 parks. Keep in mind that buses to Magic Kingdom can be especially busy in the mornings when everyone is flocking to the park. You may have to wait for a few buses, but there was a steady stream of them when we went in the mornings! The skyliner is the absolute BEST – so convenient – you don’t have to fold single strollers to ride, and you can fit up 10 people on so our whole group could ride together (even with a single stroller and a folded double stroller!). The skyliner is a gondola ride that is constantly moving, so we never had to wait (though I’m sure this isn’t the case during peak seasons). It is SO much fun and was honestly one of my kids favorite things to do. We even rode the skyliner just for fun on our last day before flying home!
I won’t spend a ton of time talking about Genie+ because honestly, I know I won’t do a good job explaining it. there are tons of helpful videos on you-tube and if you work with a planner, they will send you lots of info.
I will say I do 100% recommend buying Genie+ for every day. It sucks to pay for, but its worth it to have a better experience and avoid waiting in line with little kids.
A basic run down of genie in the best way I can explain it – each day you can choose to purchase Genie+ in the app. I bought it around 6:30 each morning. Starting at 7 am, you can book your first ride. Then, you can book your next ride 2 hours after that OR, once you tap into your most recent ride booking.
Example: At 7 am I book Jungle Cruise for the earliest available return time – let’s say that is 11:00am. At 9:00, I am eligible to book another ride. I’ll book Little Mermaid for 10am. Once I tap into the Little Mermaid ride, I am eligible book my next selection (rather than waiting until 11, which is 2 hours after I booked by last lightning lane. Honestly, its confusing even as I type this – so I’ll stop here. But watch lots of YouTube videos and you will get the hang of it once you’re there!
Magic Kingdom was our favorite park and where we spent the most time. The park is divided into 6 sections: Adventure Land, Frontierland, Fantasy Land, Tomorrow Land, Liberty Square and Main Street USA. We spent a total of 2 full days here (One morning where we rope-dropped the park, and 3 afternoons from around 2-3pm to 7 pm. Some of our favorite rides here were the Little Mermaid ride, Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, and It’s a Small World. We also did the two princess meet and greets here – Cinderella and Elena of Avalor, and Rapunzel and Tiana.
The parade at Magic Kingdom is called the Festival of Fantasy parade and it runs twice a day at 12 and 3 pm. It is one of our favorite parts from our trip – we saw it twice! First we watched right inside the main entrance (it gets there around 3:30 pm) and the second time we reserved a Genie+ Lighting Lane for reserved seating in front of the castle. This was convenient because we were running late that day and were able to walk right into the park and have a prime viewing spot.
The fireworks are Magic Kingdom are absolutely amazing, and totally worth staying up for at least once! We watched them in front of Edy’s Ice cream parlor at Main St. This was a good spot because we were close to the park exit – we walked out and got right onto the first bus back to our resort! Otherwise it would have taken a while to get back given all the people that were leaving at the same time.
Lots of people worry that Epcot isn’t kid friendly, but we loved it! The park is divided into 4 main sections – World Showcase, World Celebration and World Discovery and World Nature.
In World Showcase we rode the Frozen ride, Ratatouille (both with genie +) did the Anna and Elsa meet and greets, and did princess dining at Akershus and rode Gran Fiesta (my 2 year old could go on all of these with us!).
In World Nature we rode Living with the Lane and Soaring. We also rode The Seas with Nemo and friends – inside this building is a huge aquarium, as well as a cute and hilarious show called “Turtle Talk with Crush”. we could have spent a few hours just in this little area!
We didnt venture into the the other 2 sections of the park, since this rides didn’t really appeal to my kids yet.
We spent a total of one full day in Epcot – one morning where we rope-dropped and one afternoon from about 2-7 pm.
We spent a half day in this park which was plenty for us, but if you have a Star Wars fan in your family, you’ll definitely want to spend more time here. Hollywood Studios is home to Toy Story Land, which is SO cute – the theming is really cool! We used Genie+ here to book Slinky Dog, Toy Story Mania, and Alien Swirling Saucers. We had dinner at Woody’s Lunch box – the homemade pop tarts were great – made with a shortbread style crust, so kind of like a cookie. My 2 year old couldn’t ride Slinky Dog, so my parents took her to the Disney Junior Dance party. Afterwards, several Disney Junior characters do a meet and greet outside the show – we met Vampirina, Fancy Nancy, Pluto and Doc McStuffins – all with very short lines. This was a great opportunity for the kids to meet characters so I definitely recommend it if you think your kids would be into it!
Animal Kingdom was a bit underwhelming for me, but we still had a lot of fun here. We rope-dropped this park (so we got in at 8:30). Many people rush to the Avatar ride at this point, but I didn’t think my kids would be into that so we headed to Dino Land – there is a cool Dinosaur playground there that I thought would be nice to play on before it got busy. However once we arrived there were told that the playground doesn’t open until “9:30 or 10” – so if you plan to rope drop AK, I don’t recommend going to Dino Land first. We had a lightning lane booked for the safari at 9:30, so on the way we got on Expedition Everest twice since there was no wait. The safari was really cool – just be mindful that even with Genie, the wait can be long. Even with a lightning late, we waited in line for 30 minutes because animals kept blocking the safari’s path.
Strollers and other gear
For our 3 kids (ages 5 and 2) we brought two city mini gt strollers – a single and a double. 2 strollers were absolutely essential for us – we would not have survived without them. I highly recommend bringing strollers that are lightweight and easy to fold if you plan on using Disney transportation. You have to fold the strollers to get on the buses so its nice to have one that folds easily (my single city mini folds with one hand!)
We also bought two mesh saddle bags to attach to the side of each stroller – they provided extra storage for water bottles, bubble wands, etc.
One thing we did to save money on this trip was buy a few souvenirs ahead of time. We bought Disney themed clothes, ears, bubble wands, autograph books, etc. These items are way more expensive in the park, so its better to buy ahead if you can!
These are the bubble wands we bought – they worked great! They were comparable in size to the ones being sold in the parks, for less than half the price! I also bought an additional bottle of bubble solution at the dollar store. **Important!!** Be sure to buy batteries and I recommend putting them in before you go – you need a screwdriver to open the battery access.
We swear by tag*a*long kids stroller handles and they are even MORE helpful in Disney World! When my kids wanted to walk, this gave them a safe place to hold on to and kept them close.
General Thoughts and Tips
- Be flexible! We ended up ditching our Monday morning in the parks in exchange for time at the resort and pool. We did not think to factor in time to explore the resort when we arrived and the girls were eager to check out the pool and didn’t want to wait for our planned rest day on Wednesday. I’m so glad we were willing and able to be flexible with these plans, because it was so nice to get a feel for the resort and have a slow morning at the start of our trip.
- Think about what YOUR kids want to do, and do it! When you plan a Disney trip it is SO easy to get sucked into what rides are crazy popular and feel the need to them just for that reason. I had to keep reminding myself what my kids would actually care about. For example, Seven Dwarves Mine Train always has a crazy long wait – people literally sprint to it when the park opens and you have to purchase an additional Individual Lightning Lane to ride it (and ADDITIONAL cost to Genie+!) I wanted to ride it at first and then realized – my kids really don’t know what they’re missing. They’re just as happy riding a different ride so I didn’t need to stress about the hassle of making sure they rode that one. Just something to keep in mind because its SO easy together caught up!
- Watch LOTS of Disney movies before your trip! Familiarize yourself with the rides and watch movies that are featured in rides in the park my girls had never seen Dumbo, Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh etc – so we made sure to watch those before the trip so they would be excited.
- Watch YouTube videos of rides before you go! You can search “POV” and the name of a ride and find a YouTube video of it. We did this the week leading up to the trip. We would make a game of it – I’d have them point to a spot on the map and I’d look up the ride and watch it.
- Familiarize yourself with the Disney app! The maps are fantastic and you can use the filters at the top to search for rides, wait times, shows, characters, food, bathrooms, etc.
- Watch YouTube videos on Genie+ .. this is so, so, important so you can be familiar with this on day 1 of your trip.
- Disney PhotoPass – Throughout the park there are professional photographers available to take your photos in front of iconic Disney spots and character meet and greets – it also includes your ride photos. We purchased the Memory Maker which is $99 for military families – the regular prices is $169 if purchased before your trip, and $199 if you purchase during your trip. Once purchased, everyone linked to your account can use the photo pass. This allows you unlimited photos in the park and downloads of all your photos. The photos are always free to take, but without the Photo Pass, you will need to purchase individual photos in order to download. I won’t say this is a MUST, but it was really nice to have, especially since we were traveling with a large group of family and it is so rare for us to get pictures all together. We got a lot of great family photos that we may not have gotten otherwise.
I think that’s all I have to share about Disney! Hopefully you’ve found this helpful – I’m happy to add to this if there are any additional questions!