Disney Tips from Parents Who Have Been There…And Lived to Tell Us About It

by Shannon Hembree on April 15, 2011

Disney World. It elicits both excitement and fear in the hearts of parents everywhere. It’s supposed to be the happiest place on earth, and sometimes it is, but it is also the birthplace of some of the most monumental meltdowns ever. 

When you ask parents about the best way to do Disney, you get answers that range from short and sweet to strategic military battle campaigns. The one thing that stood out among all of the comments we got when we asked for recommendations is that what works for one family doesn’t always work for another (hence, the competing recommendations in places).

Below are some of the tips parents shared with us. If you have tips of your own, email them to us at info@mamasagainstdrama.com, and we will do our best to add them to the list.

Reading Recommendations

  • I’ve heard you HAVE to get the book called The Unofficial Guide to Disney. They update it every year. I know two families who went the same weekend. The family who used the book said it was indeed magical. The family that showed up without a plan waited in lines for hours and was not happy.
  • I have heard great things about the unofficial guide as long as it’s used with a healthy dash of go with the flow.
  • Birnbaum’s guide to Disney. The best ever. The bible for Disney….

Getting To & Around Disney

  • If your kids are a little older and okay with waiting once they get to the airport, the Disney Magical Express (bus from airport to your Disney hotel) is great. They handled all our luggage, including picking it up from baggage claim and getting it to our room. It cost us a little more to stay on the property, but we saved a lot not renting a car, so it all evened out.
  • Rent the strollers. You can park them anywhere and leave the park – take your receipt and come back later to get another…no extra cost.
  • If you need a stroller, I would recommend taking your own. We did not need one, but I have heard that if you rent, you can only use it inside the park, so kids would still have to walk from the park to transportation (disturbing if they are asleep). I’ve also heard it’s a hassle to return them, especially at park closing.
  • If you are bringing your stroller in the parks, tie something distinctive around a handle or something along those lines. They have “stroller parking” for a lot of the rides, and it can be hard to spot your stroller among the thousands of others.

Characters (Theirs, Not Yours.)

  • Reserve a princess breakfast with characters…Stake out the breakfast/character visit and plant yourselves at a place on the parade route early for a good view and you’re set. Other advice – go to Disneyland Paris next time where they serve alcohol at all the food kiosks.
  • I definitely recommend the storybook dining in Norway at Epcot. Other character sightings: when you enter a park, get one of the sheets that has the daily events… at the bottom it will tell you character locations & times.
  • We loved the Winnie the Pooh breakfast at Crystal Palace. We got great pictures of our kids with the characters and actually really enjoyed the food.

The Parks

  • If you go to the Animal Kingdom, go to the safari ride first. You’ll see the most animals then (in the morning) and if you wait until later than that, the lines get too long.
  • If you are doing the parks in the morning, it really is worth going early and waiting at the gates for the parks to open. The Fast Pass tricks are awesome, but I would say at the Magic Kingdom, beeline for the crazy line rides like the Dumbo ride. You might even get to ride it twice without waiting.
  • Fast Passes were also great. Make sure to get them early…If you have a ride that you definitely do not want to miss (e.g. Space Mountain) go get a Fast Pass first thing upon arriving.
  • If your kids are early risers, I would say get to whichever park you’re going to that day as early as possible. Magic hours are great for that.
  • For smaller kids, check out the Boneyard in the Animal Kingdom. It has playground-type equipment, but also a sandy area where they can dig and “excavate” fossils.
  • If your kids can hang at night, a great time to ride is while everyone else is watching the parade/fireworks. We did do the ‘wishes’ fireworks program one night & it was AWESOME to see Tinkerbell fly off the castle! We also went to ‘Fantasmic’ at Hollywood studios – AWESOME as well.
  • Let little kids take their time with little kid things. Near the Winnie the Pooh ride, there is a water splash area. It wasn’t what we would have thought would be the pinnacle of Disney excitement, but our daughter couldn’t get enough of it.
  • We loved the Winnie the Pooh ride – it is for small children, but it’s different enough that my husband and I also enjoyed it.
  • The Peter Pan ride was darker than I expected and actually scared my younger kids.
  • A Bug’s Life can be too intense for small kids.
  • The Toy Story ride at MGM is unbelievable. We all loved it. Get there right when the park opens and go straight to that line. We got in line right away and also got Fast Passes while we were in line so we could come back later and do it again.
  • Mickey’s PhilharMagic is really cool.
  • The Buzz Lightyear ride is great and not scary at all. And, you get to shoot your friends and family in other spaceships.
  • The Magic Carpets of Aladdin in the Magic Kingdom are just like the Dumbo ride, only without the hassle and crazy lines!
  • Don’t don’t don’t do the Jurassic Park ride at Universal with your kids unless they are older and are okay with dinosaurs chasing you. It was terrifying!

The Shows

  • A lot of people think only about the rides and skip over the shows, but the shows are amazing!
  • The Lion King show is spectacular, and it is very kid-friendly.
  • The Monsters Inc. comedy show is great. They really involve the audience, and my kids both loved it.
  • The Belle show at MGM is GREAT!


  • As soon as you have booked your stay, book dining reservations, including character dining. Everything fills up fast! You can make reservations online and also see what is available.
  • If you’re having trouble getting a dinner reservation, try Artist Point in the Wilderness Lodge. The food and wine were excellent, and we didn’t have a problem getting reservations.


  • Stay at one of the hotels along the monorail.
  • If you have a big family, check out the cabins at Fort Wilderness. Our cabin had a full-size bed, bunk beds, and a murphy bed. It also had its own kitchen, which was great for us. The campground is huge, so look into renting one of their golf carts before you get there (like anything else, they book up early).
  • Everyone says the monorail is great, but we also had a really good experience staying at the Wilderness Lodge. Granted, we were there with small kids, so our main destination was the Magic Kingdom, but the boat was always timely, and we never had a problem getting a seat.

What to Put in Your Daily Bag of Tricks

  • Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen! And hats!
  • Bring a backpack with snacks/drinks/treats!!!! A MUST!!!!
  • Bring a little towel in your bag or backpack. If your kids go on a water ride or smaller ones splash in play areas, it really comes in handy.
  • Pack wet wipes, hand sanitizers, and tissues in your bag. Those things always seemed to come in handy.


  • Come armed with lots of patience and always leave earlier than you think you should for dinner reservations, etc. Everything at Disney seems to move a little slower (except restaurant service when they are trying to get you out the door to free up your table for the next guest!). You’re better off getting there early than stressing out about being late.
  • Parents, get out by yourselves at night! Whether you go with relatives who can help with babysitting, have friends in the area, or can make use of the babysitting service Disney recommends, just do it. My husband and I did a nice romantic dinner one night and a roller coaster night the next. Using that babysitting service might have been the best money we spent that whole vacation!
  • Know what you and your kids are able to handle. If you are okay with dusk ‘till dawn touring, then by all means, make a list of a million things you want/have to do, and go go go. If you have little kids or want to minimize the crazy (to the extent you can), do a park in the morning, go to the pool in the afternoon, and play-it-by-ear for the evening.
  • If you are staying on the property and see a souvenir you love, but aren’t sure if you should get it because you don’t want to carry it around – they will deliver your purchase right to your room (at least some places).
  • If your daughter is going to freak out at a later time about having something in her hair, don’t let them put “pixie dust” in your child’s hair (They did this as we were walking around a shop.). My daughter loved it at the time, but lost it at bath time when I commented that I was having a hard time getting it out.

And last but not least, our personal favorite:

  • Boxes of wine. And earplugs.

People do Disney in different ways. Some people do what they can and call it quits at the first sign of kid crankiness. Others go commando and are in it from Magic Hours in the morning until the last firework fades. Find the plan that best fits you. Above all, be flexible. And of course, have a magical day (Note, we came dangerously close to triggering our gag reflex with that last bit.)

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