About 6 weeks ago I got the idea to go to WDW. I had no idea what I was getting into so I just dove in and lo and behold there was a lot to catch up on. So, with that, I thought it was really helpful to read other experiences so I’m paying forward what I learned from the eyes of a first timer.
I think usefulness of advice is actually only helpful to the extent it applies to you and your travel partners so here’s a bit about who we are:
We are Me, DH, DD9 who live in a busy downtown area (think CL8-10 all the time), have no car, walk miles per day. DD9 is a thrill seeker and we do not leisurely tour as a general rule.
Some of the most helpful advice we implemented were the following:
1 - Trust the plan and optimize. We love data science so the trust part was easy but our first day I panicked a bit when we fell behind schedule because it didn’t occur to me to optimize as we checked things off and went along. Doing this made a world of difference. For this reason, I would suggest not trying to hold certain steps stable and evaluate if at all possible. The park days where we had flexibility were definitely our most successful. Jedi Training really goofed up our TP but other than that, it was great. Even when we didn’t follow to a T, we could just check off what we did instead and optimize to see the next suggestions.
2 - Plan to use Disney transport but be ready to abandon. Sometimes the buses were fine. Sometimes they were late. Sometimes they were full. We set a “must arrive by” time for each bus and then called a Lyft at that very minute no matter what. We used each half the time. Once was because the bus was full, once we cut timing too close, and once we just wanted to be in bed as soon as possible. There were two other times we used Lyft because we were switching hotels and buses don’t go from resort to resort.
3 - Park bag. We used a sling backpack for DH, a Hip pack for me, and a cross body purse for DD9. It was perfect. In our bags we had ponchos, a couple of camping towels (the small shami kinds), a water filter straw, a water bottle, snacks, instant coffee, lip balm, sunscreen, autograph book, sharpies, bandaids. DH and I also had on SpiBelts to throw our phones or sunglasses into while on rides.
4 - First Aid. Wish I knew more about this before the trip. Still snowing at home, it did not occur to me to bring allergy medication. Enter day one and I’m a mess. I look up FA to find that there is a single station in every park. Not so convenient. HOWEVER, once there, it’s amazing. I visited every one. No wait. Super nice and helpful. Free allergy med - dispensed in a nice little cup. One day my DD9 whammed into the handle on Soarin’ so we stopped by to get my daily dose and her checked out. They gave her an ice pack, some kids Motrin, and a sticker and we were in and out in minutes and we could carry on with our day.
5 - Hotels. I wish I knew reasonable comparisons between the resort hotels. We stay at Hiltons so Moderate Disney Resort was not on par. Actually, we stayed at the Hilton for 2 nights at I kept saying - this is so not like a Hilton. The Hilton Buses, BTW, were awful, slow, infrequent, always full - total fail. Also, when we needed something, I think because of the size of the resorts, it just took a long time for someone to drop off extra cups, towels, etc. It wasn’t a huge deal b/c we didn’t spend much time in room, but I will say, try to anticipate everything you will need ahead of time - not when you need it. If I had time to plan, which I did not, in retrospect, I probably would have planned out a split stay where I stayed at a Boardwalk resort for Epcot, HS, AK, and then a monorail resort for MK or some similar strategy. I did not anticipate the difficulty of getting around WDW AT ALL. It is difficult and probably the most frustrating part of the entire trip. Also, be forewarned. If you stay at CBR and you need to go to the lobby/concierge for any reason, you have to take an internal shuttle and there is NO SHUTTLE TO PARKS from the Lobby/concierge. Crazymaking. One morning, we went to drop off our bags and found all this out on the fly despite us being on the phone with them several times - no one mentioned this. DD and I end up hopping on park bus without DH who had to take all luggage on internal shuttle, then another internal shuttle to a room section stop, then on to the park. He was half an hour late for EMH - meanwhile, DD and I finish 3 attractions before he shows up.
6 - Lost and Found. We left a water bottle at Trails End. Turns out you can’t call. I wasn’t about to trek back over there so I left messages with Wilderness Resort Lost and Found and have still not heard back. My only conclusion is that it is gone forever. So frustrating. Keep up with your stuff I suppose is the moral to that story.
7 - DAS. First of all, I hate that they call it this and they tend to say the whole thing instead of using the acronym. We needed one and the CM that set us up was amazingly patient and understanding and got us on our way quickly. Using it was a breeze. If you are on the fence, I’d say get one if you think you might need it. We only used ours a handful of times, but they were lifesavers when we were hitting a rough patch while in the parks. Also, you may know your kid and their patterns and their coping strategies at home, maybe even while on vacation, but Disney, I will contend, is a different story. Be prepared to not know your kid on Disney.
8 - Early Parks ROCK - Yes, it is worth it to get there for RD and be ahead of the pack. Two days I did this well and the other two I did not. It sure did make a difference. ALSO it puts you ahead of most people’s schedule. We ended up doing lunches and dinners at least an hour or more ahead of most so we were in less crowded and faster positions in QS and TS restaurants.
9- Mobile Ordering ROCKED - when it worked. Disney tech seems to be overall glitchy. If in a park, if you uninstall and reinstall the app and sign back it, it tended to fix any issues. Closing and opening wasn’t cutting it.
10 - People told me I couldn’t do it all - But boy did I try. I think we typically got 13 things done a day with the exception of a really rockin day at MK but I think that was weird.
11 - Choose your footwear wisely. I thought, being walkers, we’d be fine. Oh man. It’s really the standing that will kill your feet. Bring good shoes. Bring several pairs. Best way to fight sore feet is to wear different shoes each day because each shoe rubs a slightly different way.
12 - Souvenir strategy. We bought Pins off ebay and gave them as rewards throughout trip. We brought pennies and quarters. Both of these really helped us out in terms of the constant barrage of things to buy - I knew it would be bad but I was not prepared for how bad. I resorted to having DD9 make a list of things she saw so she could decide what she wanted on the last day. Worked out great.
13 - Photopass - totally worth it. Made us stop and smell the roses while waiting or getting our pic taken by the photographers. It was great. Also, if you don’t see one show up, visit the photo stand and they can help you find it. Worked out great - especially for getting our Jedi training pics culled.
14 - Food Allergies and Food quality. Aside from Dole Whip, we didn’t have any spectacular food. We also live in a large city with a lot of fantastic food options so we weren’t expecting to go to WDW for the food. We mostly tried to eat as much of our own food as possible. However, the few experiences we had with Dining, yes, they were accommodating to our dairy allergy when asked. But, I wouldn’t say it was amazing or over the top or even good in some cases. Mickey Allergy waffles are also gluten and egg free so they weren’t really good IMO, but if we were in a city where we couldn’t get diary free waffles, I would have thought this was cool. Same goes for the dairy free ice cream and enjoy life cookies. That being said, at least there were options for which I’m grateful.
Landry’s card was super helpful in AK. We went early, had a Ressie, but place was packed and people with Ressies were waiting. We walked up, flashed our card, got seated at an excellent table right away. AND we got points!
15 - Park Day selection. As first timers, I think we were just going with CL and EMH and got lucky, but I would say to seriously consider the order in which you are doing the parks. We started with HS where it’s not open as late and it’s easy to take a long mid day break. We moved on to AK and left early, then did Epcot and MK. It really worked out that HS and AK were sort of our “training” parks so that by the time we got to the bigger and busier parks we were in a groove and knew what to do.
16 - Packing cubes. I thought some of y’all were just neurotic, but no. Packing cubes are the bomb. It was glorious just pulling out the day’s cube and getting everyone out the door with no fuss. We also had one bag with just food. Because we were switching hotels twice it was really a lifesaver in terms of not having to pack/repack a ton of stuff. Shout out to Southwest for free checked bags to make possible the food bag. Shout out to Target for carrying Wine cubes and whiskey in plastic bottles!
17 - Maps - I would highly suggest either printing them out or grabbing them on your way in. Sometimes the app just isn’t so great and it’s nice to pull out a hard copy quickly to orient yourself. Also helped the kid see where we were and what she had done/not done yet easily.
18 - Gift Cards - I wasn’t going to mess with this but I ended up doing it because BJs had a discount on cards AND we got extra cashback from Discover that month from warehouse stores. We bought what we thought we might spend, consolidated into a large one we would use to pay off balance at hotel and small one we would take to the park and we carried an extra blank to transfer to if we lost one or some such other thing happened. This was great. Until we got to CBR (see above). One does not simply go to the lobby to pay the night’s balance. It took forever. If you go to WDW without a car, do not stay at CBR.
I’ve seen some questions come up about what kind of food to bring and I thought our selection worked out nicely, so here it is.
Oatmeal packets - breakfast in a coffee cup and on the go!
Fruit cups - also for breakfasts
Veggie chips - for hotel snacking
Meat sticks - loved having these in the parks - nice single serving ones
Fruit/Veg squeeze packs - easy to tote and gets the daily 5 in
Instant coffee - found some amazing organic single packs on amazon - free hot water at all QS
Tune snack packs - for quick lunches
Peanut butter packets
Quaker Oats breakfast bars
Olive snack packs - we might be weird, but all three of us love these
Sorry this is long, but hopefully helpful to someone! I’ll post our itineraries shortly!