We’re freshly home from spending a week in Disney World and I’m still on that ‘Disney high’… and missing so much about our days there. YES it was really hot (helloooo Florida in August) but we had SO much fun and made so many memories. I’m really proud of Kyle and I for pulling it off. Disney wasn’t ‘easy’ with 3 small kids but goodness was it worth it!!
I’m obviously an amateur but I got so many questions while we were in Disney and requests for a blog post about our trip, so I decided to share the knowledge I do have around Disney for others who may be planning and are as clueless as I was!
First and foremost, we planned this trip 9 months ago and started working with a Disney Travel Agent (Dionne Welsh – you can click here for her FB page and to contact her). We knew we’d likely be moving out of the area and away from the east coast as well as getting out of the Navy so we wanted to take advantage of Disney’s military discounts as well as the ability to drive versus fly. The best part about it all was we were able to make payments on our trip versus having to pay for it up front. We saved a TON of money being military, so if you’re a military family looking to book a Disney vacation, definitely take advantage of the discounts. Also, forget the idea that you can’t afford it because you probably CAN!
We started off thinking we couldn’t afford it at ALL. Most people told us to budget at LEAST $5k and we just knew that wasn’t possible. Who spends that much on a vacation with little kids anyways?! We knew Finn and Grady wouldn’t remember it and so we almost nixed the idea all together, until I saw a post in the Chesapeake Mom’s FB group recommending Dionne, so I reached out to her. I was pleasantly surprised that our trip for the resort AND Disney dining plan for our family for a week was only $1,600. Tickets to the parks with park hopper were separate but we received a HUGE military discount on those and Finn & Grady were free since they’re under 3!
So, here’s a few tips and points I can touch on to try and help you with your Disney vacation:
USE A TRAVEL AGENT
Reach out to Dionne if you need help or any Disney travel agent you know of! She was a ton of help. She booked everything for us from our resort and dining plan to all of our dining reservations and fast passes! I wouldn’t have been able to do this without her! We spent a lot of time on the phone and through email chatting details about how our family functions, if we’re morning people or not, talking about which rides we could all 5 go on, etc. She paid close attention to detail as well to make sure all of our reservations and fast passes in the parks were close to each other so we weren’t going back and forth from one end of the park to the other for things.
We were able to budget REALLY well on this trip. We had a set amount of money we had saved to use as spending money and we didn’t even come close to using all of it. A lot of people (and blogs I read) mentioned to set a certain amount of money aside and then double it since Disney is expensive. I have to say I disagree with doing that. Don’t stretch yourself too much! If you know what you can afford, stick to that and make sure you stay within your budget. Our budget also included gas money for the trip. Don’t forget to budget for things like that if you’re driving!
One way we budgeted really well was using gift cards. We were gifted a few of them before our trip from family and friends so when the kids wanted souvenirs, we used our gift cards. I came home with 58 cents left on one of them, LOL! I was pretty proud I didn’t even touch our spending budget for souvenirs since we had so many gift cards. We also didn’t let the kids go over board. I wanted the experience of Disney as a whole to be SO exciting to them, they didn’t think to ask for stuff every day. A lot of other mom’s mentioned their kids got something every single day at Disney. Our kids did not. We only walked into a gift shop TWICE. And each time we did, the kids got to pick out one toy, so we only came home with a few extra things versus a ton of toys and over priced trinkets they don’t need. If you know your kids will ask for something every time you walk into a gift shop, DON’T go into one with them! Our kids were so stimulated by the characters and rides and fireworks and parades that asking for toys really didn’t occur much.
You can get gift cards at Sam’s Club for a discount… so if you have a membership it’s worth it. We didn’t buy any gift cards on our own, we only used ones gifted to us. If you have months before your trip however and you don’t expect to receive gift cards as gifts, start buying a $25 Disney gift card every few weeks and stock pile them!
We purchased the Disney Dining Plan with our trip initially so our trip felt all inclusive. We did the middle tier called the “Disney Dining Plan.” We each had one table service, one quick service and 2 snacks each day included in our dining plan (and one alcoholic drink per person was included as well). Some of those Disney restaurants were as expensive as $160 for our family to eat dinner, so it felt nice to just swipe our Magic Bands and it be taken care of! We didn’t snack a lot at Disney so we had a TON of snack credits left at the end of our trip. If this happens to you too, you can cash them in for a bunch of snacks on your last day. Any quick service credits left over is equivalent to 3 snack credits if you’re cashing in. We had so much left over, we got to eat breakfast our last morning plus take home 8 snacks. It’s nice to know what you don’t use, you don’t lose.
RESORT INFO | PARK TRANSPORTATION | PARK INFO
We chose to stay at a value resort, which basically means one of the most affordable resorts on Disney property. We stayed at Pop Century and Kyle and I kept saying over and over how we couldn’t believe it was considered one of the “cheaper” resorts because it was INCREDIBLE! There were larger than life Disney characters and fun things everywhere! 3 different pools, a gift shop, bright colors, something everywhere you looked. I’d definitely stay there again in a heartbeat! The only downfall was the rooms were pretty tight – especially for a family of 5. BUT, they did just renovate so everything was brand new! Kyle and I kept wondering what some of the more expensive ones looked like if ours was considered “bottom of the barrel” LOL!
I got a lot of questions on transportation… if you drive to Disney, your car will NOT move the entire time you’re there. You don’t want to drive to the parks (um hi, its $25 to park your car at the parks…no). There are shuttles that come to your resort all day long to take you to all of the parks and back to your resort (ONLY if you’re staying on Disney property however). A bus for each park and they come back and forth ALL DAY. Some days you’d wait a long time and some of those bus rides were pretty awful… our family would get broken up on the busses if there wasn’t a ton of room. Kyle would have the stroller in the front of the bus (you have to break it down before getting on) and I’d have all 3 kids with me in the back. Every now and then you’ll get rude people who refuse to give up their seat but almost every time someone saw me standing with a sleeping child on me and another crying at my feet for me to pick him up too, someone would get up and say “take my seat”. Some of those people became my lifelines on the 15 minute trip, asking if they could help by holding the baby or picking up my sunglasses Finn threw for the 18th time in 60 seconds. Everyone has kids there…they get it. We made friends with so many people on those shuttle rides! We definitely rejoiced on our last bus ride in Disney though – it was WORK with 3 kids and breaking down a double stroller for those rides. But easier and cheaper than taking our own car.
Side note: the shuttles also take you to Disney Springs!
There are also Minnie cars you can rent if you want a more private ride.
Park info- Our favorite was Magic Kingdom for sure. So much to do, SO PRETTY, lots of stuff to do for kids our ages (8 months-5 years). All 3 kids got to ride every single ride with us. Epcot was a close second! Still so much we could do with all of our kids and a huge aquarium too where we easily spent 2 hours with shows, a ride and to wait out the rain. Hollywood Studios is one of my favorites because I love the old nostalgic Hollywood vibe and TOY STORY LAND! It was incredible… I could’ve ridden the Slinky Dog Dash over and over and seeing all of the Toy Story characters was so freaking cool! Animal Kingdom… was a huge dislike for our family. I’m not sure if it was because it was the HOTTEST day we were there or what but we just weren’t huge fans. The lines we did have to wait in were outside in the sun (lines at other parks all seemed to be indoors). There didn’t seem to be a ton to do there HOWEVER we only spent 3 hours at that park before leaving and a huge chunk of that time was spent doing a character breakfast at Tusker House. I think the heat had a lot to do with our decision that day to leave so early. The safari although pretty neat just felt like a glorified zoo to us. We went to the zoo the weekend before our Disney trip and our kids weren’t very thrilled over the animals. AK just seemed like a huge bummer to us :( That was the day we left and went back to MK for the evening!!
I heard so many things before we left on how Disney had cracked the whip on their stroller rules… so many people told me we couldn’t take our double BOB and I had straight up panic attacks at the thought of not being able to take it. HOWEVER – there seemed to be no real “rules” at all. People had the same stroller we had and nobody said a word.
I will say, even if you have “older” kids (I’m talking Aubree’s age of 5), you will need a stroller for them too. Luckily our double BOB holds 3 kids – one in each seat and then Aubree on the front. I think she rode on the stroller probably 95% of the time. Not to mention when she did walk, she’s SO SLOW…she held us up a lot, haha so Kyle would just say “jump on Aubree!” and we could get around faster and know where she was! Side note: lots of kids were on leashes at Disney and I can see WHY haha!!
If you’re bringing a stroller, make sure you have it folded up in plenty of time to hop on your shuttle/bus ride to and from your resort.
There’s stroller parking near every ride and restaurant – you can’t bring them into restaurants or onto rides. We always felt pretty safe with leaving our stuff in our stroller and we kept a bright orange bandana tied to the handle so we could spot ours out of the sea of strollers!
If you need a stroller but don’t have one/don’t want to travel with yours, you CAN rent them there through your resort!
I’ve said it before on my Instagram and I’m saying it again: character dining was our FAVORITE PART OF DISNEY! Other than the fireworks show at Magic Kingdom…that was straight up MAGICAL and made me cry… I’m all teary eyed just THINKING about that dang firework show. Sigh. Anyways… if you’re doing the Disney dining plan, character dining is a must! It’s so great because it gives you a break from the heat (we went in August so it was crucial to have AC breaks) and you get to meet so many characters who come right up to your table and spend time with your kids. The best part? Not having to wait in line forever to meet those same characters in the park! We waited an hour and a half to meet Wreck it Ralph and Venelope one day and I almost died. Straight up SAT DOWN in line with a sleeping baby on me because I just couldn’t take it anymore. After that line we vowed to not wait in line anymore for characters – no matter who they were.
Our favorite dining experience was at Hollywood & Vine in Hollywood Studio’s. They do a Disney Jr. play and dine that is AMAZING. I’m pretty sure the characters rotate but when we went, we got to meet Fancy Nancy (I LOVE HER!!!), Doc McStuffins, Vampirina (Aubree is obsessed) and Goofy from Mickey and Roadster Racers (Finn’s favorite). It was the only dining experience we had where the characters came around to the table more than once. I think we got 3 rotations with each of them. The downside to that is the kids didn’t really eat because it was stimulation overload but they had so much fun and when we left, there were lines around the corner that were easily 60 minute waits to meet those same characters.
We also really loved Tusker House at Animal Kingdom (the park itself was not our favorite but Tusker House had incredible food and great character interactions! They’re all dressed in safari outfits).
Crystal Palace at MK was great – the kids loved Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore and Piglet! Tigger even got Kyle to laugh a ton, score! They did a cute thing where the kids all follow the characters around the dining room which was fun.
We did princess dining at Akershus in Epcot and that was so amazing…more so for me I think than Aubree because I grew up with those princess movies! The princesses interacted so well with the kids and the boys were HUGE fans of the pretty girls, haha.
I also highly recommend Chef Mickey’s at The Contemporary. Awesome food (I’m talking prime rib with horseradish sauce) and great character interactions. That might’ve been the most expensive dining we did had we not have been on the dining plan.
Bottom line on character dining: ITS A MUST! Even if you’re not on a Disney dining plan, budget for at least ONE character dining!
I read in a blog a few months before we left to pack each childs outfit for each day in a gallon ziplock back and I’m SO GLAD I DID THIS! I actually packed all 3 kids’ outfits in one bag per day so I wasn’t wasting a bunch of bags. Each day they had their outfit, undies, a bow for Aubree’s hair and all the dirty stuff went back into that bag at the end of the day. It kept us organized which was a must with our small room and I was able to pull out each outfit bag the night before so Kyle could dress the kids as I was getting ready and packing the diaper bag every morning. It saved so much time! Bonus: it saved so much room in our suitcase by getting all of the air out of each bag before ziplocking it and throwing it in!
I’m a list maker so I wrote out everything we needed and each person’s initial in the family next to it so I could keep track of if I had packed each item for each person. Example: Swim Suits J|K|A|F|G. Once I had packed the right amount of swim suits for each person, their initial got marked through. It helped me to stay organized and make sure I wasn’t missing someone. I did this for everything, swim suits, PJ’s, and on my list had “Monday J|K|A|F|G” “Tuesday J|K|A|F|G.” etc… it really helped to me to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything OR over packing. I also made sure I packed back up clothes for each kid incase they got wet at one of the splash pads, etc.
One tip I received that came in handy was the fact you can use your snack credits on Starbucks! Every day we got Starbucks at the parks (the Starbucks is always near the entrance in some sort of bakery type place) and made sure we took advantage because a snack credit is a snack credit…so you’re using a credit if you get a grande but you’re using the same credit if you get a TRENTA! Which we did :) haha! We did a trenta cold brew with TWO SHOTS in it each day for each of us and all it cost was one snack credit a piece. So worth it.
Anything with the purple and white checkered logo on menu’s is a snack credit. Our favorite snacks were the mickey pretzel with cheese, popcorn, starbucks (not just for coffee but for their fun cookies and pastries too) and the fun brownie sundaes at our resort! There were so many options but we honestly didn’t snack a lot while we were there!
Follow @brbgoingtodisney on Instagram. She was my BIGGEST source of knowledge. I’m not even going to say anything further on her, just FOLLOW HER!! And watch her highlights on each park. She is a wealth of Disney knowledge!
If you have small kids, take advantage of the park hopper tickets. Go to a park in the morning, come back to your room in the early afternoon for naps and a long AC cool down…go to the pool at your resort… rest! Then go to MK in the evening when the sun goes down… the crowd lessens so much, the temp goes down and the firework show… I just have no words. You have to see it for yourself. It makes for a long day to do a park earlier in the day then MK at night too but its so worth it. Also, be aware that the shuttles will have LONG LINES after the MK firework show and it’ll take you a while to get out of the park. Everyone tries to run to the exit…no need to try and hustle out of there because you’ll be stuck in the funnel of people trying to leave!
Choose a night to stay for the firework show at MK. It makes for a late night but it is SO WORTH IT. It feels like real true magic. Be prepared to cry! They start at 9pm but we grabbed a spot for them around 7:30. It fills up QUICK!
There’s a First Aid area near the entrance of every park. This came in handy when Aubree started to get a blister and needed bandaids. I brought bandaids but used them all on myself when I got blisters earlier in the day (which also leads to the point of bringing comfortable shoes. My Vans weren’t cut out for all the walking we were doing). The First Aid center gave me a bunch of bandaids for free!
Also next to the First Aid center is a Baby Changing area…if you have babies or toddlers still in diapers, USE THIS AREA! A friend told me about it right before we left and I wouldn’t have known about it if it weren’t for her. It was an air conditioned building with changing tables (comfy plush ones) in one room, another room filled with high chairs and a TV with Disney Jr on, another room where you could purchase formula, bottles, snacks, baby food/pouches, etc. and men and women restrooms. It was a great place to go for diaper changes in a clean area with AC and a quick snack break for the kids..and a chance to cool off! At MK they’re up front closer to the entrance near the red and white umbrellas! It’s kind of tucked away/hidden.
Once we got to our room, we decided we wanted things like bananas, yogurt for the kids in the morning, vodka (LOL) and mixers (since drinks were anywhere between $10-14 a pop at the resort bar) and we needed extra water, diapers and wipes so I downloaded the Shipt app and ordered everything from Target and someone met me in the lobby of our resort and handed it all over to me! SO EASY AND CONVENIENT! You can also do this with Amazon Now and Insta Cart! So if you find you need things, you don’t have to leave the resort to get them :)
MY FAVORITE SOUVENIR of all time was these silhouettes of the kids we got from a little silhouette cart in Magic Kingdom. I THINK they have these carts at all of the parks but I only saw it at MK! The kids one by one sit down in a chair (the boys sat on my lap) and a man was there cutting out their silhouettes by just staring at them for a minute or so. He was incredibly talented. It was super affordable too. You can either do each child individually or all 3 together in one frame. We chose to do all 3 in one frame and it was around $45 after taxes. So inexpensive for something I’ll literally cherish for all of my years. I loved it so much I hung it in the foyer of our home. I’ll definitely get them done again next time we go in 4 or 5 years :) Also: please note this sweet man who did their silhouettes got Grady’s double chin. Slow clap…and tears…because I LOVE that darn double chin so much!!
We drove with our kids and while it was pretty stressful (Finn. It’s always Finn), I’d do it again. We saved a ton of money by driving instead of flying.
Before we left I bought a huge popcorn box from Dollar Tree and filled it with tons of different things for the kids for the drive. When a kid got fussy, I reached in and grabbed something out for them. Our favorite was the Water Wow Pads… they kept our kids busy the longest! Just fill the little pen with water and you’re good to go. Once the pages dry they can go back and re-color them. Switch the books for each kid so they get to “color” different things.
The popcorn box also had things like skittles, M&M’s, a Frozen notebook and crayons, happy meal toys I hoarded for months before our trip still in the packaging, Target dollar spot items like glow sticks, stickers, window clings, wax strings for creating things, toy cars, etc.
Speaking of glow sticks…do yourself a favor and buy these at the dollar store or Target. They were in the Target dollar bins over the summer so I stocked up on them. Cheaper than if you buy them at Disney and they were a huge hit for our kids while we waited an hour and a half for the firework show to start at MK! I even found thick glow sticks with a mini mouse on the end of each one for $1 at Target.
Also before we left I bought fans for our stroller which were AMAZING. They had high power and I cannot tell you how many times they got knocked off our stroller from people bumping into them or the kids kicking them off, fell onto the concrete hard and never broke! They were well worth the money. Click here for the fans I bought. I bought two of them. Best part? They’re rechargeable! We charged them every night so they were good to go the next day. They seemed to last 8 hours on high speed.
I also purchased a misting fan from Amazon because I knew they’d easily be double the cost at Disney and I was right. Plus this one worked great. Aubree kept this one all day while the boys had the other fans on them.
I read an entire book on the drive there and back. Bring a book! You won’t be sorry. I read Memory Making Mom which was great and a good road trip read.
PLEASE COMMENT BELOW