Last week, my family made the all-American pilgrimage to see The Mouse in Florida...and I have to say, it wasn't as exhausting as others told me it would be. With two four-year-olds in tow, as well as grandparents, cousins, aunts and an uncle -- 11 people in all -- we spent a week experiencing as much of what DisneyWorld has to offer as we could.
To keep the "Most Magical Place on Earth" from becoming the most stressful, here are a few real-life tips from our travels that might help your family, too:
Use a Travel Agent - The best decision we made, hands-down, was to outsource our travel planning to a travel agent who specializes exclusively in Disney travel. Our travel agent, Melissa with Mouseketrips, knew all the ins and out of the parks and how Disney's pricing structures work. More importantly, she watched our trip and when Disney dropped the price, she automatically canceled our original itinerary and re-booked it at the lower price. She also made all of our dining reservations to maximize the meal plan, scheduled our days based on historical load factors from previous years (yes, actual visitor data!), and even reserved a stroller for our kids. And it didn't cost us a penny more than doing it ourselves. In fact, it may saved us money...and a lot of time.
Rent A Stroller - Even if your kid doesn't use a stroller at home, get one. It gives them a place to rest and lets you move faster through the parks to beat the crowds. We got a double jogger for about $75 for the week, which was worth every penny. Also, it's a handy place to stash your bags, extra water bottles and other goodies that you accumulate while roaming the Magic Kingdom and beyond.
Prioritize & Plan - The main promise that we made ourselves before leaving was to not kill ourselves on this trip and to just accept that there would be things that we wouldn't get to see. If you're there for less than a week, it's not humanly possible to see everything without killing yourself. Everyone was asked what they most wanted to see/do, and those were our top priority. Between that list, Melissa's suggestions and a tour schedule from a book I grabbed at our local Barnes & Noble, we had our "hit list" and everything else just fell into place.
Take Daily Breaks - Akin to prioritizing, taking breaks every afternoon helped us tremendously. At about 2:00 p.m. each day, we retreated to the hotel for a quick nap and some fun time in the pool. Honestly, I think the kids enjoyed the pool about as much as they enjoyed meeting Mickey Mouse, so it was a win-win for us all. Also, the parks stay open really late (midnight or later) so this helps you take advantage of the smaller crowds and lower temperatures late in the evenings without depriving the kiddos of too much sleep.
Book Sit-Down Meals - We booked one reservation each day for a table-service meal. It gave us an opportunity to rest our feet and eat a good square meal in air-conditioned bliss. It also kept us from filling our bellies with too much junk and fast food. (Although I still gained a few pounds on the trip!)