Going to Disney! How to prep your family

When it comes to planning a trip to Walt Disney World, there's a wealth of online information. But how do you decide what last-minute tips will work for your family?

Disney-prep

Anna and Avery are prepping for their trip to Walt Disney World. Photo: Tracy Chappell

This time next week, we’ll be bursting through the doors at Walt Disney World. I haven’t packed for any of us yet, am up to my eyeballs in work, and am still sifting through reams of tips (more on this later), but you know what? I’m getting excited.

Read more: The ultimate guide to Walt Disney World>

I’m not one of those moms who’s been mentally planning a Disney trip for my family since I gave birth, but I figured we’d do it—once—when the time was right. Like now. My daughters are six and eight and still embroiled in princess infatuation (well, Anna is on the cusp of outgrowing it, which is why we’re seizing the moment), but I have faith they’re now old enough to walk around Disney and wait in lines and not have a meltdown mid-day (though that last one truly is with fingers crossed).

Better yet, we’re headed to Orlando not just to visit Disney World, but we get to enjoy a couple of other family-friendly attractions: Kennedy Space Center (which I’m really pumped about!) and Gatorland (which terrifies my kids by the name alone, but I hear is a ton of fun).

So we have a busy five days in Orlando, but tackling Disney has definitely consumed most of my energy in the last couple of weeks. There’s a lot to think about and it seems that every person and every website (and there are a zillion of them!) has new tips and tricks that you simply must take advantage of. Even as recently as this morning, I heard another suggestion that no one has ever mentioned before. In some ways, there’s simply too much info out there to do anything but boggle your mind, especially at this late date. But if you’re planning your trip six months ahead of time or more, you’ll find lots of resources wherever you look to ensure you’ll get good deals and the chance to pre-book special meals, meet-and-greets, and events that will make this trip amazing for your family.

Read more: A skeptic’s guide to Disney>

We aren’t doing that trip, necessarily—with only two days to spend there, I don’t expect this to be the Disney experience of a lifetime—but I’m sure we will have a blast regardless. I have the added benefit of my kids’ close to zero expectations of what “Disney” entails. I’ve somehow kept them in a bubble of ignorance about the Happiest Place on Earth, and I figure that whatever we manage to do and see will be awesome and, really, beyond what they’re imagining (which I think is Canada’s Wonderland with princesses).

To simplify our time, I decided to devote our two Disney days to Magic Kingdom only. I think it houses most of the stuff the girls are interested in, and this will save us from racing around to cover two parks in two days and leave us all exhausted for the rest of our trip (we are also staying off-site). I’ve managed to snag meet-and-greets with Cinderella, Rapunzel and Ariel, as well as a couple of rides I think the kids will enjoy (this gets dicey because Avery is very reluctant to go on rides with any amount of speed, while Anna has recently discovered a love of small-ish thrill rides), and Enchanted Tales with Belle, which I hear is a must-do.

Read more: Disney fairies vs. Disney princesses>

When I talked to someone at Disney a couple of weeks ago, we were simply out of luck for the much-discussed character dining because we were booking late, but I was told to keep checking. That paid off and we managed to book a character breakfast on our second day at 1900 Park Fare, which features characters like Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter. I’ve heard it’s lots of fun (and I like that it’s princess-free!). We also didn’t get in to the Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique to get the girls all done up, which doesn’t break my heart, to be honest. As I said, we’ll take what we can get, and check into things for availability when we get there.

So many people have told me that Disney is a great time, even for skeptics (see my colleague Leah Rumack’s practically perfect take on this perspective). So I’m planning to approach it with my mind wide open, the enthusiasm of a child and a refusal to get stressed out by all of the must-remember items filed in my brain. It’ll be great. As soon as I get us packed and on the plane.

Dare I ask: Do you have any last-minute tips for a family leaving for Disney this week?

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005. Read more of her Tracy’s mama memoir posts and tweet her @T_Chappell.

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