Going to Disney World was a family tradition for me as a child. My mom and dad would take my sister and I there every summer religiously and we’d spend hours walking, exploring, and stuffing our faces.
Now that I’m a mother, I’ve thought about the traditions I want to create for my son. I wasn’t sure I wanted Disney to be one of them because I had dated ideas about what it was like. But when the opportunity came to see Disney through a different lens, I jumped at it.
After a three-day trip stopping at Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Epcot, my perspective has changed and I now know the best and most efficient ways to partake in the storied resort without getting overwhelmed or having to face a major meltdown from my son.
While this wasn’t my first time at Disney, it was my most enjoyable trip. I’m not alone as my son now asks to “make a deal with me” at least once a week in a bid to convince me to take him back. Here’s how you can plan an enjoyable trip to Disney if you’re a first-timer.
Plan the Details Using the App
I’ve never been enthusiastic about planning a trip to Disney considering I have motion sickness, and I didn’t think they had much to do beyond rides. This experience has shown me how much more there truly is to do, which makes it more appealing but also intense. I think the key is to focus on what you and your family enjoy and plan a trip based on that.
Starting with accommodations, if you’re a resort type of person, Disney has over 25 resorts of different sizes you can choose from. We stayed at Disney’s Coronado Springs, which was convenient because we had easy access to restaurants, pools, and transportation to the parks.
The My Disney Experience mobile app also made it easy to streamline all of our reservations and activities. The app can be used to manage your itinerary, organize all tickets and passes, as well as share your reservations with other people on your trip.
You also want to see whether there are any new or special rides and exhibitions happening at the parks while planning your fun. We got an exclusive sneak peak of Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana, which is set to open October 16. It was a mystical experience and one both parents and kids are likely to appreciate. In addition, we were able to see behind-the-scenes footage of all the work they’re putting into Tiana’s Bayou Adventure ride based on The Princess and the Frog movie, which is coming to the Magic Kingdom in late 2024.
Use the Lightning Lane
If you’re a budgeter like myself, you might be looking for ways to cut costs. I have never bought a lightning lane entry at Disney but I will moving forward. Not having to wait sometimes hours in line is worth every dollar and dime. The lightning lane saved us time, minimized our frustration and bought my feet extra time too.
This go around, there were no complaints from my son about the walking and only a few about the ride wait times. And as an impatient parent, that is a win.
There are two ways to buy the lighting lane entry and that’s through Disney Genie+, a free tool in the my Disney Experience app that helps you navigate the parks, or by purchasing them individually for each ride.
I also appreciate how tech-forward Disney has become considering I could use this cute watch called the MagicBand to enter the lightning lane and get into the parks. The watch could also be used to open my hotel room door and my son had a field day with that.
Schedule Adult Activities
If you’re going to Disney with kids, it’s easy to end up spending your entire day going on Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. It’s ok to be honest and admit that isn’t always enjoyable doing only what your kids want and can suck the fun out of the experience for you; I promise I won’t tell or judge.
One thing I didn’t realize about Disney is that they have so many adult-friendly activities to do. For instance, we went to an Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey (the most successful Black-owned distillery globally) tasting experience at Belle Vue Lounge and they had the most refreshing cocktails and finger foods. The venue had an elegant, mature vibe, which can be a nice change of pace when you want a more relaxing and intimate experience. Whether you’re going to Disney with kids, your girls, or for a date weekend, this is an enjoyable spot to visit. Bonus tip–if you’re bringing the kids, have a bag of Legos or coloring book on deck so you can enjoy your cocktails in peace.
Disney Springs was another adult-friendly spot with a range of restaurants and shops. Get your cameras ready because they have stunning art they commissioned from artists placed all around. Disney Springs gave me brunch or date night vibes and I appreciated the eclectic food options. Whether you’re looking for seafood or Mexican food, you can find a range of options.We went to Boathouse and ordered calamari, asparagus and fries. The food wasn’t Michelin-star level, but the cocktails and decor were impressive. Some people are in an actual boat inside the restaurant.
Epcot also had a mix of kid-friendly and adult-friendly activities. We stopped by the Food and Wine festival and had the best fish and chips I’ve tried in the U.S. so far. The food and drinks were abundant and I appreciated the aesthetics that represented each country. For instance, they had a section for Canadian food, one for England and decor to match. Did I mention that Boyz II Men performed at the Festival and my son and I sang our hearts out to classics like “End of The Road”? A few hours before, we sang our hearts out to “The Circle Of Life” at the Festival of The Lion King in Animal Kingdom. What can I say? We are a singing family.
Try Different Foods
Speaking of food, I have never thought much about Disney’s food beyond turkey legs and hot dogs. I was surprised to see how they’ve expanded their fare options to include an array of different cuisines. I especially loved Animal Kingdom because I was able to try foods from around the world and wait times were reasonable. The delectable empanadas and the cocktails at the bar offered a refreshing break from the heat. Having a dance party to some African drums with cocktail in hand in the middle of the park was also a highlight.
If you’re a foodie, the options may determine the parks you visit or spend the most time at. Epcot and Animal Kingdom had the best food for me. The Be Our Guest restaurant in Magic Kingdom was a third runner-up for sure. It’s an ideal spot if you like Beauty and the Beast as well as three-course meals and it can fall into the fine dining category. Be warned, it’s not easy to get into so make reservations in advance.
You can also make dinner reservations using the Disney app for ease and convenience.
Wear the Right Gear
Comfort is super important when roaming Disney and luckily, I wore the perfect shoes. Crocs! We had a mix of sun and rain and they were convenient for both. Not only did my feet not hurt after hours of walking, but they also dried quickly after hours of rain too. In terms of clothes, we stuck to loose-fitted items and Mickey ears are a must because why not? The Disney ponchos also made it easier to move around in the rain.
Don’t Try to Do Everything
Trying to do everything Disney has to offer in a single trip can leave you burnt out. With that in mind, if you’re planning a visit, either make it long enough to explore every park at a good pace or plan a short trip and focus on a couple of parks. Disney World is a place you can travel to on multiple occasions and not be bored, so there’s nothing wrong with doing what’s manageable and saving some for another trip.
We had a good mix of activities that were family-friendly, kid-friendly, and mom-needs-adult-activities friendly, which made the trip wholesome. As long as you keep interests, comfort, food, and your physical limits in mind, you should have a magical time.