Wow! It's hard to believe that our first trip to Disney World was nearly one year ago! We had such a wonderful time at the most magical place on Earth. Since our return I have helped many of our friends plan and organize their trip to Disney World, so I thought I would share our experience here.
We stayed on Disney property, and I would highly recommend spending a little extra money to stay on property when traveling with toddlers. The Magical Express service from the airport was very convenient, especially since we did not have to claim our own luggage upon arrival. Disney claims your luggage and delivers it to your hotel for you, which with toddlers is a necessity. In addition, we found it quite convenient to either take the monorail or the bus service to and from the parks. We never waited more than a few minutes for transportation, and it was quite nice to come back to the hotel for a quick afternoon nap or swim in the pool after a long morning in the parks.
We also purchased the Park Hopper ticket. We really enjoyed going to one park in the morning, going back to the hotel for a "rest period" and then going to a different park in the evening. This way, we were able to hit some of the most popular rides in the morning, before those rides were super busy, and then in the evening we were able to simply walk the world at Epcot, or enjoy an evening at Downtown Disney.
Even if your plans for a Disney World vacation are a year or so away, now is a great time to get started! Reservations at Disney's most popular restaurants, including the character dining experiences, book up fast. Dining reservations can be made up to 180 days in advance, or nearly six months from the time you plan to arrive at Disney World. So, plan early and book your reservations well in advance. Some of our most favorite dining experiences were The Royal Table, Safari Breakfast at The Tusker House and Chef Mickey's. If your trip to Disney happens to fall during a special birthday or anniversary, be sure to mention that when you book your reservations. My daughter received birthday cards signed by all of the characters at nearly every restaurant, and a birthday cupcake with candle at each meal. She really enjoyed that!
When booking your dining reservations, be sure to take note of where the restaurant is located. Many dining experiences are within a park. Each park updates its operating hours on the Disney website seven months in advance. This will allow you to line up your dining reservations with the day you plan to be at a particular park. While this might seem like a little too much planning, there are certain shows (like Fantasmic at Hollywood Studios, or the Spectromagic Parade at Magic Kingdom) that only run on certain nights. By knowing what night that show is running, you can book your dining reservation for those parks on the days you know you'll want to be at those parks for the shows.
With toddlers, you are definitely going to need a stroller! Even if you have five and six-year-olds that refuse a stroller at home, they will be begging to ride in the stroller at Disney World. It is a lot of walking. A lot. Bringing a stroller from home can be cumbersome, especially if you're flying. And park rentals, in my opinion, are not nice. They are bulky, plastic and look like the strollers everyone else has, so they are often hard to find in the "Stroller Parking" areas. We found a great service: Orlando Stroller Rentals. This company delivers a stroller (single or double) to your Disney resort, and then picks it up after your departure. It is the best service ever! The stroller was in great condition and was very clean. This stroller rental was less than what you would pay inside the parks, and the great thing is that it is with you 24/7! The park rentals must be returned each night, which means you have to carry your heavy children to the bus or the monorail. And believe me, at the end of a long day at the Magic Kingdom you can hardly carry yourself, let alone the weight of your child! We were really impressed with this service (and I'm not being paid to say that!).
Overall, the key to a wonderful Disney experience is preparation. I hope these tips help you plan the vacation of a lifetime for your family! If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment.