Summer’s not over yet. Even if the kids are back to school, escape to Walt Disney World for one last vacation thrill over the weekend. Follow these tips to get the most from your short getaway.
With only a couple days to see the Walt Disney World Orlando theme parks, I really wanted to get the whole experience and cover as much ground as we possible. Yet, our squad consisted of a toddler, teenager, mother and grandmother, so I had to be strategic. My 3-year-old daughter, excited as she was, definitely couldn’t keep up with my on-a-mission pace. Though my 14-year-old niece is a soccer champ with the endurance to go the distance, I worried I might lose her energy and interest while entertaining all my daughter’s princess fascinations. And there’s my mother: she’s used to spending long hours on her feet as a nurse at a hospital, but I still worried that the hot Florida sun might melt her resolve.
With all that in mind, I crafted a plan to get the most out of our multigenerational Disney vacation in a few short days. Even if your kids are back in school already, it’s still possible to squeeze in one last summer getaway. Follow my tips to plan a quick Disney weekend that proves fun for all ages.
TIP 1: Stay at a Disney Resort
There are so many benefits to booking your accommodations with Disney. Not only are you closer to the parks, which comes in handy if you break for a nap. But guests at select Disney Resorts get to enter the parks earlier than normal guests, which brings me to my next tip.
TIP 2: Get there early
Wait times are shorter when the parks first open. We witnessed the standby wait time to get a photo with Mickey grow from one minute around 9am to 40 minutes by 11am. Head straight to the most popular attractions, such as Magic Kingdom’s newest attraction the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Also aim to do the attractions you couldn’t get a Fast Pass (which I’ll expound upon next). Lastly, you’re likely to have cooler, less rainy weather in the morning.
TIP 3: Book Fast Pass+ selections and book them early
When you’re trying to do and see a lot in a day, the regular standby queues can really drain your time in the park. Fortunately, Disney’s new complimentary Fast Pass+ system lets you select three theme park attractions and corresponding time slots in order to experience those attractions without the standard wait. As another benefit of staying at a Disney resort, you get to reserve your selections days in advance of regular guests. You can even select reserved viewing space for the fireworks show—a plus for tiny park-goers and older guests who may want to sit down and spread out while still situated for a great view of the fireworks display. Also, Disney’s MagicBands and My Disney Experience app make the system much more convenient.
TIP 4: Don’t forget the thrill and chill rides
If you’re like me and are traveling with a mixed age group, don’t solely focus your plans on the tots in your crew. Take advantage of the child swap option, so the thrill seekers in your crew can get their kicks in too. At rides like Epcot’s Mission Space and Test Track, there are playgrounds and games near the ride’s exit to entertain you and your younger ones while the other members of your party experience the attraction. After they’re done, have one member of your crew switch places with you to watch the kids while you ride next. Also if you have toddlers in tow, bring a reclining stroller and consider saving these thrill rides for mid-day or evening when they are likely to nap while you wait. (The stroller also helps you usher the younger guys from place to place quicker). Secondly, consider chill attractions such as Magic Kingdom’s The Hall of Presidents and Carousel of Progress; they are big hits for the grandparents in the party, usually have small waits and provide opportunity for the whole gang to rest their feet for a bit.
TIP 5: Make a Character Dining Reservation
One of our family’s missions was to get photos with as many of my daughter’s favorite Disney characters as possible. We reserved a lunch at Cinderella’s Royal Table in Magic Kingdom, and were elated when several of the Disney princesses stopped by our table to chat and take pictures. Plus, our meals were quite delicious and well worth the price. Character dinning experiences are not only a great way to get more of those coveted character autographs but it’s a Disney experience that every member of your family will enjoy—because who will pass on a meal at Cinderella’s castle? The air-conditioned fortress is also a nice break from the Florida heat.
TIP 6: See the shows
If you arrive to Orlando on a Friday afternoon, head to Downtown Disney, where you can immediately dive into the Disney magic. The remodeled, open-to-the-public shopping district has restaurants, stores and entertainment venues. It’s also home to Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba, which is a mesmerizing live circus-style show that will entertain all ages. Save Hollywood Studios for your last day. With a long lineup of shows, such as the Indiana Jones Epic stunt show, Frozen Sing Along and Disney Junior Live, this park makes a less strenuous last day, particularly if you’re returning to work or school the next day. If you make it to the park this year before Sept. 7, definitely consider the park’s Frozen VIP package, which gives perks, such as reserved viewing space for the Frozen dance party and firework show and a private all-inclusive dessert and cocktail party.
So don’t be dismayed if you think the magic of summer is over. A fun-filled weekend in Disney is the perfect short escape for the whole family.
Words: Nina Hemphill Reeder