Please note this site has financial relationships with American Express and this post may contain affiliate links. Read my Advertiser Disclosure policy here to learn more about my partners.
Apologies in advance to those who would never go to Disney World since I know I’ve been a little Disney heavy in the last few weeks since our trip, but…well, you know family travel blog and all, so just bear with me a bit longer. I’ve shared lots of tips on what to do when planning a Disney trip, but I wanted to share the top three things to not do when planning a Disney trip. Disney is probably going to be magical no matter what, so don’t stress thinking you will ruin your trip if you commit one of these three Disney cardinal sins, but it can be overwhelming and much more expensive than necessary if you aren’t at least a little strategic when designing your trip. Here are what I consider to be the three biggest mistakes a family can make when planning a trip to Disney World.
Don’t try to do everything….you can’t.
The biggest mistake you can make at Disney World is thinking you can do everything in one trip because unless you plan to change your zip code to 32830 for a month or more you cannot do it all. Repeat this to yourself, you cannot do it all. Disney World is approximately 40 square miles in size (aka the size of San Francisco), so unless you think you can do absolutely everything in San Francisco in a week, don’t think you can do absolutely everything at Disney World in a week.
This holds true even if your Disney trip is a “once in a lifetime” thing you are doing with your kids and you truly think you will never go again – you still can’t do it all, and shouldn’t try. We went to Disney World once as a family when I was about 10 years old and we didn’t do it all then, yet everyone survived just fine and left the parks with plenty of Disney Magic in our hearts. You are infinitely better off missing some rides, shows, meals, character meet and greets, and even entire parks than feeling stressed, rushed, and over-tired through everything you do get to experience.
Instead of trying to do everything, you should focus on prioritizing the things that are really high on your “must see” list and do your best to check those off – just keep that list short. I wouldn’t have more than about two things on your “must do” list each day if you have young kids. For example, if you “must” have breakfast at Cinderella’s Castle and ride Snow White’s Mine Train on a certain day don’t also add a “must do” of seeing an evening fireworks show. If it happens, great, but keep the list of essential activities short. Along those same lines, schedule in some down days where you potentially don’t go to the parks at all if you are staying for more than 3 days or so in order to enjoy some of the off-park attractions, the amenities at your hotel (like the pool!), and just recharge yourselves for more fun the next day.
Not planning in advance
While you can’t and shouldn’t plan to do everything in one Disney trip, you very much should take advantage of being able to make meal and FastPass+ reservations online in advance at the earliest possible moment so you can maximize your time without stress and long lines. If you don’t plan in advance you are going to have an army of “Disney Pros” ahead of you for everything from popular rides to dinner locations to parade viewing spots. Being able to make three FastPass+ reservations per day in advance online is really huge in being able to check-off your “must ride” attractions without having to spend your day in the park waiting in long lines to ride them. We had no problem making FastPass+ reservations online 30 days in advance (before I learned that Swan and Dolphin guests actually get 60 days out just like the other Disney parks) for every attraction we wanted other than the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride at Magic Kingdom.
Since we had both a five year old and a baby with us we skipped doing any ride we didn’t have a FastPass for that had longer than about a 15-20 minute wait since the return wouldn’t be worth the wait on this particular trip (see tip #1). To maximize this further you can do things like make breakfast reservations in a park you want to visit for the day at a time before the park officially opens, and then you can probably knock out a couple rides before the crowds increase dramatically in the hour or so after park opening.
Again, if you don’t plan in advance, you don’t know to get to the parks early, you don’t make FastPass reservations, etc. you will be adding to your frustration and wasted time quotas. There may be a good lesson to be learned in waiting patiently in a long line, but that’s not how I prefer to spend my vacation days with little kids.
Don’t overestimate your child’s abilities
This isn’t all that different than #1 on the list of top Disney mistakes, but it is important enough to emphasize in a different way. Your child may have not put their tail in a stroller since back in the days when Donald Trump was just known for saying “You’re Fired” and building gold and gaudy buildings that may or may not go bankrupt, but Disney is a whole new ballgame. On an average Disney day I imagine you will walk well over 10 miles per day…often in the Florida heat and humidity. This total can easily be 12 – 14 miles per day depending on where you park and how long you stay in the park. If you park hop or do a really long park day the total distance walked will just go higher. Not only are most kids not used to walking that much in a given day, but that walking is on top of all the other excitement and likely interrupted sleep they are getting while at Disney.
In other words, your average 5, 6, or even 7 year old who otherwise hasn’t spent time in a stroller in years probably can’t handle that sort of schedule for more than a day – and maybe not even a full day. Unless you really want to take it easy and only do a few leisurely hours in a park each day, you need a stroller even for your school aged kids unless you want to deal with the consequences. Disney meltdowns can be epic, so be prepared.
My daughter is on the verge of being six years old and the last time she was in a stroller was at Disneyland Paris when she was four. The time before that was when she was at Disney World when she was three. We are so far removed from having her in a stroller in our normal life, but we aren’t stupid, and aren’t making the mistake of overestimating her stamina at Disney again. We rented one stroller from Orlando Stroller Rentals for both kids to share knowing that our baby won’t tolerate being in the stroller for long stretches. We knew we would be wearing or carrying her more than 50% of the time, so our older daughter could use the stroller when it was unoccupied. Otherwise, we would have needed a double stroller, as ridiculous as that seems with a baby and a virtually six year old.
In addition to not overestimating your child’s physical abilities don’t overestimate their emotional abilities either. My daughter wasn’t scared of the roller coasters at all, but she darn near lost her mind watching “It’s Tough to be a Bug” at Animal Kingdom. She was in hysterics at the dark and interactive scenes and it totally caught me off guard. I overestimated her ability to differentiate real from pretend in that scenario and I’m pretty certain she won’t go back in that ride for decades. In other words, talk through each attraction with your kids until you are 100% certain they are past a point where they will not be impacted emotionally – especially since Disney can be so very good at blurring the lines between real and imaginary.
A final way to not overestimate your child’s abilities (and your patience) is related to where you stay. You don’t have to stay on Disney property to have a great trip, but the further you stray from the parks you plan to visit, the longer and more exhausting you will make the days for everyone. Even if you are on Disney property remember that Disney World is the size of San Francisco, so getting around can take a while no matter whether you use Disney transportation, rental cars, or cabs. Again, this isn’t a huge deal if you are okay not pushing yourselves in the parks to do anything and everything, but if you even want to consider going back to the room in the afternoon for a nap before more Disney fun in the evening you want to stay as close as possible to the parks that you plan to visit the most.
If you want more Disney tricks, tips, and more head here for lots of additional Mouse Centric posts. I also recommend highly reading a very similar post titled “Disney Regrets” that Jill from Baby Rabies recently wrote. She isn’t a travel blogger, but is an entertaining mom blogger who recently took her three kids ages 7 and under to Disney World.
What do you consider to be the biggest mistakes you can make when enjoying Disney World with your family?