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Drinking the Kool-Aid: A Mom's Guide to Disney World

A Disney vacation should be memorable. Learn how to make the most of your Disney trip by staying ahead of the crowds.

When I tell people that I create personalized Disney itineraries and touring plans for a living, I often get the same response: “Why do I need a touring plan?  Why can’t I just GO to Disney World and have fun?”

The answer is simple: Disney vacations are unlike any other trip you will ever take.  They are a huge investment in time, money, and energy.  And for most people, they are emotionally charged, representing the innocence of childhood. As a Disney buff, it makes me sad when people return from a Disney vacation, frustrated because they spent most of their trip waiting in line.  I’ll never forget a conversation that I had with an old friend after his family vacation to Disney World.  He recounted a story of bitter disappointment, crying children, and gigantic crowds that prevented his family from experiencing more than one attraction per hour. 

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way, as long as you are armed with a good touring plan (a list of attractions you plan to visit, written in the order that will save you the most time).  On our Disney vacations, my family routinely experiences all of the headliner attractions (and some minor ones) before lunch, and we rarely ever wait more than 15 minutes for any ride.  The trick is learning how to stay ahead of the crowds.  With some planning, this is an easy goal to achieve. 

One of the biggest concerns I hear from clients is that a touring plan will consume their entire day, leaving little time to stop and enjoy the magical details that make Disney parks so special.  In reality, a touring plan does the opposite.  With a touring plan, you will experience more attractions and spend significantly less time waiting in line.  Then, while everyone else is spending hours standing in scorching hot queues, you will have tons of free time to explore the less-crowded areas of the parks, rest at your hotel, or just sit and people-watch! 

So, how do you stay ahead of the crowds?  Over the years, I’ve learned countless tips and tricks that help my family and friends avoid the crowds and enjoy memorable Disney trips.  I’m so excited to have the opportunity to share some of them with you on The Patch!!  For more information about my Disney experiences (and even more tips), you can check out my personal blog, “Drinking the Kool-Aid: A Mom’s Guide to Disney World” at http://drinkingkool-aid.blogspot.com.

Until next time, have a magical day!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jerry Barton November 10, 2012 at 02:28 PM
I saw an old interview with Walt Disney a few years back and, having been to WDW three times with my family, I have to say that he would be devastated with what his dream has become. It was his dream to create a place where every family could come and have a "magical" time. What WDW has become is nothing more than a corporate greed money machine. Nothing about WDW is affordable for the average family any more. I know my family's latest trip ran in the neighborhood of $6K. For most families that would break the bank. Almost every sit-down dinner we had resulted in a dinner bill of $120+ for a family of four. Thankfully we had the dining plan, but we still had to tip based on the total bill...but the food wasn't any better than you'd get a place like Applebee's for $50. And don't even get me started about the McDonalds there. They don't even offer a dollar menu and the prices are almost double what you'd pay at any other McDonalds. I'm happy to say that my kids are getting old enough now that our most recent trip to WDW will be our last. Our next family vacation is going to be dad's choice and we can go somewhere that's less humid, less crowded, less commercialized...and way more fun.
Meredith McCutcheon November 10, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Hi Jerry! I'm sorry to hear that you feel that way about Walt Disney World. In my experience, I've found that Disney offers a wide variety of vacation options to fit every budget! I plan to share lots of Disney tips and tricks, some designed to save you money and get the most out of your vacation dollars. Disney World is a wonderful vacation destination for all ages, and my clients are often surprised at how truly affordable it can be! I look forward to sharing some of my budget-friendly Disney ideas with everyone!
doug November 10, 2012 at 03:21 PM
The Unofficial Guide to DisneyWorld. Highly recommend the book. It's basically a time study book that tells you how to enjoy DW by understanding how the crowds work. It really works. An easy example.... The crowds flock to the front of Epcot early in the day and work there way back in the afternoon. Just do the reverse. That is a simplistic example. You can literally plan your whole trip using the advice they offer and spend a fraction of the time in line...Good Luck
Meredith McCutcheon November 10, 2012 at 03:26 PM
Hi Doug! I love the Unofficial Guide and I think it's a great resource. Unfortunately, they have recently come under fire for major inaccuracies in crowd predictions. I would hesitate to recommend them as a first-timer's sole planning guide.
doug November 10, 2012 at 04:12 PM
Used it twice and was amazed how well it worked. I agree that anyone investing the time and money it takes to visit DW should look to as many information sources as possible. Best advice I ever read.... Plan your days around your weakest link. Running a 5 year old until they are ready to drop will take its toll on the whole group. Try a mid day break ...
Meredith McCutcheon November 10, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Doug, it certainly is one of many good resources! You have some great ideas! Looking forward to sharing more!
Bryan Bentley November 10, 2012 at 06:25 PM
We took the family to Disney World twice. The first time, I spent a good deal of time reading up on the best way to have an enjoyable experience, and it paid off. I would wholeheartedly recommend a first timer using yoiur tips, or doing the homework themselves. It can be a 5-7 thousand dollar trip depending on where you stay and how long you stay, and to have a plan is essential. Staying on property is expensive, but it is a wonderful and magical experience for those who choose to. Good Stuff Meredith!
Meredith McCutcheon November 11, 2012 at 12:23 PM
Thanks Bryan! I totally agree that some planning beforehand is the key to a successful and magical trip to Disney World. Hopefully, I can help other people have the same wonderful experiences that my family (and your family) did!
Kmurphy November 12, 2012 at 04:28 AM
Hi Meredith, how would I go about getting you to do a plan for my family?
Meredith McCutcheon November 12, 2012 at 11:43 AM
Hi there! You can e-mail me at disneymadeeasy@yahoo.com, and we can get started! Thanks for the inquiry!
Tom Skyler November 12, 2012 at 02:43 PM
I also had a very nice trip to disney a few years back by planning ahead and talking to them about some concerns, we brought along "grampa" who wanted to experience it with his grand kids before it was too late. We thought this would hinder the trip with scooter rentals and access to attractions but it was just the opposite, they catered to us more and had special enterances to rides and attractions. I want to plan one more trip to disney next october for the "mickey no so scary halloween" as well as all the parks and will definately contact you to make sure it goes smoothly this time. Thank you for your post and i hope it is the magically trip we want.
Meredith McCutcheon November 12, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Hi Tom! I'm so glad you had a memorable trip with your family. Disney definitely is renowned for its customer service. They work hard to ensure that every guest has a magical vacation. I look forward to talking with you about your trip next fall. Halloween is such a fun time to visit Disney World!
Don November 12, 2012 at 03:09 PM
imo, Disneyworld is the most expensive, least satisfying vacation experienceI have ever been on. Strike that-it seemed more like work than a vacation. To think its commercialism is now stretched to the point that we're now being asked to purchase personal itineraries. Again, my opinion, but I'd just prefer to stay away.
Tom Skyler November 12, 2012 at 03:41 PM
Everyone has an opinion what is a vacation to them, I am the type of person who likes some structure on all vacation (my cruise has itineraries, my camping trip has a schedule of events, even kids bdays partys have a structure when to do cake, presents and play) so i see nothing wrong with planning a disney trip to enjoy what you want and still have time to relax and enjoy. Of course like everything else is this world i wouldnt mind a lower cost but other then that i enjoyed my last trip to disney and the memories it provided. I realize these type of trips are not for everyone but done right i think many people enjoy the experience. I am looking forward to working with you for next October. Thank you
Meredith McCutcheon November 12, 2012 at 03:41 PM
Hi Don! I'm sorry to hear that you feel that way about Walt Disney World. My family has made some of our most cherished memories at Disney World, and it always makes me sad when I hear that people felt like a Disney vacation was more "work" than "play". That's exactly why I went into this business. My goal is simply to help people make the most of their Disney vacation dollars by staying ahead of the crowds. I realize that without advance planning, a Disney trip can definitely be unsatisfying. I also know that, if you follow some simple rules and have a good touring plan, you will have a successful, memorable Disney vacation. That's where I come in! As far as finances are concerned, it's true that a Disney vacation can be expensive. But it definitely doesn't have to be. Disney offers a wide variety of vacation options to fit every budget! I look forward to sharing some budget-conscious tips with everyone in some of my later posts. I wanted to clarify that I am not affiliated with Walt Disney World or Disney Destinations in any way. I work for a local full-service travel agency called Ginger's Getaways where I specialize in booking and planning Disney vacations. My clients do not pay me anything to book their Disney vacations (travel professionals are paid commission by travel suppliers), and I charge a nominal fee to design personalized Disney itineraries and touring plans (usually about $50-$100, depending on the length of the itinerary).
Meredith McCutcheon November 12, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Thanks, Tom!
Ryan-Iver Klann November 12, 2012 at 03:54 PM
I went in 2006 and spent 2 whole days in The Magic Kingdom. We LOVED it! The kids had a blast, and I don't mind paying extra to have an amazing time with my family. That was the first family vacation we had been on EVER, and what a great choice (for us). We went back this year; this time with the addition of my Mickey Mouse crazed 3 year old son. This was in April, around spring break (yuck). We spent the first day in The Animal Kingdom, which was really cool! The prices on food and everything was really reasonable, and the park itself was very entertaining. The Tree of Life is a truly amazing piece of art! The live action Nemo was really cool, and I left truly amazed at what Disney can do. We must have went on the Everest roller coaster a dozen times! Now, the second day was a bit different. We spent day 2 at The Magic Kingdom only to find it under heavy construction. They were building the new princess area, which looks amazing from what we could see. The lines were dreadfully long, and the reliance on Fast Pass (or is it Fast Track) may have eliminated some longer waits, but also meant we couldn't navigate the park with any specific route. It felt like we were constantly back-tracking so we wouldn't miss anything. The autograph lines were so long, I was fearful that we wouldn't have time for anything else. Thankfully, the park stays open late during those busy weeks which helped a ton, and we didn't leave the park until 1:30am! We all had fun and can't wait 'til next time!
MRSPirateLarz November 13, 2012 at 05:10 PM
When my son started kindergarten it hit me, he was growing up and FAST! I had already been to WDW three times before, but had yet to get the opportunity to take my son. So I started to plan the trip... and plan and plan. I found out that if you booked a trip by a certain date you could arrange for Mickey Mouse to call on Christmas morning and announce the upcoming trip to your little one. So I arranged the call and waited anxiously on Christmas morning for the call to come in. Poor kid, he didn't understand why Mickey was calling him, or what Mickey meant that he was going to Disney World. My son spent most of that day telling everyone that Mickey had called him and told him that he was going to Disney World but he (my son) was here so Mickey was wrong. Ah well, the best laid plans right? However, when we boarded the plane for Orlando excitement did sent in on the poor kid. And it increased more every second until the moment my son had been waiting for arrived. Mickey's castle (Cinderella's Castle)!!!!!! My son must have jumped at least 5 feet in the air when he finally saw the castle. I will never forget that moment, nor will my son (probably). My son has since been lucky enough to return to WDW 3 times, with a 4th trip coming up next year. My husband and I even decided to go on our honeymoon at WDW! It is a magical place... Glad you are willing and able to help others make a dream come true with travel plans for Disney.
Meredith McCutcheon November 13, 2012 at 05:45 PM
What a wonderful story! Thank you so much for sharing!
Debra Kaszubski November 13, 2012 at 08:43 PM
Meredith, you have a wonderful idea. I've been to Disney more times that I can count throughout my lifetime, and despite my experience, I always have a plan prior to visiting. Unfortunately, I never thought to share planning advice with others (besides family). Like you, I've seen and heard from frustrated, unprepared Disney visitors who should have learned about: Fastpass, park hopping, dining plans, Magical Express and transportation, value resorts, Extra Magic Hours, advanced dining reservations, and other great options offered by the resort. Other helpful online planning tools, besides your website, includes the official online Disney Mom's Panel, Mousesavers.com, and Trip Advisor. Keep us posted when you visit the newest resort, Disney's Art of Animation and, of course, the Magic Kingdom's new Fantasyland. :)
Meredith McCutcheon November 14, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Hi Debra! I could not agree with you more. On our first trip, we were waiting in Fantasyland for "rope drop", and we noticed a family looking at a map next to us. The rope dropped, we rode two rides and were heading to our third when we saw the same family, still looking at the map, arguing about where to go first. I felt so bad that they were missing out on all of these attractions that were going to quickly build long waits. Right then, I started thinking about how I could share my ideas with others. We are planning (yet another) family trip to WDW in May, but I hope to get down there by myself for a quick visit before that. I can't wait to visit the New Fantasyland and Art of Animation Resort and report back!! We're combining this trip with a Disney cruise as well, so I'll have TONS of info to share!

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