Frisco’s Disney Dream Vacations: Practical Advice from Families

Disney ears

In Parts 1 and 2 of our Frisco Disney Dream Vacations series, our two local Disney travel planners offered their expert-level guidance about which Disney destination is right for you, and how to get the most out of your Walt Disney World experience.

Now, your friends and neighbors offer their best tips, recommendations, and travel hacks!

Planning Your Trip

Planning ahead is the #1 recommendation we received from Frisco families. While the level of detailed planning required may feel excessive to first-timers, our contributors assure us that good planning is the key to a magical trip!

It’s absolutely worth it to use a travel planner. The person we used didn’t cost any more money than if we booked straight on the Disney site. – Kelly Walker

Disney OlafHave a PLAN – going to WDW without a plan will lead to “I hate Disney” which is what everyone that fails to plan ahead says. Visiting WDW requires military precision planning. It’s actually part of the fun of the trip. – Scott Pontikes

It may be less spontaneous but research the individual parks for favorite attractions per the age of your children, plan your day strategically, and plan for a break/sit down meal midday. – Ann Anderson

[Our Disney planner] recommended parks and attractions and dinners and activities. Then we set our schedule, and she took it from there. This is the way to go. – Brandon May

Make your dining reservations 6 months before. Go ahead and make the reservations even if you aren’t sure. It’s easier to cancel than to try and book at the last minute. – Kristin Kim

You can book Fast Passes up to 60 days in advance of your reservation date. Highly recommend taking advantage of that. – Scott Ellis

Disney family picTell your kids in advance what their allowance will be for toys and what-not. The gift shops are EVERYWHERE and it’s really tempting to go nuts buying stuff because you’re feeling “magical”. This way, they’ll know they have a certain amount to spend over the course of the visit. Also, consider buying your souvenirs on Amazon later (picture frames, ornaments) and save your spending at the pricey Park gift shops for the things your kids can’t live without. – Nicole Barron

Park Logistics

Frisco Disney fans love to talk about strategy and how to make the most of your visit. Without a doubt, the most commonly shared logistical advice is “go to the park early”. Apparently, if you hit the snooze button at Disney, you inevitably wait in longer lines).

Another solid piece of advice that was mentioned by nearly everyone we talked to is to download the “My Disney Experience” App.

Go early. Being at the parks at “rope drop” (when they open) is invaluable! You can walk onto the major headliners with no wait, and for most of the early morning, crowd levels remain low. It’s the BEST way to hit some of your priority rides—it saves you time, takes the pressure off, and lets you save your FastPasses for later in the day when crowd levels are higher. Plus, some of the parks have cute opening shows to enjoy while you wait! – Stephanie Blackburn

Ride the rides that load the slowest and have the lowest capacity first thing in the day. Don’t RUN from one end of the park to the other, cluster your ride experiences so you can get the most out of your day. – Scott Pontikes

Make your FastPass reservations for early in the day (you can’t grab new FastPasses until you’ve used your initial three). Search for a “crowd level” chart showing the days of your visit (yes, they are accurate). Avoid the park with high crowd levels and target the lower levels. It’ll change your life. While the fireworks are going, NO ONE is riding the rides! We would ‘rinse and repeat’ on rides and our only wait time was how long it took us to run from the exit to the line. – Sean Duncan

Disney has amazing transport (busses, monorail, boats, etc.) but it can get crowded and you’ll find yourself waiting. Instead, consider taking an Uber to/from the parks. They’ll drop you off right up front and pick you up there as well.  EXTRA Magic Hours rotate parks on different days. Because of that those parks tend to be very busy. Avoid parks with extra magic hours and plan to hit other parks that don’t have the EXTRA Magic Hours that day. – Scott Ellis

Yvonne DisneyThe My Disney Experience App is a MUST. It enables you to see real-time ride wait times, track your location as you’re navigating through the Park, select and modify your FastPass+ experiences, and a whole host of other great features! – Oliver Barron

Don’t hesitate to rent one of their single or double strollers if you have kids under the age of 5 and it’s really hot outside. We held out for the first four days of the trip thinking “Oh please, they can walk for pete’s sake!” and by the last day all we wanted in the world was for the whining to stop and we went for it. It was easy to rent, easy to return, and doubled as a water bottle/junk carrier. – Nicole Barron

Favorite Things

From rides to restaurants, and everything in between, we enjoyed hearing what our fellow Frisco-ites love most about Disney!

Dumbo DisneyMy favorite thrill ride at Disney is Expedition Everest (Animal Kingdom) – my daughter first rode it with me at 6 years old and she loved it, too! If you need some shade, cooler temperatures, and something low-key to do that doesn’t have a long line, our kids loved riding “Under the Sea” at Ariel’s Grotto again and again. My favorite restaurant is the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness where you’ll enjoy an awesome stage show while eating the best-tasting unlimited fried chicken and ribs you’ve ever had! – Oliver Barron

I love Disney at Halloween! Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, dressing up (which features the Disney villians), Halloween costumes, and extra fun. Like everything Disney does, they do it top notch! – Ashley Smith

I love, love, love the magic kingdom and Disney studios’ firework shows. A few niche foods you must have: Carrot Cake Whoppie Pie (Writer’s Stop Disney Studios) and School Bread (Bakeri og Kafe in Norway pavilion Epcot). YUM!! These are requirements for me when I visit. – Sean Duncan

Our family’s favorite time of the year to go to Disney World is during the Christmas holiday. Disney World at Christmas time is like magic on top of magic. It’s an experience like no other. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is a must! –Deborah McCloskey

disney-magic-kingdom-castle-fireworksJedi Training Academy at Hollywood Studios – this is a MUST! Get to Hollywood Studios early and when the gates open go straight to the training area; you’ll get a reservation time for the kids. – Kristin Kim

Christmas time is epic! But going the week or two after New Year’s, you’ll get all of the Disney Christmas magic without the crowds. – Nicole Pettit-Archibeque

Our girls were 3 and 5 when we went, so we focused on meeting the princesses. We went to a lot of character meetings and dining with the princess – the dinner in Cinderella’s castle was amazing! The Be Our Guest Show was really cute.  The girls loved meeting Cinderella’s stepsisters and thought they were really funny. We also did a character breakfast with Mary Poppins and Alice in Wonderland that we loved. – Lauren Donalson

Another area we enjoy is Disney Springs. It’s fun and lively with great restaurants and shopping. The Boathouse is a family favorite! – Deborah McCloskey

Most importantly – head to Clearwater Beach after for a couple of days to relax! Haha! – Cassie Rosenberg

Character meet and greets. Chewbacca, in particular (dude, you must have a picture with Chewy!), Kylo Ren, Tinkerbell (every time, my daughter lights up), Buzz Light Year and Woody…research and prioritize. – Sean Duncan

Chewbaca DisneyMeeting Kylo Ren at Hollywood Studios was so fun. Chewbaca stands there quiet, nice and friendly, but Kylo Ren paces the floor with an angry demeanor and tries to freak the kids out just a little bit. Best.home.video.ever…we rewatch it all the time. At Magic Kingdom, I never get tired of the “Festival of Fantasy” parade down Main Street. It occurs several times a day, and is a good excuse to sit, have a snack, and chill out for little bit. – Nicole Barron

Dining at Disney

Forget typical theme park fare. Dining is actually a huge perk of a Disney vacation. Our contributors “dished” on all the ways that Disney dining can enhance your experience, and shared tips for saving time and money!

Do at least one character dining meal. They’re a lot of fun for the kiddos and for you. – Sean Duncan

Eat sit down meals. Even if you don’t do the meal plan (which we highly recommend), be sure to book some table service meals during your trip. The food is really good and, more importantly, your family will benefit from the break. It’s too hard to keep the energy going if you are eating only fast food type meals and snacks. So plan time to sit down for an hour or so, eat REAL food and relax with your family. It will make your overall experience so much better! – Stephanie Blackburn

Bring your own snacks! Perfect for those with food allergies. – Kristin Kim

Don’t overbook your meals. We canceled many reservations because we wanted to play or nap or swim at the hotel or just do our thing without having to take an extra hour to get to a reservation. – Kelly Walker

Disney dining planOne nice thing about the meal plan was the refillable drink mugs and not thinking about the cost of anything. Since everything was paid before the trip, we just scanned the magic band and ate to our hearts’ desire. – Kristin Kim

Get a reservation at Tony’s at the entrance to Magic Kingdom, on the circle. Ask to sit on the patio and time your meal to coincide with the parade start. The parade begins across from Tony’s and goes right past the patio. Great seats! – Ann Anderson

The pre-paid dining plan is a GREAT deal. You can literally pop into Starbucks at Magic Kingdom three times a day if you want to without thought to the price! While staying on property in a small hotel room, it was nice to have the plan and eat out all day long and grab snacks whenever we wanted to at the Parks. On our second visit, we stayed off-site and had a kitchen, so we opted to have breakfast at “home” and pack lunch-y stuff and snacks. We ate dinner at the Parks for the convenience and experience. It worked fine both ways, but I think the dining plan just makes everything easier. – Nicole Barron

For quick service restaurants, utilize mobile ordering through the My Disney Experience app:  place your order while waiting in line for a ride and after the ride pick up your food. – Kristin Kim

For the princess fans, get the earliest spot (8ish) at Cinderella’s Royal Table breakfast in the castle. Don’t expect much from the actual food- it’s more about the experience. You get entrance into the park before the general public, and you can get some great pictures on your way in. You’ll meet Cinderella at the entrance of the castle and take a picture with her. All of the princesses stop by the table, chat, take pics, and sign autographs. After breakfast, the crowd is still very small, so you can get quick access to the rides around that time. – Cassie Rosenberg

Epcot – you can drink around the world at the world showcase. The grapefruit beer in Germany was delicious! – Kristin Kim

Disney princessCharacter Dining is the best way to meet characters, versus waiting in line for just a quick photo at a meet and greet. At the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, several Disney Princesses will stop by your table, talk, and take pictures. At Chef Mickey’s, you’ll see Mickey, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, and Pluto. At Hollywood and Vine, they’ll meet a lot of Disney Jr characters. Our Disney planner helped us plan ahead to see the characters we hoped to meet. – Oliver Barron

Where to Stay

While most Frisco visitors like to stay at a Disney hotel – otherwise referred to as “on property” – opinions are mixed on this point. Staying on property has a lot of built-in perks and advantages, but some families prefer the additional space (and affordable rates) off property.

One thing everyone agrees on? Plan at least one day during your trip for some R&R at the pool! Disney is fun, but can also be exhausting!

Staying on property is a must because you don’t need a car at all. You wake up and can be at the park in minutes and it allows you early access to rides! Book a room with a kitchen if you can and have groceries delivered when you check in. Having milk, juice, cereal, and bread on-hand…stuff to make a few lunches and a few easy breakfasts will go a long way in giving you downtime in your room without being in the crowds. – Kelly Walker

We chose to stay off-property for affordable rates and extra space. We rented a house in a new development called Storey Lake through airbnb. The house had it’s own pool and hot tub and the development had a resort style pool with water slides, a lazy river, mini golf and more. Having the extra space really made the vacation for us. Plus, the lower rate allowed us to stay longer and have a couple of days to just relax and go to the pool. – Stacy Reardon

Disney familyStay at one of the Disney hotels. It adds to the experience and if you buy anything in the park ask to have it sent to your room so you don’t have to carry bags around the park all day. – Scott Ellis

We went with three families and rented a house off property. Tons cheaper than hotel for all of us!!  We all stayed in the same house so it was really fun for the kids.  The house had a pool, too. – Liz Sabau

Take advantage of the resort pools – nice way to take a day “off” (I always incorporate a resort day in the middle of our trip. – Kristin Kim

Stay at a Disney property! I know you think you’re saving money staying off property, but when you add up the value of a the magic hours, the convenience of the bus and rail system, the Disney magic express from the airport, the atmosphere, and so many other small perks…you aren’t saving anything. – Sean Duncan

For our first visit, we stayed on property (Port Orleans Riverside in a Tiana-themed room) and we used the daily (crowded) buses to get and from the parks. It was a cool experience but for our second visit, we stayed off-site at a Hilton resort. We used uber every day which was GREAT and now we think that’s preferable. No waiting for buses that are overcrowded, and truthfully, once you’ve been at Disney all day, whether or not the hotel room is Disney-themed doesn’t matter very much. – Oliver Barron

Be in the Picture

“Memory Maker” and “PhotoPass” were such common recommendations, we thought they deserved their own section. Research these photo options to make the most of your memories. (And don’t be too cool to wear the matching shirts and Mickey ears!)

Spend the extra money and purchase the Memory Maker because there are photographers all over the park to capture photos/memories of you and your family – which are priceless! Sure, you’ll want to snap pictures all day on your own phone, but these high-res, professional shots are excellent. You’ve invested a lot in the trip…make sure you have great pictures of it. – Oliver Barron

Be in your pictures by using PhotoPass Photographers to take pictures. It’s important to see you in your family photos. – Scott Pontikes

Disney World castleI strongly recommend taking advantage of PhotoPass. And…magic shots! (Google it… This is worth it by itself). – Sean Duncan

We took the time to dork out and get shirts made for our family trip. It was cheesy but made for some good times and good pics (especially when your custom shirt is Star Wars-themed and you get to meet all the Star Wars characters at Epcot. Planning paid off this time!) – Kelly Walker

What to Pack

Our Disney fans had great advice about packing, from things first-timers might forget to hacks for saving time and money!

Take an autograph book – they sell them at the park but I made my own; have a sharpie ready too. – Kristin Kim

Take ponchos – the rain seems to pop at unexpected times. – Kristin Kim

Don’t pack new shoes for your trip! Breaking in new shoes when you’re walking 3 to 4 times more steps as you normally do is a recipe for a bad experience and blisters. Take first aid stuff with you on your trip just in case: things like bandaids, ibuprofen…and wine! We send a care package to the hotel but with Amazon Prime Now we’ve been having stuff delivered to the hotel as well. – Scott Pontikes

Pin Trading – this was a huge surprise to my family and has become a major element of every trip! You can buy a bundle of a 100 on Amazon for a fraction of what they cost new the park. Show up armed with 25 pins per person (you don’t care what they are, you’re trading them away anyways!) – Sean Duncan

Disney World Inside Out

Buy dolls/toys at the Disney store or at Wal-Mart before you leave and hide them in your luggage – that will save TONS of money.  The toys are full price at Disney World. – Kristin Kim

Highly recommend having Amazon send groceries ahead to your hotel room. Imagine this – you’ve been at Disney ALL DAY, you just got the kids clean and tucked into their beds, and you’re ready for a glass of WINE. Plus, milk, yogurt, fruit…things you can’t pack but the hotel can refridgerate for you until your arrival. Bring refillable water bottles because there are places to refill them all over the parks. – Nicole Barron

Disney Cruise Tips

Most of our advice is centered around Walt Disney World, but we can’t forget Disney cruises. Frisco travelers love Disney cruises as well – and it’s easy to see why.

We loved being a part of a “fish extender” where you buy little gifts for about 7 other cabins and you receive them in return. They was such cool mementos and usually useful! It can take a day or two to really settle in and get the lay of the land. So if you can swing a 5+ night cruise, do it! Don’t be scared of sea days where you don’t have a stop. They can be the best and most relaxing! You can save about 20% if you travel during the school year. Also, while on board, you can pay a refundable deposit for your next cruise. You won’t be able to beat the price again and have two years to travel within. – Kristen Cole

Disney cruiseWhen going on the Disney Cruise, pack a hanging shoe rack to hang in the closet near the door. It’s great for holding small things that are frequently needed like sunglasses, sun screen, flip flops, etc. – Ann Anderson

Parents need to take time for themselves as a couple, so take advantage of the adults only areas. The kids clubs are amazing and your little one(s) won’t even know you were gone (or will be mad that you interrupted their fun when you came to get them). Also, if you want to eat dinner as a family, the server will get your kid’s food to them first while you enjoy your appetizers. When they’re done, the Kids Club staff will come and escort your child back to have fun while you enjoy the rest of your dinner! – Beth Weems

The Big Picture

With so many details to consider, sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of what a Disney trip is really all about it. These Disney fans remind us to be our best selves – and to fully enjoy the moments!

Be open to soaking it in – I recently realized that most of my favorite memories are times in between the ride and events. When the kids were strolling and singing, we were just taking in the moment. – Sean Duncan

What to pack? Your PATIENCE. It’s hot, it’s crowded, and it’s expensive, but it doesn’t have to be miserable. Temper your expectations, plan, and do your best to be flexible. Disney is amazing, but patience will go a long way with long lines, cranky kids/spouses, and 100% humidity. Also pack… the NICEST YOU that you can bring on the trip. We’ve found the friendlier, more patient and polite we are with everyone – especially Cast Members (Disney’s name for employees) – the more our experience is magical. – Scott Pontikes

Don’t try to do it all!  It will stress you out and you won’t be able to enjoy the magic around you. – Kristin Kim

Resources to Check Out

We hope Frisco’s Disney Dream Vacation series has given you a great place to start from in planning your magical vacation. For additional support, our contributors recommend these resources:

Disney vacationDisney Tourist Blog: I freaking LOVE this guy. I’m convinced he is a billionaire with all the trips he makes globally to see Disney parks. Also, 100+ Disney World Tips. – Sean Duncan

Use sites like: Walt Disney World Info and Disney Discussion Boards (for chatting and research about your trip), Easy WDW and Touring Plans to help you plan. – Scott Pontike

Take advantage of the FREE, Frisco-based Disney planners! I could NEVER have made heads or tails of planning our trip without Lisa Turner of Wish Upon a Star. She GETS Disney and was able to interpret all of it for me (because it’s seriously a foreign language if you’ve never been there before) and she steered us in the right direction for our family. – Nicole Barron

Leave us a comment with YOUR best Disney advice! And check out the other two articles in this series:

Frisco’s Disney Dream Vacations: Intro to Walt Disney World

Frisco’s Disney Dream Vacations: Which Disney Destination is Right for You?