keys to the kingdom : tips and tricks

Pssst: Be sure to check out all of our updated tips, here.

Hello all you fabulous people! 

It’s time for our last installment in our Keys to the Kingdom Series, here at The Handmade Home! We were a little delayed in getting this one out with the holidays, but we’re ready to wrap it up with my favorite part!

If you missed our introduction, and would like to read all about the deats of where to stay, food for thought, fast pass/rider swap 101, an overview of the magic kingdom, epcot, hollywood studios, or animal kingdom, feel free to click on over and read all about it. This series is three moms’ takes on their vacationing experiences with Walt Disney World, and while we realize that novel upon novel upon novel could be written on this subject matter, our series is meant to serve as a nice, basic overview introduction for those of us who may be first timers, and wish to familiarize themselves with the basics… all while balancing the whole young family gig. So feel free to poke around, and check it out!

So, without further ado…a compilation, if you will, of the things we’re glad we did, the things we wish we had, the things we maybe didn’t…and everything in between.

• Take a backpack with you that you can easily switch out, each day. Pack it full of some of the things we’ll list below…you wont’ regret it!

• Bring sunglasses, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, and lots of water. And probably some clear, cheapo panchos. It’s that simple. Put these at the top of your list.

• If you are traveling with little ones, pack snacks. You won’t regret the up front effort. AT ALL.

Book restaurant reservations as early as you can. You can book your reservations up to 180 days in advance of your trip!

• Use Disney’s Magic Express to travel to and from the airport to your hotel to enjoy stress free, comfortable, fun travel. Not to mention, your luggage is completely taken care of from the time you check it until the time it shows up in your hotel room.

• If you are staying within Walt Disney World, take advantage of the extra magic hours. Go ahead and wake up early so you can see the dropping of the rope, to get those extra hours in and ride the most sought out rides, or sleep in the morning of and stay up late that night to enjoy less lines. Plan ahead and switch it up. It’s worth the extra time if you can.

• If you’re going to do the dining plan, that won’t cover your breakfast each morning. Pack some muffins or granola bars to get you through the mornings. A lot of the hotels within Disney World also have refrigerators in the rooms, so you could do a grocery run upon arrival and grab some milk and your favorite cereal. Some hotels even have little markets, where you can purchase milk. If that’s all you need, its easy to see what’s on property before you leave in search of something.

• If you have already experienced the daytime parades at the park you are attending that day, skip the parade and hop on over to your favorite ride that usually has the longest wait. Chances are, the majority of the crowd will be standing around watching the parade freeing up a lot of the wait times!

• If you have little ones in tow, and know they will be wanting just about everything they see in every store they see, try this little trick. Before you leave for your trip, purchase Disney stuffed animals or toys online through Wal-Mart or wherever you can find a great deal. Then, each night before bed on your vacation, tell your kids that if they sleep well that night maybe Mickey will bring them a treat the next morning (or switch it to behaving well in the park each day for a treat at night). That way they have something to look forward to each day that is a surprise and will be less likely to grab each thing they see along the way.

• Glow things. Every kid thinks they gotta have one. And Disney has them, but they will cost you a pretty penny. So my advice is head to your nearest Dollar Store where they have a pretty decent variety of glow sticks and glow things. Pack them ahead of time and when the lights go down you’re already one step ahead!

• Costumes. Tons of kids wear them in the parks. Seems like every kid wants to purchase them there. So purchase your princess’s favorite princess costume ahead of time (or make them one) and when you show up you won’t have to dish out $100 bucks for the same one you saw in Target two weeks earlier.

• Note to those doing Bippity Boppity Boutique: choose the less expensive package where you don’t purchase the costume and bring one from home. Your little one can wear it in the park or to Downtown Disney on the day of her appointment and all she will be lacking is the hair and makeup. ;} (We did this with Emerson, and though she decided NOT to wear her costume I made and broke my heart into a million pieces {kidding. maybe.} it was still worth it.)

• Along the lines of glow sticks galore, if you’re going when it is going to be really hot, make a Wal-Mart run, and buy a cheap spray fan mister thingy. In the park they are super expensive but look so inviting. Just save yourself some moolah and do it in advance.

• Take advantage of Fast Passes! And download the App today to get familiar with it before your trip.

• This rule doesn’t always apply, but if you can, avoid the buses. We {Ashley} took one to downtown Disney one day, from our hotel {Contemporary.} The trip was 45 minutes one way. For an otherwise 15 minute drive. It definitely depends on your route, and what you can do, but I do recommend thinking through your choices if you have other options, ahead of time. The beauty of Disney, is that they do offer the buses, and I realize that some who fly, are a little more limited on their options. I’m just saying to think through your route ahead of time, and check out the most time efficient ones. Sometimes, walking just may be faster.


• Bring a stroller for every child in your group. Even the older children who have outgrown stroller days. You do so much walking in Disney World, that even if you take the stroller in, park it in Stroller parking (which by the way is everywhere) then use the stroller to ride back to your hotel/car. You will be thankful.

• If you will be renting a stroller while there for your little one, have something to tie around the handles since every other stroller there will look just like yours (such as a scarf or ribbon). It will save you time when exiting each ride and searching among the sea of strollers.

• Definitely for on YOUR stroller, if you take yours, too. We used a glow bracelet at night.

• Hidden Mickeys. They are EVERYWHERE including the waiting lines for each ride, restaurants, and your hotel inside Disney World. There are books available in every gift shop that are  a “cheat sheet” to where each one is, or you can ask guest services for a printed list. Finding hidden Mickeys all day every day is a favorite way of passing time for a lot of families out there. Just give it a try! It’s quite addicting : )

• Someone in the comments section, in one of our earlier posts, mentioned starting with those parks sometimes considered “boring” and working up to the Magic Kingdom. I think she’s onto something. Depending on when your vacay begins, most families start out at the Magic Kingdom. So hit that park later in the week, and you can probably avoid less crowds.

• Wear comfy shoes. Don’t try to be the cutest in Magic Kingdom. Trust me, no one really cares what you’re wearing, and most people are sporting Goofy T-shirts and fanny packs. It’s like this alternate universe where nerdy is cool. {Just my speed.} Wear your most comfy shoes, and you’ll thank me later.

• Kind of crazy: If it starts to rain, everyone takes cover, and they’re paralyzed, all piled on each other in corners, hiding from the rain. Take this opportunity to cover up your kids in their strollers, and book it to your next destination. You may get wet, but no one is in your way, and lines are much shorter.

• If you have any random question up until your trip, I really love the site They cover just about anything and everything. I signed up for their weekly newsletter email which I LOVE reading. It will get you super excited about your trip, let you know of any temporary closings or new additions, and even give you some stories from people who just returned from their trip and how it was magical for them.

• This may be a silly tip, but pack a laptop, your camera, batteries, memory card, and necessary cords. Make it your religion every night to download photos to your laptop, so it’s memory is free, then charge ALL your batteries…for phones and cameras. Designate a charging station in your room. That way, there’s no scrambling the next day, and your photos are backed up until you get home. I even made a point to do it whenever we came back to the room. Then there were no excuses for magical moments missed with that ever ready camera!

• If you go durning the hot months, your dirty clothes sitting in an accumulated pile in the bathroom, will start to smell like camp. Those of you who attended camp, and shoved your clothes into bags at the end of the week, know of that smell which I’m referring to. If you’re staying on site, they have a laundry service, but I took a small amount of detergent to soak out those unavoidable stains, along with a stain stick, to hold us over until we got home. I also took a {ventilated} bag in my luggage, to put all the dirty clothes in. It may help with the super nasties.

Do some fun tshirts for your kids ahead of time for your trip. Its a little effort, but its also fun, unique, and chances are you won’t get to do that too many times.

• Last but not least, be ready for the learning curve. Each trip leaves you wiser, and more prepared. Be okay with making bad calls {like taking the bus when you could have driven} or walking into a Disney store and paying too much money for a keychain your child just had to have. You live. You learn. And you only live once. So be forgiving of yourself, as a parent.

Take naps. If you’re there for a week, your children will need to rest. Meltdowns with younger children due to over stimulation and exhaustion are absolutely inevitable, so just be prepared to roll with it. Mom and Dad might even have their own meltdowns. It can be a lot to take in. No one can see everything. That’s the magic of Disney. You can go one million times and have a different experience, every time. Just be ready to take it all in stride, and lower your expectations with young children.

It’s hard to let go when you’re amped up about creating family memories…but some of your favorite things will be in the unexpected places: like our 2 year old son being so excited about the monorail, or your three year old having a meltdown in her princess get up, which was strangely reminiscent of Toddlers and Tiaras, and still makes you laugh because she looked like a total psycho. Jamin and I snuck onto the balcony with our Mickey Mouse cupcakes, and had a fat kid moment while we indulged and watched an electric lights parade on the water while the kids slept at night-and those were the fun times for us. There can be a lot of pressure with all of it. Those silly moments, and even the bad ones, are the ones we remember and love the most. So enjoy! That’s what you’re there for.


I hope you guys have enjoyed our series. I just wanted to take a moment and seriously thank my dear friends Jillina and Cristin for all their help. This series certainly would not have happened without them. They truly rock.

What are some of your favorite tips and tricks? Something you did, that you wish you hadn’t? Something you’ll most definitely do again? What did you love the most? Spill those beans!

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Responses to keys to the kingdom : tips and tricks

  1. Hey friend! This series is so helpful… Disneyland is tricky to navigate too, with all the crowds, I can’t imagine how much more savvy goes into Disney World, so this is appreciated if we ever make that cross country trip! You’re so sweet to share all your insight. Pinning!!

  2. Marisa says:

    I have loved this series. So helpful! Thank you all so much!

  3. We went last year as a family(+ extended family) and that was a HUGE bonus for us, as the parents. There was always someone willing and available to help us with the girls. Those extra sets of hands were invaluable!
    This is a very helpful series for anyone who’s planning to go. (and I dont know if you mentioned it in other posts or not, but during the fall Disney has a window of time where they offer free meal plans…a HUGE help to the budget for a family. Yes, its in the fall when most kids are going to back to school. But for those with really small kids, or homeschoolers or whatever, its a big savings)

    • Yes Sarah! That’s how we went this go round! major savings.

      Grandparents ARE a huge help. No one was able to come with us this time. There was something kind of fun about it being just us. It was like our first real life grown up vacay with just our little family. It was fun and nice doing things our own way… But yes, those grandparents are invaluable for sure! ;} That’s a great tip!

  4. Mary says:

    One of the cheap things I learned is you can take in a collapsible ice chest with you. We filled ours with water and snacks. We put it on the back of the stroller. This saved us a lot of money!

  5. Abby says:

    One of the things we did that saved my daughter on all of the “dark” rides was bringing along a small dollar store flashlight. It gave her the power of light on some of the darker rides that made her nervous!

  6. Kim says:

    For me one of the best planning tools was the Passporter book and website. FABULOUS!! I got so many of these same tips on there, and then some. Passporter has a book that I bought that I kept receipts in, wrote down plans and what we really did, etc, etc. And you know what? That zip plastic bag those stroller rain covers come in? Fabulous for holding my passporter book and all my brochures or itinerary, I also kept my autograph book in there one day. Then it doesn’t get wet!
    Loved your series – can’t wait to go back!

  7. AutumnM says:

    A great series thanks!
    We have gone with young kids a number of times and the advice is spot on. Even learned a few new tricks!

  8. Allison says:

    My favorite Disney tip is to pack a 7-day pill dispenser (from the dollar store) with a few doses of chewable kids tylenol, motrin, pepto, benadryl, etc. You sure hope no one gets sick on your magical vacation, but you just never know!!
    I also stash a few band aids and neosporin spray for the inevitable scraped knee!!
    And as far as groceries go, you cant beat Garden Grocers, who will deliver groceries to your Disney hotel room for a small $12 fee. You can even order online ahead of time and they will have them there waiting on you! Great for those of us who fly, and who prefer Pepsi products! :-)

  9. Amy says:

    Thank you so much for this series! My family is actually leaving this coming Monday to go to Disney World, so this has been a great read! :)

  10. Great advice! We wont be able to get to disneyworld but we are planning a trip ti disneyland in February, your tips still apply for sure! We’re bringing a 13 yr old, a 2 yr old and a newborn!

  11. Emily says:

    Thanks for this series! When I first read it we weren’t planning a trip to Disney any time soon so I just scanned through it for the future. Just this week though we decided to go to Disney in April with our 3 year old and I was racking my brains trying to remember where I’d seen this series of great informational posts! It came to me in my sleep last night and now I’m going through and making notes today!

  12. lisa says:

    We live 90min from disney and have season passes…..i also recommend bringing a large ziplock for diapers, autograph books, etc anything that could get wet and ruined. We learened the hard way after a down pour and got to re purchase autograph books. Luckily u can go to a baby station and get diapers.

    Also in the super hot why would you come to fl in the summer months? u can ask for cups of ice at any of the food stands and they will give u them for free…..a life saver in the humid heat and no charge.

  13. sheila says:

    Just returned from a week there! Wonderful tips for all who come across this site. We stayed at Wyndham Resort and got our reservations at less than half of any other on site Disney resort. It is w/in the Disney property. Take your own water!!! 4 bottles a day made it for 2 of us. Use the apps for wait times and check which parks are predicted for low attendance days. MouseEars site has great ticket prices too!!!

  14. Lisa says:

    Does anyone know if you have to pay for parking at the parks if you are staying in a Disney hotel and drive you car to the park?

  15. Lucy says:

    Thank you so much for such an awesome series of inside information about Disney! We spent Spring Break at the Boardwalk and visited all 4 parks and Blizzard Beach with our 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son. What a fabulous vacation! I spent a lot of time before our trip reading your blog, researching attractions, and mapping out our plan for each day in each park. My husband made fun of me for “stressing” over the details; however, when we had a fantastic week with no meltdowns because we rode or saw everything we wanted to, he thanked me over and over! I owe that to all your great tips and tricks! I also want to mention that instead of waiting in line to rent and return park stollers, we rented from Kingdom Stollers and loved our double stroller! It was so much nicer than the hard plastic ones you can rent in the parks. I reserved it online at and it was delivered to the front desk of our hotel prior to our arrival and we returned it to the desk prior to our departure. So wonderful!!!

    • Hey Lucy! So glad these posts were a help! ;} I’ve heard of Kingdom strollers – that’s a great idea! Thanks for including the link! ;} Glad you guys had such a wonderful time. We can’t wait to go back!

  16. Paxton says:

    Great posts! My husband and I worked at Disney World for a couple years (in fact that’s how we met!) and I like all of your tips!
    One thing I would change, don’t worry about bringing your own water bottles. At every quick food service you can walk up and ask for a “cup of complimentary water” and you will get a giant cup (with lid and straw” of ice water. Drink it, when it’s empty ask for another one!
    The story goes that when Disney Land opened, it was so hot, but there wasn’t enough water pressure to run the drinking fountains and the toilets. Yikes! So Disney made the decision to run the toilets, and handed out free cups of water to everyone. In honor of that memory, Disney world STILL gives out free cups of ice water to guests :-)
    So save some weight and room by getting all the free ice water you can stand in the park.
    Also something I learned when we take our toddlers, take advantage of all the bathrooms. They are EVERY WHERE! And when you see one, just do it. A little air conditioning, a little theming in the bathroom and no accidents for your kids and it’s a baby break from all the hustle and bustle so your child can decompress and is less likely to be so over stimulated.
    There only part of the park that doesn’t have bathrooms everywhere…. Liberty Square. Because they didn’t have outdoor plumbing back then silly! BUT they do have them inside the restraints there if you have the urge 😉
    Have fun!

    (disneyLand does too, but smaller cups with no lids)

  17. Christina says:

    This is such a helpful series of posts. Thank you! I absolutely love your pillowcase dress and felt (?) Mickey shirts. Do you have a tutorial for those? Thanks again!

  18. Joy says:

    Our youngest is 14 so we are out of the “little ones” stage. However, here is a tip I didn’t see on your website yet that we did with ours that was a lifesaver. We purchased snacks and pre-packaged them (if they weren’t already) and each child had a fanny pack. Now, I realize they aren’t in too much demand these days! Anyway, the kids chose what snacks they wanted in their pack to eat throughout the day, so whenever they were hungry they just ate when they wanted. This way they weren’t constantly asking us to buy them snacks in the parks. They loved the freedom of choosing what they wanted to eat and when. We gave them each a pack of sugarless gum (5 pcs) every other day. If they chewed all 5 pcs the same day then they didn’t get anymore til the third day.
    We also packed them a small water bottle that attached to or fit in the pack that they could refill.

  19. Bella says:

    Good tips. However you forgot to mention one thing. In addition to the Bibiddi Bobiddi Boutique, there is also The Pirates League. The Pirates league is very similar to the Boutique, except it’s pirates and mermaids (and so much more fun). They offer Jake and the Neverland Pirates packages, Captain Jack Sparrow, Empress (Female pirate), and Mermaids. It’s 10x less expensive than Bibiddi, with packages ranging from $29.95 (Jake) to $39.95 for mermaids. And you get SO MUCH more in your package then you do at Bibbidi.

    Another to keep in mind, whether you are going to the Boutique or the League, MAKE A RESERVATION! A lot of people think they can just walk right in. No. These are reservation-based places and while you can sometimes get a walk-in, having a reservation GUARANTEES you will get in. You can make it up to 180 days in advanced, just like dining reservations.

    Just another little piece of Disney magic you and you’re little ones can enjoy.

  20. Kim says:

    Just got back from a week at WDW w our adult daughter and her husband. Darling daughter had alerted us to the free ice water, which is a lifesaver. But adults and kiddies alike may put off by the “different” (mineral) taste of the water. We brought along single-serve Crystal Light-type packets, purchased at Dollar Tree! They weigh almost nothing but make the water more palatable!

  21. Jen says:

    I love those Mickey and Minnie shirts! How about taking along colorful fabric markers and having the characters autograph the shirts? Maybe carry them around instead of having the kids wear them…

  22. Christina Kasten says:

    It is *SO* worth it to pull the kiddos from school if you need to and go in early November or Winter/Spring (until Spring Breaks start). The weather is delightful and the crowds are much lighter. Having comfy temps and light crowds makes it ever so much more enjoyable.

  23. Heidi Clements says:

    Hey Ladies! I just wanted to say thank you so much for your excellent blogs about Disney World! I have been there once as a young teenager with my mom and brother. We are going as a family in 6 days!!! SO excited! (oh ~ my family consists of myself, hubby, 10-yr old boy, and 6-yr old boy) I am a planner and organizer and I have just really utilized your tips & tricks, as well as some other great ideas. I feel like I am extremely well prepared, but at the end of one of my many ‘lists’ ~ I put “You live. You learn. You only live once!” … HAVE FUN :)

  24. lync says:

    I totally agree about no taking Disney transportation whenever possible. We drive EVERY WHWERE with the exception of Magic Kingdom. It is sometimes a hassle to drive to the transportation center, take a tram to the monorail, then monorail to the gates…..

  25. Janice schaffran says:

    This site is priceless. We will go in Feb.2014. I will certainly use your advice, especially the suggestion to go with a relaxed attitude. It is good to be reminded that seeing everything is impossible but to enjoy the things we do. Thanks so much for the tips!! Janice

  26. Kristen says:

    So excited about finding your blog! Your home is absolutely amazing! I’m also getting geared up for a Disney trip in September with my parents, sister, hubby and 5 kids. I’ve been to Disney 13 times growing up but have never taken my own kids. I’m so excited and so anxious too! A 13, 6, 4, 2 and 18mo old. I was definitely planning on taking two strollers but seriously considering 4 after reading your advice. Also wondering what app you downloaded for wait times and fast passes. I had no idea there was such but apple offers something like 243 options, some free some as much as $5. P.S. we must be neighbors at large, I live in South Central Alabama!

    • Awe thanks so much Kristen and howdy, neighbor! ;} We honestly do not remember which app we used because it was almost 1.75 years ago when we went. Either way, they probably have a better app now. You probably can’t lose with what you choose. I hope that helps! ;}

    • Heather V says:

      You need the “Lines” app endorsed by the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. Has a big “L” on the logo. The book is great to read and get all sorts of details, but if you do the app and pay a minimal fee (12/yr) you will never regret it.

  27. Kylie says:

    No matter what hotel or non hotel you are coming from, a trip to downtown disney is always a long one. Though mapquest claims it maybe 15min,nothing in the surrounding Orlando area is 15minutes. The road that Downtown Disney is located on is the main road that most salary cast members take to go home, or locals take to get to Winter Garden. Plus, itisalso the main road vacationers take to go home.

  28. Tami says:

    Loved all your tips ! We travel to Disney almost every year, (sometimes twice, but who counts right ) We do meals a little differently by using the dining your way plan which gives you a counter service, snack, and a sit down meal every day. We do the counter service for breakfast, usually at our Disney hotel, then snack on granola bar, fruit or use one of the snacks offered for lunch, then our sit down for supper. I love all the options the dining plan is adding and seems there is one to fit any family lifestyle. (0:B

  29. Stephanie says:

    I used to work at Epcot and I absolutely agree: every trip to Disney will be different . Even I discover new things every time I go! They will provide you with ice water if you just ask for it ( except for the little ice cream/ baverages wagons). We usually pack sandwiches and snacks to bring us to the afternoon- then we start snacking in the parks. There is a website that gives you tips which snacks to buy that are not as pricy andand can be shared like a Hugh bowl of sundee for $5. Also we always try to only do 3 parks and take more advantage of the free stuff Disney has to offer, like downtown . We always have a rest day planned in as well where we just hang out at the pool. We usually mange to get Putin the VIP list for the firework. At least you don’t have to fight the grounds and it makes you feel special! There are now healthy snack stands around with fruits etc.

  30. Nicole says:

    Love all your tips, but wanted to add that the dining plan can offer breakfast if you do it right. A snack can also be a bangle, muffin, or pastry. So you can use the snack for breakfast :)

  31. Baylee says:

    So glad I found your guide; it’ll be great for planning beforehand! And your children are GORGEOUS!