Insider tips for magical Disney World vacation

Walt Disney World is a popular vacation destination for many Chicagoland families. Here are some tips and tactics to help you make the most of your visit to the happiest place on Earth.

Keep expectations reasonable

The Walt Disney World resort is the size of Manhattan, meaning that it’s simply not possible to do and see it all in one trip. I know that for a fact because I have tried. And failed.

Learn from my mistakes and pace yourself. It’s worth doing research ahead of time and picking one or two things that are top priorities for your family each day. Focus on having a blast doing those first, and consider everything else to be icing on your Disney cake.

There’s a lot of stimulus at the parks and it can get overwhelming for both kids and adults. It sounds silly, but my motto is “Choose sanity.” That may mean stopping for an ice cream, passing up a really long line in favor of hopping on the train for a cool ride around the park to give your feet a rest, or heading back to the hotel for a rest to avoid the afternoon heat.

Leave time for the pool

A few weeks ago my dentist expressed frustration that her two young kids were still talking about the pool at Disney, and not about their other experiences. Turns out, her kids are not the only ones.

“Our research shows that what kids remember most from their vacation is the fun they had at the pool of their hotel!” Liliane Opsomer, author of “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids,” says.

Make that work to your advantage and consider planning a “down” day without park time, especially if you are staying at one of the Disney resorts. Their pools are tons of fun and some are pretty elaborate.

Stormalong Bay is shared by the Beach Club and Yacht Club Resorts and covers three acres and features a sand bottom and 230-foot slide. (It’s only available to guests at those two resorts.) Check the resort’s Recreation Calendar for a listing of games and activities held poolside at each hotel each afternoon. They are hosted by a Disney cast member and range from dance parties to name that tune to wacky bowling.

The First Aid Centers at the parks are fabulous

We have visited Disney several times and our trip in January was the first time we found ourselves at a First Aid Center. In fact, we made two trips. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the First Aid Center was fabulous. The nurses working there could not have been more helpful, kind or efficient.

They are able to give over-the-counter medications and hooked us up with Dramamine. They also are great with bandages and other quick fixes to get your family feeling great again. There was no insurance or payment at all. Not to overshare, but they have the best barf bags in the universe.

Character meals are awesome

There are many different opportunities for character meals, which I love for several reasons. They save you time waiting in line to meet the characters, you can sometimes see characters more than once or get a little more quality time with them, and it’s a chance to sit and be in air conditioning and rehydrate.

Much has been said about character meal reservations filling up far in advance. While that is true for prime restaurants at prime times, it doesn’t mean that you won’t find anything if you are booking close to your departure. Check for last minute cancellations.

Also, be willing to consider off times for eating. Eating at 3 p.m. may not sound ideal, but it means the restaurant may not be as busy and it also means that you’ll be done and able to ride rides during the typical dinner time, which can mean shorter lines.

Ask questions

There is no such thing as a stupid question when it comes to Disney World.  Before you leave, take advantage of the Disney Park Moms Panel, a forum in which moms and dads who are Disney experts offer their tried and true tips. You can search the answers they’ve already given and if you can’t find the answers you need, you can ask your question and it may be posted and addressed by the panel. The one time I’ve asked, it was answered and posted within a few days.

When you are at the parks, cast members are ridiculously patient at answering them and more than happy to help or direct you to someone who can if they cannot.

Be prepared for the heat

Florida can be very, very hot, especially in the summer, though other months can be very toasty as well. Disney isn’t fun if you’re dealing with dehydration. Drink, drink, drink. You can bring in water bottles (as well as your own food), which we like to do and then refill them at water fountains throughout the park. You can also get free cups of water at quick service restaurants.  Also, wear cool, light colored clothing and a hat.

Know where you can get cool, including the Baby Care Centers, which offer amenities like private nursing rooms with rocking chairs, diaper changing areas and a feeding area with high chairs, all in the air conditioning. Some parents pop in here for a cool break if their little ones are starting to a hit a wall. For more great tips, check out Planning a Disney vacation for Chicago families with toddlers.

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