Walt Disney World Family Vacation: How to Plan your Trip

This Site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Our family went to Walt Disney World on a Family Vacation, and we had so much fun! Since it was the first time I’d been with my children, I had so many questions in my mind about what to do in just ONE day at each theme park, so I put together a 5 part series with the top ten attractions at Disney World at each park, and tips along with photo ops we found, in the hopes that it will help others as well.

Walt Disney World Family Vacation

Our family spent 5 days in Orlando, with a 4 day pass to Walt Disney World and a 1 day pass to the neighboring Universal Studios. We decided quite last minute to go for our kids Spring Break, and I was so confused about all of the parks, what rides were at each, what were the “not-to-miss” attractions and food and events.

I decided to poll my Facebook page friends, and got hundreds of responses to help me out–and now I’ll share it with YOU! You may be planning a trip in the near future, or you can bookmark this for down the road on your “someday” trip.  In the next 4 days, I’ll highlight each park, then come back to link up once they are posted.


How to Plan your trip to Disney World

We actually decided to go just 4 weeks before, as a last minute decision with my parents and my older brothers family. I’d been talking to my mom about going with them for a few years, and since realizing that with my parents moving to Ghana for 3 years, it would be our last BIG trip with them.  It was now or when I had a 15 year old, so we chose NOW!

Walt Disney World with 13 people

With just a few weeks to plan our trip (as I was finishing up my girls FANCY room makeover simultaneously) I was frenzied to say the least!  Most people plan their Disney Vacations over the course of a year! There is SO much to think about in the way of where to stay, how to get around town, meal plans, weather, what parks to go to for how long, age of kids, lines, special needs, safety, snacks, etc. I’m a planner, and I like to map things out, so doing a little research via social media, is my kind of planning.

Before I break down our top ten favorites at each park, I’ll share an overview of helpful tips for all of the parks.


Walt Disney World is completely happy to have you bring in food to their parks, so that was really great to find out! We planned ahead and brought a bunch of snacks in our backpacks. Of course there are so many fun treats and unique foods there, I wouldn’t plan to JUST eat from packed items, but it definitely helps. Mickey Mouse Ice Cream SandwichWe chose not to purchase the food plan (I believe it was $40 per person per day, but don’t quote me on that), so relied on our snacks and a big lunch at the park, sometimes leaving the park for dinner on our way back to the hotel.  With all of our walking, we got extra thirsty. If we couldn’t find a fountain, most of the restaurants were happy to fill up our bottles with water or ice.  I kept thinking that if we DID purchase the food plan, at least it wouldn’t be an unexpected amount at the end of the trip.


We stayed on Disney property at the Pop Century Hotel. It was actually quite reasonable, at around $100 for the room per night. I was surprised it was so affordable. On site still meant a 10-20 minute shuttle bus ride to each park, but it was nice to have that shuttle and not have to worry about parking and such. The hotel was HUGE, with over 1000 rooms, with fun themes on the outside of each building. It had restaurants on site, a large shop with Disney clothing and other fun items, but sadly no workout facilities. Whats up with that? Staying on property, we were privy to early park hours a few of the days, and THAT was really nice.  Something I thought was pretty fancy, was that your room key was also your park ticket, was also your fast pass ticket could also be your credit card. If you so desired, you could make your park ticket/card able to purchase items all around the park as if it were a credit card and charge to your room. Then all of those transactions would be on your room bill at the end. Kinda nice + kinda dangerous all at the same time. It had a unique pin # that I chose. Of course we didn’t give the children purchasing rights, though I’m sure they would have loved that.

Disney Payment


My mom made our matching Mickey shirts for us the night before we left. I suggested a fun and simple silhouette pattern, and since she has a Cricut machine, she got a Disney cartridge and whipped it up as an iron on. If I would have had more time, I might have tried to make a different shirt or two for my family, or maybe even planned to all wear red (any type of shirt) one day, and orange another day–just to keep good tabs on everyone. We were always counting kids heads, and color coordinating REALLY helps in big crowds. We had comfy clothes, light jackets, walking shoes, and even picked up a few rain slickers.

disney camera necklace

To see more of what I wore to Walt Disney World, I did a post on my outfits already.

Special Needs

I didn’t realize how accommodating Walt Disney World (and likely other theme parks) are for special needs. My nephew has some social anxiety, and my sister in law had heard that she could go to Guest Relations and mention his need, and got a pass that would help make it more manageable in some lines/rides. This goes for children with Autism, Downs Syndrome, ADD, etc. I thought that was wonderful. My mom also had a bum knee, and got to ride around in a wheelchair pushed by my dad. On many attractions, they (plus 6 guests respectively) got to join in the fast pass line, or often go to the front.

Meeting Characters

There are characters all over all of the parks. I was shocked and amazed at all of the characters we saw (since we only saw Goofy in our one day of Disneyland a few years ago).  When I wasn’t sure how it would all work, I wanted to MAKE SURE that my girls met, got to chat, and photograph princesses, so I researched Character Meals. I knew they’d be a bit pricey, but I figured I’d just do one, just with my girls. I’ll go into more detail of that on the day we went, but I worried I also wouldn’t be able to book a character meal because everyone said they book so far in advance. They were pretty booked up, but I called 2 weeks before and got a time slot, then changed it another week before. They get last minute cancellations and changes a lot, even the day before. In my mind, moments (and pictures) with the princesses were priceless. They were so cute with my girls, below, Cinderella commented on my daughters fluffy dress and asked her to twirl–which she did without hesitation. I love Cinderella’s expression and the motion of the twirl from my girl.

Cinderella at Walt Disney World


There are a million things to buy around Disney World, but were were there for the memories (and accompanying pictures taken). I told each of my kids that they could have $20 and find one thing all week that they could take home to enjoy. I didn’t tell them, but I was a bit flexible on that amount (went up to $34 for my son and a unique wand) but encouraged them to find something fun (not food) that would remind them of our trip. My girls got Micky Jewelry/princesses and my other son got a zipper pouch.


Speaking of pictures, there are Disney photographers EVERYWHERE taking pictures with Disney Photopass system. As with many roller coasters snapping pictures of crazy faces, you can buy one image. But they also sell a package for $200 ($150 if you pre pay online before you go) that you can get EVERY SINGLE image taken by photographers, and that could be up to 200 pictures. I didn’t realize what this was til the last day, so we didn’t have photographers take our pictures, but if I were to do this again (even though I’m a photographer and I know how to use my fancy camera) I’d do this. A week of memories captured for $200 is pretty fabulous, in my opinion. Since I didn’t do that, I’d hand off my camera to my family members or strangers. I am passionate about moms getting out from behind the camera and IN pictures with their children. I love this moment my my daughter and I skipping (in case you can’t quite tell). With my DSLR, I brought my 35mm lens and kept it on the entire time. It is wide enough to capture the tall castle when I’m right in front of it. I prefer prime/fixed lenses, but if you don’t have this, another wide lense (28-75) is also great.

skipping at Walt Disney World

She was skipping all. over. the. park. It was adorable, it was as if she didn’t know how to walk–just skip. I passed off my camera, and got this moment captured, and it makes me so happy since she did this all week.


Though I rarely take my almost 4 year old out in a stroller at home, I made sure we hauled it to Florida for this week. Not only does it help her when her little legs are tired, but it carried all of our bags and jackets all day long. I think I may just take a stroller even when she is 12. There are lots of stroller parking spots all over the park, people just leave their junk in the strollers and get on rides.

Early Park Hours

Staying on Disney property granted us early admission to Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Though some say to avoid the parks on early days because it will be more crowded, that first hour is GOLDEN time to get in the rides that you really want to ride first. No matter when the park opens get. there. early.

Fast Pass

This seemed to be quite the complicated system before I got to the park (only at Disney, Not Universal). Fast Passes allow you to not have to wait in long lines for your most favorite attractions. I found out ahead of time what was popular, and we planned to do those first or get a fast pass for them. The tricky part is that you can only have one fast pass at a time. So we’d get to a park and my brother and I would grab everyone’s park ticket (see above, also a credit card) and run to the ride that we knew we wanted to go on and grab a fast pass. One person (in our case two) can get fast passes for as many park tickets as you have in your hand. You then get a paper ticket that tells you what time to come back (between 10:30-11:30) as an hour window, and you get in the fast pass line instead of the longer line. That generally was a 20 minute line and GREAT! The trick is that you can’t get another fast pass ride until 10:31 (in the case above). So we’d go to our other favorite ride while waiting. The tough part is that by NOON, the fast pass times are so filled up that popular rides are having windows like 9-10pm and if you get that time slot, you pretty much can’t get any other ride time slots til after that. So you have to really plan and map out to go to your top 2-3 favorite rides first thing in the day, or have a long line later.

Dancing at Walt Disney World


Waiting in line for the shuttle, riding the shuttle, unloading the shuttle, waiting in the park line to check backpacks, line to get in the gates, then lines for food and rides. Plan on it, then maybe it won’t annoy you so much. Walt Disney World is going to be busy with lines all year long. Maybe slightly better in off season,but it’s DISNEY WORLD, it’s going to be busy, period.

Make New Friends

I like to talk to strangers, I like to offer to take strangers pictures when I see a mom snapping a shot of her husband and kids at Disney World. I didn’t have to mention that I take lots of pictures and post them on my blog…they didn’t care, all they cared about was a family shot. Offer to do that for strangers. Ask questions, find out where people are from, what rides their kids liked. I found out lots of great information by just chatting with people in line near me.

There’s an app for that

If you have a smart phone, uploading Disney apps are really helpful. They have maps of the park, and estimated wait times on varying rides if you don’t have a fast pass. Sometimes we’d be across the park and see that a certain ride had a lower wait time, and run over there!  Mine is called My Disney Experience, but there are others as well.

Happiest Place on Earth

Sometimes people get cranky when tired or hungry. Kids are being dragged from here to there and everywhere, and adults are stressed at all of the dragging (and money spent). Have expectations to have fun, but also expect some of the grumpiness that comes along with running ragged and be patient with everyone–including yourself!  I saw some cranky faces on parents, stern “talkin’ to’s” as well. Just have fun and relax, and make memories!

Tune in to the rest of the series this week as I highlight the parks and our favorite rides and attractions! Do you have General Walt Disney World Tips? Tell me in the comments and I may edit to add!

*I wish I got compensated for these posts, but I share this without any perks, just the desire to share.

 Here is a quick link to the other posts about different parks in Orlando:

How to Plan your trip to Disney World

Join The Discussion



  1. Rhiannon says:

    I’m so glad you had fun! We love Disney, we went for our honeymoon and every year since! Just made 14, my hubs has been many more times than that though. We also just joined vacation club. The deluxe hotels have gyms, not the value. I imagine this is because the cost of the rooms is so low(for Disney) though over the years I see lots of people jogging around the hotel property so they figure out ways to get their workout in. For us the walk so much that’s our workout!

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Yes, I could have done a little jog, true. I generally stay at cheap hotels across America and it seems most hotels have at least a small room with a treadmill and eliptical, so I was just surprised! Once a year for 14 years, wow, you are a pro…I need YOUR tips!!

  2. Tara says:

    So excited to see your vacation details… Disney is my favourite place ever 🙂

  3. Nicole says:

    I am so excited for your recap. We know we will do WDW at some point, but I am overwhelmed at the planning aspect. Seeing your BTDT will help. And I love the skipping picture 🙂

    • Kristen Duke says:

      It does seem quite overwhelming, indeed!! Glad to hear this helps!!

  4. Great post, Kristen! And I also love that pic of you and your daughter!

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Thanks, Marcia, I love capturing those cute moments with my kids…glad you like it, too!

  5. Megan says:

    My family loves Disney World! So glad you had a great trip. A tip for next time…you can pre-order the PhotoPass+ online for $149. (Just google “PhotoPass+ pre-order.) Some friends of ours collected over 800 pics last time!

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Oh wow, that is a good tip! I thought I remembered seeing that online, then got there and it was more. I’ll edit to add that.

  6. Kelly says:

    Great recap! I’d like to hear about which lenses you took with your big camera and if you had to do it all over again, which ones would you leave at home or make sure you grab?

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Great question (I meant to add that), I just edited the post to say I used only my 35mm lens.

      • amber says:

        When you were on your rides what would you do with your camera?

  7. disneychamp says:

    I can’t wait for the updates. SO glad you got to go with your family before Ghana. Did you all stay together the whole time or divide by interests?

    • Kristen Duke says:

      We did go to all the parks each day together and MOSTLY stayed together. Just a few times at the end of each day, we split up to make sure we all hit what we wanted to.

  8. Wendy says:

    Woo Hoo! Disney week! Perfect timing–we’re taking the kids and going with my parents the first week of May. We went there for our honeymoon–and are now going to celebrate our 10th anniversary while we’re there. Can’t wait to see all the great tips (and fun, beautiful pictures) you’ll share… 🙂 🙂

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Yay, so glad this is helpful for you since you are going soon!!!

  9. Blair says:

    Looks like such a fun trip! I’m really looking forward to your reflections. We are considering a trip to DW later this year, with our 4 kids. I’m always inspired and learning something new on your joyful blog! Thanks 🙂

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Oh Blair, you’re so sweet! It was a lot of fun, you should plan it!

  10. Dee says:

    I am sooo excited you posted this…we JUST decided to take an unplanned 3 day disney trip in just 5 weeks and have never been. ;). Cant wait to read more!

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Yay, Dee, that’s so exciting!!!! Have so much fun!

  11. Lisa says:

    Perfect timing! We are planning a trip to Disney with our five kids the day they get out of school. Just got online to start researching and found your posts. Thanks for sharing!

    • Kristen Duke says:

      wonderful, Lisa, so happy to hear that your search led you to my posts, and have so much fun on your trip!!

  12. Love your tips, Kristen. And your girl is PRECIOUS. I skip all over Disney myself. We loved the Disney apps that tell you how long waits are {especially for non-fast-pass rides}. We used those apps like crazy to figure out where the lines weren’t. Just my $.02.

    On another note, can you believe it’s been an entire week since we all met at Blissdom. I’m still trying to figure out which is end is up since then. Missing everyone and the awesome time we all had. Such a treat to meet you there!

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Hi Kristi!! Yes, thanks for mentioning the apps, those were quite helpful!! I’ll add that to my main post…I know, it is SO fun to connect with other blogger friends, and such a bummer that we can all live closer to each other! A treat to meet you as well;)

  13. Tina says:

    I’m going next week with my family of 5! Thanks for sharing. I found you via Pinterest & have been particularly interested in which lens, if to bring my DSLR at all or just use iPhone. The photo pass is tempting. Thanks again for the post!

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Fabulous timing! I brought just my 35mm prime lens and kept it on the whole time. I used my phone some, too, but I like “pretty” vacation pictures.

      • Chris says:

        I love all the Disney info. We’re taking our 8-year old for the first time at the end of April. Can’t wait! Do you know if there is a Nikon lens equivalent to your Canon 35mm lens? Thank you!

        • Kristen Duke says:

          Yes, you can get a 35 in Nikon, just google it or look on amazon!

  14. Andrea says:

    Loved reading your post! We are DVC members and love going to Disney World. You are right character dinning/sit down dinning always books up approximately 6 months in advance. However, if you do go again, the sit down in Norway (Epcot) is a buffet and a great way to meet 5 of the princesses.

    • The “sit down in Norway” is actually not a buffet although they HAVE an appetizer deli buffet. You order from the menu and it’s called Akershus and we never miss it!

  15. It looks like ya’ll had a great time!! We have been several times and have always stayed on Disney property. It makes things so much easier and Pop Century is a beautiful resort that is so affordable! We always go the first week of May and the weather is usually warm without being too hot! The lines are minimal, I think the longest wait we ever had was 15-20 minutes. I wish I was going back this year!

    • Kristen Duke says:

      wow, that sounds fabulous to wait only 20 min! Our waits weren’t too bad, but a few of them got long. May sounds lovely, the weather was great in March.

  16. Excellent web site you have here.. It’s difficult to find quality writing like yours these days. I seriously appreciate individuals like you! Take care!!

  17. Julie says:

    Sou ends like fun, I was at Disneyland when I was very little. Unfortunately I was too young to remember. Disney vacation is on my bucket list. You have great and I am inviting you to share this with my Show Your Stuff link party:


  18. Jenny says:

    So fun! I haven’t been to Disney since I was in 5th grade and I’m 33 now! My husband and I are trying to plan a trip to go May 2014. I’ve been looking at the resorts and keep hearing Pop Century is a decent place to stay. What are your thoughts on it? I’m kind of a picky person, but can’t afford the Grand Floridian 🙂 Honestly, as long as it is clean, that’s all that matters. I’ve stayed in some funky places before.

    • Kristen Duke says:

      I was really happy at Pop Century. Very clean, it seems a bit small, but if I can save money, I don’t mind.

  19. Thank you for sharing all of that great information. I am also so glad I found your blog. Have a great day!

  20. Ruthie says:

    How fun Kristen…. what a fun trip and awesome post! Thanks for coming to (link) party with me… Come and share again today at Super Saturday http://www.whatscookingwithruthie.com 🙂 Have a wonderful day. xoxo~ Ruthie

  21. Jenn says:

    Great post! I look forward to the reading the rest in the series! We stayed at an off site hotel when we went to Disney World and I would NEVER do that again. We did a couple of nights at the Animal Kingdom resort and it was such a different experience!

  22. What a fun trip! I so hope to get to DW someday!

  23. How fun! Looks like you all had a great time; thanks for sharing all your tips! We can’t wait to take our family in a couple more years! Pinning these great tips for later! 🙂

  24. Tracy says:

    We are heading to Disney in 2 days – can’t wait. We have been sharing our cost saving tips at our new site http://www.budget4disney.com

  25. We are actually inspired using your way with words-at all and also with the file format inside your weblog. Is the a given matter as well as would you alter this your self? In any event continue being inside the fantastic premium quality creating, it can be uncommon to view a great blog exactly like it today.

  26. An individual always help for making significantly articles I might state. Which is the very first time that I frequented your internet website and therefore considerably? I actually astonished together with the study you have made to develop this unique submit incredible. Terrific procedure!

  27. Carly says:

    We have purchased the photo package, but I don’t know how it works. Do u ask the people to take photos? And when/how do u get the photos? Should I also bring my camera?

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Hope this isn’t too late….there are TONS of photographers roaming around, you will know it when you see it, they had a vest and a camera, and tried to stop us to take pictures even though we didn’t have the package. they are always trying to sell the package to everyone. so if you purchased it, you carry a card with an id number on it (i think) and they scan it, and when you are done, you take that card to a disney photo shop and they will pull up all of the images that all photographers took of you by that number/card! quite magical. I would still bring your own camera though, yes.

  28. Tiara says:

    I randomly came across your page while googling “Disney World Photography” and I most say your posts are making me giddy. I am taking my kids to Disney for the first time in about 2 weeks and I recently bought my first “big girl camera”, so I was looking for some details on photographing certain areas/events (fireworks, light parades, etc). The first image I saw was the Mickey Mouse IceCream sandwich and I got “THAT’ feeling in the pit of my stomach, that wonderful Disney Magic feeling. Scrolling thru the rest of your photos, I felt like I was there. It’s the little things and you captured them beautifully. Thanks for sharing!

    • Kristen Duke says:

      You are so sweet to leave that kind comment, it really meant a lot to me!!! I saw your comment so late, I’m guessing you already went, how was the trip?? Hope you got some magical pictures while you were there!

  29. Jen says:


    What a FABULOUS post with SUCH great tips! I am always so hesitant to bring the “big” camera on outings like this…how do you secure it for rides? How do you avoid the camera strap neck ache? I also feel like I’m always banging it into things. Any tips for navigating a fun, ACTIVE day with a “fancy” camera and keeping it safe?

    • Kristen Duke says:

      HI Jen! I kept it in a backpack in my stroller when I wasn’t using it. I’m kinda naive, and feel no one will steal it. Ha! Ok, call it trusting;) I’d keep it strapped on me quite a bit, and had a small bag I’d put it in if I needed to stow it for a ride. Not sure there is way to avoid the strap aches except to just give yourself breaks;) Have fun on your adventure!

  30. My husband and I got married at WDW two years ago and we have annual passes now so we go all the time! I love reading others posts about the Happiest Place on Earth and I am so glad you had a great time!

    Last year, Disney phased out the old paper Fastpass systme and replaced it with a new system called Fastpass+.. You can reserve Fastpasses before you go that way you’re guaranteed a spot on the more popular rides! My husband and I love the new system because we don’t have to get up early to get to the parks anymore to make sure we get a pass for our favorite rides. 🙂

  31. Ansley Hawkins says:

    Hi! My best friend and all of my family are going down to Disney world for my 16th birthday, and I was wondering about a few characters. My best friend and I have an old taste when it comes to disney movies (her favorite character is Peter Pan, and mine are Hercules and Meg). While in Disney did you see any of those three characters, because I have heard they are very hard to find? And if so, where were they?

  32. Vale Chávez says:

    hey! I´m 15 now! i will go to Disney for my birthday do you think that i will enjoy all the parks you have mentioned before ?!?! i dont know which ones choose bcoz im from peru i think i will stay ther for 5 or 6 days in Orlando! please help me ((:

    • Kristen Duke says:

      You will love all the parks. It’s hard to know which is best for your age, as my 13 year old enjoyed all of them. You will have so much fun!!

  33. I enjoyed reading this! We’re going in 25 days and I always binge on Disney tips right up until the day we leave. I highly recommend the dining plan. I do not go without it. It’s such a JOY to have everything paid for in advance, even snacks. We take nothing into the parks except a small purse I take with my wallet and wet wipes! We eat so much on the dining plan that we even end up with extra snack credits at the end. You can get a free glass of water in any restaurant in the park so I don’t even take water bottles. I don’t like carrying things but I do carry my DSLR…I’m like you – I like great vacation pics! I love all of yours!! We also stay at Pop and love, love, love it! It’s always clean and charming. You cracked me up on wanting a gym. You typically walk 8 to 10 miles per day at Disney World so I’m sure most people don’t have the energy to also exercise before or after that. I sure don’t!

  34. Heather says:

    What special accomadations were they able to provide for your nephew?

  35. Melody says:

    Hi Kristen~ Another way to save money if you are going with other family members or friends is to pre-pay for the picture CD and split the cost with the “other half” so $75 per family and 100 pictures.

    • Kristen Duke says:

      That is a great idea, I really wish I would have done that!!

  36. Tim says:

    We took my son at 2 years old and everyone said it was a bad idea…he’s too young. Bologna! He had such a blast and so did we! Can’t wait to do the same for our daughter in a few short months. Love the pics btw.

  37. Rachel says:

    I’m not sure if this was addressed in the comments but as far as the Fast Pass system – If you are at the park early in the morning and go to get a Fast Pass for a particularly popular attraction and the return time is scheduled for later in the evening (9-10 pm as you mentioned for example) you would not have to wait until your return time (9 pm in this case) to get another Fast Pass. You are eligible for another Fast Pass 2 hours after yours was issued OR after your return time, whichever comes first. So let’s say you were issued a Fast Pass at 9 am and your return time wasn’t until 9-10 pm – you can have another Fast Pass issued anytime after 11 am. Another example is let’s say you were issued a Fast Pass at 9 am and the return time was for 9:30 am (only 30 minutes after the Fast Pass was issued) – you don’t have to wait the 2 hours, you are eligible to get another Fast Pass after 9:30 am (the return time). There is a fine print on the bottom of the Fast Pass that shows the time you can have another Fast Pass issued. I hope this helps!

  38. Tiffany says:

    Your Blog was very fun to read. Thanks for sharing! I look forward to taking my kids to Disney World!!

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Well thank you, glad you enjoyed the read, have so much fun on your trip!

  39. Jennilee Stroud says:

    Hey Kristen,

    I am sinning for my first trip with my two daughters and everything is so confusing but your tips made it a little easier. Last time I was at Walt Disney World was when I was five. I want my girls to enjoy it more and be able to remember it. I like the idea of getting pictures taken, thank you I will definitely think about that. I am happy you had fun and did you see anything with Frozen? My daughter is a frozen fanatic. Thank you!!!

  40. Stacie says:

    So we are planning a trip for January and I want to stay at the Pop century hotel but they have a 4 person limit. How did you get around this with your family of 5? My youngest just turned three, so she should easily have a bed on the floor…. Thanks!

  41. Kristen says:

    We are going in April. PERFECT timing! I am getting the photographer thing because of your suggestion. It was just confirmed by my coworker that went last year and she loved being IN the pictures. Couple of questions that I may have missed: Did you do any character dining? Did you do that lanyard or autograph thing that some people talk about? I have kids 6, 4, 1. Is it worth the hassle? Did you do the park hopper tickets? My coworker said the parking lots are far away and with little kids it would be best to stay at one park per day. Thoughts? Thanks in advance!
    P.S. It was sweet to see your mom in the picture and reminds me to get my parents on trips with my kids now.

    • Kristen Duke says:

      So glad this was helpful! We did do a character lunch, I talk about it in the link connected to this post, all about Magic Kingdom. Just me and my girls though, split off with the boys because I knew they wouldn’t care. That was really fun, and I think worth it to have close up interaction time with the characters. Your 6 year old might get into the lanyard, but we did not do it. We did do one park per day and did not do park hoppers. I agree, too far apart, too much time wasted traveling, just choose one a day, plenty to do in a day. Thanks for mentioning you enjoyed seeing my mom, this was the last big trip before their mission, so glad we went.

  42. sarah hirsch says:

    Thanks for the great tips, so much goes into planning a trip to Disney!

  43. Tammy Shelton says:

    One of the main reasons we moved to Florida was to be close to Disney World. Best thing I’ve ever done!

  44. Great tips! Thanks!
    I’m bookmarking your Epcot page because, of the 4 times we’ve been to Disney, we’ve actually never done Epcot!!! On my list for our next trip down.

  45. Valerie says:

    Planning a Disney vacation is almost as much fan as taking one. Almost. 🙂

  46. dmforman says:

    There are great useful tips here. I am looking forward to using them on our next Disney vacation.

  47. We go to Disney regularly and agree with all of this! The food plan is always a must with us!

  48. Trisha Mourot says:

    I am trying to talk my husband into us all getting matching Disney t-shirts, but he isn’t too keen on the idea!

    • Kristen Duke says:

      ha ha! Sometimes the key is the design, look for something more manly. And tell him it’s safe for kids in case they get lost, they know how to describe what you look like.

  49. Mary M says:

    Thanks for your tips. My husband and I are bringing out 11 month old daughter in April. Wish us luck!

    • Kristen Duke says:

      sounds fun, you’ll have a blast!

  50. Michelle P in BC says:

    What a fun trip!! We went several years ago and absolutely loved it! If you ever give yourself plenty of time to plan another trip, you’ll find that the meal plan is an excellent value when you factor in character meals. I had never even considered doing those (or eating at some of the other fancy restaurants like the Coral Reef or Tony’s in Main Square) until our WDW trip because they are so pricey! With the plan, you get a beverage an entree and a dessert with each meal plus snacks for each person each day. We had several credits for snacks left right before we went home and picked up some Mickey crackers and rice krispy treats to take with us! The only tricky part about the meal plan is making reservations for the fine dining restaurants. You have to plan what park you will be in each day and what time you will want lunch, but it wall worked out beautifully in the end for us and we found that during our meals was the absolute best way to meet characters! I enjoyed your post, thank you so much for sharing!!

  51. Lee B. says:

    Great job writing this up. Thanks for all the helpful info!

  52. Heather Sebastian says:

    What SWEET photos <3 and thank you for the wonderful tips and tricks for planning…very helpful!

  53. Jill Signorelli says:

    thanks for the info. i love the matching shirts. I will have to do that for our next vacation

  54. Amy M-G says:

    I use a Google doc to create an itinerary for each of our visits to Disney World. This includes our confirmation numbers (for the hotel and dining reservations), park hours for each day we’re there, and a list of must-dos for each park. Then I share the doc with all of the adults in our party. Since it’s a Google doc, I can update it in a snap. And with free wi-fi at all of the Disney parks, there’s no need to print it out.

  55. carrie P says:

    This is great info!

  56. wpoole says:

    thanks for all the info!

  57. Art says:

    I like to use the TripIt service for vacation organization. It is a website and a smartphone app. Any confirmation emails you get you forward to the website and they are added automatically to your itinerary. Emails such as plane booking, hotel, car rental, dining res and events. Then you can also add anything else you want like what days you are attending the parks, and activities you don’t want to miss.

  58. Michelle Bartley says:

    Thanks for all the helpful information!!

  59. Paula W says:

    What a great family vacation!

  60. Jenn C says:

    Wow! Love the pics and info. Makes me want to go back so badly.

  61. Such a beautiful family!

  62. K says:

    Can’t wait! Sounds like so much funm

  63. Heather Hooton says:

    You have some great tips here! I would love to take my kids to Disney World again. My daughter has EXTREMELY bad anxiety and a few years ago we had taken her to Disney World (the one and only time we went) but she was so upset by everything the whole time she didn’t get to experience anything and we spent most of our time hiding away while she cried. Would love to take her back now that she has been in therapy and has learned the tools to overcome these panic attacks (she’s been other places she has put her practices in use) her goal is to one day go back there and overcome fears she has had

  64. Sarah says:

    Haven’t been to WDW since the advent of apps (it’s been awhile) but will download for my next trip!

  65. Monica Ray says:

    love this

  66. Lauren Adler says:

    Cute photos! Can’t wait to take my own one day!

  67. Holly OGorman says:

    So many things to consider when planning.

  68. Jennifer Williams says:

    Great ideas! Thanks!

  69. Emily Muns says:

    I love Disneyland and all things disney!!

  70. Nancy says:

    Love the pictures! Cant wait to go.

  71. Diana Powell says:

    Love taking advantage of early park hours when staying on site.

  72. chris g. says:

    Don’t go to Disney without planning.

  73. Vicki Fischer says:

    What nice photos and thanks for the info. I want to go!!

  74. Jennifer S says:

    I find Disney is super helpful for special food needs too. My friend and her family are all celiac and the chef always comes out to talk to them and to make sure that they won’t react to their meals

  75. joni metcalf says:

    Love all the info. Your pictures were geat!

  76. May Lynn Mahler says:

    Your review is sooo very helpful, thank you! I really appreciate the details because this is the information I could not find anywhere else!!! now, I can relax and feel at ease, because a lot of the issues have been addressed here!

  77. Amy Gangloff says:

    nice pictures and tips

  78. mel barker says:

    cool tips – thx

  79. Kerry J. says:

    Love the idea of matching shirts…now convincing the family might be another matter…

  80. Corry L. says:

    Great article & pics! Loved it! Thanks for sharing!

  81. Jordan Wolf says:

    Great info!

  82. Maribel Moroni says:

    Thanks for the great tips!

  83. Julie Suess says:

    Great tips – haven’t heard about the app before. And great explanation on the fast pass.

  84. shannon fowler says:

    I didn’t know you could bring outside food into disney! I have some food allergies and planning for that has been stressing me a bit.

  85. Elizabeth Resch says:

    Great info, thank you!

  86. Sheree says:

    Nice advice

  87. Lee Morelli says:

    Good info

  88. Kim O says:

    cute photos. good tips too.

  89. Erica says:

    When planning a trip to WDW use websites like touring plans.com and eaywdw.com to help plan

  90. Thanks for ideas.

  91. Michelle Elizondo says:

    I love seeing peoples nice family or baby pics.

  92. Malinda says:

    Great tips!

  93. Marta says:

    Great tips! I can’t wait to get back to Disney World when my kiddos are a little bit bigger.

  94. POONAM GOSAIN says:

    Getting more confident now

  95. John McCarthy says:

    We’re going in June, can’t wait. Things are kind of different now with the app, being able to get fast passes 2 months in advance for one example. Thanks for the tip about special needs though. My son has autism and I wasn’t aware of that, it will be a big help!

  96. Tricia says:

    This advice is so great. Thanks!

  97. Amy H. says:

    Thanks for the great tips!

  98. Brenda M says:

    Planning the trip is half the fun

  99. Serina Matteson says:

    Thanks for the great info. I’m ready to go now.

  100. Sounds like a great trip! I can’t wait to take my LO down.

  101. Good walking shoes a plus,I brought several and was glad I did.yes we also did 1park a day,packed snacks for inside and brought our refill cups in to our surprise most of the time they filled our cups great lemonade,pop,water enjoy

  102. Kathie Williamson says:

    Nice handy tips! I’m huge on using the apps to track waiting times and helping me plan where to go when.

  103. Karen says:

    great tips

  104. Devin Johns says:

    We like going to Magic Kingdom for at least two days

  105. Great ideas! I’m definitely going to pin this for future reference! Thanks!!

  106. Angela Griffin says:

    I love those matching shirts! We have a trip planned this Spring Break and I may just be stealing the idea 🙂 And you have seriously made me reconsider purchasing the photo package they offer. I also have Princess Dinner booked, my daughter is super excited and well my two year old son doesn’t have a clue anyhow, one day we will do a manly Disney character dinner for him lol

  107. Leo Ching says:

    great ideas

  108. This is a GREAT planning resource! Awesome job!

  109. john gibson says:

    Nice, helpful ideas. Thanks. Looking forward to our family trip sometime in the next few years.

  110. Katie Powers says:

    Love all the ideas! Truly is the happiest place on earth. Have never tried the pictures option but may be worth it to have a professional handle that.

  111. Pam shepherd says:

    Great Tips. We have never been to Disney. I Would Love to take my grand kids this year if money allows..

  112. Lisa Mead says:

    Great tips! I’m pinning this for future reference!

  113. I love the tips. My girls will definitely want to meet the characters.

  114. Becky C says:

    Planning the trip is almost as fun as the trip itself!

  115. A Ogden says:

    Great ideas! I’ll for sure use this as a reference next time we go.

  116. We are going as a family of 7 should be fun!

  117. Janet says:

    I’m so glad you mentioned “Special Needs” in your writeup. I once vacationed while I was confined to a wheelchair and Disney made sure I had a handicapped-accessible resort room. That room made the difference between having a less-than-stellar vacation and a stellar one. My hat is off to Disney’s Special Needs Department.

  118. Leslie Crosbie says:

    Waiting in lines suck but I am a talker and usually find a new friend. I image that in the end seeing you kid face on an awesome ride makes the long line worth it!!

  119. Memory Maker is definitely worth the money!

  120. Carla W. says:

    A must is good walking shoes.
    Great tips

  121. Louanne B says:

    Thank you for sharing all these fabulous tips! I had absolutely no idea about the Disney apps!

  122. Gabrielle says:

    I agree, strollers are very useful to hold snacks, water, jackets, etc., even if the kiddo isn’t in it very often. And moms definitely need to get out from behind the camera and get in those photos!

  123. Jessica N says:

    I will take you up on the tip to bring a stroller even though hubs thinks their to old! I love the matching shirts and will be doing the same! Thanks for the awesome tips.

  124. Robo says:

    using blog.trekaroo.com is a great way to plan also

  125. Tracy Shygera says:

    Pack snacks or eat your larger meal before hitting the park. Take your time!! Don’t rush, we missed out on so much because he tried to rush and not take our time 🙁

  126. HelloKaileyG says:

    I enjoyed your tips! And I love your blue shirts in the top picture! 🙂

  127. Lynn Putnam says:

    Thank you for all the helpful info! We will certainly use when we get to plan our next trip to WDW!

  128. Emily Cox says:


  129. Catherine C. says:

    I love these ideas! Thanks for all of the tips.

  130. Lisa Chesnut says:

    I am a big planner when it comes to Disney. I usually have a daily schedule and pick all parks for each day of our trip, then book dining according to where we will be each day.

  131. Carmen Canabal-Perry says:

    Great tips and tricks for a magical stay. I love the matching shirts your mom made!!

  132. Brittani Donahoo says:

    Thank you for the great tips!

  133. Lauren says:

    So many great tips! One of my favorite things about going to Disney World is planning the trip! Love it!!

  134. Bridget Harrison says:

    Never had a plan when I went I just went with the flow of the group I was with.

  135. Jennifer Herrmeyer says:

    Great tips ! thanks!

  136. Great tips!

  137. great tips! thanks!

  138. Chiguy64 says:

    great tips

  139. Laura S says:

    Those shirts are so cute! Such a great idea for group photos at the parks, but I especially like your idea of different colored shirts for different days.

  140. Jennifer S. says:

    Once the park is busy and you’ve got your FastPass and none of the lines are really short, I avoid the desire to dash to the other side of the park for a particular ride, especially with kids. You just waste a lot of time with the to-and-fro, kids get grumpy enough to be the dwarf’s twin, and everyone gets tired. I generally plan my strategy by section, and it seems to work pretty well…

  141. April Bray says:

    These are really helpful tips. Thanks for sharing.

  142. Lisa Urwick says:

    Travel at Thanksgiving. It is great weather and the lines are do-able!

  143. Sharyl R says:

    We have been a Disneyland only family so far, so will need all these tips when and if we do WDW. We always do refillable water bottles and lots of snacks every day on our DLR trips.

  144. Leigh Anne Borders says:

    Great tips! I love that you all having matching shirts.

  145. We are also not planning on using the dining plan for an upcoming trip because we plan to do several character meals and signature dining. The Deluxe Plan is the only plan that would meet our needs but leaves us with a ton of unused meals (that I don’t want to trade for snacks).

  146. Kathryn Hoehn says:

    Looks like your family had a super fun trip!

  147. Anita Duvall says:

    Lot’s of great tips to help plan our next visit. Thanks for the ideas.

  148. Karyn says:

    We also do matching shirts because they are fun to create! Also do Memory Maker and have come home with over 500+ pics. Well worth the money.

  149. Liz says:

    The most magical place on earth!

  150. irina says:

    Great tips, love the matching t-shirt idea

  151. Love your t-shirts!!

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Thank you, I love how they turned out, too!

  152. jamie mehren says:

    wish i could take my kids to disney

    • Kristen Duke says:

      How old are they? Start a Disney fun, make a jar. I feel grateful that my parents funded the trip, it does cost a good amount, for sure.

  153. Mike Gismondi says:

    These are great tips, thanks!

  154. Kerry says:

    Check the park calendars / schedules online before you go. This way you know when the extra magic hours are and what nights shows like Fantasmic are showing.

  155. Nikki Kavanaugh says:

    Such a great blog and photos!!

  156. neonderlyn says:

    great tips

  157. Lara says:

    Great tips – I like how you have sections for the other parks as well

  158. Bianca says:

    I hope to go one day

  159. Neal says:

    So many great tips! I am finding out many things I did not know about Disney!

  160. emily says:

    EEee, these posts have inspired me to bust out the freezer paper and start on the shirts for our trip (um, which isn’t until December). Thanks!

  161. Amie D says:

    Thank you for all of the great information. I hope to be able to visit Disneyworld soon with my littles!

  162. Shelly Davis says:

    Great Tips!

  163. Gina says:

    love the info – bookmarking this website for the next vacation planning

  164. Deb R. says:

    I think the planning is almost more fun than the trip.

  165. Angela Thomas says:

    Thanks for sharing your trip. I’m very impressed you did this in less than 4 weeks and still got a character breakfast. You go girl!

  166. Nancy Curtis says:

    Someday I’ll get there with my kids. Dream vacation.

  167. Sonya Morris says:

    I love the t-shirts! So many great tips!

  168. Amanda Thomas says:

    I need this trip so bad 🙂

  169. Pauline Linares says:

    Lovely suggestions!

  170. Tarah Mannin says:

    Thanks for all of the tips, I’ve been wondering about the meal plans too!

  171. David Z says:

    The advice that everybody gives is true: Be there at opening and come with a plan.

  172. Alison says:

    Good tips, especially for people who have not been. I also recommend staying at an on-site hotel – even if it is not technically part of Disney, it helps with getting to and from and can also get you in earlier to the parks. I would recommend going to Animal Kingdom early to see the animals – more active in the morning, and you could split the day between Animal Kingdom and Disney Studios – both – really – do not have a lot to offer – especially for younger kids. Also, make reservations for dining before hand and make sure you dine with characters – it is a little more – but really worth it. Thank you for these!

  173. Edward Haas says:

    Great Information!

  174. natasha lamoreux says:

    Thank you for all the great tips! I will definately use this tips when planning and visiting Disney.

  175. Lindsay Bade says:

    These are great! I had no idea you could bring snacks. That will definitely save some money! Thanks!

  176. Catherine Cole says:

    Great to know I can bring in treats

  177. sarah alexis says:

    I have awesome memories of Disneyworld from when I was a kid. I would love to someday take my kids there… but its so far for me now that we live in BC!

  178. angela griffin says:

    Thanks for all the ideas!

  179. Angela N. says:

    I hope i get the opportunity to plan a Disney vacation. I have wanted to experience this with my son for far to long. I need to find a way to make it happen before he is grown. Thanks for the information.

  180. Angela N. says:

    II have wanted to experience this with my son for far to long who doesn’t want to visit “The Happiest Place in the World”?. I need to find a way to make it happen before he is grown. Thanks for the information.

  181. Lisa Paquette says:

    How fun to get your FB friends to help!

  182. debbie nubile says:

    love the tips & love the shirts!

  183. Lori Novelli says:


  184. Amelia Drew says:

    Great tips- thanks!

  185. Catherine R. says:

    I love your matching shirts, they are so cute. Great tips!

  186. Great tips! Thanks

  187. Bonnie esken says:

    The fast pass and finding out what’s crowded seem like great ideas

  188. Rebecca says:

    I cannot wait to plan my family’s vacation! Thank you!

  189. jill nauyokas says:

    loving the tshirts, hoping I can take my daughter for her 13th birthday

  190. Thanks for sharing, so nice you and your family had such an amazing opportunity. I look forward to experiencing the same with mine.

  191. Sara McBride says:

    Great Article …. I Love Disney !!

  192. Joanne Frank says:

    Great tips thank you for sharing

  193. Dawn W. says:

    We have started purchasing the memory maker for all of our photos. It made a real difference and almost forced us to remember to get our pictures taken.

  194. Elsie Macleod says:

    Love everything!!

  195. Derrick Cordova says:

    Great tips!!

  196. Sandra Caballero says:

    Thanks for the great tips. Wishing for one day this Disney Dream to come true for my daughters. I want to match shirts like your family.

  197. Alicia Lefebvre says:

    Thanks for the great tips!!

  198. Natalie says:

    Such helpful tips! I can’t wait to go again!

  199. Diane Harris says:

    I agree the first hour is golden.

  200. Diane Harris says:

    I never guessed we could bring in food, what a savings!

  201. jean moore says:

    I am wanting to go to either.

  202. Desiree C. says:

    Love Disney! Can’t wait to visit again.

  203. rebecca Thomas says:

    I love the matching t-shirts! I am having Neon colored shirts made, that way it is easy to spot my family in the crowds!

  204. Natasha Scott says:

    Great information, looks like fun!

  205. Shevon Ramirez says:

    Thanks for the tips.

  206. Brittany M says:

    Thank you for the great ideas and tips!

  207. Corey Olomon says:

    All very sound tips.

  208. Rebecca Holland-Cowling says:

    Great tips! Super love the matching Mickey shirts!!

  209. Tiffany Pierce says:

    I love that they accomodate special needs. Would love to go one day.

  210. audrianna goodell says:

    Thank you for the tips! It will deff come in handy next month!

  211. Jessica Tartaglia says:

    How to plan my WDW trip is to do as much research as possible…thanks for this resource right here what a help. I will definitely plan a trip on the off seasons. I will pick out what parks and packages before i arrive. I would like to stay on a Disney resort or hotel because of the deals when you stay such as free use of extra amenities and park discounts, early arrival and more. Another thing would be to bring as much food and drinks possible this way we can spend less on food and more on something else. I will do all my homework needed for a much fairytale trip. I want it to be my first trip of a life time with my children and do all that we can because it could be a first and a last…you just never know.

  212. What amazing pictures! Thank you for sharing so much information! I love the simplicity of the silhouette shirts. Would be so much easier to keep an eye on everyone and so chic! We love Disney and so hope to go to either park sometime!

  213. Rose says:

    Great ideals

  214. Amy Bloodworth says:

    Thank you for the tips! That’s good to know about the photographer–that does seem like a good deal!

  215. Paula Adams says:

    Really love the idea of color coordinating shirt colors for easier tracking of family members! Will make it easier when we get into large crowds!

  216. Cheryll Shubert says:

    Great Photos!! I love the shirts and absolutely love the idea of matching shirts!!really great tips!! Thanks so much!!

  217. Michael H says:

    Good info!

  218. Sherri says:

    From everything I’ve read (which is a lot, maybe too much ) preparing for our trip, Disney photographers and Cast members will take pictures with your camera also.


  1. […] you missed my original post, this is a segment of a 5 part series all about Walt Disney World, see the first post by clicking on the […]

  2. […] you missed Day one, tune in with tips around the Disney Parks, or Day 2 about Magic Kingdom, click on the […]

  3. […] you missed Days 1-3, get caught up with links on the original post} I didn’t realize that is is quite “Hollywood” based, and has lots of fun […]

  4. […] {If you missed the posts from the rest of our week in Orlando, check it out here} […]

  5. […] sharing with you our Walt Disney World Tips with how to plan, and top 10 favorite attractions for Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and […]

  6. […] Stenciled Book Covers from The Scrap Shoppe Planning your Walt Disney Vacation from Kristen Duke Photography Wrapped Drum Shade from The DIY Village No Sew Bow Tie Favor from Lemon Drop […]

  7. […] in an occasional What I Wore Wednesday post:      My travel tips, a few favorites are Walt Disney World and Alaska:     Did I mention my DIY home projects? Well, I like to dream and my husband […]

  8. […] crunchy heaven, I tell ya. I first discovered them last March when my mom brought them along on our Disney World road trip adventure. So I thought I’d throw them into a blondie recipe. I got the base of the […]

  9. […] assumed and asked if it was Disney. There really is so much more than Disney out there! We went to Disney World last March, and I didn’t feel we needed to go that route again. I wanted something different, and this […]

  10. […] Pom Pom Lamp Shade How to Plan your Walt Disney World Family Vacation What Can You Make With Chalkboard Paint? Collapsible Light Box 30 Minutes Easy Skirt Tutorial […]

  11. […] What to Wear in Family Pictures//Ballerina Birthday Party//Vanilla Fudgy Brownie//How to Plan a Family trip to Walt Disney World […]

  12. […] Disney World […]

  13. […] travel tips, a few favorites are Walt Disney World and […]

  14. Reachout Wireless free phone

    Walt Disney World Family Vacation

  15. Samsonite 5 piece nested luggage set

    Walt Disney World Family Vacation

  16. summer dresses for women under $10

    Walt Disney World Family Vacation

  17. fifa 15 says:

    fifa 15

    Walt Disney World Family Vacation

  18. snapchat hack download

    Walt Disney World Family Vacation

  19. […] General planning tips {Capturing Joy with Kristen Duke} […]