I think Bill Harris went not too long ago and I recall him mentioning some guide for planning your time in DW that was invaluable. You could probably dig it up in one of his old posts. Or just email him directly, he’s really good about getting back to people (well, he’s always emailed me back the few times I’ve emailed him).
I regret to inform you that it will be insanely busy. Do not go unprepared. Start here: www.touringplans.com. They have crowd forecasters by day, estimated wait times by hour and all sorts of other good information. If you pay their relatively cheap subscription fee (I think it’s like $10 for a year) you can use the Lines iPhone app. When we were there last month, this was invaluable to me.
Other than that, my best tip if going with kids is do not let yourself become the family that drives your kids into misery by trying to “get your money worth.” We got to the parks at opening each day, bailed around lunch time, and came back around dinner. This helped maintain everyone’s sanity.
Beyond that, I’d be happy to answer any specific questions. It’s all fresh in my mind from my trip.
Oh, and my AAA tip on the day(s) you go to Hollywood Studios: The new “Toy Story Mania” ride is insanely popular. You need to get to the park 30 minutes before they open, and prepare to have one of your party members RUN to the Fastpass machines for it (bringing everyone’s park ticket for this purpose). Fastpasses for the entire day will be unavailable within 1 hour of the park opening, with a 30+ minute line to even get them. Once these are gone, the ride line will be in excess of 2.5-3 hours.
(If that didn’t make sense to you, get reading on what a Fastpass is!)
Get the Passporter book. It has stuff in there rated by little kids, teenagers, and adults. And it has EVERYTHING. If you haven’t made dining reservations yet you’re probably out of luck for the best restaurants.
If your daughter likes Princesses, the breakfast at Akershus at Epcot usually has spots open if you walk up. Make sure you pack a princess outfit for her–even if it’s just a nice dress, almost EVERY kid wears a costume there these days. Unless she likes dark, loud rides, pay attention to the signs. Dinosaur is fucking terrifying to small children, but it’s set next to the most kid-friendly looking amusement park thing so there’s always at least one kid wailing in terror having just gone on it.
For the older boys, hit the three mountains (Thunder, Splash, Space) at the Magic Kingdom. Make them ride Buzz Lightyear together even if it looks like a kiddy ride. Find the make your own Space Mountain thing at Epcot and DO IT. There’s a similar one at Disney Quest too. If they like arcade games go there.
Typhoon Lagoon’s wave pool is amazing and there’s shallow areas for your daughter away from the crush of wave riders.
Take a break in the afternoon to go back to your hotel for a swim/lunch/nap and don’t push yourselves too hard. Disney is exhausting.
Make sure everyone has comfortable sneakers packed. Or Crocs. Even the most comfortable sandals might start killing you after a day or so.
Hands down best character meet and greets is, strangely, the Animal Kingdom. Hit up Camp Minnie Mickey when Festival of the Lion King starts and you will pretty much have about 7+ characters to yourself, including the Big Four.
I’ve only ever been to Disney World once. It involved illegal guest passes, stolen seafood for breakfast and lots of drugs. Plus I found $20 at the exit to the Alien Encounter. Best day ever.
Sorry I have no advice unless you’re a 20 something with no kids and a buddy with connections.
Have fun though. I seem to hazily remember that the splash mountain (?!?) ride was fun at the magic kingdom but the best rides were at universal studios. I also think we spent a lot of time in Epcott hitting on hot international waitresses. The fireworks were awesome.
Since crowds might be an issue, I’d plan on heading to the park that had Extra Magic Hours the day BEFORE. So if Magic Kingdom has them on Monday? Go there on Tuesday. Extra Magic Hours parks get swamped that day.
I second Vesper’s advice to grab the Unofficial Guide to Disney World. I took the wife there last year and we had a great time - much of it I credit to following the time-planning advice in that book. Without it I’d say we’d probably have done only 2/3rd of what we accomplished over a 7 day stay.
I don’t think you’d ever use Park Hopper, as the parks are huge and it’s generally not worth the wasted transit time in the middle of the day to physically relocate from one park to another.
Extra Magic Hours are great - they tell you which park to NOT go to.
There are some pretty good restaurants there, but most of them are in the hotels and not in the parks themselves. I highly recommend Boma at the Animal Kingdom Lodge for breakfast - they put out a phenomenal offering every day that was heads and shoulders above any other place I tried.
When I was there they were offering a Dining Plan benefit that essentially provided credits you could use for free meals at most on-site restaurants. I took notes and pictures to put a blog together for my food journey, and did quite a bit of research on the restaurants all over the park so I could try all the best ones. Most of what I found I posted up here.
The best advice I can give for any Disney park: bring someone who can qualify for a Guest Assistance Pass. One of my daughters has a letter from her psychiatrist explaining how she can’t be stuck in a crowd for long periods. It is basically a permanent Fast Pass for every ride, though sometimes the alternate entrance is a longer wait than the regular line (Space Mountain in Disneyland and Pirates in the Magic Kingdom both are like that).
Wow, this is weird. I just got back from a week in Disneyland with the kids (3yo and 6yo, it was awesome), and reading all these posts is making me confused. It sounds like Disneyland and Disneyworld really do have a lot of the exact same attractions. Go figure. Saves me the trouble of going alla way cross country, I suppose :-)
Good advice already given, and there is lots of other advice out there on the web and in the already-recommended books. Bottom line: have a plan, run it by everyone, and then be adaptable. No plan survives contact with the Disney, but it is still much better to have one than not, even if it’s just which parks and rides are on the top of your respective lists.
Also, do not fuck with the Mouse. Did you know Disney security wears white derby hats with navy blue bands? Now you do. After 11 pm is the best time to see them keeping the Shit Undisturbed.
And on that note, you might consider time-shifting one day, so one parent crashes most of the morning with the two older kids, and then those three do a noon-to-midnight shift; after 10 pm the lines get much shorter.
This brings up a rule I always emphasize to my kids: Always be nice to the Cast Members. They have a fair amount of power in their assigned domains, and if you strike up a conversation they will often spot you a little something. We’ve gotten run through rides again, free games versus the staff in one of the arcades, let in through the Fast Pass line, that kind of stuff.
My daughter’s advice is to bring ponchos to WDW during the rainy seasons. Ponchos don’t take up much space & only cost a couple bucks at Walmart.
The one time I went there I was really nice just because I felt so bad for the Cast members. Being stuck in a giant Goofy outfit when it’s 101* and 99% humidity? I still don’t know how a person could survive that.
Interesting, when I was there they suggested the opposite: Magic Kingdom in the afternoon, Epcot in the morning. The reason we were told was parents took their kids to “Magic Kingdom” first and Epcot for/after lunch. By early evening Magic Kingdom is much calmer than Epcot due to the laser/fireworks show Epcot has. But I haven’t been there since that Animal Park was built. I’m sure thigs have changed so don’t listen to me.
Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom is also a good character breakfast to do. Usually if you make a reservation in advance you can get in BEFORE the park opens, which is AWESOME for taking pictures. It’s extremely popular for breakfast but if you don’t have a reservation, don’t panic, just get there before the park opens, watch the opening ceremony, then when the gates open walk as fast as you can and make a bee-line for it (go down Main Street and when the shops end take a left, you’ll probably see people messing about out front) and head right to the little window where they take your name and ask if they can seat you.
Absolutely get the park hopper because Animal Kingdom and the water parks close at 5 almost every day so unless you want to be hanging out at your resort, you’ll want to hit Epcot, Magic Kingdom, or Disney Hollywood Studios. Also while the resorts have good restaurants, hands down the best ones are at Epcot in the World Showcase. I personally love San Angel Inn at Mexico (I haven’t tried the new one there yet), Le Cellier at Canada (it’s actually possible you might NOT need reservations for this one since they went 2 dining credits, but before then it was IMPOSSIBLE to walk up there), and Restaurant Marrakesh in Morocco. We usually start the day at one park then head to Epcot to eat dinner.
The bit about Toy Story Mania being insane is absolutely true. Get there when the park opens, get a fast pass for everyone, then get in line. It will probably be the only two times you get to ride that thing. It’s fun, don’t get me wrong, but not worth the ridiculous wait time. The good news from it is that wait times at the Tower of Terror and the Rockin’ Roller Coaster are like non-existant these days. Sadly I think Star Tours is closed until May. Eat lunch but not dinner at the Sci-Fi diner, it’s a cute experience. Orbiting Oreos is my favorite alcoholic drink in all the parks and it’s served there. Soooo gooood.
Catch the fireworks display at least once in each park. Might be hard to do with a four year old, but worth it. Then laugh at all the other people who aren’t taking a break in the afternoon who have to deal with screaming kids who want to go to bed.