Here's the secret no one tells you about a Disney trip: it isn't a leisurely vacation — it's exhausting. Before ever setting foot in a park, have a plan.
- Know which days you will be visiting which parks. With seven days in Orlando, we decided to get a five-day pass allowing us to visit the Magic Kingdom twice, Hollywood Studios one day, and Animal Kingdom another, and then to go to the Magic Kingdom night/firework show on our "down day."
- Check the parks' website to know what time they open and get there at least 20 minutes before they open. (We were there during the week of Presidents' Day, and several of the parks opened at 8 a.m. rather than 9. Most people either didn't know that, or didn't care, because for the first two hours we were there, the park was virtually empty, and we literally walked right onto some of the most popular rides.)
- Know what rides are most important to your kids and send someone there first. Each day upon entering a park, we sent our husbands to get FastPasses (see the next slide for an explanation) for the most popular rides (Toy Story, Jungle Cruise, Splash Mountain, etc.), while we went straight to rides that don't offer them (The Speedway, It's a Small World, etc.) so we reduced wait times everywhere.
- Plan to run around in the morning to beat the lines and then take a more leisurely pace (even squeeze in some character visits) in the afternoon.
- Buy a guide, but don't live by it. We used a combination of The Unofficial Guide Walt Disney World 2012 and Tour Guide Mike to plan our days (they both offer full-day plans for each park) and learn which rides are considered popular, but once we got the lay of the land, we just followed our own instinct.