My tips and observations are for normal families that even my less-than-normal family found useful:
- Tip - get the Disney Dining Plan. During the fall and maybe other off-peak times, Disney has been offering this for free. Let me tell you, if you can eat free at Disney, it's almost like you're losing money by not going on vacation. Even if you can't get the Dining Plan for free, you want it. The cost is reasonable and it saves you a bundle. Also, you can relax during your vacation and not fret that your kid only ate one nibble of the $12 meal you bought them for lunch.
- Observation - unfortunately, the prevalence of the Dining Plan has caused Disney to dumb down all of its menus. Almost all of the sit-down restaurants we visited offered only two choices of kids meal. Two main choices. The adult menus were limited too and we noticed that the food quality of one of our favorite places, Whispering Canyon, had dipped dramatically in just a year. That said, the Dining Plan is still worth it.
- Tip- Make dining reservations early. Reservations open 180 days ahead, so be sure to book your trip and your dining as soon as possible. Great character meals like the Crystal Palace, Cinderella's Castle, plus all the great EPCOT international places and everyplace in between take the Dining Plan. To maximize the plan, you'll want to make one sit-down dining reservation a day (or two one day and none the next). Waiting until you get there will cost you very long waits.
- Tip - Pack extra footwear. Enough about eating, let's talk about packing. Make sure you bring at least two pairs of shoes. Not a big issue for the ladies in the party, but also make sure your gym shoe wearing boys also have an extra pair of comfortable shoes. If (when) you get rained on, you'll want to have dry shoes to change into and with Florida's 94 percent humidity, it can take a while for shoes to dry.
- Tip - Pack a rain coat. Those ponchos they sell at the parks should say I arrived unprepared and now have to wear this thing until it stops raining. Count on getting caught in a rain shower. We bought Lands End rain jackets for the kids that fold into their own pocket. Husband and I got unlined jackets from LL Bean. Throw them in a bag and bring them with you if you even sense that it will rain. You'll be glad you did.
- Tip - Bring a stroller. If your kids are under the age of 18, then I really recommend bringing a stroller (actual age probably 10). Our six-year-old greatly benefited from his little sister's stroller and actually rode it as much as she did (yes, there was fighting). Even our nine-year-old was happy to jump in and get a break from walking. If you don't need the stroller, then just park it while you do some rides. People are very always parking strollers at Disney and I've never seen anyone mess with them--except the crow at Animal Kingdom stealing popcorn from a stroller.
- Observation - Kids will get cranky. I used to tsk, tsk parents whose kids acted terrible in public. From now on I will know: those kids are probably living on Starburst and chicken nuggets and had to eat after their bedtime the night before. At least that's what was wrong with our kids. I know that going to Disney is a significant investment, but just leave and go take a nap if everyone starts to lose it. You'll enjoy what you do see all the more.
- Tip - Avoid Captain EO like the plague. I could give a long list of our favorite attractions (Pirates of the Caribbean, Toy Story, It's Tough to be a Bug, Muppet 3-D Movie, Soarin') but I won't bore you with that. I will tell you that with much hype EPCOT brought back a chestnut from the 80s that had me wishing for the opportunity to knee George Lucas in the nuts. Don't waste your time on the Captain EO 3-D movie. OMG it was terrible. I may have to do a whole post on its terribleness later but in the meantime, trust me.