These are purely based on our own experience, so they may or may not be right for your family… if you're reading this, you've probably read a million posts with Disney tips. Here are some you may or may not have heard before! I'll address some safety stuff first, since this is for “freaked out” parents, and this is always important:
- Morning photo Every morning, before we left the hotel, I snapped a pic of Max on my phone. This way, I knew I had a current photo that I could easily pass on to someone, should he go missing. I took lots of photos every day, but that one in my phone made me just a little more comfortable in the crowds; we (thankfully!) didn't have an missing Max scares, but this would have been a lifesaver if we had!
- Parent contact info I've seen a million options, from Sharpie on their belly to print-at-home temporary tattoo paper. I had the idea to get one of those dog tags from the vending machine at Petco; I figured it'd be less than $10, and he could just wear it around his neck. When we got to Petco, however, we discovered that they carry a line of licensed designs, including our beloved SF Giants! For $11, we got an engraved Giants tag for him, and hooked it on a caribiner for his belt loop. It doesn't look like a pet tag at all, and it will be handy to have for lots of local events as well (We fit 4 lines of text: Mom/Lizz and my cell phone, and Dad/Jamie and his cell phone) Max loves wearing it, and I love that he has our numbers on him. (He kind of knows my cell phone number, but in a stressful situation, I don't want to worry about him forgetting it!)
- The stroller thing Pretty much every parent friend I talked to told us, “Bring. A. Stroller. My (3-4-5-6) year old can't live without it, and I can't imagine not having it! It's a lifesaver, even if you haven't used it in years!” See that photo above? That's one of 2 photos of Max in the stroller, because after the first 1/2 day in the park, we ditched it at the hotel and didn't use it the rest of the trip. If the crowds had been worse, or the days longer (park was only open 10am-8pm) we might have appreciated it more, but for us, it was more of a burden, having to retrieve it after every ride.
- Group photos Don't forget to get in the photo! Did you know that you can ask any of the official PhotoPass photographers to snap a pic using your camera? Of course Disney would rather sell you a disc full f your images, but for timeless pics like the one above, ask one of the pros to click it for you! (Admittedly; buying the disc/official images gives you access to some special effects/borders etc… the photographer will pose you to take full advantage of these things, like holding Tink in your hands… but for us, the price tag wasn't worth it)
- Dining Reservations The Blue Bayou, Carthay Circle, character dining… these can be incredible highlights of your trip… assuming you can get in! Rather than take your chances, you can make reservations up to 60 days in advance by calling the Disney Dining Hotline at (714) 781-DINE. I haven't done the character breakfast, but how bad can anywhere that has Mickey waffles with gummi worms be?
- Let it go We had a rough idea of things we wanted to accomplish on the trip (See our itinerary here) but generally let Max (and the other kids we were with) lead the way. This trip was mostly about them, so we let them make a lot of decisions… which way to head, which shows to bother waiting for, I drew the line at where to eat, or we'd have had ice cream and Churros for every meal. (2014 edit: I wrote this post before FROZEN came out, so I apologize if the song is now in your head)
- Don't make assumptions about your kids If you ask Max what his two favorite rides were, he'll tell you Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the Nemo submarine ride. (He differentiates Cars Land as being in CA Advanture, so that's its own thing) Two totally opposite ends of the amusement park spectrum. He loved Space Mountain, even WITH the scary “Ghost Gallery” theme for Halloween. He didn't really get into the cars at Autopia, which surprised me… I thought he'd love having a chance to “drive” a car. Don't think something will be too scary, or not fun enough… let them lead the way and they just might surprise you!
- Stay hydrated Bring your own water bottles into the park, but sometimes you just want COLD water… every food place we stopped at was more than happy to give us a cup of ice water if we asked… not the food carts, but the buildings with walk-up counters. Rather than spending all of our cash on Dole Whips (I'll skip those next time, BTW) and sodas, we kept a steady stream of water coming, both from our bottles and cups.
- Moleskin We all packed good shoes for all of the walking we knew we'd be doing, but I can't emphasize enough how much a little bit of moleskin can improve your day! Even the most comfy shoes may start to rub after a day or 2 of miles of walking, and this is just the thing to help, instead of a band-aid. Help prevent the blisters before they start!
So there's the Disney wisdom I've got to share… I'd love to hear your tips and thoughts in the comments! Did I miss something really obvious? Or something that you swear by?