Disney Hacks, Tips, and Ideas for Summer

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(SPOILER ALERT: We rode Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind. It’s worth the hype and more. Set your alarm for 6:50am and lock in your virtual queue. You’ll get through the line and ride in under 25 minutes. While grandma gave snacks to Marcelo and watched the monorails we went in. Also, I implore you to not read about it or get sneak peeks. The ride was a TOTAL shocker, I was completely unprepared for it in the best way. Trust me, embrace the surprise of it.)

It’s official, school’s out and summer is in! Who’s going to Disney? You know we are.

So before I even begin, let’s just say there is one thing to be very excited about… hugs are back! No more social distancing from Mickey and friends, rejoice!

Mickey Mouse giving hugs at Disney World

I’m always asked about “what to do and things to see” when visiting Disney. The other mega question I always get is asking for “tips, must-haves, etc.” So as a follow-up to my Disney secrets posts I put together a small suggestion list of Disney hacks and tips that hopefully might help on your future visits to the parks.

A good place to start: If you haven’t read all the tips about Disney’s Genie services head over to this post by Janelle Fuente to learn about all the details.

A family poses for a picture at the Magic Kingdom

WHAT TO BRING

With so many families planning summer trips to Disney, I wanted to share some things that have worked for us. Not all will apply to you and we learn something new every time we go, but I hope you’ll uncover something you haven’t tried. 

  • WATER BOTTLES

It’s H-O-T so you want to stay hydrated. Insulated bottles and tumblers are the way to go. I personally love the Simple Modern ones available at Target and Amazon. Tried and tested, we’ve left ours sitting in the stroller under the hot sun all day and they remained ice cold. They have Disney versions if you want to go all out, you know I did with my Cinderella of course. (Bonus tip: don’t buy water in the parks, quick service restaurants will happily give you complimentary ice water.)

  • SNACK PACKS

You never know when hunger strikes when walking around all day, so, be prepared. I always pack some trail mix and granola bars to keep us going. For toddlers, I suggest swinging by the nearest Target and picking up single pack snacks. 

  • ZIPLOCS

Ziplocs are your best friend for your park bag. It makes going through security checkpoints a breeze so you’re not opening tons of zipped pouches. It also simplifies finding things quickly. I usually carry 1 or 2 extra in the stroller in case, for a wet t-shirt change or to dispose of a diaper. Definitely check out this post on other uses for Ziplocs.

  • BUBBLE BLOWERS

Bubble blowers can cost anywhere from $25 to $40 dollars at the parks. I have been suckered into buying several of the same ones (never fails). My son loves them, so I found an amazing Buzz Lightyear one from Kohl’s and a singing Toy Story one from Target. Not only were they less expensive but much cooler in my opinion. Your little one won’t know the difference of where they came from and once those bubbles come out it’s all smiles.  (Bonus tip: pack extra bubbles from the dollar store.)

  • STAYING COOL

Stroller or not, you’ll want a fan. There are neck fans, handheld and stroller versions. With Marcelo we’ve always wrapped a smaller one for him on the stroller and another one facing us on the handlebar. Tried and tested: go with the ones you can wrap around which maneuver a lot better than the clip-ons and make sure it’s rechargeable. Just plug them in at night at your hotel and they’re ready for the next day. (Fun tip: stroller lights are fun at night and also helpful getting through crowds in the evenings. You can also wrap battery powered string lights like holiday lights.) *Also, umbrellas, just walking under the shade makes a HUGE difference, so bring one along.

  • BATTERY PACKS

Whether it’s your first or 100th visit, one thing is for sure, you’ll be taking a lot of photos and videos. That battery can drain quickly. While we all disconnect from our phones at the parks, Disney makes you stay connected by using their app to make reservations, purchase food in advance, check wait times and more. So, you definitely will need extra juice. We carry 2 battery packs in our backpack and 1 in the stroller. Again, charge them up at night in the hotel and they’re ready to go next day. (Make sure to get the ones with cables all attached.)

  • THE FANNY PACK

The fanny pack is not only a fashion throwback but a MUST when visiting any Walt Disney World parks. When hopping on/off attractions, leave the backpack in the stroller and keep your necessities close by (phone, wallet, etc.). If that’s not your thing, consider a small sling bag. You’d be surprised how much you can fit in them. (Fashion tip: the one i’m wearing below is a Stoney Clover but there are so many variations and prices. Search Etsy for all kinds of fun Disney patches to personalize it.)

Sandra's family posing for a picture at Disney World

OTHER HACKS, TIPS AND IDEAS

  • SERVICE ANIMALS

If you’re bringing a service dog, there are designated areas for them (which I never knew) so make sure to map them out. Here is one in Magic Kingdom by Pirates of the Caribbean. If you need to locate their “relief” areas, click here.

One of several relief areas designated for support animals
A woman walking her dog in the Pirates area.
  • RESEARCH

I always hear people say they missed a parade or didn’t see something. Do your research. Like I’ve said before there is just so much to see and do so choose your top 3 or 4 that are an absolute MUST and plan around that. You might not see and do everything but embrace the moment and be in the present, the magic is truly all around you. (Schedule tip: I set alarms in our calendar if there is something we don’t want to miss).

  • POPCORN BUCKETS

People are so sad when they realize the popcorn buckets have sold out. They’re the first thing you see when you walk in, on your left. What most don’t realize is that there are not only limited editions there are limited quantities daily. They usually range from $18-25. If you want it, grab it on the way in, by 12pm some days they’re sold out. I’ve seen some of these go for hundreds of dollars online. (Other tip: you get popcorn refills for about $2 and kids love to use these for trick or treating or to keep toys.)

  • MINNIE EARS/HATS

BYOE! Bring your own Ears. Minnie Ears are one of the “must-have” items and souvenirs everyone wants for photos. Especially within theme, they are so festive! This might be an unpopular opinion, but you can find Minnie Ears prior to going to the park at a much lower price. No, they won’t be the “official” Disney ears, but they pull off the effect for fun and photos. There are lots of great vendors on Etsy if you just search around. (Fashion tip: do the same for t-shirts to save on purchasing at the parks.) 

  • KID ENTERTAINMENT

You’ll likely spend a lot of time in line so bring small trinkets you KNOW your kids love to keep them busy while waiting in lines (Hot Wheels, dolls, etc.). You will always have to park your stroller before entering the queue for any ride. Small toys are best because you can toss them right under the stroller and they’re equally easy to hold on to during the ride. For the older kids, playing trivia games are always a good time in line. Ellen DeGeneres’ “Heads Up!” is a fun one and you’ll find that you may even make friends in line who will join in on the fun. (Nightly entertainment: Disney Springs comes alive at night with live bands and entertainment. Kids are on vacation after all, let them go to bed late, you’ll only live this once.)

Sandra and her son enjoying some nighttime entertainment

  • PONCHOS

When it rains it pours and the ponchos at Disney come out like magic at the first sprinkle. Most travel sections in stores carry ponchos for a dollar. Florida weather is unpredictable so bring a couple along with you. It’s something easy to keep in a stroller caddy and you’ll be glad you have it and not have to rush into stores to buy with tons of other people. Also, when it looks cloudy and we are headed into an attraction, we usually button one up over the stroller so everything stays dry – it works trust me. (Care tip: sunscreen is always a must but you can leave the mosquito spray at home, there are none!)

  • BABY CENTER

We obviously didn’t really use this or realize it was there until we took Marcelo at 2 months old. All 4 theme parks have Baby Care Centers for parents with infants or toddlers. They’re complimentary to use and include: private nursing rooms with rocking chairs, changing room with tables, women’s restroom, feeding area with highchairs, kitchen with microwave and sink, main room with TV, table and seating, on site shop offering formula, baby food, juice, diapers, wipes, sunscreen, otc medications and clothing. It’s a one stop shop for you and if you just need to cool off in an environment that understands, this is the place.

  • DINING RESERVATIONS

If you’re not able to snag that that dining reservation you want, don’t be discouraged, check every day. We refresh our My Disney Experience app every night at the hotel and usually are able to find open reservations, someone always cancels. Reservations are free to make, so people usually gobble them up, especially Passholders. However, you have to cancel 24 hours prior or be charged for “no-shows.” We were 5 days into our trip unable to find reservations and just like that, at 9pm we saw an opening for one of our faves, Toppolino’s, for the next morning!

  • EXTRA LUGGAGE

If you’re flying (or even driving) pack an extra bag like a folded duffle. You will always undeniably come home with souvenirs. It helps to have a bag to throw all those purchases in.

Another family photo at Disney World, with Tinkerbell
Disney always brings the magic (remember to ask for it in your photos)
  • MAKE IT AT OPENING

If you can, make it to the park at opening, particularly the Magic Kingdom. It can be tough with a toddler, but if you can push everyone out in time, it’s a magical experience. The characters all come out to greet you, and there is a very special show, with fireworks. Walt Disney wanted all Guests to essentially feel like it was opening day, as if it was October 1, 1971. And what a time to visit, 50 years later during their 50th Anniversary Celebration

  • PLAN YOUR DAY AROUND THE HEAT

If you can, try to go to the parks in the early morning or late afternoon. Peak hottest times are between 2-4 PM, so it’s ideal to head back to the hotel for a pool break or nap and gear up for nighttime. (Pro tip: the best time to enjoy the rides is the first 2 hours of park opening and during fireworks). We basically did all of the rides in Fantasyland in 30 mins during the nighttime show, and we could see the fireworks from everywhere. 

Sandra and her family at Animal Kingdom

SOME OTHER QUICK TIPS

If you’re staying at a Disney Resort, you can have your merchandise purchases sent to your hotel so you don’t have to lug them around.

You can get in line for an attraction up to closing time; we’ve run into a park 30 minutes before closing to get on a ride. 

Always ask to sit front row, if you wish!

Like I always say, make a plan but be flexible. Anything can happen and usually does at Walt Disney World. So, Let It Go (pun intended). Don’t forget to share your best tips and Disney hacks for visiting the parks, and post your questions below so we can share suggestions! 

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Sandra is born and raised in Miami, fluent in 4 languages and credits her upbringing to be Brazilian-French thanks to her parents. After graduating high school from Gulliver Prep, she pursued a degree in Elementary Education followed by earning a Bachelors in Marketing and International Business. While working on post-grad in the South of France, she decided to be her own boss and opened her boutique marketing agency working with a roster of recognized global brands spanning from entertainment, to sports and beyond. Sandra and her husband, a former U.S. Marine, are first-time parents to their son Marcelo Joseph whose middle name pays homage to Sandra's late father. They’re also pet rescue parents to their adopted chihuahua Ellie. Sandra's affinity for Disney started when her Mom took her at only 7 days old. Coming around full circle, she has not only worked with the company behind-the-scenes, but they are now loyal Disney Passholders. She transitioned to eating plant-based in 2015 for a healthier lifestyle, and swapped everyday products to non-toxic. Today, they reside in Pinecrest and are enjoying discovering life as new parents. In 2021, Sandra and her husband launched a company with a mission, to help others with their mission, donating 100% proceeds from a t-shirt subscription to charities. Learn more here . Look for her posts sharing her love of decluttering, transitioning to non-toxic products, the journey to becoming vegan, starting a small business and so much more! Follow her on Instagram

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