You should plan at least one day for each theme park. Depending on your length of stay, it's best to visit 2 parks in 2 days, then take a day of rest, then visit 2 more parks in 2 days. The parks are all huge and there's a lot of walking involved. By the second day, kids will be worn out. A day relaxing by the pool or visiting other resorts will make your last two days more enjoyable. I saw so many kids who had circles under their eyes and were falling asleep, probably due to the parents trying to do too much. Or you can go back to your room and rest in the afternoon and then go back to the park.
I bought an insulated bag with pockets at the dollar store for 4 dollars and a case of water for 3 dollars. You can save at least 20 dollars a day by bringing your own water. Most resorts will give you a small refrigerator in your room for a charge. Or you can bring a cooler. Resorts have ice machines. The parks have water fountains but the water smells terrible. It is clean though, so if you bring a small bag of something like Crystal Light, you can add it to your bottles if you need to refill them at the parks. I took 6 bottles a day for 3 people and we ended up refilling one each. This would have cost 22.50 at the park and it wasn't even real hot. I put our digital camera, our tickets, hotel key card, park map and a few bucks in the bag. My husband carried more money and a hotel key card also. This bag was the only thing we had to carry and it didn't interfere with the rides.
I separated my notes between the 4 parks and each day I put the notes of what park we were visiting into the bag. If you don't have a map, make sure you pick one up at each park entrance
For meals, you can bring muffins, pop tarts or other breakfast foods to eat in your room. You should plan your meals carefully beforehand. We decided to eat breakfast at the hotel restaurant. There was a breakfast buffet in one resort restaurant but we ordered from the menu in the other. It actually was less money and we had huge omelets. For lunch, we usually ate light at some of the places on the Frommer's list. Keep in mind that most portions are huge. My daughter and I could easily split a cheeseburger and fries or fish and chips. We made priority seating reservations for dinners. With children, you will want to schedule at least one character meal. The Polynesian has a breakfast, while Magic Kingdom has a lunch. These are packed, so schedule as soon as you can. Also, you can ask for priority seating at the end of lunch time. You'll get the lunch prices, instead of the higher dinner ones and by eating a late lunch, you can have something light for dinner. In our hotel, characters showed up every morning unannounced. If you decide to get a refrigerator in your resort room which is about 10 dollars a day, you can keep food and drinks in it and save money that way. But, if you don't have a car, the only groceries available are in the gift stores and the prices are high. There is a Publix not too far from the parks, if you can drive. A little farther is a Super WalMart and they also sell Disney items for a lot less than the gift stores. Ask the staff at your hotel for directions. You can ask for a coffee maker and these are free of charge. Bring your own coffee or tea, and you could even use it to make instant soups or cup o noodles. The California Grille at the top of the Contemporary resort is probably the best Disney restaurant and also the most expensive. If you have young children, it's not worth spending 40 dollars for a dinner for them. But the view is fantastic and they have an observation deck that is great for pictures. This is the best place to watch the fireworks at Magic Kingdom at night and you can see Tinkerbell fly out of Cinderella's castle. There's only one binoculars on a stand so if you own a pair, bring them with you. Take the free monorail over there. The Contemporary also has Mickey's Grille which is a good place to take kids. Again, make priority seating reservations.
Make sure you pack Tylenol or ibuprofen, band-aids, sunblock, Solercaine, antacid tablets, Pepto Bismal, Neosporin, and an antihistamine cream like Benadryl. Don't forget extra film if you don't have a digital camera. For young children, pack the appropriate OTC medicines for them. These are sold at the parks and in the hotel gift stores but the prices are unbelievable. If you forget a prescription medicine or for any other reason need one, use Turner Drugstore. They'll deliver to your hotel and charge your room.
Bring hats and sunglasses for everyone. The sun can be really bright. If you have children in a stroller, bring a baby blanket to provide more shade. If you're going in the heat of the summer, bring a folding umbrella. You'll be thankful for the shade. Also, buy plastic water bottles with fans or hanging cords at Walmart before you go. Kids will see every other kid with one and want you to buy one. If you can find cheap rain ponchos, buy those too. Dollar stores usually have them. Disney sells them for 5 dollars at different locations but the first time it rained when we were there, they ran out of the 5 dollar ones and only had the 12.95 dollar ones left.
If you have children, be sure to place a wake-up call at your resort hotel. Make the call for a time when you know your children will be up and let them take turns on different mornings. The calls are made by the characters.
If you're staying at a resort on the park, there are bedtime stories on TV at night. This is a good way to help the kids unwind and relax for sleep.
The parks rent strollers for 7 dollars a day. One dollar of this is for a deposit which you get back. It depends on whether you want to save money and use your own, or if you won't like having to fold up your stroller when you ride the shuttles or monorail. In any case, just remember not to load up your stroller with items, thinking you won't need to carry them. You must leave strollers in the stroller parks before entering a ride or show and then you will have to carry in all of the items. A lot of people take backpacks but unless it's small, it will make it difficult to carry on the rides.
Fastpass - Some rides, the most popular, have a system where you slide your ticket in and receive a pass telling what time frame to come back and you won't have to wait in line. Some of the rides run out of Fastpasses early. Winnie the Pooh at Magic Kingdom is the worst. Go to the park first thing in the morning and immediately get your Fastpass. The thing with these passes is that you may get a time frame of 3-5pm. That means you cannot get another pass until after 3pm. Seriously think of going in an off-season. Right after spring break, we did not have hardly any waits in line and were able to see much more. If you go during crowded times, you may end up only hitting a few of the major attractions.
Decide how much you want to spend on souvenirs before you go or you can end up spending way more than you need to. Disney items are the same price all over the parks but not all stores carry the same items. Mickey Gear at Epcot has a lot of stuff you won't find elsewhere. If you're not into Disney souvenirs, the World Showcase countries all have stores with very unique items. Belz outlet mall is very close to the parks and has a Disney Warehouse full of items that are a lot less than the in the parks. As an alternative, you can buy Disney items at your local discount store and save them to surprise the kids once you're at the parks.
All park rides have babyswap. If you have a baby or young child, one parent can wait to the side while the other parent takes another child. Then the first parent comes out and waits with the baby while the other parent can take another child or the same child in without waiting in line. Or if two adults are waiting, those two can go right in.
If a ride has two lines and no Fastpass line or you don't have a Fastpass, chose the left line. For some reason, they move faster, especially on It's a Small World at Magic Kingdom.
If you have time and you're staying at one of the resorts within the parks, go resort hopping. All have unique things to see or do and not everything costs money. Plus, you can check out places you might want to stay another time.
If you are driving or renting a car, check into renting a house or villa. These are usually within 10-15 minutes of the parks and houses usually come with a pool. I've seen sites where you can rent a house for as little as 69 dollars a day and a villa for 400 dollars a week.
If you're staying at one of the resort hotels, buy one of the mugs they sell in their restaurants. These are refillable as long as you're at the hotel and you can keep it as a souvenir.
There is a petting zoo for kids at Fort Wilderness.
Beer - For the beer lover -- At Epcot's World Showcase: Guinness, Harp, and Bass on tap at the Rose and Crown in the UK pavilion and Becks and Becks Dark in Germany. Other countries also have other country-specific brews in bottles: Mexico, Dos Equis, Japan Sapporo, Italy and France. At Riverside: Blackened Voodoo Lager; the Wilderness Lodge has Lodgehouse Ale; Disney/MGM Studios: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale at most restaurants.
The free Orlando Magicard offers discounts on non-Disney parks, entertainment, rental cars, and hotels.
Use the American Express card and receive discounts of 10-20 percent on some items and services at Walt Disney World. Exchange Membership Rewards points for tickets and packages. AAA members enjoy discounts of 10-20 percent on lodging, and 5 percent on tickets when purchased in advance. .
Some will enjoy the giant turkey legs you can find at the parks. It's about 7 dollars including a drink. This makes a cheap and filling lunch. Two restaurants I can recommend if you want to spend a little extra, are the Rain Forest Café in Animal Kingdom and O'hana's at the Polynesian. The food is excellent and the entertainment value can't be beat.
Consider buying an entertainment book for Orlando. Lots of 2 for 1 coupons. Search for entertainment books and enter Orlando.
Many people suggest trying to book airfare, hotel, tickets, etc separately. You can get good deals but this takes some time and research. These sites are recommended for finding low air fares to Disney. Cheapest fares are on flights on Tues, Weds, and Sat. Orbitz, Cheaptickets, Priceline and Travelocity.
It's much easier to have a travel agent do the work for you and this is free of charge. You can book package deals yourself but check carefully what is included. Some packages give a bunch of amenities that you will probably never use, to make up for the fact that the hotel is out in the boondocks. It's best to go with a travel agent for these too. If you run into any problems, the travel agency can quickly get things fixed for you.
Earn money for your trip. This site has some good and a few bad ideas to get the extra cash you need. Wdwplanner dot com
There are many advertisements around Orlando for Disney tickets 2 for 20 dollars, 100 dollars cash, etc. These are real. But you have to listen to a 90 minute spiel on Disney's Vacation Club. If you don't mind spending the time, you can get some good offers.
Put bathing suits on young children under their clothes before going to the parks. There are fountains to play in and water rides where they will get wet. Depending on what time of year you are going, they will dry off in no time.
If you aren't going for a while yet, ask family and friends to give Disney Dollars to the kids for birthdays and other gifts. They can save these and have their own money to spend for souvenirs and things. You can use Disney Dollars all over the parks and resorts.
Check prices and discounts for tickets right away. If you see a good deal, get the tickets. Prices go up some time in May and the tickets you buy won't expire. Even if you are unable to go at the time you wanted, you can still use them another time.
Buy some cheap toys to bring out for small children if you have to wait in lines. Older kids can bring handheld video games to pass the time. Most lines go fast but some can be tedious. Buy disposable cameras at a discount store before you go and let kids of any age take their own pictures. You'll be surprised at what they focused on!
The parks are generally the least crowded at about 4pm. But Epcot is less crowded in the mornings and Magic Kingdom is less crowded in the late afternoons. Go to Epcot before you go to Magic Kingdom if you have young children. That way they won't be expecting to see characters at every turn.
I cannot stress enough the importance of having good walking shoes for everyone. You wouldn't believe how many people go in sandals and even high heels. Sit whenever you get the opportunity, even if you are used to walking a lot. I heard one woman at Magic Kingdom say her pedometer registered 17 miles that day!
Make sure you get a map at each park. Otherwise, you can find yourself walking in circles. Check the attractions board at the entrance of each park to see what times the different attractions are. If you aren't interested in parades, go to the most popular rides during those times.
Talk, talk, talk to all the people you meet at your hotel, bus drivers, in restaurants, cast members, etc. They'll be more than happy to give you insider tips on things that are going on that most people don't know about.
Bring lots of ones and some quarters. If you drive, you'll need these for toll roads. In hotels, it's normal to tip 1-2 dollars a day for housekeeping, bell service is 1 dollar per bag. A rule of thumb is to bring 20 percent more than what you think you will need. ATMs are everywhere. Paying the 2-3 dollar fee to withdraw money might make you think before withdrawing. If you bring extra cash, you'll most likely spend it.
Don't forget to use Guest Relations at every park for help with disabilities, maps in other languages, currency converters, and many, many other forms of assistance. Actually, you'll find that everyone is so willing to help you.
There are many pros and cons to having a rental car. We stayed at a resort on the park and didn't use our car the whole time. But if you want to go to surrounding areas or if you are staying at a hotel off the grounds, you might want to have a car. The buses on the hotels that are off grounds don't leave as frequently and are more crowded. If you have to stand, the ride can be rough. By paying to park in one parking lot, you can use your ticket for the other parking lots that day. Parking at the water parks is free.