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  Going to a Disney park this summer?

I’m sharing ten things I learned or wish I had done differently from my own trip there last year. Whether it’s your first time or you’ve been more than you can count, these tips and tricks will make your days in the parks run more smoothly.

Keep reading.

10. PLAN.

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As you can see, I have my priorities sorted.

When my family and I went to Disney World in 2007, I was 13 and had time to read The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2007 (pictured above), as well as plan our whole itinerary. I knew the parks, hotels, restaurants, shops, and entertainment schedules inside out. I had planned so perfectly that we hardly waited for anything even though it was spring break because BELIEVE ME, there is a strategic way to avoid waiting in lines if you know what you’re doing.

Last year (2013), we went about a week after my semester ended so I had no time to plan and learn about the new attractions and systems of how the park is organized. In seven years, so much changed about Disney World that I couldn’t use the plans from before, and my family and I found ourselves wandering about at times, unsure of what to do next. To help with this, I recommend the Disney Parks app. My family downloaded it on the iPad and were able to see wait times and character greetings while we were getting ready in the morning.

9. DO NOT VISIT A PARK ON THE SAME DAY AS YOUR ARRIVAL OR DEPARTURE.

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We arrived in Orlando in the afternoon, and by the time we checked in to our hotel after a grocery store run, it was about 5:00pm. My family wanted to go to Magic Kingdom. I was exhausted and felt a headache coming on so we all rested, snacked, and unpacked for about thirty minutes before heading to the buses. That night was difficult, and I will discuss it more in tip #5.

The last day of our trip, we went to Hollywood Studios in the morning and did our favorite attractions again. The time was too short to be worth it and made us all even more sad to leave. I seriously recommend using the second part of your arrival date to rest up for the week and using the first part of your departure date to shop at Downtown Disney so you can pick up any last minute merchandise.

8. SHOP AT EPCOT’S WORLD SHOWCASE.

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My family and I had never done this before because we were always too busy going on the rides. But on this trip, we stopped in almost all of the shops for each country, and it was a blast!! I don’t think we bought much, but we had fun trying on different hats and outfits and posing for funny pictures. The stores carry some unique things that you can’t find in other stores around Disney World so if you see something, buy it then.

7. KNOW WHAT YOU ARE GETTING INTO WITH CHARACTER MEALS.

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We have always done character meals because we would prefer to not wait in line to see characters and just have one nice, big meal instead of multiple meals at counter service. We were disappointed with our character meal experiences this time. I rarely say negative things about Disney Parks, but the dining could have been cleaner. There were lots of flies at expensive restaurants at multiple parks, and we felt like character interaction was rushed. However, I will say the food I ate was fantastic. Usually, character meals are all-you-can-eat buffets so be prepared for that as well. The food is so good, you will want to go back for seconds and thirds and fourths so don’t eat beforehand.

6. USE NIGHTTIME ENTERTAINMENT TO MEET CHARACTERS.

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First of all, you must spend at least two days at Magic Kingdom. There is no way you can do everything at Magic Kingdom in only one day. So if you spend two days there, you can see the nighttime parade and fireworks one night and use that time during your second day to visit characters. We did the nighttime parade and fireworks on our first night at Magic Kingdom, and on the second night, we skipped the nighttime parade to see characters and still saw the fireworks (because they’re my favorite). The lines were much shorter, and it seemed like the characters spent more time with us.

5. DO NOT TRY TO LEAVE MAGIC KINGDOM AFTER WISHES, AND DO NOT GET ON THE FERRY.

We made this mistake on our first night (which I mention in tip #9). We watched Wishes right underneath the castle, which was cool but made leaving NOT magical. We were trapped inside the park and had to wait for everyone closer to the gates to get out before us. I think it seriously took thirty minutes to get to the gate. Keep in mind, we were surrounded by hundreds of people, in constant danger of getting separated, and plowed over by strollers. Once we made it out, it got worse. Somehow, I misdirected my family to the ferry. After waiting in line forever for the ferry (by now, I had a full-out migraine), we boarded. It was full. We all stood. Making it back to the parking lot took what seemed like an eternity, and then we waited for our bus. By the time we made it back to our hotel room (at the end of several long hallways of hell), we were making jokes about the trail of tears. Do not try to leave Magic Kingdom after Wishes, and do not get on the ferry.

4. IF YOU ONLY GET ONE TREAT, GET A DOLE WHIP.

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I had never tried a Dole Whip before our trip last year, and as many times as I’ve visited Disney Parks, I don’t know why.

It is the best treat ever. Enough said. Get one.

3. BRING WATER, SNACKS, AND MEDICATION TO THE PARKS.

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Make sure you bring a water bottle. You can refill it at water fountains, and it will save you some money. Bring snacks, especially if you are having only one sit-down meal (tip #7). The last thing you want is to be dehydrated and hungry at Disney. Also, bring your meds, whether it’s prescription for migraines, ibuprofen for aches, Tums, allergy pills, or motion sickness pills. Even if you don’t think you will need them, bring them!!

2. BRING A RAIN SLICKER TO EACH PARK. EVERY DAY.

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Speaking of things you don’t think you will need, BRING A RAIN SLICKER.

It rains almost every single day in Orlando, Florida. Disney rain slickers are over $10. Do you see where this is going?

Let me tell you a story. During our trip, I brought my cheap rain slicker from home with me every day in my bag. It never rained. One day, I decided not to bring it so I could have extra space in my bag. I figured it wouldn’t rain. It did. It rained a lot. So we took out loans to buy Disney’s special million dollar rain slickers.

Not only will the rain slicker be there for you when you are caught in the rain, but you can also use them on water rides, which I HIGHLY recommend. If you get on a water ride without a rain slicker, not only will you get wet like the ride promises, but your seat will be wet when you sit down. Not fun.

1. DO NOT ASK A CHILD DRESSED IN A PRINCESS COSTUME TO SIGN YOUR AUTOGRAPH BOOK.

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If you ask a small child in a princess costume to sign your autograph book, I can tell you what will happen and save you from the humiliation that caused me to plot how I might throw myself over the Norway boat ride.

THEY WILL CRY AND RUN FROM YOU, and you will spend the rest of the time you’re waiting in line apologizing to their parents.

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That’s it! Please share your Disney memories & leave your tips in the comments below.

HAVE A MAGICAL DAY!

Is. 41:10

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