First, let me share that I was born and grew up close to Disney World. I went there all the time on school field trips, family trips, birthday parties, holidays, etc. Currently I live in Nashville, but I still have family in the Orlando area and go to Disney at least once a year. This is why I am a good resource to help you plan your trip!
Where to Stay
Here is my best kept secret thanks to my good friend Jennifer Thursby! Renting directly from the owners will save you money by avoiding the extra fees from vrbo and Airbnb. You can see these same listings on those websites if you want to gather more reviews to ease your mind that this is in fact a legit way to book. You can rent a huge 5 bedroom house with a big pool and hot tub that has their game room (we rented one for a big family gathering that was Pirates of the Caribbean themed and it was amazing!) or a 3 bedroom townhouse with a small pool or a condo with no pool. All properties give you access to the water park and other amenities. Here is the website:
Here’s my latest video enjoying the Windsor Hills WaterPark that is included with every rental.
Why I avoid AirBnB
Sometimes a screen shot is worth a thousand words. Take a look.
These are real people. People who booked a dream Disney vacation. People who booked flights, car rentals, park tickets and had restaurant reservations. These are mothers and fathers with small kids who had their dreams crushed. I even saw where one single mom had no money to book a new place bc AirBnB doesn’t immediately give all the money back, so she had to cancel her whole vacation. I even saw where one was canceled and the property was rebooked with someone else for more money. It’s really sad.
Maybe this platform has worked well for you in the past. As your friend I’m begging you to not use it here.
I do have one more warning. Some owners have been putting their rentals on the private owner rental website with moderately fair prices to then tell you that they only book through AirBnb.
Also the fluctuation in pricing was a staggering 66% increase! Why would I pay that much more and take on the risk? I do not recommend that rental for that reason. It’s illogical to use a platform that adds 66% more and puts you at risk for last second cancelations.
Townhouse Rentals I Suggest:
Since I go here a lot I want to list a few owners that I know who are safe to rent from and have fair prices. You can find them on the private rental website from above but I will also list their personal websites. It’s so nice to not have all those hidden fees! I have not been compensated nor asked to share this information. I just don’t want to see people get scammed or canceled on last minute.
I’m listing them starting with the most modestly priced townhouses.
Gary and Maria have a lovely townhouse with super fair prices. Here is their website:
Lisa Snow has a few properties at WH and also a townhouse that is fairly priced. Here is her website:
Darren Milne has this townhouse that as of this post, rents for around $160 per night for the summer months. I like that there are no hidden fees and that all the prices are upfront on their website. Here is the link:
Suzy Palacio has this gorgeous townhouse I love with the cutest lemon themed kitchen! Here is the website:
Jamaila Brinkley’s townhouse has a Mickey Mouse themed living room and a Peter Pan themed bedroom with bunk beds for your kids. It’s about $175 per night in the summer and I love it’s whimsical decor. Here is the link:
What about the extra driving? Doesn’t that bother you?
I have stayed on property before, but riding the bus and monorail took so much time with my kids. The last thing I want to do after a day in the parks is to take everything out of our stroller, fold up said double stroller, and haul both kids into the bus/monorail several times to get back to our room. There are no extra Magic hours anymore either, so there really is no extra incentive to stay there unless you want to spend a few thousand dollars more to rent rooms at the resorts that are a short monorail ride away. That is a valid choice for people also, but at this time in my life, being that close to Disney is not a high enough priority for that price.
I have timed my drive from door to Disney World gate and it has been consistently at ten minutes. I have waited and ridden their on property transportation services for longer. Not to mention, when riding those buses, the whole standing up with an infant and toddler with a double stroller and a bag of its contents leaning against my legs….I can go without that.
Windsor Hills has homes that you can rent starting at $100 per night and up. We have rented three bedroom, three bath town houses with splash pools for that rate. There is a water park that my kids absolutely love that are walking distance from the condos and town houses. If you have a larger family, I highly recommend the houses! We rented one for us to go with our extended family and there was plenty of room for everyone! The rooms are beautifully decorated with Disney and Universal themes, include their own pools and hot tubs, game rooms, movie rooms, etc.
What about your baby gear?
These homes come with baby gear! Now for Disney World I will bring our Citi Mini double stroller, but they have sippy cups and high chairs, cribs, play pens, strollers, bed rails, and safety gates for your children. I will use their stroller to get around the neighborhood and to go to the amazing play park and pool area. Every personal pool also has a baby gate around it for safety which gave me peace of mind. Here is the link for the stroller. It is one of the few that Disney World will allow.
Meals at your rental
These homes have all the basic tools to make your own meals. There is a WalMart 5 minutes away and we do the grocery pick up.
One tip is to schedule your pick up 5 days in advance. The slots will all be taken if you wait too long. This is so worth it! There is a restaurant on property that we have ordered from many times and have enjoyed it. There are also many restaurants that you can order take out from that are delicious and fairly priced. Orlando has some of the best food the world can offer with its diverse upscale cuisine.
What about food in the parks?
Maybe it’s my autism, but I find theme park food to hurt my stomach. I mean it is loaded with salt, fat, and preservatives and shaped like a mouse after all….
Unless one was to eat at Cinderella’s Castle or Be Our Guest and spend a fortune on every single meal, that’s just not for our family’s budget. It’s really hard to get reservations to sit down restaurants in the parks, and unless it is a super special restaurant like the ones I just mentioned, then I’d rather be on an attraction with my family than waiting in a long line to pay for overpriced subpar food that’s just going to give me a stomach ache later. I will say Be Our Guest has a reputation for having the best food in the Magic Kingdom and I highly recommend it. Here is a video of our most recent experience:
Before we stepped foot into a park, we did have a lovely sit down dinner at Chef Mickeys. I highly recommend it for your little ones. The food was delicious, it’s all you can eat, and the characters come around often. Watch our experience here:
Bringing food into the parks
I recommend bringing your own food. Theme park food, even expensive theme park food, is full of salt, fat, and loads of chemicals that just aren’t good for you. Why eat that and waste money and time when you don’t have to?
I highly recommend this backpack we bought on Amazon for a steep discount using Rebates Key. I have another post dedicated to that website but I can share it on here too. First here is the backpack:
Here is the Rebates Key link. It’s free and you don’t have to review anything.
Fill it with ice packs and water bottles on the bottom, then on the top pack sandwiches, fruit, protein shakes, bars, etc. No more melted protein bars that look like Mr Hankey and you’re welcome!
What should I bring with me into the parks?
I’ve already shared that you need a cooler backpack, and if you have more than one child, you should bring the Citi Mini stroller, so here are my other must haves to bring to Disney.
Now, I’m a native and can take the heat….even in a long and heavy synthetic wig. However, most people can’t handle this kind of heat, so I recommend bringing these neckfans with you. They even stayed on well during rides! Charge them at night and they lasted all day for us with no issues! Here is the link:
Everything at Disney uses the Disney app, which means your phones will need to be charged. I’ve been using this portable charger for over a year now so it really works! It can charge your phones, cameras, and portable fans if needed. Remember to bring the correct cords to connect to this. Here is the link:
You gotta have energy to take small kids to any theme park. I use these drinks everyday but especially need them to get through theme parks with my kids. The one on your left has caffeine and vitamins and is like Advocare Spark. The one on your right has amino acids and electrolytes with no caffeine. This will help you to stay hydrated snd keep your muscles fed to stop fatigue and later on muscle cramps. Here are the links:
Here is the energy drink:
Here is the amino acid drink:
These can be easily mixed with water on the go or you can do what I do…just pour a scoop into my mouth and chase it with water. 😂 They’re light weight and easy to bring with you anywhere you go!
If you want more in depth info on these check out my Need More Energy post.
Which Disney parks should I visit?
Ideally you could visit them all. But if that’s not in your budget or frame of travel, then here are my top two favorites.
1. Magic Kingdom. You need several days to do and see everything here, but at the very least, you have to spend one day at the best park.
2. Hollywood Studios. It has Toy Story land and Star Wars….plus much much more.
Which water park is the best?
Blizzard Beach is my favorite water park owned by Disney. There is so much to do with your little ones here and the theme of a snow resort turned to water park is fun! It is cheaper than a day at any of the other parks and I recommend using one of your days to come here. Here is a video of our most recent experience:
We love to come here and see all there is to see and do with no cost for admission and FREE parking! I highly recommend spending one of your days here too.
Dressing up for Disney
Amazon sells these adorable princess dresses for kids that are made from cotton, some come with mouse ears, and they are very comfortable and fun! I highly recommend these dresses for your small child so they can enjoy the dress up part of it while not being scratched by uncomfortable traditional princess dresses. I recommend sizing up!
Dressing up as Ariel
Here is the link for the child’s Ariel dress.
Here is the link for the top I’m wearing:
Dressing up as Minnie Mouse
Next, here is the link for the Minnie Mouse Dress:
This Minnie Mouse skirt for adults is awesome too! I got the shirt at the Walmart i mentioned earlier. Here is the link for the skirt though:
If you would like the outfit my son is wearing, I got that on Etsy from Little Blanks Clothier. Here is the link:
How can you buy your kids Disney merch without breaking the bank?
I like to go into WalMart when we get there because I like to buy little presents for my children. They have the best Disney merchandise nearby for a fraction of the costs in the parks. I do this without the children so that way I can sneak it into our house and surprise them with “gifts from Tinkerbelle” in the mornings. This way they don’t ask for us to buy the expensive merchandise in the parks because they already got something special that morning!!! There is also a Disney Outlet nearby that has amazing merchandise straight from the parks. You can buy the Bippity Boppity Boo Boutique dresses that are the same exact ones for under $50. They cost $150 when you go to the boutique. Also, you can bring that dress with your child for them to do the makeover with if you do choose to do that experience and save $100 upfront.
The Best Disney Shopping
If you’re like me and love Disney merchandise and have the extra time, I highly recommend shopping at The Disney Character Warehouse. Here is the exact website.
I also love this mall because they have the best clothing options for all the members of your family. I purchased an Armani suit here for $40!!!! It looks like it was tailored to fit me and it turns out, Posh Spice owns the same exact one.
If you try the Bippidy Boppidy Boo Boutique experience for your princess get your dress from the outlet that I shared. It’s the exact same $150 dress for around $35. Get there when the store opens if you can bc they clear out fast!
We went to this mall as kids for our back to school shopping and it never disappointed our family. We were on a budget but definitely didn’t look it. Your friends back home will be amazed at all of your new fashion finds! You can also get alot of skincare and beauty products for a great discount here as well.