A new Disney Parks Moms Panelist shares expert advice for park guests of all ages.
While a getaway to the place where dreams come true might seem nothing short of magical to a first-time visitor, planning a trip to Walt Disney World (a bustling resort about the size of Manhattan) can be no small task.
That’s where the Disney Parks Moms Panel comes in.
For 11 years, this online resource developed by passionate Disney parents has helped countless families with personalized vacation advice. Anyone with questions regarding Disney parks, cruises, and vacations are welcome to seek out the panel for help — and will receive a thorough and specific response from one of the members.
This year, Disney is welcoming 11 new expert members to the panel, including Missy F. (last name withheld for privacy), a mother of five from Indiana who loves planning trips for her family and friends. Through the years, she’s racked up a wealth of Disney knowledge that she’s ready to share with present and future guests. We spoke with Missy about her best tips for making Disney vacation planning less stressful, her must-dos for first-timers, and her personal favorite attractions at the parks.
Why did you decide to apply for the panel?
"I’ve known about the panel for several years. After seeing something on Disney’s social media, I decided to apply for the first time in 2016. I love our Disney Vacations and I feel like they’re an amazing time to bring our family together and create traditions, so when I saw this I knew that it was right up my alley. Between planning my own [trips] — and helping to plan vacations for some friends, too — I was just really excited to be able to share the experiences that I’ve had and all the knowledge that I’ve gained through the years to help guests create magical vacations for their family and friends."
Do you have any specific tips for first-time visitors?
"I think, first and foremost, whether you’re 4 or 94, your first visit to Walt Disney World is going to be magical, so I love when I get to help a first-time guest plan their trip. But I think my biggest tip would definitely be to plan ahead. I would recommend making resort reservations around nine months in advance so that you’re really ready. Dining reservations will start filling up, and you can begin making those 180 days in advance of your trip so you have that opportunity to...book a character dining experience, or something like that."
"Also, definitely take advantage of the FastPass+ system. It’s complimentary for all visitors to the resort, and it will help maximize your time at the experiences and minimize your time waiting in line."
"The other thing is that the cast members at Walt Disney World are incredible. They will do everything they can to make your experience perfect. So, if you have any questions or any troubles, don’t be afraid to ask for help."
Do you think a spontaneous trip to Disney is plausible?
"Yes, you can definitely do that, too. I personally am a planner, so I like to have everything [set] in advance. But, if I had the opportunity, I would hop on a plane at any point and head down there. There would still be dining reservations available last-minute, there will be great quick-service restaurants with a really wide variety of food. There are always going to be great opportunities even for last-minute travelers."
Are there any attractions you think first-time visitors can’t miss?
"I feel like a first-time visitor needs to go to the Magic Kingdom. That’s where it all began, and being there you’re just immersed in the stories of Disney. That’s a definite must. And while I’m there, I would say the Festival of Fantasy parade and the Happily Ever After nighttime show are must-dos, because I feel like they kind of encompass everything that the magic of Disney represents."
Do you have any specific tips for families who are looking to save a little money?
"For one, they definitely want to check the Walt Disney World website, where they will list any special offers they have going on. They run some great specials throughout the year that help people get a lot of value for their vacation."
"Also, there really is a resort hotel to fit every budget, and all of them are going to offer quality experiences with a lot of magic and fun. Additionally, the time of year that you travel can make a difference, too. If you want to save money, look at traveling at a time that’s off-season. Disney’s peak seasons are when schools are out for the summer or for spring break, and can be a little busier and more expensive."
"One other tip I have for those looking to save money is [that] you’re allowed to bring your own food into the parks, so if families want to pack their own snacks or even pack a breakfast or a lunch, that can really help save on some expenses. This can also help if they want to save up for, say, a special character dinner one night of their trip."
Do you have any personal favorite rides, resorts, and restaurants?
"There’s no way I can pick just one, but I absolutely do have some favorites. We've stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, and that was incredible to be able to wake up in the morning and see the animals right outside our balcony. Beach Club Villas have the most amazing pool at Storm Along Bay, and the Grand Floridian is just gorgeous and so convenient, being located right on the monorail. I also visited Art of Animation and it is really fun and magical, and you feel like you’re right in the middle of Walt Disney World. Those would probably be my favorite places to stay."
"As far as restaurants go, my family has had some amazing character dining experiences. We love Chef Mickey’s and Cinderella’s Royal Table, [and] we love Beaches and Cream — a little soda shop and ice cream parlor at the Beach Club. There are some great places outside of the parks, too, [like] Ohana and Whispering Canyon."
"For rides, we usually arrive right as the park is opening and stay until the park closes and just take in as many attractions and experiences as we can. I think the Avatar Flight of Passage attraction, which is one of the new rides in Pandora, is amazing. That is one of my very favorites. But I also love the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Big Thunder Mountain, and I just adore Mickey’s Philharmagic. I think bringing the music together with some of the clips from my favorite movies is just so much fun, and watching my children experience it — they really love it. So that’s always a must-do experience for me as well."
Which park is your favorite?
"My favorite park would have to be Magic Kingdom. There’s so much tradition wrapped up in it for me, too. I’ve been visiting since I was a child, so when I walk down Main Street U.S.A. I’m just flooded with memories and experiences from my childhood and being there with my grandparents. Now, I’ve taken each one of my own children, from when they were babies in strollers to now that we have teenagers. I just think that the tradition —and the magic and memories of Magic Kingdom park — are really special to me."
You have five children. Do you think there’s a certain age where they’re old enough to appreciate it?
"I’ve found that even my babies, sitting on our laps on different attractions, love it. I mean, to take a little one on It’s a Small World, their eyes just light up. I don’t know that you can go wrong."
"Of course, they’re going to be different experiences with different ages of children. The little ones get all caught up in the magic, and then as they get a little bit bigger they start to imagine themselves in the story, and their interactions with characters are just priceless. I think that young elementary is a great age, but like I said, I have teenagers now and my kids still love to go to Walt Disney World. They start enjoying the more thrilling attractions and the dining experiences even more, so there’s something fun for all ages."
Do you think there’s an ideal length for a Walt Disney World vacation?
"You could probably go for months and still not see it all, but I would encourage people, especially if it’s their first visit, to try to plan on at least a week. I would give each park at least a day — with Magic Kingdom and EPCOT, maybe two days."
"But I also always encourage people to take a day in the middle of their vacation to just relax at the resort, sleep in, and go swimming in the pool. The Disney resorts have amazing amenities. When you check in, you’ll be given a recreation calendar and there will be lots of fun activities to participate in, even at your resort. Taking that day to rest and relax is really key. It’s a different kind of magic, but it’s still just as fun."
What are you looking forward to most this year?
"What I’m most excited about at Disney World is Toy Story Land, and getting to experience what it would be like to be a toy in Andy’s backyard. Toy Story Mania is one of our favorite attractions, so building upon that really fun theme I think is going to be a great experience."
"And as far as serving on the panel this year, I‘m just really looking forward to helping guests plan magical experiences with their families: knowing that I get to be a part of creating memories and bringing families together."