We took a trip to Disney with 5 kids with ages ranging from 14 months to 7 years old. I thought I would share a few things we learned that were helpful to us.
1. We stayed off site in a house we rented that was 3-4 miles away from the entrance of Disney. For us, this was awesome. We were a family of 7 (Mom, Dad, 5 kids) plus 4 extra adults (grandparents, etc.). For us, it was cheaper than any of the prices we had gotten from Disney for hotels and it was much more comfortable, plus we had a full kitchen and several bedrooms/bathrooms.
2. We brought snacks with us into the park, and we brought a soft cooler full of frozen/cold bottles of water and juice boxes/soda cans. We carried these in our strollers. At Disney, you can request free cups of ice or ice water. We added the soda to the cup of ice, or just drank ice water or the drinks we brought, and saved a lot of money that way as well!
3. Learn about their FastPass program or current equivalent.
This is how it worked back then, but things have changed since our trip: We made a list of all the good rides that usually have long waits that we wanted to ride. When we went Disney had a very cool program called 'Fast Passes' were you to go to a machine and get a pass for certain rides allowing you to come back later and go through a much shorter line. For example, Peter Pan usually has a longer line. We got fast passes for that ride as soon as we got to the park, and then we went on other rides with shorter lines until it was time for us to use our Peter Pan pass. They only let you get one fast pass at a time per ticket, (with the exception of the Mickey Meet and Greet, that is the only one you can get that doesn't count against any other fast passes). The fast passes have two times listed. One is the return time period, eg 1:00 to 2:00 PM. That means that you can come back any time between 1 and 2 PM and get in the fast lane to get on the ride. The second time that is stamped on the pass is the time at which you can get other fast passes for a different ride. I know Disney has been doing some changes in this program, but make sure you look into it before you go to see how you can make use of it!
4. I downloaded this app onto my phone and loved it: Disney World Wait Times Lite. I had a couple of other apps I downloaded as well. It is worth it to look into what is (Free) out there and have some on your phone ready for the trip (familiarize yourself with the app before you go). Some features of different apps I dowloaded that I found handy were telling you how long the lines were (hour/minute wise), telling you how far you are from each ride, telling you the menu in the restaurants. You can look at the free disney apps on your phone and see which meet your needs. I had an HTC phone and my battery died before the end of each day, that was the only downside, but my model of phones is known for battery problems.
5. We made use of the 'Child Swap' program on rides where our younger kids could not ride. The purpose of this program is to allow adults that have to stay with the younger kids while the other adults/kids ride to be able to ride after the others are done without having to get in line all over again. The cool part is that they give you extra passes, so it allowed our older kids to ride the same ride more than once with the second adult without having to get in line again.
6. I purchased this book:
The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids 2012
here is a newer one for Disney with kids:
And here is the more general one (that is not specific towards traveling with kids)
They have a variety of these books, I actually had heard really good things of the regular version, but when I saw there was one 'with kids' I decided to get that one instead. I didn't want to spend too much :) so only bought the kids one, but if you do want to get a book you can browse through the different options and see if one of them fits your situation better. I think, overall, having the book gave me a sense of security about what I was doing. A lot of the info I had already read online, and some of it wasn't applicable to me or maybe I even disagreed, but it was helpful to give me an overall picture and it gave me ideas for what we ended up doing.
7. There is something else we did... that may or may not be something that other people might find helpful. I signed up for the Disney Chase Visa. A couple of years ago they had an awesome deal going around where you could get $200 Disney dollars after making a first purchase of x amount, or something along those lines. I did that and got the $200 Disney credit (and paid off the card). I have not seen that offer go around anymore for $200, but I have seen it several times for $50, which is still helpful. You can use that money to pay for Disney park tickets, Disney hotels, souvenirs at the Disney parks, Disney Store purchases, food at the parks etc. One perk that I really liked from the card was this (I copied this off their site):
Perk: At Walt Disney World® Resort, stop by our private location—reserved just for Cardmembers—to meet and pose with some of your favorite Disney Characters. Get a complimentary 5 x 7 photo, too!
When: Offered daily between 1:30 PM and 4:30 PMWhere to go: Innoventions West atEpcot®
What to do: Just present your Disney's Premier Visa® Card orDisney Rewards® Visa® Card to enter the event
8. For the items we did not buy with the credit, we did go to Walmart and Target near Disney and got some awesome souvenirs for a fraction of the cost!
If you have any questions about visiting Disney with little kids, feel free to contact me! :)