A (Baker's) Dozen Suggestions for Fewer Headaches
1. Be a leader, not a follower: Try going against the grain and head left toward Adventureland to begin your day (most visitors sprint for Tomorrowland). If you have the time and aren't a slave to the compressed itinerary of a 1-day visit, make your way to one (maybe two) major attractions early on; then save the others for early on your second day when crowds are lightest. Pick up a FASTPASS when and wherever you can. And try and make mealtimes a bit earlier or later than usual -- 11am or 2pm for lunch and 4 or 7pm for dinner. Even a few minutes can make all the difference in the restaurant lines.
2. Note your car's location: That bright yellow Hummer in the next space may not be there when you get out. Write your lot and row number on something with ink that won't run if it gets wet.
3. Avoid the rush: I-4 can get horribly crowded at times, so be ready for bumper-to-bumper traffic from 7 to 9am, 4 to 7pm, and often in between. Check your map for secondary roads and alternate routes, and try to leave the parks a half-hour before closing, to avoid the crowds disbursing in droves.
4. Be realistic: You aren't going to be able to do everything in every park (believe me, I've tried). As a group, list three or four "must-do" things each day. If you can, consider splitting up, with each adult taking one or more kids -- one heading for the thrill rides, the other for the tamer, tot-friendly attractions. If time allows, you can always backtrack later, and this way no one really misses out on the fun.
5. Timing is everything: I often laugh when I see people racing to make a tram, and then gunning for the turnstiles. Relax -- the park isn't going anywhere. And rushing just to wait in line seems rather silly, doesn't it? Once inside the park, mix it up a bit; stagger the attraction lines with indoor shows or even breaks on a shady bench.
6. Call ahead: If a sit-down dinner in a special restaurant is important to you, be sure to make Advance Reservations (tel. 407/939-3463) before your visit.
7. Set a spending limit: Kids should know they have a set amount to spend on take-home trinkets (if they do, they generally spend more wisely). You should, too. Sticking to your budget will be beneficial in the end, but building in a small contingency "fun" fund for emergencies is also a good idea.
8. Take a break: If you're staying at a WDW property, spend midafternoon napping (don't laugh, you may need it) or unwinding in your resort's pool. Return to the parks for a few more attractions and the closing shows. (Get your hand stamped when you leave, and you'll be readmitted without charge.)
9. Dress comfortably: This may seem like common sense, but judging by the limping, blistered crowds trudging the parks, most people don't understand the immeasurable amount of walking they'll be doing. Wear comfortable, broken-in walking shoes or sneakers (you know, the ones that won't give you blisters because you just bought them) and skip the sandals and mules that can fall off or cause you to trip.
10. Don't skimp on the sunscreen: The Florida sun can be relentless, even in the shade, under the clouds, or in the cooler months. A bad first-day burn can ruin your trip, not to mention your skin. Dress appropriately -- wear lightweight, light-colored clothing, and bring along hats (especially for toddlers and infants, even if they'll be in a stroller). If you must show off your skin, slather it in sunscreen (with at least a 30 SPF). This is especially important for children. Make sure that you and your kids drink plenty of water in summer to avoid dehydration. Bringing a pair of sunglasses is a smart move, too.
11. Travel light: Don't carry large amounts of cash. The Pirates of the Caribbean aren't the only thieves in WDW. There are ATMs in the parks and most resorts if you run short.
12. Get a little goofy: Relax, put on those mouse ears, eat that extra piece of fudge, and sing along at the shows. Don't worry about what the staff thinks; they've seen it all (and they're dressed pretty goofily, too).
13. Take measure of your kids: This guide, park maps, and information boards outside the more adventurous rides list minimum heights. If you know the restrictions early, you can avoid disappointment in the parks. Trust me -- WDW won't budge because of sad faces or temper tantrums when your safety is involved.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.