These MousekeMoms have created some very special memories surprising our families with trips to Walt Disney World. You can read about these moments in our Favorite Things article. Talking about it always makes us smile. But, aside from surprising your family with a Disney vacation, there are myriad ways to make special memories at Disney with your family on your own Magical vacation.
But First...The MousekeCocktail
Ironically, one of my favorite Disney memories actually has nothing to do with time with my family. Maybe not so ironically, it is associated with a MousekeCocktail. I was visiting Disneyland Paris alone and decided to treat myself to a table service lunch. Captain Jack’s is a Caribbean-inspired restaurant attached to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. I watched the ride boats float by as I dined, but I had no idea I would actually meet Captain Jack himself. I invited him to join me for another of the delicious mojitos I was sipping. Sadly, he declined but was kind enough to snap a photo with me.
Spontaneous special moments like this happen at Disney Parks all the time. It’s what Disney does. But you can plan for some of your own special memories at Disney Parks as well. Here are some ideas:
Special Experiences at a Price
Enjoy a Character Dining Experience
As in my story above, character dining experiences are always special. Whoever your family’s favorite characters are, there is probably a dining experience where you can meet them. The characters go out of their way to make each interaction very special for all guests. And bonus, when experiencing character dining, you don’t have to wait in line to meet your favorites.
Take a Tour
If it’s in your budget, Disney tours are a fantastic way to give your family special memories at Disney. Disney offers several VIP tour options in each park (though currently temporarily suspended), so check them out and see which suits your family best. You can even spring for a highly personalized Private VIP Tour (still operating) to make your family feel like royalty.
Swim With the Fishes
Any certified divers in your group? You can actually go for a real dive in the giant tank at The Seas in Epcot. Make a reservation at Coral Reef during the dive for the non-divers in your group. They will feel like celebrities as the divers wave to them from the tank.
Attend a Night Time Dessert Party
Want to see the fireworks at MK, but don’t want to push through crowds only to find a spot an hour before the show? When these VIP experiences return, check out the various dessert pirates offered at most of the parks. With a separately purchased ticket, you will have access to a VIP viewing area for the show, plus unlimited desserts and beverages.
Experience a Festival or Party
Special festivals like Flower and Garden at Epcot are included with your park ticket, and offer some exclusive dining options and activities. Other special celebrations are separately ticketed events like Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. When these parties return, guests can enjoy exclusive experiences, shows, snacks, and character encounters as well as some Disney holiday spirit.
Cruise like a Pirate
There are a few options to sail the high seas with Disney Pirates. Families can enjoy dessert on an evening fireworks Pirate Cruise together, or you can send the kids on a daytime adventure cruise with Captain Hook and Smee while Mom and Dad enjoy some time alone. Our MousekeMom Lori’s sons still talk about the fun they had.
Visit the Spa
While the boys were having fun swashbuckling with pirates, Lori enjoyed a serene morning at the spa. Many Disney resorts have spas right on the premises, so take advantage of a relaxing resort day by booking a treatment of your choice.
Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique or Harmony Barber Shop
If adults can get pampered at the spa, kids can be pampered too. Consider a princess makeover at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique or have your child’s first (or fiftieth) haircut at the Harmony Barber Shop on Main Street.
Shop on Main Street
Speaking of Main Street, give each of your kids a budget or a gift card and let them pick one thing up to that amount. It’s always fun to see what they pick, and they can take one of their special memories at Disney home with them.
Celebration Cakes at Dinner
When enjoying a table service meal, you can order a celebration cake for dessert. Bring the leftovers back to your room for morning and a breakfast time special memory at Disney too!
All of us MousekeMoms wholeheartedly recommend the purchase of Memory Maker. With Memory Maker, you get all the photos taken of your group on rides, at character meetings, and any photo taken by the PhotoPass photographers around the parks. Want that perfect shot in front of Cinderella Castle? The PhotoPass photographer knows just how to do it. And don’t forget to ask for a Magic Shot.
Lower Cost/DIY Options
All of us MousekeMoms plan special outfits for our families one way or another. You can go all out and ‘Disneybound’ by dressing in an outfit modeled after a character (but remember, adults can not actually dress as characters). Too much for you? Try simple family T-shirts instead. Have them match the park you are visiting that day: Star Wars at Hollywood Studios, or Lion King at Animal Kingdom. You can often find deals on tees for the whole family at Target.
But you don’t have to buy something new. I once used dance recital costumes as personal princess dresses when we were having breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table. Those things are expensive, am I right? I was happy to give them a second use and the girls were happy to wear them again.
Decorate Your Room
Celebrating something special? Bring some streamers or balloons to make the occasion even more festive.
Nightly Character Visits
Our first trip with our kids was a surprise. We arrived in Orlando late at night and stayed at a nearby hotel. When we woke them up to finish the trek to our Disney resort, Tinkerbell had left them a note telling them where they were headed. She also left little gift bags with trading pins, lanyards, toy Disney jewelry, etc. She came back to visit each night leaving behind a new note and trinket for the day to come: binoculars for a day at Animal Kingdom for example. All of these items came from the local dollar store, Five Below, or the dollar bin at Target. You’d be surprised at all the inexpensive Disney-themed items you can find when you start looking. I even found fruit snacks.
Dollar Store Items
You can get all sorts of things at your local dollar store: night lights for middle of the night bathroom trips, disney ziplocks for snacks, sippy cups, glow sticks, bubbles, jewelry, games.
We brought tons of glow sticks. Be sure to have enough for backup. There can be duds and you don’t want a meltdown if someone’s doesn’t glow. My kids loved handing out the extras to other kids and making new friends.
Make/Decorate a Mailbox
If you’ve done the character letter thing each night on a past trip, your kids might come to expect it every time. Have them put their excitement for their next trip to good use. Let them make a special mailbox to leave in the room for any letters a character might leave while they’re sleeping or out at the parks.
If you are planning to attend a special event or character meal, make a personal invitation from the characters just for your kids. They will feel so special. Have a character ‘sign’ it. You can find each character’s actual signature online.
This is a really inexpensive memento and kids have so much fun trying to collect them all. Each penny costs 50 cents (plus the penny) and there are different styles throughout the parks. Decorate a Mini M&M container or an Altoid tin to hold the coins. Pro Tip: try to find pennies from before 1982. These won’t have a zinc core that can leave a smudge when pressed. Shine them up by cleaning with baking soda.
Make Your Own Autograph Book or Passport for Epcot
Your kids will have something special to use, and they’ll have a book that’s not the same as everyone else’s.
Prep for Character Meetings
When meeting your favorites, try to strike up an appropriate conversation. Ask Belle about her favorite books, or ask Alice if she found the White Rabbit. Bring a dinglehopper to brush your hair with Ariel. You can even bring small gifts to characters like chocolate for Anna.
You can schedule a wake-up call from a Disney character right to your resort room. The character who calls varies, and you can’t choose, but it’s always fun to have your kids answer the phone and hear one of them on the other end of the line.
You can get these at all resort hotels or at any guest services desk in the parks. You can celebrate anything at Disney: birthday, anniversary, honeymoon, first visit, starting a business, just being at Disney. Ask for a free pin and a Cast Member will write in your reason for celebrating. Cast Members and other guests take notice when you wear them, too. It’s a great conversation starter.
Chat with Cast Members
They always have something interesting to say. We’ve picked up some great insider info. Cast Members will readily share tips and tricks. They can also give you insight into some of the unknown history all around you at the parks. They happily point out some of the things you might never have noticed on your own.
Wait for the Front Row
You are allowed to wait for the front row on roller coasters. It’s true! Just ask. Then plan a funny face for the whole family in the ride photos to commemorate the occasion.
Search for Hidden Mickeys
They are everywhere. You can purchase books online to guide you, or just rely on your own keen eyes and imagination. Make a game out of it.
Participate in Resort Extras
Every resort offers something extra. Some events do have a small fee (like tie-dying T-shirts), but most are free. You can go to a Campfire at Fort Wilderness. Play trivia and dance games at Pool Parties. Catch a film after a long park day with Movies Under the Stars. You can even take African Drumming lessons at Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Most hotel resort packages come with a free round of mini golf at one of the two courses at WDW. Golf must be played before 4pm, so take advantage of this perk on a resort/break day.
Free Experiences in the Parks
There are even some things happening right in the parks that help create special memories at Disney.
- Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom: Get your playing cards at the Main Street Fire House and use them to cast spells at certain locations during your mission to prevent Hades from taking over the park.
- Pirate’s Adventure ~Treasure of the Seven Seas: Stop by the kiosk in Adventureland to pick up your treasure hunt map. Use your Magic Band to tap medallions in the right order. Watch your surroundings come to life with each tap as you earn back the stolen pirate treasure. When you have completed two missions, ye may be rewarded with a Pirates of the Caribbean FastPass+.
- Epcot scavenger hunts (price involved for map and stickers): There are several of these offered at different times of year. During the Flower and Garden Festival, search for a giant Easter Egg in each country of the World Showcase. During Food and Wine, search for Remy from Ratatouille. Match the correct sticker to the correct country on the map and collect a prize at the end.
- Wilderness Explorers: Become a wilderness explorer and collect badges as you learn about the animals from wilderness guides in Animal Kingdom.
- Pixie Dusting – Want to feel like a princess without the price tag at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique? Stop by the gift shop at Cinderella Castle and ask for a free Pixie Dusting.
- Animators Experience – Learn to draw like a real Disney Animator at this class at Rafiki’s Planet Watch in Animal Kingdom.
Spend Time Alone with Each Child
With our families, one of our favorite ways to create special memories at Disney is to single out each child. Our kids have found it so memorable to have personal time with one or both of their grown-ups at the Most Magical Place on Earth. Just hang late and close a park with one of your older kids while the little ones head back to the resort hotel for the night. Plan a tour or special experience that suits your child’s personality. Do you have a budding artist in your crew? Take the art class at Animator’s Experience in Animal Kingdom. Whatever you choose, we guarantee your child will not forget it.
Walt Disney World is indeed the Most Magical Place on Earth, but there are lots of ways to make it even more Magical, from the costly to the totally free. You can here all our thoughts in Season 1: Episode 37. But our best advice for making special memories at Disney? You don’t have to spend a fortune making magic. It can be as simple as glow sticks from the dollar store to hold at a nighttime parade. But if it is in your budget to go the extra mile for magic, go for a tour. Just do your research (or consult your travel planner) to know which tour is a good fit. We MousekeMoms are happy to help.
The MousekeMoms, Lori, Jennifer and Juliana, are experienced Disney moms who dole out valuable, honest, no holds barred information on their weekly podcast to help you plan your Disneyland, Walt Disney World or Disney Cruise Line vacation.
After all, Disney moms know best! And they are the best at planning your Disney vacations as the proud agents and owners of Kingdom and Cruise Travel- where vacation wishes come true.
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