Doing Disney right – make the most out of your trip to the happiest place on Earth

Planning a trip to Disneyland or Disneyworld?  Disney resorts are known as the happiest places on earth, but it can turn into the most miserable place on earth if you do not plan your trip properly.  Make the most of your family’s Disney vacation with these tips to de-stress your visit and maximize your time at the resort.
Take Two, or More
It’s not just because Disney wants to sell more tickets that they tell you that you need at least two days at the park. While not every family can afford a week-long Disney vacation, at least two days is needed to experience even a short list of main attractions. If visiting Disneyland, park hopper tickets which allows visitors admission to both California Adventure and Disneyland resort over two days is the best deal. Look for online deals for discounted tickets at local grocery stores.
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It’s all About the Date
Choose your dates optimally with a crowd predicting site, like IsItPacked, to avoid the busiest days. You can also get a DVD with tips customized for your family’s visit and a personalized planning web page at disneylandvacations.com/parks.  Another great resource is The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland, with tips on how to beat the longest lines and maximize your time at the park.
Pick Your Attractions
In advance of your trip go online and make it a fun family activity to pick out each family member’s number one attraction for each day. Do not set yourself up for failure and disappointment by planning too much. Plan on three major rides, defined by those that offer FASTPASSES, per day. Then choose a few second-tier attractions.  Check height requirements beforehand so there are no meltdowns after standing 45 minutes or longer in the line, only to find out your kid is too short to ride.
Get Fast Passes
Take advantage of FASTPASS tickets that give you a return time so you can come back and wait in shorter lines for major attractions.  For efficiency sake, give all of your admission passes to a designated person in your party so that person can go get FASTPASSES for the next ride on your short list while the rest of the party waits in line for another attraction nearby.  Remember you can only get one FASTPASS at a time, so choose wisely.
Take Breaks
Take a Break
Don’t forget to build in lunch time and down time and nap time if you have little ones. Missed meals and grumpy kids can quickly turn the Magic Kingdom into the Haunted Mansion. While officially outside food is not allowed in the park usually the gate attendants look the other way when it comes to a small stash of Goldfish crackers and granola bars. Even a juice pouch or two will be overlooked so long as you do not bring any glass into the park. For tired little ones, consider taking in a show or a parade where kids get a break from walking and standing.
Make a Budget
Decide how much money you and the kids are going to spend and then stick to it. Be realistic. Meals snacks souvenirs and games are expensive at any theme park. Budget for at least $15 per meal per child and $20 for adults. For families on a tight budget a good rule is to tell kids that besides lunch and dinner they get one snack, and one game and one souvenir per day. Set limits, like $20 per souvenir, so they don’t beg for the biggest stuffed character in the Disney store. Help kids set their own limits by loading the funds onto a Disney gift card that they can spend anywhere in the park or at Disney stores.
Chose a Leader
The more people in your party the harder it will be to decide what to do next.  As much as possible have a roadmap of attractions you will visit and in what order, but for those debates that come up, assign a designated tie-breaker, or give each kid a turn to be leader.
Stay Close
The family that sticks together…can get on each other’s nerves, so keep this in mind when booking accommodations.  Resist the urge to save money and pile everyone in one room.  Check out affordable hotels that are a short drive or shuttle ride from the park.  Many affordable budget hotels offer spacious suites with sofa sleepers in an adjoining sitting room so that parents and kids can spread out, watch their own TVs and have some apart time. Hotels like Embassy Suites also offers a buffet breakfast to get the kids out quickly in the morning and a shuttle service leaving every 30 minutes, which is a far better option than navigating and traversing the morass of parking lots at the park.  Another advantage to a close by accommodations is the option of a mid-day break at the hotel, where everyone rest and rejuvenate to get a second wind for fireworks and other night time attractions.
Stay in the Moment
Don’t forget you are at Disney park to have fun, not accomplish a mission. Enjoy the time with your family, even while waiting in line. Turn waiting time into an opportunity to nibble snacks, play games, relive the attractions you just experienced, talk to your kids about the fun you are having and know that every moment you are at Disney counts as family time.