Ohhhhhh yeah... that was fun. And a LOT of work.
Also? My teens are rude.
This is going to be a LONG post. Scroll down to find the segment you need..
Quick Planning Links
All about the App
Crafty Packing Fun
The Disney Ditty Bag
The Gimme Gimmes
Lost Kid Prevention
Quick Planning Links
My massive Amazon shopping list.
The hotel we stayed at: Home2 Suites by Hilton
We always fly Alaska from Seattle
I do rent a car, with Enterprise
I always get my tickets through aRes Travel
All About the App!
You will use this to track ALL THE THINGS. It holds your tickets to the parks and the reservations for the parks. (YES you need both... if you just buy tickets but don't reserve your dates to enter the parks, you're fucked). The app is where you find wait times for rides (and which rides are closed), it's how you get into the virtual queues for the rides that are expected to be insanely popular, it is where you get reservations for dining and how you order food to get at the walk-up windows, it's where you keep track of whatever Genie or Lightning Lane things you want to use, or the DAS (Disability Access Services) pass that we utilize.
Quick note about the DAS pass:
If anyone in your family has an invisible disability (ASD, PTSD, chronic pain) then this pass is for you. I have surgical screws in my feet and standing for hours on end is a no-go. We have a friend who is a Military vet and has PTSD so standing in some lines (Indiana Jones) is just not going to happen. This pass can be secured ahead of time or you can get it at city hall when you get to the park. It is linked to the ticket of the person with the disability and extends to cover all in your party (within reason). What this does is virtually holds your place in line while you sit or go on another ride with a shorter line. It works on ANY ride in the park. There is one kiosk per land and you have to walk up to that kiosk, stand in line and then tell them what ride you want to be placed in line for. (Each kiosk can place you in ANY ride line so you don't need to be in Tomorrowland to get in line for Star Tours... you can do that at the kiosk by Haunted Mansion). They will scan your ticket first and then your app will populate with enough passes for your party to return to the DAS entrance (usually near the exit) after a specified time (however long that line currently is estimated to be). You cannot be in 2 lines at once (morally sketchy anyways) and if you do opt to get into a different line before going on the ride you're "in line" for, those passes are wiped. I was able to screen shot the ride-specific DAS passes and send them to my kids that were across the park if I was resting and decided I wasn't going to go on the ride. (In other news: fuck surgical screws)
You need the app.
Don't fight me. Just download it.
Spend an hour figuring it out.
Make it easy, get a hotel that has free breakfast.
Iced Starbucks jugs in our fridge, ice machine at the hotel, creamer, reusable cups. There are multiple Starbucks' in the parks and in Downtown Disney but the lines were absurd and I wasn't going to make my kids sit with me through that.
We packed it in!!! Because our kids are a good mix of teens and tweens, and we travelled parallel with another large family, our kids packed lunches individually so they could eat whenever they were ready and with whomever they were with. The week before arrival, I plugged the address of the hotel into my Amazon Fresh and ordered a week's worth of lunch foods, snacks, iced coffee supplies and post-park-hard-seltzers. It was sitting at the front desk when we walked in fresh off the plane. The Home2Suites has a kitchen in each room and we got 2 adjoining rooms to make sure we had enough space for everyone. With 2 kitchens, we were able to make the one in the kids' room was stocked with snacks they had access to while we were in the room and ours held the "save for lunches", coffee and booze.
We budgeted to eat in the park every night. We could have cooked in the room but... meh. No. MAKE RESERVATIONS AHEAD OF TIME. If you don't, you aren't completely hosed in regards to eating... or even getting into spots like Oga's Cantina or Blue Bayou. Blue Bayou has a cancellation list but there is virtually NO notice... you have to be ready to eat elsewhere but if your entire party is with you and you pass the host kiosk, just ask. If they have no-shows, they want to fill those tables and you might get lucky. The app is your friend for other places... we were able to get into Oga's with an hours notice. Every time we walked by the Cantina, I checked my app. Most of the time it said "Walk up list is full" but I got lucky once and snagged a table for 4. You have to be NEXT TO the cantina... the app has a proximity setting. Once you book your reservation you can wander around though.
Other dining help:
There are sites that will watch for dining reservations for you and alert you when there are cancellations but I was never fast enough. Every time I got an alert and got to the reservation page, I got a picture of a sad looking "Lady and the Tramp" eating their spaghetti. Boo.
Crafty Packing Fun
The Dollar Tree is your friend for MOST things "fun". They have Disney coloring books, art supplies (DO NOT get the shitty crayons), puzzles, books, hand sanitizer, tissues, dehydrated wash cloths and other random things. Use your best judgement here and don't buy stuff you know will be a waste on your kids.
I did get cheap-ish backpacks for each of my kids to store all of their things for travel. Water bottle and snacks for the plane, devices and chargers, etc. I also popped into Etsy and bought Disney iron on patches for each kid's pack that reflected their favorite characters. I did NOT put the kids' names on the bag because that is a big anti-kidnapping no-no.
I put together art kits for all 5 kids to use on the plane and when they had downtime in the room. (check the Amazon list for things I loved) I also unwrapped EVERYTHING I bought, including puzzles, and put them in the zippered pouches in that Amazon list. You'll be glad you did when you see the piles of garbage you make ahead of time and not in the park or on the plane.
Lines are long. Kids get bored. Most of mine have devices but for the times when they didn't want to use them or were needing something else, I had a secret bag in my backpack with: Trivia game cards, Hot wheels, fidgets, bubbles and Zollipops. What are Zollipops? Ohhhh.... you need those fuckers. Invented by a kid, they are lollipops free of crap and they use Xylitol so they are actually good for teeth. (yes they're on my amazon list)
I made custom lunch sacks for our kids because I'm a dork. I got personalized embroidered ear patches from Etsy and a pile of red and black insulated lunch sacks for $1.67 each on Oriental trading co. Ironed them on (careful not to melt the bag) and I made some for our parallel family's kids too!
Backup battery packs... I labeled these with my cricut to keep the kids from getting them mixed up if they "forgot" to charge their own pack. I thought up 6 "power" objects and printed decals. Hehehe.
I went a LITTLE crazy preparing... (yeah, Matthew I see the eyebrow raise at "little"). I actually ended up with so many things for my kids that I kept them a surprise, wrapped them up the week before we left and they got to open a gift each day before we left. Art kits, disney socks, the ditty bag, a disney toiletry bag, books... it was a little bananas but we all had fun!
The Disney Ditty Bag
Okay, this was probably the best thing I did. Being raised by an avid mountain-climber-mom, the Ditty Bag was a constant in my childhood so I made one for each of my kids. Most of this is in my Amazon list.
I used the Bumkin's sandwich bags because they are PUL and Disney printed.
Yes I had one for myself and my husband. Ours included muscle relaxers, aleve, children's advil, benadryl and backup medications for all the kids.
The Gimme Gimme's
Kids will want everything they see. All of it.
We curb the "mommy can I have that?" in general in our family by each kid having their own debit card through GreenLight. We had lots of chats before our trip and each kid saved so they had money to spend. Then we looked super generous and awesome when we bought them random things in the parks. Their grandparents also gave them each a gift card before we went which came in double handy when one kid lost their Greenlight card. (I was able to pull the money off his card through my app and put it onto his gift card, PHEW)
We buy a "lot" of Official Disney pins on Amazon (I bought 60 pins for maybe $45) and let the kids pick the ones they wanted. These were NOT meant to be kept... these were currency for better pins inside the park. Anywhere you see a kiosk with pins for sale, you will see a foam board with pins stuck to it. Those pins on the board are free to trade with any official pin you might have with you. My kids had a BLAST picking out better pins and they even picked out pins to trade that they gave to each other!!! They'd see a pin for trade that they knew a sibling would love and snagged it.
Gone are the days of hoarding pennies and quarters for those machines... the machines are still there but they take cards almost exclusively. My kids' Greenlight cards worked great here. The machines also now have a (sometimes unavoidable) option of making you buy all 3 squished coins when you use the card so beware. Also, the machines in some of the newer areas (Avengers Plaza) are now squished Quarters... yikes.
We budgeted for each kid to buy ONE item of headware (hat or ears) and I ordered more off Etsy. The ones on Etsy ranged from $10 for some cheap knock offs to $60+ for custom pieces. If I can find it, I'll put in a pic of the Rocky Horror ears I made for our friend Ben. (Fun fact: Now that Disney owns Fox and therefore Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dr. FrankNFurter is a Disney Queen... as he's royalty on his planet.)
Odds and Ends
Raid goodwill for Disney gear. It took 4 trips to a few different spots but we ended up with great stuff for all of us!!
I also snagged a pack of fiberoptic light up wands off Oriental trading. That was great for being in the park after dark when the carts selling $40 light up bubble wands started rolling around. I also had glow sticks for my teens and they got a kick out of those.
Lost Kid Prevention
My youngest is now 6 so we weren't too worried about losing him but I'm a paranoid ninny and still took precautions. My older 4 all have phones and we enabled location so I knew where they were. Check. For the little one, we got him a fanny pack along with his backpack. I knew he would fling his backpack all over the place and probably lose it so I kept it simple. His fanny pack was Spiderman and he LOVED it. It had his ditty bag, his squished penny book, his debit card and I got a silicone dog collar holder for and Apple Airtag and it fit perfectly on the strap. I never needed it but it gave me peace of mind when he ran off with a sibling as we trekked across the park in a large snake of humans.
If you kid is a runner? Get a leash... fuck any looks from Karen-mom's. Practice the leash BEFORE you go.
We also had custom temporary tattoos made with our phone number on it. These are all over etsy and I put these under the kids' clothing so they were less likely to get rubbed off.
The other thing we did that was a bit atypical was playing the Xbox Disneyland game. The game is a near-exact replica of Disneyland circa 2010 (so, minus Batuu, and no California Adventure). Elijah played it enough that by the time we got to Disneyland and were standing in front of the castle, I could ask him which direction Tomorrowland was and he knew!
Hotel Room Organization
I also went a bit crazy making organizers for the room... and I don't think I'd do that again.
What I WOULD do again is the cheap cloth cube bins from Dollar Tree... I used those to organize the lunch packing items in the fridge and counters. I also took laundry bags because kids are disgusting and 7 pairs of sweaty park socks x 5 days in the park is just rank. I did bring tide pods with the plan of doing laundry but that never happened. Hah.
I also had a pretty epic first aid station (hanging organizer in my amazon list) that had things for just about every ailment. Burns, blisters, bloody noses, covid tests, allergies, motion sickness, nausea, back pain, ace wraps... and every shape of bandaid I could find. I even brought my TENS unit and it totally got used.