We really like Disney World. I wouldn't say I LOVE it like some people do. We have been 3 times in the past few years and I went once as a teen. So I'm by no means an expert but I have gathered some tips for hitting The World with kiddos.
1. If you haven't book your trip yet, use a travel agent who specializes in Disney. I have a great one in KC that I would recommend to anyone and if you want her info just comment on this post. A travel agent won't cost you any extra money and if they specialize in Disney they will be a huge help. They can even tell you when the specials are. The last two times my travel agent let me know when they were doing free dining plan and we ate free the whole time.
2. Buy the dining plan. I think it is well worth the money just for the simple fact that you don't have to worry about money all week. I prefer the counter service plan but if you are going for your first time and want to do the Princess Breakfast or other character meals, go for the regular plan. On the counter plan you get 2 meals and 2 snacks a day and COUNTER doesn't necessarily mean fast food. We have had some great counter meals like roasted chicken, ribs, fish, salads, etc. Plus the counter meals will take less time out of your day. A character meal can take 2 hours. If you are only going for 4 or 5 days like we have done the past two times you don't want to sacrifice the time.
3. Bring snacks! Even if you are on the dining plan sometimes the kids need something now, like when you are in line, and a fruit snack or granola bar will do the trick without using a full snack credit.
4. When you are picking your hotel consider a moderate or value property over the deluxe properties. For me the biggest reason is the food court. The deluxe properties have restaurants. The moderate and value have food courts which allow each member of the family to pick what they want to eat.
5. Buy your kids a Disney gift card from the Disney store to use as souvenir money. They will love having a "credit" card and you don't have to worry about them losing cash. Our school sells scrip cards as a Fund-Raiser so I buy mine off that which is a bonus.
6. Instead of doing the standard autograph book go to your scrapbook store and buy a pad of 4x6" scrapbook paper in assorted colors. Punch a hole in the corner and put a ring through it. Have each character sign a different card. Each night you can take the signed ones off and leave them in the room, then if you lose the book you only lose the ones from that day. When you get home you can put the autograph and the photo together in a scrapbook or album.
7. Bring lots of ziploc bags. Okay, so this is actually something I pack for every trip we go on. It is just handy to have assorted ziploc bags. A sandwich size is a great way to save 1/2 your muffin from breakfast for a snack. A gallon one is good for putting wet clothes in to bring home. They even sell JUMBO ones that we use when we go on water rides. We put all our stuff in it, camera, back packs, phones, etc. and they all stay perfectly dry.
8. Go to Walmart and buy the cheap $1 ponchos from the camping section and take them with you. They will save you a fortune if it rains. The Disney ones are about $10 each and boy do they sell a lot of those!
9. Become comfortable with the Fastpass system. I am surprised how many people don't use it. It is free and it allows you to get a ticket to ride a ride at a later time. Basically you go to the Fast Pass distribution machines, put in each park ticket one at a time and it will spit out a ticket with a one hour window on it to come back and ride. Now you need to understand that you don't have to come back during that hour, you just can't come back before that hour. So if yours say 4:40 - 5:40, you can actually come back anytime after 4:40 until the park closes that night. Also, it will tell you on there what time you can get your next Fast Pass. It is when that one comes up or 90 minutes from issuance. We are the masters of the Fast Pass and we rarely wait in line for any ride. So use it, get comfortable with it and then pass up all those suckers in the stand by line.
10. Pin Trading is a lot of fun but before you go to the parks and spend a fortune on pins check Ebay. There are tons of people selling the pins in lots. You can buy a lot of say 50 pins for $50 with very cheap shipping. Just make sure you order at least a few weeks before you go.
11. Before you go do some research on www.allears.net. This website is great and has tons of information!