We just got back from the Disney vacation of a lifetime.

family on a disney vacation

I was thrilled to be invited to the Disney Social Media Moms conference for the first time this year, offering me the chance to hang out with a bunch of my favorite bloggers to learn about what's new in social media and the world of Disney. I also got to bring the family and experience the very best of Disneyland and California Adventure to bring my readers tips for their own Disney vacations.

How to maximize your time at Disney theme parks

Want to maximize your Disney vacation? Here's the inside scoop.

preparing for a disney vacation

Get excited. I watched Frozen, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and Cars with the boys leading into the week of our Disney vacation. My friend Heather from It's a Lovely Life got herself a Minnie Mouse pedicure, and I totally spied a few friends Disneybounding. Whatever gets you in gear, extend that giddy excitement before your big trip!

disney vacation at the hotel

Stay at an on-site resort. It completes the magical experience and (huge bonus!) hotel guests get an extra hour at Disneyland or California Adventure on alternating days with a valid theme park ticket. Plus, you'll be surrounded by character dining experiences and Disney touches. We stayed at the Disneyland Hotel and enjoyed a spacious room and a huge pool with water slides.

pack sweaters for your disney vacation
Bundle up. I totally forgot to bring a sweater. Silly me, being a California native, I should know better! It does get chilly here at night. I wound up snagging this super-soft Hanes sweater that served as warmth and memorabilia. Win-win.

radiator springs flowers

Stop and smell the flowers. The thought and care that goes into every single detail of Disneyland is astounding. When you're in Cars Land, for example, nothing has a human touch because the cars live in a human-less world. There are no hand gears on the gas pumps, and the flowers are even made of brake lights!

take a nap on your disney vacation

Take a power nap. This is where the hotel comes in really handy. Especially if you have little kids, it pays to take a break and grab a nap in the middle of the day. You get to skip peak lines and the hottest temperatures, and you'll be refreshed and ready for the nighttime shows.

meet the characters on a Disney vacation

Catch the characters. There are designated spots throughout the park for characters photos and autographs, but I prefer more impromptu meet-ups. Big Thunder Ranch Jamboree is the perfect place to spot your favorite old-time characters – and this is a good spot to grab some barbecue while you're at it.

Disney vacation fun run

Run Disney. Did you know that you can turn your Disney vacation into a marathon event? I am totally not a runner, but I joined last weekend's fun run and I'm hooked. Gathering with a crew of fellow Disney fans to dash through the parks at 5am is exhilarating and memorable: the perfect way to combine fitness with Disney vacation fanfare.

solo disney vacation experience

Try new things. I coaxed both Nate and the kids into quite a few situations they wouldn't normally do on their own. Anyone ever taken a toddler through the Haunted Mansion? I did, and he loved it. How about that Single Riders line? Nate got to take advantage of short wait times for a couple rides that the boys and I couldn't go on, and he had fun. Getting outside of your comfort zone feels weird, but you get to see things that you may not otherwise experience.

pack snacks on your disney vacation

Pack snacks. Disney's official policy is that outside food and drinks are not allowed into the parks, but can be stored for enjoyment at the outside picnic area. However, we've never had issues bringing in sandwiches, chips, carrot sticks, yogurts and sealed water bottles in a backpack or the basket of our stroller. With so many food allergies nowadays, we've found most theme parks to be fairly tolerant as long as you don't go overboard and pack a rolling cooler of wine! This time around, our family loaded up on GoGoSqueez (they were a sponsor of the event) to cut down on incessant requests to stop for cotton candy and ice cream.

try varying foods on your disney vacation

Eat awesome food. Since you've staved off constant stops for little bites, you can take time to truly enjoy the plethora of options at the parks. The Disney Magic of Healthy Living initiative focuses on healthy, sustainable foods and preserves indulgent options, so there's something for everyone. You can try Lobster Nachos, Fried Biscuits and a Monte Cristo sandwich or nosh on a good old Turkey Leg or vegetarian Portobello Mushroom Philly. Being gluten-free, I found a ton of options that fit my needs.

check our disney vacation opportunities ahead of time

Check out the Disney Parks blog to get updates on the greatest stuff at the parks, including new attractions and special features. The latest happenings that I got a sneak peek of: Shanghai Disney, opening 2015, will have a Pirates Land and the largest Disney Castle plus Iron Man flight experience! Walt Disney World will more than double the size of Fantasy Land next month. And last but definitely not least, the World of Avatar is coming to Animal Kingdom with a bioluminescent forest, floating mountains and rides that let you fly on the back of a banshee.

disney vacation experience

Talk to staff members. During the conference segment of our Disney vacation, we got to hear from celebrities and experts alike including football star Donald Driver, LeVar Burton of Reading Rainbow fame, Build-A-Bear founder Maxine Clark, David Arquette and Twitter's creative director Doug Bowman. Truly, though, I have to say that Disney's own employees were the ones who brought the house down with their intense passion for the job. Whenever possible, stop and talk to workers throughout the park! Share your excitement with them and tell them what interests you most. I always make a point to stop in Guest Services to get tips on maximizing our Disney vacation. Whether I'm seeking baby-friendly attractions, healthy food or romantic spots away from the crowds, they always point me in the right direction.

family bonding on a disney vacation

Pay it forward. I always make a point to tell my children how blessed they are to have amazing experiences like Disney vacations. Disney has ways that they can share their good fortune with other children! Their latest initiative is Disney Junior's Give a Book Get a Book program, offering families a way to donate books to organizations of their choice with any purchase at Disney Stores. You can also get involved in storytime events at community locations.

How to maximize your Disney vacations

How do you maximize your Disney vacation?