Our trip to Disney was fabulous. To say that it was magical feels cliche...but it was! Eliana's fantasies became alive in front of our eyes and we enjoyed every second of it! While we enjoy rotating our vacation spots because of the educational and cultural values it provides to children (and adults) we can understand why some families choose to vacation at Disney every year - they make it so easy! Everyone has fun and you feel spoiled and enchanted while on their property. We will most definitely return in the future!  Their were some questions that I asked myself prior to our vacation and I feel like I can better answer them now that we have spent a week at Disney with a toddler:

Stroller: Bring your own or rent a Disney stroller?

We couldn't decide on bringing an umbrella stroller with us or renting a Disney stroller. In the end I think that we made the right decision and brought our own stroller. I read lots of pros and cons on renting versus bringing your own and the added hassle of having to fold and unfold the stroller when getting on and off the Disney buses beat having to wait in line for a rented stroller everytime you entered a Disney park (because you can't take the Disney strollers out of the theme parks). We also brought a bright purple stroller that was easy to find among the masses of the Disney stroller parking lots (where you park the strollers while on rides). I would also recommend a lightweight and easy to fold stroller if you bring your own because it makes the transfers on and off the Disney buses much easier. We have the Joovy Groove Ultralight stroller and it worked really well for our trip. Even though we have never brought a stroller with us through an airport (and for me this was another con of having to bring our own versus renting a stroller) I am happy that for the Disney trip we brought our own. I usually don't like the added burden of something else to move through security while at the airport (we usually just "wear" Eliana in a baby carrier while in the airport because you don't have to remove the child while going through security). For the amount we used the stroller at Disney it was worth the hassle of having to also bring the stroller with us on the airplane. If you are the type of parent that always flies with a stroller than this wouldn't be a factor in the decision making for you. 

Another Option:
Rent a stroller from a stroller rental company in Orlando. If we end up traveling to Disney again and feel the need for a stroller I would consider renting a stroller from a company in Orlando. The prices are better than the Disney rental prices and it is yours to use for the period of time you are vacatioining (meaning you take it to and from the parks, back to your hotel, etc.) In addition, you are renting a normal stroller (not a hard plastic Disney stroller). So if, for example, you love your city mini jogging stroller at home, but don't want to risk flying with it and damaging it you can rent the exact same stroller from a company in Orlando. I saw several rented strollers while we were at Disney (they are marked with the rental company's name) and all were in great condition. One company that always looked like they had almost new conditioned strollers was Kingdom Strollers.

Nap: Take time out for a nap or power through?

I think that this decision is made by the child. You know your child best. Will your child crash when he or she gets tired and be able to nap while in the stroller?  If so, maybe you power through at the park and just end your days a little earlier. For us, we knew that our daughter would most likely not fall asleep in the stroller and if she did it would only be for a few minutes. She has mastered the art of powering through and is usually very good at it. We knew that our evenings and dinners would not be as pleasant if she did not take a nap and we wanted to enjoy all of our time at the parks. So, we left the parks everday between 2:00 and 3:00 and returned back after Eliana had gotten at least an hour and a half nap (we were usually waking her back up to get back to the parks in the evenings). This also enabled us to enjoy the pool at our hotel for a couple hours every afternoon while she rested (Jonathan and I felt better after taking a couple hours rest at the pool too)! We all felt wonderful in the evenings and were able to cherish dinner when we had reservations and stay for the evening parades, fireworks and light shows.  I think that this decision may also be determined by how many days you are staying at the parks.  If only going to Disney for a day or two then I think we would try and power through for those days with short power naps in the stroller.  But when going for a whole week we were happy with the decision to take a break every afternoon and get in a real nap.

Rest Days: If vacationing at Disney for a week should you plan on a rest day (or a "pool only" day)?

I think that if we went to Disney again for a week we would plan to have 1 rest day. For this trip, we had a 6 day hopper pass and went to the parks everyday. After day 3 we were already looking for a little down time and so planned to spend the next morning at the pool and only spend the afternoon/evening at the parks. For our next Disney trip, we would plan on 3 days in the parks, 1 day as a "pool day" at the hotel, followed by 2 more days at the parks. On the rest day it is nice to eat a bigger relaxed breakfast at the hotel restaurant, go to the hotel pool and playground and spend your evening in Downtown Disney (you don't need a pass for Downtown Disney - it is open to the public).

Best time of day: What are the best times of day to visit the parks?

We found that the best time to go and not have to wait in lines was first thing in the morning when the parks open. Jonathan and I would get ready and pack our bag/food for the day at the park. Then we would wake Eliana up last minute (she had to be woken up every morning and naptime because she was exhausted after all the stimulation at the parks) and throw her into the stroller with a sippy cup of milk and some type of "on-the-go" breakfast item. While at home she is a fabulous eater, but while at the parks she didn't want to spend her time sitting down in the morning for breakfast - she wanted to see "Disney!".  For our family, different rules apply while on vacation and sitting down for breakfast just wasn't going to happen if we wanted to get to the parks when they first opened.

If we got to the parks when they first opened we could go on 4-5 rides in a row with little to no wait. Then we would often watch a show or parade and start heading to our fast pass rides of the day around 11:00 AM. We typically had all 3 fast pass tickets between 11-3 which were nice to use during the peak of the afternoon when lines started getting longer and the temperature started rising. After our last fast pass of the day we would head back to the resort for a nap/rest time.

Best theme parks: If I have to prioritize the theme parks which are best?

I think that every park has something for every age. With that being said I know that our daughter's favorite park was Magic Kingdom and her least favorite park was Hollywood Studios. I also asked a couple other families who had toddler's of both boys and girls and got similar answers.  If I were forced to rate Disney's theme parks due to a shorter vacation time at Disney I would rate them as follows:

1. Magic Kingdom
2./3. Epcot and Animal Kingdom (interchangeable depending on what you are looking for).
4. Hollywood Studios

Let's say that you only have 2 days at Disney. I would say that you should spend 1 morning/day at Magic Kingdom and 1 evening at Magic Kingdom. And you should also do one morning/day at Animal Kingdom and one evening at Epcot. So you could do Magic Kingdom in one day (both day and night) and Animal Kingdom the following day and Epcot in the evening or you could do Magic Kingdom during the day and Epcot at night followed by Animal Kingdom the next day and Magic Kingdom that night. Does that make sense?

We visited Epcot toward the end of our week at Disney. If we had visited it earlier I think that we would have planned on spending another evening or two in Epcot. We would actually choose heading to Epcot for dinner and fireworks rather than heading to Downtown Disney. Epcot has a great late afternoon/evening ambiance (not to mention you can walk through the park with a cold beer).

Water Park: Is it worth spending a day at one of Disney's water parks?

I think that this greatly depends on the child's age. We decided to visit Blizzard Beach one morning and after being there an hour we left and just went back to the pool at our Disney hotel. For us, with a 2 year old, we felt as though we could enjoy the pool as much as the water park. Of course there were more slides and attractions at the water park, but Eliana loved the small slide and beach type entrance at our hotel pool just as much. If you love water slides, then of course go to a water park! But, I don't think we will plan on going to a water park next time even if we are there for a week and if we were only there for a few days than I would not prioritize a water park over one of the theme parks.  If you have older children or teenagers then I can see the water park being an exciting adventure.

Meal Plan: Do I buy a meal plan and if so which one?

We opted out of a meal plan. We re-evaluated this decision after returning and I think we would do the same thing again. I say this hesitantly because we really did re-evaluate this after returning home.  If we did do a meal plan we would probably do one of the smallest plans that Disney offers with one sit down meal and one fast meal per day. We typically ate breakfast on the run or in our hotel room or by the pool. We ordered groceries from Garden Grocer (more on that below) so we were able to pack lunch and healthy snacks for while at the park. We love food and when home we love trying new restaurants and sitting down for meals as a family. Of course we sat down and ate while at Disney, but this trip wasn't about the culinary experience for us. We sat down and ate lunch or dinner whenever we had the desire. We ordered what we wanted while at the parks and didn't worry about what we were supposed to get because our meal plan was supposed to be a bigger or smaller meal. We looked back at the week and realized we sat down at a real restaurant about 1 time a day. Then we ate on the run or at a faster food delivery place 1-2 times a day. Because we were on vacation it was nice to be able to eat out for meals, but I think if we had gotten a meal plan we would have felt restricted by times of reservations for dinner or trying to get our money's worth from the meal plan and ordering based on what was the best value for what we had prepaid. I don't think that a meal plan would have saved us any money on this trip, especially since we packed some of our meals with the groceries we had delivered from Garden Grocer.

Grocery Delivery: Should we have groceries delivered or just eat on Disney property every meal?

We decided to order some groceries and have them delivered (because we didn't have a car) to our hotel room when we arrived. I am so happy that we decided on doing this! Not only did it save us some money on food, it felt good pulling out a bag of baby carrots, a few grapes, a string cheese or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when getting hungry. Of course we indulged in ice cream and other treats while at the theme parks, but it was nice to not have to solely rely on Disney food at all times of the day. We used a company called Garden Grocer that has an easy to use website (even on mobile devices).  I have a list of what we ordered from Garden Grocer below. After having used them once I would consider ordering more from them in the future (i.e. diapers, sunscreen, etc.). One of the best cost effective strategies of ordering groceries from them is getting alcohol. We ordered one twelve pack and one 6 pack of beer and had them delivered with our groceries - these were so much cheaper than the beers from the hotel bar or pool area! Because we were on vacation, we ordered some foods that we usually don't get at home because we didn't want packing food everyday to be a burden. So, for example, we bought the pre made yogurt smoothies from Dannon which were a treat, but also made eating on the run very easy.

Our Grocery List From Garden Grocer:

Total with tax, delivery charge and tip: $95.39

So, of course, the groceries cost a little bit more than if you were to go to your local grocery store, but I guess you have to put a price on convenience and the feeling of being able to pack something a little healthy while on vacation.

Useful Stroller Accessory:
I bought a mini cooler that attached to the bottom of our umbrella stroller before leaving that was very helpful with keeping the food and drinks at a good temperature.  The cooler is made by Baby Jogger and can be purchased on Amazon.  It the perfect size (not too big but big enough to hold a couple bottles of water and a few food items).  Our umbrella stroller was still able to fold while it was attached.