Walt Disney World vacation tips & advice
Need Walt Disney World vacation tips and tricks? Look no further than this honest advice from three Disney experts with decades of experience.
Let’s quickly meet our Walt Disney World dream team.
Ryan has been going to Disney parks for 30+ years on both coasts and still wants to be a Disney Imagineer. Adriane is a former Disney Cast Member who visits the Walt Disney World Resort multiple times a year. Finally, Erica first visited Walt Disney World at the age of 3, every year until the age of 12, and has taken the trip to the “most magical place on earth” over twenty-five times.
Alright, introductions are over. Time for the important stuff.
In this extensive article about Walt Disney World vacation tips & advice, you’ll learn:
- How to book long before your Walt Disney World vacation starts.
- Why the rides aren’t always the star attractions.
- Where to find free attractions.
- The many benefits of staying on Disney properties
- The benefits and drawbacks of the Disney dining plan.
- Meeska Mooska much much more!
Here are Walt Disney World vacation tips, tricks, advice, and hacks for the most magical place on Earth.
Walt Disney World: Park Tips
Book Early. Like, Yesterday
My number one tip is to start planning early and book as much as you can before you go. It sounds simple but there are so many people who don’t book in advance. If you wait until you get there, or just a few days before, you will be stuck in long lines and with limited places to eat.
So pick your dates, plan what days you want to be in what parks, plan where everyone wants to eat and what rides everyone just “has to get on” and then pick backups just in case things aren’t available as you’re booking.
Being organized is key
Disney has a great website, although often runs slow, that has a My Disney Experience tab where you can set up a free account to store all of your Disney plans and connect all your reservations in one spot.
You can add all your traveling companions so you all get the same FastPass+ and Dining Reservations together, plus it syncs with their App so when you are on property you can see what you scheduled.
Only one person really needs to set this up and they can add the names of their family or everyone can have an account and link together to see what the plans are.
Speaking of the App, it has a lot of good features outside of just storing your reservations so I recommend downloading it onto at least one person’s phone. You can select more FastPasses, make reservations for dining and shows, see wait times on rides in real time and get maps of all the parks. – Erica
Plan For Breaks
I am not one of those psychos that spend every waking minute in the parks. Disney world is just that, “a world”, (a 40-square mile world to be exact) and in that world, there’s much more to do (and not do) than just going to the theme parks.
They’re all fantastic, but they’re also all exhausting! So plan for breaks.
And depending on how long your stay is a break could mean different things. It could mean just a day off in-between parks or it could just mean that you go to a park in the morning and then leave for a few hours in the afternoon and head back to the park in the evening refreshed and ready to see some of the best damn fireworks you’ll ever see in your life!
Bottom line – breaks make it feel more like a vacation and less like an exhausting trudge through a kiddie-induced hell. – Adriane
Magic Kingdom Rides
FastPasses are a necessity if you want to get on some of the best rides. If you are staying on property and have already bought your tickets, and linked both to the My Disney Experience app, then you can reserve your FastPasses starting at 7 AM exactly 60 days before the first day of your Walt Disney World vacation.
Each Walt Disney World ride is ranked based on popularity. Guests can only get one “Top Tier” FastPass per day. Those go quick.
You can reserve 2 other FastPasses of the other rides in advance, and then on the day of your park visit.
After you have used all 3, you can book one more. – Erica
It’s Not Just All About The Rides At The Magic Kingdom
Look the rides are great, they are exciting and can make smiles appear on the most stubborn of crabby sleep deprived little faces, but they typically have excessively long lines that are more often than not found outdoors with spotty moments of shade.
On the other hand, most of the attraction shows within the Walt Disney World parks are nestled into the heavenly bosom of Floridian air conditioning, blasting on max and allowing a quiet respite from the Florida heat.
Some shows that you can watch that will entertain both you and the kids while remaining in AC at the Magic Kingdom are
- Country Bear Jamboree
- Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor
- Mickey’s PhilharMagic
- The Enchanted Tiki Room
- The Carousel of Progress
- The Hall of Presidents
Always Go Left!
Here’s a super secret Walt Disney World vacation tip. When arriving at the Magic Kingdom first thing in the morning, remember to always go left!
Whether it is a line for a ride or navigating through the park to get to everything, going left is always a faster option. It is tempting to walk into the Magic Kingdom and head for the castle, but heading down Main Street and veering left off to Adventure Land is a better option.
Most people head straight through to the castle to Fantasy Land or right to Tomorrow land because there are more rides. This means Adventure Land is relatively empty in the morning. You can breeze through multiple rides in the time it would take you to wait for one elsewhere in the park. – Erica
MORE DISNEY & TRAVEL STUFF
- Roadside Attractions Every Family Should Visit At Least Once
- “Up” Is The Greatest Fictitious Love Story Ever
- All These Disney Princesses Have A Secret
- Disney Princesses As Tatted-Up Pin-up Girls
Walt Disney World: Park Tips (cont.)
Invest In Good Shoes
You’re going to walk a lot. Like, too much. Get yourself some good quality sneakers and break them in for a week or so before your trip.
Also, if you’re #blessed with some thick ol’ thunder thighs they will not mix well with the Florida humidity and chaffing is no joke. Get yourself some runner’s glide anti-friction balm.
You’ll thank me later. – Ryan
Walt Disney World Has Tons Of Free Attractions
Yes, a trip to Disney World could bleed you dry, however, if you’re savvy you’ll come to appreciate some of the free things that are available throughout the world as well.
Without going into too much detail here are some free ones I recommend:
- Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Campfire Sing-A-Long at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground
- Movies Under the Stars – Nightly at all the Disney hotels (weather permitting)
- Magic Kingdom fireworks from the boat dock a Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort
- Catch the Electrical Water Pageant from the beaches along the Magic Kingdom resort area
- Catch YeHaa Bob Jackson at River Roast at Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside
Finally, many of the Disney hotels also offer free guided walking and culinary tours. – Adriane
Bring The Right Bag, Baby
And you thought that Fanny Packs weren’t cool. Well, you’re right, unless you are on a Walt Disney World vacation, Then they are a lifesaver.
Keep all your do-dads in one place and have security knowing all your needs are a zip away.
Backpacks are cumbersome and all bags shopping or otherwise are taken with you on rides. This can lead to cramped leg room. The fanny pack makes you truly decide what items you can leave in the room.
Speaking of bags, any purchases made on a Walt Disney World vacation property can be sent to your hotel room for free.
Don’t carry that plushy, mug, or sticker set around all day. Have anything delivered back to the hotel for you or your little one. – Ryan
Disney Parades Are Cool But…
Unless you really, really want to see a particular parade I recommend skipping them on your Walt Disney World vacation. A majority of visitors will be at the parade making the lines go down at some of the busier rides.
If you can talk your kids out of not seeing the parade you will save lots of time! – Erica
Stay Hydrated And Fed Without Going Broke
Look, food and beverages at Disney are wonderful. There are a million treats to trick your belt into swelling and your wallet into shrinking.
However, you are allowed to bring in your own outside food, drinks, and snacks. As long as the packaging is not glass, the liquids aren’t alcohol, and the food doesn’t require heating you can bring a meal.
While at the Magic Kingdom a recommendation on where to eat is to take the raft over to Tom Sawyer Island. There you’ll find picnic tables set up in multiple secluded areas and can enjoy your meal in one of the only calm areas in the park.
Other picnic areas in the Magic Kingdom are in
- Rapunzel’s Village
- The brick walkway by the Seven Seas Lagoon
- Outside of Pete’s Silly Side Show
- The Hub at Main Street
**Huge** Walt Disney World vacation tip – Don’t Be Shy!
Disney employees are paid to make your day Magical!
If you are celebrating a birthday, an anniversary or your 1st visit every stop by any shop in the parks and they will give you a free pin to wear letting everyone know what you are celebrating. Wear it proud because they really go out of their way to acknowledge your celebrations.
Example – If you’re in EPCOT you can go to “Club Cool” by the big fountain and they will give you a free slushy on your birthday!
Simply enjoying the small shows the put on in the “streets” rather than just running from ride to ride can change the experience for you.
The more you get into the “magic” of it all the more cast members will interact with you and do what they can to make your day special, whether you’re celebrating anything or not. – Erica
Walt Disney World Vacation Tips: Hotels
Always Stay On Walt Disney World Property
Now this tip could be divisive because I realize that it can be more expensive to stay in one of the Disney World resorts than to stay at say a Howard Johnson on I-Drive. But there’s a reason for that and I think that the benefits outweigh the bank account depletion.
Walt Disney World has three main categories of hotels – Deluxe, Moderate, and Value.
- Deluxe Walt Disney World Hotels are amazing. But they’ll cost you a month’s mortgage payment for one night. So forget them unless you’re Oprah.
- Moderate Walt Disney World Hotels are my favorite (particularly Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort) but they can be anywhere from $200 to $300 a night so sometimes they’re not always feasible either. Which leads us to…
- Walt Disney World Value Hotels which generally run between $100 and $200 a night. In fact, I’m staying at one of them on my next trip (Disney’s Pop Century Resort).
What separates these Walt Disney World hotels into their respective categories is a list for another time.
The one thing they all share is basic conveniences that make for an easy Disney World vacation. These are:
- Use of Disney’s Magical Express which is a free airport transfer to and from MCO airport to your Disney hotel (a great money saver)
- Access to the Walt Disney World transportation system (a huge money saver because you don’t need to rent a car or use Uber)
- Each person gets a complimentary Magic Band when staying on property. A Magic Band is a waterproof wristband that connects all your park tickets, purchase charges, and access to your hotel room.
Overall, it’s just easier and you’re totally immersed in the magic and staying on Disney property and worth the extra money.” – Adriane
Staying on a Walt Disney World property can be more expensive but I highly recommend it.
There is a free shuttle to and from the airport, free bus service from the resorts to all the Disney locations and you can participate in the “Extra Magic Hours”, which is when they open the parks an hour early or keep them open an hour late for resort guests.
What you pay in higher resort fees, you get back in not having to rent a car, pay the $20 daily parking fee and you get more park time. – Erica
Disney Hotels ARE An Attraction
If you’re staying on-property then the hotels themselves are an attraction. They each have unique theming, awesome pools, and great food and booze. And that booze usually comes in the form of pool bars. And what’s better than letting your kids splash around in a pool while you lay on a beach chair and sip frozen margaritas?
The pools have vigilant lifeguards, trust me they’ll be fine. Beyond the hotels, there’s Disney Springs – a 120-acre metropolis of stores, restaurants and bars. There’s water parks, mini-golf courses, regular golf courses, a sports complex, a boardwalk, and various spas.
I could go on forever, baby. The point is there’s much more than Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and the Animal Kingdom. – Adriane
Disney World Vacation Planning Tips
Go Off Season For The Extra Attractions
In an effort to get people to visit Disney World in the “off-season’s” Disney has added a bunch of special events throughout the year.
- Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party
- The Epcot Food and Wine Festival
- Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
The Halloween and Christmas parties are both hard ticket events. You must purchase a separate ticket to attend. They are both at the Magic Kingdom and start at 7 PM. They end at midnight.
PRO-TIP: You can enter the park as early as 4 PM.
The Epcot Food and Wine Festival is included with the price of admission. However, you do have to pay for any food and/or wine that you purchase. – Adriane
Go When It’s Slow
The “slower” times of the year to take a Walt Disney World Vacation are early May, late September and the first two weeks in November or basically when kids are in school and there are no holidays.
If you can pull the kids from a few days you will enjoy the less full parks so much more.
Summer is jam-packed and HOT, yuck! – Erica
Pass On The Walt Disney World Meal Plan
I’m the go-to person for any friends needing Walt Disney World vacation tips. The one question I get asked is always “Should I get the meal plan?”
My answer is always “No!” and yes I say with an exclamation!
Long story short – the meal plan is a ton of money and too much food. Most guests find themselves eating a lot more than they want/ need to not waste the credits.
Also, adults can purchase kids meals at any quick service counter! I find this particularly great for breakfast. You can get a Mickey waffle with sausage and orange juice for six bucks.
Skip the meal plan. Pay as you go. Bring your own food (yes, you can do that!) and non-alcoholic drinks into the parks.
You’ll save money and you’ll eat much less. – Adriane
Walt Disney World restaurant reservations open at 6 AM exactly 180 days from the first day of your trip. Whether you have the dining plan or not.
I recommend logging in at 5:55 AM. Be ready with the list of restaurants you want, the number of Walt Disney World Vacation guests and preferred time.
Be ready for picking back up options if you’re not willing to get up that early. – Erica
EPCOT Center Information & Tips
Don’t Get ‘Frozen’ Out Of The Most Popular Ride
Frozen Ever After the ride is insanely popular as you may have guessed and therefore subject to long wait times. Book your Fast Pass reservation online at “My Disney Experience” sixty days before your trip.
A trick is to go early. The majority of EPCOT’s World Showcase doesn’t not open until 11:00 am.
However, the Frozen ride at the Norway pavilion opens earlier at 9:00 am. You ‘re still better off getting a Fast Pass for this attraction. Skip the lines!
If you do find yourself in the world showcase at breakfast time there are a few options for food items.
- “La Cantina de San Angel” at the Mexico Pavilion.
- Counter service option of Kringla Bakeri og Kafeat Norway’s pavilion for some School bread.
- France pavilion’s “Les Halles Boulangerie Patisserie” for some wonderful French pastries.
Enjoy A Different Frozen Experience
Adult Beverages are easier to come by now than ever at Walt Disney World parks.
For a good time, head to EPCOT and pub crawl your way around all eleven country pavilions.
The margaritas at the Mexico Pavillion’s “La Cava del Tequila” are top notch. They’ll surely make your experience waiting in line for the Frozen Ever After ride a more pleasant experience. – Ryan
Walt Disney World Vacation Tickets Info
Finally, many companies provide employee discounted tickets and hotel accommodations. Research if this is an option. Walt Disney World rarely discounts either.
If you don’t buy from directly from Disney, have your tickets and hotel linked to your My Disney Experience account. You’ll still be able to track everything. – Erica
Must-Read Walt Disney World Tips & Resources
- The Official Website of Disney
- The Walt Disney World Twitter account
- ShopDisney.com: ShopDisney is your one-stop shopping destination for Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars fans of all ages across fashion, accessories, toys, homeware, collectibles and more. You’ll find all your favorite Disney Store exclusives along with new, surprising and exciting gifts.
- BestofOrlando.com: Looking for Orlando theme parks, shows, hotels and tours all at the best prices? This website has you covered. BestofOrlando.com has the best offers and deals in the city, including thrilling theme parks, lively shows, airboat tours and more.
- Build A Better Mouse Trip: Sign up for their extensive newsletter and get a helpful guide to 45 Disney freebies people don’t know about.
- Birnbaum’s 2019 Walt Disney World: The Official Guide: As Walt Disney World continues to grow and evolve, trust Birnbaum as your guide! The 2019 edition delves into detailed descriptions of all attractions, resorts, and eateries; offers money-saving coupons and strategies to maximize your vacation budget and includes a peek into what’s new at each park
- Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2019: Compiled and written by a team of experienced researchers whose work has been cited by such diverse sources as USA Today and Operations Research Forum, The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World digs deeper and offers more than any other guide.
- MouseSavers.com: Since 2001, MouseSavers.com has provided hundreds of pages of FREE information about Walt Disney World Vacation discounts and theme park discounts. Whether you need a Walt Disney World ticket discount, hotel discount, or Disneyland vacation package, you’re in the right place!
- The Disney Food Blog: Launched in March 2009, the Disney Food Blog has grown exponentially. DFB offers in-depth news, reviews, and information about food and restaurants in Disney’s parks, resorts, and cruise ships. They also have reviews and photos of anything food-related in the world of Disney.
- DIS Boards: The Disney discussion boards is one of the best places to discuss anything Disney-related, especially Walt Disney World and Disney Cruise Line, with Disney fans and first-time Magic Kingdom guests.
- Yesterland: Did you ever wonder what happened to Disneyland’s Mine Train, Flying Saucers, or Indian Village? These and other attractions, restaurants, and shops are now collected in Yesterland, a theme park on the Web. The photos are absolutely amazing.
More About Our Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom Experts
Adriane Hamilton is a former Disney Cast Member and current Disney Fanatic. She can be heard weekly on the popular Sweaty Contest Podcast and seen weekly on her YouTube show Eating Lunch With Adriane. You can also see and hear her daily on Instagram @ItsMeAdriane.
Ryan Bieber is a founding member of the 733 Collective. It’s a New York-based production house creating immersive experiences and events for the community. They’re hosting a charity fundraiser Halloween party on October 27th. Events for kids will happen during the day. A 21+ extravaganza will happen at night. All proceeds of the event will serve City Harvest. Please visit www.733collective.com for tickets and more information.
Erica Susko works in banking and lives on the East Coast. She admits she” just can’t stay away” from Walt Disney World and has made well over twenty-five visits including trips with family, Spring Break with friends, running in a Disney half marathon, and celebrating her 40th Birthday with the Mouse!
Do you have a Walt Disney World tip you’d like to share? Leave it in the comments below or email messagewithabottle [@] gmail.com
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