We just returned from the “happiest place on Earth”, and it was a blast! Walt Disney World is really just an incredible, amazing break from reality and I can’t adequately describe all the fun that we had on our big family vacation. What I can say is what we learned – both before and after we arrived. Like any other trip, information is your friend; at Disney World, this is doubly true.
Five tips I’d like to share:
1. Plan ahead. No, really, PLAN AHEAD.
No amount of planning is too much when it comes to Disney World. Whether deciding where to stay, which meal plan to get, whether or not to add “Park Hopper”, etc., there are so many permutations that it really requires thinking through what you want to do and how you’d like to do it.
The FastPass+ system lets you reserve access to expedited lines for attractions and events, and resort guests can book FastPasses 60 days prior to their visit (30 days earlier than those staying off-property). You can book up to 3 FastPasses in advance for each day of your visit, and once you’ve exhausted a day’s worth you can book another one at a park FastPass+ kiosk.
Reservations can seem to disappear in a heartbeat. If you really want a hot attraction (like Epcot’s Soarin’ or Magic Kingdom’s Seven Dwarfs Mine Train), and you have to go “Stand By” (aka “on the line with the normal folks”), aim for when the park opens, when it closes, or during some big event – like a parade (something that siphons off large quantities of people). Dining reservations open 180 days before your visit, and you actually need to be online at 6:00am (ET) to book some of the most popular or exclusive dining options, like a Princess character meal at Cinderella’s Royal Table or an über-fancy dinner at Victoria & Albert’s.
We used two books in our trip planning, and we consulted them nightly as we considered the next day’s itinerary. I can’t recommend them highly enough: The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and Walt Disney World with Kids.
2. Talk to the nice people on the phone.
The Walt Disney World website is a decent source of information, but if you REALLY want the skinny, go straight to the mouse’s mouth: call the nice people. Bring a magazine, since hold times can get long, but expect LOTS of help when you talk with the reservations folks on the phone. You can only get limited assistance via webchat, so just skip it and call from the get-go. Deals are listed on the website, and the folks in their call center can explain how you can take best advantage of the deals (even applying deals after you’ve booked, if you’re eligible for a special offer/promotion).
Also, if you book directly through Disney, you may get much better – and more personalized – communication pre-trip than if you book through someone else. My parents, who booked through an agency, didn’t get any of the print-on-demand pieces that we got (like the fridge magnet customized with important dates), and those little touches can really help in big ways.
3. There’s an app for that!
The My Disney Experience app is your best friend during your trip. Available free through the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, My Disney Experience has some great features, including (but not limited to): setting up FastPass+ selections, making dining reservations on the fly, and seeing wait times for attractions at all of the Disney World parks. We used ALL of these features, and the feature that allowed us to look up our reservations for FastPasses and dining helped us manage our time efficiently. For example, many FastPass attraction timeslots run about an hour long; we looked up our FastPasses, checked wait times for other attractions at the same park, and then we figured out what we could do Stand By before or after our FastPass’ed attraction. When bad weather was forecasted for one evening, and I wasn’t sure we wanted to venture out for dinner, the app helped me make a reservation at one of our hotel’s restaurants just a few hours before our preferred dinnertime. It was brilliant!
4. Water, water, everywhere!
Going to Central Florida at the end of August, we routinely experienced daytime temperatures of 90°-97°F. Dehydration was always a risk. We brought our own (empty) water bottles and filled them each morning before heading out. Throughout the day, we frequently refilled our bottles at the water fountains sprinkled liberally throughout each park. Avoiding caffeine also helped (remember: caffeine dehydrates you!); and using a dining plan snack credit to buy Powerade helped on days when the heat index reached 101°F.
Shade can be hard to come by, so hydrating is really important and will make your day last longer and be less likely to be interrupted by a visit from the EMTs (which I saw happen to another park visitor, on one day at Magic Kingdom). Don’t have a water bottle handy? Go into any park restaurant and ask for a free glass of water; they’re REQUIRED to give you at least a glass of ice at no charge. As one park cast member told me, they’d much rather comp you ice or water than have you get sick from dehydration.
5. Stroller sock’er!
The ubiquitous strollers can be hard to tell apart. When you rent a stroller from Disney World, you get a name card to slide into a holder on the back – but all of the Disney World strollers look identical. Making matters worse, even when you park in designated “Stroller Parking” areas, cast members are known to move strollers around to optimize the use of the space. If you leave your stroller in another area, they may move it to a designated “Stroller Parking”, where your stroller may share space with sometimes a hundred other similar vehicles. Make yours stand out by adding a sock! No, seriously, a sock. Before we left, I went to Target and picked up the most ludicrously fluorescent pink knee socks I could find, and we knotted one on our stroller handlebar every day. Even when cast members put our rental in the middle of a sea of other strollers, I easily picked out that bright pink knot.
No matter how you approach your trip to Walt Disney World, as long as you go in with a plan to HAVE FUN, you will. There’s always an attraction to ride, good food to eat, and a cast member nearby who would really like to make you smile. So go ahead…and enjoy. I know we did!
I had ridiculous amounts of fun planning our trip. That Unofficial Guide is the best investment I have ever made in my life, and I can’t rec their website and app highly enough.