Disney World is one of those vacation destinations where it helps to plan ahead and have some travel tips in mind before you arrive. It is hard to explain why, but people are magically drawn to Walt Disney World over and over again. I happen to be one of those people, and we just booked our tickets to head to the Magic Kingdom for the fifth time in 8 years. We spend loads of money to visit multiple theme parks, pull muscles we didn’t know existed, and suffer through endless lines and crowds of people. We do this for our kids, for the memories, and for the love of the mouse.
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10 Essential Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Disney Vacation:
1. Disney World Park Tickets
Unless you are staying on property and they come as part of a package deal, try to buy your park tickets ahead of time. Doing so will save you the headache of waiting in line the day of your visit. There are several ways to purchase discounted tickets for Disney World. If you or a family member is a military service member, works for certain corporations or government groups, or is a member of AAA, there are discounts available to you. We do not have any of these discounts available to us, so we use Undercover Tourist. They have discounts on all types of theme park tickets. The website is fairly straightforward, and since we are going for a week and I know we want to see all of the parks, we chose the four day option with a free fifth day. Just choose the one that works for you!
2. Character Dining Experiences
If your child is desperate to have a meal with a Disney character, do yourself a favor and book your reservation in advance. Go to the Disney World website where Disney has a stream lined reservation process. You can select the time, date and location of your meal. When dining at Disney, it is extremely helpful to plan any sit down meals in advance or you may find yourself scrambling when the kids are screaming for dinner.
3. Staying On Property Versus Staying Off Property
While it sounds great to stay on property, each time we found it to be cost prohibitive. It would have been extremely helpful when we took a 5 month old to the park, but now that the kids are older and can handle two parks per day, there is no reason to stay nearby.
We have stayed at a Disney affiliate property, the Swan and Dolphin, which was nice, with access to Disney character meals in some of their restaurants, shuttle service to and from Disney parks, and the benefit of Disney extra magic hours (entering the parks early or staying late on certain days). We also rented a condo with another family using Trip Advisor’s service Flip Key, which was nice to be able to cook meals and spend time together. We also stayed at two different “vacation clubs”, Marriott and Hilton. You do not have to be a time share owner to stay at these resorts, and they have all the amenities you would expect from a resort and time share property.
If you do stay at a Disney hotel you have complimentary transportation to and from the airport (saving money on a rental car and parking fees), early access to FastPass + (choosing the attractions you want to visit at each park), extended hours at the park, and Magic Bands which act not only as room keys, but a charge card on your wrist. This could be a good or bad thing, I don’t think you can go wrong with either option.
4. Renting a Car at the Orlando Airport
Orlando may have my vote as one of the easiest places to pick up a rental car. After you deplane, a tram takes you from the arrival terminal to baggage claim (have your kids sit at the front of the tram for a great view). Pick up your bags and take the escalator downstairs to the rental car counters. If there is a long line, there may be a kiosk available to check in. I would highly advise using one as long as your driver’s license has a bar code on the back. Once you have your paperwork, walk across the street, show the agent your papers, pick out a vehicle and you are on your way.
5. Toll Roads
Traveling from the airport to your hotel (or the theme parks) will require at least one or more tolls. Bring change with you because not all booths will have an attendant. We learned this the hard way at a Sun Pass booth, where we had to take an envelope to mail in a fine of 75 cents. I think the stamp and the paper the check is printed on may actually cost more than that.
6. Download an App for Ride Wait Times
There are several apps to choose from (My Disney Experience and Disney World Lines come to mind), and we found these to be extremely helpful when planning our time at the parks. The app lists the majority of the rides and the approximate wait time for each. This eliminates the disappointment of walking halfway across the park only to find the ride you want has an hour long line.
7. Have a Plan
Know how FastPass+ works. What are your must see rides/attractions? If you have a ticket purchased or an annual pass, you can start make choices as early as 30 days before you arrive, or up to 60 days before check-in if you have a Walt Disney World resort package. Give yourself plenty of time to make your way to the park, especially if you are using Disney transportation. It always takes longer than you think. We also like to head straight to the back of the park when it opens to avoid the crowds at the front.
8. Bring Snacks
Disney allows you to bring your own snacks and you should take advantage of this. You can also bring a reusable water bottle and ask for complimentary ice water at any of the restaurants. This is very helpful if you have a child with allergies. We stock up with snacks at the grocery store once we arrive in Orlando so we don’t have to bring them on the plane.
9. Make a Souvenir Budget
It is a given that your kids will ask for every single thing they see in the gift shop and then some. Do yourself a favor and buy a Disney gift card ahead of time with a pre-set dollar amount for each child. Once the child has spent all their money, no more souvenirs for them. Here are some of our other favorite tips for saving money on Disney souvenirs.
If you have a stroller that is lightweight, be sure to bring it with you. The kids will get tired, and it is convenient to have your own instead of renting ay Disney stroller. We would also recommend a ride along stroller board. We used it for our older children and it was a lifesaver!
If you are planning on going at peak times, it will be crowded, so bring an extra dose of patience and some good walking shoes. If you want to know when to avoid the crowds, check out the Orlando Crowd calendar. It’s super helpful!
Disney World can be overwhelming for any family planning a first time trip, but hopefully some of these tips will help get you on your way to a successful Orlando vacation.
Do you have a favorite Disney World tip to share? We would love to hear it!