Walt Disney World Essential Travel Tips
Disney World is one of those vacation destinations where it helps to plan ahead and have travel tips in mind before you arrive. We will be visiting Walt Disney World for the seventh time in 9 years, so we have learned a ton through experience. Each time we visit Disney World, there’s always something new to see or do. Words can’t explain the magic we feel each time we see Expedition Everest or those Magic Kingdom gates, so we are looking forward to exploring again. Here are some of our best Walt Disney World travel tips to help you plan your own adventure.
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What to Know Before You Visit Disney World
1. How to Buy Disney World Park Tickets
Unless you are staying on property and they come as part of a package deal, buy your park tickets ahead of time. This saves 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, lives in the state of Florida, 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. How to Plan Character Dining Experiences at Disney World
If your child wants 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 where you want to eat at Disney World.
Resort guests can reserve 180 days in advance of their arrival date and book up to 10 days of Advance Dining Reservations. 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 at Disney World
When deciding whether or not to stay on property, it’s important to take a look at your family travel style. We have three boys who are in elementary, middle school, and high school. Disney is very easy for them to navigate and we don’t need to go back and forth to the hotel during the day.
On our first trip we took a 5 month old to the park, and stayed at Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin. We found it to be very convenient to be located near the parks and able to use Disney’s transportation. They also have character meals in their restaurants and the benefit of Extra Magic Hours (the ability to enter the park early and/or stay late on certain days).
The second time we rented a condo with another family using Home Away, which was great because we could cook meals and spend time together. There was also plenty of space to spread out, a swimming pool, and entertainment area for the kids. Other rental agencies to consider in Orlando are FlipKey and Vacatia.
We also stayed at two different “vacation clubs”, Marriott Royal Palms and Hilton Grand Vacations at Tuscany Village. 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.
At the Marriott Royal Palms we stayed in a 2 bedroom villa with 2 bathrooms, a full kitchen, dining room, and balcony. The property had all the amenities we needed and there was reciprocity with the Orlando World Center Marriott, allowing use of their swimming pools and facilities for a daily rate. It is well located to the Disney parks and is quite close to Disney Springs and Typhoon Lagoon.
The Hilton Tuscany Village is located near the Vineland Premium Outlets and Sea World. The units are quite comfortable, but lacked a few of the amenities of the Marriott property. The grounds are immaculately maintained, and the swimming pools are sure to please kids and adults alike.
If you choose to stay at a Disney hotel you have complimentary transportation to and from the airport and parks (saving money on a rental car and parking fees), early access to FastPass + (choosing the attractions you want to visit at each park), extended Magic Hours at the parks, and Disney 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. We’ve stayed at The Beach Club, The Grand Floridian, and Coronado Springs. Loved The Beach Club (and its sister property The Yacht Club) for its proximity to Epcot and swimming pool area.
Don’t miss this post if you still need Walt Disney World resort ideas.
4. How to Avoid Crowds at Walt Disney World
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.
Another option is to book a My VIP Tour for exclusive access to the parks. A private guide takes you around to the rides, parades, and character meet and greets without the wait! Definitely worth looking into if you can afford it.
5. Download the Disney World 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. These apps list 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.
6. Have a Plan for Visiting Walt Disney World
There are several things to research before your trip. Know how FastPass+ works. What are your must see rides/attractions? Disney FastPass+ service lets you reserve access to select attractions, entertainment and more. With the purchase of a ticket or Annual Pass, you can make choices up to 30 days before you arrive. If you are staying at a Disney Resort hotel, you can make your FastPass+ selections up to 60 days prior to check-in for the entire length of your stay.
You can reserve up to 3 FastPass+ selections per day in advance either online or using the mobile app, or for the same day at an in-park FastPass+ kiosk. After you use your initial 3 picks, head to a kiosk where you’ll be able to make another selection.
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.
7. You can bring snacks to Disney World
Disney allows you to bring your own snacks so 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. (Although I will say, I have found the Disney parks to be fantastic when it comes to handling food 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.
8. Make a Souvenir Budget When Visiting Disney World
Expect 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.
9. Should you bring a stroller to Disney World?
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!
10. How does Single Rider and Child Swap work?
This is one of those things we didn’t learn about until our third trip, but wish we had learned about sooner! There are several rides that allow you to skip the long lines and go to the single rider line if you don’t mind riding with a stranger. When are kids were old enough, this became a great option for Test Track, Rock N’ Roller Coaster, and Expedition Everest.
Disney also offers “child swap” where the parents wait in line together with their child and take turns on the ride. Maybe your child isn’t tall enough for a ride. One parents goes on the ride while the other waits. When they are finished, the other one takes their turn. A win-win for everyone.
11. Should you rent a car for Disney World?
Orlando has 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 the paperwork, walk across the street, show the agent your papers, pick out a vehicle and you are on your way. If you are staying on property and have a car, you can park it for free when visiting the parks.
If you are staying on property at Disney World, your transportation to and from the airport is included on the Magic Express bus.
12. Be ready for toll roads on the way to Walt Disney World
Traveling from the airport to your hotel (or the theme parks) will require at least one or more tolls. Bring change because not all booths will have an attendant. We learned this the hard way at a Sun Pass booth, where we had to grab 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.
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.
these are great tips, I will have to shop for a stroller board! Thanks for the info!
Where do you live? I’ll sell you mine! : )
We’re on our way for spring break. Thanks for the tips!
Have a fantastic trip Melissa!
I’m with you on loving Disney. Before we had kids we always stayed in the park, ate expensive meals, and made it a full out vacation. Now that we have kids it will be more like work than vacay. We plan to go in May and will stay outside the park, pack our meals, and be tired every waking minute. So worth it though!
This is perfect, I’m dying to get to Disney so I need to remember all of this! And I’m definitely looking into the accommodations that you recommended!
These are all great tips. We go every year, so I feel like a pro by this point 🙂
It will be worth it! Complete different with kids versus without!
Maybe I need som tome tips from you Robin!
I love these tips. I absolutely agree with having a plan! My husband and I just went there for our honeymoon in September and it was so helpful to have each day planned out with our meal reservations and fast pass times. It helped us feel at ease and relaxed! The Disney Experience App is so worth it – plus it’s free. It helped us big time 🙂
Absolutely book your character dinning and such before hand! We usually go to Disneyland because it is closer and we always go to Ariel’s Grotto and take the girls to the Bibbi Bobbidi Boutique!
We are heading back in March for our 7th family trip! These are all great tips. We stay in a condo ten minutes from the parks. My biggest tip, especially during peak times, is to get to the park when it opens. We rode Expedition Everest six times in the first hour, and got fast passes for the safari. With limited fast passes, heading straight to a popular ride right away will save a ton of time.
Great tips! I’m a former Orlando resident and Disneyphile and I agree with everything you said here. One other cool thing is the Hilton closest to Downtown Disney/in Downtown Disney does a character breakfast brunch at least once a week. I think the two weekend days. It’s a lot less crowded than most other character meals. (It’s also not as exciting as, say, Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary, but it’s another option for late planners.)
I really want to go to Disney Land! I agree with Dana getting to the park early will mean that you can get more fun for your money.
these are great tips for people planning this trip. we did the trip to disney a couple years ago as my brother lives close to the park so we just stayed with him = bonus )
So many great ideas! I think setting a budget is key when traveling anywhere! The app for wait times seems like a great idea!
Great tips Kirsten – with Disney it’s all about the planning!! We always stay off property, helps with sanity I think and the Fastpasses are just fantastic if you get organised with them. We also visit in October/November which seems to be the time of least crowds.
Love that you have tips too! Always great to ask someone who has been!
Love it! We missed out the first time because we didn’t know. Never again!
That’s awesome Dana! I love Animal Kingdom (and Expedition Everest)!
Thanks for the insider tip! I had no idea.
So true Ana! I hope you get to go. Such an experience!
Awesome tips Kirsten! When I plan trips I PLAN and all goes well. When another family member makes the arrangements there’s not so much planning. The app is a very well kept secret.
Oh, gosh, we love Disney; we honeymooned there 2 years ago and had a fabulous time. One of the saddest things about moving to Georgia from Florida was losing the Fl-resident discounts, lol. My best planning tips are to pick up the current Passporter for up-to-date attraction information, maps, and planning tools. I also hang out on their forums when I’m getting ready for a trip to get the latest news about the parks and that helps immensely.
We always stay on property, partially because we like to stay “in the bubble” but also because of the transportation options–those buses are a lifesaver over having the drive and park and all that stuff. Plus, heading back to the room mid-day for a rest is a lot easier, especially on those evening EMH! We drive to WDW instead of fly. You can get a window decal for the SunPass for ~$5 (which you get in toll credit) which helps with the tolls around Orlando or, if you come down frequently, you can get the one that sits on the dashboard instead and just reload it each time without the hassle of having to stick it to a rental car window.
We try to go in the fall when crowds are a little lower and the weather isn’t so oppressive (September is the best month for low crowds, though it can still be pretty muggy), and on our last trip we were able to use the Magic Bands (they were still being rolled out, then) and make use the Fast Pass+. The WDW app made it really easy to reschedule Fast Passes on the fly and we seldom had to wait in a line the whole week we were there. Finally, don’t forget to call for Character Meal reservations when the window opens: 180 days before your arrival; the most popular ones book up quickly.
Finally, add in a trip to Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) for a non-park day. We like to do this either on the day we arrive for a little no-ticket-needed Disney fix or after we check out for a last look. Dining plan credits (something we also used on our last trip and really enjoyed the convenience of) work at many of the DS restaurants, and with the renovations going on it’s really nice out there. (We went by the Springs on our way back home from our anniversary cruise this year. It was a nice mini-Disney fix until our next trip.)
Take a backpack with snacks and lunch! Saves lots of money!! And I agree with the “have a plan” tip! There are places online that tell which days that which parks are busy or slow. We took advantage of that!
I never got to go to Disney World growing up, but we’ll be definitely be taking our kids there! Great tips. Thank you for sharing! 🙂
We’re pretty much a Disney family. Undercover Tourist is an invaluable resource in my opinion. I always check their crowd predictor before confirming a trip.
I’ve never been to disney world before but I’ll definitely keep these tips in mind for if I ever get the chance to go. It seems really amazing there
These are great tips. We are saving up for a Disney trip. I will bookmark this post.
Awesome ! We still haven’t been but dying to !! Laci
I actually never been to Disney World before, but my family and I are hoping to go someday when our budget allows it. In the meantime, I’ll have to keep these tips in mind!
sO HOPING TO GO THIS SUMMER WITH MY YOUNGEST gR
I would love to take my kids to Disney Work. Maybe next year I can use your tips.
That is a definite bonus. Free accommodation!
Definitely use the app!
Joy, that’s a great time to visit. Definitely fewer crowds!
Loved going to Disney with my family. We had a huge group and it was nice to split up the older and younger. Bid rides and Little ride people!
Have not been able to travel in many years. Looks nice though.
Great tips! I especially love the one about bringing gift cards so that your kids can budget themselves.
OMG I had no idea about the apps to check the waiting time of the attractions, I am downloading them right now, Thanks!
I was up at 6 am, booking my character dining the other day. We were supposed to go over Christmas, but we changed it to July for my birthday. We are a military family, we dont normally accept discounts because it makes my huz uncomfortable, but we will use the park tickets discount! Whatever it is!
Jenn, you are a fountain of knowledge! I’m coming to you the next time I write a post!
Yes, pack a lunch. Our son has a food allergy and Disney is always good about checking the food, but it always helps to have our own snacks handy!
Oh Hannah, it’s definitely a must visit, at least once. Hope you get there!
Thanks! I hope you reach your goal soon and plan an amazing trip!
I hope you get there soon!
I know, it can be so expensive. There are other sites that talk about how to save money. I would highly recommend checking those out!
I hope you get to go!
Thanks Beth. I hope it happens for you!
Yes, having help is awesome. I like the “bigs” and the “littles”.
Thanks Emily. It’s so easy so they can manage their own money!
Great tips! I particularly like you ‘souvenir budget’ idea. We let the kids bring their allowance on holidays so that they can buy something the like, but I really like this gift card idea. Thanks!
Thank you for this!
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