I Go to Disney World Every Year, Here Are My Top Tips
Hello, my name is Carolyn Menyes, and I am a Walt Disney World addict. Yes, I may be a woman in her mid-20s with no children, but I do have a nerdy husband who also loves Disney as much as I do. That means each and every year (at least once a year), we book a flight from New York to Orlando and take a trip to Disney. I’ve been five times in the last three years, and while I’m no professional travel agent or Disney employee, I do have my fair share of advice for those who want to head down to WDW for the vacation of their dreams.
Planning a trip to Walt Disney World can feel really overwhelming and become outrageously expensive very quickly. Between booking airfare, a hotel room, dining reservations and FastPasses, it can all feel like too much. It may be tempting to plan every single day of your trip down to the minute, but trust me, there is no fun in bringing a binder full of spreadsheets and food prices with you to the parks. And yes, I have seen that.
My No. 1 tip for planning a trip to Walt Disney World? Do your research and plan some things far in advance, but make sure that at the end of the day you relax and go with the flow. Disney vacations take a lot of work, but they are still a vacation at the end of the day. I’ve been lucky to spend my vacations at Disney World every year, here are my top tips.
Do Your Research
Planning a Walt Disney World vacation isn’t as easy as driving or flying down to Orlando and showing up at the park gates. Things at the resort are constantly changing with the seasons, from the festivals at Epcot to the parties at the Magic Kingdom to different ride closures and limited-time offerings and events. Know what time of year is best for you and your family. January and February, for instance, have some of the lowest prices and crowds, but many rides go under refurbishment during the slower months. Also, immerse yourself as much as possible in Disney park nerd circles. You know who has the best insight on Disney? Fellow travelers and Disney fans. Joining an online message board, such as Disboards or DisneyTouristBlog, can give you valuable insight on the best times to travel, dining, festivals, trip tips, construction and more.
Book Your Trip as Early as You Can
There are a lot of ways to save money at Walt Disney World, but the top thing you can do is book your trip as early as possible. Room rates at Disney resorts go up as the rooms get filled, so as soon as you know that you want to go to Disney and when, book a room and a flight. And speaking of booking a room…
You can stay off-site and save a ton on a trip to Orlando, but staying on property at one of Walt Disney World’s 20 resorts brings a lot of benefits. You get to book your FastPasses earlier, get free transportation from the Orlando airport to Disney and you get to stay inside that “Disney bubble.” If you want your vacation to stay magical the entire time you’re there, you have to stick with Disney hotels. And while these resorts can be outrageously expensive, there are experiences for all kinds of travelers, from campsites at Fort Wilderness to motel-style value resorts like Pop Century to deluxe villas and bungalows and everything in between.
Make Your Dining Reservations Early – But Keep Your Eyes Peeled
Walt Disney World’s table service meal reservations open up 180 days ahead of time. Yes, you read that right: You can start booking dinners for December in June. It’s hard enough to know what to make for dinner this week, let alone what you want to eat six months from now. But, if you want to go to some of the best restaurants at Epcot, for example, try logging on as early as possible to get that Advance Dining Reservation (that’s Disney lingo for table reservation). Popular restaurants like Be Our Guest, Cinderella’s Royal Table and the California Grill will book up at the 180-day mark.
Miss that time slot? Don’t worry! I’ve actually never bothered to book my restaurants 180 days in advance. Knowing what park I want to go to when I’ve barely even booked my trip is too stressful, and I don’t want to be locked into a single plan for six months. You can still get amazing dining options closer to your actual visit date. You see, guests can drop their reservations with no consequences until 24 hours before the meal. That means popular restaurants are open almost all the time. I’ve nabbed reservations at Be Our Guest, Jiko, La Hacienda de San Angel and more with days or hours to go. I’ve even seen a dinner reservation for Disney’s highest-end restaurant, Victoria & Albert’s, open with less than one day to go. Just keep checking Disney’s website for reservation times. Trust me: Something you want will pop up.
Book Your FastPasses ASAP
While I never book my dinner reservations six months in advance, there is one Disney reservation I book the second it opens: my FastPasses. For the uninitiated, FastPasses allow you to skip the line for some of the best Disney attractions, like Splash Mountain, Flight of Passage and Tower of Terror. You get three per day at one park. These go fast, especially for popular and new rides, like Seven Dwarves Mine Train, Slinky Dog Dash and Frozen Ever After. FastPasses open up 60 days before your first hotel night at 7 a.m. ET for Disney resort guests (and 30 days for those staying off-site), and I’m always sure to line up what rides I want for what day ahead of time, and I set multiple alarms to make sure I get the exact attractions I want.
Do Not Overplan
There’s an image of an early Disney trip that still haunts me to this day. My husband and I were walking into Animal Kingdom and ahead of us, a father had a massive three-ring binder full of their plans for the day. While it’s great to know what iconic Disney theme park snacks are worth your time and when is the best hour to hit up Flight of Passage, there’s no need to have a binder full of spreadsheets breaking down every dollar and minute of your trip. Disney vacations do take a lot of planning, but remember — it’s a vacation. You can relax a bit. Plus, if you have every moment of your trip broken down by price and time, you’re taking away all the magic.
Realize You Can’t Do It All
The Magic Kingdom alone has more than 40 different rides, shows, meet-and-greets and attractions within its gates. That doesn’t even account for eating, walking around and taking in the scenery. No matter how hard you try, you’re not going to be able to do everything Walt Disney World has to offer. Heck, you’re not even going to get to do everything you want to. However, as long as you prioritize your must-dos first and go down from there, you’ll still have a magical trip. There’s certainly no reason to stress about making sure you get absolutely everything done.
Have Some Wiggle Room in Your Budget
There’s no such thing as a cheap trip to Walt Disney World. No matter how much you plan to eat at counter service spots and forego souvenirs, you will find that perfect Mickey Mouse T-shirt or a surprise dining slot open at one of Epcot’s best restaurants. As you save up for your trip, realize you’ll get swept away by the magic and have some extra money for last-minute purchases.
Take Advantage of the Free Transportation
A great way to leave more room in your budget is to take advantage of Disney’s free transportation. Skip renting a car or driving to the theme parks. If you stay at a Disney hotel, their bus service (called the Magical Express) will take you right from the Orlando airport to your resort. Once you’re on property, Disney has buses, a monorail, boats and some walkable paths that will get you to the four theme parks, two water parks, restaurants, other resorts and Disney Springs.
Do Something New Every Trip
I’ve been to Walt Disney World five times in three years. No matter when I go, I always try to do something new and different. It helps to keep the parks feeling fresh and exciting. If you’ve never been to Disney (or haven’t been in a very long time), everything will feel shiny and new. But since I go so often, it’s important for me to keep exploring. This year, I went to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and visited tiki bar Trader Sam’s for the first time, and each different experience made me love Disney even more. Remember how I said you can’t do it all in one trip? That means there’s plenty to explore on repeat vacations.
Keep Your Traditions
As much as I love exploring new corners of Walt Disney World, keeping up traditions is an important way to make each Disney trip feel connected and special. For me, every trip to Epcot has to start with an iced coffee from Joffrey’s and a relaxing hour spent sitting by the jumping fountains and people-watching. My husband and I also love to eat at Columbia Harbour House at the Magic Kingdom and peer out the window into Fantasyland. If you’re a repeat visitor, keep these small moments in mind. It’s best to keep your traditions manageable and happy. You can’t always guarantee a walk-on ride to Peter Pan’s Flight, but you can be sure that an iced coffee and a bench will always be around.
Use the My Disney Experience App
There’s no reason to have your head buried in your cellphone when you’re at Walt Disney World, unless, of course, you’re using the My Disney Experience app. This free mobile app can be downloaded on to your smartphone, and it seriously changes the way you approach a theme park. It allows you to book extra FastPasses, find the perfect dinner reservation and see wait times for most rides and meet-and-greets. My Disney Experience also has a host of cool other features, including the ability to unlock your hotel room door via Bluetooth, buy souvenirs and order food from quick service locations. It’s a complete and total game-changer and will make your trip go so smoothly.
Explore Beyond the Theme Parks
When you think of Walt Disney World, you almost certainly think of the four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom) first. But there’s so much more to do at Disney than that. Exploring beyond the theme parks helps to keep Disney feeling fun and exciting, and you never know what you’ll find. Did you know they have mini-golf courses, bowling alleys, a boardwalk and light shows that aren’t at the parks? It’s true. In fact, there’s a lot of things you can do at Walt Disney World without a park ticket.
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