Hi ho everyone! I hope you're all having a magical week! I thought I'd bring some extra cheer to you today and share our top tips for going on vacation to Walt Disney World. One thing I always notice when chatting with people who have never been to Disney or haven't been in a long time say is how overwhelming all the options can be. There's so much to choose from and tons of questions swirling around in our heads when it comes to planning a Disney World trip, so here is our best advice for planning it all out to ensure you will have the best trip ever!
1. Stay at a Disney Resort
This is seriously our number one tip, and I'm going to apologize for the long winded explanation but it's necessary. I know it may be tempting to stay off resort because you might find a cheaper option or because you want to do other things in Central Florida besides Disney, but this is speaking from first hand experience, don't do it. If you are going to go to Disney at all, stay on property. It will make your experience so much better, relaxed, and organized. If you want to do other things in the area besides Disney, that's fine...in fact I highly suggest it! Universal Studios is so fun, and we loved going to the coast and seeing the Kennedy Space Center. In order to do these things you have to have a car, so in your head it might be better to just stay somewhere besides a Disney hotel because of that factor. It's not better, it's actually kind of frustrating. Most hotels in the Orlando area are what they call "Disney Good Neighbor Hotels," meaning that they only provide shuttles to Disney World. No shuttles to the coast, Universal, or the airport. Ok that's fine right because you have your car. Well you have to pay to park at their hotel plus you have to pay to park at Universal plus you have to pay for gas. You can kick the shuttle idea out too and drive to Disney, but you'll have to pay to park there, too. If you do choose to have a car with you and you stay at a Disney hotel, your parking is free. Let's say you don't want to have a car with you though (rental fees can be really high in the Orlando area), you can take the Disney Magical Express for free from the airport to your Disney resort! Then you just simply use the Disney bus system to get all around Disney World. You also have the convenience of being able to go back to your room all day long. You don't have to wait for specific hotel shuttle times (they are usually every 2 hours if you're lucky) and the logistics of getting back to the bus depot can be a nightmare. One time we missed our shuttle bus to our off resort hotel and had to wait in the parking lot for an hour and a half because we couldn't get out of the parks fast enough (this is really really common...lots of people go to Disney World!) On our first trip we had to spend all day long at the parks with no breaks, and I can't even imagine how miserable that would have been with kids. I was exhausted, so imagine our poor little ones! Disney is supposed to be the most fun vacation you go on so take advantage of the 30 hotels that are available to stay at there. If you book everything together their budget friendly hotels are the same if not cheaper in price as most off-resort hotels. There really is a price range for everyone. You'll also get so many more perks like being able to purchase a dining plan, free mini golf, extra magic hours at the parks, and early FastPass+ selections.
2. Get a Dining Plan
If you stay at a Disney hotel, get a dining plan. Imagine how nice it is to show up for your vacation and everything is paid for even your food? That's what the dining plan does for you. You get snacks, quick service meals (like a hot dog and fries), and table service meals (like steak or buffets). It doesn't matter if you order a salad or a steak for dinner...it's all the same because you're just using your table service credit for that day. You can also use your credits however you want...so if you technically only have one table service meal per day but you want to use two, you can do so...you would just use two quick service meals the next day to make up for it. You can go almost anywhere in Disney World and use the dining plan, too. You order what you want, scan your MagicBand (which is a free wristband Disney provides to you if you stay at a resort that is your room key, park admission pass, and even allows you to pay for things without pulling out your wallet), and get your food. It's so simple, and we love not having to keep track of how much money we've spent on food. We actually saved money because we got the dining plan. When all is said and done we all spend a lot of money on food each day so if you do the math, based on the prices of the dining plan versus how much you'd naturally spend on each item, you would see that you'll save hundreds of dollars. Plus in 2018, table service meals allow your drink to be alcoholic for all of us that want to unwind after a long day at the parks :)
3. Do 1 Park Per Day
I'm not even going to say you'll get the most out of Disney if you do 1 park per day because that is honestly a lie. You honestly probably need 2 days per park plus extra days to enjoy everything else, but that's excessive. I know personally we try to limit our vacations to 5-7 days, but in order to have a fun and relaxing time, you really should try to just do 1 park per day. This way you're not wasting too much time on transportation and you can spread everything out. We had way more fun this time around when we only hit up 1 park per day and were able to take breaks back to our hotel, see more shows, and not have to rush through meals. So what I'm technically telling you is you don't really need a park hopper. It's nice to have just in case you want to pop over to a different park but it's really not necessary and will save you a couple hundred dollars. In our minds it was better to save $200 and just enjoy each park we picked to start our day out with the whole day.
4. Make Dining Reservations 180 Days in Advance
You might not know that you're going to Disney 180 days in advance, and that's ok, don't panic. You can still eat at some really spectacular places. But if you do know 6 months ahead of time, log on at midnight EST and make your reservations. You will have a much better chance at getting to eat at places like Be Our Guest, Cinderella's Royal Table, and Victoria & Albert's if you do so. And trust me, these restaurants are some of the best in the world and amazing experiences you don't want to miss.
5. Make Your FastPass+ Selections as Early in the Day as Possible
If you stay at a Disney hotel, you can make your FastPass+ selections 60 days before your trip (hey another Disney hotel perk!) or you can make them 30 days before your trip if you aren't staying at a Disney hotel but have your park tickets purchased. You can make up to 3 in advance. When you go to make your selections you can only do 1 park per day (hey another reason to stick with 1 park per day!), and I highly recommend trying to make them all for morning time slots. This way after you're done with your first 3, you can start making more for the rest of the day. FastPass+ selections tend to open up all the time because of people cancelling and changing their plans, so you really can get some good ones the day of. I can't promise you can get Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom the day of, so maybe make that one 60 days in advance and stick to it, but you can get some other very popular rides the day of. If you spread your first 3 out too much and your third one isn't until 7pm, you won't be able to make anymore until after 7pm. So it's worth it to select them as soon as you can but also to pack them all in early so you can add more later in the day.
6. Keep Track of Your Trip on the My Disney Experience App
This last tip is so simple but so necessary, make sure you download the My Disney Experience app to your phone. You have to create a Disney account when you book any form of a Disney trip anyways so that part is already done for you. After you download the app, just log in with that account and all your reservations will be available for you to see through the app. You can also make FastPass+ selections from it, see wait times for rides and shows, have maps of all the parks, and check on your dining plan. This app is so useful and well put together it's almost as mind blowing as Disney World itself. If you also chose to purchase the Memory Maker (which is the photo pass), you can view all of your photos from the entire trip through the app, as well.
I think I'm going to leave it at these 6. I can talk about Disney World and logistics of planning a trip there for days, so if you want to know more please leave me a comment with your question below! Look for more posts from our Disney series in the future, too. We'll cover some of these same topics with more in depth information, so make sure to send us your questions so we can include them in our next posts!
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I’m Diana; curator & author of Tiny Dapper Fox. Here you’ll find posts on motherhood, home life, travel, & fashion/beauty as well as City Guides for places all around the world. Make yourself cozy and let’s be friends!
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