Simple and easy tips to maximize your Walt Disney World vacation
I’m a Disney fanboy. Specifically I’m a Disney Parks fanboy. Even more specifically, Walt Disney World. As I live in Atlanta, I’m only an hour and a half flight away from the (second) house the Mouse built, and I try to visit at least three times a year. As I’ve gone more times than I’m comfortable than admitting here, I have some suggestions on simple and easy ways to get the most out of your (increasingly expensive) vacation.
Some of you who have gone to the parks before will probably look at the below tips and go, “Well, DUH.” I understand that… but hopefully everyone will find something useful here…
Disney has increased the ticket price significantly the past couple of years, and so it’ll cost you on average at least $100 a day to go to the parks (not counting food). Since that is an expensive proposition for many, you’ll want to plan each day as much as you are comfortable with. I say that because many people are spontaneous and like to be flexible with their schedules – I totally get that. But Disney requires a certain focus and discipline, especially during the peak seasons.
The days of being able to walk up and enjoy everything at the parks is long over – I remember going in February in 203 and being able to walk onto every ride – so focus on one or two “must do” attractions per day, and look at anything you do above and beyond that as “gravy.”
The key to this planning is to take full advantage of the FastPass + program that Disney provides (either in advance, if you by a Disney vacation package, or the day of if you buy the tickets in advance).
Show up at “rope drop”
That is, get there at the opening of the park you plan to spend most of the day at when they open. That way you can have a much better chance of walking on the most popular attractions. And often there are “extra magic hours” (i.e. the parks open earlier or close later) for people who stay at a Disney resort.
Don’t try to do too much
The first trip we took to Walt Disney World we were aggressive in our planning. We tried to do everything, and by the end of the third day we were exhausted. Don’t do that! Take time to rest in the afternoons (when it’s hottest), enjoy the pool, read a book… basically, recharge.
Avoid “Construction Land”
For the past year, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and the Caribbean Beach Resort has been undergoing significant construction – And it is very distracting. Many of the attractions that used to be in Hollywood Studios are gone, and so you can do “everything” at that park in less than a half-day. While the Animal Kingdom construction has been completed, similar construction is coming to EPCOT in the next few months to refresh a big part of that park. So, simply, avoid these parks or areas unless you absolutely HAVE to visits these areas… and reset your expectations accordingly.
Don’t take your baby
Babies will not remember anything they see there, and you may get some cute photos of said baby with Mickey or other characters, but as someone who has done this – just don’t. Disney can be stressful enough without having to take care of a newborn, and it’s just not worth it.
Do a breakfast buffet and skip lunch
Pretty self-explanatory – fill up in the morning and then save money and time by avoiding lunch. If you get a buffet in the parks, so much the better. But avoid any fast rides or roller coasters after such a heavy meal – you want to avoid what the cast members call a “protein spill” (i.e. throwing up afterwards).
Stay on property (if you can afford it)
Yes, you can stay at cheaper hotels that are not owned by Disney, but you will lose out on a lot of the value that comes with staying at a Disney resort. In addition to the aforementioned “extra magic hour” you get free transportation from the airport and back, as well as to the parks… plus there are resort activities that you can enjoy (and some great themed rooms and pools). You save a lot of money on parking and the service is (usually) much better than at other hotels.
Use the single rider line
Many of the rides have a single rider line, used to “fill” ride vehicles when there are odd number families riding. While using it will often split your group up, in my experience these single rider lines are almost always faster than the regular line – and sometimes even faster than the Fastpass+ line.
Don’t go in the summer
If you haven’t ever gone to Orlando (or Florida, for that matter) you may be shocked by the summer weather. It’s hot, hot and then it’s hot some more. The sun is beating down most of the day, and you can get a sunburn before you know it. Add to that the humidity, the huge crowd levels, and well… it boarders on unbearable. So don’t go – even if that is the only time your kids are out of school, it’s not worth it.
Get the Disney VISA Credit Card
You get discounts, you can finance your Disney trip interest free for six months, you often get special offers before they are released to the world. Just be sure to pay off the Disney trip before you start having to pay interest.
Use Amazon Prime NOW to get food delivered to your hotel
If you have an Amazon Prime membership, you can have groceries delivered to your hotel for free – and this can help you save a lot of money – yes, they even deliver cases of water and sodas. Make a lunch in your room or pack snacks to take to the parks. Unless of course you…
Get free dining
The free dining promotion was established by Disney after 9/11 put a major damper on tourism in the US. It allows you to get the Disney Dining Plan, which normally costs money, for free. This is only certain times of year, and the hotels and rooms available are often limited. The Dining Plan you get is based on whether you stay at a “value” or “deluxe” resort (meaning if you stay at the more expensive resort you get the nicer plan).
As a family of five (with three voracious teenage boys) we plan one trip a year to take advantage of this promotion, especially because it is usually “off-season” and the crowds – and heat – is much more bearable.
In a hurry? Use Uber or Lyft instead of the Disney transportation
While this may be counterintuitive, because of the free bus transportation in the resorts and between parks, there are many times that this makes sense. The main example I can think of is when you have dining reservations at a Disney resort other than your own, and the only direct way using the buses is to go from your resort to a park or the transportation center and then a second bus to the resort. Also, buses often make multiple stops before getting to the final destination (at multiple resorts, or a waterpark, or both) and you can end up spending hours just getting to and from the parks. Uber is fairly quick, and affordable (about $15 for a family of four).
(Disney is beginning to roll out it’s own uber-like service BTW, and should have a full rollout by the end of the year.)
Practice walking (and wear worn-in comfortable shoes)
I once made the mistake of wearing a new pair of shoes that I bought a day before my Disney visit. HUGE mistake, because the shoes were not “broken in” and my arches were screaming by the second full day. Wear comfortable shoes and also get a little more active the two weeks before, to build up your stamina – you WILL do more walking that you thought (=Walt Disney World is HUGE).
Drink lots of (free) water
Paying Disney prices for bottled water is, frankly, insane. It’s over $3 per bottle, and to me that is $2 too much. So do what I do – when you order any food, ask for some tap water. They give it to you for free and you can even ask for a cup of ice on the side. You can use the ice to fill up a water bottle you bring yourself and refill at any water fountain.
As noted above, the heat in Orlando will sneak up on you, and keeping hydrated will help you stay fresh and not get overtired.
Bring ziploc sandwich bags
Use these to put your phones and cameras in in case you go on a water ride like Kali River Rapids…
Avoid crappy rides
Opinions on this vary greatly, but there is a general consensus around the worse rides in each park. Many of them (like Universe of Energy at EPCOT) are going to be removed or refurbished soon, but there are still some stinkers out there. Here’s some videos that can help…
Do your research
There are some great sites that provide a lot of value and a lot more hints than this blog entry does – My favorites are mouseplanet.com and allears.net, with disboards.com also good. Especially leverage the message boards and the “wisdom of the crowd” to help get your questions answered.