Want to have the best Disney World vacation ever? Use these 21 tips and tricks for navigating Disney and you’ll have a magical time!
When we moved to Florida, one of the first things we did was to buy annual passes to Disney World! They weren’t cheap but they were worth every penny! Since we’re only 90 minutes away, we made so many trips that we got our money’s worth many times over! Along the way, I’ve picked up a few tips for getting the most out of a Disney vacation, or even just a quick day trip!
1. You definitely want fast passes
Fast passes are free and allow you to skip the regular line and get on a ride within minutes. If you are staying on a Disney property, you can make fast pass selections up to 60 days before your visit. If you have theme park tickets but are not staying on property, you can make your selections 30 days ahead. You are able to choose three fast passes in advance and once you ride those three, you can add more fast passes, one at a time. My advice would be to plan your first three passes consecutively in the morning so that you can continue to add more throughout the day.
2. Use those fast passes to ride Frozen Ever After and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (if possible)
These are the hardest passes to get and fill up almost immediately! If you’re staying on property, you’ll want to get your passes as soon as you are eligible (60 days out). If you are making your FP selections 30 days out, you’re probably out of luck for Frozen Ever After but you may still be able to get them for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. You can also keep checking back to see if there are any fast pass cancellations. If all else fails, check out this post about riding Frozen Ever After without the wait.
3. Get there early for short waits to the most popular attractions
If you can’t get fast passes for certain rides, your best bet is to get up at the crack of dawn to beat the crowds. Make sure you’re there for the rope drop (when you actually get to enter the park) and head straight for the attraction you want to visit. There may still be a short line but nothing like it would be if you’d slept in.
4. Get the wait time app
There’s an app called Disney World Wait Times that has the most up-to-date wait times for the attractions at all four parks. It is surprisingly accurate and updated regularly (though there have been occasions when it was wrong). We often use it when we’re trying to figure out what we want to ride next. You can also use this to determine what the most popular rides are when making your fast pass selections. Whichever rides consistently have the longest wait times are the ones you’ll want fast passes for.
5. Find Character Dining Alternatives
We had a difficult time making reservations to dine with the princesses at Cinderella’s Castle. It fills up fast and our trip hadn’t been booked far enough ahead to plan accordingly. After a little research, I found out that you can have the same experience at the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Epcot. It also fills up quickly but you have a better shot getting a reservation there. If you have a little girl, I highly recommend doing this at least once. It’s a bit pricey but worth every penny! If you can’t get a reservation on your first try, keep checking back since there may be cancellations.
6. Bring your own dress to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
You can save money at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique by bringing your own princess dress. It’ll be much cheaper than buying theirs. Packages start at $59.95 but the ones that include a princess dress start at $199.95…a big difference, especially if you’re on a budget. However, as someone that has bought more princess dresses than I care to admit, I have found that the Disney Store dresses hold up significantly better than dresses we’ve bought from other stores. Just get on their mailing list and look for sales.
7. Bring your own souvenirs and autograph books
On our first trip to Disney, my hubby promised my oldest that she could have one souvenir per day. At Disney, that adds up fast and now that we have two girls, it’s out of the question. Stock up on souvenirs before you go and you’ll save a lot of money. Don’t forget to buy your autograph books before you go, too.
8. Bring your own ponchos (if you’ll want them)
You never know what the weather will bring. In Florida it can be sunny one minute and you could be in a torrential downpour 10 minutes later. If you have a stroller, bring something to cover it too. More than once we’ve come out of an attraction to find that a popup shower had completely soaked our stroller.
9. Bring a stroller
Speaking of strollers, if you are on the fence about if you should bringing one, do it! Even if your little one rarely uses it anymore, he or she will want it after a full day of walking around the park (and it’s great for naptime). The bonus is that it’s great for storing ponchos, food, a change of clothes and whatever else you’ve brought with you. You don’t have to carry your stuff or your kid.
10. Remember where you parked your stroller!!!
Parking your stroller at Disney World is like parking your car in the mall parking lot at Christmas! Actually, it’s worse because the cast members often move them around just to throw you off (okay, they’re really just making more room, but still!). It can also be confusing because you don’t always come out of a ride at the same place you went in. I’ve heard of some people snapping pix on their phone to help them remember…also a good tip for remembering where you parked your car.
11. Take advantage of the “Child Swap”
No, this does not mean that if your child is acting like a spoiled brat that you can trade him/her for a well-behaved child (however tempting that may be). It means that if one child is too short to ride an attraction, one person stays behind with the child while the other parent rides (alone or with older children). That parent gets a special pass which they can then give to the waiting parent. The parents “swap” the child and the second person then skips the line to ride that same ride. Older children can ride again with the second parent, a bonus that my oldest loves to take advantage of!
WDW Prep School has a great post that explains exactly how this works and it’s definitely worth taking advantage of! You can also print this list of the height requirements at each park so you can know ahead of time what your children can or cannot ride.
12. Prepare to lose your child
Of course, nobody WANTS to lose their child at Disney World but it’s good to be prepared in case you get separated. Talk to your child about the importance of sticking together but let them know what to do if they can’t find you. Have a central meeting place or tell your child to find the nearest cast member, either in front of a ride or in a store. If this does happen, alert a cast member so that a team can start looking. You may want to take a picture of your child at the beginning of the day, just to help cast members know who they’re looking for. I’ve also seen children with phone numbers written on their arms (though we’ve never gone that far).
13. Bring lunch and snacks
You will save a ton of money if you bring your own drinks and snacks. We’ll still have a treat now but if we ate every meal at the parks, it would add up fast!
14. Hang on to those water bottles
We bring our own water but save the bottles when we’re done. There are plenty of water fountains around the park so we just refill our bottles as we go.
15. Lunch at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café
If you do dine in the Magic Kingdom, this is the best deal I’ve found. You can order half a rotisserie chicken, green beans and mashed potatoes or French fries for $10.99. It was enough food to feed me and my two daughters and we all thought it was pretty good! You can find Cosmic Ray’s in Tomorrowland across from the Tomorrowland Speedway…be sure you get in the right line though because different lines offer different meals.
16. Get your coffee pick-me-up or relax with a glass of wine
Our first stop is always at the Starbucks on Main Street! I need as much caffeine as I can get in order to keep up with my two little ones. You can also relax and enjoy a glass of wine (or beer) at the Be Our Guest restaurant.
17. Find the splash park
Florida summers are hot! When the kids need to take a break and cool off, visit the splash park next to the Dumbo Ride. It will give you a few minutes to sit and relax while your children play and cool off at the same time. Be warned…they will get soaking wet so if you don’t want to let them just drip dry (the easiest option), you’ll want to have a change of clothes.
18. Watch the fireworks near the entrance/exit
Everyone makes a mad dash to leave the Magic Kingdom after the fireworks show. Get a head start on the crowd by sitting near the exit…trust me, you don’t want to get stuck in those long monorail lines!
19. Consider staying on property
You so many advantages when you stay on property. This includes free transportation to and from the airport, free transportation to the parks and free parking in the parks (normally $17) if you decide to drive. You also get the benefit of extra magic hours (giving you extra time in certain parks before they open or after they close) as well as the first shot at fast passes and character dining. Resort package delivery will deliver everything that you buy at the parks directly to your room. Finally, you’ll receive free magic bands. These are normally $12.95 each (saving you almost $52 for a family of four). Magic bands are truly magical…you wear them like a bracelet and can scan them to enter the park, for your fast pass reservations, photopass photos and for anything that you want to charge throughout the day. They really make life easy and trust me, you want magic bands!
20. Opt to stay at one of the cheaper properties
If you spend all your time at the parks and only use your hotel for sleeping, stay at one of Disney’s value properties. You won’t have the fancy pools or amenities but if you’re not spending any time there anyway, you won’t miss them.
21. Have fun!!!
I get it, the crowds can be overwhelming and there may be the occasional toddler meltdown (in that case, see #16 to find a glass of wine). However, just look around you…you’re at Disney World! It really is a magical, exciting place. You get used to the crowds and that toddler meltdown never lasts long anyway. Go ride something fun, meet a princess and have an awesome time!
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