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Planning a Disney Vacation? It might be a lot of work but it is totally worth it. However, if you take time to plan ahead, your trip to Disney can go from being a great vacation to the best vacation ever! From saving money to where to eat, these are some of my favorite Disney vacation tips!
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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!
Of course, I can’t go that many times without picking up a few tips and tricks along the way! These are some of my favorites, whether you’re going for a week long family vacation or just a short day trip. 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! (If you’re planning a trip of your own, you can save a few dollars by getting your theme park tickets from Undercover Tourist.)
Buying Tickets To Disney World
- Buy your tickets before you go – If you buy your theme park tickets from Undercover Tourist, you’ll not only save money, you won’t have to wait in line to buy them there. You’ll have plenty of time to stand in line later…why not put it off as long as possible!
- Visit in the off season – Not only are the crowds smaller in the off season but your tickets may be less expensive too. Disney recently changed their pricing system so tickets cost more on busy days but you get a break on the less crowded ones. Not sure when the best time to visit would be? Check out this crowd calendar from Undercover Tourist
Where To Stay At Disney World
- Consider staying on property – Staying in a Disney resort comes with a lot of advantages. This includes free transportation to and from the airport, free transportation to the parks and free parking in the parks 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.
Another advantage is that resort package delivery will deliver everything that you buy at the parks directly to your room. That way if you find the perfect souvenir, you don’t have to carry it around the park all day.Finally, you’ll receive free magic bands. Normally these are $14.99 each so it’ll save you around $60 for a family of four. Magic bands are truly magical…you wear them like a bracelet and can scan them to enter the park, use your fast pass reservations, take photopass photos and pay for anything you want to charge throughout the day. They make life so easy and are one of my favorite perks.
- Stay off property – There are advantages to staying on property for your Disney vacation but also advantages to staying at a non-Disney resort. The biggest reason is money. Disney resorts can be pricey so this is one of the easiest ways to cut corners. Orlando is a big place and there is no shortage of reasonably prices places to stay. My personal favorites are the Holiday Inn Disney Springs and the Lake Buena Vista Resort Village And Spa, both for totally different reasons. I love the Holiday Inn for it’s location and the fact that it’s walking distance to Disney Springs. I thought the hotel was nice and reasonably priced.
The Lake Buena Vista Resort And Spa are condo style suites with a full kitchen and multiple bedrooms. It’s perfect for families because you get more space AND save money by cooking your own meals. Plus, kids will love the awesome pool, complete with giant pirate ship! You can read my full reviews here: Holiday Inn Disney Springs | Lake Buena Vista Resort Village & Spa.
Riding Disney Attractions
- Plan fast passes wisely – If you’re staying at a Disney resort, you can book your fast passes 60 days out. If not, you can book 30 days out. Clearly staying on property has it’s advantages! Next, you’ll want to try to use them for the most popular rides. At Animal Kingdom, these would be Flight of Passage, Na’vi River Journey and Expedition Everest. The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Space Mountain and Peter Pan’s Flight are most popular at Magic Kingdom. Get fast passes for Soarin’, Frozen Ever After and Test Track at Epcot and Alien Swirling Saucers, Midway Mania and Slinky Dog Dash at Hollywood Studios.
If you aren’t interested in any of these rides, just download the app and look at wait times. That will tell you which of the rides you like are most popular and help determine which fast passes to book. Once you’ve used your first three fast passes, you can continue to add more throughout the day.
- Arrive at rope drop – What is rope drop at Disney World? It’s when you get to the parks before they open and wait until the “rope drops” and they let you in. At Magic Kingdom, they even have a fun celebration before rope drop. The train comes by and is loaded with Disney characters to welcome you to the park. It’s a lot of fun and helps build up the excitement of entering the park. You should do it at least once during your Disney vacation.
Of course, the main advantage of arriving at rope drop is to take advantage of the shortest lines of the day. Head to the most popular attractions first and try to squeeze in your favorites before the park starts to fill up.
- Download the My Disney Experience app – There’s a lot you can do with the Disney app. I use it most for checking out the wait times. It’s super helpful when you’re trying to decide which ride to go on next and the wait times are usually pretty accurate. You can also look up park hours, show times for parades, fireworks and more. If you have an annual pass, it will tell you the black out dates. Another advantage to using the app is mobile ordering…more on that later.
- Download the Play Disney Parks app – This is a great way to pass the time while you’re waiting in line for the attractions. You’ll find Disney Parks trivia, earn “special achievements” or virtual badges for visiting certain attraction, listen to Disney music and more.
There are also games exclusive to Slinky Dog Dash, Toy Story Midway Mania, Space Mountain and Peter Pan’s Flight. The app detects when you’re in line for those rides, giving access to games developed based on those attractions. They’re easy to learn and makes the line seem faster. The only drawback is that you’ll miss some of the fun stuff, like giant toys, if you’re looking at your phone while going through the line.
Eating At Disney World
- Make character dining reservations early – Character dining, especially dining with the princesses at The Royal Table, fills up fast. That’s why you need to make these reservations as early as possible. If you’re staying at a Disney resort, you can book dining reservations 180 days in advance, and for nine days beyond that. If you are not staying on Disney property, you would have to call every day at the 180 day point. So if you’re staying on site and call at the 180 point, you can book dining for your entire trip at one time. Otherwise, you have to do it day by day.If you can’t get reservations at The Royal Table, try dining with the princesses at the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Epcot. We’ve done both breakfast at The Royal Table and lunch at the Akershus and Akershus was by far the better choice. The food was amazing and we left feeling totally full (which means we didn’t have to buy snacks for awhile). While dining with the princesses at Cinderella’s castle is a really fun Disney experience, just know that you are going for the experience, not the food. We still thought it was worth every penny though!If you’re not able to get reservations initially, keep calling back because cancellations do happen. That’s how we managed to book our lunch at Akershus. Another alternative is to dine outside of the parks. Undercover Tourist has a great article about character dining at the Disney hotels.
- Share meals – It’s not quite as easy to bring a lunch when we stay multiple days. That’s when we eat more of our meals at the parks and we often share.. Many places serve big portions that are plenty big enough for two.Our favorite is the half rotisserie chicken at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe in Magic Kingdom. With chicken, green beans and mashed potatoes or fries, it’s usually enough for me and my two girls to share. At $10.99, that’s a pretty good deal! WDW Prep School has the scoop on other Disney restaurants that give you portions big enough to share.
- Hang on to your water bottles – Either bring your own water bottle or buy one but then reuse it all day. There are plenty of water fountains thoughout the park so we just hung onto our plastic bottles and refilled them throughout the day. That left us more money for Mickey pretzel and ice cream!
What To Bring To Disney World
- Bring your own dress to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique – While I definitely think that being transformed into a princess at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is worth the money, you can save by buying a princess dress ahead of time (or having it shipped to your hotel).
- Bring your own souvenirs and autograph books – We forgot to buy autograph books when we took our first Disney vacation. It killed me having to pay park prices when I knew we could get them cheaper online. Of course, I got them anyway because well, you can’t meet the princesses without getting an autograph! The same goes for souvenirs…they add up fast, especially if you have more than one kid. You can hide Disney souvenirs in your suitcase and give them out at the end of each day (or like the autograph books, have them shipped straight to the hotel).
- Bring your own food – Did you know that you can bring your own food to the parks? They allow any foods that don’t need to be reheated and we regularly bring our own lunch and snacks. That leaves us more money for splurging on Mickey Pretzels and ice cream.
- Bring your own ponchos – Are you sensing a theme here? It’s SO much cheaper to bring ponchos from home and if you visit Disney in the summertime, you’re going to need them for the pop-up showers. If you have a stroller, bring an extra poncho or a stroller cover to keep it dry too. I can’t tell you how many times we got back to our stroller after a storm and it was completely soaked.These ponchos are only $10 for a pack of 5 and at $2, I don’t feel bad throwing them away at the end of the day and opening a new one next time (if you’ve ever tried to dry ponchos in a hotel room with little space, you’d understand). Even reusable ponchos are relatively inexpensive, if you feel guilty about throwing them away.
- If in doubt, bring the stroller – Even when your kids are borderline ready to give up the stroller, bring it anyway. You will be walking a lot, seriously A LOT, and it’s nice for kids to have the stroller as an option when they get tired.
Plus, it’s really nice to have a place to store all your gear! We used to stash our lunchboxes, sweaters for nighttime, ponchos and everything else under the stroller. Now we either have to carry it or stash it in a locker.
More Helpful Disney Tips
- Remember where you parked the stroller – If you bring a stroller, remember where you parked it! Otherwise, you may just spend the rest of your Disney vacation looking for it. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent looking for our stroller in the stroller “parking lots”. Part of the problem is that Disney cast members move the strollers around to be efficient. That means that even if you remember where you left it, it may be in a different spot when you return. One solution is to tie a balloon or something else to the stroller to make it easier to spot.
- Take advantage of the “Child Swap” – Also known as rider switch, this does not mean that you get to trade out your child for one that doesn’t have midday meltdowns (however tempting that may be!).It just 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 loved taking advantage of when her sister was just a little too short for Expedition Everest.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.
- Prepare to lose your child – Nobody WANTS to lose their child during a Disney vacation (except maybe during those midday meltdowns). It’s good to be prepared though, just in case. Talk to your child about the importance of sticking together but have a plan in place too. Have a central meeting place or tell your child to find the nearest cast member, either at the entrance to a ride or in a store, and ask for help. If you do get separated, alert a cast member so that a team can start looking. You can even take a picture of your child at the beginning of the day, just to help cast members know who they’re looking for and what they’re wearing. I also once saw a little boy with a phone number written on his arm with a Sharpie. I think I’d probably just go with these simple wristbands instead!
- Cool off at 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’ll give you a few minutes to sit and relax while your children play and cool off. Be warned…they will get soaked. If you don’t want them to just drip dry,the easiest option, plan to bring a change of clothes.
- Watch the fireworks near the entrance/exit – Yes, the fireworks are gorgeous and no Disney vacation would be complete without them.
However, it’s always a mad dash to leave the park once the fireworks are over. The lines for the monorail, ferry and buses can get insanely long. If you watch the fireworks near the exit, you can take off as soon as they’re over. That’ll save you at least 1/2 hour to 45 minutes of waiting time for transportation.
- Have fun! I get it, the crowds can be overwhelming and there may (okay, there WILL) be the occasional toddler meltdown. However, just look around you…you’re at Disney World! It really is a magical place. You’ll get used to the crowds and toddler meltdowns never last long anyway. Go ride something fun, meet a princess and eat a Mickey pretzel. Above all, have an amazing Disney vacation!
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