Planning a trip to Disney World? There are a couple of ways this could play out: You follow the steps on the website, book a hotel and a park pass and let the chips fall where they may. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, especially if it’s your first trip to the Happiest Place on Earth. Disney is a well-oiled machine, and they won’t let you down. But if this is your second or 64th time, you know the ropes, and there are some ways the maximize the fun. Take it from an addict, what follows is the best way to do Disney.
(Disclaimer: Following these steps will make your trip far more fun and, hence, your re-entry into the real world more harsh. Follow at your own risk.)
The main questions to ask yourself:
When should we go?
Check the weather, summer is brutal. If you can, avoid weekends and times when school is out. The weekends before and after holidays can be slightly slower.
Check out this helpful crowd calendar.
Stay at a Disney Hotel?
My answer is yes.
Free and easy transport to and from the airport
Free quick transport to all the parks.
24 hr help with any Disney related questions
The full experience with Disney-level quality and overly happy employees
Cost (which probably will be evened out if you consider transportation costs):
The potential for total Disney overload
Sign up for the Disney Meal Plan?
My answer – Yes (with a few exceptions)
No if you are a vegetarian, have food allergies, or dietary restrictions. Also if you are not a planner, don’t want to make reservations, or stop for big sit-down meals each day.
Eating is one of the glorious, gluttonous, over-the-top, best parts of my Disney experience. So here are some tips if you’re going with the plan:
Make one reservation for each day as soon as you are eligible (90 days before you leave). The plan comes with 3 types of meals: snacks, quick service, and full service. You cannot substitute these. If you don’t have a reservation for full service meals, you lose what you can’t use. ( If this happens, remember you can use them at some of the hotels and at Disney Springs, which you don’t need a ticket to get into and could use on the last day before the airport) My top reservation tip: Be Our Guest at The Magic Kingdom
The quality of food goes hand-in-hand with the cost of the resort. If you decide to stay at the lowest teir (Disney All-Star series for the love of God please don’t eat there)
More tips on making the most of your meal plan later.
If you have a big family and you’re all on different budgets, I would still try to stay at the same hotel. There isn’t direct transportation between hotels, and unfortunately a lot of your time is spent in transport. I made the mistake of being the cheapskate in the family and lost out on a lot of time with them.
You don’t have to book fast passes early, but it would be worth it to get on the newest ride “Avatar Flight of Passage” The longest line in the parks and the best ride I’ve ever been on. More on fast passes later.
Disney is licensed everywhere! Buy your clothes cheap before you leave. Walmart, Target, even H&M carry Disney. You can wrap a $5 t-shirt and let your kids open one for each day. Gift shops are everywhere the temptations are strong.
Matching shirts are the thing to do and a great way to keep track of a large group, especially if you do bright colors. Iron-on prints can be bought cheap on Etsy.
Remember this is Florida, it’s hot all the time. Hats, sunscreen. and bike shorts under dresses for chub rub and modesty.
Pack everything you might need for your first park day in your carry on. Your luggage won’t arrive at your Disney Hotel for at least 3 hours after you do. Before you check your bags at the airport, attach the luggage tag that came in the mail so you can skip baggage claim and head straight to the Magic Express when you arrive.
Here’s a quick rundown of the 4 Parks coming from a childless 30- something who loves roller coasters and alcohol.
It’s hard to compete with the original. This park is Walt’s vision. I have a soft spot for the old stuff – Small World (which never has a line because the kids don’t care).
This is without a doubt the most small-child friendly park, plenty of slow rides to keep toddlers going all day.
Adults on their own might want to buzz through this park after you hit the 4 roller coasters
–Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
My top restaurant pick of all the Parks is “Be Our Guest”
Try the gray stuff it’s delicious ???? but you will need to make a reservation!
The castle is beautiful the food is delicious. Your host, The Beast, is on hand for photos, but most importantly its the only place in the Magic Kingdom that serves alcohol (and only at dinner)!
I know, I know, order a bottle of wine and GTFO after the nightly fireworks show of course.
Over the years this has become my favorite park. The new Avatar Land the opened in May 2017 has caused it to be one of the busiest.
I really can’t emphasize enough how unbelievable the Avatar Flight of Passage ride is. You must make it a priority.
Other rides of note:
–Festival of the Lion King show
Outside of Everest is a full service bar with at least 3 beers on tap. Across from the entrance of A Bugs Life is a little kiosk called The Smiling Crocodile. They serve an open-face pimento cheese sandwich on toasted bread and a strip of candied bacon – my favorite snack yet, and get it with an ice cold Amber on draft.
EPCOT, or Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, was Walt’s vision of the future. Nostalgia drives me to visit The Wheel of Progress, which was built for the 1964 World’s Fair and has been rolling at Disney ever since. I did get stuck on it once though and learned to not force friends on, it’s not for everyone.
Ride selection is slim:
–Mission Space (lots of rides say beware if you have motion sickness, but actually beware of this one-centrifugal force)
Drinking opportunities are ample!
Drinkers and foodies can appreciate the flavors of the World Showcase. Drinking around the world is a popular challenge. There are 11 countries in which to get shit-faced. Norway just got a remodel to incorporate Frozen. I recommend an avocado margarita in Mexico and dinner reservations at the Beirgarten in Germany.
The smallest of the parks, this one is perfect for your arrival day. If there was one to skip all together for me, it’s this one. Unless you’re a Star Wars geek, in which case there seems to be a lot of stuff for you that I don’t understand.
You can buy a bunch of crap including a yoda backpack that looks like you’re giving Bernie Sanders a piggy back ride.
The Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant is one of the pricier ones and will cost you two full service meals. But you can sit outside and have light bites and good cocktails without a reservation for great people watching.
Meal Plan quick tips.
1. Get yourself dinner reservations each night before you go. You can always cancel within 24 hrs.
2. The meal plan can be confusing at first. Ask cast members if you’re confused, they are there to help.
3. At your first meal grab one of their insulated mugs to activate it. This is yours to refill the whole stay.
4. Before paying for a meal let them know it’s a meal plan. Look at your receipt after to see how many you have left. This option is conveniently left off the app so it’s easy to lose track.
5. Making the most out of snacks: Every park has a Starbucks, any drink, any size, any amount of extra shots counts as one snack, or with a breakfast sandwich it’s a quick service meal.
6. If you are left with a full service meal on your last day with no park pass, you can use it at any of the hotels or Disney Springs.
1. I’m constantly shocked at how cool Disney is with you bringing stuff into the park. Especially if you’re bringing a stroller there’s no reason not to load up on water and snacks. You can pack sandwiches and eat for free the whole trip if that’s your thing
2 Water is available everywhere in the park. You can bring a thermos, fill your Mickey mug, or if you’re having trouble using all your meal plan snacks, a Dasani water will count as one.
3. I’m convinced the cheapest of the Disney hotels, the All Stars, have more people and less transportation. Even though the amenities for a room you are only sleeping in hardly seem worth the price upgrade, the long waits for transport and terrible food might.
4. Get the app! (link app) It’s your map, your dinner reservation, how you book your fast pass, your lifeline when you inevitably lose your group. An external battery for your phone is helpful and there is free wifi all over the parks and hotels.
5. Check for single rider lines, it can be a great way to jump the line, particularly for Everest and Aerosmith
6. If you get reimbursed for anything it will typically come in the form of a gift card. You can apply that to your general room charges, you can even use gift cards for tipping.
7. Leave the park an hour before you hit the wall, you have a lot of walking and waiting to do before you land in bed.
8. Get fast passes to the rides towards the front of the park, and when it opened start on the rides towards the back to avoid the most lines.
9. Stop at guest relations and be sure to tell them it’s your first visit, or birthday or anniversary or whatever you might be celebrating. They will give you a pin and you’ll receive goodies when staff sees it.
I’ve said it a thousand times, Disney is no place for children!! But if you simply must bring them, Disney has a vested interested in preserving your spawn for years of future spending.
1. Garden Grocer (website) will deliver to your room. Which is great for diapers and other bulky baby things that you don’t want to pack. There is a $40 minimum so you might need to throw a few bottles of wine in that order.
2. Each park has a Baby Care Center towards the front of the park, a place to grab some A/C while you feed or change that little poop machine you brought.
3. Since you can’t do adventure rides together, the bigger rides let you request a pass back. They will give you a fast pass for up to 3 other people do you can take turns with the baby. (hot tip: they don’t check for a kid, wink)
4. Strollers are welcome and for rent. Perfect for baby or for all your souveneirs.
A day away from Disney is now worth it since The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened in 2010. If you’re staying at a Disney resort you can book transport to Universal Studios through Mears Transportation.
Go directly to Harry Potter world because it’s far and away the best thing there. If you have time later, check out the rest of the park. Most rides at Universal require you to but a backpack in a locker so it might be wiser to pack light this day.