How to Make the Most of a Disney World Vacation
Some vacations require little advance preparation. You book your accommodations, pack a bag, and set off for some easy-breezy downtime.
A trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, is not one of those vacations.
Without a doubt, Walt Disney World is a truly magical destination for any family. To make the most of your experience there, you’re going to want to prepare. For some people the Disney vacation planning is just an extension of the “magic”; for others, it can be a bit overwhelming.
“A common mistake is not planning anything in advance and not having a general lay of the land,” Disney vacation planner Dayle Bland said. “My family likes a mix of planned activities with flex time. Going in with nothing planned can leave a family losing time trying to figure out what to do next.”
Let’s assume you’ve booked your hotel or other accommodations and your park tickets (magic bands) are on their way. All done, right? Not quite.
Consider these details before you head to Disney World to ensure it’s a trip you and your family remember fondly.
Get the App
The My Disney Experience App is a critical tool for you in advance of and during your stay. “I do recommend staying on-site at Walt Disney World Resort hotel,” Bland said, “but make sure to set up a My Disney Experience account even if you are staying off-site. You will be able to book dining reservations, set reminders for parades, fireworks, and showtimes, and make FastPass+ selections.”
If you don’t know what FastPass+ is and you’re heading to Disney World, you are going to be so glad you read this article!
FastPass+ allows you to bypass the general admission line for many popular attractions by reserving your spot in advance. If you are staying on property, you can make your FastPass+ selections online up to 60 days prior to your stay (and up to 30 days in advance otherwise).
Depending on how crowded the parks are at the time of your visit, this can be a huge time saver. Take advantage of FastPass+ as much as possible.
The dining choices at Walt Disney World are abundant and wide-ranging. First, you’ll want to take a look at the Disney Dining Plan options—a prepaid meal service with a variety of options that some find worth the cost. Details are on the resort’s website.
Regardless of whether you choose a dining plan or not, you’ll want to make your dining reservations in advance—180 days in advance if possible. That’s the soonest you’ll be allowed to make them, and the most popular restaurants book up fast. You can view restaurant details and make all of your reservations using your Disney account online.
“If you have children, definitely make sure you attend at least one character meal,” recommended Greg Antonelle, owner of travel agency MickeyTravels.
In addition to eating in the parks and at restaurants, you’ll likely want to have groceries on hand in your hotel room. This is great for packing snacks as you head out for the day, for light fare when you’re relaxing, and to keep the overall cost of food down.
There are a number of grocery delivery services, like Garden Grocer, that will deliver directly to your room.
One thing you’re sure to do a lot of in Walt Disney World is walking. Even if you think your kids are just about done with strollers, consider how much walking they can truly manage each day. Many parents find they use a stroller even for their “older” children who they thought had long since outgrown them. You can rent strollers in the parks or from private companies that deliver and pick up from your hotel.
There are quite a few special experiences that you can enjoy at Disney World if you know about them. Opening Ceremonies, Harmony Barber Shop, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, Jedi Training, and behind-the-scenes tours of all kinds, If money is no object, “splurge on the VIP treatment to fast track all rides and waits with your own personal guide,” recommended luxury travel blogger Suzanne Wolko.
As you work through your vacation itinerary, consider adding a pool day at your resort. Especially if you’re staying on property, there is so much to see and do at the resorts themselves. Some actual relaxation on vacation may be a welcome change of pace midway through your Disney adventure.
In addition to a stroller, there are some items that are especially handy to have on hand particularly in Walt Disney World. Consider packing a soft cooler for drinks and snacks in the parks (hard coolers are not allowed), glow-in-the-dark necklaces for nighttime fun, hand wipes, a towel and change of clothes for after those water rides, band-aids, a poncho, and resealable bags.
Linda Rice of Dunstable, Massachusetts, and her family are about to take their ninth trip to Disney World. “We’ve got it down to a science,” she said. She recommended packing water bottles. “All counter service restaurants will refill water for free. It’s economical and environmentally friendly,” she said.
Also, bring a portable phone charger, Antonelle said. “Phones tend to lose their battery quickly at Walt Disney World because you spend so much time taking photographs, using the My Disney Experience app, and videoing the parades and fireworks.”
There will be an opportunity to purchase a souvenir practically every few steps at Walt Disney World. Sometimes marking the memory with just the right find is your best bet.
In the Magic Kingdom, for example, “when you arrive go to the left to get your first-time visitor button,” Wolko said. “It’s a little-known feature and you can get birthday buttons and others applicable to the group.” Then, she recommended heading to the right of the entrance where you can “order your mouse ears with a custom name on them.”
Other times, you may feel like you’re getting ripped off for a bunch of breakable plastic toys.
To avoid the latter, pre-purchase some fun Disney items to surprise the kids with over the course of the vacation. You can get great deals on items at the Disney Store and many other places that sell licensed merchandise.
Items such as light-up toys for the nights you’ll be at parades, an autograph book for when you meet characters, Disney trading pins, Disney apparel, and the ubiquitous stuffed Mickey Mouse are all great items to purchase in advance and sprinkle throughout your stay—making it ever more “magical.”
“Our family is really into pin trading,” Rice said. “Any cast member who is wearing pins will trade for any of your pins. Stores that sell pins will sell starter trading packs. I, cheapskate that I am, will buy a lot of 20 pins from eBay, usually for $20–25.”