I'm so excited to share this post with you guys because Disney World is one of our family's favorite places. We've been coming to Disney for 20 years now and I could have easily come up with 100 tips - there's just so much to cover - but in order not to overwhelm you, here are just 20 of our favorite ways to enjoy the magic of Disney.
1. Pick the right time to go.
I cannot stress enough how important this one is. It's the difference between sweltering heat, 3 hour wait times and struggling to stay hydrated vs. balmy weather, 40 minute wait times and comfortable crowd volume. So it could very well be the difference between seeing all that you want to see or not. And my philosophy is that if you are going to spend the money on a trip like this it should be the best version of that trip you can possibly get. Missing a week of school is not off the table for this opportunity, if you can work it out with schoolwork and teachers. We bring our homeschool with us!
Here is our first hand experience of the best times to go:
* mid to late September - weather can sometimes be iffy because of hurricane season, but the crowds are low because of the start of school and it's not as hot as the summer.
*from the 2nd week of January until President's Day: You may need sweatshirts in the morning and evening (or sometimes a coat) but our wait times have been the best during these weeks.
*Early to mid May: our all-time best trip was in May. The weather was perfect, we enjoyed the pool and the summer crowds didn't start rolling in until the week of labor day.
*Early November or early December: you really should see Disney dressed up for the holidays. It's a different kind of magic. Just avoid the peak weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas-New Years. If you go early these two months you should be okay on crowds.
2. Meal plans are sometimes free or steeply discounted and it's SO worth it.
The meal plan is usually quite expensive but during the fall keep an eye out for freebies and discounts. If you can snag a meal plan then this is another great reason to pick one of the fall dates mentioned in tip #1. We had a blast picking our restaurants and snacks and it allowed us to experience the parks in a different way than we had before. I can't wait to do it again! You can only do a meal plan if you are staying on site though, so this is another element to consider.
3. Plan all of your days BEFORE you go.
This lack of spontaneity may sound ho-hum, but honestly, you risk the chance of not getting to do some key things otherwise. Fast passes are available to reserve 60 days in advance if you are staying on site or 30 days in advance if you are not. Get online at 7am that day and see if you can snag the hottest fast passes firsts. They are:
*Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom
*Slinky Dog Dash at Hollywood Studios
*Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom
*Frozen Ever After at Epcot (if you have a little princess traveling with you, if not, grab one for Test Track or Soarin')
Don't feel bad if you don't get them. Snagging those coveted fast passes can feel like winning the lottery. The next most important ones to grab are:
*Toy Story Mania, Aerosmith Rockin' Roller Coaster, or Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios
*Everest, Na'vi River Journey or the Safari at Animal Kingdom
*Test Track or Soarin' at Epcot
*Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, or Peter Pan's Flight at Magic Kingdom
Restaurant reservations can be made 180 days in advance and the character breakfasts seem to go first. We've often made reservations for dinner while we are staying, so there is definitely less panic about that. But if you are hoping to see a dinner show, the budget friendly seating options do go first. It doesn't hurt to reserve it before you travel.
Remember - it is impossible to see all of Disney in a week - absolutely impossible. We've been coming for 20 years and are still discovering things. So plan your time in a way that accomplishes some of the best of what Disney has to offer while also giving you the breathing room to actually enjoy those things. Another strategy might be to reserve all the things you can and then see what you feel like when you go, cancelling on the fly. Just remember that there is a fee for cancelling restaurant reservations if it's less than 24 hrs notice.
4. Download the My Disney Experience App.
The best way to manage your trip is to download the app. You can keep track of wait times throughout the day and manage your time as well as your fast passes and reservations. This is where you can keep watch of what becomes available and rearrange fast passes on the fly if necessary. You may arrive at one of your fast passes and find a 15 minute wait and want to switch it for something else. You can do that and so much more that will help you get the most out of your day. We look at it constantly while we are there. You simply cannot have a successful trip without this.
5. Use your fast passes wisely.
Save your fast passes for afternoon or early evening when crowds are at their peak. Don't waste it on the mornings when lines are at their lowest. And don't use them on attractions like Philharmagic, Bugs Life, or usually any of the shows. Typically you can walk right into a show if you are travelling during one of the suggested travel dates, at which point you are better off using your fast passes for the rides. But if you are travelling in the summer, over spring break or a holiday (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years) you may need to fast pass everything, including the shows.
You are allotted 3 fast passes per day, all in one park, but did you know that as soon as you check into your third fast pass you are able to get another one? And this time at another park if you choose? You can keep doing this until you run out of hours in the day.
Another note: Make sure to link multiple people together if you are traveling as a larger party. You can do this online when you reserve your fast passes. This will ensure that you all get the same attractions together on your fast passes.
6. Get there at opening to get on the best attractions. Or sneak on right at closing.
If you didn't get that coveted Flight of Passage or Slinky Dog Dash fast pass, this is the time to try and get on with a little bit of a shorter wait. The line may appear to wrap outside of Toy Story Land or Avatar but chances are, once everyone moves into the queue, you will find you've got less of a waiting time than during the day. And if not, make a run for the next biggest attractions - you may get to ride Aerosmith twice and drop down the Terror of Terror before anyone else starts showing up.
On the flip side, sometimes the minutes right before closing can be the very best - even better than rope drop - for getting a low wait time. Everest is typically 15-20 minutes right before closing. I've rarely seen it more than that. And sometimes you can sneak onto Space Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain before the fireworks are ending.
7. Disability pass
For years we stood in lines with my husband suffering from terrible sciatic pain. For some reason, it never occurred to us to ask for a disability pass because we never used a wheel chair, but if you have an inability to stand for long periods of time then this is something you should definitely take advantage of. You can get one put on your magic band at guest services and it allows you to check in with a ride, then go and do something else, sit down, get a snack, and come back at your allotted time, and your entire party can accompany you. It is basically like a fast pass, except it doesn't interfere with your current fast passes. You can have both in progress at once. My husband is now able to last longer on his feet and accomplish much more during our trips.
8. Avoid the park that has extended hours or magic hours during peak seasons.
This may seem counter-intuitive, but trust me, everyone else is thinking it's a great idea to go to that park to get the most of their hours. You may have better luck at another park during those days because of the draw away from them. Check the app for wait times to see. There was one trip we took that was a few days before Memorial Day where we could not even get into the parking lot of the park that had extended hours. The line of cars was all the way out onto the interstate and it didn't move. So we decided against going anywhere at all and went back to the pool.
If you are going in a lower season, this may not affect you. Still watch the app for wait times.
9. A rating of the evening attractions - what not to miss.
If you are only at Disney for a few evenings and are wondering what's the best way to end your days, here is a ranking of the fireworks and evening shows at the parks. If you are there for five evenings then you can see them all, but if you are only there for three then I recommend the first three.