So, you’ve done the hard part. You’ve worked hard all year and now it’s time to plan a Disney vacation! I’m here to share with you some tips & tricks to making the most out of your Disney vacation. These are tried-and-true tips that come from years of planning Disney trips for my clients as well as our own personal vacations to the Happiest Place on Earth!
Here are some expert Disney World tips from your resident travel agent:
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Tip #10: Packing Wisely Can Save You Money.
I once had a client who planned to go to Disney World over the holidays and I reminded her to go to Five Below and buy a necklace that looked like a string of Christmas lights for her trip. Why? Because Disney sells something that looks very similar – for about three times the price. Now, don’t get me wrong – as my husband will attest, I have happily given my fair share of funds to Disney. However, there are some things you can purchase before your trip that could save you some money at the parks later (translation: you get a little extra spending money for Dole Whips). Light up toys for evening festivities is definitely one of them, but there are so many others, like mini-fans and cooling towels.
Tip #9: Do Your Advanced Dining Reservations Early…
Disney has some amazing restaurants (‘Ohana, I’m looking at you) but because of that, they also book months in advance. Currently, Disney allows guests to start booking their dining reservation 180 days in advance. And for some restaurants – like ‘Ohana, Chef Mickey’s, and Be Our Guest, to name a few – you will most certainly need to book that far out in order to get good seating times. If you are staying on Disney property for your trip, you get an extra benefit: you can begin booking your dining reservations 180 days prior to your check-in date for the entire duration of your trip!
Tip #8: …And Book Those FastPass+ Rides Way Ahead of Time, Too.
Just like restaurants, there are rides that notoriously book way ahead of time too. FastPass+ for rides like Frozen Ever After, Toy Story Mania, and 7 Dwarfs Mine Train disappear quickly. Disney will allow guests who have pre-purchased tickets tied to their My Disney Experience account to secure Fast Pass+ for rides 30 days in advance. And if you’re staying on Disney property for your trip, you get a huge advantage: you can book your FP+ 60 days prior to your check-in date!
Tip #7: Have A Plan.
Disney parks are immense. I always encourage my clients to understand the layout of the parks so that they are not criss-crossing across the parks unnecessarily. Plan your FP+ so that it follows the route you are going to take when touring the parks. Don’t get me wrong – not everything has to be planned to the last minute of the day. Planning could be talking to a friend who knows a lot about Disney and getting their advice. Or better yet, if you have a travel agent that specializes in Disney, pick their brain in terms of what recommendations they have. Having a plan can save you time, cause less stress, and allow you to make the most of your vacation.
Tip #6: If You Are Flexible With Your Travel Dates, Consider Crowd Levels & Annual Events.
If you are flexible with your travel dates, then you might want to consider traveling during the time of year when the parks are not as crowded. Typically, early January after New Year’s and before the MLK holiday is a good one. September is also quite a good month, as many children have gone back to school. October and November are also generally good, but can see spikes in guest attendance here or there for the Epcot Food & Wine Festival.
Tip #5: Get Memory Maker.
I used to always bring my camera to the parks so that I could capture every single toothy grin and awestruck look from my daughters. Who would want to miss those Disney moments, amirite? The slight drawback to that is I was seldom in the photos. At first I was unsure about the $149 investment for Memory Maker, but I quickly found out that there were so many benefits. First, I was actually IN the pictures! We have beautiful family pictures for years to enjoy. Second, we received ride photos and videos for free as part of Memory Maker. We still laugh when we see the petrified look on my daughter’s face when she rode Tower of Terror for the first time. Third, we get these fun pictures called Magic Shots. “Hold out your hand just like this and look surprised,” the PhotoPass photographer would say. And lo and behold, when I look at the picture minutes later, Tinkerbell is sitting right in the palm of my hand! They are always changing the characters for those shots, so it’s always a nice surprise. And finally, I was just amazed at how many pictures we get every trip! I thought we wouldn’t even break 100 shots, but we probably get three times that amount every trip. That, to me, makes Memory Maker absolutely worth it.
Tip #4: Consider the Dining Plan.
Debating whether the Dining Plan is worth it could be an article in and of itself. But if your planned vacation fits into any of these criteria, it might be cost-effective for you to consider the Dining Plan:
- If you are looking to book a lot of character dining or all-you-care-to-eat dining locations. Character dining is often more expensive than going to other table service restaurants. Under the Dining Plan, most character dining locations (Cinderella’s Royal Table being a notable exception, for example) only requires 1 table service entitlement.
- If you are more likely to book a table service restaurant for lunch or dinner. Dining at lunch or dinner is more expensive, so it gives you more value for your Dining Plan credit.
- If you are going to an Epcot Festival. Whether it’s the Food & Wine Festival, International Flower & Garden Festival, or the recent hit Festival of the Arts, Epcot offers a stunning array of food kiosks that cater to a particular specialty. For example, at the Epcot Festival of the Arts, there was an offering at the Cruisine Classique booth for braised beef short rib with parsnip puree, broccolini, baby tomatoes and aged balsamic. It usually costs $7.50 out-of-pocket, but for these festivals, Epcot allows guests on the Dining Plan to enjoy many of these offerings in exchange for 1 snack credit entitlement. This is a great deal, especially considering that most selections for a snack credit costs $5 or less.
Tip #3: Save Tons on Souvenirs at Disney’s Character Warehouse.
Confession: I’m a little bit of a Disney shopaholic. And whenever I go to Disney, I always make the Character Warehouse a stop during my vacation. Less than 20 minutes away from Disney property, there is an outlet mall called Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets. This is where you can find Disney’s Character Warehouse. Think of it as an outlet store for all Disney Parks merchandise. It is staffed by Disney Cast Members and they offer a large array of steeply discounted Disney Parks items – from clothing, to souvenirs, to jewelry and accessories. And by accessories, I really mean Disney-inspired Vera Bradley and Dooney & Burke bags. My favorite find at my last vacation? Autograph books, the same exact ones still being sold at the parks for around $12, which only cost $4 each!
Tip #2: There Is Plenty of Disney Magic Outside the Parks.
Sure, you will spend the majority of your time at the parks. But there is so much to see and do at Disney outside the parks. Staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge? There is something very serene and beautiful about starting your day with a cup of coffee while watching the animals right outside your balcony. Are you at the BoardWalk Inn? See the boardwalk come alive at night with entertainment and midway games. Or how about the Grand Floridian? Hang out at the lobby and listen to the Grand Floridian Society Orchestra or to the beautiful songs of a Cast Member accompanied by the grand piano. Staying at Port Orleans? Take a leisurely boat ride from your resort to Disney Springs. Disney imagineers have taken great care to ensure that each resort is beautifully-themed and offers guests more Disney magic outside of the parks.
Tip #1: Sometimes, the Special Moments Take Place When You Least Expect It.
Yes, the rides are meticulously themed and the parades are amazing. The food is delicious and the atmosphere is unlike any other. But what amazes me the most about Disney vacations is that sometimes, those special magical moments happen when you least expect it. Sometimes it’s when you spend a few extra minutes to interact with a Cast Member. Or when you take those silly pictures with a PhotoPass photographer. Or when you take several loops around the resort monorail line for the fun of it. When you can – spend a few minutes to slow down and take it all in – you never know, you may just get a dose of Disney magic when you least expect it.
With that, I turn it over to you. What expert tips do you have for those who are traveling to Disney? Sound off in the comments below!