Photo: ABC Commissary | Arctic_whirlwind via Flickr
Planning for a Walt Disney World vacation can be a time suck even if you’ve been many times. Determining where you’ll be staying, locking down dining reservations, and trying to figure out which parks to visit on what day all add up to countless hours spent online and on the phone with a reservation specialist.
Disney first timers will soon discover that there are thousands of useful Disney World tips and secrets that seasoned fans know well. Forget trying to memorize articles that list 101 tips as these are the 10 most important tips all first timers should know.
1. Bundling Tickets Saves Money
Photo: Laura via Flickr
There are two main ways to save on park tickets: Bundling your vacation package and purchasing from a third party. Bundling your tickets, lodging, and dining will definitely save you some cash, especially if you are flexible and can visit when Disney releases their special offer programs. The second way is by purchasing park tickets from a third party retailer. There are a few reputable dealers online so do your homework and ask around to see which ones are tried and true. If you take one Disney World tip away from this, it’s this: please, please, please do not purchase tickets from roadside vendors or used ticket brokers. These sellers purchase partially-used tickets and then resell them to unsuspecting buyers. Reselling used tickets is illegal in Florida and WDW has put in place biometric finger scanners so once a ticket has been scanned with a print, it will not work with another fingerprint.
2. Skip the Lines with FastPass
Photo: FastPass+ Reservations | Paz.ca via Flickr
If you can get up and ready early enough to make it to rope drop (we’re always up before the crack of dawn because we’re so excited!), hitting popular rides as soon as the park opens is a great way to save some precious park time in line. Midday at any Walt Disney World theme park is the peak wait time for the standby queues so use this time to shop, catch a parade, or head back to your hotel or resort and relax. Since the release of FastPass+, popular ride times at the parks may be booked ahead of your vacation when you purchase theme park tickets in advance. Guests staying onsite may book Fastpass+ selections 60 days ahead of time and those with tickets staying elsewhere can start booking at 30 days out.
3. Prioritize and Reserve Your Rides Ahead of Time
Here’s where online research will pay off. Sit down with the kids, pull up the Disney website, and start perusing the rides for each park. Make a list of the top three rides in each park that you want to definitely ride, and then, jump online using the My Disney Experience app and start reserving your rides for that day. The most popular rides at each park go fast (think Toy Story midway Mania in Disney’s Hollywood Studios!) and you should book those as soon as you have the green light to do so. This is one of those Disney World tips I wish I knew my first time going.
4. Go To Disney When Kids Are in School
If your family has traveling flexibility, a visit during Disney’s off seasons will not only benefit your pocketbook, but the ride lines are far shorter. If you don’t have flexibility and must visit during peak times, i.e., Christmas, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Easter, and basically all summer long, do your research and find out which rides you need to hit at rope drop. When it comes to picking particular parks, it’s a general rule that parks with nighttime extra magic hours will be less crowded the next day.
5. Off Hours Will Help You Avoid the Crowds
Photo: Rivers of America in Magic Kingdom | Cory Disbrow
Off-season and rope drop are my two favorite times to visit a Walt Disney World park! Why? Off-season is just that – a time when the kids are in school or the rainy winter seasons. Not only are onsite resorts less expensive, lines are shorter and many times Disney releases special offers like free dining or tickets when you visit during these times. Rope drop is also my favorite time of day because not only do you get to see the opening ceremony, but you can hit popular rides first thing in the morning and then head to those that generally don’t have a super long lines for the rest of the day.
6. Use the Monorail or Boats, Not Your Feet
Photo: Disney World Ferry | Cory Disbrow
If you’re staying onsite, Walt Disney World has so many fun options for getting to the parks and other resorts. The monorail serves Epcot and Magic Kingdom and there are three resorts that are directly linked to it: Polynesian, Contemporary, and Grand Floridian. Boats from the Grand Floridian and Polynesian Resorts are also beneficial for guests staying at these properties and can not only be a gorgeous way to see some water features, but tend to be not as crowded. We, personally, love the buses! Depending on which park you’re visiting, each bus will have themed music for the ride to and from, and there’s nothing like hearing the announcement that you’ve arrived!
Not staying onsite? No worries! After you park at the Ticket and Transportation Center you can take a ferry or monorail or hop on a bus. Time Saver: if you’re renting a car and are visiting any of the parks EXCEPT Magic Kingdom, drive directly to that park (Why except Magic Kingdom?). The other three have their own lots and by driving directly there you can save time.
7. Bringing Food & Drinks Will Save You Money
Saving money is a snap if you do your homework and plan ahead of time. Visiting during off season, bringing meals, snacks, and water into the park will definitely save you cash, and sticking to a budget for souvenirs will all help you save. If I had to give one top tip for saving money in the Walt Disney World parks it’s this: do not pay for bottled water! All Disney parks offer free cups of ice and ice water. All you have to do is ask.
8. Make Dinner Reservations 6 Months Before Trip
Scoring a dining reservation for popular sit down restaurants is sometimes like winning the lottery for me. You can start making reservations at 180 days out, so if you really want that reservation for Be Our Guest, you’ll have to head to the Disney website at exactly that day. But if you book at the last minute there’s still hope: it’s Disney’s policy to cancel a dining reservation at least 24 hours ahead of time or suffer a cancellation fee of $10 per guest. Check the day before you want to eat to see if anyone has cancelled at the last minute. It also doesn’t hurt to walk up to the dining desk and ask if there was a cancellation.
9. Onsite Vs. Offsite Resort: Pros and Cons
There are definite benefits of staying onsite for the length of your vacation. One, you’ll be in that “Disney Bubble” where there’s wall to wall pixie dust and the general splendor is intoxicating. Secondly, you won’t have to worry about getting to the parks and other resorts compliments of the vast transportation system. There are benefits of staying off site as well. One, your dollars tend to get you more space in the resort or hotel rooms and you’ll have the option of visiting other locations in and around Orlando if you rent a car.
10. Disney Secrets: Find Mickey!
Photo: Hidden Mickey | Loren Javier via Flickr
On Disney World tip I wish I would have received was to take my time and not rush. My family’s first trip to Disney reminds me of a racehorse with blinders on. We raced to get to the rides, raced to our dining reservations, and raced back to the resort to crash for the night. We never really took in the ambiance and beauty of the parks, nor did we get to experience the secret world that is Walt Disney World. If you take the time to mosey around the parks, especially once you’ve visited a few times, you’ll notice the hidden Mickey’s that are strategically placed throughout the parks and resorts, the pin trading options for kids and adults, and the cast members that flank the streets playing special roles.
Related Orlando vacation articles
- How to Meet Anna & Elsa at Disney World without Long Lines
- What's the Best Time to Visit Disney World?
- How to Save Money & Score Huge Disney World Discounts
For more great tips on parenting and educational adventures check out Kayrn's blog Sand and Snow...and Everywhere in Between! You can also view her tips and tricks to vacation planning on TravelingMom.