Twenty-four hours before our flight, I shot my friend a text “Are we ready for this?!”
Sadly we both agreed that we were definitely NOT ready for a week of magic at Walt Disney World. Despite the fact that we’d been planning our family’s first Disney World vacation for several months, we’d only gotten around to getting tickets about two weeks out.
After some fast and furious Internet searching I found very little. So I then made a few anxious calls with the friendly folks at Disney and received a crash course. I learned the difference between a Park Hopper and a Fast Pass, and made decisions about meal plans and show times.
But I’m not going to lie; it was all a little stressful!
In the end, we all had a wonderful time at Disney World. If you’re a last minute planner like me, don’t stress about it. Here’s my quick guide for procrastinating parents. Good news is there’s really only five things you really need to know to have an awesome Disney world vacation.
1) Call the Friendly Disney Help Line
I was blown away by how friendly and helpful the customer service people were. I made several calls over the period of a few weeks with questions about what tickets to purchase and how to coordinate Fast Passes.
Upon arrival at Disney in Orlando, we were trying to link family accounts on the Disney app called My Disney Experience, so I made yet another call to the customer service line. Not only did they successfully walk us through linking up accounts, but the customer service team stayed on the phone for 45 minutes to make sure we were all set.
While most customer service issues these days can be solved online or via chat, if you’re struggling at all booking your Disney experience your best bet is to call the customer service line for fast, friendly help.
2) Purchase Multi-Day Tickets in Advance
I was completely overwhelmed when I first started researching Disney tickets. How many days? What parks? To Park Hop or not?
I learned that first, we needed to decide on how many days we were going to spend in the parks. We settled on 3 days between the Disney parks, but weren’t sure exactly what parks we wanted to include and in which order. That’s ok.
You do need to decide if you want to do the Park Hopper or not. This is a slightly more expensive ticket that allows you to visit more than one park per day.
In my experience, as a first timer, I don’t think the Park Hopper pass is necessary. After a full day in any park, we were more than ready to take our tired kids home for dinner and never wanted to visit more than one park per day. Save yourself the money and stress.
Speaking of saving money; be sure to check out the Undercover Tourist. This web site offers authentic Disney tickets, shipped to your house, for less than what you’d pay at the gates. They are a certified reseller of Disney tickets, so you can be sure they are authentic.
Never purchase tickets from eBay or Craiglist as they are more than likely a scam.
3) Download the Disney App on Your Smartphone
Photo: Sarah Fazendin
The Disney app is an absolute must have for your Disney World vacation! Using the app, you can link up all tickets, other activities and dining reservations (but don’t plan on actually being able to book dining reservations during your stay, everything worthwhile books up months in advance.) You can also connect your family to another family so you’re all on the same schedule. Then refer to this schedule throughout the day from your phone.
And perhaps most importantly, you can use the app to secure Fast Passes. Disney’s FastPass+ allows you to reserve access to rides in advance. There’s no cost to use this service and you can actually book rides up to 30 days in advance. You can make up to three FastPass+ reservations each day.
Finally, the app has a map with a GPS locater, so you’ll always access to a map with detailed directions based on your exact location. This saved us more than once!
4) What Your Kids Don’t Know Won’t Hurt Them
So it turns out each of the Disney parks offer princess breakfasts, behind the scenes activities, and extra hour access passes, just to name a few of the things that you have to book in advance (and in many cases pay more for). These are in high demand and often book up weeks in advance.
Lucky for us, our kids were none the wiser. They had the time of their lives and a magical Disney World vacation; something they will never forget. If it’s your first or second time there, don’t stress about getting into all these extra attractions. Let your kids enjoy Disney for what it is, without worrying about doing every last thing.
5) Stay Off Property
Photo: Sarah Fazendin
Ok this is a big one. I certainly understand the benefit of staying on property (being part of the immersive “Disney Bubble”), but we couldn’t have been happier with our vacation rental just a few miles from the park gates.
Every night we were more than ready to leave the park just after it got dark. We all had a chance to unwind; the kids swam while we made dinner. Waiting in line at a crowded Disney restaurant after a long day in the park can turn young kids to tears in a heartbeat.
And the best part? We saved on average $400 per night. Boom!
Extra Tip: You Might Just Need a Drink
Photo: Sarah Fazendin
Magic Kingdom does not sell booze! And let me tell you, after a day of magic and pixie dust, the adults had worked up a serious thirst. With a few hours to kill before the , we were desperate for someplace to sit down, relax, and have an adult beverage.
We ended up taking the monorail over to the Contemporary hotel, which is the first stop from the Magic Kingdom. We were in luck to find a nearly empty bar in the lobby called the . The kids loved the big couches and we loved the friendly service. Everyone was happy when the drinks arrived (and not only because the kids drinks included light-up ice cubes).
It opens daily at 4p m. You’re welcome ☺
We’d love to hear your tips and add them to this Disney vacation guide! What do you do to ensure your family has a magical time at Walt Disney World?