The days of taking a casual trip to Walt Disney World are long gone, and now it takes no small amount of planning to pull off a successful Disney trip. Fortunately, I have a few tips and tricks to help you experience all the Disney magic.
1. Be outside the front gate before it opens. This is especially true at the Magic Kingdom. As long as the park isn’t having “Extra Magic Hours,” be standing at the gate at least 30 minutes before opening. You won’t be the only one employing this strategy, but crowds are definitely light at the park opening. Ride as many rides as possible in the first hour, and save Fast Passes for later when the park is busier.
2. Don’t use “Extra Magic Hours.” Folks who stay in the Disney resorts have special days where they can enter a park early or stay late. My advice? Skip it. Also, avoid the parks that feature “Extra Magic Hours.” This seems to work against logic, but practical experience has taught me two things. First of all, a day at Disney is intense enough without extending the day, especially in the heat of the summer or during peak crowd times. Secondly, these “Extra Magic Hours” bring more people into the parks. The best bet is to visit the parks NOT having “Extra Magic Hours” to avoid the crowds.
3. Use Fast Passes! This system is designed to give visitors shorter wait times on key rides (or experiences such as character greets, parades, and fireworks). Disney changed its Fast Pass system to allow visitors to book in advance of their trips, so now savvy planners have the benefit of strategy. There are some guidelines, though. Only 3 passes can be reserved per day, AND they must be used before any additional ones can be chosen. It’s best to pick times early in the day and then continue to add Fast Passes throughout the day. Each time one is used, add another one. The Fast Pass system really does save time waiting in line.
4. Book restaurant reservations when the window opens. Visitors can book reservations as early as six months in advance. This may seem insane, but popular restaurants sell out immediately. Character meals, where the characters visit each table, are incredibly popular. Do research ahead of time and know what restaurants you want so that when the window opens, you can jump on it. If you get stuck with a less than ideal time slot, book it and then keep checking back to see if anything has changed. Many reservations open within the last month before a trip because people change their minds, so don’t give up.
6. Park transportation isn’t always your best friend. Disney touts its transportation service as one of the major perks of staying in their resorts. This is true….sometimes. It depends on which resort you’re staying in and which of the four theme parks you need to travel to. For routes that require a transfer, it’s better to drive your car and park in the parking lot.
8. Travel as light as possible. I’m amazed at the families who tour Disney laden with a million bags, strollers, and more. Our mode of operation is to streamline. We tour Disney every time with a small backpack that doubles as my purse. We carry only the bare necessities. Older kids/teens can also carry small backpacks or fanny packs. School age kids should not be pushed in strollers. Pushing a stroller slows everybody down and is cumbersome. It just makes sense to keep your load light, especially in the heat of summer.
7. Research! Sadly, visiting Disney isn’t for the faint of heart. Commercials show families just strolling along and taking everything in at their leisure. That vision of the park is near impossible! Wandering aimlessly and not knowing the attractions is an enormous waste of resources. To have the full experience and squeeze every dollar out of a visit, form a plan. I love watching parents who’ve laid out a game plan for Disney and then execute it like a well-choreographed dance routine. If you want to do the same, get a guidebook. My favorite is “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.” This book is like my Bible for every Disney vacation. Many of the tips I’ve shared here, I learned from that book, and it’s packed full of hundreds more. Its value is unprecedented.
Visiting Mickey Mouse on his home turf is not a relaxing vacation, and it’s not for the uninformed. The true magic of a Disney trip is in the planning and execution of a successful trip.
Contact Holly McElwee at [email protected]