So — you’re going to Walt Disney World? EEK, how exciting!!
It can take a LOT of time and work to plan a Walt Disney World vacation — and while there’s plenty of stuff that’s nice to know before you go, there’s some info you NEED to know if you want your trip to go smoothly.
1. Disney World Is HUGE…And You Need to Plan For Travel Time
Walt Disney World is HUGE. We’re talkin’ “Four theme parks, two water parks, thirty+ hotels, 3 golf courses, a dining and shopping district, and more!” huge!! Disney World is TWICE the size of the island of Manhattan — that’s REAL big, guys.
When planning your Walt Disney World vacation, you need to understand just how big it really is and how that will affect your plans. One major consideration: the time it takes to get from point A to point B. Using Disney’s free transportation can take up a good chunk of time, not to mention the time spent covering the sheer distances you’ll cross to get where you’re going.
Disney always recommends allowing at least one hour to get where you’re going — whether that’s from a park to a resort, between parks, or between resorts. And while that may sound outrageous, we often find it to be just about right.
Let’s look at an example: imagine you’re in the Magic Kingdom at the castle. You’re headed to Epcot to have dinner at Spice Road Table in the Morocco pavilion in World Showcase. While traveling between the Magic Kingdom and Epcot doesn’t seem like a formidable distance (it’s just a few miles, really), here’s what you actually have to accomplish:
- the time spent waiting for the monorail in Magic Kingdom,
- changing monorails at the Transportation and Ticket Center,
- going through security at Epcot,
- waiting to tap in at the tapstyles in Epcot, and then
- walking from the Epcot main entrance all the way to Spice Road Table on the other side of the park
Altogether, that can easily take you an hour or more. Now you could book a rideshare like a Disney World Minnie Van through your Lyft app, but while that transportation option will pick you up at the Magic Kingdom and drive you directly to Epcot’s entrance, you’re still looking at close to an hour when you factor in the time waiting for the Minnie Van, going through Epcot security and entrance gates, and walking to Spice Road Table.
Try to schedule accordingly when planning out your FastPasses and disney dining reservations to allow plenty of extra time to get around. Trust us, you’ll enjoy your vacation MUCH more if you’re not spending half your time running late! Check out our look at the Disney Transportation options below!
2. Flying? Plan Ahead To Get From the Airport To Disney World
Are you flying to Orlando? Then you’ve got to know how you’re getting from the airport to Walt Disney World. Luckily, there are lots of options out there to choose from. For example, you can take a cab, rent a car, call a ride share service, reserve a Minnie Van, or take Disney’s complimentary bus service, Disney’s Magical Express.
Many guests like the convenience and zero cost of using the Magical Express, which will pick you up at the airport after your flight and bring you directly to your resort hotel on Disney property. Disney does the work for you, but it can take a good bit of time.
Minnie Vans and rideshares or cabs are faster but have a significant added cost. Renting a car gives you freedom to go as you please, but you’ll need to account for parking fees at the parks and your resort hotel.
There are pros and cons to each, so make sure to do your research and choose the one that works best for you! If you work out your plan ahead of time then you can hop off the plane, hop into your ride, and let the magic begin!
3. Packing Considerations
Before you go, you gotta pack for the trip! What shoes to bring for walking endless miles in the rain? What should I wear? Will it be super hot? Does it get cold at Disney in Winter? Do I need a bathing suit? What am I forgetting? SO MANY things to keep in mind when you pack up to head to Disney.
Lucky for you — we’ve got you covered! We put together our huge list of everything you could possibly need to pack so you don’t forget anything before you go! Check out our packing guide below!
4. What Activities and Amenities Are Available At Your Resort Hotel?
Awesome pool? Great dining? Fun activities for the kiddos? You’re probably doing a lot of research on the Disney Parks, but make sure you take time to learn more about your resort hotel as well!
Disney resorts are chock-full of amenities for all age groups, and many Disney guests like to spend a considerable amount of time exploring and enjoying their resort hotel. Disney resorts can have some pretty killer pools, fun play areas for kids, fun runs, fine dining options, spas at some locations, and more! Learn what’s available at your resort and try to schedule some time to take advantage of those things.
A great time to enjoy your resort (or visit another one!) is your check-in day! Check out our DFB Video below for our picks for great arrival day activities!
5. Figure Out How To Make The Most of The Disney Dining Plan
Are you getting the Disney Dining Plan? You’ll have to purchase the plan before your trip (or maybe you grabbed Free Dining when it was offered!), but you should take time to know how it works and how to make the most of it before you go!
The key to getting the most bang for your buck is often as simple as trying to use your credits for the most expensive items offered on the plan. For table service, that means doing your research, looking at menus ahead of time (check them out here!), and finding the more expensive options at the restaurants you’d like to try.
For counter service, head to places with high-priced eats as long as they’re in your family’s wheelhouse and suit your vacation plans. For snacks, aim for options over $6 when you can. We try not to spend our snack credits on things like bottles of water — we save ours for the $7 giant cinnamon rolls!
Another great option for your snack credits on the Disney Dining Plan are Epcot festival menu items. These usually come in at $6-9 and are unique and often delicious.
We have LOTS of information on the Disney Dining Plan. You can hear our picks for Best One-Credit Restaurants, Best Snacks, and The Ultimate Guide to the 2019 Dining Plan!
6. Determine Your MUST-DOs Before Your Trip
There are SO many attractions and shows in Walt Disney World that it can be REALLY overwhelming to try and cram it all into one trip! Before you go, make sure you know your absolute must-dos for each person in your group and work those into your plans!
You can save time by avoiding things no one wants to do and keep everyone in your group happy. You don’t have to do EVERYTHING at Disney World.
Want a look at some of our favorite rides to help you get started? Check out our DFB video below for our favorite attractions!
7. Which Attractions Will Be Closed While You’re in Disney World
Disney attractions regularly close for scheduled refurbishments. Often, they are simply performing routine maintenance, and other times they are “re-imagining” them. (Re-imagine is a “Disney” word for changing or drastically updating.)
Refurbishments are unavoidable, but what a bummer it would be if you got to Walt Disney World only to find out your favorite attraction or restaurant is closed!
Make sure to check Disney’s refurbishment calendar before you go! Disney posts all scheduled refurbishments on their calendars, so you can see exactly what will be closed when you go. If there is a must must MUST do, plan your trip accordingly and wait to visit when your favorite is back open.
8. What is Fastpass+ — and How Do You Use It?
Fastpass+ is a FREE service that allows you to skip the line at attractions, shows, and character meet and greets! Sound too good to be true? It’s not!
Fastpass+ is booked through your My Disney Experience account — you can create and use this either on the Disney World website or the My Disney Experience smartphone app.
Up to three attractions per day at any one theme park can be booked in advance, and once you’ve used them up, you can reserve more! Fastpass+ is available 60 days in advance if you are a Disney Resort Hotel guest, and 30 days in advance for all other guests.
When it’s time for your ride, arrive at the attraction and scan your magic band or key card at the tapstyle. You’ll be given entrance to the fastpass line at that point. You may still have a short wait ahead of you, but it will be much less than the standby queue wait time. Cast members at the attraction can answer any questions you may have.
Make sure your My Disney Experience Account is set up and ready to go, with your tickets linked to your account, prior to the 60 or 30 day mark. It sounds complicated — but the website is fairly intuitive! You will be glad you booked Fastpass+ when you get to walk on Slinky Dog Dash in Hollywood Studios without waiting!
9. What are Extra Magic Hours And How Do I Use Them?
Extra Magic Hours are a perk available to guests staying at a Disney resort hotel or good neighbor hotel. During this time, one (or more) of the parks opens an hour early or stays open up to three hours late — exclusively for resort guests.
So why does this matter to you BEFORE you go? If you’re staying at a Disney resort, you can plan your days to take advantage of this perk! Even if you’re staying off-site or don’t plan to utilize Extra Magic Hours, it’s important to know that the parks hosting Extra Magic Hours are typically a little more crowded than those without. You might plan to go to a different park than the Extra Magic Hour park(s) if you’re looking to hit the lowest crowds.
10. What Special Events are Happening During Your Visit?
Before you go, it’s important to know what is happening at Walt Disney World during your trip! Is there a big park anniversary? How about a new land or big attraction opening? Is it Dapper Day? Are you expecting classic Epcot but it’s opening day of the Food and Wine Festival?
Some special events may mean heavier crowds, but others can also mean special limited-time merchandise and treats or experiences you can plan to try!
Spend some time checking out Disney’s calendar and various social media channels so you know what is happening before you get to Orlando! And don’t forget to sign up for the Disney Food Blog Newsletter! We’ll keep you in the know on EVERYTHING happening in Disney World!
Join the DFB Newsletter to get all the breaking news right in your inbox! Click here to Subscribe!
11. Figure Out How To Check Ride Wait Times On Your Smartphone
The My Disney Experience App is a MUST HAVE while you’re in the parks! One feature we use aaaaallll the time is looking up ride and attraction wait times in the app.
Back in the day (cue the dinosaurs walking by!), we had to walk all the way to the Information Booths in the parks for this handy information or –gasp!– WALK to the attraction and check! Way too much walking was involved…this is way easier.
Knowing that this information is easily accessible to you can be VERY helpful for your park days. Use it to make the most of your time — check the wait times throughout your day to help find times to ride to something on your list that has a manageable wait!
If you’d rather avoid wait times altogether, check out our review of Disney’s After Hours events here!
12. There’s No Such Thing as a Perfect Vacation
Don’t get us wrong — you can (and should!) have a fantastic, memorable, fun Disney trip. But no matter how hard you prepare or how perfectly you schedule your days, SOMETHING won’t go just right.
It might rain one day. An attraction might have technical difficulties. Your kids might be exhausted and just want to hit the pool instead of a park one afternoon. And you know what? That’s a-okay!!
None of these things can RUIN a vacation — only a bad attitude can. So plan, plan, plan your perfect Disney vacation. But make sure you’re flexible and able to adapt if things don’t go exactly how you envisioned them. Going in with a great attitude and being adaptable to change can ensure you make the most of your fabulous trip!