Planning a Walt Disney World vacation can be both an extremely exciting AND daunting task.
But with the proper planning and research, you can make the most out of your time and hard-earned money spent on a Walt Disney World Resort Vacation. Even still, you might not find everything you need to know about having the most EPIC time at Disney just by reading the guidebooks! Luckily, you’ve got us by your side!
We’re going to take you through a few tips that we think are SUPER important — although you’ll rarely see them discussed anywhere except here! Let’s go for ride!
Your Disney World Resort Is a BIG Part of Your Disney World Experience!
A lot of folks think a hotel is just a place to sleep, shower, and get dressed so you can spend all your time at the parks (and for some, it can be just that!), but don’t overlook how truly important your Disney World resort hotel can be! In fact, some of our favorite vacation things aren’t at the parks at all — they’re at the resorts!
Disney does an excellent job of providing a slew of resort activities all day long at all properties, from their Value resorts to their Deluxe resorts. You never know what cool new thing your family will stumble upon!
Each afternoon the pools at the Walt Disney World Resort Hotels offer guests a full slate of entertaining family activities including Bingo, karaoke, hula hoop contests, relay races, scavenger hunts, trivia challenges, chalk art, pin trading, and poolside challenges. No matter which Resort you call home, you can stop by the front desk and ask a cast member for the Resort Activities Schedule.
And don’t be afraid to explore OTHER Disney World resorts either! Even if you aren’t a guest, you can still explore any hotel at Disney World! Take advantage of the Holiday season by touring the various resorts with Christmas Displays. Any guest can enjoy the annual Gingerbread house displays at Grand Floridian or sip on a specialty holiday cocktail at The Contemporary Resort!
Lounge hopping is another great way to explore the properties. Many of these bartenders have been cast members for a long time and it’s always nice to relax and chat over cocktails and delicious bites. Some of our favorites are Crew’s Cup Lounge at the Yacht Club Resort and Territory Lounge at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge (be sure to indulge in the sinfully delicious fondue). Oh and don’t forget Trader Sam’s at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort!
Some resorts also offer character meals like those you can find in the parks. Some of these dining experiences offer more time with your favorite characters as well as a unique selection of food. In fact, let’s talk about character dining next!
Not All Character Meals Are Created Equal
If you’re looking to spend your FastPass+ on popular attractions instead of using them to meet characters, a character dining experience is a great opportunity for you to do just that! Note that Character Meals have been suspended for now, but we know they’ll be back in the future, so it never hurts to plan ahead.
While Chef Mickey’s at Disney’s Contemporary Resort is crazy popular, some character dining options are a little more off-the-beaten-path. Storybook Dining at Artist Point in Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is one of our favorite character meals with some really cool theatrical lighting, innovative food presentation, and even a private encounter with the Evil Queen herself!
Snow White, Grumpy, and Dopey usually make the rounds as well!
At the Walt Disney World Swan Resort, you’ll find one of the most underrated character dining experiences, Garden Grove. The weekend breakfast buffet is affordable and offers plenty of interaction with characters. This is the perfect place for photo ops with the typical cast of characters that can include Goofy, Chip & Dale, Pluto, and more.
And since some of these out-of-the way, lesser-known character meals aren’t as well attended as Chef Mickey’s or 1900 Park Fare (another popular character meal, which usually has characters from Cinderella in the evening, and Pooh, Tigger, the Mad Hatter, and others in the morning!) the characters aren’t as pressed for time and can sometimes spend a little longer with you at your table!
It’s also important to keep in mind some character meals are served buffet style (like Chef Mickey’s and Crystal Palace), while others are plated and brought to your table.
For families with smaller children, we happen to prefer the latter since it means we don’t have to worry about rushing to the buffet before a character arrives while juggling our kids at the same time!
Winnie the Pooh, Tiger, Eeyore, and Piglet normally greet at Crystal Palace! Read our full review of dinner here!
And we might just love character meal BREAKFASTS most of ALL! ‘Ohana has an amazing character breakfast (where you’ll meet Stitch, Lilo, and more!) and Trattoria al Forno‘s Bon Voyage Adventure Breakfast has some of the rarest Disney characters you’ll meet, including Rapunzel, Flynn Ryder, Ariel (with legs!) and Prince Eric!
You won’t find these princes meeting anywhere else at Disney World!
You’ll find this at the resort’s signature dining location, Topolino’s Terrace — Flavors of the Riviera, and have a chance to meet Mickey, Minnie, Daisy, and Donald!
And finally, our all-time FAVORITE character meal can be found over at Garden Grill in the Land Pavilion at Epcot. This restaurant serves up all-you-care-to-eat platters of breakfast favorites in the morning (including plates of their incredible Chip’s Sticky Bun Bake!), and meats and veggies (grown IN the Land Pavilion!) for lunch and dinner.
This spot is usually pretty easy to snag a last-minute table, and due to the small size of the restaurant, you often get a TON of interaction with characters like Farmer Mickey, Chip, Dale, and Pluto! Oh yeah — and the restaurant slowly rotates while you eat, letting you look down on the Living with the Land attraction below! We seriously can not understate what a fantastic character meal AND quality food Garden Grill offers all day long.
Disable Charging Privileges on Your Child’s MagicBand
He’s a little tip you’ll want to keep in mind as soon as you arrive at Disney World IF you’ll be staying on property with kiddos!
All of the MagicBands you’ll receive in the mail prior to your trip will already be linked to your Disney World account, including any credit card you have on file. That means you might want to deactivate this feature if you have children who might be tempted to make an unauthorized purchase! 😉
Your kids would still need to know the 4 digit pin code to make purchases, but if you have older kids in your crew you don’t want running around Disney World with unlimited access to your money, consider disabling charging privileges for their bands. 😉 You can deactivate the purchase settings on your kids’ MagicBands yourself using the My Disney Experience app or just ask a friendly Cast Member at Guest Relations to deactivate it for you when you check-in!
A great solution to older kids who want the freedom to buy their own goodies? Buy a Disney Gift Card!
Disney often sells themed gift cards on wristbands, making them super convenient to tote around with you. You can load more money on the card if you choose, but for your kid — when it’s gone it’s gone!
Loyalty Programs and Third Party Offers
If you’re a Disney Vacation Club member or Annual Passholder, you’re probably already used to purchasing merch with your 20% discount at select locations throughout the parks, but did you know there are even greater ways to save??
Tables in Wonderland is a dining discount program for eligible Florida Residents, Disney Vacation Club members and Annual Passholders (21 and older), good for 20% off food and beverage (including booze) at a wide selection of Walt Disney World Resort hotel and theme park restaurants and lounges.
Many Disney Springs restaurants have loyalty programs where you’ll be rewarded simply for enjoying your meal! The Levy Loyalty Program gets you special deals at Paddlefish, Terralina Crafted Italian, and Wolfgang Puck branded restaurants.
The Landry’s Loyalty Program comes with lots of extra perks too! At Yak & Yeti Restaurant, T-Rex and Rainforest Cafe, you’ll be treated to priority seating, rewards points, $25 for signing up, and an extra $25 during your birthday month. There is a one-time membership fee, but that sign-up reward cancels it out!
Patina Group offers a free Subscription List where they’ll send you offers and deals – plus $30-$50 offers for your birthday — they run several restaurants at Disney Springs and a few over in Epcot. Here’s a list of spots they offer discounts for:
How to Build the Fastest Car on Test Track
We might be known for our competitive eating practices at Epcot’s many annual food festivals (where we literally order everything on EVERY menu!). Epcot’s two largest festivals, the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival and the O.G. Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, are some of our favorites to eat our way around!
But there’s ANOTHER competition we take VERY seriously at Epcot and it has a little sumptin’ to do with an attraction called Test Track. To provide a little backstory if you’re unfamiliar with this ride at Epcot, you’re responsible for building a “sim car” on a touchscreen before entering the attraction. Once inside, you’ll take the prototype for a test drive — at speeds of up to 64 miles per hour!
To have the highest score (note: none of this will actually alter your experience in any form, but you WILL receive bragging rights, which is reward enough for us), you’ll need to build the perfect performance MACHINE!
When designing your car, you’ll want to move quickly through the basics like shape and width — but pay attention to the category point values as you make changes (you want to keep them all as high as possible). Once you get to the accessories section at the end you can pick up lots of extra points by adding hood elements and wheel upgrades. It’s tempting to focus on flash when building your car, but stick to those numbers — they’ll literally pave the way to your victory every time you ride!
Familiarize Yourself with the My Disney Experience App BEFORE You Go
The My Disney Experience App on your device is a key element to planning your Walt Disney World vacation. Besides providing the vitals like FastPass+ bookings, showtimes, and park hours, this is now the preferred method for booking and modifying your Advance Dining Reservations.
But don’t wait until you’re at the parks to open it up for the first time. Trust us — you’ll be using it A LOT, so play around with it before you go! Believe it or not, a lot of people don’t even realize the My Disney Experience app is completely free to use and it’s not only exclusive to resort guests. Anyone can use it!
Make sure your whole family has tickets and is linked up on the My Disney Experience app, too! Otherwise, you won’t be able to reserve FastPasses for your entire party. It’s also super important to keep in mind when your FastPass window opens up so you can reserve your three FastPass selections for your whole group each day!
These are usually available to resort guests 60 days out from their arrival and 30 days out for everyone else. Once you use all of your FastPasses during a day in the parks, you can open the My Disney Experience app and make another FastPass selection on the fly!
Another thing to keep in mind about FastPasses — all of the parks except Magic Kingdom have FastPass tiers, meaning you can only reserve a one Tier 1 FastPass at a time. For instance, Hollywood Studios has three Tier 1 FastPasses, so you’ll have to choose between Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Millennium Falcon, and Slinky Dog Dash!
Remember though, right now the FastPass system has been suspended temporarily. But once it’s back up and running you should be ready!
Happy Hour at Disney Springs
You’ll be hard-pressed to find Happy Hours at Walt Disney World resort hotels or in the theme parks. BUT, there is good news — Disney Springs offers a SLEW of amazing happy hours throughout the day. One of our absolute FAVORITES is the Happy Hour at The Edison. Offered from 3-6PM, this deal includes $7 Craft Cocktails and select Wines.
End the night off at the swanky STK Steakhouse, which offers an incredible deal on Sunday-Wednesday from 3-6PM and Thursdays-Saturdays 10PM-close with $2 oysters, $5-8 small bites, and half off specialty cocktails.
Bring Refillable Water Bottles and Water Flavor Enhancers
We are ALL doing our part to support the environment, one (paper) straw at a time. Bringing a refillable water bottle with you to the parks is a smart way to help the Earth while saving some money by not having to buy bottled water all the time. (We love this SUPER CUTE New Skyliner Water Bottle!)
New filtered water refilling stations are now popping up in a few locations around the parks, making it easy and convenient to stay hydrated while on the go. Or, you can always ask a Cast Member at a fast food location for a cup of ice water for free.
And if you don’t like the taste of tap water (it can be especially swampy flavored in Florida!), we recommend bringing some packets of water flavoring along! Most of these enhancers come in a powder form or small squirt bottles. You simply add some to your water bottle, give it a good shake, and you’re ready to go with a tastier beverage without having to spend extra money!
Managing Your Expectations When Things Go Wrong
Things inevitably have a way of going wrong sometimes, and even the best of trips usually has a few disappointments.
But as long as you keep a cool head and an even keel, we think you’ll still walk away with a good experience, and maybe even a funny story to share later on down the road.
We’ve been stuck on Spaceship Earth for 30 minutes, gotten drenched in more torrential downpours than we can remember, and encountered all kinds of torment due to poor footwear decisions, but that hasn’t stopped us from having a ball each and every time we go to Disney World!
And just remember — Cast Members are there to make sure you have a magical day. If you need any assistance to help achieve that, whether you need something like a bandaid or directions, just ask. Cast Members will help you solve whatever problem you’re having. Well, almost. They can’t really help you if your family is driving you bonkers (which probably will occur at some time during your trip!). Even Disney World Cast Members aren’t miracle workers. 😉
Nicest Bathrooms in Parks!
Choose your restrooms wisely. While this may sound a little off-kilter, Walt Disney World is ALL about planning and that includes choosing your restrooms wisely. You never know when your little one or even YOU are going to have an emergency!
At Epcot, the American Dream is alive and well at perhaps one of the LARGEST bathrooms in all of the parks, located at the American Adventure. There are plenty of stalls and the air conditioning is always blasting. This is an especially great location if you’re drinking and eating around World Showcase or enjoying a show at the America Gardens Theatre.
Quite possibly the most hidden bathroom in all of Walt Disney World can be found on the side of Journey Into Imagination with Figment. This is just to the right of the attraction’s main entrance and there’s rarely more than few guests ever in there at one time.
There are a few gems at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Guests in route to Toy Story Land should avoid the ones located inside the land and opt for the bathrooms located just outside and across from Joffrey’s.
The bathrooms just behind the Cheshire Café at Magic Kingdom tend to never have a wait. Another solid choice are the Tangled Restrooms on the border of Fantasyland and Liberty Square. While this area tends to be a little chaotic and packed with strollers, there are plenty of stalls and rarely a wait.
Animal Kingdom does perhaps the best job at providing strategically placed restrooms with plenty of stalls. The theming is also something to note at many of these locations as well.
Our personal favorites are the ones at Restaurantosaurus. Speaking of bathrooms, we have a WHOLE VIDEO on some of the best bathrooms in Disney World!
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What are your top tips for visiting the Walt Disney World Resort?