When it comes to planning a Disney World vacation, there is a lot of fun, and, dare we say, even magical experiences for you and your family to look forward to.
There is a whole community of people who love visiting Disney World and cherish all of the joy that it brings. Shoot, we are card-carrying, Disney-loving, vacation-planning members of that community — ok, there aren’t really cards, but if there were, we’d have ’em! 😅
But just because we love Disney (with a capital L) doesn’t mean we always keep those rose-colored glasses on. We like to keep things positive around here, but we also like to be informative and helpful, offering up the truth as we see it, to help you plan your best Disney World trip. And sometimes, those cold hard facts can be hard to hear, but even harder to face if you aren’t prepared for them!
So, let’s set aside those rose-colored glasses for a minute and explore some of the harsh truths you may face during your next Disney World vacation, and some ways you can prepare for them.
Disney World is almost always crowded
Once upon a time, in a land pre-COVID, back when there were “Extra Magic Hours” and “FastPass” or even “FastPass+,” there were gaps of time referred to as the “Slow Season.” Those were blips in memory, they actually DID happen, but unfortunately, just don’t happen as frequently or as long as they used to. Every now and then, we’ll experience a day in the parks with a slight lull in the crowds, but spans of time that used to the the “Slow Season” (typically January after the holidays, and September/October when school resumed) just don’t hit the same way they used to.
One of the big outcomes on this side of COVID is how much more accessible it is to do things remotely. Adults can work remotely, and kids can do school remotely, so those peak seasons when school was out aren’t the only times families can travel. Which is bittersweet. It means that now, families have more flexibility to plan to visit parks when they want to visit, rather than being restricted to a school or work calendar. But it also means that times that guests used to be able to count on lower crowds has become a mythical legend of the past.
Disney also incentivizes travelers with special events to entice them to travel during some of the “non-peak” times, like extended EPCOT Festivals, After Hours Events, Holiday Parties, and even runDisney events that fill the calendar in what used to be those slower times. So, Disney World is pretty much always crowded all of the time.
Check out our Month By Month Guide to Planning a Disney World Vacation.
It’s almost impossible to visit WDW nowadays without planning your trip really far in advance. Dining reservations open 60 days out, so if you’re looking for a hard-to-get reservation like Cinderella’s Royal Table (especially during the super busy times), you’ll want to be making that on the 60-day mark.
And dining reservations aren’t the only things you’ll need to plan for. Park tickets aren’t the only things you’ll need to get into the parks, you’ll also need a Park Pass Reservation. Park Pass Reservations essentially reserve your spot in the parks on the days you plan to visit. So, yep, when you buy your tickets six months, a year, or even longer before your trip, you’ll need to remember to book your Park Pass Reservation — and that means deciding super far in advance what days you want to be in which parks! Now, you can always modify those reservations if availability allows it, but that adds another layer of planning to your travel agenda.
Getting to and from the airport isn’t as straightforward as it used to be, either. Back in the days of yore, Disney’s Magical Express was your one-stop shop for airport transportation. Now that the Magical Express has retired, you’ll have to figure out if you want to use Mears Connect, Sunshine Flyer, taxis, rideshares, car rentals, or even a limo service to get you to your hotel.
And then, once you make it to the parks, you have to navigate through the new technology that structures the park experience these days. That means you’ll need a black belt in the My Disney Experience App and all of its features including: Disney Genie, Disney Genie+, Mobile Order, and Virtual Queues/Boarding Passes. In fact, some of these are so nuanced that we actually recommend you start your Disney Tech degree before your leave home, so you’re not trying to learn on the go, and some decisions can come with pricey consequences, so you’ll want to be well-versed in your options. But not to worry, we’ve oodles of posts and videos to help you .
DFB Video: The ULTIMATE Guide to Genie+ in Disney World
Once you get on property things don’t necessarily get easier! Disney World is HUGE, so it’s gonna take some strategic planning to get anywhere on property – you’ll want to keep that in mind if you’re traveling to a dining reservation and give yourself plenty of time to get there if you’re using Disney transportation or you can always take advantage of their internal Lyft service the Minnie Vans (super helpful if you’re going from resort to resort), but it can be pretty pricey.
Not only does Disney Transportation just take some extra time, but you’ll also have to factor in where you’re staying. If you’re staying at a large, sprawling resort that has its own internal bus loop (like Fort Wilderness, Coronado Springs, or Saratoga Springs) or a resort that might share its bus route with another resort (like All-Star Resorts or Swan & Dolphin), those extra stops add to the commute time.
And beyond just the time it take to get around the Disney resort, you’ll also have to plan for the wear and tear it can take you, physically. It’s a LOT of walking, folks. You’re walking from your room to the bus stop (or your car), from the bus stop (or car) to the main gates (and across big parking lots), then all throughout the parks, from attraction to attraction, snack kiosk to snack kiosk, lounge to lounge. And if you’re a park commando and want to get the biggest bang for your park admission dollar, then you’re doing that from about 7AM until 11PM or LATER! That’s a lot of time on the ol’ tootsies!
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Brace yourself, visiting Disney World (or any Disney park) is expensive. It starts out with some big keystone purchases, like your park tickets, your hotel accommodations, and transportation to/from/around Orlando. And then there’s the other stuff you know you’ll have to budget for, like meals and souvenirs, not small-ticket items, either.
But you can forecast for those expenses, it’s some of the little things that slowly (or quickly!) add up to be big expenses. Things like parking fees and tolls (if you’re driving), tipping at meals, for housekeeping, or valet. Genie+ can seem reasonable when you see the individual prices listed, but when you multiply that across your whole travel party per day — woo-wee, that number gets big! The same for those Individual Lightning Lanes, should you choose to partake.
And then there are those extras that seem to just sell themselves, like After Hour Events, Holiday Parties, EPCOT Festival extras, special tours or VIP Events. You’re in Disney, you’ve already spent this much, what’s a little more? That whole “in for a penny, in for a pound” concept has blown many a Disney vacation budget. And all with the justification of “well, it’s vacation, after all” or “who knows when we’ll back, so let’s live it up.” And then you get the bill at the end of your trip or after you’ve gotten home to realize how easily that pixie dust led you down the rabbit hole of a spending free-for-all.
How to Do Disney World on a Budget in 2023
The weather isn’t perfect
Soggy shoes after a pop-up thunderstorm are not magical. It will rain, and you will get wet – Florida thunderstorms happen ALL the time, and you can pretty much count on one a day throughout the summer. We always carry ponchos or small umbrellas, just in case! If you do forget one – all of the stores at Disney World keep those items by the register (they’ll only have them displayed if it’s currently raining, though). And an extra bummer in addition to your soggy shoes — those outdoor coasters, like Slinky Dog Dash, Test Track, and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, all close down in the rain and lightning. And how disappointing is it when you’ve waited in line, perhaps even for a while, for an attraction you’re excitedly looking forward to, only to hear over the speakers that it is closing due to rain and you’ll have to vacate your spot in line and try again later?
If it’s not raining, it’s probably still hot and humid because it is Florida, after all. And that heat is no joke. Even if you’re from a warm location, there’s something mystical about the combination of heat and humidity in Orlando that can just suck the very joy out of your soul. Is it an exaggeration to call it soul-crushing heat? Perhaps, but we’re standing by it. Don’t let this underestimation derail your trip. Be equipped with cooling towels, personal fans, and sunscreen and plan to take midday breaks an stay hydrated to make sure you can still have some Disney fun, even if the pavement is hotter than the surface of the sun.
8 Things You’ll Regret Not Having With You When It Rains In Disney World
There will be melt-downs, and some people will be terrible
Just because you’re in the most magical place on earth doesn’t mean that your family and other guests will be magical 100% of the time. We seem to notice it more at Disney World. Is it because some people behave worse at Disney than anywhere else? Probably not, but what we witness and experience is weighed against our expectations. Disney is coined as the most magical place on earth, so the expectation is that everything will be, well, magical. And when it isn’t, that disappointment hits a little harder than it might under other circumstances. And then you combine those weighted expectations with the knowledge of how much you’ve paid for this trip (which isn’t just money, but also time), and those combined factors can make disappointments feel that much more devastating.
And let’s not forget how stimulating Disney World is! Bright colors, cheery music, high-energy guests, and performers all around you! It’s exciting! It’s stimulating! It’s exhausting! If you don’t check in with yourself and with your travel party on how folks are doing, you could be walking right into meltdown territory before you even know it. So, stick to sleep schedules as much as you can. Make sure you’re wearing tried-and-true comfortable clothes (not just the new matching Disney outfits Aunt Susan said everyone had to wear for pictures) to keep you comfortable during your vacation. Hydrate. Often. And make sure you’re taking those breaks BEFORE meltdowns happen, yep, we suggest preventative breaks!
And let’s take a moment to do a general PSA (Public Service Announcement) about courtesy. You paid a lot for your Disney vacation, but so did everyone else who is in the parks with you. When things go wrong, the Cast Members will do everything they can to help you or provide you with reasonable options within their means to provide. So, help them help you, by being understanding and courteous. And, in general, just be self-aware and considerate. You may be exhausted and just wanna sprawl out and take a nap at a table at a quick service restaurant, but then that means that someone else might not be able to sit down with their family for a meal. You might really want to dip your cooling towel in the icy bins at snack kiosks that hold cold beverages, but then someone else is going to have your sweat residue on their bottle of water.
The moral of the story is to think about how your behavior may impact others around you, and as the Disney website says, “be the magic you want to see in the world.”
Important WARNING Added to Disney World Website
Disney is tracking you & tricking you to spend more money
MagicBands and MagicBand+ have RFID tech in them, which produces some pretty great things for you (ride photos and interacting with 50th Golden Statues), but it also allows WDW to access all of your plans and purchases. MagicBand, MagicBand+, Disney Genie, and My Disney Experience are all great tools to help you have an immersive, customized, and interactive experience in the parks. They are amazing synchronized technology that perform harmoniously together to enhance your vacation experience.
But let’s not forget that Disney is a business, not a charity. They have shareholders they have to report to, revenue goals they have to hit, and strategic business goals they have to hit. This technology is a fun vacation tool, but it is also a strong marketing tool. The more you interact with these tools, the more data you give Disney about yourself. What you do in the parks, the souvenirs you buy, the restaurants you eat at (and what you order), when you get to the parks, when you get back to your resort, and how many times you’ve played the DuckTales Scavenger Hunt in EPCOT.
And, let’s not forget Disney Genie. This handy-dandy tool to help you save time in the parks isn’t 100% altruistic. You plug in your interests into the device, and Disney comes back with a recommendation on what you should do next. Based on our location and your interest, Disney Genie may make a suggestion that takes you by one of the most popular shops in the park in an attempt to lure you in for souvenir shopping. Or perhaps route your path by a restaurant around meal time to put the suggestion in our path that you should probably eat there. It’s all very subtle, but the cues are there, because while Disney has you in the parks, they definitely want you to spend more money.
All of that data is fed into the Disney marketing machine, and they’ve perfected the art of getting you to spend more money. They drop you off in gift shops after a ride and simplify the act of making a purchase by loading your money onto your wrist. It’s good to be aware of some of the ways Disney tries to get you to spend more because some things might be worth it for you but just stay aware and set a budget ahead of time. A great way to set a budget for your kids or even for snacks in the parks is to load some money onto a gift card.
How Disney World Tricks You Into Spending MORE Money
Well, Disney World sure has squeezed a whole lot of updates and changes into the past year+. But, that’s why we’re always bringing you the most up-to-date information and translating them into the best ways to make the most of your trip! Check out our video below to see more information about how Disney World has gotten even harder.
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Check out our latest video and then comment below: Are you planning a Disney World vacation right now?
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We have been a member of DVC and have lots of points. We’re 79 and 69 and Disney has made it way to complicated and tiresome to even go and plan to ride anything. I would much rather pay out of pocket for 3 fast passes a day and forget LL, Genie+, etc. Universal does it that way and it works much easier. I don’t particularly like having to get up at 7:00 am while on vacation to try and book a ride. We have been at Disney since last Wednesday and have yet to ride a ride! Lines too long, waits time are horrendous and LL is gone for the day.
Lucretia Kleinman says
I agree! As we get older the technology is way too complicated and time consuming. I feel like I’m being discriminated because I don’t own a smart phone and/or I’m older. I’m trying to decide if I’ll add on points to my Vacation Club when it comes due to expire. I love Disney and had many wonderful trips in the past. I hope things can improve.
Robin is exactly right. We’re 74 and 72 and these are the exact reasons we cancelled our Disney World trip with the grandkids and booked at Universal. Yes, the Disney magic is gone and it appears Disney has no intention of getting it back.
And the garbage cans around Epcot, Italy, overflowing and on the floor. It’s gross. No bathroom soap or paper. Place has become filthy. The Disney difference no longer exists. More money for a much lesser experience.