So, you’re considering a trip to Walt Disney World. You went online, checked for rates, started doing a bit of research and fell down a rabbit hole in the many online Disney forums. Seriously, I can’t tell you how many clients write me saying, I need help because I’m scared of planning my vacation after reading all the advice and forums. Thankfully for them, and now you, I’ve been to Walt Disney World over 100 times and have helped many, many families of varying personalities and needs plan their perfect vacation. Through this, I have come to find that there are ten things which consistently make for a better vacation across all trips.
Book at least seven months out
Here’s why, Walt Disney World opens Dining reservations 180 days from your date of stay. That means, if you book 7 months out, you will have enough time to research restaurants, make plans and then book the things you want. Princesses are popular, so are views of fireworks. Book early or you may, and most likely will, miss these experiences.
Stay on property
Most people think that staying on property is awesome because you get the extra magic hours and the free transportation from the airport. However, the real win in staying off property is more than that. Honestly, for me it comes down to three things.
- Fastpass+ Reservations: I can book fastpass+ reservations 60 days out if you stay on property but 30 days out of not. If you have a daughter/son/wife/husband/human who loves Frozen in your party, you will rue the day you stayed off property as you wait in the 120+ minute line to ride the Frozen ride at Epcot. Heaven knows I did. I think my feet still hurt from that wait.
- Wasted Time – Lots of it: Between horrible traffic around Walt Disney World, to the EPIC lines to get from the Ticket and Transportation Center to Magic Kingdom in the mornings, to the lines for the most popular attractions you have to stand in due to the fact you didn’t get the longer fastpass+ window, staying off property costs you a ton of time.
- Sanity: When you’re staying at Walt Disney World, you can go back to your room easily for a break mid day or between the park and your dinner reservations. You don’t have to worry about transportation, that’s all taken care of, which means no traffic to negotiate. These things make for a much more relaxing, much more sane trip.
Don’t overlook universal
The days of Universal being inferior to Disney World and only worth going to for a few thrill rides have long passed. Universal has upped it’s game significantly. Actually, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter rivals many Walt Disney World park attractions not just in rides but in theming, the one area Disney has owned for years. Also, for those who fear that there is nothing for little kids, that thought is woefully outdated. We just got back from Universal with my daughter who is just 2 year old. Sure, she can’t ride many rides, but the ones she can she loved. Not to mention, Universal has a TON of character meet and greets with much lower lines than what you experience at Walt Disney World. She met her all time favorites here, Minions, The Lorax, The Cat in the Hat, Sam I Am, Things 1 and 2 and she even got to sit in Sirius’ Motorcycle. We were there from rope drop to closing time and she was having so much fun she barely napped!
Don’t expect to do it all
I hear this all the time, “we want to do it all”. I get it, I am a bite way too much off kind of person. I actually relish burning the candle at both ends and leaving a vacation feeling like I have been hit by a mac truck. What can I say, I am insane (which you probably know by now if you read the blog). That said, even going park commando each day you can not do it all. There is just to much. The key is to do a bit of planning and figure out what your “Must Does” are and trying to do as many of those as possible. This is where having booked early and planning makes your trip more enjoyable.
Do your research, but don’t stress
You do need to plan a bit to make your vacation smooth. Fastpass+ and dining reservations are important and a solid touring strategy helps a lot. However, you will not die if you don’t see every Princess. Your trip will not be ruined if you miss rope drop because your kid couldn’t wake up early after watching Wishes the night before. You’re on vacation. Enjoy what you’re doing and let go of the idea of doing everything in the most optimal way. If you have fun, you won. (Yes it’s meant to rhym)
Reservations are important
I know I just said not to stress, but believe it or not, having reservations for dining and fastpass+ is the easiest way to keep from stressing. Do not underestimate the awesome drawing power of the princesses, especially those Frozen ones, and make your reservations.
Take a break midday and midway
Disney is exhausting. This makes kids (big and small) cranky. Cranky people have bad vacations. It’s also usually hot, which adds to the cranky pants issues. If you can at all swing it, take a break midday. That doesn’t have to mean going back to your room for a nap, it could be as simple as sitting on a bench in Frontier Land for 30 minutes, or riding the monorail to a resort and enjoying lunch at a restaurant there when crowds are at their worse and temperatures at their highest. Also, if you’re at Walt Disney World longer than 5 nights, you will want to consider taking a day off mid trip. Go to the pool, resort hop, play some golf, rent a boat and ride around the lake, whatever makes you relax. The parks are exhausting and there is so much more to do at Walt Disney World that not only will this help make your trip a more relaxing and enjoyable one, it will also help you see more of what Walt Disney World has to offer.
If possible, come when the kids are out of school
I know that’s hard. Now a days taking kids out of school has basically become a crime. However, if you can at all swing it, you will be rewarded by lower crowds, often better weather and lower prices.
You want to get your fastpass rides as early in the day as possible. Yes, I know many people say get them midday. But, here is why that’s incorrect thinking. Once you use your 3 fastpasses, you get additional fastpasses, one at a time, until the park closes. That means you can ride more rides with less wait. Here’s how I prefer to do this. Assume park opening at 9 with no extra magic hours. Fastpass 1: 9am-10am, Fastpass 2: 10am-11am Fastpass 3: 11am-12pm. Ride Fastpass1 at 10am, Fastpass 2 right after, ride a ride with a short wait or take a small break to use the toilets (preferably the Tangled ones) and then ride Fastpass 3 at 11am. After you get off the ride, make your first extra fastpass of the day and depending on when that is, either have lunch or go straight there then keep making fastpass+ until you are done touring. If you are leaving the park midday, make a fastpass+ reservation for when you plan on getting back to the park. This optimizes the number of shorter lines you enjoy. Oh, and before you tell me you waste fastpasses this way, Peter Pan has a 60 minute wait 15 minutes after park opening as does the Seven Dwarf Mine Train and Frozen At Epcot.
Unless you’re in great shape and accustomed to doing a lot of movement and walking, Disney can be brutal. It’s not uncommon to walk 20,000 steps in a day. I have a better trip if I prepare physically for it. There is nothing worse than having lack of physical fitness ruin your trip. I find that walking between 10,000 and 12,000 steps a day for a month or so before I go to Walt Disney World makes me have the best vacation. Going on a few longer hikes on the weekend helps a ton too.
If you know you are unable to walk that much and you have a physical disability which means you can’t train to get in shape for this epic trip, there is ZERO shame in renting a wheel chair. My recommendation is that you rent an ECV from an offsite vendor who will deliver to your hotel and have it waiting for you there. That is going to be cheaper than renting at the park, assure you have the vehicle to use every day (the parks have limited availability of these) and lets you learn to drive the thing without a ton of people and their heels around. Again, ZERO shame should be felt. It’s about having a pleasant and enjoyable vacation. If walking that much is not possible for you, or is going to throw you into a ton of pain, it’s really not worth it.