My Top 10 Tips... Deconstructed

by Alice McNutt Miller
AllEars® Guest Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the December 7, 2010 Issue #585 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Alice McNutt MillerYou know who you are. You are scorned and derided by your friends, family and coworkers for going "there" AGAIN on vacation. It gets to the point where you don't tell anyone anymore that you are heading to Walt Disney World AGAIN for Spring Break. You make clandestine plans, and if your mother-in-law asks you where you will be spending that long weekend coming up, you vaguely respond "Florida," in hopes that she might think that this time you are actually going to Miami.

Then, it changes. The mom in your Wednesday morning coffee group, or the guy in the next cubicle over, sheepishly announces that they are taking their kids to the World for the very first time. You've been "there" so many times. Would you have the time to give them some tips? It is all so overwhelming; they don't know where to start. Oh, so NOW the naysayers need your advice, do they? And how do you respond? With your very own Top 10 Tips for Having a Great Disney World Vacation. Admit it. You have them. They may be either written down somewhere, or they may just reside in your noggin. Mine are in a folder on my computer. Right next to old copies of "The Spreadsheet." Ready to be emailed to the next cubicle, or printed out and pondered over Wednesday morning coffee.

I am a bit smug about my Top 10 list. The advice contained in it has been recited over and over in guidebooks and online blogs. It must be right. Just follow my tips, and you, my friend, will have the best Walt Disney World Vacation ever! Or will you? Since I am such a fan of lists, particularly those with Disney tips, I keep an eye out for them when I am surfing the web. (I just did a Google search on "Top 10 Disney Tips," and got about 8,600,000 results. Try it! It's fun!) I recently came across a list of five top tips (I guess there wasn't enough room for 10!) from a well-respected writer of Disney World guide books, on a very prominent web site. Most of the tips were familiar, and I very much agreed with them. There were two, however, that I reacted to by saying (to myself): "What? This is absolutely the wrong advice to be giving a first-time visitor!" But then I stopped. Hmm...  It COULD be good advice for SOMEONE. Just not for me. I thought I should pull out the old Top 10 list, take a good look at it, and try to tease out whether it was really good advice, or not. I don't want be responsible for anyone's not-so-magical first vacation to the Most Magical Place on Earth.

So here are my tips, and why they just might NOT work for you. (Note: Yes, you have probably seen my tips before in someone else's list, and I do not claim that they are in any way original.)

1. Plan ahead. All of my other tips are corollaries to this one. Do as much advance research as you possibly can. is a great online resource that includes resort reviews, restaurant menus and practical advice.  Go to the library.  Your local public library is likely to have a number of Disney guidebooks.  Check out a few, and do some reading.

HOWEVER: What if there are great airfares to be had for the upcoming Teacher Work Days and you were just left a small sum of money by your dear, departed Cousin Orville? Should you go? You haven't had time to plan. Will the trip be a disaster? Not necessarily. Go! Have fun! Wing it!

2. Decide where you want to stay. Would you rather stay onsite at a Disney resort or offsite?  What type of accommodations will be best for your family?  Do you prefer a standard hotel room in an affordable resort or hotel, or do you want to splurge on some really luxe digs?  Do you need more room, and want to stay in condo-type lodgings?  We prefer to stay onsite, to be closer to the action (and closer to our hotel in order to take easy afternoon breaks—see tip #9, below), and I usually recommend staying onsite to anyone that might ask.

HOWEVER: You may decide that the $100-plus it costs to stay at even a Value Disney resort is too much for you. There are LOTS of hotel rooms in Orlando, and some of them can be had for very little cash. You might be traveling with family, and prefer to rent a house where everyone can be together and be comfortable. You may not WANT to be near the hustle and bustle of Disney World all the time. (I like the hustle and bustle, but that, I'm sure, is a personal preference). So, you may want to disregard the advice to stay onsite, but you will want to think carefully about the type of accommodations that will work best for your family and for the type of trip that you are taking.

3. Decide which parks you want to visit, and on what days. will post park hours a few months in advance. Check the schedules to see what hours the parks will be open on the days you plan to visit.  If you are staying onsite, you will be able to take advantage of extended park hours.

HOWEVER: I'm having a hard time coming up with a reason NOT to follow this advice, BUT I do remember our very first trip to Walt Disney World, when we had done no planning whatsoever, and just visited whatever park we felt like, regardless of schedules. It was great, and we have been back numerous times since then, so it must not have been so bad.

4. Make Advance Dining Reservations for any character meals or other special sit-down meals that you would like to have during your visit. posts menus and other Disney Dining information. You can make reservations 180 days in advance. This is important, because some reservations, particularly for character meals, fill up quickly.

HOWEVER: I remember giving this advice to a coworker once, and his response was that he did not want to waste any precious time on sit-down meals. They would stick to whatever counter service restaurant happened to be handy whenever the kids got hungry. Worked for them. They had a great trip.

5. Decide what kind of tickets you want to purchase. How many days will you be spending in the parks? Do you plan to visit Walt Disney World again in the same year (if so, you might want to buy an annual pass)? Will you be visiting again in the next several years (if so, you might want to purchase more days, and add the "No Expiration" option)? Do you want to visit more than one park on any particular day (if so, a "Park Hopper" ticket will be necessary.)

HOWEVER: No, really you SHOULD follow this advice, but I can see that making these ticket purchase decisions might be stressful. For those who don't want to decide, count the days that you will be visiting and buy a ticket for just that amount without all of the bells and whistles. You can always upgrade the tickets later.

6. Arrive at the park least half an hour before the scheduled park opening time. This one is important! Save sleeping in for the beach vacation. My family has found that we get more "done" in the first two hours that a park is open than we do for the entire remainder of the day. This is actually the number one piece of advice that I give people who ask, but it is number 6 on my list because I was trying to put the tips in timeline order (first you plan, then you go, etc. etc.).

HOWEVER: We have some friends who this tip absolutely does NOT work for. The mom says that there is no way she can get her husband and kids out of bed early enough to get to the parks before they open, let alone even an hour or two after they open. Their alternate strategy is to visit parks on days when they have evening Extra Magic Hours. This way no one's sleep patterns are interrupted and they keep on going until whatever time the park closes. Works for them. Would not work for us. I generally turn into a pumpkin well before midnight.

7. Decide which attractions are "must-dos" for your family. This is another area where your advance planning will be extremely helpful. Let each family member pick their top attraction choice, and map out a plan that will get you to each of those during those first two critical hours.

HOWEVER: Even the best-laid touring plans can go awry. What happens if your child's "must-do" has a 90-minute wait, is out of FastPasses, or just happens to be shut down for some reason? Avoid meltdowns. Be flexible.

8. Use "FastPasses." FastPasses are available to all ticket-holders for most of the parks' most popular attractions, and will help you to avoid wasting time waiting in long lines. Any good guidebook will explain exactly how the system works.

HOWEVER: Sometimes the parks are just too busy, or you are visiting late in the afternoon. The Fast Passes for your favorite attraction might already be completely distributed, or the return time might be well after you plan to leave the park. If the attraction is truly a "must-do" for your family, you might choose to wait in line with the masses. Or you may be choosing between two attractions with FastPasses, and nab a FastPass for one, while standing in line for the attraction with the shorter wait time. There have been a few instances where we have had FastPasses for an attraction, but decided that it was time to leave, and we would just have to skip it (you can make a fellow Disney fan's day by offering them an unused FastPass).

9. Take an afternoon break. If you are staying onsite at a Disney hotel, or in a hotel that is close by, go back after lunch and take a swim or some other kind of break to let everyone in your party recharge. You can go back to a park or head off to another activity later in the afternoon. This is especially important if you plan to stay out late to see fireworks or have a late dinner.

HOWEVER: If you are staying offsite, or are short on time, this strategy just might not be feasible. A corollary strategy would be to stop and get an ice cream, or see a show in order to sit down and relax for a few minutes before starting your touring again.

10. Slow down. You will not be able to ride every ride, view every attraction or see every show. Once you have done your family's "must-do" list, slow down, smell the roses (there are plenty!), do some shopping or just sit on a bench somewhere and soak up the ambience. Disney World has so much more to offer than just rides. Some of my family's favorite Disney memories are of those times when we sat with our Mickey ice cream bars or popsicles and did absolutely nothing.

HOWEVER:  This is probably the one tip that I added because I thought I should, and because I have seen it in so many places. My family really doesn't tour slowly (see my previous article, "Ten by Ten"). We don't shop much. We do sit down for Mickey ice cream bars (if we can find a bench!), but briefly. My kids think I should have been a drill sergeant. There really are a lot of beautiful roses, though, and I DO make a point to slow down and smell them as we rush past to make our "Test Track" FastPass window.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alice McNutt Miller is a lifelong Disney fan whose fondest childhood memories include "The Wonderful World of Disney" on Sunday nights and her first trip to Disneyland when she was 10 years old.  Alice and her family are Disney Vacation Club members, and have visited Disney parks all over the world.  They live in Vienna, Virginia.



Other Articles by Alice McNutt Miller:
-- Ten by Ten -- a Park Strategy:
-- The Tyranny of the Spreadsheet:
-- Time for...? An Answer to the Tyranny of the Spreadsheet:

Alice also writes occasionally for the AllEars.Net guest blog. Most recently she shared her experiences on the Disney Cruise Line's Northern European Capitals tour:


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.