Okay, so you’ve read ALL the books. You’ve browsed Instagram for food pics. You’ve scoured the internet for reviews. And you think you’re ready to book your Walt Disney World trip like a vacation planning boss!
But there are elements to every Walt Disney World vacation that nobody talks about — and those are the things that you REALLY need to know before you go! Here’s our top 10!
You don’t need to do it all.
Walt Disney World is jam-packed with exciting things to do, see, eat, smell, ride and explore! But being chock full of stuff means there is WAY too much to experience in a single visit.
And while no one may be telling you this (except the voices in your head!), you don’t need to do it all. In fact, if you try to do it all or you tell yourself you’ve gotta do it all, you’ll end up making yourself (and your fam) totally miserable — and in the Happiest Place on Earth, nonetheless! It’s just not a reasonable expectation to place on yourself, and you’ll finish your vacation with serious FOMO rather than magical memories!
Rather than trying to SQUEEZE in every single restaurant that sounds delicious and every single attraction in every single Park, prioritize what you’d like to do. Make a plan to accomplish those things, leave a little wiggle room for extras or setbacks! A great Disney vacay is structured, but also a little loosey-goosey at times for some spontaneous fun! That way you won’t feel like you’re missing out on the must-dos, and you’ll still have a little time for those want-to-dos! Can you dig?
Bring an extra duffle bag to carry your souvenirs home.
Even if you go into your Walt Disney World vacation with a commitment to not bring home a TON of new merch, know thyself! Just because there’s no spare room in our suitcases ain’t gonna stop most of us from buying those irresistible Minnie Ears or Loungeflys!
If you don’t want to worry about saving space in your luggage for your purchases (like adorable but space-eating plush!), pack an additional bag in your luggage. You’ll want to make it a collapsible bag like a duffle or even a good quality reusable shopping bag (preferably one that zips) that you can carry onto the plane with you (or jam into your trunk if you’re driving).
This way when you buy a whole new family of Disney sweatshirts, you don’t have to wonder how they’ll get home. (Note that you can have Disney ship your purchases directly home for you, but that’s pretty costly, takes some time to arrange at point of purchase, and could be dicey for some of your more fragile collectibles, like those coffee mugs and Christmas ornaments you couldn’t resist!)
Disney Resorts and Parks have most of what you need.
Forgot your toothbrush? Blown through all the diapers you brought with you? All those blaring Disney songs giving you a headache? Then we got some good news for ya! The Parks and Resorts of Walt Disney World totally got your back for any of these situations!
If you’re at your Resort, make tracks to the gift shop or the front desk to inquire about the items you need. Don’t see something on the shelf in the store? Ask a friendly cast member if they can help. Cast members are super happy to help, so don’t hesitate to ask!
If you’re in a Park, you can stop into guest relations to ask where you can find specific items, and if your littles need something baby- or toddler-related, every Park has a Baby Care Center where you can find quiet space for you and your baby, including a space for nursing moms and babes. Serenity, now!
You can also purchase baby items here including diapers, formula, baby food, and even basic clothing items for the kids. And you’ll find some grown-up things, too: standard over-the-counter meds, feminine hygiene products, and more — basically anything you could want or need to get you back up and runnin’ in no time!
If you forgot your phone charger or your phone is zapped from all that wait time checking and FastPass nabbing (and doin’ it for the grammin’!), Walt Disney World has Fuel Rods — small portable chargers that you can swap out at designated vending machines — so you never miss a beat! Now that’s what we’re talkin’ about!
Downtime is a must for most.
Since you’re shelling out some major coin for your Walt Disney World vacation, you totally want to make the most of every second. But what nobody tells you is that downtime is a must for most of us.
Before you scoff at the thought of an afternoon rest at your Resort (but what about the Mickey Bars, and parades, and Big Thunder Mountain?!?!), you’ll be so much more chill if you take some breathers throughout your trip. We’re not saying you should commit to a full Resort day or nuthin’, just a mid-afternoon nap or quick evening lie-down (once the kiddos are tucked in for the night!!).
And you don’t even have to go back to your room to take it easy! Even a short respite off your feet in the air conditioned bliss of a great table service restaurant can be enough to recharge! (Add a banquette seat, and you might even get your kid a nap, too.) Depending on the restaurant you choose for your mini-break, there might even be some unexpected entertainment!
Downtime isn’t about throwing in the towel, conceding defeat, and letting your aching feet claim victory. The mind is willing but the flesh is weak is not applicable here, guys! Rather it’s about letting your mind and your body (along with your nerves and patience!) recover so you can keep going full-tilt, baby! If you want to enjoy the nighttime show at your favorite Park, ride Flight of Passage until they kick you out, or stroll around Disney Springs for a late-night shopping spree, you’re going to need a little pep in your step — and that extra boost can come in takin’ a break!
Restaurants can be booked 180 days in advance — and some of them book up THAT FAST!
When someone — a friend, a Disney Parks blogger, a guide book — tells you that you don’t need to plan your Advance Dining Reservations too far in advance, they’re leaving out this very important detail: some restaurants will fully book at the 180-day mark! Yes, friends — that’s nearly six months out! And if you want snag the restaurant you want at the time and date you need, you’re going to want to take advantage of that 180 day booking window!
So which restaurants do you need to be particularly fanatical about booking that early? They’re likely the ones you’ve heard of: Be Our Guest Restaurant and Cinderella’s Royal Table at Magic Kingdom, ‘Ohana at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, California Grill (at fireworks time!) at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Victoria & Albert’s five-star dining at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.
In fact, the list goes on and on. And if you’re traveling the World during one of the ever-growing busy seasons, you’ll want to plan your ADRs as far ahead as possible.
Remember, though: if you miss the 180-day deadline for whatever reason, you don’t have to give up hope. Plans change all the time, and if your timing is right, you can potentially find a reservation closer to your travel dates. You might need to be flexible — like eating earlier or later than you’d prefer — but it’s worth the effort to keep checking even up to the day you want to dine. Perseverance often pays off in these cases!
Take advantage of the FastPass system.
Similar to ADRs, you gotta be super vigilant about your FastPass windows! FastPass+ is a reservation you make for rides and attractions at Disney World, and you can book them on two different timelines depending on where you’re staying.
Guests with reservations and tickets at a Disney World Resort hotel (or an official Disney Springs-area hotel) can begin booking their FastPasses at 60 days prior to the first day of their trip. They can book up to ten days worth of FastPasses at the 60-day mark. (Pro Tip: start booking from the last day and work backwards if you’re trying to find hard-to-get FastPasses!) Guests not staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel can begin booking their FastPasses at 30 days out.
So why do you need to book FastPass? If it’s not already obvi, time is money on a Walt Disney World vacation! The more time you spend waiting in long queues for popular rides, the less time you’ll have to enjoy EVERYTHING else!
You’ll want to learn as much as you can about the FastPass system before you have to make your reservations. This is where having an itinerary comes in super-handy. I know, I know, this sounds super OCD for you laissez faire-types, but you gotta know which Park you’ll want to be in on each day of your vacation, and learn which attractions are likely to be booked up first (we’re talkin’ Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom, Test Track and Frozen Ever After at Epcot, and Slinky Dog Dash at Hollywood Studios). When the 60-day mark hits, get those hot-ticket FastPasses first, and build your daily schedules from there! Easy peasy!
If you’re still reluctant about planning your FastPasses so far in advance, you can take your chances and attempt to book your FastPasses closer to the start of your vacation. But you’ll likely either struggle to find the FastPasses you want or find them only at times that make other experiences more difficult to enjoy — which is why they were still available, FYI!
And don’t forget: once you’ve used up your three book-ahead FastPasses for the day, you can start picking up new ones on the fly one at a time. It’s not unusual for guests to be able to use up to ten FastPasses on a casual day in the Parks (and if you’re really gung-ho, you can even get twenty or more by being incredibly vigilant!). Get down with your bad FastPass self!
Sign up for My Disney Experience, install the app, and link up your travel party BEFORE you need to make FastPasses.
My Disney Experience is Disney World’s online (and app-based) planning and organizing tool, and when you put the app on your phone and link your entire family to your account, My Disney Experience becomes an invaluable piece of technology! You can book FastPasses, check wait times, find the nearest restroom, and even order food before you’ve arrived at a restaurant when you’re famished and gots to eat ASAP!
My Disney Experience also allows users to check bus wait times at the Resort bus stops, find out where certain characters are meeting (and at what time), make Advance Dining Reservations, and get a peek at your PhotoPass pics, too! It’s a total a game-changer, and you won’t want to leave home without it! (In fact, you won’t want to plan your trip without it either!)
But the real MEGA, SUPER HELPFUL TIP here is to make sure to get your travel party logged in and linked up to you on the My Disney Experience app before you need to make your FastPasses! In order for your whole party to ride together, it’s always easiest to make FastPasses for everyone at once. To do so, your whole travel party needs to be linked to the person making the FastPasses, AND they all need to have Park tickets recognized in the system for the FastPass day in question.
This takes some DOING, as linking up your travel party means sending emails and getting authorization from everyone. It’s a bit of a hassle, but worth it when you’ll all able to ride Disney’s most popular attractions together!
Walt Disney World is huge.
At almost 40 square miles, Walt Disney World is one big mama jama. With over thirty on-property hotels, four theme parks, two water parks, a massive shopping/dining/entertainment district, and loads of recreational activities spread across the central Florida property, Walt Disney World is huge.
And what that means for you is that it’s not always easy or efficient to get from place to place! As you plan your vacation, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with all of the transportation options available to you on Disney World property. Research the best way to get from one location to another — say from your Resort to another Resort for your dining reservation — and then also have a back-up plan, because sometimes you’ll run into some issues (i.e. Skyliner drama).
Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), Walt Disney World transportation isn’t always fast or reliable. In addition to possible mechanical failures for vehicles that are pushed to their max every day, there are also human errors, technology snafus, and, well, lines. Long ones sometimes. And you don’t want to miss out on your FastPass for Expedition Everest because you didn’t get on the Animal Kingdom bus early enough!
Long story long, you’ll want to plan for more time than you think you need when going from one place to another at Disney World — and know what your options are if things go awry! Figure out where the Skyliner stations are, which Monorail you need to take to get to Grand Floridian Resort (FYI, it’s the Resort Monorail, not the Epcot Monorail or the Express Monorail), and when it’s best to call a Minnie Van , rideshare or a taxi. (TIP: Some breakfast dining reservations begin before the Parks officially open transportation can be thin. Consider calling a taxi or getting a Minnie Van in those circumstances.) Also, you’ll need to figure out if it makes more sense for you to rent a car, or if your family will be content with using the Disney buses.
These aren’t the types of decisions you necessarily think about making in advance of your trip, but planning ahead can really take some stress out of your magical vacation!
Rides have height requirements.
Although Walt Disney World is family-friendly, the Parks do have some thrill-style rides that require certain height minimums in order to ride safely. Even a kiddie coaster like Goofy’s Barnstormer requires a kid to be 35″ to ride, which means your two-year-old with a Goofy obsession might not make the cut. Total bummer, little dude!
It’s important to review height requirements before you leave home, otherwise you run the risk of some seriously disappointed kids in your family. You’ll find height requirements at the start of each applicable ride, and you can see if your child measures up before you even get in the line.
But note: if you have a child who’s on the cusp of 40″ and who’s jonesing to ride Soarin’ Around the World, you can expect to be measured twice — once at the start of the queue and once before boarding. And it’s not unheard of for cast members to differ in their assessment of height. (We know — it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it does happen!) Prepare yourself and your child for possible gray areas, and have a plan to assuage the potential heartache.
(Oh, and don’t try those tricks like wearing tall shoes or standing on tip toes or giving your kid a really HIGH hairstyle that day. Cast members are usually hip to the sneaky snooks out there. And besides, it’s NOT SAFE for your kid to ride if he or she isn’t tall enough. That’s why there are height requirements. Capiche?)
Review restaurant menus, and know the rules about bringing in your own food.
You know that a big part of a Walt Disney World vacation is the EATS. And we’re right there with you, but if you think every quick service spot is going to be living that chicken nugget and burger life, prepare to have your mind blown.
Reviewing menus before your vacation starts will open up a world of possibilities for dining. Even if you exclude the dozens upon dozens of themed and diverse table service dining options (those are sit-down meals where you have a server and food is brought to you), quick service (a.k.a. fast food) dining still offers a HUGE variety.
You can find chicken nuggets and burgers, of course, but you can also order customizable bowls with fresh ingredients and tasty sauces! You can chow down on pulled barbecue pork, mac and cheese, and fajitas! There’s even cuisine from world-renowned (James Beard award winning, Michelin Starred) chefs that runs the gamut from papas bravas to sushi to fried chicken sandwiches! (Okay, now our tummies are growlin’!)
Yeah, folks, it’s a total food coma sitch. And when you’re planning your trip, you’ll want to know what your options are! Even if you still order chicken nuggets (well heck, because they’re awesome!), ply your kids with mac and cheese, and never step foot in a table service restaurant, just know that the options are there, and you can do some seriously happy caloric damage!
And if you do opt for some sit-down meals, your choices span the globe — literally — with regional Mexican cuisine adjacent to pan-Asian cuisine next to American seafood and more. SO. MUCH. FOOD!!! Review those menus before the 180-day Advance Dining Reservation mark, and prepare to make some difficult (but delicious!) decisions!
But what if your first consideration is your budget? Or having access to foods your picky eater will actually EAT? Or maybe you’ve got special dietary preferences or food allergies in your party? Well, Disney’s restaurants likely have your back on this (they’ve won awards for catering to those with special diets and allergies), but it’s important to know that you can bring your own food with you into the Parks. And there are very few restrictions on this. You can’t bring in glass containers (with the exception of baby food) or alcohol, and your cooler (if you bring one) must fit within certain parameters (learn more here), but otherwise, you’re good to go.
Just remember that if you’re not dining in a quick service restaurant, it’s considered bad form to set up camp at a table in that restaurant with the food you’ve brought in with you. No one will ask you to leave, but if the restaurant is busy, you’ll definitely be noticed. And the toppings bar? Yeah, that’s for paying diners, too. But otherwise, you do you by bringing the food items you guys need right into the Park!
Are you ready to plan your next trip? Let us know which of these rarely-shared bits of advice you’ll be implementing first (and which ones you already knew) — comment below!