In the last few months, a lot of my local friends have asked me for tips on going to WDW and for great reason – it’s a fantastic family vacation spot. There’s something for everyone and over the past 20 years, I’ve visited Walt Disney World multiple times and now that I have kids, we visit each year. We just got back and we already have next year’s trip booked. I can’t tell you how many of my friends have told me to be a Disney travel agent for the simple reason of – I know my stuff and I’m passionate about it. Alas, my kids will not allow me the time or patience to figure out how to go about that, so for now, I can only write about it and hope to help someone plan a little easier. Walt Disney World is known as the most magical place on earth, and it really can be… if you plan everything in advance. It hasn’t always been that way. In order to enjoy a somewhat laid back vacation at WDW, you’ll need to have some stressful planning beforehand. Let’s just dive right into this.
1.) Pick a good time to go
Disney parks have EXPLODED in the recent years. My first tip? Do not go during a holiday. No. Don’t. Don’t even ask. I don’t care if it’s Easter. I don’t care if it’s Labor Day. Fourth of July. Memorial day. JUST DON’T DO IT. Disney is not magical when you have no elbow room to walk or are having to shove your strollers through mounds of people who stop on Main Street to admire the Castle. Go during off seasons. Spring break? Nope, because everyone else will be there. The week after Spring break? Possibly, if there’s not a cheer convention going on. There ARE websites that provide crowd calendars that tell you which weeks are green and which are red. Some even break the parks down day by day to tell you which one will have the lowest crowd for the day.
2.) Plan your dining
Want one on one time with characters? Dining is a great way to do just that. There are tons of dining options with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald and Daisy. Akershus and Cinderella’s Royal Table are two awesome princess dining services. They will cost you money. Most are worth it. One way to save on dining is to get the dining plan–sometimes it comes with a package. When our family goes, we tend to average no less than one table service per day. Table services are defined as meals where you sit down and either dine with characters (ie Chef Mickey’s or Akershus) or have a really nice meal (ie Le Cellier or Be Our Guest). As part of the table service dining plan, you’re given one table service per day, per person along with a quick service meal and a snack. It’s a great deal because it is nearly impossible to go through that much food during your stay which means you’ll have a lot of snacks to redeem at the end of your stay and take home. Here’s the catch with dining – IF you do want table services it’s IMPERATIVE that you get up 180 days in advance at 6AM, go online, and grab them through your MDE app or online by logging in. Book your meals 180 in advance. You have the option and that will make it not so stressful later on.
3.) Stay on property
This is more of a personal preference – but you go to Disney World to be in Disney World, right? To be away from the real world and immersed into magic with Mickey Mouse? You won’t accomplish that by staying at a hotel out of the parks. They have so many amazing resorts right on property and you can be in on the action your whole trip. They split them into 3 categories – Value, moderate and deluxe. We’ve done all 3. For our family of 4, value resorts don’t work. The rooms are very small and the resorts are big with lots of buildings, which makes it hard to get to the buses fast if you need to. Also, the buses at value resorts don’t tend to be as “on time” as the ones if you’re staying at a moderate or deluxe. To us, there’s a big difference between value to moderate and not so much moderate to deluxe. With moderate, you get nice, spacious rooms, typically quick buses and less of a crowd because they’re a little more expensive than value. With deluxe, you get the monorail at 3 of the resorts and you can jump between two parks rather quickly. Other than that, the rooms are spacious just like moderate and you still have to take buses to other parks. We’re perfectly content staying in a moderate resort but if you can spring for a deluxe resort, go for it, but know that the moderate resorts are almost as great. A great moderate is Coronado Springs. It’s gorgeous with buildings that surround the lake and bus stops around the entire resort, only making 4 stops. For Deluxe, stay at Contemporary if you can. It will always be my favorite resort. If you decide to try value, go for Art of Animation. You can do early check in 30 days before your trip and be sure to do that so you can make any room requests you may want.
4.) Plan out your fast passes
Another part of planning ahead of time is the semi-new fastpass+ system. In the old days, you’d take your park ticket, run to the ride you want, insert your ticket and a paper ticket would pop out with your time to return. You have to plan out the rides you want to ride the most 60 days in advance and grab a fastpass for them which will go on your magicband. You then keep up with the times of your fast passes on your MDE experience app. It’s rather difficult and irritating, but do your planning anyhow.
5.) Don’t ask advice
Contradicting myself, aren’t I? I’m serious, though. Even though this is how my family does Disney, you may find an entirely different system. You may not want to plan out dining or decide which rides you want to go on 60 days in advance. You may want to stick to a budget or just wing it. You may want to stay as close to the park as you can, or you may want to spend the extra money on something else. Every family vacations different, this is just what works for us. Most of all, enjoy! Walt Disney World really is a magical place if you let it be.