Disney World Planning the Right Way
When I worked at Disney World, I learned a lot about how it works and what it takes to have a successful vacation. By learning what to do, I also learned what NOT to do. To help you nail your Disney World vacation, here are 15 tips on how to do Disney World the right way.
Disney World is complicated.
What’s worse, it gets more complicated every year.
They’re constantly improving their parks by adding new rides, new restaurants, new merchandise, and even more lands!
Do you know what a Disney World “land” is?
If you don’t, you definitely want to keep reading.
If you do, then don’t worry. I’ve included some more advanced tips in here as well.
As a former Disney World cast member and member of the Disney College Program, I lived there for three months. I promise – I have tons to offer you.
Let’s get right into it.
How to do Disney World Right
1. Know before you go.
This can be explained in a LOT of different ways.
To start, if you’re somebody who goes to Disney World without planning your trip then please stop because I’m getting anxiety just thinking about it!
Of course, I’m joking, because you can do whatever you want BUT nowadays it’s become increasingly difficult to just show up at Disney World and wing it.
There are so many things that need to be planned ahead of time.
Resort or hotel reservations, booking Fastpasses, advanced dining reservations, the list goes on.
And to do those things, there is a LOT of stuff you need to research.
How much research you do is really up to you, but the more research you do then the more prepared you’ll be.
Let’s cover some basics: Disney World has 4 parks, 2 water parks, more than 25 hotels, more than 200 places to get food, and other places to visit (Disney Springs, ESPN).
You need to book Fastpasses in advance (30 days out or 60 days out, depending on if you’re staying on property), you want to book dining in advance, and I would even research what other rides and attractions you want to do. That doesn’t include initially figuring which resort/hotel is best for you, and knowing what days and times are best for everything.
That’s a lot.
And what makes it even more complicated is that each place has its own nuances and complexities to understand.
A day at Animal Kingdom is not the same as a day at Magic Kingdom.
Eating at Hollywood Studios is NOT the same as eating at Epcot (this one is huge for me).
Some days of the week are busier for Animal Kingdom, and some days are busier for Epcot. This applies to all parks.
Here are just a few questions you’ll want to answer:
- What time of the year is best?
- What resort is best for you and your group?
- What parks should you go to?
- Where are you going to eat?
- What Fastpasses are you going to book?
- What OTHER attractions (rides, shows) do you want to experience?
- Do you want to watch any outdoor shows or parades?
- Should you buy the Disney Dining Plan?
- Are you going to go anywhere outside of Disney?
Doing your research helps make sure you avoid common mistakes and issues that arise in a Disney vacation.
You don’t want to leave Disney feeling like you missed out on something because you didn’t know about it! There are many Youtubers, bloggers, and other resources available to you. All of these resources are here to make sure you how to do Disney World the right way.
Specifically, I recommend using a Disney World Travel agent.
These travel agents are experts at doing Disney the right way. Or, they should be!
Make sure you do your own research and find a Disney travel agent that knows their stuff.
I am a Disney Travel Planner and offer free services to guests, should you be interested. But there are also tons of other very experienced agents in the world!
Whatever path you choose, just make sure you know what you’re doing BEFORE you get to Disney.
As a former Cast Member, proper planning is the MOST IMPORTANT tip I have for you.
2. Download the My Disney Experience App
This little guy will be your best friend.
It will also be that annoying little cousin that comes to your house asking for Wifi.
The My Disney Experience App isn’t perfect, no piece of technology is, but you can’t get through your Disney vacation without it.
You just can’t. I’m not even going to sugar coat this one and say it’s up to you – download the app, my friend. I say this because I care.
I actually recommend that you get this app 65 days in advance!
This is specific but it’s because your Fastpass booking window opens 60 days in advance if you stay on property. I suggest 65 days so that you’re prepped and ready to go when your booking window opens.
All this to say, you want to be familiar with the app before you get to Disney World.
You want to understand how it works, where things are located, and how to navigate to areas that may be harder to reach.
Because when you’ve used your 3rd Fastpass and you want to book more, you want to know what you’re doing.
When you realize you shouldn’t have planned to eat at a quick-service food and beverage (fast food) location for every meal and you’re desperately looking for a reservation, you’ll want to know what you’re doing!
You also can’t do any of these things without the app, anyway! Or at least, not easily.
3. Plan your Park Bag
This is especially important if you’re somebody who wants to spend a lot of time in the parks.
If you’re that somebody, I salute you. We are one.
I hope you caught that Lion King reference.
If you’re going to be spending a lot of time in the park and not that much time at your resort, then I strongly suggest you plan your park bag ahead of time.
Before you leave your house, and before you leave your resort/hotel room.
There are some things you don’t want to have to buy in the parks. This includes bottled water, a fuelrod (Disney’s version of a portable charger), an umbrella, a rain poncho, and countless other things.
If you take the time to think about what you may need in the parks and plan ahead, you’ll be better off!
I have a free Disney World Packing list download (see above), should you be interested. It includes 40+ items including an entire section dedicated to what you should back in your park bag! You can find the download here and the blog post here.
I also highly recommend checking out the brand Loungefly for park bags. I have a white one from them that, somehow, hasn’t gotten dirty! They’re adorable and their mini backpacks are my favourite.
4. Don’t skip the Magic Kingdom Fireworks – and don’t watch them anywhere else
Everybody is different, and I understand that crowds can induce anxiety.
Magic Kingdom’s firework show, Happily Ever After, is something you don’t want to miss!
I’m a Disney Travel Planner, and my latest clients were very excited about their trip. Since we were already planning their vacation together, I didn’t have to tell them that my biggest tip was to do some serious planning.
Instead, I gave them my OTHER biggest tip: DO NOT SKIP THESE FIREWORKS!
I cry every time I watch them. I’m also dramatic and slightly obsessed but they’ve made countless other guests get emotional.
No firework show compares to this one.
Don’t watch a video of it online to decide – just take my word for it. Watch Happily Ever After.
And on that note, if it’s your first time seeing the show DON’T watch it anywhere else but in front of the castle at Magic Kingdom.
It’s not the same.
Is it still beautiful? Yes. But it’s not the same. Make sure you watch it for the first time in Magic Kingdom somewhere in FRONT of the castle.
5. See Disney World at night
Disney’s Imagineers have gone through a lot of trouble designing every park and every land within the parks.
If you think you’re impressed with it during the day, wait until you see it come to life at night.
Everything lights up and is beautiful in a whole other way. There are so many different colours to see at night, and the experience feels a little different.
My favourite places to see at night is Pandora (the “Avatar land” in Animal Kingdom) and Toy Story Land (in Hollywood Studios). Do a quick google search of Pandora at night and I’m sure it’ll convince you.
All of Pandora starts to glow in the dark (even the floor!) and Slinky Dog Dash in Toy Story Land is lit up and as lively as ever. It’s truly beautiful.
This is also when you’ll see all of the night-time shows, and every Disney park has one. Some even have multiple (Hollywood Studios)! I recommend you TRY to watch most of these shows because they all offer something different.
My favourite shows are Happily Ever After (Magic Kingdom), Rivers of Light – We Are One (Animal Kingdom), and Fantasmic (Hollywood Studios). If I had to suggest one, you already know it’s Happily Ever After!
If you have kiddos that aren’t great with staying up late, I suggest giving them a long nap/break in the afternoon so that they can stay up until 10:00 pm. This should give you enough time to watch the show and make it back to your room.
Of course, I’ve also seen tons of parents adorably holding their sleeping children on the bus! I’m sure the memories were worth it.
6. Eat at the resorts
Disney World resorts have some of the best food you’ll ever eat. Along with Disney Springs, of course.
Not only that, but they’re QUIET. These are a great option if you feel like you need a break from the parks! The food is awesome, and you get to slow down for a little while.
A great resort to try is Animal Kingdom lodge. They have several amazing restaurants offering really, really tasty food. This is also a great place to try food from a different culture since they offer both African and Indian dishes.
Pro Tip: If you eat at a resort that’s on the Monorail, you’ll be put through bag check BEFORE you get on the monorail. That means you skip the long bag check at the park! The Polynesian’s “Ohana” restaurant is great for this.
7. Plan your park days
Some guests plan their Fastpasses, dining, and what parks they’re doing each day. This is a great start!
I recommend taking it even further, if you can.
This is more important for those who are only going to be a Disney World for a few days. You want to maximize your time so you can as many things as you can, without burning out.
The way I do this is by suggesting you make a list of attractions you want to experience at each park. Pick ones that you aren’t booking a Fastpass for.
Then, if you know it’s a ride you’re going to wait for, look at them by location. Then, determine what Fastpasses they’re close to.
This helps make sure you aren’t running across the whole park for your rides. I’d also recommend you consider this when booking your Fastpasses as well.
I’ve been that person running from Expedition Everest in Asia trying to get to Pandora for a Na’vi River Journey Fastpass. For those of you who haven’t been to Animal Kingdom yet, it’s huge and that was a VERY long run!
You’re also going to want to think about where you want to eat, outside of your dining reservations (if you have any, and I recommend around one per day, depending on the park).
8. Leave Disney World
Disney can be a lot for anyone, even me! As a former cast member, you’d think I’d be used to it. And to a certain extend I am, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t need to get out every once and while!
Orlando has other things to offer. The beach, Gatorland – do some research and you may find something of interest.
The most common place is Universal Studios. If you have the budget for it, I recommend spending 1 to 2 days there. Unfortunately, you’ll find that Universal Studios is more expensive than Disney.
But Universal Studios is honestly so much fun. I always make a stop there when I visit Disney. And it’s only around 20 minutes away!
They have more intense rides for those who need bigger thrills, and some experiences you don’t want to miss.
For example, if you love Harry Potter, then Universal Studios will be a lot of fun for you. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a sight to behold.
Leaving Disney will give you a good chance of pace and you’ll be ready for the magic when you return.
9. Plan for the rain – and it WILL rain
Even if it says it’s not going rain while you’re there, you need to be prepared.
I ALWAYS have either my rain poncho or an umbrella in my park bag.
Florida is notorious for its indecisive, “comes out of nowhere” weather. It can say there won’t be a cloud in the sky, and you’ll be surprised when the downpour occurs sometime late afternoon.
Pack a rain poncho, and umbrella, and flip flops/compact sandals if you’re wearing shoes. If it says it won’t rain, then just bring the rain poncho just in case.
10. Be nice to your Cast Members
When I worked at Disney World I genuinely tried to be as helpful as possible. I also encountered some of the most stubborn, rude guests you’ll ever meet.
However, this also means that I appreciated the nice guests even more.
Be that nice guest.
The nice guests get freebies and “magical moments”. I’m not saying you’re guaranteed to get something out of it, but I promise you you’ll be better off being nice to the Cast Members. They are genuinely there for you and you alone.
I’ve seen a lot of guests be given free things for just being nice to the Cast Members. I’ve been given free things for this reason. I’ve also given free things to guests as a Cast Member for this reason.
If you need to make a complaint about something going wrong, and you should, do it nicely. That doesn’t mean that you can’t let them know that you’re upset, but let them know courteously. This is who you get the changes you need.
Also, they work hard, with long hours and the blistering heat. Be kind to them!
11. Consider extra Magic Hours carefully
“Extra Magic Hours” refers to extra time given to resort guests before park opening or after park close. You can find these in the My Disney Experience App under their park hours.
Extra magic hours typically only occur at one park per day, either in the morning or the evening. This is great because only resort guests can take advantage of it, so there will be fewer people in the park.
Or, it seems great. Until you remember that thousands of resort guests will also be taking advantage of the perk.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it, but consider that it may not be a quiet as you think. It also means that this park will be EXTRA crowded during regular park hours when everyone else starts to arrive. You’ll have every resort guest who knows about the extra hours, and other park goers.
So, just consider it carefully. Think about if you’re going during the busy season and consider if you think you can be there at the start of Extra Magic Hours.
If the extra hours are in the morning, I’d consider skipping out. But if they’re at night (sometimes past midnight) I would definitely go.
If you go to the extra hours at night, you’ll see a lot fewer people since a lot of guests are families, and a lot of families have kids that can’t stay up that late (or adults!).
12. Stay on property, if possible
This applies to several of the tips we’ve spoken about. You can’t get extra magic hours if you’re not on property, and you have to book your Fastpasses 30 days in advance (as opposed to 60, for resort guests).
People who stay on property get more perks. Free transportation in Disney, free magicbands, and even free transportation to the airport.
Note: you can still use in-Disney transportation if you’re not staying on property. You just need to get to Disney to use it, where you’ll be for parking.
You always get to stay in the Disney magic all the time. When you stay on property, you feel like you’re not just going to a Disney park – you are experiencing Disney in full.
They have over 25 beautiful resorts in three categories: Value, Moderate, and Deluxe. Even the value resorts are nicer than an average hotel. As a result, they’re also more expensive.
I think it’s worth it and if it’s in your budget then should definitely stay on property.
13. Meet some characters! Even if you’re an adult
The first time I went to Disney I was 18 years old and the only characters I met were Lilo and Stitch and the Polynesian’s Ohana breakfast.
Flash forward to when I worked there as a cast member, I met tons of them!
Characters add to your magic.
Even as an adult it’s great to meet some characters on your trip. They make for great photos and a really good character will make you comfortable.
The trick is to interact with the character. This may seem strange because they can’t talk to you, but if you talk to them they will try to answer your question with gestures and motions. And it’s usually a lot of fun.
Tell them that you’re having fun at Disney, tell them that you were excited to meet them. And DEFINITELY tell them if they’re your or your kiddos favourite character! This is always fun.
I didn’t give it much thought the first time, but I think people should try to pick that one character they would want to meet and make it happen.
It’s a big part of Disney, and it will add to your magic.
14. Get on the rides during showtimes
Okay, this one is huge! If it’s your first time at Disney you may want to skip this because I think everyone should watch each show or parade at least once.
But if you’ve been there before, or just hate shows and parades, then know that ride wait times are much shorter during these times.
Especially the parades.
In particular, when Festival of Fantasy is running in Magic Kingdom the wait times for Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain will decrease significantly because that’s where the parade starts. People get distracted and decide to watch the parade first.
This is the same for the night time shows like Happily Ever After at Magic Kingdom and Rivers of Light at Animal Kingdom, but if you’re a first-time visitor I REALLY wouldn’t skip these.
15. Let go, and be a kid again
You’re in Disney World!
You’re in a place where they advertise dreams coming true and creating happiness. You’re in a place where they’ve brought your childhood and wishes to life.
THIS is the place where you can be a kid! THIS is the place to let go of all of your worries and enjoy the moment.
Enjoy the magic.
Disney World isn’t perfect, but when you are having a magical moment (and you’ll know when you are) make sure you soak it up.
Don’t be afraid to get excited to meet a character. Don’t be afraid to get excited to get on that ride and scream like you’re having the time of your life. Disney IS the place to do these things.
Don’t be scared to shed a tear at the Happily Ever After fireworks or while riding Flight of Passage in Pandora.
I’m not the only one who’s done this, I know it!
Please, for me, be young and free at Disney World. It’s what it’s made for.
BONUS TIP: don’t eat fast food (QSFB) all day
Disney World fast food (or, quick service food and beverage [QSFB]) can be a lot better than regular fast food.
That doesn’t mean it’s like having a home cooked meal, either.
The last time I went to Disney I was on a budget. As such, I made the mistake of only planning to eat at QSFB locations, For every meal.
My stomach hated me.
If you’re even remotely sensitive to fried food or aren’t good with heavy meals, please make sure to squeeze in at least one table reservations a day. Some parks do have decent QSFB that isn’t too fried or heavy, but some don’t (Hollywood Studios QSFB is always tough for me).
If this isn’t in your budget then make sure to pack a lunch, eat breakfast at your hotel/resort, or bring your own snacks. This will help make sure you’re not eating fast food all day every day.
And they all lived happily ever after
Alright! These are my 15 tips on how to do Disney World the RIGHT way. Of course, there are several others I could give you. Because Disney is complex and everchanging, but hopefully with these tips (and your research) you’ll be all set and ready to go!
Remember, if you ever need help with your trip I offer free Disney World planning services, and my inbox is always open to you for a quick question or two.
I’m just a mouse-click away.
Thanks for reading! And I’ll see ya real soon.
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