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Let me say this loud enough for the people in the back: you’re not going to see everything in one trip! And it’s ok. But more on that later.
Planning a dream Walt Disney World vacation can be taxing and overwhelming. Take it from me: as annual pass holders for the longest time, our family would get stressed just planning a day trip to the Magic Kingdom! We’ve probably made every mistake there is to make, from standing in a line for far too long to not bringing the right “gear” (forgetting an umbrella is something I’ll never do again). So here are 5 important things we’ve learned that will hopefully make your trip to the Disney parks a truly magical experience!
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Know Which Park (or Parks) You’re Going to
As I said above: it’s not going to happen. You’re not going to see everything in one day. There’s too much area to cover. Instead, figure out a list of “must-do’s” for you and your family, and make plans around that. For example, my daughter’s favorite ride is Dinosaur at Animal Kingdom. So every time we’re there, I make that ride happen.
Remember that the Walt Disney World Resort is made up of 4 different theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, EPCOT, and Animal Kingdom. There are also two water parks: Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. Do your research, find which rides and experiences are at which park, and plan your trip around those.
Roller coaster enthusiast in your group? Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster at Hollywood Studios is a must. Little one wants to meet their favorite characters? Check the Disney website to see what time the characters are meeting and greeting and where.
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Also, when we say “know” the park, we mean really know the park. Plan your routes ahead of time by looking up the park maps online. This way, you can enjoy your time in the park instead of staring at a map or your My Disney Experience app the whole time.
Take stock of where the nearest restrooms are, and be mindful of which ones have changing stations if you need them. Find the filling stations for water bottles in each park.
Make Meal Reservations
I can hear it already: “But Norm! We can just eat at a quick service! I brought snacks!” First off, quick service can be fine if you’re in a pinch. And bravo for being prepared and bringing snacks. Trust us on this, make at least one meal reservation for every day you’re in a park.
Nothing is worse than waiting in a long line for a ride the little ones wanted to go on and then having to wait even longer for a table at a sit-down restaurant. And those quick-service stops? It’s a dog-eat-dog world for tables at busier meal times. You don’t want to be the family eating on a planter ledge or off a trash can.
Having meal reservations is a great way to guarantee you’ll at least have some time to sit down in an air-conditioned room and give your feet a break. My daughter is always grateful every time we sit down in a nice, comfy booth, all thanks to that meal reservation I made in advance.
You can make dining reservations 60 days in advance, and we recommend you absolutely do it on that 60th day out from your trip. Go to the Disney website, use your My Disney Experience app, or call (407) WDW-DINE (939-3463) to make your reservation. Some reservations require you to put a credit card number down, so make sure you have that handy.
Hotel On-Site or Off? That is the Question!
The Walt Disney World Resort has over 25 hotels on property that you can choose from. They all come with certain perks and benefits, depending on which level resort you stay at.
All hotels get Early Theme Park Entry, formerly known as Extra Magic Hours. Guests staying at any Walt Disney World hotel can get early access to certain parks on certain days. Check the schedule online to see which parks are offering Early Theme Park Entry on which days and plan which days you want to beat the rope drop!
Certain Deluxe and Disney Vacation Club hotels will get access to Extended Evening Hours. This was the other part of that old-school Extra Magic Hours perk. If you stay at one of the qualifying “Deluxe” level resorts, you can stay a little bit longer after the parks close! As of this writing, however, Extended Evening Hours only apply to Magic Kingdom and EPCOT.
And those dining reservations we mentioned previously? Well, if you plan a stay at any Disney resort hotel, you can make reservations 10 days earlier. If you’re planning a trip way out in advance, this perk will definitely be useful for you.
Staying at Disney resort hotels also gives you access to Disney’s transportation system of buses, boats, and the Skyliner. Keep in mind, if you’re not staying at a Disney hotel, you can still use the buses to park hop, if you’ve purchased the park hopper option.
As you can tell, there are a lot of benefits to staying at a Disney hotel. But getting right to the quick here: Disney hotels can be pricey, especially at the Deluxe level. The greater Orlando/Kissimmee area has plenty of hotels, some of which also offer free transportation to the parks or free breakfast. If you can live without the perks at a Disney resort hotel and want to save a few bucks, staying at a nearby hotel, not on property, is still a great option.
Our favorite on-site Disney resort is Port Orleans Riverside. The New Orleans theming is so relaxing and enjoyable. If you can afford a magical upgrade, we highly recommend the Royal Guest Rooms with adorable Princess and the Frog details! If you’re looking off-site, make sure to check around Route 192, the main highway through nearby Kissimmee, for hotels like the Star Island Resort & Club or the Palazzo Lakeside Hotel. There are a lot of great deals for hotels here, and they’re only 10 minutes away from Disney property.
Planning a dream Walt Disney World vacation can be taxing and overwhelming. Here are 5 important things we’ve learned that will hopefully make your trip to the Disney parks a truly magical experience!
Download the App and Understand the New Genie and Lightning Lane Systems
You may have noticed we’ve mentioned the My Disney Experience app a couple of times already. That is because it is an absolute necessity to have on your phone for your Disney trip.
There’s so much you can do on the app. You can check wait times and see which rides have shorter lines. You can make dining reservations or even mobile order food. Obviously, there are maps for each park, but you can filter by exactly what you need, from restrooms to rides to character meets and more.
In the My Disney Experience app is also the Disney Genie. Disney Genie is a free service that promises to take the hassle out of planning. Just tell Genie what you want to do, and Genie will give you a personalized itinerary, including great times to go on rides and avoid long lines. It’s basically like a little magical Disney assistant.
You can choose to upgrade the Genie for $15 a day per ticket for the Genie Plus. The main difference here is that Genie Plus gives you access to Lightning Lane, which is the updated version of the Fast Pass system. You can select a Lightning Lane reservation time for a ride, which allows you to go to that ride at your time and “skip” the line.
However, certain popular rides, like Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Hollywood Studios and EPCOT’s Frozen Ever After, are not available on Genie Plus. The only way you can get access to the Lightning Lane for these rides is with an Individual Lightning Lane purchase, and that can cost between $7 and $15 per person per ride.
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Take a Break & Enjoy the Little Things
It’s a common mistake for those going to Disney for their first time to try to do way too much. It’s easy to get swept up in the magic and want to do every popular attraction. As a family, we’ve been guilty of trying to get all the things done. In the end, the trips we’ve enjoyed most are the ones that are spaced out properly.
If you’re a big planner like I am, make a plan to take a break or two in addition to your meal reservation. On a four- or five-day trip, we always recommend leaving one day completely empty, so you can rest and relax in your hotel room, take a dip in the pool, or go for a leisurely stroll around Disney Springs.
Disney is renowned for its Imagineering and attention to detail. During peak time when everybody is running around like mad, slow down and take in those details. Notice the different smells on Main Street U.S.A. Appreciate the use of different walkways for “foot feel.” Try to find some Hidden Mickeys around EPCOT.
One of my personal favorite things to do is just sit in front of the Millenium Falcon at Galaxy’s Edge in Hollywood Studios. It’s a great spot because I can soak in the atmosphere, admire the design of the Falcon, and people-watch to my heart’s content.
Getting There from LA
Your best bet to get from L.A. to Walt Disney World is to fly from LAX directly to Orlando International Airport (MCO). Multiple airlines offer nonstop flights, including JetBlue, United, and Delta. The Walt Disney World website recommends Mears Transportation or Lyft to get from the airport to your hotel.
These five tips and tricks are some of the best ways to make the most out of your Walt Disney World vacation. And remember the most important tip of all: have fun!
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