I spend what most people would consider an unreasonable amount of time thinking about Walt Disney World, and as a result I’ve become very familiar with the process of planning a Disney vacation. If you are planning your first visit to Disney World, or if it has been a couple of years since you were there last, here are some important tips to make your visit the best it can be.
Know what to expect at Disney World
Disney World consists of four theme parks, two water parks, Downtown Disney, ESPN Wide World of Sports and several resorts. You can order free Disney DVDs that will provide more information about the parks, and you can find movies on the American Netflix as well. It is not possible to see everything in one visit, so you will have to take your time, budget and interests into consideration when deciding what you want to do. Park Hopper tickets allow you to visit more than one theme park in a day, and the water park fun and more tickets will allow entry to the water parks. Here is a little information about the four theme parks:
- The Magic Kingdom is the most popular of the four theme parks and has the most attractions. It is home to Cinderella’s Castle, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Frontierland, Adventureland and Liberty Square. There are rides and shows for all ages, and in my opinion it is the park that you can’t miss on your Disney visit.
- Epcot is my 12 year old son’s favourite park. You will find some popular rides like Test Track and Soarin’ and you can explore pavilions for many countries in the World Showcase. This is the perfect place to try some new foods (I recommend some gelato at the Italian Pavilion) and explore different cultures.
- Hollywood Studios is the right park for Star Wars fans, Pixar enthusiasts and anyone who loves the movies. We never visit without heading to the Tower of Terror and Star Tours.
- The Animal Kingdom combines the awe of seeing animals that you would normally only see in a zoo, and the fun of a theme park. This is a great park for young children, but it also has some bigger rides for the older kids and adults.
Choose the ideal time to visit
Consider the weather in Florida at the different times of the year. If high temperatures and humidity are difficult for you, avoid visiting in the summer months. The water parks break up the hot days nicely, but it may be a little chilly to visit them in the middle of winter. Undercover Tourist offers a crowd calendar that predicts how busy the parks will be and it is a very valuable tool when choosing your vacation time as well as planning which parks to visit on each day. Disney has various events throughout the year that may impact when you visit. Some of these include:
- runDisney events
- Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival
- Star Wars Weekends
- Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival
- Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party
- Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival
- Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
Find the best deal
The Disney website always has special offers and deals that you can take advantage of. There are also special prices for vacation packages that include the resort and the park tickets. Dining plans can also be added, and Disney occasionally offers a free dining plan special when you book your vacation package.
My Disney Experience
Register online for “My Disney Experience” and download the app on your tablet and smartphone at no cost. As part of the MyMagic+ package, this is your ultimate tool for planning your Disney World vacation. My Disney Experience can be used for the following:
- booking your vacation
- purchasing tickets
- making dining reservations
- choosing fastpasses
- sharing the plans with all travelers in your group
- exploring the parks and resorts
- finding character meet and greets
- checking ride wait times
- finding your way around the parks
Choose your resort
There are many great reasons to stay in a Disney resort, and you have many options to choose from. Using My Disney Experience, enter the dates you wish to visit and your party size and you will see a list of available resorts. Next to each resort listed you will see images that show the type of transportation available from that resort to the parks. You can click on each resort to learn what is available in terms of restaurants, shops and activities. You can also view the resort locations on a map to get an idea of how far they are from each park.
Make Dining Reservations
Whether you are using a Dining Plan or purchasing your meals as you go, you will want to make reservations for dining. There are many quick service restaurants that do not require reservations and you can find them using My Disney Experience online, but if you want to take advantage of character dining or table service meals it is strongly recommended and often required to make a reservation.
Using My Disney Experience online you can explore all of your dining options and see what reservation times are available. My Disney Experience also allows you to view the menus and the prices at each restaurant, ensuring that your dining choices will work for your family. Make your reservations as early as possible (up to 180 days prior to traveling) to avoid disappointment.
Choose Your Fastpasses
A fastpass is like an appointment for an attraction. Each fastpass gives you a one hour period in which you can show up and use your appointed time. It does not mean there will be no line, but the line is typically much shorter and moves faster than the regular line.
You can use Fastpass+ on My Disney Experience to choose up to three fastpass attractions in one park, for each day you are visiting. These fastpasses can be selected up to 30 days before visiting, or 60 days if you are staying at a Disney resort. Once you have used your three fastpasses, or the appointment times have passed, you can locate a fastpass+ kiosk in each park to choose another fastpass (one at a time).
Check the ride wait times on My Disney Experience to get an idea of which attractions have the longest wait times. These are the ones you will want to get fastpasses for!
Customize your Magic Bands
Magic Bands can be worn by each guest at Disney World and they have many uses:
- allow entry into the parks
- unlock your resort rooms
- hold your credit card information (with a pin number and only at your request) so you can easily make purchases without carrying cash
- store your fastpass selections
- connect Disney PhotoPass images to your account
You can customize your Magic Bands by using My Disney Experience. Each person can choose the colour of their band and their names will also be added when customized in advance. Canadians visiting Disney World can pick up their magic bands when they check in at their resorts, while US visitors can have them shipped to their homes in advance. There are also many fun options in Disney shops for decorating or customizing your Magic Bands.
Have a Magical Vacation!
If you are flying into Orlando, take advantage of Disney’s Magical Express. It is complimentary transportation to your Disney Resort, but it needs to be booked in advance.
While waiting for your travel date, you can use My Disney Experience to plan celebrations in your room and send gifts to members in your travel party to receive upon arrival. It helps to pass the time while you wait!