Whether you are making your first visit to Walt Disney World or your 50th, if it is a once in a lifetime or a once a year, you want to take steps to ensure you have the best visit possible. A Walt Disney World vacation is an investment in both money and your vacation time, so working to make sure you dot all of your I’s and cross all of your T’s before you leave, and adjusting while you are there give you the best chance of that dream vacation. Here are 12 of my suggestions to make your trip the best ever:
12. Start as early as possible
This means for your planning. I know sometimes it isn’t possible due to waiting on school schedules, requesting vacation time from work, etc. But if you can book well in advance you will ensure the most availability. Disney allows you to book up to 499 days in advance (once that year’s rates and packages are released is best), so take advantage of that lead time to get your first choice of resorts and room types; start planning an itinerary; and budgeting. Don’t forget that Disney does allow you to apply available discounts retroactively so you don’t have to wait for one to be released. Disney only requires a $200 deposit to hold a package reservation, and that is fully refundable 31 days or more before you check-in—so there isn’t too much risk in getting started. I would also recommend looking into working with a Travel Planner who is well versed in Walt Disney World, they can help you in so many ways, and most offer their services for free.
11. Outfit Planning
Yes, I know this sounds ridiculous, but start thinking about what you want to wear. Every time I am in the parks I am astounded at how the idea of custom Disney shirts and families matching has grown. There are so many options out there to support small businesses and shops from Etsy to individual shops. I find that Instagram is a great place to find options as well as browsing around on Etsy. It is worth noting that many of the shops run a limited stock of particular styles that launch maybe once a week—and they can sell out quickly so you need to plan ahead. You also want to plan ahead if you are going with a small shop because they are most often just one person hand making your items, and they need plenty of lead time to get your order out on time. If you are looking for a great shop that can customize anything—any character, group, attraction, or even custom family members—I recommend checking out SparkofInspiration on Etsy.
Do you need to add any essential items to your Walt Disney World vacation? Have you thought about a stroller rental? While Disney rents strollers in the parks many people find it helpful to have a stroller at their resort and for the walks to and from the bus drop-offs. One scenario of a sleeping child in the stroller at night and having to return the Disney stroller and carry that weight all the way to the bus stop will make you a believer in the outside stroller rental. There are several companies who partner with Disney to drop them off with bell services and pick them back up after your vacation. The same thing goes for scooters—you can rent them in the parks, but having one to get around the resorts and to the bus drop offs is so much better. Plus, you really need to think about if you or a family member might need one at Disney—most Disney days I walk 8+ miles. Additional things you could plan for ahead of time: crib rentals (Disney often has just the pack n play) and grocery (or water) delivery.
9. Rope Drop
As you are making your itinerary plan, heed this advice. Plan to be at the park for the opening. And not just at the opening time but 30 minutes to 1 hour prior to that depending on if you are traveling during a light or busy crowd season. This will put you ahead of the rush and get you shorter standby wait times for the first hour or two the park is open. And you can knock out a good amount of your touring before the heat of the day kicks in (and afternoon thunderstorms). Take a mid-morning break with something yummy to eat or drink and watch the crowds starting to stream in just to start their day.
8. Special Activities or Gifts?
Are you celebrating a special occasion or just want to do something special for your trip? You have a lot of options to consider for special activities. You could book a private fireworks cruise or a behind the scenes tour. You can even go horseback riding or take an archery lesson at Fort Wilderness. Or an early morning fishing excursion. If you are thinking more along the lines of a gift you can work with Disney Florist, or my favorite option is Mouse To Your House who can put together a custom gift basket for your occasion. Want to decorate your room for a festive surprise? Disney Florist has several themes and options for this.
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7. Dining Reservations
One reason to start planning as soon as possible is so that you are ready to make your dining reservations 180 days before you check-in. Having an itinerary in place means that you know which days you’ll be in which parks to schedule dining accordingly. And you best chance to get those hard to book reservations like Be Our Guest or Cinderella’s Royal Table is to take advantage of the 180 + 10 day window you get by staying at a Disney resort. At 180 days before your vacation you can make dining for up to 10 days—a great perk. But remember, if you don’t get Be Our Guest, or your ‘Ohana dinner isn’t timed perfectly it is not going to ruin your vacation. Don’t let dining make or break your vacation—you are going to have a magical time regardless of where you eat.
6. Budget & Save
While you may begin saving for your Walt Disney World vacation well in advance of making your reservation, having that in place gives you a target amount and date. You may want to put money aside each month, or take advantage of a store that offers discounted Disney Gift Cards (like Sam’s Club, or Target with your Red Card, or some grocery stores with gas points/perks). Think about things you could do to raise some extra money like a yard sale, consigning clothing or furniture, a children’s consignment sale for clothes and equipment. Shop through online rewards programs like eBates. Have your kids participate too so they can earn their own spending money for souvenirs. And don’t forget to plan on the expenses while you are there that will be above and beyond your package price.
Are you willing to pay for convenience? Or a VIP experience? Disney offers several “upgrade” type options that are not required to have a great time, but might make your vacation a little less stressful. For instance, are you willing to pay a bit more to stay at a monorail resort for the convenient access to Magic Kingdom? Or do you want to upgrade to a Club Level room so that you have the concierge staff and the club food offerings throughout the day? In the parks you may choose to do a Fireworks Dessert party—you get delicious desserts on a buffet and a reserved fireworks viewing spot so you don’t have to “fight” the crowd. There are even options for parade viewing in the Magic Kingdom with certain packages.
4. My Disney Experience
You will want to familiarize yourself with My Disney Experience on your laptop and on your mobile device. If you are an onsite guest you get to make your FastPass+ arrangements 60 days prior to check in for your entire stay. You will want to be familiar with how to do this so that at 7am Eastern on that day you make those reservations and have the best chance of getting your must-do attractions at preferred times. Then once you are in the parks you can make changes using the app or book your 4th FastPass, so knowing how to do it before you get there will reduce your stress on vacation.
3. Take Care of Yourself
While Walt Disney World is a completely magical experience, it can also be grueling. It is not necessarily a vacation in the sense of sitting on a beach and doing nothing. Make sure that you take care of yourself so that you can still be going strong 3-4 days into your trip. Rest, don’t make every night a late night and take some afternoon breaks. Hydrate, central Florida heat & humidity can be dangerous. Even if it is a cooler time of year you need to drink plenty of water because you are walking a lot. Speaking of walking, wear good shoes that are broken in to avoid blisters and foot pain—again, most of my park days are 8-12 miles of walking (you might even want to take up a walking routine before you visit). Get an anti-friction product like Body Glide—I use it on my feet to help avoid blisters, but it is also helpful on other body parts. Sun protection, please wear sunscreen. Please reapply it. You do not want to have a nasty sunburn that will make you miserable on your vacation (not to mention future repercussions). Bring a hat too.
2. Stay Onsite
When comparing onsite to offsite visits we get much more positive feedback from onsite guests. The pricing is the main difference at times, and often that is negated when you figure in resort fees, parking fees, transfers and/or car rentals for offsite guests. And the perks of staying onsite are huge: earlier booking window for FastPasses, dining reservation advantage, complimentary airport shuttle, regularly running transportation to the parks, free parking at the resorts & parks, charging privileges, Magic Bands included, and convenient locations.
1. Go with the flow
Despite 12-2, number 1 may be my most important piece of advice: as Crush says, Go with the Flow. Not everything is going to go perfectly. If you are able to be flexible and make changes without getting bent out of shape you will have a much better vacation experience than if you let one little glitch get to you. Your dining may not work out, the bus might run late, it could rain . .all . .day, your toddler will have a tantrum, people will be hot and tired—it’s inevitable. Work with it, make changes and everything will work out for the best trip ever.
What is your advice for the best Walt Disney World trip ever?