Disney vacations are some of the best vacations. At least they should be. Yes, they can be hot, crowded, busy, and tiring. But they can also be wonderful, exciting, relaxing, and magical. Here’s some tips to maximize your enjoyment at the Most Magical Place On Earth.
Eventually I’ll write a post dedicated to why staying on-site contributes so greatly to having a truly magical Disney vacation. But, in short…YOU NEVER HAVE TO LEAVE THE MAGIC. There’s just something wonderful about being in that “Disney Bubble”, leaving behind the worries and stressors of the outside world. Disney takes care of your transportation, meals, entertainment, and relaxation. The themes of the Disney resorts (especially Deluxe and Moderate) are immersive and varied. There’s something for everyone. And it’s so fun to try them all out! Plus, you’re able to take advantage of Extra Magic Hours, charging purchases to your room, and conveniences like the Disney Magical Express (complimentary transportation to and from the airport!).
Wear Comfortable Shoes
I can’t stress this enough. And it seems I STILL get it wrong almost every single trip. I get it into my head that I can go just ONE DAY wearing flip flops around the park…surely! Wrong. I can not. The next morning my feet and legs are screaming at me, and I’m limping around the parks like a little old woman for the next three days. Find what works for you, and don’t let your outfit dictate how you feel. You’ll be walking MILES AND MILES AND MILES. It is completely feasible for us to walk 40,000 steps/20+ miles in one Disney Day. Treat yo’ body right.
Expect The Crowds
Many Disney experts will tell you that the days of off-season crowds are long-gone. We witnessed this firsthand for pretty much the first time in December 2013. No, the crowds weren’t awful. But we felt them. Mostly because all our research had told us that the first 1-2 weeks of December would be one of the best times to go, drawing low crowds between the major holidays while the kids went back to school for a few weeks. Had we mentally prepared ourselves, I think it wouldn’t have affected us. IT’S ALL ABOUT YOUR STATE OF MIND. Disney can be miserable, or magical. You choose. Because that’s what life is like.
So make your plans and preparations. Be smart and resourceful…try to avoid the crowds! Go when school’s in-session. Use FastPass+. Make dining reservations. Tour during the morning and evening and takes breaks in the afternoon to avoid the biggest crowds. Eat at off-mealtime hours. And still expect the crowds. But don’t focus on them. Then the best case scenario is that the crowds will be lower than you expected! And if not, you’ll have a great time anyway!
Go Early. Stay Late. Take a Mid-day Break.
In the spirit of dealing with my last tip (THE CROWDS), having a smart touring plan can make or break your experience (A.K.A. how much you’re able to get done in the parks). Now, I know you’re on vacation. I know you want to sleep in. Go ahead! I just wouldn’t suggest doing so EVERY DAY. I am not a late sleeper when it comes to vacation. I’m rope-dropping it daily if possible. But I often travel with family members who really value their more laid-back mornings at the resort…and I totally get it! But enjoying some early magical mornings and some late magical nights will likely pay off in the crowd department. On average, Kevin and I are able to get 7-10 attractions done in the first 3 hours of touring routinely. Of course, all this go-go-go calls for a mid-day break, and luckily this is when the majority of people are in the parks. Snooze by the pool. Grab a bite to eat at your hotel. Explore your resort. Then head back to the parks for the evening! Disney after dark is pure whimsy, and a completely different experience from day-time hours altogether. Shut down the park if you can, and catch The Kiss Goodnight at Magic Kingdom (my personal favorite way to end a magical day)!
Pro tip: Ride the attractions during the fireworks or parades for shorter lines! (After having seen the shows previously, of course! They are not to be missed!)
Plan Ahead (FP+ and ADRs)
A few years ago I had a disheartening conversation with an acquaintance. She and her family had just returned from Disney, and when asked how her trip was, she quickly replied “NEVER AGAIN.” Upon further discussion, I gathered that she had not done any planning whatsoever. She didn’t know FastPass+ existed. She went in the dead of the summer heat. She spent her whole vacation standing in line waiting to meet princesses with her young daughter (who was 1 year old at the time and didn’t really care).
Now, for me, part of the thrill of going to Disney is the planning. The anticipation. The details. But I completely understand that not everyone is as excited about that part of the trip as me. But this isn’t just an amusement park. This is actually 4+ complete theme parks combined together in one cohesive experience, bound together by 22+ resort hotels, 140+ dining venues, 5+ transportation systems, and 70,000+ cast members. AND TONS OF EXCITED VISITORS TAKING ONCE IN A LIFETIME VACATIONS…JUST LIKE YOU!
So it’s going to take some planning. Here’s the breakdown of the dates you need to know:
You can make Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) 180 days prior to check-in. If you are wanting specific table-service experiences, make sure you mark your calendar for this day…reservation availability for many of the popular dining venues goes fast. Of course, quick-service dining options are always available in the parks/resorts if you don’t make advanced plans for every day of your vacation.
Pro tip: 180 days before check-in you will be able to make ALL dining reservations for the entirety of your stay (i.e. even the 10th day of your stay…which will still be 190 days away).
You can make FastPass+ selections 60 days prior to check-in if staying on-site. You can make 3 selections per day (for the same park) at this point. You’ll be able to add FP+ selections individually during your trip after you use the ones you planned for the day.
You can make FastPass+ selections 30 days prior to your trip if staying off-site.
All of these plans can be made online using My Disney Experience.
You can decide just how much planning you want to do. If you can’t dedicate a whole lot of time, or if you’re just not interested, there are a variety of FREE Disney travel agency services that would be happy to assist in making these plans and decisions.
BONUS CHALLENGE: Leave your phone in your hotel room!
I know, I know. Crazy talk, right? But can you imagine, even for just a second, how liberating it would feel just to waltz right into the parks (bypassing long bag-check lines!), with nothing in hand, on back, or in pocket?!? You know, like they did in the olden days. This is made SO much more possible now with the introduction of MagicBands. You can charge all your purchases right to your room, change FastPass+ selections on the in-park kiosks, and if you have purchased Memory Maker, your Magic Band will even allow you to have your memories captured on camera!
Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not how I tour the parks on the reg. I usually just have my MagicBand and my phone, so I am still able to bypass the long bag-check lines. I too like the convenience of hopping on My Disney Experience and utilizing mobile ordering, scoping out upcoming FP+ selections when mine 3 choices are done, and checking wait times throughout the park. And I’m a constant picture-taker.
But maybe just for a day. Maybe just for an evening! Unload all those outside influences, forget about making your stamp on social media, and just enjoy true and complete immersion in every DISNEY MAGICAL MOMENT. Which is really the key to a more enjoyable WDW vacation.