Walt Disney World is staggering. The shear size alone is enough to confuse anyone. Add in that there are four theme parks, two water parks, Downtown Disney, the resorts, the restaurants…it’s enough to give anyone a headache. Relax, you can do it. Make a plan and you’ll have the vacation of a lifetime.
A list like this one will never be complete. Many of these 50 tips are from personal experience, others are from questions that have been asked by friends, still more are common sense. (Believe me, common sense often flies out the window when it comes to Walt Disney World.) Not every tip will apply to every reader, but take to heart the ones that you find useful. They could save you some stress on your vacation.
Even though there are 50 tips listed, they are in no particular order. They have been numbered solely for your convenience, not because some are more important than the others. I hope that you find them helpful and that you have an incredible time in Florida.
1) Use Sunscreen
It does not matter if you don’t normally burn, you will want to use sunscreen. The Florida sun is stronger than most places in the country. Taking a minute to put on sunscreen will save you a lot of pain and misery. It will also protect your skin.
2) Drink Plenty of Water
The heat, the humidity, and the amount of walking that you will do in a theme park will all take a toll. Your body will need extra water to stay hydrated. Bring water in with you, buy a bottle of water at a food kiosk, or take advantage of the many water fountains. You can even ask for a free cup of ice water at most restaurants. Stay hydrated to stay healthy.
3) Travel Off Season
If you want to avoid the heaviest crowds and the hottest months, travel during the off season. A good rule of thumb to follow is that if schools are out, Disney will be crowded. While the parks may have shorter operating hours during the off season, you will wait in line for shorter periods of time and end up experiencing more rides and attractions. The shorter hours will also allow you to get more sleep each night.
4) Bring Snacks
Walt Disney World lets you bring small snacks into the parks. Take advantage of that and bring something with you to curb your hunger. A couple of granola bars won’t take up a lot of room in your bag but you’ll be glad that you have them when you still have three hours until your dinner reservation.
5) Study the Map
You can find park maps on the Walt Disney World website. Study them ahead of time. Looking the maps over will give you a better idea of where to go once you hit each park. Don’t forget to pick up a park map once you arrive as well. You’ll use it.
6) Eat at Off Hours
This is especially a good idea if you’re there during peak season. The counter service restaurants will be crowded. Bring snacks to ward off hunger and have your meal a little bit later.
7) Make a Plan
Decide before you leave home which rides and attractions are your “must dos”. Plan to hit those first. If you wander into a park without a plan you will waste time wondering what you should do.
8) Make Reservations
The full service restaurants at Walt Disney World are amazing. If there is a restaurant that you want to try, make a reservation as soon as you can. That way you will know that you’ll have a table.
9) Stay on Property…Yes or No?
There are advantages to staying on Disney property. Extra Magic Hours, Disney’s Magical Express, and the Disney Dining Plan are enough to convince some people. Staying off property is often cheaper and there are some great hotels that are in the area. Remember that you can’t bring your pet if you’re staying at a Disney hotel. Weigh the options and carefully decide where you want to stay. If your room is just a place to crash at the end of the day then staying off property might be a good choice. If you want to be immersed in “all things Disney” for your vacation you might want to stay at a Disney hotel.
10) Don’t Forget the Resort Restaurants
Some of the best restaurants at Walt Disney World are not in the theme parks. The chefs at the hotels take great pride in their work. The atmosphere in the hotel restaurants is more relaxed and the food is incredible. Take a break from the parks and try a hotel restaurant. Explore the hotel while you are there, the themes are amazing.
11) Plan an Off Day
Walt Disney World is exhausting. If you plan an off day in the middle of your vacation, your entire family will have a chance to recharge. Sleep in and spend the day at the hotel pool, or explore Downtown Disney. Your vacation will be better if you take a break.
12) Order Something Different
There is no reason to dine on the same things each day of your Disney vacation. Try something different a couple of times. Order a house specialty that you can’t get elsewhere. Your taste buds will thank you.
13) Try Some Free Activities
Believe it or not, there are things to do at Disney that won’t cost you money. Ride the monorail and explore the Magic Kingdom resorts. Take a boat ride, there are several to choose from. Stop by Disney’s BoardWalk at night and watch the street performers. Learn the hula. Gaze at African animals. You might discover that sometimes the best things in life are free.
14) Share an Entree to Save Money
If the prices at the full service restaurants seem too high, consider splitting an entree. Most of them are big enough for two. If you think that it won’t be enough food, split an appetizer as well. Let your server know that you intend to share and he or she will bring you an extra plate or have the entree split in the kitchen for you.
15) Prepare for Rain
Forget the fact that Florida is called the Sunshine State and assume that it will rain at some point during your vacation. Bring cheap ponchos with you or buy them at the park. Afternoon storms are common during the summer. They move in quickly and are gone just as fast. Assume that it will rain at some point so that you will be ready.
16) Check Out the Disney Dining Plan
If you are staying at a Disney hotel you should find out about the Disney Dining Plan. There are several options, one may be right for you. Sometimes Disney will offer the Quick-Service Plan for free (restrictions apply), which will save you money. The Disney Dining Plan might not be right for you, but you won’t know if you don’t look into it.
17) Arrive Early
The best way to experience the most popular rides without waiting in long lines is to arrive early. Grab a FASTPASS for one ride and get in line for another. The lines will grow long a couple of hours later and you’ll have already hit your “must dos”.
18) Read Menus Before You Leave Home
If you have an idea of where you want to eat, you will save yourself some time. Read the menus here at Disney Dining before you arrive in Florida. Just like you will have some “must do” rides, you will most likely end up with some “must try” restaurants. Knowing where you want to eat and having an idea of what you’ll order will save you time.
19) Save the Shows for the Heat of the Day
Central Florida gets hot in the middle of the day! There are plenty of shows in the Walt Disney World theme parks. Grab a Times Guide when you enter and plan to see the shows in the middle of the day. You’ll have a chance to sit down and take a break from the sun. You can also catch attractions like Mickey’s PhilharMagic or Muppet*Vision 3D when it gets hot out. They run continuously.
20) Don’t Forget the Tip
The servers at the full service restaurants work hard to make your meals memorable. Reward their hard work by leaving a tip. It’s a nice way to say thank you.
21) Don’t Forget the Free Celebration Buttons!
Whether it is your birthday, an anniversary, your first trip, or your daughter lost her first tooth, Disney wants to help you celebrate. Stop by Guest Services and ask for a free button. There are some that are specific but the “I’m Celebrating!” one covers everything. They make great souvenirs.
22) Make Special Requests Ahead of Time
The chefs at the Walt Disney World restaurants will do their best to accommodate any special dining needs that you have, but they need to know about them. Choose the “add a special request” option when you make your online reservation, or better yet call 407-WDW-DINE (407-939-3463). Don’t expect to walk into a restaurant and be able to receive a gluten-free meal if you didn’t let them know about your allergy. One quick note, you do not need to make a special request for vegetarian options, but you should for vegan.
23) Learn the Parade Routes
If you plan to watch a parade, study the map ahead of time and find a place to watch that is not at the beginning or end (where it will be crowded). Arrive early and stake your claim. If you don’t want to watch the parade it is still a good idea to know the route so you’ll know how to get around the park when parts of it are blocked off.
24) Ask Questions
Knowing what you’re getting will make your Disney dining experience better. If you don’t like peppers, ask if the dish can be made without them. If you don’t want french fries, find out if a substitute is possible. Asking questions will help you to be happier with your food choices.
25) Use FASTPASS
Some Walt Disney World guests ignore the FASTPASS system and end up spending too much time in line. The system is undergoing changes but for most guests you swipe your ticket and end up with a pass that tell you when to return. Enter the FASTPASS line and your wait will be much shorter. FASTPASS is free, so use it.
26) Look for Some Healthier Options
The restaurants are filled with fried foods, heavy sauces, and decadent desserts. While you will most likely want to splurge a few times, also make sure that you look for some healthier options. Grapes or apple slices can often replace french fries, many entrees are baked or sauteed, and there are plenty of sugar free desserts. Look for Mickey Check Meals for the kids, and order lighter options for yourself as well. You don’t want to return home with a few extra pounds around your middle.
27) Check the Weather Before You Leave Home
The Internet has made it possible to see the forecast for ten days ahead or longer. Check to see what type of weather you can expect on your trip. This is especially important during the winter. Central Florida does sometimes get cold during the winter, you don’t want to have only flip flops and shorts with you! If you check the weather before you leave home you will know what to pack.
28) Remember the Rides When Eating
Some of the rides at Walt Disney World are pretty intense. When you pick your meals, remember what you plan to do right after you are done. Hitting Spaceship Earth after downing Sauerbraten and Sauerkraut should be fine, but you might not feel the same about Mission: SPACE. Even a gentle ride such as Soarin’, which can cause motion sickness, might not be a good idea on a full stomach. Plan carefully what you want to do immediately following your meal.
29) Take an Afternoon Breather
A day at Walt Disney World can take a lot out of you, especially if you arrive before the park of choice opens. Plan to take a break in the afternoon. You could leave the park and take a nap at your hotel, but if that isn’t practical find a shady spot and people watch for a while. Spending a few minutes off of your feet will help you to be able to face the rest of the day.
30) Eat Breakfast
You don’t want to skip breakfast if you’re headed to a park. If you’re staying on property, grab something in the food court. If you’re off property and your hotel doesn’t have breakfast, you can get something once you arrive at your destination. You will need the energy that breakfast supplies.
31) Order the Free DVD
As soon as you start thinking about a Walt Disney World vacation you should order the DVD from the official website. It’s free and is loaded with lots of useful information. It will also make you want to go immediately. You can opt out of future mailings so you won’t end up with a lot of unwanted mail or email.
32) Read Restaurant Reviews (but Take Them With a Grain of Salt)
Restaurant reviews can be extremely helpful when deciding where to eat at Walt Disney World. Remember, though, that reviews are based on the writer’s preferences and usually one dining experience. Just because someone had a bad experience doesn’t mean that you will, so if a restaurant that you really want to try has an unfavorable review don’t let that stop you.
33) Wear Broken In Walking Shoes
You will walk for miles each day that you are in a theme park. If you wear sturdy shoes that are broken in, your feet will be less sore at the end of the day. New shoes bring the risk of blisters, which can ruin your vacation. Comfortable shoes will make a huge difference.
34) Take Your Time and Pay Attention
All of the restaurants at Walt Disney World are themed. Take your time and enjoy the ambiance. Don’t rush through your meal. The same holds true for many of the standby lines. The details are incredible, notice them.
35) Don’t Force Your Kids
If your kids have the jitters about a ride, reassure them that everything will be fine. If they are truly afraid, do not force them to go on it. Ask the cast member at the ride’s entrance about Rider Switch. That way the members of your party who want to ride can, and everyone will be happy.
36) Refillable Mugs?
Some people love the refillable mugs that are offered in the resort hotels. Other people think that they are a waste of money. If you are staying on property, learn about the mugs and decide whether or not they make sense for your family.
37) Experience the Special Events
The special events at Walt Disney World can enhance your vacation. Some, such as the Epcot Festivals and Star Wars Weekends, are included in your ticket price. Mickey’s parties and Night of Joy require separate tickets. Find out what is going on when you’re planning your vacation and check it out! There’s a reason that these events are called “special”.
38) Be Prepared to Pay
The meals at Walt Disney World are expensive. Remember that before you enter a restaurant. Don’t complain to the cast members about the cost, it’s not their fault. Check the menus ahead of time here at Disney Dining, the prices are usually listed. That way you won’t be surprised.
39) Buy Only as Much Ticket as You’ll Use
If you’re planning on spending six days in the parks, why would you buy a seven day ticket? If you only want to visit one park a day, don’t add Park Hopper. You can add to your ticket if you need to but you won’t get money back for unused days. And on the subject of tickets, if you don’t buy directly from Disney make sure that you buy only from an authorized seller. The places offering “Cheap Tickets” near the parks often are reselling used tickets. Not only is that illegal, the tickets won’t get you into the parks. Some of the places that sell cheap tickets are for timeshares and those are legit, but tread lightly if you decide to sit through a presentation because they are high pressure.
40) Split Dessert
The meals at Walt Disney World are filling. The desserts all look incredible. If you split dessert you will save money and calories. You will also walk away from the meal feeling a little less bloated.
41) Remember That Walt Disney World Is a Family Destination
Everywhere you turn at Walt Disney World you will see impressionable children. Dress appropriately, watch your language, and smoke only in designated areas. Remember to keep your eyes open as well. Children do not always pay attention to their surroundings and will run right into you if you’re not looking.
42) Don’t Forget the Caffeine
If you usually start your day off with coffee or another caffeinated beverage, you will want to keep up the habit while on vacation. Sure, the coffee at Walt Disney World is expensive, but if you miss your daily caffeine you will end up with a vacation-ruining headache. Take the time and spend the money to get your morning coffee.
43) Plan a Meeting Place
If your group is going off in different directions, make sure that you plan a specific place to meet up. Saying that you’ll meet in three hours “by the castle” is not a good idea. Agreeing to meet “by the restrooms near Space Mountain” makes much more sense. Even if you don’t plan to split up you should have a set place to meet if you do end up separated. It could save you some time and frustration.
44) Try the Classics
Dole Whip, Mickey Ice Cream Bars, and Mickey Waffles are some classic items that should be a part of your Disney vacation. If you don’t try them, you’ll return home wishing that you had.
45) Teach Kids to Recognize Cast Members
Children get separated from their parents daily at Walt Disney World. Teach your kids how to spot a cast member by the name tag. Let them know to find a cast member immediately if they can’t find you. The cast members know what to do. Also, if you can’t find your child, seek out a cast member immediately. Disney is great at getting lost children back with their families. If your child gets lost, you won’t be apart for long.
46) Stop by a Lounge, Even if You Don’t Drink
If the wait is long at a restaurant that you want to try and you don’t have a reservation, see if there is a lounge. They are family friendly (as opposed to the bars, which are 21 and older) and often they offer the same menu as the restaurant next door. You can save time and still enjoy the same great food. Many lounges also have a separate appetizer menu, allowing you to try things that aren’t offered elsewhere.
47) Write Down Where You Parked
The parking lots are huge at Walt Disney World, especially at the Transportation & Ticket Center. Everything is well marked. Don’t assume that you’ll remember where you parked, write down the section and the row number. Put it in your phone, text yourself the information, or write it on your arm if you have to. You’ll save yourself a lot of hassle at the end of the day.
48) Don’t Overdo the Sweets
Sweet treats are around every corner at Walt Disney World. Most of the stores sell candy, there are ice cream kiosks strategically placed near popular attractions, and there are several incredible bakeries. Try the sweets if you want to but keep them in moderation. It is possible to have too much of a good thing.
49) Give Yourself (and Your Family) a Break
You won’t be able to do it all on your vacation. Head to Florida with that in mind and you’ll have a better time. Be ready to change your game plan if you need to. Don’t get mad at the kids if they want to wait in line to see Woody and Buzz, after all, you are the one who bought them the movies! Having a great time with your family is what is important, not cramming in as many rides as possible. Give yourself a break and don’t try to force too much into your vacation.
50) Have Your Camera Ready Inside the Restaurants
Dining at Walt Disney World is about more than just food. It is an experience. Make sure that you have your camera out at each restaurant and take plenty of pictures. You’ll be glad that you did.