Walt Disney World in Orlando is perhaps the most iconic tourist destination in Florida. After all, it’s where dreams come true! But a fun day at the parks can quickly turn into a nightmare if you’re unprepared. Whether you’re traveling from out of state or haven’t been to the parks in a while, it’s essential to go into your trip prepared. Read on for our best Disney World tips!
1. Avoid weekends during the summer months if at all possible. This is the absolute busiest time to be at Disney World. You’ll have to deal with heavy crowds and lines, not to mention endure the sweltering heat and humidity of Florida. Afternoon thunderstorms are also likely during the summer. Our recommendation for the best time of year to visit is November-January (but avoid holidays and holiday weekends!)
2. Buy park tickets in advance. Whether online on the website, through a travel service, or from a local grocery store, this is a great way to save time getting into the park. During peak times, lines at the ticket counters can take up to an hour, especially for Magic Kingdom. Also be on the lookout for special Florida resident ticket pricing!
3. Stay on Disney property if possible. During peak times it can be hard to find a vacancy and a decent price, but if you can get a good deal, it’s truly worth it. In addition to the gorgeous resorts and amazing guest service, our favorite feature is the free shuttle to all the parks. Yes, many hotels offer a similar service, but we have never found those to be quite as convenient or reliable. Disney buses depart to and from every Disney resort at least every 20 minutes and well after park closing. You’ll save the $25 parking fee (per day) plus not have to deal with driving to/from the parks. We recommend booking a moderate level resort such as Caribbean Beach, Port Orleans or Coronado Springs (typically around $200 per night). But even the Budget Resorts (All-Star Resorts) will give you the same perks, for about the same price as any other Orlando area hotel.
4. Magic Bands! The Magic Bands are an awesome new-ish technology that basically becomes your ticket, your FastPass, and your credit card all in one. You can also save park photos onto your Disney account with just a tap of your wrist. Having a Magic Band saves you from having to juggle cards and tickets for every person in your party. If you do stay on Disney property, take advantage of the free Magic Bands (or pay $15 per band). We think they are a huge stress reliever and so worth the price (and can be used again and again!)
5. FASTPASS+. This is one of the most effective Disney World tips to use during your visit. Nobody likes waiting in line, and FastPass significantly cuts the waiting. Unlike competitors, Disney FastPasses are free and can be used by all guests. Download the MyDisneyExperience app, load up your tickets, and book your FastPass one month in advance (or 60 days if you’re staying on property!) Newer rides will be nearly impossible to book like Pandora, Toy Story Land, or the Seven Dwarves Mine Train. Even some older favorites can be challenging to snag.
You can pick up to 3 FastPasses per day in one single park. You’ll select a 1-hour window to make it into the line of your chosen ride. (There is a 5 minute grace period at the beginning and end of your hour). If you strategically schedule your FastPass for earlier in the day, you can pick more once you finish your original three.
6. Download the My Disney Experience App. This is basically your assistant to plan your entire Disney stay. You can find your party’s entire itinerary on the app from your hotel reservations, to your dining, to your Fastpass. The app is also extremely helpful to view real-time wait times and park maps. This is absolutely a MUST for visiting the parks, especially if you are not familiar with the attractions at each park.
7. Bring your own food and drinks if you’re on a budget. This will save you a crazy amount of money (adult quick-service entrees start around $10-$12) plus will save you time and the hassle of dealing with crowded restaurants. Water bottles are a MUST to stay hydrated. Refill them throughout the day to avoid paying around $4 per bottle. Disney doesn’t have many restrictions when it comes to food. No alcohol, glass containers, or loose or dry ice.
8. Don’t discount the Florida weather. If you’re from out of state (and even if you’re a Floridian!), you may not be used to the heat and humidity. Stay hydrated, wear breathable clothing and take lots of breaks. Try to find air conditioning whenever possible such as waiting in indoor lines, gift shops, restaurants, theater attractions, etc. Consider bringing a hat, sunglasses or wearing protective clothing. And don’t forget to wear and reapply sunscreen throughout the day!
9. Avoid regular meal times if you’re buying meals. 11am – 1pm and 5pm-8pm will be crazy times especially for indoor counter-service restaurants. We recommend having a big breakfast before entering the park, snacks throughout the morning/afternoon, another big meal around 3-4 pm, and then a late dinner or lots of snacks! Or make a reservation at one of the many table service restaurants.
10. Minimize walking as much as possible to avoid exhaustion. Epcot and Magic Kingdom are basically circles so you can easily navigate around without backtracking too much. Try to hit everything in order around the circle and avoid going back and forth. This takes some planning when scheduling FastPass, but it’s worth it.
11. Free Ice Water. Again, stay hydrated! Most walk-up food stands will give you free cups of ice water, even without a purchase.
12. The photographers take great photos, but they’ll also take some on your personal phone if you ask nicely! Either way, don’t forget to take lots of family photos during your trip. You’ll be glad to have the memories of the whole group.
13. Character Dining is a great option if your kids (or you!) want to spend some extra time meeting Mickey and pals. It can be disappointing to wait 30+ minutes in line, just to snap a quick pic with your favorite character and then be quickly ushered away. Character dining is a great way to enjoy a delicious meal and meet a variety of characters all from the comfort of your chair.
There are many character dining options throughout all the parks and at some of the resorts. Some of the most popular include Cinderella’s Royal Table (meet the princesses, located in Magic Kingdom), The Crystal Palace (meet Winnie the Pooh and friends, located in Magic Kingdom), Garden Grill (meet Mickey and friends, located in Epcot), Chef Mickey’s (meet Mickey and friends, located in the Contemporary Resort), ‘Ohana (meet Stitch and friends, located in the Polynesian Village Resort), Perfectly Princess Tea (meet the princesses, located in the Grand Floridian Resort).
Note that reservations for character dining restaurants do go very quickly, so it’s best to make them as soon as possible. You will absolutely need a reservation at the park restaurants, but you may be able to call on the day-of to get a reservation, especially at the lesser-visited resort restaurants.
14. If anyone in your party needs a quick power nap, head to one of the theater attractions. The majority of the shows are air conditioned, relatively dark, have comfy seats, and last 20+ minutes! Our favorites are the Hall of Presidents in Magic Kingdom and American Adventure in Epcot.
15. Pack light – don’t bring your entire life in a backpack. Bring the essentials and basic personal items to get you through the day. If there are things you can’t live without, you can rent lockers at the parks. Although Disney allows bags on all rides, it can be a pain to stuff them in between your legs or in small compartments, plus you’ll get exhausted lugging around a huge bag all day.
Do you have any helpful tips or tricks we didn’t mention here? Leave your best Disney World tips in the comments down below!
** Please note this post was written in 2019, prior to the Covid pandemic. Not all attractions may be open, and not all tips may apply during the limited reopening of Walt Disney World. Check official Walt Disney World sources for the most up-to-date information.