Welcome back to my series of expert tips on holidaying at Walt Disney World Florida. Last week I explained in more detail the wonder that is Memory Maker and some hot tips on how to make the most of it. This week, I wanted to give the low down on what you need to know before you’ve even got on the flight, as well as once you are at the parks. Hacks that will make the trip run like a dream.
I am going to presume this is your first visit to the most magical place on earth, you are planning. These tips will also be relevant if you have been before though. With 6 trips to WDW under our belt we have plenty of experience, but every time we visit we learn or find out something new. It’s a place that is ever evolving with new rides, areas and technology associated with it. So buckle up, I’m going to take you on a whirlwind WDW hacking adventure!
1- Stay Onsite
There are so many advantages when you stay onsite and I always recommend it, especially to first timers. You get early access to things such as Fastpass+ 60 days before your trip. You also get Magic Bands (see tip 4), you can book a Disney Dining Plan and if you are getting a car, free parking.
From the moment you get off the plane you and your luggage are transported by Disney’s Magical Express to your resort. You also can take advantage of Extra Magic Hours, which allow you access to the parks before and after the general public. Also Disney offer amazing transport on land and by boat across the entire resort, so it is easy to get around. Importantly too if you are staying onsite you would be staying amongst the magic, rather than leaving it behind each day
Expert tips for staying on site : Don’t forget that there are many thing to do during the day and evening at the resorts too, including Movie nights under the stars that we enjoyed at our Port Orleans Resort, as well horse drawn carriages, we even got to meet Princess Tiana.
Also you can purchase resort mugs, for use for the length of your stay. These can be used at ANY resort. So don’t forget to bring them, if you are checking out other resorts. We saved so much money using these. We filled them up in the morning for coffees for the Tall Fella and I, and the girls used them for soda/fizzy drinks throughout our stay. There are even wash stations to give them a clean. You can’t use them in the parks, but definitely still worth it. We tended to drink iced water then, which is FREE and much more refreshing in the heat.
2- Start off with a loose plan and build on it
We have tried this several different ways, but this one I’m going to tell you about really works. Have a plan of ONE park each day you are in Orlando. Of course this will depend of the length of stay and what’s on your must do list.
So it might look something like this :
- Monday : Magic Kingdom
- Tuesday : Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon
- Wednesday : Animal Kingdom
- Thursday : Chill at the pool/Bowling and a meal at Disney Springs
- Friday : Epcot
- Saturday : Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Sunday : Pool time/Movie at Disney Springs
Within the plan you really do need to build in ‘rest’ days. Even though you want to take full advantage of the four theme parks, it works better in my experience to have some pool, as well as shopping time too away from the parks. So keep in mind the two water parks WDW have on offer, all of the great places to experience and eat at Disney Springs as well as what’s available at the resort you are staying at.
Expert Tip for visiting the Theme Parks :
If once you’ve arrived its really busy, use the shops to cut through crowds, so you can get to that ‘must do’ ride quickly. This works especially well during parades and the fireworks. If you don’t want to get caught in the surge of people leaving the park in the evening, plan to leave later than everyone else, or just before the fireworks stop. You do need to keep your eye on the crowd with this one, and as soon as you start to see people leaving, make your move. Or if you are in Magic Kingdom watch the fireworks from the ferry, or on the platform near the train at the entrance, it’s so magical!
This shot was taken halfway up Main Street at Magic Kingdom
3- Take advantage of the My Disney Experience app.
Once you have done tip 2, then that’s when I would recommend you download the My Disney Experience app and plan in more detail. From here you can make all of the plans for each day. It’s such an invaluable tool! Making plans seems like such an obvious tip, but it really helps take the pressure off I have found. When we haven’t made any plans, we seem to go around in circles and don’t fit in the things we really want to do.
You can book all of your FastPass+ and dining reservations, and keep all of your itinerary and travel plans together in one place using the app. I make sure we have one sit down meal a day booked in, this could be breakfast, lunch or dinner, then we go for more quick service or resort meals the rest of the time. Things do get booked up, so the earlier you make these choices the better in order for you to get exactly what you want. In fact if you are staying on site you can make dining reservations 180 days in advance!
If you are travelling as a group of friends or family, you can link them and share travel plans and dinner reservations, and even manage those magical memory maker photographs.
Extra Tip for My Disney Experience : I didn’t realise at first, that really you should cram your three first FastPass+ reservations in as early as you possibly can in the morning, leaving you more chance to make more later in the day. We managed 8 in one day once! Don’t be afraid to keep checking your app (for people like me with jetlag do this when you wake up in the night) as people cancel and move reservations around.
Tip 4 – MagicBands
Nia wearing her customised yellow magic band.
Your MagicBands will be at your resort waiting for you when you arrive. Before you leave though I would advise that you customise them with names on My Disney Experience (these are printed on the underside of the band) and choose everyone’s preferred colour.
These really do unlock another little piece of magic, and are a great tool to make your holiday plans so much easier. They can be used to literally open your resort room door (I know how cool is that!) and hold your park entry ticket to each park. You can pay for things throughout your stay using the bands, and they store your FastPass+ selections and are used to collect your Memory Maker photos. MagicBands are the perfect way to travel lighter. It’s the first time we’ve been to WDW and used the bands and we absolutely loved them. We all wished it was something we could use in our everyday lives once we were home.
Expert Tip for MagicBands : You don’t need ask for your real names to be printed on them. How about the Seven Dwarves, or Star Wars names? I’m so disappointed I didn’t get Princess Leia! I used the names I use on the blog, which seems quite boring now, compared to the fun we could have had! I can just imagine my husband who I call the tall fella as Chewbacca instead!
Tip 5 – Fast Pass+ & Wait Times
As much as 60 days before your trip, reserve times for your favourite attractions using the FastPass+ system. So, for example, Miss A wanted to go on the Frozen Ever After ride, it was on her must do list, so I used the FastPass+ to reserve a time at Epcot without having to wait in a queue…perfect!
You can do this on a maximum of three rides or experiences per day (once the third FastPass+ ride has been used, you can then book a fourth at any kiosk in park.
Using your My Disney Experience app you can fit in more rides in between, as the app tells you what the wait times are. We always take advantage of the times of the day that people may be having lunch or watching the parades, even the fireworks to search out those attractions with little or no wait. We love it when it rains sometimes in the afternoons, as we also make sure we hunt out favourites rides that are running then too.
Expert Fast Pass+ tip :
Here are my top three FastPass+ choices for each of the parks.
- Magic Kingdom : Space Mountain, Peter Pan’s Flight and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
- Epcot : Soarin, Test Track and Frozen Ever After
- Hollywood Studios : Toy Story Mania!, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Rock n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith
- Animal Kingdom :Everest, Kilimanjaro Safaris and the Kali River Rapids
IMPORTANT : My top choice is first in each of those lists, and I would try to do each of them first thing in the morning as you arrive, so that you can hopefully repeat them later in the day when you free up another Fast Pass+.
Nia and the Tall Fella, just before entering The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
Tip 7 – Extra Fun
We like to do just one activity extra each time we visit WDW, something more than the ride or experiences. We always agree one of these before we go, as it just adds a slightly different dimension, and not something everyone thinks about. So I wanted to share with you our favourites so far, so you consider these yourself.
This is such a famous thing to do, but often overlooked I think when you are visiting from the UK. You can buy a lanyard and a few pins, as soon as you get to one of the parks. From there you can trade with cast members in each of the parks. You ask them if they would like to trade, and they will show you what ones they have. It’s really good fun, and if your children are anything like Miss A, they will wear the lanyard with pride as she loved her swaps and treasures from the trip. It’s also a good one to be able to pass down to younger members of the family.
Miss A and her prized lanyard!
You can buy Disney autograph books complete with pen in any of the parks, or bring your own from home. It’s such a simple but cute idea!
This is one we have done a few times and we have a large collection of flattened pennies. You will find machines all over the parks, and there are so many different designs. It’s a great way to use up change, and we save the newer pennies just for this.
The clever people at WDW have concealed images of Mickey all around the Walt Disney World Resort. This is a great activity if you have children of different ages I think. We love spotting new ones when we are there, I’m not sure we will ever find all of them! You can even purchase a book by Steve Barrett who has turned the game into six scavenger hunts, complete with clues, hints, and points to be scored.
Expert Tip: My top tip for parades is to head to Frontierland or Liberty Square, as they aren’t as busy, and if you are eagle eyed you might grab somewhere to sit too! Keep a look out for Sleepy Hollow snack and beverage shop which has a few good spots nearby. Don’t tell everyone though!
If you want to get to see the popular parades or fireworks, I advise to arrive at least 45 minutes before hand, find your spot, and don’t budge. I prefer to view the fireworks at the top end of Main Street in between the two FastPass+ locations, because it is very slightly raised. Alternatively, from the Ferry or transportation centre, which really does have a great view.
Have I given you a little more insight into the parks? I’d love to be able to answer any of your questions, if you have any please do let me know.
Stop by next week, as I will be covering some of the dining experiences that I would recommend you to try throughout your stay. There are such varied ones on offer!
This post is in partnership with Walt Disney World. All opinions here are my own
Here are the posts in the series so far :