101 Tips to Make for a Magical Disney World vacation – UPDATED for 2016!


For 2016 and 2017 Disney World vacations, these are the best tips and tricks! While there’s a million different opinions out there, who knows what’s current and what’s outdated! Having just come back from another research expedition in Disney World, I’m confident these tips will help you on your Disney World vacation!

In no particular order…
1. Research, research, research! The more you know, the better your trip!

2. If cost is an issue, know when the best deals are. If crowd levels are an issue, know when the lowest crowd times are (hint, they are typically very similar times). Crowd calendar 2015, best times for 2016.

3. Start walking before you go. You can easily log 8-10 miles a day at Disney and while you take breaks, you’ll need to build some endurance. Take some family walks and start to get your legs ready!

4. STAY ON PROPERTY! While it may seem more expensive on the surface, you won’t need to rent a car, get transportation to/from the airport, or pay for parking.

5. Think about using a travel agent. We know how to get the best discounts, when promotional rates come out, and are actively looking to save you time and money! Plus, we are FREE to work with!!! The biggest thing I’m here to help with is lower your stress level as it relates to your trip – limiting the amount of research you’ll have to do as it relates to choosing a resort, making dining reservations, and FastPass selections!

6. If you book your Disney vacation before a discount comes out, you will have to call Disney to apply the new discount. It doesn’t get changed automatically. During a big discount, you may be on hold for a very long time!

7. Think about your budget. Now think about adding about 20% more to it to make it a more reasonable number for Disney. You can definitely do Disney on the cheap, but if you’re thinking about cost the whole time, it makes it less fun for the adults!

8. Look into the dining plan and what it includes. See if it’s for you (or how you can get it for free!)

9. Make sure Disney knows about any celebrations during your stay! You’ll get a few freebies and some recognition as well.

10. Children under 3 are free in Disney. If you’re thinking about a vacation before or after your child turns 3, you’ll likely save at least $300 if you go when they’re 2 and that’s just tickets! We’ve traveled 3 times with my daughter before the age of 3 and saved a boatload on them park ticket costs AND dining plan. With her love of character dining, we can eat on our adult dining credits and she eats for free! Doing the math, we saved about $30/day on food because she’s under 3!!!

11. Similarly, Disney considers 10 year olds Disney adults. That means there’s a price break between 9 and 10. Park tickets don’t make a huge difference, but dining does!

12. Park tickets become cheaper the more days you add (sometimes adding a day of park tickets can be as low as $30 for a family of 3-4). Disney does the math for you when you are booking your package, so check it out!

13. Plan for a day off. Disney can get exhausting. Make sure you take a break during your trip, whether it’s a planned pool day, downtown Disney, or just a day without parks. You won’t get bored!

14. Ask questions! If you’re in Disney and are confused, lost, or need help, cast members (Disney employees) are here to help!

15. Plan at least one table service dinner. Even if you’re not on the dining plan, it’s a good experience! And consider that meal to be at one of the deluxe resorts – call it research!!

16. Try new food! You’re on vacation. Don’t be afraid to book a unique restaurant or menu item (especially on the dining plan!) 

17. Ask your server for suggestions. They’ll give you a good opinion or at least tell you the most popular menu items.

18. Save room for dessert! There’s some awesome options on all the menus.

19. Explore other resorts. It’s fun to just look around another resort if you’re in the area (think Magic Kingdom and Epcot areas). You don’t need any sort of ticket or pass to walk around in the common areas. It’s fun to look around!

20. Bring sunscreen and wear it! Bring more than you think you need. Nothing like feeling miserable and uncomfortable after one day of vacation! Reapply after pool or water rides.

21. Bring snacks to the park. You can also bring your own water bottles. Anything except glass and alcohol is allowed into the parks! If you have a place to store it or are fine carrying it, you’ll save a ton of money!

22. Bring your own stroller. Sure it’s a pain to lug it through the airport and check it at the gate, but it’s better than $18/day for a single stroller or $31/day for a double stroller! If you don’t have a stroller anymore or don’t want to bring your own, think about a rental from a 3rd party group. The strollers are more comfortable, easier to push, and less expensive!

23. Decorate your stroller so you know it’s yours. Colored ribbon, a sign, etc. will all be helpful. Yes you left it in a certain place, but cast members rearrange strollers for the most capacity. This is especially helpful if you are renting a stroller.

24. Share meals. Share meals! Seriously. For quick service/counter service meals, start with one meal for every 2 people. You can always go back and get another or one or get a snack to share. Don’t throw away the expensive food!!! Look at appetizers and meals to share for table service meals. If you made a reservation and you’re not that hungry, don’t be afraid to share a meal. The only place you can’t share are buffet meals, special meals like Fantasmic dining package or Candlelight Processional, and meals served family style like Ohana and Garden Grill. Via Napoli does not allow sharing on the dining plan, but you can share if paying out of pocket.

25. Bring your refillable mugs to the parks! While you can’t officially refill them, it’s a great way to share one of the large fountain drinks from counter service meals. You can also fill them with water from the water fountains or ask for some free ice water at any counter service (a word of warning that Orlando water doesn’t taste the greatest!)

26. Use Disney transportation. It’s FREE! It adds to the experience of Disney.

27. Know how to get from here to there BEFORE you leave! If you need to make a cheat sheet on your phone or index cards, do it! You’ll save headaches later.

28. Driving to Disney? Parking is free at your resort and all the theme parks if you stay in a Disney resort! Bring a GPS or some directions to get you to the main roads. Once there, Disney signage is great to get you to your destination. Get an idea of where your destination is and how Disney breaks up the resorts into 5 categories – Magic Kingdom area, Epcot area, Disney Springs area, and Wide World of Sports area. Knowing which area you are going to will help you get around by following signs!

29. Download the My Disney Experience app to your smart phone. You can update reservations on the fly and check for various show times and character meets in the park.

30. Arrive at the parks 30-45 minutes prior to park open. At times the parks open before the posted time. You can get through more of the park in the first 2-3 hours of the day than any other time!

31. Even if you’re tired, wake up for “rope drop” (park opening). You can always take a break later.

32. Take breaks! Whether it’s for lunch inside the park or a nap or some pool time outside of the park. You can’t make it 12-14 hours in the park without a break.

33. Be aware of Extra Magic Hours. Late hours are great to get some more popular attractions out of the way. If you are willing to get up early for morning Magic Hours, make sure you arrive before the park opens, otherwise it’s not worth it. If you have base tickets, beware that parks with extra magic hours in the AM will make the parks more crowded by noon and more difficult to manage!

34. Fall brings some early park closures to the general public. Check the park hours on Disney’s website for days that close early due to special events. You may want to avoid that park. Animal Kingdom also closes earlier during lower crowd levels (which will change in April when Rivers of Light opens which will have evening offerings). Make sure you plan ahead if you have park hopper tickets.

35. Make your FastPass+ reservations at your 60 day window – this is for your entire vacation. This opens at midnight EST. If you want to meet Anna & Elsa, this needs to be done the second the window opens! Make sure your reservations are made at least 30 days in advance as that’s when day guests can make reservations.

36. Take advantage of all your FastPass+ allotments. Even if you aren’t sure, book it!

37. Make your dining reservations as soon as possible. This has become extremely competitive in the last 2-3 years. Resort guests can make reservations 180 days in advance (this is for your entire vacation, not just one day). If you don’t have a resort reservation, you can make reservations 180 days in advance (but you’ll have to do it each day).

38. Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom requires reservations for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Breakfast and lunch are quick service meals so it doesn’t follow the normal rule of thumb for reservations. Breakfast is a great way to start the day and a great value on your dining plan!

39. Package reservations must be paid in full 30 days prior to your arrival. Room only reservations are paid upon arrival. If you are looking to purchase room + tickets at minimum, do it as a package instead of separate entities. This protects your money! If you purchase tickets separately, they are non-refundable if you need to cancel your trip!

40. Think about online check in. If you are arriving earlier in the day, make sure Disney knows about it. While it’s no guarantee, the more they know, the better. It will also save you time when you arrive at your resort!

41. If you don’t like your room assignment on check in, you can always ask the front desk if there is another available room you can switch to (in a different location on the grounds). The worst they can say is no!

42. Wear good walking shoes! Flip flops are not good walking shoes. 6-12 miles each day depending on how long you are in the parks makes for an exhausting day in bad shoes.

43. Bring an extra pair of shoes in case one gets wet from rain or if you get a blister. If it’s supposed to be a rainy day, bring an extra pair of socks with you to keep your feet dryer.

44. Bring first aid supplies. Disney does have first aid at each of their theme parks, however bring some good band aids, blister band aids, and moleskin with you. It’ll save you walking time to get there and making your injuries worse.

45. On days with a threat of rain, pack a pair of sandals or crocs. This is the only time I’ll ever suggest sandals in Disney. EVER. More suggestions on what to do on rainy days.

46. Pack your own ponchos. You’ll save money. Don’t forget a poncho or tarp for your stroller!

47. Pack a ziplock bag or two for cameras and cell phones on rides where you can get wet.

48. Take a photo of where you parked. After a long, hot day, you may not remember. Also take a photo of your rental car’s license plate!

49. Bring an extension cord. There aren’t always enough plugs available or in a nice place.

50. Think about staying closer to the park you’ll be at the most. You’ll save time traveling to and from your resort each day.

51. If pool time is important to you, choose a location with a great pool. You may want to spend a little more money on a moderate or deluxe resort to have a water slide. My favorite pools are at Beach & Yacht Club, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Polynesian, Caribbean Beach, and Coronado Springs. Of the value resorts, Art of Animation and Pop Century have fun pools (but no water slides).

52. Decide if you want to park hop. I think park hopping is beneficial, but it may be too much for young children or your first trip. You will get to see more in less time. Add a park hopper to your tickets and cut down on the number of days of tickets giving you time to take a day off!

53. Explore Disney Springs. The World of Disney store has everything you could ever want to buy! You also have additional unique shopping and dining locations. As this area grows, it becomes to be more exciting!

54. Stay cool. Drink water, don’t get dehydrated. If you’re feeling ill find a cool indoor show to watch or take a little break in one of the bathrooms.

55. Stop and enjoy your surroundings. Running from one thing to the next isn’t very much fun! Enjoy your surroundings.

56. Don’t try and do too much. Don’t plan every second of every day. Go in with a general plan and be open to change.

57. Know height restrictions for different Disney attractions before you go. They are strict.

58. Don’t make your kids go on something they are afraid of. There’s always another trip another time.

59. Find free stuff in Disney! Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom gives you free cards. Play the game or just take the cards. It’s a great distraction.

60. Really enjoy each country of World Showcase in Epcot. They are really interesting and intricate. It’s also a great place to find characters! Check the times guide or My Disney Experience app for character locations and times. Also check out some of the amazing shows and entertainment around each country – my favorite is Voices of Liberty!

61. Take family photos with the Disney photographers. Your MagicBands will upload the photos to your account. Even if you don’t purchase them, it’s still fun!

62. If you see a Disney photographer hovering around, it’s likely because a pop up character meet will be on the way. If you want to know, ask! They’ll tell you the information they have.

63. Check out all the evening fireworks/shows. Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios each have one and they are all amazing, whether it’s the first or 100th time you’ve seen them.

64. Watch Magic Kingdom’s fireworks from different vantage points: Main Street, Tommorowland Bridge, Polynesian Beach, California Grill (reservations required) or even the Ticket and Transportation Center/monorail platform!

65. Get your spot for parades early. The shady spots go first, so if that’s important, stake your claim! Consider a FastPass for parades to save yourself some time – you can get a “front row seat” 30 minutes from the start of the parade. Grab a snack from Main Street Confectionary and enjoy!

66. Think about Memory Maker. You’ll be able to put your camera away and have tons of pictures for your return!

67. Customize your MagicBands. It’s so much fun to see the rainbow of colors arrive at your doorstep instead of plain gray ones.

68. Use your MagicBands to their fullest extent. They’re more than just a key to open your door. Pay for anything and everything in Disney World, gain entry to the parks, use your FastPasses, etc. It’s actually really fun!

69. Call Disney if you need more than one room. It’s easier to properly link the reservations and they can book it faster than you could online. While you’re on the phone, ask if there are any PIN codes attached to your account.

70. Start your vacation on Sunday. Friday night and Saturday night stays are the most expensive. Crowds are also highest on a Saturday. If flight costs don’t permit, it’s not the end of the world!

71. Arrive early in the day and leave late in the day. This will allow you the most time. Even if you’re not going to the parks.

72. Magical Express service TO your resort can take up to 90 minutes from your arrival. You’ll likely stop at other resorts on the way to your own. Be patient! Use the restroom prior to leaving the airport.

73. Magical Express service FROM your resort typically leaves 3 hours before your flight. Plan your flight accordingly. An early flight departure means an extremely early pick up time from your resort!

74. Be cautious before booking a dining reservation the night you arrive. Flights get delayed, things happen. Consider just eating quick service or scheduling something after you arrive if it’s important!

75. Try a character meal! Even if you are dining as adults, it’s fun to watch kids faces light up. There are some great locations with great food as well – 1900 Park Fare, Ohana, Garden Grill!

76. Don’t yell at your kids. You’re in public and people can hear you! I know it gets stressful, but keep it calm and remember you are on a family vacation. Enjoy your family!

77. Eat at off peak times. You’ll definitely be able to tell peak lunch and dinner times by the amount the crowds dwindle. If you can take advantage of that, you’ll get more for your time.

78. Did you know the average number of attractions done in a day is 8.5? While it’s definitely possible to do more, don’t have extreme expectations for your visit. You’ll very likely get more than that accomplished in Magic Kingdom.

79. Stop and enjoy the cupcakes. Contempo Cafe, Boardwalk Bakery, Starring Rolls, and many other wonderful locations!

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80. Study park maps before your arrive to know where you’re going on day one!

81. Grab a daily schedule for the parks on your way in. You’ll know about special events, live shows, and character meets.

82. If you are in line for an attraction before the park closes, you’ll be able to ride or meet a character. A cast member will turn you away if the park is already closed, but you won’t have to leave the line.

83. Disney buses run until the last guest is out of the parks. You won’t get left behind!

84. There’s a place for nursing mothers if you’re taking a very young child to Disney. Ask a cast member for more information. The Baby Care Center also has high chairs and some quiet areas for children older than infants!

85. Enjoy attractions more than once. Just because you already did them on this trip, doesn’t mean you can’t do it again, especially if the line is short! Same goes for characters. Just because you saw Mickey at dinner, doesn’t mean you kids won’t want to see him again in the parks!

86. Head straight for the headlining attractions/rides first thing in the morning when lines are shortest. Also consider a FastPass for these attractions!

87. Eat a decent breakfast. Even if you plan on enjoying some food at the parks, don’t go on an empty stomach and then get lost in running from ride to ride.

88. Pack some simple breakfast foods in your luggage. Pop Tarts and granola bars are easy grab and go things to get you to the parks early!

89. Think about club level service. Breakfast, snacks, hot and cold appetizers, happy hour drinks for adults, desserts, and after dinner cordials. It won’t be all of your meals, but we were able to keep full throughout our stay. Free bottled water too (some locations will just fill your containers with water)

90. Meet at least one character during your trip. I don’t care if it’s kids or adults, it’s still fun!

91. Prepare your kids for the trip: waiting in line, being courteous, using manners, etc.

92. If there are two lines, choose left. 95% of the time that line is shorter! Most of this is gone with the addition of FastPass lines, but it still exists in some locations.

93. The shops on Main Street in Magic Kingdom are open longer than the park. Shop on your way out after the fireworks show instead of heading out of the parks to wait for a bus!

94. Get a set of “first ears”!

95. Enjoy Club Cool in Epcot. Get a free beverage and try the different flavors of Coke around the world! Have your kids try Beverly!

96. Take a night off and watch a movie at your resort. Don’t like the movie your resort has, check out the other resorts!

97. Try Dole Whip (I prefer the floats!)

98. Sit and enjoy some of the live shows. Don’t feel like it’s a waste of time. They are truly enjoyable and it’s a load off your feet. Best done in the middle of the day when it’s hottest or during a storm!

99. Pay attention to the details! The different things on Cinderella’s Castle, all the animals in the Tree of Life, etc. It’s truly amazing!

100. Think about a dinner show! Disney has 3 on property and they’ll all really fun! Two credits on the dining plan or a decent out of pocket charge, but it’s a great way to take a nice long break!

101. Learn about Pin Trading and trade with cast members!

Whew! Did I forget anything important?

A free gift for Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box!

A free gift for Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box!

Ready to get started planning your 2016 Disney World vacation? Please contact me at any time for a free quote. The benefits to using an authorized Disney vacation planner include saving time before and during your vacation with itinerary planning which can help save you hours of standing in line each day. Plus you won’t have to watch for available discounts, research resorts, wake up early for dining reservations, or stay up late for FastPasses. The best part about using a travel planner instead of planning yourself? It’s totally FREE! Plus I’ll take away some of the stress and confusion of planning a Disney vacation (especially if it’s your first one!)It’s also a worry free vacation opportunity. I’ll walk through through all of the steps to the process with a few little insider tips along the way! If you already have your vacation planned and are interested in transferring your vacation, ask me how!

10 Things to do on your Walt Disney World arrival day!


With so many things do in Disney World, how do you choose where to start? First, it’s important to know a few basic things:

  • What time are you planning on arriving? Morning arrivals leave more options open to you!
  • Are you flying or driving? Both can make your true arrival time variable.
  • Are you using Disney’s Magical Express? Please make sure you build in the appropriate amount of time during your arrival.

If you are arriving earlier in the day

  1. Head straight for the park of your choice! You’ve been waiting months and months to arrive at Disney World, why not head right to the parks? On our last trip, we planned for a 3 pm arrival. Even with a delayed fight, we still got 4-5 hours before Magic Kingdom closed and checked off all the moderate and less popular rides the first night. That left so much more free time to enjoy live shows, parades, and repeat some of those favorite attractions!
  2. Take a ride over to Wilderness Lodge for a hilarious and delicious dinner at Whispering Canyon Cafe!

    Take a ride over to Wilderness Lodge for a hilarious and delicious dinner at Whispering Canyon Cafe!

    Make a dinner reservation. This suggestion comes with a huge asterisk. DO NOT make any dining reservations before 5 pm on your arrival day regardless of what time your plane lands. Also DO NOT make any dining reservations if your arrival time is after 1 pm. If your flight runs even a little bit late, you run the risk of getting charged the no show rate of $10 per person in your party and that’s definitely not a good way to start! If you know your plane is late, you may be able to call Disney dining and plead your case for a later arrival time.

For arrivals at any time of day

  1. Explore your resort. Whether your room is ready or not, check out all that your resort has to offer from the locations of the restaurants, look at the pool(s), etc.
  2. Swim. Pack your swimsuits in your carry-on luggage and enjoy the pool! Even if your room isn’t ready, there are plenty of places to change and store your clothing at most resorts.
  3. Explore Disney Springs. Disney Springs can be an all afternoon/evening affair. With shopping, dining, and
    Start your day with a trip to the Lego store in Disney Springs!

    Start your day with a trip to the Lego store in Disney Springs!

    entertainment, there’s something for everyone! Here you’ll find fun restaurants like T-Rex and Rainforest Cafe and some fun, kid-friendly shopping like the Build-a-Dino (Like Build-a-bear), Lego Store, Once Upon a Toy Story, and the World of Disney Store which really has a little bit of everything!

  4. Enjoy Wishes Fireworks.You don’t need to be inside Magic Kingdom to enjoy Wishes Fireworks! They can be seen from Contemporary resort 4th floor observation deck, the monorail platform at the ticket and transportation center, or my favorite, the beach of Polynesian Village resort. You can also hop a boat over to Fort Wilderness and watch from their beach as well (this is a much lesser known spot)
  5. Enjoy Cirque du Soleil. A wonderful show located in Downtown Disney is available most nights each week (typically Tuesday – Saturday). There are select Mondays with availability. You can book this reservation prior to your arrival. You may have some limited availability if you purchase tickets the day of the show.
  6. Watch a movie. This provides two choices: 1. Check out your resort (or any Disney resort) to see what the scheduled movie under the starts is for that night. 2. AMC theater located in Disney Springs. Option 1 is FREE!
  7. Mini Golf. Use your free coupon given to all guests with package reservations and get a free round of mini golf! As of 2016, Disney is now offering 4 free coupons for either mini golf course for your length of stay. The coupon must be used before 4 pm, but it’s worth it!
  8. Gear up for your first day in the park. Get a good night’s sleep, unpack your suitcases, grab some maps from your hotel lobby/concierge desk, and get the lay of the land. Make sure you know the appropriate mode of transportation to the park of your choice. Unpack your carry on luggage and get your backpack for the park set so you can just get up and go!

Did I miss your arrival day ritual? I’d love to hear about it!

A free gift for Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)

A free gift for Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)

Ready to get started planning your 2016 Disney World vacation? Please contact me at any time for a free quote. The benefits to using an authorized Disney vacation planner include saving time before and during your vacation with itinerary planning which can help save you hours of standing in line each day. Plus you won’t have to watch for available discounts, research resorts, wake up early for dining reservations, or stay up late for FastPasses. The best part about using a travel planner instead of planning yourself? It’s totally FREE! Plus I’ll take away some of the stress and confusion of planning a Disney vacation (especially if it’s your first one!) It’s also a worry free vacation opportunity. I’ll walk through through all of the steps to the process with a few little insider tips along the way! If you already have your vacation planned and are interested in transferring your vacation, ask me how!