Disney World is the most magical place on earth. Everyone knows that.
But, there's a lot about this magical destination that you definitely don't know.
So, to help you plan the best Disney World trip ever, I'm going to pass on some of my Disney World wisdom.
I've been to Disney World more times than I can count. (And, yes, I know how that sounds.) Still, all of those visits have taught me a thing or two.
In this post, I'm going to be talking about
- Hacks that will save you time
- Best tips for saving money (turns out the happiest place on earth is also the most expensive...)
- Best time of year to visit/how to avoid the crowds, if that's even possible anymore
- Park highlights so you don't miss the good stuff
- Hotel recommendations
- Other things to do in Orlando, for when you need a break
It's going to be a beast of a blog post, so if you'd rather get this in a PDF form for easy, distraction free reading, just give me your email and I'll send it straight to your inbox!
Time Saving Hacks
Self-Park at the Swan to Visit Epcot
Parking at the Swan only costs one more dollar than actually parking at Epcot ($23 instead of $22).
Once upon a time, it was probably cheaper to park at the Swan, but then again, it also used to be cheaper to park at Disney...
All I know is that parking for Disney is hella expensive!
Okay, back to why parking at the Swan is better than parking at Epcot.
The walk from the Swan to Epcot is beautiful and relatively short. You get to walk right by the Boardwalk!
Plus, you get to use an entrance located right next to France, which is amazingly quiet!
Just keep in mind, that the world portion of the park technically doesn't open until 11 am, so you will be stuck by France until they take down the ropes (at 11 am). So this is a great option for those of you who want to take your time getting to the park.
The real benefit from parking at the Swan comes when it's time to leave. Instead of lining up with hundreds or thousands of other cars, you get to walk away from the crowds!
Since most people parked at the Swan are actually staying there, it will be a breeze for you and your family to drive away!
When It's Best to Just Park at Epcot?
Park at Epcot if you're planning on visiting another park the same day.
The parking pass that you purchase in Epcot's parking lot will be good for the other 3 parks as well. Just remember that it's only good on the same day that you purchased it!
Don't park at the Swan if you want to be there as soon as the park opens riding rides.
Book Your Fast Passes ASAP!
Disney used to do fast passes on a first-come first-served basis.
And, while it's technically still first-come first-served, you used to be able to show up to the park, go to the first ride you wanted a fast pass for, get it, and return later when your fast pass was good.
For the newer, more popular rides, there was always a mad dash to get the fast passes because they could be gone within the first hour the park opened, but you still had an opportunity to get there first.
Fast passes were never gone before you arrived at the park because no one could reserve them ahead of time.
Now, with the advancement of technology, you can reserve them months in advanced.
Sounds a little crazy, right?
Why This Is So Important
Unfortunately, fast passes for popular and new rides are becoming more difficult to obtain.
Even if you reserve them as early as possible (60 days ahead of time if you stay on Disney property, and 30 days if you don't), some of the fast passes will already be gone.
It's unbelievably annoying.
However, the best thing you can do is set a reminder on your calendar for when you need to reserve them! Also, note that you can make selections starting at 7 am ET 60 days or 30 days (depending on where you're staying) before your vacation.
So, make sure you reserve them then to have the best chance of getting the ones you want!
Make sure you have a game plan. Know which rides your family wants to ride the most and try to get fast passes for those.
Less popular rides (e.g. It's a Small World) will likely have fast passes available on the day you visit, so you can add those after you use your initial 3 fast passes.
However, if your kids will want to drive the cars at the Speedway, I would definitely recommend getting a fast pass for that because it's a terribly long and hot line to wait in.
Make Lunch and Dinner Reservations
If you plan on eating in the park at a sit-down restaurant, which includes everything except quick-service, make sure you check to see if they take reservations!
It gets to a certain point where restaurants will not take walk-ins, which means you will be left walking from restaurant to restaurant trying to find an empty table so you can feed your hangry kids.
Yeah, not exactly ideal...
So, you can browse Disney's different restaurants and make a reservation here!
Have questions about dining at Disney? Get them answered here!
Money Saving Tips
Drink Free Water
Disney would like you to think that you need to pay nearly $4 every time that want some water, but it's actually not true!
You can actually drink water for FREE at Disney World.
All you have to do is walk up to any snack bar with a soda fountain and ask for as many cups of water as you'd like (or as many as you can carry)! You don’t even have to purchase anything!
The water cups are small, but if you drink them throughout the day, they will help you stay hydrated!
I would recommend splurging on a bottle of water while you eat (quick-service) because the cups of water a so small, and it can be difficult to get refills at most quick-service dining options.
Bring Snacks and Lunch
You might think that a big park like Disney might not let you bring food into the parks. After all, there interested in getting as much money from you as possible.
But, the truth is, you can bring food into the park. If you're tight on cash, I highly recommend taking snacks and sandwiches into the park. That way, you can spend some money on enjoying a nice dinner.
You can bring what you feel like. If you think bringing snacks is a good idea, bring snacks. If you'd rather take a sandwich for lunch and enjoy some of the park snacks, do that.
It's really up to you.
Bringing your own food is just an easy way to save money, and more people do it than you think!
Bring Your Own Rain Poncho
If the forecast says it's going to rain, don't let it ruin your fun! Instead, buy a poncho, but not one of the overpriced ones at Disney.
Instead, make a pit-stop at the nearest Walgreens or CVS.
There you will find ponchos for a much more reasonable price. And, they're better than the ones you'd get at a theme park.
Last time I was at Disney World they were charging about $10 for a Poncho.
I think I got two Ponchos at Walgreens for around $5-6.
Yeah, big savings.
You might be thinking about bringing an umbrella, which seems like a great idea, but unfortunately, it doesn't exactly work well. Umbrellas suck in crowds. That and you'll likely be dumping water on everyone you love and total strangers. And, you have to hold it over your head.
Go Back to Your Hotel for Lunch
This is similar to packing a lunch, only easier because you don't have to carry it or prep anything the morning of (or night before if you're on top of your shit).
Eating at your hotel room is a great choice because it gives you a break from the crowds and heat in addition to saving you some money.
Mid-day is the hottest and busiest part of the day at Disney, so it's the least fun time of day to be in the park. So, why not take a break and enjoy sandwiches back at the hotel?
This is the easiest when you actually get up and get out to the parks as early as you can and are interested in staying as late as you can. This break will seriously save you!
Also, if you stay on Disney property, this becomes extra easy because you have free transportation to and from the parks.
Best Time of Year to Visit
Avoid the Heat and Crowds
Interestingly enough, you can avoid the heat and crowds at the same time.
Of course, you can't avoid the crowds at Disney like you used to be able to. There was a point in time where you could go and not wait longer than 30 minutes for anything. I'm pretty sure those days are long gone.
Still, there are some times of the year that are just better to visit during than others.
First, never visit when school is out in the US. Just don't. This includes summer break, spring break, and holiday breaks.
Special events at Disney also tend to draw an extraordinarily large crowd. So, unless you really want to enjoy the events, avoid them.
My best suggestion would be to visit from mid January to mid February. You avoid the people still on holiday break and you ensure you miss spring break.
Normal Hours: Tuesday - Thursday 9 am to 8 pm and Friday - Monday 9 am to 9 pm (Hours often change based on holidays and events).
Animal Kingdom is Disney’s biggest park (measured by landmass).
This means that there’s tons of awesome things to see and do!
Animals from all over the world are in exhibits at Animal Kingdom. The park offers educational information about the animals and wildlife conservation, which means everyone can learn something!
Animal Kingdom is the biggest Disney World park by landmass. It has a ton of animal exhibits and fun activities.
This park is highly focused on educating people on animals, environments, and how to protect both, which is a noble task.
Here are some of my favorite rides:
- Expedition Everest - This is a high speed rollercoaster that is a ton of fun. You won't be going upside-down, but you might go backwards...
- Kilimanjaro Safaris - This is a personal favorite. While they have changed the ride (there's no more fun story about chasing poachers), it's still a super fun way to see the animals up close!
- DINOSAUR - This ride is always a blast. Go back in time to retrieve something, but be careful because time is running out!
- Primeval Whirl - This is a short ride, but so much fun! This outdoor coaster will whip you around and have you dying to go again.
- Avatar Flight of Passage - This ride offers quite the unique experience whether you enjoyed the Avatar movie or not. It's a simulation ride that's incredible.
And, here are some restaurants you won't want to miss:
- Yak and Yeti - This uniquely styled restaurant serves Asian cuisine. I haven't tried it yet, but it's one of Animal Kingdom's more unique restaurants that serves more than burgers and chicken nuggets. I can't wait to go back so I can try it out!
- Rainforest Cafe - This restaurant does a great job at immersing you in the Rainforest. If you've never been to one before, it's a fun experience!
While all of the Disney parks are magical, there is a little bit of extra pixie dust sprinkled on this one.
Seeing Cinderella's Castle is an unforgettable experience.
Make sure you take a photo in front of the castle. You can have a cast member take the photo, which you can then purchase. Or, you can bring a selfie stick and do it yourself.
Either way, you'll want that iconic photo.
Magic Kingdom has a ton of rides and character meet and greets, which makes this the more popular park.
Of course, the other parks have rides and meet and greets, but Magic Kingdom is on a different level.
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad - This is a wooden rollercoaster and is so much fun!
- Space Mountain - This rollarcoaster is a little intense because it takes place in the dark, but it's a blast!
- Seven Drawfs Mine Train - This rollercoaster is new and incredibly smooth. It's definitely a fun time, especially if you love Snow White!
- Pirates of the Caribbean - This is a mostly gentle boat ride that takes you through one of Jack Sparrow's adventures.
- Haunted Mansion - This ride is a slow-paced ride, but it's a bit spooky.
- Be Our Guest - If you love Beauty and the Beast, you cannot miss this restaurant. You get to enjoy French cuisine and dine in Belle's castle! It's worth the wait.
- Cinderella's Royal Table - This is an expensive restaurant, but it could be worth the price if you're interested in eating INSIDE Cinderella's Castle. And yes, Cinderella and Prince Charming will make an appearance.
As a kid, I did not particularly enjoy Epcot. It doesn't have quite as many rides, and there's a lot more walking and looking.
As an adult, I have grown to appreciate it a lot more. And, I actually love visiting Epcot now!
I enjoy walking around the "world" and trying different food and drinks.
Plus, there are some sweet attractions that offer unique experiences.
They're getting ready to change a ton of things at the park, so I'm not sure how many of these rides will be there at the end of the renovations. So you best get there fast to experience these gems.
- Test Track - You can design your car, and then go take it for a test drive. You'll put the car through a series of tests that are a blast!
- Relaunched! Mission: SPACE - This ride simulates being launched into space and a feeling of weightlessness. There is an intense version and a less intense version. Having done both, I now stick to the less intense version as the intense one nearly made me pass out. Hey, don't judge. You try being spun around at high speeds. No seriously, try it! (Just make sure you read the warnings first.)
- Frozen Ever After - This used to be a Norse ride, and I'm honestly upset that it's now a Frozen ride, but it still has the same track, so it made the list of favorites anyway.
- Soarin' - This is an amazing ride that takes you on a smooth journey, but it still offers that crazy experience that you likely won't get anywhere else.
The thing about Epcot is that there is so much good food! Epcot is a great place to try something new. So, while you can get some great Mexican food, I would recommend trying something a little more exotic.
- Chefs de France - This, if you couldn't guess, is a French restaurant. When I was there, the waitress (who was from France) said that the food was actually pretty authentic.
- Rose & Crown - This restaurant serves British cuisine. While perhaps this food isn't particularly exotic, I bet you eat it less often than Mexican food. 😉
- Sommerfest - This is a quick-service restaurant that serves German cuisine (yum)!
Hollywood Studios focuses a lot on movies and the making of movies.
The park offers a lot of great rides and shows.
Throughout the years, the attractions at this park have changed quite a bit. Now, it is home to Toy Story Land, which is brand new. I haven't seen it yet, but it looks pretty amazing. It's supposed to make you feel as small as a toy!
- Rock 'n' Rollercoaster - This is a high speed ride that will flip you every which way. (This was the first rollercoaster I rode that turned me upside down.)
- Star Tours - If you're a Star Wars fan, you'll love this simulation ride. You get to go on a galactic adventure with your favorite robots (C-3PO and R2-D2).
- Toy Story Mania - On this ride, you get to shoot things with foam balls. Yep. It's just as fun as it sounds.
ALL-TIME Best Show:
There are a good number of shows at this park, but my favorite by far is the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.
It's so incredibly entertaining! I've seen this show countless times, and I still love going to see it.
Where to Stay
I highly recommend staying on Disney Property.
It tends to be a bit more expensive, but you really get the most for your money.
I've stayed on property and off and on property, and staying on property really takes the headache out of Disney.
Here's all the reasons why I like it:
- Complimentary bus rides to and from the parks, Disney Springs, and Disney’s waterparks. (btw, why the fuck is parking so expensive?!?!?!)
- Access to Extra Magic Hours (either an hour earlier or later than the parks are normally open)
- Character breakfasts (offered at some hotels)
- Excellent guest services
- Fantastic facilities (pools, etc.)
- On-site restaurants
- MagicBands included
- Priority Fastpass selection
- Souvenirs sent back to your room
Discover Your Perfect Disney Resort
Looking at all of the Disney Resort options can be difficult, so I went ahead and did most of the hard work for you!
I grouped together the different resorts. They are separated into price categories. Of course, the more expensive they are, the more features they come with. In fact, some of the expensive resorts offer an entire experience that's just out of this world!
But, before I get carried away, here's the quick guide! (If you need to make it bigger, just click on it!)
Want way more information?
Take a look at my full Disney World Resort comparison guide! No email required!
Things to do other than Disney World
As frickin' sweet as it would be, sometimes you can't fill every day of your vacation with Disney World. #ThatShitCostsMoney
So, here are some other fun things you can do in Orlando!
Just because you're not at the parks doesn't mean you can't enjoy some more Disney magic.
Disney Springs has gotten a makeover and, damn, does it look good!
Disney Springs has a ton of great restaurants and shops, many of which you won't find in too many other places.
For example, you can visit an entire store devoted to Legos. Plus, they have some very impressive Lego statues that make great photo ops.
If you're not great at enjoying down-time (like me), you might want to consider taking a trip to Universal Studios.
While it's a theme park, and can be a bit pricey, it's incredibly different from Disney, and many of the rides are geared towards an older audience.
If you love Harry Potter, this is a must visit! You'll have a blast exploring the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. (They did an incredible job with it. Here's a sneak peak!)
Universal City Walk
If you're not interested in spending more money on theme park tickets, which I totally get, you can still get a small taste of Universal and enjoy their City Walk.
This is similar to Disney Springs but much smaller.
Still, it has some great restaurants that you can't find very often.
For example, you can enjoy a Hurricane and beignets at Pat O'Briens, which is a famous restaurant that started in New Orleans. And, get this, there's only three of them in the world. Yep. THREE!
Universal Studios has quite a few clubs, so it's a great place to enjoy some nightlife, too.
We recently enjoyed dueling pianos at Pat O'Briens and Karakoke at a Karaoke bar called Rising Star!
Rising Star was crazy! I have never been to a bar like it! They had a live band and back up singers! Yeah. It's legit! My husband even got up and sang a song! He killed it, of course. But, I was too nervous and just enjoy my margarita and watching everyone else sing!
Just make sure you have a safe ride back to your hotel set up, if you plan on drinking! We planned ahead, and Ubered to and from City Walk. There are a lot of Ubers in Orlando, and it's honestly not all that expensive (on normal nights).
I hope that you found this post incredibly helpful and valuable!
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