Hey guys! I promised I would do a recap of my Disney World trip and give you some of my best tips, tricks, and recommendations to enjoying a vacation at the Happiest Place on Earth!
I have always been a huge fan of all things Disney. I’ve been going to Disneyland and Disney World since I was very young. Growing up in Arizona, it was nice because Disneyland was only a short 6 hour drive away! We probably went just about every summer when I was younger. Then when my husband and I got together, we realized we shared the same love for Disney and we started making the trip multiple times a year (this is before kids!). We have gone on a Disney cruise together and even had annual passports for several years while living in California (back when they were much more affordable!).
When we moved to Texas, Disney World became the more convenient travel spot than Disneyland. My in-laws use to live in Florida, so making trips to Florida meant we could stay with them and go to the Magic Kingdom in the same trip. We even got annual passports two years ago to Disney World!
All of this is just to show you that while I don’t claim to be an expert about Disney, I’m quite a regular and think I can offer some tips and tricks as a seasoned Disney regular!
When you are planning your trip to Disney World, the first thing you should consider is the time of year you plan to go. The busiest times of year are obviously during the holidays, spring break, and Fourth of July. New Year’s Eve is almost always the busiest day of the year at the Magic Kingdom. The park often reaches capacity that day (it did this past NYE). Unless you REALLY want to be there for New Year’s Eve, I wouldn’t bother. And if you do, be sure to look into the various private parties Disney has on NYE. There are several that have food and have exclusive seating for the fireworks show (although they are quite pricey…$100-200 per person in addition to admission).
The best time to visit the parks is during January and most of February (except President’s day/Valentine’s Day weekend….I’ve been there during that time so I can attest to how crazy it is!). Another good time to go is in September and early October after school gets back into session. Pretty much any time it’s inconvenient for families with school aged kids to go, is when it’s not as busy! So if you have the ability to take your kids out of school during those times (or have toddlers or home school) then I definitely would recommend going during those off-peak times.
When we visit Disney World we almost always stay “on property” at a Disney Resort Hotel. There are perks to staying on property including: 1) entrance into the park during “Magic Hours” either before or after normal park hours (at all parks) allowing you to avoid the lines and crowds 2) ability to book your Fast Passes 60 days in advance (more on this later) 3) access to Disney’s bus transportation or monorail to and from your hotel.
We have stayed at various resort hotels at Disney World over the years. Disney breaks their hotels up into three categories based on price/type of accommodations: value, moderate, and deluxe.
We normally stay at moderate resorts, though we’ve stayed at a couple deluxe resorts over the years. The value resorts I hear are very nice too. Our main issue with many of the Disney resorts is that their regular rooms won’t accommodate 5 people. And because of how Disney does your park tickets so you can take advantage of the perks for staying at a Disney resort hotel, it’s not a situation where you just can have one of your kids sleep on the floor or sofa. Every guest has to be accounted for on the registration in order to take advantage of the Disney Resort Guest perks. Not many of the resorts have normal rooms (which aren’t super expensive suites) that have enough beds for 5, and we certainly don’t want to book 2 rooms. Some rooms do, however, have a pull down single bed for a fifth person…which is usually the type of room we book. So if you have 5 or 6 people in your family that’s just something to consider. Here’s a run down of the resorts we’ve personally stayed at and my rating of their pros and cons:
Contemporary Resort (Deluxe):
My husband and I stayed here a long time ago (pre-kids) when we did a “land and sea” Disney trip and and went on a Disney cruise! This is the hotel that has the monorail going through the hotel! I can’t really speak to the current accommodations because it was so long ago, but I will say that being so close to the Magic Kingdom and have the monorail to get to both Magic Kingdom and Epcot is a huge bonus!! They have some great restaurants on property including Chef Mickey’s Character dining buffet. And you can even see the nightly fireworks show from many of the rooms at the Contemporary. It is quite a bit pricier than most other resorts on Disney’s property due to its convenient location and deluxe accommodations.
Animal Kingdom Lodge (Deluxe):
We stayed here in the summer of 2017! We got a great deal when we were annual pass holders on a 2 room suite at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. This is a very nice and luxurious hotel. The lobby alone is one of the most grand of all the Disney resort hotels. We loved the accommodations! The rooms were very well appointed. There are several great restaurants on property including the very popular Boma restaurant (the breakfast buffet there is amazing). And one of the coolest things of this resort, is that due to its proximity to the Animal Kingdom park, you can see animals from many of the rooms and the lobby!
Recommended: Yes! Probably our favorite hotel.
Caribbean Beach Resort (Moderate):
We stayed at this resort also in 2017. There’s nothing wrong with this resort, but it just isn’t our favorite. It is affordable and does have the option for 5 people to be in one room, due to a fold down single bed in many rooms. It is a very spread out resort, which is not necessarily a good thing when you are trying to get to a bus stop to catch a bus to the parks. It is next to a nice lake and feels very tropical and vacation-like, and it has a very nice pool area! In a few years it is even slated to be connected to Hollywood Studios via a skyway that is currently being built!
Recommended: Maybe! Not my favorite, but definitely something to consider for affordability and for families of 5.
Port Orleans Resort-Riverside (Moderate):
This is where we most recently stayed this past December and have stayed here before! We love this hotel. Not only is it extremely affordable for a Moderate Resort, it’s really nice, and accommodates our family of 5 with the extra pull down bed! The best part of this resort for us was that our room happened to be right next to the first bus stop of the resort. So we were always the first to get on and the first to get off the Disney bus. If you’re not aware, Disney offers free bus transportation to and from Disney resort hotels and the Disney parks. If you stay here, ask to have a room close to the first bus stop! I promise it will make a huge difference!
Recommended: definitely Yes!
Obviously there are many other nice resorts at the Disney resort, but I’m not going to review any of them that I haven’t personally stayed at.
Once you pick your hotel, it’s time to plan all the other details of your vacation! Your dining reservations are the first thing you’ll need get set up. You can book dining reservations 6 months ahead of time (and you don’t have to have park tickets or hotel reservations to do so! You just have to add a credit card to hold your reservation).
There are many different options for dining at the Disney Resorts. I’m just going to review what my family usually does when we go to the parks. We don’t use the Disney Dining plan, but that is definitely something you should investigate if you think it might work for your family.
What we usually do is book reservations for one sit-down Restaurant for each day of our trip. That way we know we will at least have one good meal, where we won’t have to worry about fighting the crowds to get food and to find a table. You need to make your dining reservations as soon as you know your vacation dates. The popular restaurants (such as Cinderella’s Royal Table and Be Our Guest restaurants) will book up fast. For the rest of our meals we just do quick service restaurants or eat our weight in popcorn and churros! 😉 Some of our favorite full service restaurants include:
At Magic Kingdom:
The Plaza Restaurant (for breakfast)
The Crystal Palace (character dining buffet)
Be Our Guest (it’s definitely an experience!)
At Hollywood Studios:
Sci-fi Dine-In Theatre
Mama Melrose’s Ristorante
(There’s a ton here! We haven’t even tried them all! One of the best parts of Epcot is walking around the World Showcase and trying out all the food from other countries. Here’s a few of our favorites.).
San Angel Restaurante
La Cantina de San Angel (this is a quick service, so no reservations required) but this place is a must!
Nine Dragons (Chinese)
Les Halles Boulangerie-Patisserie (Another must-try quick service restaurant)
At Animal Kingdom:
Tusker House (Donald’s Buffet Breakfast)
Many of the Disney Resort Hotels also offer fabulous dining options…and you don’t have to be a guest of the hotel to enjoy them!
Chef Mickey’s (Character Buffet Dining)
‘Ohana Restaurant (Family Style, Character dining)
Grand Floridian Cafe
Animal Kingdom Lodge:
Another important step in preparing for your Disney trip is reserving all your Fast Passes. If you’ve never done Fast Passes before….what you do is reserve a particular attraction and time which then allows you to skip the line and ride during your scheduled time! You can book 3 Fast Passes at a time in advance (and they all have to be at the same park). Once you complete your three Fast Passes for the day, you can keep booking an additional Fast Pass, one at a time, at any park! You definitely need to have the Disney World app to plan for all your Fast Passes.
If you stay at a Disney Resort hotel, you will be able to book your Fast Passes exactly 60 days in advance of your trip. You will he able to make all your Fast Passes for each day of your stay starting on that 60 day mark! I highly recommend getting up early and be ready to book your Fast Passes on the Disney World app right when you can , at 7am (60 days from the first day of your stay).
I recommend getting the Avatar: Flight of Passage booked first because this is currently the longest wait time at all the Disney Parks, and it is honestly the most amazing ride I’ve ever been on at any park! It is truly an experience you’re not going to want to miss!
You can only book the 3 Fast Passes at one park at a time. So make sure you determine beforehand which parks you are visiting, and coordinate the Fast Passes with any dining reservations you have already made. You should definitely download the Disney World App, to book all reservations and keep track of your Fast Passes. You can link every one in your party’s park tickets and make Fast Pass reservations for everyone in your family at the same time.
There are several websites that help you determine which park is the best (and least crowded) to go to each day of the week based on based crowd estimates. For example, depending on whether a park has early entry or not can influence how crowded that park will be that day. I have found that if a park has early entry, usually it is more crowded for the rest of the day. So if you’re not doing early entry, I would suggest going to a park that does not have early entry. Of course if you have park hopper tickets you can go to as many parks as you want on any day, but like I said, you can only book your three fast passes for one park at a time.
Some Tricks and Tips I’ve learned from my many trips to Disney:
1) Go on the People Mover at Magic Kingdom when it gets really crowded.
2) Make your Fast Passes for late morning. That way you can ride several rides early in the morning before it gets more crowded, then you can get your 3 fast passes all done quickly so you can make more fast passes at any park!
3) Utilize single rider lines for shorter wait times
4) If you have young kids who aren’t able to ride some attractions, you can utilize the “Rider Switch” Pass. One person can alert a Disney Castmember at the front of the line that they are going to do a “rider switch”. They will hand you a pass and one parent will wait in line while the other stays outside with the kid(s). After the first parent rides, they simply give the “Rider Switch” Pass to the other parent who can skip to the front of the line!
5) Make ALL dining reservations 6 months ahead of time! This is important! And you don’t need to have your tickets or hotel reservations to do so! If you don’t get the restaurant you’re hoping for, keep checking back because there are always cancellations especially as you get close to the date of your trip.
6) There is a secret boat ride inside of the Mexican Exhibit at Epcot! Don’t miss it! There’s rarely ever a line!
7) Invest in the Disney PhotoPass! It’s really worth it! You’ll have access to all your photos from the attractions and can have your photo taken by Disney professional photographers any time you want!
8) You can now order your food at many quick service restaurants using the Disney Mobile app! It’s so convenient…just place the order on the app, avoid the line, and get a text message when your food is ready at the counter!
9) As long as you get in line before the official close of the park, you can still ride the ride! So even if you get in line at 11:59pm when the park closes at midnight, you can still stay and ride the attraction even if it’s an hour wait!
10) There is a little wiggle room to the Fast Pass times. We have found you can arrive around 10 minutes before your official Fast Pass start time, and can ride around 15 minutes past your Fast Pass time (although this is at the discretion of the Cast Member at the ride entrance). We’ve even been allowed to use our Fast Passes an hour after our Fast Passes expired!
Let me know if you guys have any other questions! Hope this little run down of our experiences at the Disney Resort is helpful!
Erin is passionate about decorating on a budget and loves to share tips and ideas! She believes that you don’t have to break your budget to have a stylish home that you love!! Her belief in having affordable, stylish design led her to create the My Texas House line of products.