In February my family and I headed to Orlando, Florida for a Disney Vacation. We had an incredible time and since returning I have been asked many times for some helpful tips for anyone traveling or considering going to Disney.
My wife and I were very observant while at Disney, and what I think was a well-planned vacation. When I say “well-planned” I do not mean that every minute was planned, but we had a basic strategy of what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go while there. Our time was relaxed, we had loads of fun, and our daughter thoroughly enjoyed her 13th birthday speeding around the Magic Kingdom, enjoying the rides, the characters and the amazing Disney hospitality.
We did manage to develop a set of tips and these have evolved into our Disney Vacation Survival Guide.
Here’s some of the things that my wife and I came up with as tips to help those traveling to Disney. We hope that these tips will help you get the most out of your Disney experience and enjoy your vacation as much as we did.
- Avoid the Disney crowds. While this may sound easy, the Disney theme parks are packed from opening until closing. However, if you plan your trip carefully, you can enjoy your Disney stay with smaller crowds. Book your vacation during off-peak periods. We traveled to Orlando in early February, had wonderful weather (average temperature 27 Celsius) and got to experience Disney with smaller crowds. The only downside to this is the possibility of experiencing cooler temperatures and a Florida winter.
- Visit the Disney theme parks early in the morning or in the evening. Continuing with our first tip, this will also help minimize the crowds. Many of the theme parks have “Extra Magic Hours” meaning the parks open earlier and stay opened later for resort guests. Using this extra time can make the difference of avoiding long lines and seeing more of the park during your stay.
- Arrive at the theme parks prepared. Your trip to Disney will mean walking around the theme parks. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes and clothing. Bring a backpack for hats, sunscreen and jackets and snacks, including water bottles. Doing this means you can stay longer, even through the cool evenings, and avoid paying theme park prices for snacks and water. It’s not only a time saver, but also a money saver. If you plan on going to the water parks while at Disney, bring lots of sunscreen and water shoes. These items cost a bundle if you wait until there to buy them. I paid $20 for a pair of water shoes that are $5 at a local department store.
- Bring your own stroller. If you have small children, bring your own stroller. Disney offers stroller rentals but at $10-$12 a day, save your money. The airlines will let you check it through on your luggage and while at the theme parks, it will probably be much easier to find than one of hundreds of Disney rentals scattered throughout the attractions.
- Stay on the resort if possible. The Disney transportation system is amazing with buses and monorail systems to bring you to and from every Disney theme park free of charge. Plus, you can also avail of many resort based activities free of charge, including Extra Magic Hours if you are a resort guest.
- Buy multi-day passes with park hopper option. Purchase your tickets in advance and it is worth paying for the park hopper option. We often traveled from one theme park to another theme park to catch an event or attraction. Plus there was no waiting in lines or fear of being turned away from a gate just because we were at another Disney park earlier in the day. It is a great money and time saver as well.
- Use the Disney Fast-Pass system. Why wait in line when you can get a coupon at a ride or attraction, visit the rest of the theme park and then return at a designated time to by-pass the lines and go right to the rides. We used this many times and it was great especially when the more popular attractions had lines that would have required us to wait for 2 hours and we simply waited minutes! Word of caution however, don’t expect to get several fast-passes at one time. You have to wait a few hours before you can get a second fast-pass and there are also limited numbers of passes for each ride and attraction.
- Watch what you eat. If you are on the Disney Dining Plan and try to eat healthy, be prepared for what you will receive. Many of the restaurants have very few healthy choices and the serving sizes are enormous. This was our biggest complaint. There was way too much food and it felt like we were consuming 10,000 calories a day. Avoid that bloated feeling by choosing meals that are “healthier” and don’t be afraid to push your plate back when there’s still food on it. Word of caution, gratuities are not included in the meal plan. Budget for an additional 18 – 20 percent above the cost of the meals ($15 – $20 on average).
- Don’t shop for souvenirs until near the end of your vacation. Every souvenir at Disney is priced the same regardless of which store you buy it in. The rides are designed in such a way that when you exit the ride, you end up in a shop. Great marketing for Disney but terrible if you are trying to avoid spending oodles of money. Browse the shops, but wait until near the end of the vacation and you are sure what you want to buy. This will safe you a lot of money in the long run.
- Bring autograph books for the Disney characters. If you want the autographs of the Disney characters, bring an autograph book with you. We learned this the hard way and spent $12 for a small autograph book that we could have purchased for $2 before arriving. There are ample opportunities to capture your favourite Disney character’s autograph and being prepared before you arrive will save time and money.
- Take lots of pictures. Disney is absolutely amazing. We have thousands of pictures to preserve the memories from our vacation. Check the locations of the Disney characters on the theme park maps and make a point to visit them. The kids (and adults) will love it. Disney does promote its own “Photo Pass” system where a professional Disney photographer will take your picture and if asked, they will also use your own camera to take a shot. The Photo Pass system is convenient but why pay for something that you can get for free with your own digital camera?
- Have fun and relax! Remember, you are on vacation. Enjoy the Disney theme parks and the time with friends and family. The theme parks are so huge it will be impossible to do everything in a single day. Don’t be overwhelmed and make sure that your stay is long enough to do the things that you want. Our stay was 12 days long but in hindsight, 10 days would have been plenty. We did however, take the opportunity to visit Orlando, do some shopping and found a great outlet mall where there was a Disney store offering discounted souvenirs for about 50 percent of what the same items cost on the resort!
When it comes to Disney, it is truly the world’s happiest place. We had a blast and I would recommend a Disney Vacation to anyone.
We hope that these tips compiled into our Disney Vacation Survival Guide help you have a wonderful vacation while in Orlando, Florida.