YAY! You’re headed to Walt Disney World!
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about what makes a Disney vacation magical, and I’m so excited to share my top ten tips with you so that you can enjoy your time with Mickey and Minnie without worrying about what you should have done to prepare yourself for a ten hour day in the blazing heat of Animal Kingdom.
Wear Comfortable Shoes
These will be the most important items you pack for your magical vacation. Whether you’re in Disney for a weekend or a two week stay, you can ruin your feet in just one hour and put a damper on the rest of your trip. That being said, I cannot stress the importance of bringing comfortable walking shoes enough!
I’ve found that the best way to preserve my feet is to rotate between two different pairs of shoes – sneakers and sandals. At night, I’ll sometimes change my outfit for dinner and will rock a more fun pair of sandals if I know I won’t be doing miles of walking.
Drink Lots of (Free) Water
Did you know that you can get free water throughout the parks? I only learned this about a year ago after spending way too much on bottled water over the years! You can ask for a cup of ice water at any concessions area and a Cast Member will happily give you a cup. If you’re keen on bringing your own water bottle, just ask for a cup of water when ordering food and pour it into your cup so that you can have ice water on the go!
Choose Your Park Bag Wisely
I have traveled to Disney with a backpack, with a crossbody bag, with a fanny pack, with a tote bag, and with nothing at all. By far, my favorite way to spend a long day at the parks was with my backpack. I have a smaller version than a normal backpack, but it holds absolutely everything I want to bring to the parks and then some. This little thing is cute, fits on all of the rides, and doesn’t create a sore back throughout the day.
Want to see what’s in my park bag? Check out this post.
Prepare for Florida Weather
BYOP. Bring Your Own Poncho. I cannot say this too many times. I have spend $10 countless times in the pouring rain for a Mickey Mouse poncho. You might be asking why poncho vs. raincoat and I’m here to tell you that the less weight you have to carry through a sweltering hot Florida day, the better. Ponchos are light, dry quickly, and fold up into a tiny piece of plastic you can throw in your backpack and forget about until that desperate moment that its pouring or you’re about to get on Splash Mountain. (Plus, you won’t be part of the huddled masses under a shop awning when it’s raining and can use those few minutes to make a dash to your next ride!)
BYOS. Bring Your Own Sunblock. Having been burnt to a crisp on day one of an eight day stint at Walt Disney World, I’m strongly suggesting that you pack some sunblock even if your trip is in the dead of winter. I like to buy a few of the smaller bottles in the travel section and throw one in my park bag and then just toss it once it runs out.
Create a Rough Schedule
I am not a person that can function without a rough schedule for ANYTHING. I wake up in the morning with a rough schedule in my head of what that day will look like.
I highly encourage that you grab a cup of coffee and take some time prior to your trip to put together a rough schedule of where you’re heading on what days. This will help you so much to determine what time you should be waking up in the morning, what parks you’re planning to go to that day, what dining reservations to make, and what FastPasses to reserve. There is nothing worse than waking up at your resort and having no clue what time the parks open to realize that you’ve already missed rope drop at Animal Kingdom and you have no days left to try to get on Flight of Passage without a 90-minute wait. (No, I did not do this, but it sounds absolutely nightmare-ish.)
Know the Importance of Arriving Early
In preparing for your Disney vacation, you may have heard the term rope drop being thrown around. Rope drop is the time at which a Disney park will open for the day. Granted, this may or may not be the official park opening time listed by Disney on their website or on the My Disney Experience app. Each park has a different opening strategy, which is important for you to know if you’re planning to make a mad dash to Flight of Passage the minute Animal Kingdom opens.
Magic Kingdom typically opens their gates one hour prior to official park opening time. This means that if the park is slated to open at 9:00 AM, you can arrive at 8:00 AM and walk through the park gates. However, despite being allowed in one hour prior, you will be contained to Main Street and the areas in front of Cinderella’s Castle. At Magic Kingdom, there is a special Let the Magic Begin welcome show in front of Cinderella’s Castle held five minutes prior to official park open. Once this show concludes, Cast Members will allow you to enter the various lands of the park.
Animal Kingdom typically opens their gates 45-60 minutes prior to official park opening time. This means that if the park is slated to open at 9:00 AM, you can arrive at 8:00 AM and walk through the park gates. Depending on the day, a Cast Member will either slowly walk you into the park toward your destination and corral you to a specific area until a few minutes before 9:00 AM or will allow you to quickly walk straight to your intended destination. If you are hoping to be one of the first in line for Flight of Passage, I recommend arriving 1 hour and 30 minutes prior to official park open.
Hollywood Studios typically opens their gates 30-45 minutes prior to official park opening time. This means that if the park is slated to open at 9:00 AM, you can arrive at 8:30 AM and walk through the park gates. All guests are typically corralled on Hollywood Boulevard, and 10-15 minutes before official park open are led to their intended attraction by a Cast Member. If it is slated to be a busy day, the park is more likely to let you through the gates closer to 45 minutes prior to official park open.
Epcot typically opens their gates 15-30 minutes prior to official park opening time. This means that if the park is slated to open at 9:00 AM, you can arrive at 8:30 AM and walk through the park gates. All guests are typically corralled by the Innovations area of Future World, and ten minutes before official park open are led to their intended attraction by a Cast Member.
Take Advantage of ADRs
Similar to rope drop, this term gets thrown around quite a bit. An ADR is simply an Advanced Dining Reservation. You can make an ADR through the My Disney Experience app (or on the website) 180 days prior to your vacation beginning at 7:00 AM. With Disney getting busier by the day (and seemingly by the minute), it is important to lock down your reservations at popular restaurants at this 180 day mark. That means, if you’re excited to grab breakfast at Be Our Guest during your trip, it is imperative that you log in and book that breakfast the minute your 180 day window opens.
I don’t typically book reservations for every single meal of my vacation, but I’m partial to eating one table service meal a day and like to add that reservation to my schedule so that I know I have one locked in that day.
Grab a Celebration Button
Disney buttons! If you’re celebrating something, head on down to Guest Services and grab a button! Aside from being fun to add to your outfit, Cast Members will go out of their way to send good wishes and ask about what you’re celebrating.
There are four different buttons that you can wear throughout your stay depending on what you’re going for: 1st Visit, Happy Birthday!, I’m Celebrating!, and Happily Ever After. Both the Happy Birthday and I’m Celebrating buttons have space on them so that you can write what exactly you’re excited about.
Plan Matching Outfits
If you’ve read any of my other Disney posts, you know that I love planning my Disney outfits MONTHS in advance (here, here). One of my favorite parks of a Walt Disney World vacation is figuring out exactly what pair of ears will match my outfit that day. If you want to add a little magic to your vacation, plan some fun matching outfits for your park goers!
Planning outfits will be much easier (and cheaper!) ahead of time than trying to figure it out at the Emporium in Magic Kingdom. There are so many places to buy awesome t-shirts, dresses, ears, hats, and accessories from home so that you can pack them before you go.
My favorite places to shop for Disney gear? Etsy, Target, Walmart, and Primark!
Enjoy the Fireworks
I love the fireworks at Disney as much as the next girl, but sometimes I don’t want to make my way all the way into Magic Kingdom for Happily Ever After at 9:00 PM after spending the whole day lounging by the pool. There are wonderful places throughout Walt Disney World where you can get the full fireworks experience without being squished up against the family next to you in the middle of the park.
Magic Kingdom – Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
Epcot – Disney’s Boardwalk, Disney’s Boardwalk Resort
Hollywood Studios – Disney’s Boardwalk, Disney’s Beach Club, Disney’s Yacht Club, Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort
My favorite place outside the parks to catch fireworks? The beach at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.
As always, if you want help planning your magical vacation, I specialize in creating a completely custom dream Disney vacation just for you! Whether you’re about to book or just starting the planning process, send me an email and let me sort through the details so you don’t have to!
Want more info on my services? Check them out here.