This Guide has been generously sponsored by
Ryan Fink- Magic Vacations
Ryan Fink- Magic Vacations helps you enhance the magic! Let Ryan plan and book your Disney vacation to receive insider tips and advice, custom itinerary planning, and white glove concierge service. Save money by receiving the most up to date promotions and price monitoring services. Ryan provides this complimentary service to every client who books directly with him, and you pay the same price as if you booked on your own.
There is probably nothing as exciting or as intimidating as planning a family trip to Walt Disney World. Luckily, there are so many experienced visitors out there to learn from. We have been a few times ourselves, and thanks to some advance research, each visit was absolutely magical.
However, we also learn new things each time, especially as our kids get older, new attractions open, or park rules change. Over the years, we've collected our own list of tips and tricks for the next set of Disney bound parents to benefit from.
TOOLS TO USE
- Enlist the help of a travel agent, like Ryan Fink- Magic Vacations. His services are complimentary when you book with him, and you pay the same price as if you booked on your own.
- Download and set-up your MyDisneyExperience account. This will put all your tickets, hotel, and dining information all in one spot, organized into daily itineraries. You can add all members of your party so you can all make and share plans together. In park, use the app to track real-time wait times for rides and attractions. Plus you need the MyDisneyExperience app to be able to utilize Genie+.
- If you will be doing all the planning on your own, purchase a subscription to TouringPlans.com. If you have the flexibility, use their Crowd Calendar to find the least crowded times to visit Walt Disney World. You can also use the Crowd Calendar to plan which parks to go to on each day of your trip. Once you know which parks you will be in, you can use Touring Plans to customize detailed, personalized, daily itineraries factoring in your desired attractions, character greetings, fireworks, parades, meals, and breaks. They will even take into account your walking speed, and can be adjusted on the fly. Wait time estimates on Touring Plans are known to be extremely accurate.
If you are visiting before January 8, 2024, check the park availability before you purchase your tickets.
- Individual park reservations are required.
- Does not include 4-Park Magic Ticket.
- Does not include 1-day ticket for a specific date and theme park.
- After January 8, 2024, most tickets will not require individual park reservations.
- Choose the type of tickets you want to purchase.
- Children under 3 are free.
- Child tickets are available for ages 3-9.
- Tickets are valid at Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Disney's Animal Kingdom.
- Water Parks require separate tickets.
- Ticket prices vary depending on what day you will begin your park visits.
- Multi-day tickets cost less on a per-day-basis as you add more days.
- You have a specified number of days, from the first day a ticket is used, to utilize your multi-day tickets. (Length of Use)
- Adding Park Hopper allows you visit multiple parks in one day after 2pm (based on availability.)
- If you purchase Park Hopper, you only need to make reservations for the first park of the day.
- There is also a Park Hopper Plus Option.
To save money, if it is cheaper to purchase a multi-day ticket beginning prior to your planned visit, you may do so, as long as you can still get your park visits in within the specified ticket length of use.
- Purchase Genie+, for each member of your group, on the MyDisneyExperience app.
- Genie+ service gives you access to the Lightning Lanes of available rides and attractions.
- Lightning Lanes significantly reduce time waiting in lines by essentially placing guests in a virtual queue with specified arrival times.
- Genie+ service can be purchased starting at 12am on the day of your park visit, based on availability.
- At 7am, on the day of your park visit, you can book your first Lightning Lane arrival time, based on availability.
- In order to select your next Lightning Lane, you must either redeem the first booking, or wait 2 hours until you can make another booking.
- Touring Plans, or the free Disney Genie service, can help you optimize Genie+ reservations.
- Purchase individual Lightning Lane Entry for attractions not offered through the Genie+ service.
- You may purchase individual Lightning Lane Entry for up to two experiences per day.
- Resort guests can make their first individual Lightning Lane selection at 7am on the day of park visit.
- Non-resort guests can make their first individual Lightning Lane selection when the park opens.
- The most popular rides can sell out quickly.
We recommend staying at a Walt Disney World Resort. We also recommend giving yourself some break days between parks to spend at the resort, if possible.
- Free Shuttle Transportation between resorts, parks, and even Disney Springs. Gets your door to door in less time, and avoids parking fees.
- Proximity makes it not only easier to get to and from the parks at the beginning and end of your day, but also for midday siestas!
- Each property has its own theme and no detail is missed. You are immediately immersed in the fantasy land that is Disney World with character experiences and special touches like welcome letters from Tiana at the Port Orleans Resort.
- Extra Magic Hours allow WDW guests only special times in the parks not available to the public. These are absolutely key for getting on some of the most popular rides and attractions.
- The pools are equally on theme and include entertainment such as trivia contests, dance parties, and dive-in movies.
- Customer Service at Disney World is unparalleled and this includes the resorts.
Planning your dining is a WHOLE THING.
- Dining reservations within the parks and resorts can be made 60 days in advance.
- It used to be that resort guests could book even earlier, that is no longer the case.
- Reservations become available at 6AM EASTERN TIME each day.
- Character dining particularly will sell out quickly!
- Character dining not to be missed:
- Cinderella's Royal Table at Magic Kingdom - There is no better welcoming to the Magic Kingdom than to be greeted by Cinderella herself at her castle, and then visited table side by several of her princess friends. For the young, and old, it is a dream come true.
- Akershus Royal Banquet Hall at EPCOT - Enjoy family-style platters in a medieval castle while multiple story book princesses appear in person.
- Story Book Dining at Artist Point with Snow White at Disney's Wilderness Lodge - in addition to a delicious feast and themed cocktails/mocktails, enjoy dinner with Snow White, Dopey, Grumpy, and even the Evil Queen! The tweens/teens may appreciate the Evil Queen's dedication to her character, and find her general disgust quite amusing.
- Character dining not to be missed:
Breakfast at some restaurants, including Cinderella's Royal Table and Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, begins before the park officially opens. Therefore, if you are aiming to get into the park before rope drop, consider making a breakfast reservation.
- Our favorite non-character Table Service restaurants:
- Be Our Guest at Magic Kingdom - Step into the animation and dine in the elegant ballroom where Beast and Belle had their famous dance.
- Note, on occasion, Beast will visit the dining room. If you are lucky, he'll even meet and greet guests in his study. Belle does not make an appearance at the Be Our Guest experience.
- If you want to meet Belle, do the Enchanted Tales with Belle attraction at Magic Kingdom.
- If your kids have Beauty and the Beast costumes, wear them. It'll make for great pictures. Beast even danced with our little Belle.
- Biergarten at EPCOT- While you fill up your kids' plates and yours at the German buffet, the kids can follow the oompah music down to the dance floor. They'll be doing the "Chicken Dance" played by the energetic Polka band in no time!
- Space 220 Restaurant at EPCOT - View the earth from 220 miles up at this all-new restaurant. Board the "space elevator" that will transport you to a space station to dine among the stars. Kids will be in awe of the panoramic space scenery.
- Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant at Hollywood Studios - As the kids say, this place is "a vibe." As you sit in car-shaped booths and tables under the artificial star-lit sky, watching old movie clips on the big screen, drinking thick milkshakes, you will truly feel like you are in a 1950's drive-in theater. Just beware, some of the clips of aliens or monsters can be a little scary for smaller children.
- T-REX at Disney Springs - There is so much to explore in this prehistoric themed cafe. From staring at life-sized, animatronic dinosaurs to digging for fossils or witnessing a meteor shower, the whole family will have plenty to keep them entertained during their visit.
- Be Our Guest at Magic Kingdom - Step into the animation and dine in the elegant ballroom where Beast and Belle had their famous dance.
If you aren't able to secure a reservation at your desired location, do not lose hope! Keep trying even up to the very day and time you were looking for. Availability is very dynamic.
- Kids' menus are available for kids up to age 9.
- Many table service and quick service restaurants will allow anyone to order off the kids' menu. Do double-check with your server as some restaurants have their own policies.
- Children over 9 will be charged the full adult price for most buffets.
- Children under 3 are free at buffets.
- Children under 3 may plate-share at table service restaurants.
- There is no shortage of cleverly themed and diverse quick service restaurants throughout the parks and resorts.
- Avoid lines by utilizing mobile ordering via the MyDisneyExperience app.
- Free ice water is available at all quick service restaurants.
To save money, you can bring outside food and non-alcoholic drinks into the parks. Buy bread/cold cuts/etc. at the hotel commissary and store in the room fridge. Pack lunches each day, or plan on midday breaks back at the hotel.
Disney's Enchanting Extras Collection offers very special experiences at an added cost. If you can afford it, we've listed three we would recommend splurging on.
- Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique - Give your kids the full royal treatment with pampering packages that include hair dos, makeup, nail polish, and sweet accessories.
- Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique can be booked up to 60 days in advance.
- Beautiful princess dresses are available as add-ons. Pro Tip: Bring one from home!
- Knight Packages are available also.
When making your booking consider what you will be doing after the boutique, or be sure to plan the rest of your day accordingly, i.e. you don’t want to go swimming after paying for hair styling and make-up applications.
- Magic Kingdom Fireworks Dessert Parties: Pre-Party - After a buffet of sweet treats, get escorted to a VIP area to watch the Happily Ever After firework spectacular from an optimal viewing location.
- Dessert parties can be booked up to 60 days in advance.
- If choosing between a dessert party at Magic Kingdom versus EPCOT, we recommend Magic Kingdom as its easier to find a good viewing spot of the EPCOT show. You are going to want to see the projections on the castle.
- Droid Depot - Assemble a custom Astromech Unit (Droid.)
- Droid Depot does accept a limited number of same day reservations, but advance reservations are highly recommended.
- Completed droids utilize Bluetooth technology to communicate and interact with other droids as well as features within Batuu and other Disney parks and resorts.
- The experience area is limited to one builder and one guest. One of which must be at least 14 years old.
- Though the droid can be remote-controlled, droids must be carried around at the theme parks.
- Costumes! There is no better time for your kids to play dress-up and maybe get some extra use of Halloween costumes.
- If you have any prince/princess outfits, characters will curtsy for your child and call them Your Highness, etc. They will get a real kick out of it. It also makes for even greater photos.
- If your kids have costumes from Beauty and the Beast, and will be eating at Be Your Guest, plan to have them wear them on that day.
- If you don't have costumes, even t-shirts with Disney characters on them are great.
- As they get older, you can find great tween/teen Disney stuff at Kohls or Hot Topic for your kids and yourself. You may find the older set starting to gravitate more towards The Descendants or villain characters. It's all good!
- If you will be visiting Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, and won't be buying their dresses, bring a costume and/or crown from home.
- Another money-saving recommendation is to buy glow sticks and things like that at the Dollar Store and bring them to give the kids at night in the parks. This will hopefully satisfy their "need" for all the ones being sold throughout the parks.
- Umbrella strollers are vital. Kids will be hopping in and out constantly. It's also a great way for kids to slip in naps.
Stroller parking at rides and attractions can be overwhelming. Put something on your stroller to make it easily identifiable.
- Comfortable footwear! No matter which way you cut it, you will be doing a ton of walking and standing in line.
- Pack bug spray. You won't need it at the parks, but you will if you are spending time outside at the resorts.
- Sunscreen and hats. A sunburn can quickly ruin the vacation you so meticulously planned.
- Collapsible water bottles. You can fill these at fountains throughout the parks.
- Cooling towels in the summer. These are trip-saving in the heat! Pack them in ice and put them in your room fridge overnight. Carry in them in zip locks until you need them. It won't be long!
- Plastic ponchos. In the summer, it is almost a guarantee that there will be a short, but torrential, rain storm in the late afternoon.
- On-the-go breakfast items and snacks for park days.
- Small/inflatable pool toys.
- Autograph books for obtaining character signatures.
- Portable charger power bank. You'll be on your phone, using apps, a lot.
If you want to save on luggage space, or avoid checking luggage, purchase the items you need on Amazon and have them delivered to your resort, to be held at the front desk, for a $6 handling charge per package. Room delivery is extra.
- Parades - The parades are so much fun! The excitement on my kids' faces as they vigorously waved at all the characters might be my favorite memory. Even as teens, they are still waving.
- The floats are all highly elevated so everyone can see. Don't worry about being in the front row.
- The parades at Magic Kingdom start in Frontierland and slowly move their way down Main Street, so if you want to spend less time waiting, go to the beginning of the parade.
- While you are sitting/standing in one place waiting for the parade to pass is a great time to have lunch "on-the-go."
- Fireworks - The firework shows at all the parks are worth staying for. More than the explosions of color and light, it is the music and the projections that tell the story of our shared childhoods that really move me. Like going to church on Christmas to focus on what the holiday is really about, the firework shows at the end of incredibly stimulating days at the parks remind us how precious this time, in our kids' lives and our own, really is.
- Character Meet and Greets - The best thing about the Character Meet and Greets is that the characters really take their time with each guest. They have little chats with each person and they remain true to their character's personality.
- Shows - Shows are another great way to see live Disney characters in action. At Magic Kingdom, there are 2-3 shows in front of the castle each day and you don't need any reservation.
- In Line Entertainment - Disney does an excellent job of making even waiting in line fun.
- Many lines have interactive features that are so cool you won't mind waiting. The lines for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh are two of them.
- The silhouette of Micky Mouse is hidden throughout all of Disney World. There are more than 1,000. Spend your time in line trying to spot some. Google "Hidden Mickey's" and you'll find hints.
- Play Disney Parks mobile app offers Disney trivia games, park challenges, and interactive experiences based on your surroundings.
- Scavenger Hunts - There are free scavenger hunts you can pick up within the parks.
- A Pirate's Adventure - Treasures of the Seven Seas map can be picked up in an activity kiosk near Pirates of the Caribbean in Magic Kingdom.
- Kidcot Fun Stops are located at each of the World Showcase pavilions at EPCOT, where kids can collect unique traveler's cards for each country.
- Wilderness Explorers sends you on a nature-themed scavenger hunt around Disney's Animal Kingdom, earning badges along the way. You can get started at any Wilderness Explorer Outpost around the park.
- Magic Band+ - While you no longer need a Magic Band to enter the parks, the Magic Band+ can really enhance your Disney experience.
- All the same features as the original Magic Band (acts as resort room key, park admission ticket, pay for park purchases, etc.)
- Plus customizable color-changing lights and haptic vibrations that increase "the magic", i.e. syncing up to firework shows.
- Interactive features that allow you to engage with statues around the parks.
- Be on the look-out for personalized information on screens in ride queues.
- Paired with the Play Disney Parks app, there are quests such as Star Wars: Batuu Bounty Hunters at Hollywood Studios, in which the Magic Band+ indicates your proximity to virtual bounties.
Of course, there is no shortage of things to buy at Disney World. You can find anything and everything you can imagine, but if you are on a budget, we have a few recommendations for less expensive souvenirs.
- Autograph books - Perfect for collecting character signatures at Meet and Greets.
- Mouse Ears - Pricing can vary greatly, but nothing says, "I went to Disney World", more than a pair of mouse ears.
- Popcorn Buckets - Collectible popcorn buckets come in all themes, shapes, and sizes. After you buy your first bucket full of popcorn, refills are deeply discounted and available on any day at any park. After your trip, re-purpose the bucket at home.
- Thermal Detonators - If all that popcorn makes you thirsty, get a Coke or a Sprite at Galaxy's Edge in Hollywood Studios. The soda bottles are specially designed as Thermal Detonators and have become collector's items. Bring the empties home and re-purpose as souvenir ornaments.
- Magic Band+ - Not only are Magic Bands+ useful, but they come in endless designs and make for a great souvenir.
- Don't forget to visit Guest Services or your resort's front desk for free first time visitor buttons. You can also get one for a birthday, marriage, anniversary, and more.
- Places to Rest - Park days are LONG days. Plan on taking breaks.
- Baby Care Centers - Air conditioned Baby Care Centers exist at all four theme parks. They have private nursing rooms, changing tables, feeding areas with high chairs, kitchens, and even sitting rooms with televisions. Bring your babies, toddlers, and even their older siblings to a Baby Care Center for a much needed break.
- Lawn at EPCOT - Behind Spaceship Earth is a good sized lawn to stretch out on.
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride - The queue for the Dumbo ride passes through an indoor, air conditioned, children's play area. Let the kids play while you rest and enjoy the refreshing cool air.
- Tom Sawyer Island - Take the raft over to Tom Sawyer Island at Magic Kingdom. Relax in the ample shade.
- Resorts - The afternoons are the busiest time of the day in the parks. Escape the lines, and the heat, by going back to your resort for a midday nap or swim. Feeling refreshed, return to the parks for more fun and fireworks.
- Getting on Rides - While you could start at one end of a park and spend the day moving in one direction to the other end, you might not experience all the attractions you had hoped to. To get the most out of your visit, there are strategies to employ.
- Use Your Apps - Use the aforementioned apps to track wait times, schedule Lightning Lanes, etc.
- Head to the Back - Ride the rides in the back of the parks first.
- Skip a Parade/Fireworks - While crowds of people will assemble to watch the parades/fireworks, head to a popular ride for a shorter line.
- Split Your Party - It is easier to get a Lightning Lane reservation for a party of 2, then a party of 4.
- Single Rider Lines - There are a handful of rides at Disney World that have single rider lines. Particularly if you have older children, these are great for decreasing your wait time. Often you wind up in the same car or train anyhow, just not necessarily next to each other.
- Rider Switch - If someone in your party can't, or doesn't want to go on a particular ride, one adult can stay with that person while the others ride. Once the first party returns, the adult who stayed behind can immediately get on the ride and bring one other person with them. This could allow one person to get in multiple rides with only having waited in line once.
- Last Rides - Go on line for the rides geared towards the younger children later at night.
- Rope Drop - Get to the park for the opening.
If you are eligible for Early Magic Hours as a resort guest, by all means use them! However, if you do get the chance to experience Rope Drop, it is a special experience.
All this information may be overwhelming or sound expensive, however in our opinion, for the amount of quality entertainment, unique experiences, and priceless memories, it is worth the effort and expense. We hope our tips can help make the planning and budgeting a little easier.