First timers take note, it pays to be prepared! These 15 tips will ensure your whole family enjoys themselves:
- First things first, Walt Disney World is actually a series of parks – Magic Kingdom (fairytale castle), Disney’s Animal Kingdom (giant Tree of Life), Disney’s Hollywood Studios (cool behind the scenes/backlot type experiences), Epcot (rides and pavilions based on different countries), and two water parks; Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and Disney’s Blizzard Beach. If Walt Disney World was a city, these parks are its suburbs, far enough apart that the free Disney buses are needed to get between them.
- Hotels are onsite, but not really onsite. Walt Disney World has 30 different hotels, yes, 30, and they’re not actually inside any of the parks, but between them, or next to them. Disney’s Contemporary Resort for instance, is next door to Magic Kingdom, perhaps a 3-5 minute walk door to door. Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Jambo House is a 5 minute bus ride from Animal Kingdom. There are plenty of other hotels in the area, but guests at Disney hotels get perks like the Magic Hour, when they can enter some of the parks on specific days one hour early. They’re all classified by price – from deluxe to value – but each have their own unique theme and that extra special Disney sparkle. From the Port Orleans Resort – Riverside you can catch a free ferry up to Disney Springs, at the Polynesian Village Resort, Sam’s Grog Grotto serves up famous tiki cocktails.
3. Fast Passes are your secret weapon. Disney diehard fans have their next trip to Walt Disney World booked months, even years, in advance, and securing their Fast Passes is almost as important. Fast passes open three months in advance. The easiest way to book them is through the Walt Disney World app. For each park, on each day, guests get three fast passes, allowing you to skip the line and join the special Fast Pass line during pre-designated time slots. The trick is to schedule your three fast passes close together, as once you’ve completed all three, the Fast Pass allocation resets and you get access to another three for that day. Book in the most popular rides first, those with the longest lines like the newest rides inside Animal Kingdom’s Pandora – World of Avatar, because fast passes do book out. Then on the day use your second round of Fast Passes for the less popular rides.
4. Get a Magic Band. Tickets can be loaded onto a wristband, along with your credit card details, so that when you’re inside the park, or even at hotels outside the parks, you don’t need your wallet. You simply swipe your wristband to access rides, and to purchase drinks, food, souvenirs, you name it. But beware, those Minnie Ears, and keyrings, and t-shirts, and Mickey-shaped ice creams swipe really easily when you’re in the park!
5. Get a program. Parks have different parades, shows, performances and fireworks at different times of the day. If you have your heart set on seeing the Magic Kingdom parade and fireworks, make sure you work out your lunch and dinner reservations so you don’t miss out! A lot of the parks also have smaller scale shows throughout the day. Keep an eye out for these, they change seasonally and are great for the kids with short attention spans.
- Savvy park goers pre-book their meals in the park to make sure they’re not waiting too long for a reservation or missing out on key experiences, because food is a big part of the show. There are dozens of dining options – from cafeterias like the Satu’li Canteen in Pandora World, where you can order cheeseburger bao buns or healthy bowls, to sit down dinners inside car-shaped booths at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theatre. Some of these restaurants will have 1-2 hour wait times, or book out weeks in advance. Magic Kingdom’s Beauty and the Beast-themed Be Our Guest Restaurant is beautiful but always booked solid for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Character dining is a big deal. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, all over the parks and hotels, with different Disney characters, you could have a character experience at every meal. They are a more expensive meal than elsewhere, so it’s important you pick the right type of Character dining. The kids might have their heart set on seeing Mickey, but at Magic Kingdom’s Crystal Palace, you’ll only meet Tiger, Winnie the Pooh and Piglet while Tiana’s Riverboat Ice Cream Party is for princesses with a sweet tooth. Most character experiences are a buffet, with excellent kids meal options and dishes like roast meats, salads, seafood and desserts for adults.
- If you have limited time, and want to make sure your experience is stress free, consider booking a private tour. Tour companies like Stone VIP provide half and full day hosts who will take you through the park of your choice, customizing a day based on your interests. Guides are usually extremely passionate about Disney, some have even worked in the park themselves. Disney first timers will love hearing all the extra tidbits about the parks’ histories.
- Take a break. Don’t forget that a trip to Walt Disney World is meant to be fun. Orlando’s heat and humidity can make a few hours exploring seem very long. Get up early, hit the parks for a few hours, return to your hotel for lunch, a rest, even a swim, and then head out again. Jambo House at Animal Kingdom Lodge has a sprawling lagoon pool with a bar that makes thirst quenching frozen margaritas. Remember, downtime makes Walt Disney World more fun!
- Quirky things about Walt Disney World. There are a few things you’ll notice on your first trip. Many families wear personalized t-shirts. “The 2017 Feltman Family Disney Trip”, “Magic Kingdom Feltman Holiday 2017”, “Feltmans heart Disney 2017”. Don’t be afraid to get your own pre-made. You won’t be out of place. Pin swapping is a big deal. You can buy pins from stores around the parks, and you’ll find Disney employees wearing pins or standing at swapping stations. Go up to any of them, ask to swap a pin. It’s all part of the fun. Everyone seems to be holding a giant drink container. These are purchased once, then refilled as often as you want. On a hot day, they’re heaven. No trip to Walt Disney World is complete without a souvenir or two. Minnie Mouse Ears are hot property. If there are rose gold colored ears at any store when you’re there, grab them. Since going viral on Instagram, they sell out in minutes.
- Character meet and greets are almost as popular as the rides. Disney characters used to walk around the parks, but these days you’re more likely to see them up close, and pose for your own special photo, at one of the Character Greeting hotspots like the Little Mermaid’s Grotto in Magic Kingdom. Fast Passes are recommended, photos are not age restricted so don’t be shy, plenty of big kids pose for photos too.
- Be strategic about snacks. Parks don’t have the same food, or even the same snacks, and there are certain dishes that park goers will go out of their way to find, so do your research.
- Dole Whip: pineapple soft serve, found at Aloha Isle, Magic Kingdom
- Macaron ice cream sandwich: French pavilion, Epcot
- The Grey Stuff: a cookies and cream cupcake from Be Our Guest restaurant
- Mickey Mouse-shaped ice cream: you’ll find this one all over every park
- LeFrou’s Brew: frozen apple juice topped with mango foam, Gaston’s Tavern, Magic Kingdom
- Kitchen Sink: OTT ice cream sundae served in a “kitchen sink” at Disney’s Beach Club Resort
- Darth Vader Cupcake: Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Giant turkey leg: enormous, great for lunch on the go, food stands all over the parks
- Mickey Mouse Waffle: an essential breakfast item, restaurants around the park
- Disney has excellent sommeliers. Wine drinkers are well catered for at Jiko – The Cooking Place inside Animal Kingdom Lodge. The African-inspired restaurant has the biggest collection of South African wine in the country. Try unique varieties like Pinotage with the famous Botswana Seswaa-style beef short rib. You won’t be disappointed.
- Don’t skip Disney Springs. Formerly Downtown Disney, the waterside promenade is packed with Disney stores, brand name shops, restaurants, even an Irish pub. The Rainforest Café’s volcano is quite a spectacle, Dockside Margaritas has live music until 10.15pm, you can even head out on Lake Buena Vista in a small car-shaped, self-drive boat! Save time to explore the stores. World of Disney is the world’s largest Disney character store, with everything from Peter Pan salt and pepper shakers, to limited edition costumes. The Days of Christmas store is open year round and is lined floor to ceiling with Christmas decorations and baubles.
- Tickets come in all shapes and sizes. You can buy day passes to just one park, or multi day passes to all of the parks – these are called Park Hoppers. They’re often better value than buying individual tickets, and give you flexibility. See Hollywood Studio’s shows and special effects in the morning before heading to Epcot to tour the World and see the fireworks in the evening. And then there are the extra special events and experiences that need additional tickets. Holiday events like Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party take over Magic Kingdom for an evening, Perfect Princess Tea Parties with dress ups and princess appearances, and Dessert parties with VIP seating for the nighttime shows at various parks.
Lisa was the guest of Walt Disney World Resorts