Tips for a smooth Walt Disney World holiday
Walt Disney World in Florida can be intimidating on paper. With 4 main parks and 2 water parks, it’s a lot. And what about all the new changes – park reservations and Disney Genie? It can also be expensive. More parks and attractions open the door for a longer stay – more accommodation, more park tickets and reservations, and much more food.
Walt Disney World Resort includes 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, more than 25 hotels & resorts, a large shopping district known as Disney Springs, 4 golf courses, a massive private transportation network, and more. All up, it spans over 100 square kilometres – it’s basically its own city and is the largest theme park in the world.
If you’re like me, having everything planned out and organised can be the best way to have the smoothest and most magical holiday. It can also possibly cut down on costs by booking in advance and avoiding surprise fees and other costs.
Here are my tips and tricks for a smooth WDW trip!
1. Get to know the parks and what excitement they can offer you
The 4 theme parks – Magic Kingdom park, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park, and Epcot; Disney Springs; and the golf courses are open all year-round, while the water parks are open seasonally. Make sure to plan your holiday around those seasons if you just must visit the water parks.
All parks have something for all ages and interests. Head to Disney’s Hollywood Studios for Toy Story Land where you’re the size of a toy, or the fully immersive Galaxy’s Edge, a mecca for Star Wars fans. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park, wander through the world of Pandora and take a real-life safari through the Harambe Wildlife Reserve. At Epcot you can witness the future and take a stroll around the world, sampling food, drink, and culture. And immerse yourself in the magic of fairy tales at Magic Kingdom park.
All throughout the year, the parks are busy, there’s no getting around that. If you’re travelling during a holiday period or around US public holidays, it’s going to be packed so always make sure to research when holidays are and travel in the off-season if you can to get the most out of your holiday.
2. Choose the ticket that’s right for you
You can purchase park passes ranging from 1-10 days. There are 4 options for your tickets in addition to the number of days:
1 Park Per Day: this option allows you to choose 1 park per day. You can pick a different park each day but cannot hop between parks.
Water Park and Sports Option: this option allows you to visit 1 park per day. You can pick a different park each day but cannot hop between parks. Plus, you also get a certain number of visits to the water parks and other WDW sports-related fun.
Park Hopper Option: this option allows you to visit more than one park per day. Note: park hopping is only currently available after 2pm.
Park Hopper Plus Option: this option allows you to visit more than one park per day. Note: park hopping is only currently available after 2pm. Plus, you also get a certain number of visits to the water parks and other WDW sports-related fun.
3. Make sure you make your park reservations!
Planning ahead is now the only way to make sure you get to all of the parks you want to get the most out of each day.
A new step in the planning process since the pandemic is park reservations. WDW management has said they’re here to stay for the foreseeable future so it’s best to get accustomed to checking availability as part of the pre-planning process.
You can make park reservations as soon as you buy your tickets – in fact, it is highly recommended to do it then and not wait, to avoid disappointment. When you have the Park Hopper or Park Hopper Plus option, you must visit the first park that your reservation is for before being able to park hop to another park after 2pm.
For example: if you have booked Epcot for the day, you must at least go through the front gate and have your tickets scanned before heading to Magic Kingdom park for the afternoon.
Don’t leave park reservations to the last minute or you may end up needing the park hopper option to enjoy all the parks.
4. Onsite or offsite accommodation?
Where you stay can take as much planning as the rest of your holiday put together. There is so much accommodation available in the Orlando area that it can be difficult to decide on where to stay. The Walt Disney World Resort itself has over 20 hotels onsite, plus Good Neighbor Hotels. When it comes to staying onsite or offsite, the decision usually comes down to money.
Onsite hotels can be more expensive than staying outside WDW, but they are heavily themed and sometimes come with theme park perks – like free transportation and Extra Magic Hours, depending on the type of hotel you choose.
Offsite hotels can be cheaper, but you’re missing out on that real Disney difference. If you stay offsite and choose a Good Neighbor hotel, you may still get some theming and perks like free transportation to the parks.
My tip when it comes to accommodation is to weigh up the pros and cons of each style of accommodation in your budget. If cost is the deciding factor, staying offsite or at a Good Neighbor hotel might be your best bet. If staying within the Disney bubble is your main goal, then your best option is to stay onsite.
5. Work out how you’re going to get around
There are many ways to get around Walt Disney World Resort, it’s just a matter of working out which ones serve you best.
The main options for transport around the Resort are:
Buses that take you from park to park, your hotel (onsite or some Good Neighbor hotels), or Disney Springs
Ferries and water taxis from select resorts and Magic Kingdom park, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot.
Monorail! Catch the monorail to see the Resort from the sky. You can stop at Magic Kingdom park, Disney's Contemporary Resort, Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Disney's Polynesian Village Resort, Disney's Polynesian Villas & Bungalows, Transportation and Ticket Center, and Epcot.
The Disney Skyliner will have you soaring over the Resort in gondolas. The Skyliner connects Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the International Gateway at Epcot to Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, Disney’s Pop Century Resort, and Disney’s Riviera Resort.
Disney also recently announced the return of the Disney Minnie Vans! These adorable red and white polka dot vans can be booked through Lyft and can take you to and from select locations throughout the Walt Disney World Resort and any hotel in the Disney Resorts Collection.
Of course, taxis and ride share are also an option throughout the Resort, around the Orlando area and to and from the airport.
If you choose to hire a car and drive yourself around, make sure to budget for parking as that can be a huge expense at both the resorts and parks. Parking at the parks can range from US$25-50/day and US$15-25/night at the resorts.
What transport option you chose will probably change on a daily basis. To cut down costs, try to use the complimentary transportation as much as possible. I’ve always found Lyft to be reliable and convenient if you want to be on your own schedule.
6. Download the Walt Disney World app
One of the easiest ways to manage your vacation is through the Disney World app. Get it downloaded before you leave and link your tickets. You can use your phone everywhere you would use a MagicBand (if you choose not to purchase one) – to enter the parks, as your room key at onsite resorts and even pay for purchases within the Resort.
Within the app, you can also make and manage dining reservations, join virtual queues for rides that require them, check ride wait times, manage Photo Pass photos, and find out where you’re going. You’ll also need the app to access the Disney Genie service.
7. Get to know Disney Genie
If you haven’t heard, the new friend in town is Disney Genie. This is Disney’s new travel planning service that can help you plan out your day with tips to get the most out of your experience.
You can also purchase Individual Lightning Lane entrances through Disney Genie. Lightning Lanes will get you through the lines quicker for major attractions, just like the old FastPass system. Prices vary from attraction to attraction and park to park.
For only US$15/day, you can also upgrade to Disney Genie+. With Genie+ you can access 2-3 Lightning Lanes per day (cannot be used on the same attraction more than once). This is the more cost-effective way to purchase Lightning Lanes if you know you’re going to want more than 1.
8. Stay connected and powered up
When staying connected is so necessary, there’s nothing worse than your phone running out of juice. Make sure to pack a portable charger to keep it powered up. If you forget, not to worry! There are kiosks all over the parks where you can purchase a power bar, and even swap it when it’s empty!
9. Take all the photos!
It might not make your vacation smoother, but a big tip from me is to take photos. Whether that is with your own camera or phone or by utilising the PhotoPass photographers around the parks. A vacation like Walt Disney World is really all about the memories and photos are an amazing way to keep those memories alive.
At Walt Disney World you can also purchase a Capture Your Moment photoshoot. This is a private photo session with your own exclusive photographer. They will get you the most beautiful shots and sometimes you’ll get shots that aren’t accessible to the public. This is a great way to commemorate special events and celebrations.
10. Festivals and special events
Check to see if there are any special events or festivals at the parks during your trip. These can sometimes mean bigger crowds, or different and exclusive events and experiences. Throughout the year, Walt Disney World hosts festivals and events across its parks. Don’t miss out on the special Halloween or Christmas parties at Magic Kingdom park or the eclectic festivals at Epcot.
11. Plan ahead… and with a travel agent
Unfortunately, spontaneous trips are a thing of the past. Planning ahead is the only way to go and with so much to navigate, what’s better than having someone do it all for you! I’m here to make sure your trip is as magical and smooth as it can be. It’s my job to keep up to date with changes and let you know – just book and get excited! No need to stress!