When we moved to Florida, buying annual passes to Disney World was at the top of our to-do list! They weren’t cheap, even with a Florida resident discount, but they were definitely worth every penny! Since we live so close, we made enough trips to make me feel like we’d gotten our money’s worth many times over! While we’ve gone to all the parks, we spend most of our time at the Magic Kingdom and I’ve learned a few things along the way. Some of these tips are specific to Magic Kingdom and some work at any park but they are all designed to help make your vacation awesome!
1. Get fast passes!
Fast passes are free and you can use them to skip the regular line and get on a ride within minutes. If you are staying on a Disney property, you can book your fast passes up to 60 days before your visit. If you have tickets but are not staying on property, you maydo it 30 days ahead. You can choose three fast passes in advance and once you ride those, you can add more fast passes, one at a time. My advice would be to plan your first three passes consecutively in the morning so that you can continue to add more throughout the day.
2. Use your fast passes for the newest attractions, if you can
Sure, everyone wants to ride “It’s A Small World” but don’t use your fast passes for that. The newest attractions always have the longest waits so you’ll want to reserve your passes for those rides, if you can get them. If your kids like Frozen, book your meet & greet with Anna and Elsa and use another for the new Frozen ride at Epcot. Soarin’ has also just been redone so you may want to consider using fast passes for that as well. If you’re going to Hollywood Studios, try to book fast passes for Star Wars attractions. If you download the Disney app, you can see the wait times for all the rides at any given time of day. You can use that to see which rides typically have the longest waits and use your fast passes accordingly.
3. Get there early for short waits to the most popular attractions
When the meet & greet for Anna & Elsa was still held at the Magic Kingdom, the waits were always way too long for us. Some people may not mind standing in line for three hours but luckily my kids had no interest in waiting that long. Though it was always our plan to arrive at opening time every day, we rarely made it. However, the one day we arrived before the gates opened, we managed to get in line with only a 45 minute wait…nothing compared to normal wait times. It went by quickly and my girls were finally able to meet two of their favorite princesses!
4. Check out the wait times
You’ll want to download the My Disney Experience app to get the most up-to-date wait times for the attractions at all four parks. It is pretty accurate and regularly updated. We use it all the time when we’re trying to figure out what we want to ride next. Like I mentioned above, you can also use this to determine what the most popular rides are when making your fast pass selections.
5. Find character dining alternatives
Reservations fill up fast to dine with the princesses at Cinderella’s Castle. If you don’t plan far enough in advance, you may not be able to score a spot. What I found out was that you can have the same experience at the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Epcot. It also fills up quickly but you have more of a chance at getting a reservation there. We did lunch and while it was a bit pricier than your everyday lunch, it was an awesome experience and the food was delicious! If you have a little girl, you should definitely do this at least once! Even if you don’t have girls, you may want to check out the other character dining experiences with Mickey, Minnie and the rest of the gang.
6. Bring your own dress to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
While we haven’t done the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique yet, it’s definitely on our to-do list. They’ll even transform your little boys into pirates. There are different tiers of pricing depending on what you want to do but you should bring your own princess dress…it’s so much cheaper than buying theirs. This goes for the other shops in the park too. I’ve found that you can buy the exact same dresses at the Disney Store before you go and save at least $10-$20 (sometimes more). You can also find some awesome deals on princess dresses (and prince outfits too) on Amazon.
7. Bring autograph books and souvenirs from home
When we first went to Disney World with our oldest daughter, daddy decided that she could have one souvenir each day (she’s such a daddy’s girl!). With souvenirs averaging about $20, it adds up fast! Now that we have two girls, we let them choose one souvenir per trip. Another option is to shop before you leave and hide a few surprises in your suitcase. It’ll also make it easier to get the kids back to the hotel if they know that there’s something special waiting for them. Don’t forget to buy your autograph books ahead of time or stop in to one of the many souvenir shops before you hit the park. You’ll want them for the character meet & greets and though it is easier to buy them at the park, you’ll pay for the convenience.
8. Bring your own ponchos (if you’ll want them)
You never know what the weather will bring so you may want to pack some ponchos (and maybe an extra one to cover the stroller). They sell them at the parks but again, you’ll pay more for the convenience of buying them there.
9. Grab that stroller
If you’re not sure whether or not to bring a stroller, BRING IT! Even if your child rarely uses one, he or she will want it after a full day of walking around the park. It’s also great for storing your ponchos, food, change of clothes and whatever else you would otherwise have to carry. It’s so much easier to just stash those things under the stroller rather than carry a giant backpack all day. Don’t forget to bring an extra poncho or stroller cover for those afternoon rainstorms. We saw a show during one rainstorm and when we came out, the stroller was completely soaked. My little one was NOT happy…lesson learned!
10. Keep tabs on where you parked your stroller!!!
Stroller parking at Disney World is like parking your car at the mall during Christmas! Plus, since you usually don’t come out of a ride in the same place you went in, you may lose your sense of direction and lose track of where you “parked” (hopefully that’s not just me). Make a mental note of exactly which stroller lot you’ve parked it in…maybe even snap a quick picture on your phone to be on the safe side. Be aware though…cast members are constantly moving the strollers around so even if you remember the exact spot that you left it, it may be in a different place when you come back. The good thing is that my kids love these stroller scavenger hunts…they’ve made it into a game to see who can find it first.
11. “Swap” your child
No, I don’t mean that if your child is acting like a spoiled brat that you can trade him/her for a cute, well-behaved one (though it may be tempting). It means that if one of your children is too small to ride a specific ride, one parent stays behind with them while the other parent gets a special “child swap” pass. That parent rides the ride (alone or with an older child), and when they are done, they “swap” the child and the second person can skips the line to ride that same ride. The older child also gets to ride the ride a second time, an advantage that my 8 year old absolutely loves! WDW Prep School has a great post that explains exactly how this works and it’s definitely worth taking advantage of!
12. Make plans to lose your child
Nobody actually WANTS to lose their child at Disney World but you should be prepared in case you get separated. Be sure your child knows how important it is to stick together but also let them know what they should do if they can’t find you. Find a central meeting place or tell your child to look for the nearest cast member (and let them know how they can identify cast members). You may also want to snap a picture of your child at the beginning of the day, just so cast members know who they’re looking for if this situation does come up. While this may be a little extreme, I was in line once and noticed that a child’s parent had written their phone number on his arm in black marker. While I wouldn’t go quite that far (though that kid was pretty rambunctious), this might not be a bad idea if your child is one of those that finds it hilarious to make mommy and daddy chase them through crowded places.
13. Bring food
We’ve done a lot of day trips and save money by bringing our own lunches and snacks. Even if you choose to eat lunch at the park, bringing extra drinks and snacks. It will definitely save you a few dollars. We do splurge sometimes on ice cream or popcorn, you have to have a little fun, but I don’t feel bad about it when we saved so much on lunches.
14. Keep your water bottles
We bring our own water bottles and when they’re empty, we just fill them up at one of the many water fountains around the park. That Florida sun gets hot and you’re not going to want to spend all your money buying water throughout the day.
15. Eat lunch at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café
If you choose to eat lunch in the Magic Kingdom, this is the best deal I’ve found. For $10.99, you get half a rotisserie chicken, green beans and mashed potatoes or French fries. One order was enough to feed me and both my daughters and it was pretty healthy too. You’ll find it in Tomorrowland across from the Tomorrowland Speedway. Once you go in, be sure to choose the right line because different lines offer different meals.
16. Get your caffeine fix (or wine if you need it)
My girls know that the first stop is always the Starbucks on Main Street! I need my caffeine so I can keep up with my two little ones all day. You can find coffee throughout the park too but if you’re a Starbucks fan like me, you’ll want to stop here. If toddler meltdowns are steering you into the “mommy needs a glass of wine” mode, you’ll find it at the Be Our Guest Restaurant. Have a relaxing meal, a glass of wine and recharge.
17. Get wet in the splash park
Florida is famous for it’s hot sun. When it’s really beating down, your kids can cool off at the splash park next to the Dumbo Ride. You can sit and relax for a few minutes while the kids have a little fun. Be warned…they will get soaked so you may want a change of clothes on hand.
18. View the fireworks near the entrance/exit
As soon as the fireworks end each night, the crowds make a mad dash towards the exit. We usually watch them at the Magic Kingdom but I would imagine it’s the same at the other parks. Get a head start and beat the crowd by finding a spot near the exit. Otherwise you’re going to be waiting in some pretty long monorail lines!
19. Check out the advantages of staying on property
You may save money by staying off property, but you get some great advantages by staying at the Disney hotels. You’ll get free airport transportation, free transportation to the parks or free parking (normally $17) if you drive. Even better, you’ll get extra time in the parks with extra magic hours. Plus, you can book your fast pass reservations 60 days out. This is a huge bonus if you want to visit the newest attractions without a long wait. If you buy anything at the park, resort package delivery will deliver it directly to your room. Finally, you’ll receive free magic bands. These are normally $12.95 each (saving you almost $52 for a family of four). Magic bands are awesome. You wear them like a bracelet and can scan them for park entry, fast pass reservations and photopass photos. You can also use them to charge purchases to your room. If you’re thinking about staying on property, check out the Disney site to find out more about the extras you’ll get.
20. Don’t book an expensive hotel
If you plan to spend a lot of time at your hotel, skip this tip. However, when we vacation we’re up at the crack of dawn, spend all day at the parks and head back to the hotel to crash. We spend very little time in our hotel room so this is where we choose to save money. Even the Disney resorts have inexpensive options to choose from. If you plan on spending a lot of time at your hotel, stay at one of the fancier ones with all the cool amenities. However, if you vacation like we do, I’d recommend saving your money for other things.
21. Have fun!!!
I get it, the crowds can be overwhelming and there may be the occasional toddler meltdown (see #16 to find a glass of wine). However, just look around you…you’re at Disney World! It really is such a magical, exciting place. You’ll get used to the crowds and toddler meltdowns never lasts long anyway. Go ride something fun, meet a princess and have an awesome time!