Disney vacations are always something to look forward to, no matter how old you are or who you are travelling with. I have to admit that now having been able to experience both Disneyland and Disney World (have yet to visit Disneyland Paris – but I’m sure I’ll get there some day), Disney does an incredible job of making you feel like you entered a different world – a mouse-clad, fantasy magic world. It literally is the happiest place on Earth, and I can’t help but smile thinking about it.
Nonetheless, as beautiful and enchanting Disney is, it can be overwhelming planning if you have never been before. This was my first time in Disney World, and I quickly learned it was very different – especially in size – to Disneyland. So I thought I would compile together a “What I Wish I Knew” for those of you planning or thinking of planning a Disney World vacation in the future.
My Disney Experience App
*Available on both iOS & Android*
This app saved our lives. It is literally everything. Thinking of going to Disney? Download it now. It has everything you need to know about Disney World. You can look up where characters are doing meet ups, find places to eat, the wait times of rides. You book your fast passes through this App and even have the option to book your Disney passes as well. It is a one-stop for everything. Look up wait times, attractions, dining, restrooms, guest services, shops, spas, literally you name it. Not going to lie, it came super in handy when we urgently needed to find a restroom… and if you turn your location on, you can see exactly where you are in the map in relation to everything else!
Now you may be thinking, okay this app sounds great. But I’m travelling from somewhere out of the United States and don’t have a phone travel plan. The parks have Wifi! As a traveller, anywhere with free Wifi is a blessing. The park wifi could be slow at times (I mean, look at the size of the place), but it was so nice to be able to use the app without having to pay for cellular data, and be able to stay in contact with my family back home while in the parks.
Now, I’m going to be honest here for a minute, I wasn’t a huge fan of the Fast Pass process at Disney World. Yes, it’s great that you can reserve your spot from the palm of your hand, but there are definitely some downfalls I discovered. First off, you’re only allowed 3 fast passes per day in one park. Having been to Disneyland the previous year, where you can get as many fast passes as you’d like at the stand-alone “Fast Pass distribution” kiosks. I wasn’t a huge fan of being limited to only 3. This doesn’t only include rides as well, it includes shows like Fantasmic! and character meet-ups. So just be aware of this.
Also regarding Fast Pass, BOOK THEM A FEW DAYS EARLY (or as early as possible, you know). When I purchased my Disney passes in Canada, I was under the impression you had to wait for the activation in the Disney parks in order to start reserving your Fast Pass – this is not the case! Enter your pass information in the app, and viola, you can reserve. Huge attractions like Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Kilimanjaro Safari, Everest and Tower of Terror just to name a few, sell out of Fast Passes quickly. We stood in terribly long-lines (longest was 2 hours and 40 minutes – no joke) and it would have been nice to have booked Fast Passes earlier on. But you live and you learn!
What If I miss or don’t get a Fast Pass?
Have no fear! There is always the regular line of course, and a little tip we found… check out the line when night time shows are going on! If you’re not wanting to watch the nightly shows or are unable to get tickets/seating, check out the rides you missed during the day since the lines will be significantly shorter!
Now, I love Park Hopper. In Disneyland, you can literally jump between the two parks that are within walking distance and it is amazing. However, in Disney World I found it to be a dud. Solely because of the size of the parks. I thought they would be big, but no my friend, they are GINORMOUS. It is called a WORLD for a reason. We only hopped parks one day, and it was from Epcot to Hollywood Studios. Currently, a 5-day Park Hopper ticket costs $306.75 USD, where a 5-day one-park-per-day ticket costs $255 USD. And sure, this $51.75 USD difference would be a huge bang-for-your-buck if you jumped between parks all the time, but really I found we could have saved that money towards something else. I’m sure that there are amazing travellers who can hop between the parks each day, but us four twenty-three year olds found it difficult, so I cannot imagine how families would do it with children. My suggestion? Opt out. Enjoy the park you’re in for the day.
Undoubtedly there are various accommodation options within the parks, but we stayed just outside the park. There are several hotels within the Kissimmee area that are a short 10-15 minutes drive into the park. Personally we stayed at the Maingate Lakeside Resort (see it here) and I’ll be honest, I won’t stay with them again just because we found the hotel service to be pretty poor and the shuttle times to the park really random. Don’t be fooled by the photos, it was very different than how it was advertised.
Within the Disney resorts, there is the Monorail that goes to Magic Kingdom (click here to see the route), as well as there are various buses to go between the rest of the parks. If you stayed outside the park like we did, there is a Disney Shuttle that goes to certain parks, but we never took the shuttle because as I mentioned the times were very odd. For example, the shuttle from our hotel would leave to Magic Kingdom at 7 am or 11 am. The offered times just never worked for us since we wanted to be at the park around 9 am for when the parks opened. There is also the option of taxi services, but be weary about taxis because sometimes driving into the park that early you hit quite a bit of traffic which would mean an increase in your meter charge. Our personal saving grace was Uber. We took Uber EVERYWHERE. I had purchased a travel phone plan while in the US and the 100MB of daily data was more than enough for our Uber travels. From our hotel to Magic Kingdom (the farthest park) an uber cost $18.91-$23.65 USD. Compared to the $40 USD/day parking charge and taxi rates, Uber was the cheapest way to get around. We also had incredible Uber drivers who gave us suggestions about the parks that ended up enhancing our trip.
I will also mention because I totally didn’t know this about Magic Kingdom, you have to take the Monorail or a Ferry to get across to Magic Kingdom. They are both free, but we definitely found the Ferry to be the fastest (and coolest) way to get to Magic Kingdom.
I feel like I need to mention this because it can be pretty easy being sucked into Disney everything at the gift shops in the various parks. We found souvenir prices to be significantly cheaper in mega-gift shops outside of the parks (down the Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway) that had a huge variety of gifts. Some we checked out are the Magic Castle Gift Shop (click here), The Mermaid Gift Shop (click here), and Studio 1 (click here). A way to make your Disney vacation budget friendly is definitely to opt out on the overpriced park souvenirs and hit up other local gift shops.
We visited Orlando in late February, and let me tell you I am from Canada (the home of where you turn on your AC and Heater in the same day) and I have never experienced such bipolar weather. It could be scorching hot with the sun shining one minute, then two minutes later magical clouds have appeared and it is pouring rain. BRING A PONCHO. and a rain jacket, if you’d like. We brought rain jackets and umbrellas, and were extremely thankful when one day it rained so much that parts of the Magic Kingdom were flooded. However, next time I would definitely bring a poncho on top of this because when it rains in Florida… it pours.
Yes, that is us standing in ankle-deep puddles. Why not? Our shoes were already sopping wet. The pro to rain is that we just continued to go on rides, and wait times were down from 80 minutes to 10-15 minutes! Aside from rain, definitely bring your sunscreen as well for the days the sun is unforgiving.
It’s no secret that food prices rise when you get into the parks, but we combated this by eating breakfast outside the park, having a small lunch/snack in the park, and then eating dinner outside the park once again. You can definitely bring your own food, I myself brought various granola bars and protein bars. But with a tiny hotel fridge, we didn’t pack sandwiches or full lunches for ourselves. But we saw several other families with little backpack coolers with sandwiches and juice boxes. You definitely work up an appetite with all the walking around the parks!
Although we didn’t bring around a ton of food, we did bring around our own water bottles. Stainless steel water bottles (such as Swell, Pure or other brands) did an incredible job of keeping my water ice-cold for no-lie, 10-12 hours. There are various places to refill your water bottle as well such as fountains or restaurants. It is so, so important to stay hydrated in the heat
I’m going to sound like your mother, but I don’t care. BRING A GOOD PAIR OF SHOES. I bought some Nikes at an outlet the day we arrived in Orlando, and if I hadn’t purchased those amazing shoes I don’t know how I would have walked around in my other shoes I brought. Take care of your feet, and you will be significantly happier when you don’t feel like a crater is being dug into your heel or that your pinkie toe is trying to amputate itself from your foot.
Now you may laugh I’m talking about self-care in a post about a vacation. But Disney World is no joke. It is physically exhausting (and let’s be real, can be mentally exhausting when you’re with tired, exhausted, cranky children!). We did five days of Disney and two days Universal afterwards and we hit up the parks from 9 am to 9 pm. It is so important to take breaks. We often would grab an ice cream cone or pretzel, park up on a bench and relax people watching. You’re on vacation, relax and enjoy your trip. It can be very easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of Disney, feeling like you need to absolutely do everything. I understand and respect that completely! You’ve paid hard-earned money to be here and experience it, but then truly take a minute and experience it. Have a free day (for example, we went shopping one day as a break!). Give yourself time to truly experience and relish in it all.
Enjoy the Disney adventure with your significant other, friends, kids or whoever you’re travelling with. Take lots of photos, keep a journal if you do and jot down at the end of the night your favourite moments of the day. Do whatever it is you need to do to relax and truly enjoy, to not come home and feel like you need a vacation from your vacation.