A trip to the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida can be disconcerting for travelers who frequent the area and way too overwhelming for first timers. Regardless if this is your 1st or 15th trip, there are few things that you should know before you start planning that vacation. From where to stay and where to chow down to the “must dos” in the theme parks, your vacation planning begins here!
Let’s begin with the Don’ts–aka, what NOT to do on your Disney vacation:
- Don’t plan to return home feeling “refreshed”–look, this isn’t a beach vacation. You won’t be sunning yourself by the pool; you will be on the go around 90% of the time.
- Don’t pack dressy outfits or uncomfortable shoes–unless you plan to dine at Victoria and Albert’s, dress codes at Disney are very relaxed. Leave the heals and sport coats at home. You won’t need them.
- Don’t plan on visiting a theme park every day–leave at least one day open to regroup and get that relaxation time at the pool. (No, the water parks don’t count as a relaxation day–trust me, you won’t relax!) Although this may help rejuvenate you during your trip, it won’t do much for your overall stay (see Don’t #1).
- Unless you really want to shop, play DisneyQuest, or see La Nouba, don’t press to get over to Downtown Disney–the kids will probably just be bored there anyway.
- Don’t plan on visiting areas outside of Disney in the middle of your stay–if you want to tack on a Universal Package before or after, do so by all means. But don’t think you are going to leave Disney for a few hours to visit Sea World. It won’t happen. You may as well save your money and head over to the Nemo exhibit at Epcot.
- Don’t plan to grab a drink inside the Magic Kingdom–although rumors circulated about brew at Gaston’s, as of now, the no alcohol policy inside the MK is still in full effect.
- Don’t enter a theme park without a game plan–I’m not saying you need a strict itinerary or agenda, but it is a good idea to sit down with everyone and get an idea of what attractions you plan to see while you are there…which leads to
- Don’t think you will see everything–I have been to Disney more times than I can remember, and there are still a number of things that I haven’t seen (hotels, shows, attractions, dining venues, etc.), so don’t think that you can squeeze all into a 7-day vacation. You can’t.
- Yes, Disney is known as the “Happiest Place on Earth,” but don’t expect to be the “Happiest People on Earth” throughout your vacation–there will be tears (from parents as well as children), fights, temper tantrums, sleep-deprivation–and that is only the first day! But, seriously, if think you are going to have a fight-free vacation, think again!
- Finally, don’t think you are going to get a “great deal” on a Disney vacation. Honestly, they just don’t exist. Disney is expensive, so plan to spend money there. Period.
Okay, and now for the 10 “Must Dos” for your Disney trip:
- Do stay at a Disney World Resort Hotel–there are too many perks that come with staying on property, especially with the introduction of the MyMagic+ program that allows you to book your Fast Passes before even leaving home.
- If you stay at a Disney Resort, do purchase a dining plan and park tickets–for the best deal, you should add these on to your hotel stay. It may not seem like a bargain at first, but, trust me, the dining plan is worth every penny (especially the Deluxe Dining Plan if you want a lot of character meals, dinner shows, or specialty dining experiences).
- Do book dining reservations 180 days in advance–even if you don’t have a dining plan, you need reservations to eat at a sit-down restaurant. You might think that you can just waltz up and get a table, (and at some hotels, you can–please note that Value Resorts do not offer table service dining options) but you probably won’t.
- Do attend any extra “Parties” that are going on during your stay–Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party are both definitely worth it. These do require separate admission tickets, but when else can you trick-or-treat inside the Magic Kingdom or watch it snow on Main Street, USA?
- Do plan to wait for Disney’s internal transportation at the end of the day–be it bus, monorail or boat, when the parks close, there can be a long wait. Plan for this in advance–and make sure the diapers are changed and the kids have visited the restrooms before you exit the park. Made this mistake before!
- Do break out of your comfort zone just a little–try Moroccan fare, go on Space Mountain, take a hike through the jungle, or scream in the Tower of Terror.
- Do utilize the Disney Photopass or Memory Maker–not only to get photos of the entire family but these cast members really know what they are doing and what is going on in the parks. Want to know where Snow White is going to turn up unexpectedly? Ask a Photopass photographer. (We once got to meet the Evil Queen at Hollywood Studios–it was awesome! Well, I thought so, my daughter was a little scared!)
- Do take a minute at the end of each day to write down what you liked, what you didn’t, and what you would/wouldn’t do again–a great keepsake journal and planner is PassPorter’s Walt Disney World. This is a great way to plan out your vacation and record your daily adventures. We use one every time we go.
- Do dine with the characters–this really is the best way to meet Mickey, Cinderella, Tigger, and the rest of the gang. Not only will this save you from waiting in a very long line, the characters spend more time with you as they come around to each table to sign autographs and pose for pictures. 2 must dos: Chef Mickey’s for breakfast and Cinderella’s Royal Table for dinner!
- Finally, do take part in the little “extras” that Disney offers–go on a search for Hidden Mickeys, hunt for treasure with pirates, defeat the evil Dr. D on an epic adventure with Perry (ahem, Agent P), and become an Animal Kingdom explorer. All of these (aside from the cost of the Hidden Mickeys book) are included with your theme park admission. So go on and grab your next great adventure!