Make the Most of Your Time at Disney World

Edited by Sarah Maloney, Eng, Alma

Like culinary preferences, sport team loyalty, car allegiances and your politeness, the degree of your Disney devotion is, mainly I believe, a part of your family and upbringing. We are a big Disney family. From Mary Poppins to the Lion King to Finding Dory, we've all seen them all and are all known to break out very randomly into timely and appropriate Disney songs. And it's not just the movies. We love the history of Disney and the stories that make up Disney. We also love the little intricacies of Disney World and all the secrets we've learned on our trips. My sister and I were just kids when we first visited. With the addition of my little little sister, we visited again when I was a teen. We visited when I was in my 20's and that little little sister was in her teens. We visited when my son was little and we've recently visited as a full family with husbands and boyfriends and kids and babies, all future fans of all the magic of Disney. And it is magic.

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There is just so much about it that is magical and enchanting, for all ages. But if you've never been to Disney World, that first trip can seem a bit un-magically intimidating. My parents still talk about the first time we visited and how much you learn subsequent times. Remember that first day of high school? Remember how BIG it felt, you wondered if you'd ever find your locker again, you couldn't believe you'd ever know where your classes were without a map, and all the people! You would never have a chance in even 4 years of meeting all the people. But within that first year you were flying through the halls, you never lost your locker and a lot of those people you not only met but became friends with. Traveling to Disney is a bit like that. The first time it can be overwhelming, but once you've been a couple times you navigate easier, spend your money thriftier and use your time wisely. Disney World is a monumental trip for a lot of families and it is expensive. The time always goes fast and there has never been a trip that I was ready to go home from. You don't want to spend your entire week in line and once you're there, caught up in the magic you won't want to waste a second of your vacation.

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Whether you're taking your first trip to Disney or looking to up your Disney game, this article will help you make the most of your time.

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Before you Leave

There are some things you can do before you even board the plane for Disney that will save time once you're there.

Get your phone ready

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    My Disney Experience
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    This was my first time at Disney using the My Disney Experience app. And like everything Disney does, it's virtually perfect. You need the app to do the following:
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    1. Book your FastPasses.
    2. Make a Family and Friend list. Then you can share everything you do with each other in the app.
    3. Book food reservations.
    4. Keep an eye on wait times for rides, character meets, attractions, fireworks, and parades.
    5. Park information.
    6. Link your tickets.
    7. Manage your photos taken by PhotoPass Photographers or on rides.
    8. Buy tickets.
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      Before the app, a lot of time was spent wandering around Disney hoping for short lines or printing our Fast Passes at kiosks. This is a really marvelous tool that has completely changed the Disney experience. Download it before you go, get as much stuff on it as you can (tickets, family and friend list, reservations) and practice before you go. It's big, but once you get the hang of it, it is incredibly easy to use.
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  2. 2
    Transfer your pictures
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    Because of convenience and the increasing quality of camera phones, most people use their camera to take pictures. Transfer the pictures that are on there. You don't want to spend time trying to move pictures when you've filled your storage...and you WILL take a ton of pictures.
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  3. 3
    Forgot your selfie stick
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    They are prohibited at Disney. Prior to the ban, there were several incidents of rides being stopped because of the offending sticks. Not to worry, there are always cast members around, and they will always stop to take a picture when asked, often they actually stop and ask you if you'd like a picture taken.
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  4. 4
    Have backup batteries
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    The My Disney Experience does use a lot of battery and if you're using your phone to take pictures you can drain pretty fast. Consider a portable backup battery for days you're hitting the park hard.
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  5. 5
    Disney has one WiFi across all the Parks
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    Remarkable right? I don't know how they do it but the good news is, you connect once and you're on for your entire stay. Kind of cool.
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Start Booking

  1. 1
    Buy your tickets to the park online before you go and hook the reservations into The My Disney App
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    This will save you a lot of time and possibly a lot of money.
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  2. 2
    Get the Park Hopper
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    The park hopper is more expensive, but it allows you to jump between parks. If you don't have a park hopper you are limited to one park a day. I know I know, you're thinking you will be MORE than fine at one park for a day. But each park has different hours and largely depending on the weather parks are busier than others. We often start early in the morning at the Magic Kingdom but end the day with dinner and the amazing firework show at Epcot. Conversely, we've also started at the Animal Kingdom only to leave and catch the captivating Fantasmic show at the Magic Kingdom at night. We have also often left a really busy park after the morning and after looking at the app, decided on a park that was a bit less busy. To maximize your time at Disney you want to have the ability to move around between parks.
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  3. 3
    Book your Fast Passes and Disney experiences
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    You can book restaurant reservations, character dining and character meetings up to 60 days in advance and you can modify the Fast Passes once you're there. Create an itinerary in your app, then book Fast Passes for each day you're there. You will have to do some planning but it is worth it. There are a few rides that are virtually impossible to get on without a huge wait and nearly impossible to book passes for once you're there.
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Packing

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    Don't bring new shoes
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    You will walk A LOT at Disney. Our last trip most of us had FitBit's and were astounded with how many steps we walk. You walk all day. Bring comfortable shoes that are broken in.
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  2. 2
    Bring your own ponchos
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    It almost always rains in Florida, even on days that are bright and sunny there is often a brief sunny rain. You can buy ponchos but they are pretty pricey, pack a few before you go.
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  3. 3
    Consider leaving a hoodie or t-shirt at home
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    It's a family tradition that we each buy a t-shirt or hoodie during the trip. These become souvenirs that we all wear constantly. Disney stuff is pricey but it's good quality and a memory of your trip.
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    Snacks
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    If you've got kids and are staying at the resort, consider packing small snacks like granola bars, apples or cereal. Disney has a lot of food options but to maximize your time, have some for on the go nibbles.
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Book Your Stay at a Disney Resort

We don't do it any other way. You may recognize that the resorts are pricey and some of them certainly are. The Grand Floridian is a beautiful gorgeous resort (make sure to stop by on your trip just to walk around) but there are some great budget and value resorts. We've stayed at them and they are all really sufficient resorts. Keep in mind, you will be spending almost all of your time at the parks, your hotel is really just a place to sleep and shower. There are some huge benefits to the resorts:

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  1. 1
    Magic Bands.This was also my first trip using the Magic Bands and again it's completely changed the Disney experience
    .
    About a month before your trip, if you're staying at a resort you will receive your Magic Bands for every member of your party in the mail. Each Magic Band has the first name of the party member on the back. These little wristbands enable you to:  
    1. Access your resort room and resort facilities.
    2. Enter the park.
    3. Link your photos to your app after a ride or PhotoPass.
    4. Buy food and merchandise.
    5. Book and use your Fast Pass. No more printing at the kiosk! You simply book the Fast Pass on your app then use your Magic Band to access at the entrance of the ride. Amazing.
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  2. 2
    The Monorail
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    It is so fast and so convenient. When the kids get tired, you can easily hop on and be back at the resort for a quick nap in minutes.
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  3. 3
    Resort Boat
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    There are also resort boats that move between the major resorts. These take a bit longer but it's a neat trip around the lagoon and quite relaxing, especially at night.
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  4. 4
    Special Park Hours
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    When you stay in the resort you can access special park hours. Parks will stay open an hour late or open an hour early for resort guests. The hours are different everyday but it gives you additional time to spend when the park is less busy.
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Maximize Your Time Once You're There

Here are a few tips to maximize your time at Disney while you're there.

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    Get to the Parks early
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    Wait, this is a VACATION, I have to set an alarm? I know I know, and I am an excellent morning person so I apologize in advance but if you can get there early it is hugely beneficial. Unlike the rest of my family, my son and I are often up, dressed and ready to go before 8:00am, which is just fine. The monorails start ½ hour to an hour before the park opens and if you can get there a few minutes before it opens you pretty much walk on rides. We opened the park one day and rode Thunder Mountain without a wait six times in a row. So for the most popular rides or characters that often have huge wait times, get there early and head straight for them.
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  2. 2
    Stay Late
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    If you are like the rest of my family, you might prefer to stay late. This is also an excellent option and although I've rarely made it past 9:00pm, my sister is a pro and has reported similar experiences with zero wait times to the most popular rides.
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  3. 3
    Don't Wait in the Huge Lines
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    Really. It is such a waste of valuable Disney time and if you plan correctly you shouldn't have to. Save these attractions for days you've arrived early or stayed late or book a FastPass well in advanced before you go. Be strategic.
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  4. 4
    There are times that the park is packed, but if there is one thing Disney is good at, it's moving people
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    Take your time and follow the crowd, there are hundreds of cast members working to move you in the most efficient direction without you even noticing. After night parades you will see carts set up with glowing flashing merchandise, or balloons for sale after daytime parades, these are of course ploys to get you to spend even more money, but they are also very strategically placed to move the crowd toward a specific area.
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  5. 5
    Food
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    Consider a dining plan but really take a look and calculate your savings before going. The resorts also offer dining plans that we've had a lot of success with. There are a lot of food options at the Disney parks with a lot of diverse options. There are also a lot of restaurants that are quick and don't require dining in across all the parks. Hit these up rather than dine-in restaurants for lunch or light dinners. It is also Disney policy that if you ask for a cup of water anywhere in any park you get it for free. For special dinners, check out the Polynesian Lua, we have gone every time we're at Disney, the food is good and the show is excellent. We also usually eat a dinner at the Mexican Pavilion. The restaurant in China and Morocco as well as the Fish and Chips in England are also excellent.
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  6. 6
    Use the Walt Disney World Railroad at the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom
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    You save a lot of time and get to see some neat areas of the park you miss on foot.
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  7. 7
    Do a character meal instead of waiting in line to meet them
    .
    The character lines are often really long, but if you book a character meal you get to spend a lot more time with the characters and get a lot more pictures. There are a ton of options across the parks, book these early and don't forget your autograph books! The Crystal Palace at the Magic Kingdom has a great buffet and you get to dine with the gang from Winnie the Pooh. Hollywood and Vine is a lesser mentioned option at Hollywood Studios but you get a lot of time with Mickey and Friends. The Polynesian features Lilo and Stitch for breakfast.
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  8. 8
    Shopping
    .
    The best place to shop is Main St. USA at the Magic Kingdom. The stores are connected and you can walk right through and find pretty much anything you're looking for. There are specialized stores throughout all the Parks and the selections are completely different at each Park.
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The Last Day

After all the rides, meeting your favorite characters and chomping on a turkey leg, you will have to leave. My best advice for the last day is to get a departing flight as late as you can. We usually fly out around 7pm which gives us the better part of the last day to spend at our favorite park.

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Tips and Tricks

There is SO much to do at Disney, but some attractions not to be missed:

  • Test Track, Expedition Everest, Rock N Roller Coaster, Space Mountain, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Tower of Terror, Thunder Mountain, Frozen Ever After, Star Tours and Splash Mountain are all great. The Peter Pan ride, Winnie the Pooh, Aladdin, It's a Small World are all favorites.
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  • Parades. There are parades every day, all are differently themed depending on the park. See as many as you can.
  • Shows. There are also tons of shows daily throughout the parks. These are always extremely entertaining and well done. The Indian Jones and Fantasmic are our favorites.
  • If you have a Padawan the Jedi Training Academy at Hollywood Studios is fantastic. Get there early to sign up.
  • Fireworks. There are firework displays every night across the parks. These are astounding; make sure you stay late to see them.
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  • At the Japan Pavilion at Epcot there is a Pick a Pearl experience that is always fun.
  • Tinkerbell flies across the castle every night in the Magic Kingdom. And if you stay a half hour after the Magic Kingdom closes you will get to see the Kiss Goodnight, a two minute closing announcement at the castle.
  • Look around online, there are SO many Disney facts like hidden Mickey's, the Disney jail, a secret Disney club, Cast Member rules, Disney cats and how the placement of the garbage cans was decided. It is all so elaborate and...magical.
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Categories : Entertainment

Recent edits by: Eng, Sarah Maloney

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