When You Wish Upon a Star: Disney Travel Tips
If you’re planning a road trip to Disney World, these Disney travel tips will help your trip run smoothly while extracting the maximum amount of fun out of every day in the park.
I absolutely love Disney World – make that Disney anything – it’s a really great destination for your road trip. It’s like a dream – so perfect and magical and everything there runs so smoothly it’s hard to imagine how they do it. Maybe Tinkerbelle’s wand and all that fairy dust does it!
Unfortunately, the real world isn’t perfect and there are a lot of pitfalls that you will want to avoid, so some of these Disney travel tips will cover what those landmines are and how to avoid them. Also, there are many ways to get more bang for your buck – and we’re talking many bucks as Disney World isn’t cheap. Also, you’ll want to pack lots of fun into your Disney vacation so I’ve included tips to help you make your trip as enjoyable as possible.
Let’s get started!
Disney Travel Tips
- The first step is to figure out how many days you want to – or can – spend in Disney World. If you’re coming from a great distance, you’ll have to do a lot of driving. If you have two weeks, take the time to stop a lot along your route and enjoy various sights and activities – no need to make it a hellish haul. Check out my article Map It! to help you plan your route. If you only have a week and you want to drive, a hellish haul it is if you want to spend multiple days in Disney World, unfortunately. If you must go on this kind of trip, see this article on handling a haul road trip.
- Once you’ve figured out how many days you’ll be spending there, plan where you will spend time in the park. You’ll need a minimum of a full day in each area (and that won’t cover everything by a long shot, just the highlights). What do I mean by area? There’s the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and two water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach). The fewer days you have to spend, the more you’ll have to pick and choose favorites. If you have young children, the Magic Kingdom is a must. If you’re an adult that wants something more sophisticated, plan on hitting Epcot. All of these sections of Disney World are great, so it’s really up to you and what you’re looking for. However, if you have to skip one or two areas, skip the water parks as they are not "must-see’s" like the others.
- One of my top Disney travel tips is to plan on taking advantage of the FASTPASS option wherever available (selected rides and shows offer it). It’s fantastic as there is no extra charge and you can skip wasting your time standing in line and go have fun doing other things until your appointed time. Whenever approaching a ride, look for a FASTPASS line. There will be a sign showing what times are being offered (always an hour window unless it is a show and then you will have a performance time). Make sure everyone in your group gets a FASTPASS ticket, one for your group won’t do it. Also, be aware that you can only get a FASTPASS for one ride or show at a time, so choose wisely.
- If you can afford it, stay in one of the hotels on the lagoon in the park – the experience is fantastic and you can ride the monorail to and from the park. The older ones (the Polynesian and the Contemporary resorts) are a little kitchy – but fun if you don’t mind that 70’s feel. The others are newer and each has its own theme. Also, you’ll get the Extra Hours Benefit – you can go to the park earlier and stay later than anyone who isn’t staying at a Disney property. That gives you a lot more time in the park when there are few or no lines, so it’s a great benefit! Another perk is that, if you love to shop, all items purchased in the park can be sent to your resort so you don’t have to lug them around all day. If you're flying to Disney, skip renting a car if you're planning on staying at Disney for your entire trip. All the Disney resorts will not only provide transportation to/from the airport and around the parks, they'll also pick up your luggage for you and deliver it to your room!
- This is one of the most important Disney travel tips about landmines: be wary of anyone other than Disney and AAA selling tickets. Those great discounted tickets or money-saving coupons you’re so excited about aren’t so great when you find out they’re fake and you get turned away at the gate. Every time you see a big billboard about Disney discounts telling you to get off at a specific exit, know that behind it is a timeshare sales pitch and they will waste days of your vacation trying to get you to sign up – that “discount” boils down to you not having very much time to actually go to Disney World. Unfortunately, I’ve heard many stories about these various scams happening to good people. Don’t be suckered!
- Use your AAA membership to book your hotel (book with the hotel directly and mention you want the AAA rate) and Disney World tickets and you’ll save $$$(and if you don’t have a membership, why not? It’s one of the best travel deals out there – you’ll save ten times the annual membership if you use it whenever you travel!) . Also, don’t bother with the “packages” Disney offers – none of them offer a discount of any kind. Buy your ticket vouchers at your local AAA office and then redeem them at the Disney Welcome Center in Ocala, FL on your way to the park (85 miles north of the park) – AAA offers the best deal around. If you don’t want to stop in Ocala, you can wait in line at the park’s gate, but be prepared to wait. If you go to the park’s gate to trade in your voucher for your ticket, make sure to go to the Bulk/Vouchers line – it’s the correct line for your AAA voucher and usually the shortest. Also, if you’re not staying at a Disney resort, you can park in the Diamond parking spaces near the park entrance using the Diamond Lot permit that will come with your AAA packet. This is a lot better than having to park miles away and taking a tram to the entrance.
- Disney Travel Tip Deal Alert One package that Disney offers that's worth taking them up on is the Disney Dining Plan. There are all kinds of plans, but they all save money. The fact is that food at Disney World is expensive, so you'll want to figure something out. If you're really on a shoestring budget, your best bet is to pack some snacks and eat a large breakfast before you go (and a large dinner once you leave the parks). If you choose to dine in the parks, be sure to make your reservations far in advance. 90 days ahead is a good benchmark for when you should be making your dining reservations (or you'll be stuck getting your meals at counters).
- If you’re traveling with children, I don’t recommend bringing any children under 3 years old – it’s very hard for them to "get" Disney World and it’s better left until they’re a little older and can really enjoy it.
- If you can go on this road trip at any time, a top Disney travel tip is to go during the last two weeks of September – you’ll practically have the whole park to yourself as it’s a really quiet time. Another great time to go (and even lesser known) is between Thanksgiving and four days before Christmas. This is one of the top secret Disney travel tips here - straight from the inside!
- Disney travel tips to take full advantage of the parks? Always head to the back of the park first (whatever part you’re in) and work your way to the front. This way you’ll get the shortest lines, at least during the beginning of your day, as everyone else will be starting from the front. Also, avoid Disney World on early entry days - it's a mob scene (nothing like the enjoyable vacation you were expecting).
- If your group plans on splitting up, bring walkie-talkies or cell phones with you so that you can keep in touch and easily plan to meet up.
- If you’re going on water rides, make sure to bring a zip-lock baggie for your wallet/other items so you can keep the important stuff dry.
- Make sure to bring rain ponchos with you – they’re lightweight and absolutely necessary in Florida, the rain-shower state (in addition to all that sunshine). Also, if you’re planning on going in January or February, make sure to pack a jacket as it can get cold, especially in the early morning and evening.
With these Disney travel tips, you’re ready for a great road trip vacation. Want to make your Disney vacation extra-special? Use these Tips to Disney-fy your Walt Disney World Vacations and you'll add a whole new element of fun!
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