It’s winter here in American Siberia. Which means that you’re probably either dreaming of warmer climates or you haven’t been anywhere without your down comforter in four weeks.
Today I want to share some of my top travel tips for visiting Walt Disney World — a place so vast and engrossing that there are people who make a living doing nothing but blogging about their Disney travel experiences, people who spend years visiting the parks over and over and still believe in the magic.
I’ve visited Disney World many times, and am definitely one of those research junkies who checks out every book and reads every website and compiles all of the options before pulling the trigger on a trip like this, so I hope someone will be able to benefit from my many (many, MANY) hours of reading and investigating.
1. Know your goals.
Walt Disney World and all of its resorts, golf courses, theme parks, water parks, and other entertainment venues make up over 27,000 acres. This is not a vacation where you can just wing it and see where the wind takes you. You will find yourself fighting crowds and waiting in lines unnecessarily without at least a rough idea of what you’d like to do.
So, what are your goals for your trip? Is it just to be together as a family, and if you see a couple of cool things, that’s OK? Is it to see as much of Disney as humanly possible while you’re there? Is it to enjoy nice restaurants and soak up the magic?
My goals have changed over time. I no longer need to see it all and do everything. For my last trip in November 2016, these were my goals:
— Wait in as few lines as possible
— Check out of my daily life and enjoy having few responsibilities
— Eat delicious food
With my goals in mind, I was better able to focus my planning. I kind of hate waiting in lines and refuse to wait for more than 20 minutes to see an attraction. You’ll never find me camped outside of a Best Buy to get a good deal on an iPad. I’d rather pay full price and not wait in line.
To be fair, Disney does an amazing job of entertaining you while you wait in line for things. Some of the ride queues are so immersive, you forget that you’re waiting for the real entertainment to begin. But for me, there is literally no attraction worth waiting in a line for two hours for. So I plan my trip in such a way as to minimize my wait times.
Because good food is important to me, I make my dining reservations as soon as possible to get into my preferred restaurant at my preferred time. (WDW has over 300 restaurants, and they range from fast food chicken nuggets to some of the finest dining available in the US.)
Want to drink milkshakes while sitting in a classic convertible and watching campy old school movie clips in a simulated drive-in? There’s a restaurant for that. Want to eat dinner in a castle surrounded by princesses? There’s a restaurant for that. What if you love wine and French fare? There’s a restaurant for that. If food is also important to you, I suggest checking out the Disney Food Blog.
2. Choose your travel dates wisely.
It’s tempting to plan a trip when the kids are out of school or when you have time off for the holidays. Sadly, those are Disney peak travel times, where you’ll pay the highest rates and fight the biggest crowds. (And in the case of summertime, pass out from heatstroke in the Florida sun.) I always try to travel during non-peak times, and I suggest planning a trip during one of these windows:
— Second week of January through the beginning of March (the holidays are over and kids are back in school)
— First three weeks of May (after spring break but before kids are out of school for the year)
— The last week of August and the entire month of September (be prepared for it to be really hot, but it’s very quiet as kids are back in school and few people want to pull their kids out immediately after school begins)
— Mid-November to mid-December, except for Thanksgiving week
Times to avoid:
— Any holiday and the week after. Especially Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter
— Any three-day weekend, with the exception of Labor Day
— June to mid-August
3. Be prepared for the weather. It rains a lot in Florida. In the winter, the rain is cold, and you will need jackets and rain ponchos. I recommend buying a pack of disposable rain ponchos like these and packing those in your luggage. That way you can take advantage of the quieter park while everyone else is running for cover.
Some of my children’s fondest Disney memories are of cold, rainy days. My daughter was three when this was taken, and she still regularly brings up her memory of riding on Dumbo in the rain with me when there was not another soul on the ride. The ride ended and she asked if we could go again without getting off and they said sure. The novelty hasn’t worn off in her mind.
Florida is cold (OK, not American Siberia cold), but quite chilly in January and February. I’ve visited in January and had temps be in the 40s and low 50s. Couple that with rain, and your feet and hands will be uncomfortable without precautions. If you’re visiting in the winter, bring sweatshirts or fleece jackets, lightweight gloves, and socks/shoes. Don’t assume Florida is 85 degrees year round and then get stuck buying expensive sweatshirts for everyone if you don’t want to.
4. Plan, and then relax.
I view a Disney trip as a little like a wedding. There is a lot of planning work that goes into it, but once your day is underway, you should relax and enjoy it. The same is true of Disney. Choose your FastPasses, make your hotel and dining reservations, plan your transportation, but then relax and enjoy the trip.
Children are little sponges who can feel when people are stressed, overwhelmed, or unhappy. Go into your trip with a “whatever happens will just be a fun adventure” mindset and remember that those in between moments are often some of your happiest times. On one trip, we stayed in a resort that had golf carts you can rent and drive around. Basically, you can park your car outside the cabin, but personal vehicle traffic is restricted outside of the two main roads. My children are still talking about those golf cart rides, and how we saw dozens of wild turkeys everywhere.
5. Remember that you cannot do everything.
I felt so much better when I realized that Disney has purposely designed it so that you cannot do everything. They want you to come back again. Once you let go of the expectation that you can see and do it all, I found it very freeing. We prioritized what was really important for us to see and then realized anything else would be gravy.
I could literally write five more posts full of Disney travel tips, this is barely scratching the surface. If readers are interested, perhaps I can share time saving tips, what to pack, and where to eat resources in the future.
Before I sign off, I’ll leave you with a few more Disney travel resources:
Enjoy your Disney travel adventure!