As most of you know, I am somewhat of a Disney Fanatic. I love Disney World! I have personally been there over 20 times since I was a little girl. My husband and I honeymooned there (and may or may not have planned our wedding around Star Wars Weekend). Our daughters, who and 3 and 5 years old, are coming up on their third trip. We are a Disney family through and through. We bleed Disney. My husband and I both agree that if we are going to pay and plan for a vacation that is longer than a weekend, we are going to Disney. We used to live in Florida, about 2 hours from Walt Disney World, and if we still were there, we would be going every single weekend.
In the past couple of months, I have had at least 10 friends contact me to help them plan their Walt Disney World vacation. Since I felt like I ended up writing the same thing over and over again, I figured I would put together this article so that many can benefit from my tips! Never hesitate to shoot me an email (Tessa@MamaSmiths.com) if you need help planning a trip – I LOVE helping people plan for Disney!
If you have tips of your own, be sure to share them in the comments section!
TIP: Book with your Disney Rewards Visa Card! Not only will you get 0% APR for a limited time, you will earn reward dollars you can spend to purchase items in the park. Perks also include a percentage off at certain shops and special Character Meet and Greets in the parks!
If possible, you want to book at least 180 days out so that you can get character meals. You cannot book dining reservations until 180 days before your first day – but once you hit that day, you can reserve for every day in your trip. The best experiences tend to go really fast. Unfortunately, this last time we booked it was 175 days out and we couldn’t get even ONE restaurant that we wanted. I have never had an issue with getting the dining reservations that I wanted, so this was sad. I have been constantly checking the My Disney Experience app though, and have gotten some great reservations since. Last time we were in the parks, we got a lot of last minute ones that we were looking for. Check out my Top 5 Character Dining Experiences here.
Restaurants to try for:
Be Our Guest: At dinner you can meet the Beast!
Cinderella’s Royal Table: CRT costs 2 table service meals each (if you are on the dining plan) but has 4+ princesses and a great atmosphere and delicious food. Some of the best food in all of the parks.
Crystal Palace: Winnie the Pooh & friends – their breakfast is my favorite!
Akershus: Great for lunch or dinner. You will see 5+ princesses in about 45 minutes of your time. The food was decent as well, but the biggest perk is getting all those princesses in that short amount of time without having to wait in lines.
The Garden Grill: Here you will dine with Chip and Dale and friends. The food is amazing and I feel like the character interaction is one of the best here. Be warned, the restaurant does rotate so if you get motion sickness, maybe pass on this one.
Tutto Italia Ristorante: Some of the best food in all of Epcot (if you like Italian). I have tried something different every time I have been here and have never been disappointed.
Hollywood & Vine: What a great breakfast option when you have young kids (its Disney Jr. so characters like Doc McStuffins, Jake, Sofia the First, and Handy Manny come around). The food is pretty good as well. Minnie Mouse does special dining experiences (and we finally were able to get a reservation for her Christmas dinner this year and I cannot wait – look for a post on that soon!).
Sci-Fi Dinner: This is a really cool experience. The food in itself was OK (but keep in mind I am super picky – my husband loved the food). You basically sit in cars at a drive in and watch Sci-Fi movie clips. It is a really fun place to eat and I highly recommend it.
Yak & Yeti: The pan-Asian cuisine here is delicious. The decor is fun as well. If you are planning on staying in Animal Kingdom for lunch (or dinner), try to grab a reservation here.
Tusker House: This is a fun character dining experience with Safari Donald, Daisy, Mickey, and Minnie. If you are on the dining plan however, this is not worth the table service credit. It is one of the cheaper experiences and I recommend paying for it with cash or skipping it.
1900 Park Fare: The dinner here is worth EVERYTHING! It is Cinderella’s Happily Ever After and features her Stepsisters as well as Prince Charming! If you can fit this in to your schedule – do it! Breakfast has Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter – as well as Tigger, Winnie the Pooh, and Mary Poppins.
Ohana: Great food and Lilo and Stitch – need I say more?
Chef Mickeys: I recommend that you do Chef Mickeys at least once in your lifetime. We went to kick off our first Disney World trip with our daughters and it was perfect. You will see all of your favorites and the food is really great. If you can get an early reservation, go for it!
Honestly, if you don’t get the reservations that you want, you can always use the My Disney Experience App as I stated above. You are going to want to download this app before you go to the park anyways as it gives you wait times for rides and characters – it is a life saver once you are in the park.
TIP: When booking breakfasts, try to get times that are before the park opens. We lucked out TWICE getting in to a park about an hour before it opened. Not only can you get some great photos before the parks fill up, but you can also get yourself over to the rides/character lines that you want to be in when the rope drops. Both times we were able to get a prior to park open reservation, our breakfast only took about 45 mins. That meant we had about 15 minutes before the public came in. Because of this, we were able to meet Anna and Elsa after only being in line for a half an hour.
Once you hit 7am when you are 60 days out from your trip (if staying on park property), it is time to reserve your fastpasses. If you are not staying on park property (which I do not recommend at all, as this means you miss out on the dining plan as well – which has always been well worth it to us), you can book your fastpasses at 30 days out. Each guest gets 3 fastpasses each day to start with. Even if you have a park hopper ticket, these need to be booked for ONE park only per day.
Always check for extra magic hours (EMH) before booking your fastpasses. EMH are only for those that are staying on park property (another reason to stay at one of the Disney hotels). For example, maybe one of your top rides is Splash Mountain and you know there will be a long line during the day. If there are EMH that night, likely you will be able to get on it without too long a wait, so save your fastpass for something else. EMH vary each day – we always have a spreadsheet filled out with the days we are going and what the best order to do the parks is so that we can plan our fastpasses and days better. It may sound crazy but it has never steered us wrong. For example, we knew this trip we wanted a fastpass for Frozen Ever After at Epcot. We had scenarios for each day of our trip being at Epcot depending on when we could get the fastpass. So once we were able to get that fast pass, I just went to the tab for Epcot on that day, and booked the rest of ours. This may seem a bit over the top, but it is nice to have everything ready once 7am hits that day!
My Recommended Fast Passes to go for:
(keep in mind I have two little ones)
Magic Kingdom (assuming 2 days here):
Ariel’s Grotto OR Rapunzel and Visiting Princess
Journey of the Little Mermaid
Peter Pans Flight
Seven Dwarves Mine Coaster
Pirates of the Caribbean
Frozen Ever After (or Soarin’) – both are TIER ONE and you can only select one or the other.
The Seas with Nemo and Friends OR Mission Space
Meet Disney Pals at Character Spot (If you have a Disney Rewards Visa Card go ahead and skip this one as you will have a special card member meet and greet area.)
OR Spaceship Earth
Toy Story Mania
Tower of Terror OR Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster
Kali River Rapids
TIP: Try to get all early times for fastpasses. As I stated above, you are allowed 3 per person per day. Once you use these up, you can go to kiosks throughout the park and add more (one at a time) which is why it makes sense to do all early ones. You cannot access more passes until all 3 of yours are used. You can now use the My Disney Experience App to book your fastpass+ passes!
I highly recommend park hoppers so you can go back and forth between the parks. This is especially important so you can take advantage of the extra magic hours. Plan for at least 2 days at Magic Kingdom – we tend to go to Magic Kingdom every day that we are there. It is full of rides, characters, and shows – there really is so much to do there! I could easily spend 4 full days just in Mgic Kingdom. Hollywood Studios is a full day park – especially with the new Star Wars stuff slowly being introduced (you can meet Kylo Ren and Chewbacca there now!). Animal Kingdom is a half day park that is on it’s way to being made into a full day park. Epcot is a lot of fun and definitely a full day park. I like to check out all the countries in the world showcase – but young kids might get bored with this (mine sure do). My husband and I like to get a drink and some food from each country while we are there.
Value Resorts are the cheapest hotels on the Disney property. These are nothing special – nothing to write home about. They get the free transportation to the park, but the bus rides are a bit longer as they are further out. Don’t get me wrong, they are nice – and perfect if you are looking for the frugal option.
Moderate Resorts are what I recommend. Our favorite is the French Quarter Port Orleans. The atmosphere is amazing and the rooms are all really nice. It is really fun and the pool is cool (although admittedly we never hang out at the pool). The ride is a little longer to get to the parks than others (but not as long as the value resorts). There is a boat ride to Disney Springs which is really nice and I suggest doing it at least once if you stay there.
Deluxe Resorts are the next level up. We have stayed in Value, Moderate, and are about to stay in a Deluxe this year (Animal Kingdom Lodge!). I cannot wait – and will be sure to tell you guys all about it!
I cannot stress getting the dining plan enough. We have done the math and it is always well worth it for us. This is a must especially if you plan to do multiple character meals. We usually go with the regular dining plan. There is a Quick Service Dining plan and a Deluxe Dining plan also. The regular makes the most sense (for us). Each person gets 1 quick service meal, 1 snack, and 1 table service meal per day. Most of the character meals cost 1 table service meal – but Cinderella’s Royal Table is 2. If you have snacks leftover you can use them to get rice krispie treats and candy that you can take home. They can be used for drinks, cotton candy, ice cream, cream cheese stuffed pretzels (SO GOOD!!). The BEST part about this is that if you come in the night before you start going to the parks, because you are paying for the hotel that night, you get an extra day of meals. For example, we checked in at 11pm the night before our visit and that counted, and we ended up an extra set of meals per person – which is nice when booking character meals and Cinderella’s Royal Table. Plus it is nice to come in and settle in the hotel the day before you head to the parks because they will be long days.
TIP: If you are booking a special event, such as Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party, book it for your first night there (if you are able to). Come in to Orlando that morning, check in to your hotel and relax. Then head over to Magic Kingdom at 4pm for the party (even though it starts at 7pm they let you in at 4pm). And BONUS, you get 3 fastpasses that can be used between 4pm and 7pm!
Always call Disney to book (1-407-939-5277). They will always find you the best deals – just tell them what hotel you are looking at, dates, and how many days. Ask if they have any specials going on – they often have free dining plans or discounted hotels.