Most of us have a few tips and tricks up our sleeves that help in making our vacation the best it can possibly be. Or so we think! I can't tell you how many times I've thought that I am the king of Walt Disney World planning, only to watch someone's vlogs on YouTube or read their blog post and learn a new tip that blows my mind!
Now don't worry, I'm not going to patronize you and mention how you should book restaurant reservations in advance and book your fast-passes on day 60. This is all stuff you know and some families don't necessarily want to plan everything down to a T. So here are just a few simple things that may make a big difference on your next Walt Disney World Vacation.
A Little Touch to your Hotel Room
When you're booking a Walt Disney World Resort (or offsite hotel), you'll often see the option of preferred rooms and different views. I know for me at least, the additional cost for my whole vacation isn't sometimes worth it as I plan to be in the parks most of the time. Other times I've also paid the extra cost to get the best in-room experience if I plan on staying in the resort more often. What about getting a better hotel room for free though?
If you like staying in resorts such as Pop Century, Caribbean Beach, Saratoga Springs or Port Orleans - Riverside, you'll know that there's a bit of a lottery when checking in as to how far away your room's going to be from the lobby and/or amenities. Even at Animal Kingdom Lodge, if your room is on the far end of Jambo house, you may be spending 10-15 minutes just walking to and from your room! Those minutes and extra steps go on for what seems like an eternity after walking a few miles in the parks that day (I don't have children myself but I can imagine it doesn't make the experience any more enjoyable).
To combat this, did you know that you can request to be close to the lobby, for a particular floor or even to be close to the pool? The vast majority of times in which I have made a request with the cast member on the phone when booking (or calling after I booked to make a request) the request has been accommodated! When I stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge I booked a standard room and requested to be close to the lobby. I ended up literally one room away from the lobby and with a technically standard room that looked out onto the Savannah! When staying at Pop Century I requested to be close to the pool, I then ended up with a preferred pool view room!
As with most things, requests of course aren't guaranteed but as far as my experiences go, Disney resort cast members do care about your requests and will do everything they can to accommodate (maybe as few people think to make requests). Whether it's just a shorter walk from the bus at the end of the day, being close enough to the quick service to make your midnight snacking more efficient or even being on the ground floor for easier access with a stroller, there are so many simple requests that, if you get them, make a huge difference over the course of your stay.
A Little Touch to your Morning at Magic Kingdom
Arriving for park opening is a proven and tested way to maximize your visit to any of the parks. In that first hour, you can easily skip an excessively long line for Space Mountain, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, or Enchanted Tales with Belle. Whilst you may think you've saved the most amount of time by hitting one of those rides first, in my experience, you actually add time to your day later on! ...Stay with me, I'm not mad (I don't think).
There's an endless number of 'must-do' attractions in the Magic Kingdom. Some of my favourites include Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean. This is also true for most families and even on a pretty steady day each of these attractions can get a 30-40 minute wait each. When the park opens, most people will typically bolt straight for the Princesses, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, or Space Mountain (which will still take about an hour to do due to the number of people all trying to hit them early). This leaves Adventureland and Frontierland pretty much deserted for the first hour.
I'm not exactly a mathematician but hitting four rides in one hour that would normally have a 40(ish) minute wait, vs one of the other attractions that will have a 60(ish) minute wait for most of the day, even if you wait for that one attraction for an hour in the afternoon you've saved yourself two and half hours (160 minutes)! You may have a short burst of attractions in that first hour but I'd much rather know that I've done those and have a leisurely day riding the Liberty Belle, hopping over to Tom Sawyer Island, singing-along in the Tiki Room, maybe waiting for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (in a more enjoyable line) and having an evil cackle as I walk past Haunted Mansion on a 50-minute wait. This method becomes even more efficient when you have fast passes for rides such as Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
A Little Touch to your Wallet
I wouldn't say I'm the best at money-saving tips in Walt Disney World. When I'm in Disney, I am there for the experience and I will happily spend every penny I have in Disney and live off of rice and baked beans when I get home. However, there's one tip I've picked up in my time that makes a huge difference, especially on a slower-paced day.
I can't speak for the whole world, but Disney food portions compared to average portion sizes in the UK are huge! It's something you don't normally think about when you're actually picking up your meal, but is the size big enough for you and your child or even you and a friend? My friend Gary and I learned that we were comfortably full after lunch when we split a quick service chicken nuggets meal. Sure you may end up buying an ice cream in the afternoon but I would probably have done so even if I'd had my own meal!
Sometimes your eyes can be bigger than your stomach in Disney, and since switching to splitting lunches at the quick service locations, I haven't found myself going hungry. Sure it's the difference of $15 between you, but after a 14-day vacation that's $210 you can spend on dinner at Citricos or Le Cellier!
A Little Touch to your Down Day
One of my biggest tips to anyone I know going to Walt Disney World (especially to those who've never been before), is to plan a down day. Even if you're going for a week, remember your trip is a vacation and not a marathon (unless you're actually going on a runDisney vacation, in which case good luck!). A lesson I had to learn the hard way was that after ten days of walking 5+ miles a day, I needed a vacation from my vacation!
A down day however doesn't need to be a boring day! Personally, my favorite thing to do on a down day is to pop over to one of the Magic Kingdom resorts and rent a pontoon with my group. On the front of it, the cost may seem a bit steep, but when split between 4-6 people it's really not that bad! We like to take a portable speaker, pack a picnic and bob around Seven Seas Lagoon/Bay Lake whilst we sing, laugh, and nibble on sandwiches for a couple of hours. Most people I've spoken to have always wanted to try boating in Disney but have never made time for it. Take my word for it, this is one of my vacation highlights and a great way to add a touch of magic to your down day.
A Little Touch of Convenience
A service provided by Disney that is rarely utilized is the locker service. Most people either don't know they exist, don't think they'll be useful, or don't want to pay the $8 (small locker) or $10 (large locker) charge. However, if you're like me and like to buy merchandise, carry a decent camera, bottles of water, sunblock, spare shoes, and the kitchen sink, a locker may just improve your comfort during days in the parks!
More often than not, one person bears the burden of carrying the family's every need on their back. A locker offers you the chance to dump some items you may need in the afternoon but don't need in the morning. For example; in Florida it normally rains in the afternoon rather than the morning, so whilst you may need to take umbrellas and ponchos to the parks, lose some weight to make your morning more enjoyable and pop back before the heavens open.
Other locker benefits include when your little one gets bored of her Minnie ears (you knew that would happen). Simply drop them off when you're picking up the rain gear or popping back to top-up your sunblock. Another well-known tip is to do your merchandise shopping during the day rather than at park closing when stores like The Emporium and Mouse Gear are filled to the brim with nagging children and parents at the end of their tethers. If you're not staying on property and don't have the convenience of sending your merchandise back to the hotel (or you can't be bothered/aren't able to pick them up the next day), a locker means you don't have to carry the bags around all day and can pick up your purchases in a flash on the way out.
In my opinion, a locker is well worth the cost to make your day more enjoyable. In winter, for example, you can save yourself carrying jackets during the day, save yourself carrying spare clothes in the rain season, or sunglasses and hats once it gets dark. Plus, then having the choice of taking spare clothes could mean you skip a trip back to the resort before heading to a fancy dinner reservation maybe? The one or two trips back to the locker far outweigh the backache and fuss of having everything strapped to your back from dawn till dusk in my experience.
I hope some of these little touches add something special to your next Walt Disney World vacation. Be sure to share your 'little touch' tips with the other readers in the comments below.
You can keep up with my happenings on Twitter and Instagram: @adamhattan and check out some of my Walt Disney World, Disneyland and Disneyland Paris vlogs on my YouTube channel: http://youtube.com/adamhattan