Whether you are visiting for the first time or returning to your happy place, it’s an exciting time to plan your vacation. With the introduction of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Hollywood Studios, the opening of the new Skyliner transportation system, and the latest Disney resort, Riviera, there is much to see and do in the ever-changing Walt Disney World.
So how can you maximize your time within the borders of Walt Disney World and avoid making some of the simplest mistakes in the process? Let’s start a list!
Mistake Number One: Choosing the wrong people to travel with
We both love Disney, so we should do it together, right? Wrong.
Traveling with friends and family can be difficult for the most experienced of travel buddies, let alone for people new to the Disney experience. It’s not like anything you have ever done before. Have you discussed your in-ride photo style for that last-minute snapshot as you go over the Splash Mountain drop? Does one of you need to speed-walk to your next destination, while the others prefer to mosey around and smell the pixie-scented flowers?
These questions are far more important than one may expect. Have a read through the Quick Start Guide to Vetting Your Disney Travel Buddies to make sure you are on the same page before you commit.
Mistake Number Two: Making too many Advanced Dining Reservations
Having a hard and fast plan for every Disney day may sound like perfection when you are counting down those last 180 days, desperate to connect with any part of your upcoming vacation. But, once you arrive, you may find that by making so many plans, you have actually boxed yourself into a rigid schedule the doesn’t allow for any adventure at mealtime.
Table service restaurants can be fun, especially the ones with incredibly immersive theming that make you feel like you have entered the world of your favorite characters. The downside is that they are expensive and time-consuming. Consider limiting your ADRs to one every other day, giving you time to explore your environments and find those fabulously memorable quick-service locations that you wouldn’t have ever thought to look for.
Not only does this give you more freedom to make plans that suit you on the day, without having a reservation at every meal break, not only will you save money, but you will appreciate the ones you do have so much more.
Mistake Number Three: Deciding to pick up that perfect souvenir later
Everyone either has or will have that moment when you find the ideal souvenir, but you decide you will pick it up at a more appropriate time when you aren’t about to go rocketing through the outskirts of the universe on Space Mountain. The problem is, sometimes, that perfect little something that you assumed will be everywhere, will never be seen again. Out of stock here, limited edition there, or even exclusive to the park you were in and won’t be returning to. For one reason or another, our very rational decision to exercise sound judgment can backfire into bitter disappointment when can can’t track down that one thing ever again.
How do we avoid this? Several ways. If you are in the parks, buy it then and there and pick it up on your way out of the park near guest services. If you are staying on Disney property, you can opt to have it delivered to your resort; however, you do need to add extra time for this service. I prefer to pick up everything at the end of the day so we can enjoy our purchases straight away.
Mistake Number Four: Booking Fastpass+ or Dining Reservations too close together
While we all like to have our FastPasses+ in the bag early so we can open ourselves up for more, there is a risk of lining them up too close together. I see many forum posts where people have last-minute concerns about the 15 minutes between their last FP and their dinner reservation in another park. Most of us have learned the hard way that, even with the FastPasses and Advanced Dining Reservations, there can still be an unpredictable waiting period involved. Let’s run through a little example.
Test Track FastPass Window 5:30pm – 6:30pm
Dinner Reservation California Grill 7 pm
You’ve done the math and worked out that it takes around about 12 – 15 minutes to drive between the two, so that looks perfect, right? No.
Say you were to arrive for your FP halfway through the allocated window at 6 pm. You may still need to wait 30 minutes for your experience before the ride itself. Before you know it, you are walking out of the attraction at 6:40 pm, feeling stressed and under pressure. You start to speed walk out of the park, with everyone else who has given up for the day and is heading to their vehicles and buses. Strollers are in the way, people are moving slowly, and all you want to do is run to the car and get where you need to be, but you can’t. You finally make it to your vehicle, and then get in the line of traffic exiting the park.
I think you can see where this is going.
Time traps like crowds, bag check lines, traffic, bus lines, and extensive delays are rarely factored into action-packed timelines though these can be the very things that turn your perfectly sculpted schedule into the source of your vacation stress. Leave gaps, big ones, and allow yourself the time in between. I promise you won’t get bored.
Mistake Number Five: Not taking a break
If you’re somewhere in the back there yelling, ‘but we travel from another country, we need to make the most of every moment!,’ I’m with you. It takes almost 20 hours of flight time to get from Sydney, Australia to Orlando, Florida, so I am certainly picking up what you are putting down. But, over the years, I have learned that when it comes to Disney, your experience is about quality, not quantity. There is no benefit in stressing everyone out, especially children, by trying to stay in the parks from rope drop ’til fireworks every day of your trip.
Plan breaks. If you are only there for a few days, perhaps a mid-day time out will do the trick. If you are staying longer, plan to spend an entire day or two outside of the parks. And no, that doesn’t mean go to Universal instead, as that doesn’t count as a down-day. Take in some of the sights, play mini-golf, or visit some of the resorts. Spend time at the pool or Disney Springs, or you could even rent a car and drive out to see some of the local areas. Having a quiet, lazy day of choose-your-own-adventure style traveling can re-energize your team and have you all ready to go the next day for more park action.
Bonus Round: Thinking you already drink enough water and don’t need sunscreen because you don’t usually burn.
If you are not used to subtropical weather, then listen to the warnings, and even if you are familiar with it, listen to them anyway. Don’t pass out in the middle of Magic Kingdom because dehydration caught you off-guard. Wear sunscreen, in every instance, no matter what your skin type. Yes, UK friends, I am looking at you.
The last thing you want is to suffer the exhaustion of dehydration and the pain of sunburn. Don’t forget, a cup of water is free at every quick service location in the parks, so no excuses.
Bonus Round: Thinking you will see and do everything in one trip.
In the words of The Circle of Life: There is far too much to take in here, more to do than can ever be done.
It’s safe to say that without vigorous use of a consecutive annual passes, you will never see and do everything Disney has to offer. Sometimes by choice, occasionally circumstantial; there will always be things that escape you. For example, in all my Disney travels I have never been on Tom Sawyer Island, in either Disneyland or Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Scandalous, I know. Nor have I ever made it to a Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party as my October trips are usually spent on the west coast.
There will always be reasons to come back; enjoy what Disney has to offer while you are there and remember, quality, not quantity.