101 Disney World Tips for Families
Since Disney World is broken up into different parks, I’m including general tips for all parks and then travel tips for each of the individual Disney World parks. We’ve visited Disney World, Disneyland and Disneyland Paris many times and if there’s anything that seems to remain constant with each visit, it’s the need to plan ahead so you maximize every minute of your trip and minimize your time waiting in lines. And be aware that this phenomenon seems to be accelerating with the many new technologies Disney has integrated into the park experience.
Disney World Essentials
Our number one tip is to plan ahead; and do it as far ahead of your visit as possible. Secure your housing, purchase your Disney World tickets and reserve your Fast Passes and any Disney restaurants (up to 6 months in advance) you’d like to visit. Oh, and don’t ever purchase park tickets on Craigslist or from any other source than an official Disney outlet. Some of our other general tips for Disney World:
- Download the My Disney Experience App. This app is your lifeline before, during and after your trip to Disney World. So, don’t forget to bring a charger like this one in your backpack or else you’ll be scavenging for an outlet every time you sit down. The app links your housing reservations, allows you to search ride wait times, book dining reservations and purchase souvenirs that can be sent to your room. You can also link your in-park photos to the app by scanning you magic band or Disney ticket after you finish a ride or have your photo taken by a professional photographer. Make sure you download the app ahead of time to familiarize yourself with the app navigation.
- With Fast Passes book the three most popular rides for the parks you’ll be visiting (Walt Disney World Resort Hotel Guests are allowed to book Fast Passes up to 60 days in prior to their reservation date). If you wait until you arrive in the park to reserve your Fast Passes, you’ll be left with few options. After you use your first three passes, schedule your next 3 Fast Passes using the Disney Experience App or by visiting a kiosk. At times, you’ll find the WiFi in the park weak, so make a mental note when you pass the Fast Pass kiosks. This tip–along with a few others–is mentioned in the video below.
- Check out the Under Cover Tourist website to gather more information about when to visit. Keep in mind that even the “less crowded” times of the year are still quite busy. They are simply less crowded than the peak periods, but there will still be people everywhere you look.
- Magic Bands…Should you purchase them? We purchased one Magic Band for our 8-year old daughter. After an hour of wearing it, she found it uncomfortable and we placed it in our pocket along with our Disney passes. My suggestion? If you’re kids absolutely need a Magic Band, have at it. You should read Disney’s FAQs about the Magic Bands to make sure you understand the basics.
Otherwise, you could always purchase one for Mom or Dad so they can more easily swipe their way into your Disney Hotel. For our family, we found it easy enough for me to keep our passes in my backpack. Keep in mind that you’ll need your passes to swipe in for Fast Passes and to associate your ride photos with your Disney App (account). If you’re staying at an official Disney Hotel, the magic bands also allow you to pay for food, access parking, etc.
- Water? Come up with a plan. Although we own a pile of Hydro Flask bottles, we chose to bring plastic bottles of water and fill them up using the Disney water fountains (and bottle fillers). We found it easy to find places to fill up our bottles and we honestly didn’t need to insulate the water since we typically emptied our bottle in an hour or two. We also didn’t want to deal with the extra weight or bring any other valuables into the park that could be misplaced. If you’re using a stroller, you should feel emboldened to gear up with your water bottles. If you’re in need of ice water, the cafes in each park will usually provide you with free ice water. Here’s a helpful water bottle review if you’re looking for some suggestions.
- Do you have kids who may not join you on some of the faster rides? Ask for a Rider Switch Pass. After going on a ride with a Fast Pass, you can use one of the Rider Switch Pass with the parent who was waiting with the child outside of the ride. In short, these passes allow you to transfer ownership of the Fast Pass between adults and their kids–or vice versa.
- Secure your dining reservations six months in advance. You can make reservations using Disney’s Dining Reservation website (recommended) or by calling (407) WDW-DINE.
- The PhotoPass. Disney World has professional photographers who are waiting all over the park ready to take photos of you and your loved ones. Disney Photographers will give you a photo pass or link your Magic Band. They will also take a photo of you and your loved ones using your camera.
Common Questions about Disney World
Question: If I’m prioritizing budget on this trip, where can I lower expenses?
Answer: We tend to be on the more frugal side when we travel, so I have several suggestions on this front. However, if budget isn’t an issue, stay at an official Disney Hotel, eat out at Disney restaurants every chance you can get, etc. If this all makes you cringe a bit because you’ve already emptied your bank account to pay for your tickets, here are my main tips or traveling Disney World on a budget. For a family of 5, our goal was to keep our daily spend below $100 per day (not including hotel, park pass).
- Buy your breakfast and lunch food from a grocery store. Most hotels will provide a small refrigerator if they don’t already have one in your room. Put your lunch in your backpacks along with some snacks.
- Pass on the Magic Bands
- Attach your family trip to a professional conference (there are thousands of conferences held in the Disney hotels every year—check to see if your professional associations offer such an event)
- Stay at an offsite hotel and eat at one of the many excellent non-Disney restaurants for dinner. I know this might sound anti-climactic, but you’ll save hundreds of dollars and most of the non-Disney hotels in the area offer shuttles directly to and from the parks. Our favorite is the Grove Resort & Spa.
- Buy your Disney trading pins on Ebay before arriving at the park and allow your children to trade with park members when you’re looking for down time. This will also greatly reduce their interest in purchasing other souvenirs that are over priced and will undoubtedly be thrown away not long after arriving back home
Question: What should I pack if I’m going to Disney World for more than 2-3 days?
Answer: If you’re bringing a stroller, you’ll have more flexibility to haul heavier items. For our family of five, here’s what we packed.
- 2-3 backpacks to carry lunches, snacks, water bottles, thin ponchos and sweat shirts/jackets (for colder days). My favorite backpack for a day trip like Disney is the Deuter Airlite 22. This backpack is an engineering marvel and will pay you back in spades over the years as you fill it’s many pockets with snacks, water bottles, sun block and other essentials.
- Comfortable walking shoes. We typically walked between 8-9 miles each day, so you’ll definitely want to be comfortable with your shoes and socks. My favorite women’s shoes for walking is the Nike Free RN Flyknit. These are wonderfully comfortable, light, dry quickly and don’t’ require socks.
- Sunblock. Neutrogena’s 100+ is our go to choice for adults and kids (especially for the face).
- Extra iPad/phone or book. The line wait times are brutal and it will take the edge off the wait if you’re kids are able to stay entertained while you snake your way through the lines. Expect to wait 1-3 hours for many of the more popular rides. We arrived in the first half hour of opening at the Animal Kingdom and still waited three hours for the Pandora Flight of Passage ride. Also, a great reminder to book your Fast Passes as early as possible since these were already booked when we checked.
- Hand sanitizer. It’s hard to imagine how many germs are floating around all over this park. Get a bottle (or several) with a clip built into the bottle. That way, you can attach your bottle directly to your backpack.
- Sunglasses (I forgot mine at home, which meant I paid much more for an in-park replacement).
Question: What are your favorite places and recommendations in the Disney World?
- Best Food: We loved the Satu’li Canteen in Pandora World. The salads were phenomenal. Kona Cafe (Polynesian), Boma (Animal Kingdom Lodge), California Grill (Contemporary) & Sanaa (Animal Kingdom Lodge) were all good options.
- Best Character Dining: Chef Mickey’s (Contemporary), Cape May Cafe (Beach Club), O’hana (Polynesian)
- Best Themed Dining: :Beaches N Cream (Beach Club), Perfectly Princess Tea (Grand Floridian) & Whispering Canyon Cafe (Wilderness Lodge)
- Best Disney Concierge: Animal Kingdom Lodge
- Best Overall Disney Resort: The Beach Club Villas
- Best Disney Resort Pools: Yacht & Beach Club and Animal Kingdom Lodge (Kidani Village)
- Best off-resort lodging: The Grove Resort and Spa. We stayed here for 3 nights and absolutely loved the pool, large rooms and many resort amenities. They also provide a shuttle to the parks and the overall value for this resort is off the charts.
- Best rides: Oh boy, this is a tough one. I think our family enjoyed the Pandora Flight of Passage ride the most followed closely by the Safari Jeep ride. Our kids enjoyed the Mount Everest roller coaster the most in terms of fast rides. I highly recommend camping out at the Mount Everest ride for the last 30 minutes before the park closes as you should be able to get 3-4 rides in without much of a ride. We also absolutely love the Toy Story Midway Mania ride in the Magic Kingdom.
1. Magic Kingdom
This is one of the larger parks, but it still gets very busy. Lock in your Fast Passes early (as in months before you arrive) and plan on getting there early so you can move to your ride right when they open. Keep in mind that if the park opens at 9am, you should plan on being there 45 minutes before the open time since they often open the park before the officially posted time. We chose to head directly to Thunder Mountain when at the rope drop and were the first ones on the ride.
- Stay Cool: most of the year it’s pretty darn hot. Magic Kingdom Park has some awesome spots to cool off in that will help make your day much better.
- Watch Fireworks with NO CROWDS. You can view the fireworks from the Dumbo ride in Toon Town if you want to skip/ avoid the crowds. It is still a great view. While most people go in front of Cinderella’s Castle you can relax behind the castle with a great view minus the crowds right in front of Dumbo. Check out the picture below. It was taken in the middle of summer which is a Peak Season for Disney!
- Cinderella’s Royal Table– an amazing princess character dining restaurant. Little girls will feel like a real princess.
- Columbia Harbor House is a great option for lunch located near the Liberty Bell in Frontierland. With two stories there is always an indoor table available and the food is good too.
- Be Our Guest has the best food in the park and the kids will love the way the waiters deliver the food straight to your table with a fancy food cart thanks to your magic rose locater.
- Dole Whip is available in multiple locations in Adventureland. One across from the Swiss Family Treehouse and the other by the Magic Carpet Ride. Yes, these taste as good as they look.
- Gaston’s Tavern has the amazing HUGE cinnamon rolls that used to be on Main Street.
- Sample sodas from around the world at the Club Cool sponsored by Coke.
- The video below does an excellent job of ranking restaurants in the Magic Kingdom.
There are several shows and rides that offer Fastpass. I have a complete guide to planning your Epcot
- The Seas with Nemo & Friends is a great ride for kids and usually a quick queue.
- Turtle Talk with Crush is super fun and it’s located indoors along with a giant aquarium offering ample time indoors.
- Spaceship Earth is slow moving and if you go later in the day the queue isn’t bad.
- Gran Fiesta Tour- boat ride with Donald in Mexico. Our kids love it!
- Plus, Frozen Ever After located in Norway!!!!
- Head to Frozen Ever After Ride in the morning, not many people head to the World showcase in the morning so the line for Frozen is usually short (or at least reasonable) during that time.
There is a great character greeting area called Epcot Character Spot– head there early to avoid long lines. It’s great because you wait in one line but get to meet multiple characters like Minnie, Mickey, Pluto, Goofy and Donald usually and it’s indoors and next to Starbucks!!
- Want to see the princesses? Book a breakfast at Akerhaus in Norway and you’ll see a bunch. Book the breakfast before the park opens to be one of the first allowed in the parks
- Kidcot- kids love coloring the Duffy Bears (free) at the Kidcot Fun Stops in the World Showcase. You can start in any country and the kids get their bear and first stamp. The kids continue collecting stamps in each country they visit!
- Kids can also ask cast members in each country to write their name in the cast members native language on the back of their Duffy Bear.
- Phineas & Ferb- kids love racing around Epcot with special phones on a detailed detective mission to save agent P. Their phones unlock special animated features throughout the park.
- Spiked Dole Whip! they spiked the delicious favorite with coconut rum. Get one… it will make your day SO much better!!
- Snack on a Croissant Donut available at a stand near Canada in the World Showcase.
- The Jambon sandwich from France is a great lunch!
- Grab an ice cream or a Macaroon Ice Cream Sandwich or just some delicious Macaroons. All found in France.
- Italy has the best latte.
- Le Cellier has fantastic food if you are looking for a gourmet dining experience
- Coral Reef is an incredible experience as you dine inside an aquarium.
- Teppan Edo restaurant in Japan is a fun experience for the kids and delicious too!
- Spice Road Table is a delicious tapas restaurant with a view of illuminations at night.
- Schedule dinner at La Hacienda de San Angel to coincide with illuminations show and request for a table by the window. Their tacos and margaritas are fantastic!
- Illuminations- the show can be seen anywhere around the world showcase so don’t worry too much about finding a seat. 30 minutes prior to show time seems to be just fine.
Pro Tip- there is a back exit that drops you into Boardwalk which is a great place to walk around, grab a bite (we like picking up a whole pizza pie from the walk-up window) or watch the night time entertainment. You can also walk or take a boat to Hollywood Studios from here. Just make sure if you parked at Epcot you get back to that park before closing.
3. Animal Kingdom
The Animal Kingdom is a true gem if you have young children and are feeling a little burned out on rides and rollercoasters. While there are definitely some amazing rides in the Animal Kingdom, the crown jewel of this park is really the Safari ride. If the weather is cool, you can get away with visiting the Safari during the afternoon, but in normal conditions–when the weather is warm–you’ll want to plan your day around a trip (or two, or three) on the Safari jeep ride. In terms of the other rides, hopefully you have a FastPass for the Pandora ride. If you don’t it’s likely you’ll wait 2-3 hours–even if you arrive early.
- Pandora opened in May of 2017 and has been quite popular ever since. The Flight of Passage ride is truly something special and even after waiting in line for hours, you’ll probably think the wait was worth it. I won’t even begin to try and explain this ride, but suffice it to say that it’s the future of theme park rides.
- Morning Safari- you can usually walk right on and the animals are just being fed so many are out. There is a second entrance at the back of the Rain Forest Cafe Gift Shop if the front entrance is crowded.
- FastPass- schedule a FastPass for Flight of Passage, Expedition Everest and Kali River Rapids. My complete guide to Animal Kingdom FastPass Here
This park is a great place to meet characters as it typically has much shorter wait times than the other parks.
- Most are located at Discovery Island
- You can also catch the characters by arriving early and heading to the Tree of Life. The characters arrive by car to kick off the day.
- Or book a character breakfast at the Tusker House and see them there.
- Pro Tip- book it before the park opens so you can be one of the first in the park!
- Find some great cocktails at the Dawa Bar
- Satu’li Canteen – my kids love this place for the cheeseburger pods, my husband loves the chicken plates.
- Harambe Market has excellent lunch. I love their Chicken Tikka Masala!
- Grab Samosas from the food cart at the entrance of Africa.
- Waffles and Ice Cream are tasty from Tamu Tamu.
- Can’t beat sit down at Tiffins or Yak & Yeti. They are both excellent choices!
- Cool Off-
- plan to get wet, really wet if you are riding Kali River Rapids. Plan to pack ponchos and spare clothing as necessary
- The Lion King Show is awesome- very entertaining and is in a giant air-conditioned theater.
- It’s Tough to be a Bug is also a great show to cool off in.
4. Hollywood Studios
The Disney buses will take you from any of the Disney resort hotels with the exception of Disney’s Yacht Club, Disney’s Beach Club, & Disney’s Boardwalk Hotels where you can take a boat or simply walk. Hollywood Studios is in some ways a slide of old LA, but in every other way, it’s a Disney park filled with rides, characters, restaurants and fun activities–oh, and crowds too.
- Park Plan- head to Star Wars or Toy Story Mania first if you are at the park early as everyone else will run to Tower of Terror and Rockin Roller Coaster.
- Indiana Jones Stunt Show
- Star Tours
- Muppet Vision 3D
- Star Wars Launch Bay
- Jedi Training Academy- does your little one want to learn to be a Jedi? If yes, then you better get to the parks early.
- Although, the website says registration begins when the park opens I have found that they begin letting people in about 30 minutes prior to that time.
- Registration is located at the Indiana Jones Adventure Outpost near the entrance of the stunt show. If you are walking into the park it will be on your left.
- Participants must be 4-12 years of age
- Space is limited and offered on a first-come, first-served basis
- Star Wars Launch Bay- make sure to stop by and give Chewbacca a big hug. Plus, you can also meet Kylo Ren too!
- Rockin Roller Coaster & Tower of Terror- when the line merges into a smaller room go towards the wall with a door. When it opens you will be closer to the front of the line.
- The New Toy Story land is here and the area will be packed for the foreseeable future. However, head over to Toy Story Land at night and you can hit up all three rides in less than 90 Minutes. Check out all our Hollywood Studios Fastpass Tips Here!
- On the dining plan? Mama Rose’s Fantasmic package is included on the dining plan and your meal includes a Fastpass for Fantasmic.
- The Brown Derby is a solid choice and is also a cool place to spend an hour or two.
- Pro Tip- they also have a bar called the Brown Derby Lounge where you can grab amazing cocktails and appetizers too!
- Hollywood & Vine has character dining with the Disney Jr. Characters.
Booking your Vacation
Planning a Disney Vacation is one of the hardest trips to book, especially if it is your first time. Between planning the Disney Fastpasses, ordering the magic bands, booking advanced dining reservations, figuring out how to get to the parks, it gets complicated (and expensive) pretty quickly. If you do go with a Disney Travel Agents, there are some distinct advantages to using this service. For example, Tink’s Magical Vacations will provide:
- Itinerary Planning
- Fast Pass Recommendations w/ Height Requirement info
- Give you recommendations on which Dining Plan is best as well as what type of Theme Park tickets are best for you and your family.
- Remind you of your Advanced Dining Reservation
- Video Tutorials on how to use My Disney Experience App & Personalizing Magic Bands
- Plus, they always are researching for promotions, so if they find a better price for your vacation, they will call Disney to get you that promo.
There are many travel agents to choose from. Look for an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner since they know the parks and are familiar with deals. If you like to save money and are willing to put the time in, I highly recommend staying at the Grove Resort & Spa and spending a few days at the pool there–between trips to the parks. Not mentioned here is the Typhoon Lagoon. Do your best to spend a day there, especially if the weather is suitable for swimming.
Recommended Vacation Rentals
Below are a few of our favorite vacation rental options in or near Disney World.