Walt Disney World is a great place to bring your kids on a family vacation, but let’s face it — it’s pretty stressful to plan. From navigating the new FastPass+ system, to trying to figure out what restaurants will please all of the picky eaters in your family, to finding hotel accommodations that fit all of your needs, planning your family vacation becomes a complex balancing act sprinkled with pixie dust.
As a former cast member, I understand this frustration you are feeling. The frustration that settles in when you have been sitting on the Walt Disney World website for over 2 hours trying to find some way to fulfill your little princess’ wish of eating at Be Our Guest (aka, the most impossible restaurant to get reservations for in the history of mankind). I know this because I have seen thousands of families go through the same difficult time trying to manage their kid’s dream vacation and struggle to keep a smile on their face at the same time.
Lucky for you, you have a new cast member BFF who is willing to share her Disney planning secrets learned from a year of working for Mickey Mouse and countless family vacations. Here are 7 tips that will help you not only plan the vacation of your children’s dreams, but make sure that you are able to enjoy yourself, too.
Do As Much Pre-Planning As Possible
This is key to making sure that your trip is properly managed. Be sure to plan out as much as you can in as far advance as you can. Whether you are staying on property in one of their over 30 various hotels, or choosing to stay off property in the Orlando area, rooms book up fast and prices will fluxuate depending on the season, so the sooner you can find the as-close-to-perfect-as-possible fit, the better.
As far as FastPass+ is concerned, you can only start booking your passes 3 months before your trip, and believe me when I tell you that the best ones will go quicker than you can say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. There are people waiting for the clock to strike 12am every day to snag passes, and if you are really dedicated to getting your kids on the best rides without having to wait 80 minutes or more, you will become one of these people. But remember, you can always drop and pick up new FastPasses later on if you need to rearrange your schedule.
If you plan on eating at one of the full-service dining locations at any of the parks or resorts on property, you should also be prepared to start hunting early on. The earliest you can get a reservation is 5 months in advance, so for 180 days make sure to check their reservations page frequently for various dates, times, and locations for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Know What Requires A FastPass+ And What Doesn’t
This can be tough for families on their first visit to the parks, but veteran Disney nerds will tell you that while almost every attraction at Walt Disney World has a FastPass+ option, most of them do not require one and wasting your 3 per day passes with one of these attractions will prevent you from getting a more valuble FastPass. Be sure to ask friends who have visited the parks with their kids before or call up the Walt Disney World customer service number and speak to a representative to get some opinions on what rides are worth reserving a pass for.
As a former cast member myself, my advice is this — don’t waste your passes on a show, because getting good seats isn’t that difficult for most shows and sometimes the standby seats are better than the FastPass+ seats, don’t waste it on a character meet and greet unless your child could not survive the trip without meeting Elsa, Anna, or Mickey Mouse (if they absolutely need to meet them, by all means get a pass because character lines can get almost as high as 2 hours long), get passes for big ticket rides that tend to always have long wait times like Soarin’, Test Track, Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Space Mountain, and the like, before getting passes for the less intense or popular rides. Also, be sure to check online and make sure your child is the right height to ride a ride before getting a pass for it, so that you aren’t stuck with passes that you can’t use.
It’s Okay To Check For Dinner Reservations Last Minute
After 180 days of constantly checking the Disney World reservations page, you still weren’t able to get the dining reservations you were looking for. Don’t panic! Not only are there plenty of other great locations to enjoy a meal, but you can still walk up to a restaurant the day that you want to eat there and see if there is a table open for your family. You won’t strike gold every time, especially with places that are super popular like Be Our Guest or Cinderella’s Royal Table, but there are plenty of places that will have tables open up because other families dropped them or have tables available either at the very beginning or very end of a dinner shift. It doesn’t hurt to ask!
Always Pick Up A Times Guide
Besides knowing exactly when the parades, shows, and nighttime events are taking place around the parks, a times guide is a great tool for families who are not interested in waiting on long attraction lines. As long as your family doesn’t mind skipping them, going to big ticket attractions during night shows, day shows, and parades is a great way to avoid long lines, since most people will be at the shows. I have seen wait times cut down by over half during a parade, meaning that your kids can get on Space Mountain after a 20 minute wait instead of close to an hour. Not only will everyone be in a better mood because they don’t have to stand around for very long, but you can fit way more into your day when you aren’t spending most of your time on a line. You can find a times guide at the front of every park at either Guest Relations or a park map stand, but if you forget, just stop a cast member in the park and ask them.
Download The MyDisneyExperience App
I don’t care if you have to delete every app on your phone in order to make room for the MyDisneyExperience app — you need it in your life. Here are just a few of the amazing things this app can do: show updated wait times at all of the parks, list show times in every park for at least a week in advance, show your existing reservations while also giving you the ability to make new ones, show your existing FastPasses while also allowing you to drop or add more if need be, list park hours, give you walking directions to everything from a popular attraction to a churro stand, hold all of you PhotoPass and ride photos, and you can shop for theme park merchandise directly form the app. Like I said, this app is an absolute must for your vacation.
Don’t Believe Every Wait Time You See
This is a cast member trick that not many guests know about. There are some rides where the wait is almost always what the app or sign out front says (usually hugely popular rides like Soarin’ and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train), so if the sign says 150 minute wait, it sadly is probably true. Other less popular rides, or most rides during off season, could have a sign saying that the wait is 20 or 40 minutes and it will only end up being 10 or 15. There is no way to really no besides asking a cast member at that attraction or just getting on the line and seeing what happens, but a cast member trick to predicting the wait is to see where the line ends. If it is outdoors or flowing out of the entrance and into the street, the wait time is probably accurate or you could be waiting even longer, but if you can’t see the line from the entrance, you may not have to wait as long as they are advertising. But again, when in doubt, always as a cast member. It’s what they are there for!
Know When To Go With The Flow
After months of planning and frantically refreshing the Walt Disney World homepage, it is impossible to have every detail of your trip planned and sometimes things will come up. You’ll walk into the park with you day fully scheduled, and a restaurant reservation will open or a ride will temporarily shut down and it will rearrange your entire day. At these hectic times, it is best to take a deep breath and remember that you can’t do everything, so just relax and have some fun. It may turn out that your day becomes ten times more exciting because you went off schedule, so go with the flow!