Disney World: the happiest place on Earth, until it’s not. It can be daunting to plan and execute a family vacation during the peak summer season, especially when this hot spot contains four amusement parks (Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and EPCOT), two water parks (Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon) and numerous other activities to choose from. As hard as it may seem, navigating your way around large crowds without freaking out is achievable with the right approach. Here are eight tips to achieve a memorable Disney World minus the stress.
1. Make reservations in advance
Successful Disney World vacations start months before your family even steps foot into the Florida sun. Reservations are key when it comes to doing anything out of the ordinary attractions. Any specialty dining, including designated restaurants in the parks, most of the authentic restaurants located throughout EPCOT’s international section, and especially lunch or dinner featuring your favorite characters (aka Chef Mickey), all require reservations months in advance.
Chef Mickey fills up so quickly that it sometimes requires over a year’s notice. Besides food, some shows require additional reservations as well. The most notable is a show called Fantasmic, which like Chef Mickey sells out fast. However, if there is one thing you should make a reservation for, let it be Fantasmic. This show takes place in Hollywood Studios once it’s dark and combines stunning water effects, fireworks, a multitude of your favorite characters and a little magic, of course.
2. Know your dates and times
This tip goes hand in hand with making reservations. Disney World is always offering something different during peak season, which is why it’s important to know when various things are happening. Park hours vary on the day which should always be taken into account. For example, Animal Kingdom tends to open later and close earlier than all other parks because of the variety of animals within the park. Brochures/maps are your best friend because they lay out the times of specific shows and parades. Also, if you swing by the locations where the shows are staged, signs directly outside either display the time of the next show or the various times of performances throughout the day. It also might be helpful to prioritize what shows you definitely want to see, compared to those that you don’t care if you miss.
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3. Start early
If you want to squeeze as much as physically possible into your vacation, you’re going to have to set those alarms. You don’t have to be up at the crack of dawn but, sleeping until one in the afternoon isn’t going to cut it. Ideally, you should shoot to be at the park close to the time it opens for the day. This allows you to take advantage of popular attractions that would otherwise have enormous lines later on in the day. Getting a head start will help also give you more time for other attractions and prevent the stress of waiting in line for three hours for a single ride.
© Joe Penniston
4. Fastpass popular attractions
Every park has multiple attractions that gain large crowds, especially if they are newer to the respective park. Rides like Soarin’ in EPCOT, Splash Mountain in Magic Kingdom, Tower of Terror in Hollywood Studios and the new Avatar Flight of passage in Animal Kingdom are almost guaranteed to have at least an hour wait by midday. FASTPASS is a great benefit that comes free with every admission ticket to Disney World parks. Basically, you can reserve a certain time-slot (usually within an hour) in which you and your family can come back to the attraction and wait on a shorter line rather than the regular line. Just reserve your FASTPASS on the My Disney Experience app (a very useful app that shows your reservations, FASTPASSes and wait time for attractions) and show up in between the time you chose. FASTPASSes go quickly and you’re only allowed to reserve three a day, so make sure you pick wisely.
5. Take the weather into account
Florida in the summer likes to do this thing where it’s scorching hot early in the morning all the way until late at night. Of course, like any location, this state does occasionally have rainy days and spontaneous showers that sometimes come out of nowhere. Always check the weather and be prepared for what’s to come. If it’s a solid ninety-five degrees all day long, make sure to stay hydrated and keep out of direct sunlight when possible. If it’s raining and you and your family don’t want to get wet, you can pick up Disney ponchos that are sold in almost every store at every park. Also, in the case of a lightning storm, attractions may shut down for a brief period of time. While this might be a slight inconvenience, this is the perfect opportunity for a snack break inside. Plus, storms usually roll through Florida pretty quickly.
© Don Sullivan
6. Take a break in the middle of the day
After running around for a few hours in the Florida heat, you’re bound to be exhausted or at least need some down time. The afternoon is the perfect opportunity to head back to the resort and rest up by taking a nap or lounging by the pool. Parks are usually busiest in the middle of the day, so you’ll miss the rush while also getting the chance to completely unwind. Also, with a purchase of a Disney World ticket you always have the opportunity to return to that park later that day without any additional fees.
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7. Shop for souvenirs outside of Disney World
It can be hard to pass by all the shops that try to entice you in with fun and unique goodies. However, if you’re on a budget but still need to buy souvenirs for your family and dog-sitter, try places located outside of Disney World. You would be surprised with what the local Walmart and CVS contain, sometimes being as much as fifty percent off. T-shirts, magnets, kid-clothing, you name it and they have it. While you’ll rarely see the same exact souvenirs from Disney World, these places are great alternatives to find cheaper merchandise that won’t break the bank.
8. For the love of all things Disney, try a pineapple Dole Whip
Listen very carefully. If you love all the things pineapple you MUST try a Dole Whip no questions asked. This sweet treat is a cup full of rich, pineapple soft serve drenched in cold, pineapple juice. It’s kind of like a root beer float, if a root beer float tasted like tropical paradise. Now here’s the tricky part. The only place in ALL of Disney World that sells this delicious dessert is in a small section of Adventureland in Magic Kingdom. The stand itself is called Aloha Isle and if you’re not careful you will walk right past it. Don’t be that person. And if you are that person, turn right around and shamelessly order a pineapple Dole Whip or you know … five.
Whether this is your first Disney World trip or your sixteenth, there’s always more to see and learn! However, with these tips, you’re guaranteed to have a fun and memorable vacation the kids will talk about for years to come.