Whether you have kids, or just a youthful spirit, a trip to Walt Disney World is likely on your radar. But a jaunt to the hugely popular destination involves a ton of planning. So we asked three Disney experts to share their best tips to help you get the most out of your Disney adventure.
Plan ahead, and be realistic
“Walt Disney World is roughly the size of San Francisco, with its own transportation system, 20 resorts on property, four theme parks, two water parks, Downtown Disney, six golf courses (plus two miniature golf options) and a sports complex,” says Jill Martin, a travel agent for Mickey Vacations, an affiliate of Academy Travel. “You have to be prepared. Learn the terminology. Have a plan.”
The same is true for Disneyland, although it’s quite a bit smaller than Walt Disney World. Disneyland has two theme parks—Disneyland and California Adventure—right next to each other, and there are three resort properties on site, Martin says. “Disneyland is not as complex as Walt Disney World since it is organized differently,” with eight themed “lands” across 85 acres.
Regardless of which park you choose as your vacation destination, being realistic about your goals and prioritizing your wishlist both are key, says Andrea M. Rotondo, travel guidebook author and luxury travel expert.
If your family is bright-eyed in the mornings, plan to arrive at least 20 minutes prior to the park’s opening, suggests Jennifer Labrecque, Disney Insider for American Express Travel. That way, you can squeeze in a lot of valuable touring time before the crowds build—and before your energy wanes.
“Your kids may get tired during the day, and there’s nothing wrong about going back to your hotel room for a nap or some quiet time at the pool,” Rotondo says. “Allow some room to stray from the original game plan. Oftentimes, the most memorable family moments at Disney are unscripted.”
Consider (free!) expert planning help
One of the easiest ways to plan your Disney trip is by letting someone else do all the hard work. Authorized Disney Vacation Planners who have completed training in the College of Disney Knowledge and have traveled extensively to Disney can assist with the planning and booking process, Martin says.
These highly knowledgeable travel agents can give you details others might overlook, “such as the best restaurants, the perfect spot to view the parade, what shows you won’t want to miss, and special tours and insider tips,” giving you a true behind-the-scenes experience, Lebrecque says.
Even better news: These services are often provided at no additional cost to you, as most planners do not charge a fee.
Online resources for do-it-yourselfers
If you prefer to handle the planning yourself, the Internet provides a lot of great resources. AllEars.net offers vast amounts of information about everything there is to know about Walt Disney World and Disneyland, from theme parks to resorts, on-site restaurants and special events. A great blog for Disneyland goers is Babes in Disneyland.
“That site often provides more detailed information than Disney’s own site,” says Rotondo, who highly recommends the DISBoards on WDWinfo.com and for Disneyland. “These forums are frequented by thousands of Disney aficionados, so if you’ve got a question about any aspect of the park, you’ll find the answer here.”
Disney also offers mobile apps like Disneyland iGuide and My Disney Experience, which archives all the details of your trip, like your hotel and dining reservations, “so it’s a great planning tool, but is even more useful once you’re at the resort complex,” says Rotondo, who uses the My Disney Experience app to look up park hours, check out a list of current wait times at attractions and locate character meet-and-greet locations.
While at the park, another way to find great things to do to heighten your experience is to chat with cast members. “Many of them have wonderful stories to tell, and you never know what kind of Disney history they will share or helpful hints to guide you in the right direction,” Martin says.
8 ways to cut costs without cutting the fun
A trip to Disney theme parks isn’t cheap. For example, six-day park hopper tickets at Disney World (meaning you can visit more than one park per day) for a family of four can cost more than your hotel bill for the week. And, of course, you have to spend even more money just to get to your destination! Here are eight tips on how to save money on your next Disney vacation:
1. Work with an agent. Not only are travel agents familiar with deals, discounts and promotions that can save you money, but most offer their services for free, Martin says. Agents can help you make smart financial decisions such as whether to stay on or off site, or if you should purchase a rental car or dining plan.
2. Stay at a Disney hotel for extra perks. When you’re researching hotels, you may think you’ve found an amazing deal—only to be hit with hidden fees at checkout, such as taxes, resort fees and airport transportation charges, Martin says. “Staying on property has many benefits, like extra magic hours, complimentary transportation and convenience, so although they might seem a little pricier, you are getting a much different experience.”
3. Consider “value” resorts. Resorts such as Disney’s All-Star Music Resort or Disney’s Pop Century Resort offer a lot of savings, Rotondo says.
4. Time your trip wisely. “Walt Disney World often offers special rates right before and after Thanksgiving and during the summer months,” Rotondo says. And the longer you stay, the lower your park ticket prices may be, Martin says.
5. Use points. Rotondo recommends using points to pay for your trip, especially if you’re a member of Starwood’s hotel loyalty program. For 10,000 points, you’ll get one free night at Walt Disney World’s Swan or Dolphin hotels.
6. Spring for a dining plan. Disney World offers several dining plans, such as Quick Serve, Dining Plus and Deluxe Dining, all of which can save you some money and help you budget for your trip, Martin says, while Disneyland only offers one dining plan called Dine in Magic. “Having most meals paid for in advance can often save money,” says Labrecque, who also recommends bringing your own snacks and non-alcoholic beverages into the parks to help cut costs.
7. Regularly check websites for discounts. MouseSavers.com is an unofficial site listing money-saving deals, as well as tips for stretching your dollars while on property, Rotondo says.
8. Stay up to date on new products. WDW is constantly rolling out new programs, such as My Magic Plus, Labrecque says. Currently in testing, that program will allow guests to pre-select FastPasses, make dining reservations and customize “magic bands” (waterproof bracelets that serve as your resort room key, theme park ticket, Fast pass and dining card), which will reduce wait times and offer preferred viewing areas.
Coming soon: a brand new transportation system that will include a Disney Skyliner and Minnie vans that will take you wherever you want to go! Stay up to date by reading their blog or following on social media.
Use your membership benefits to find travel discounts
NEA members have access to several great benefits that can help you save on your next Disney trip, including NEA Travel: Airfare, NEA Travel: Car Rental and NEA Discount Tickets Program. Check to see what kind of deals you can find when you're booking your next trip to Florida.