Magic. You’ve dreamt about this abstract idea since you were a child, turning to princess movies and card tricks to find it. But let me tell ya — I found it after all these years. Going into my trip to Disney World, I thought eh. I knew it’d be fun, but I’m not 10 years old nor do I have kids… so it’ll be nice, but … Boy, was I wrong! It truly did feel magical!
First things first: the basics. Disney World is ha-UGE. And by ha-UGE, I mean it’s the size of San Fran aka 40 square miles. Umm, okay?! Also, we all know it’s been deemed the happiest place on Earth, right? Well, it’s true. The workers are cheery and have fun with their job. So it’s basically the baby of Six Flags and Chick-fil-A on a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious number of espresso shots. Considering its large size and wide scope of parks, rides and activities, I’d love to share 14 overall tips for your planning process.
1. You’ll grow in patience
You will grow immensely in this virtue because there are lines literally everywhere. There are people literally everywhere. There are people who literally don’t know how to walk properly in a crowd of people everywhere.
2. You’ll have to pass the time
If the weather is nice and you’re visiting during a major school break, there’s a pretty darn good chance that there will be other people at Disney, and they’ll probably want to ride the rides, too. Duh. It can be hard to have deep conversations about the meaning of life and philosophy when you’re craving a Mickey Mouse Ice Cream Bar and have been standing in line for the Haunted Mansion for over an hour! Take a look at these mostly free tips to pass the time. Ready yourself for all the family and friend quality time you’re about to experience!
3. You’ll need to plan ample time for entry
Our rental place boasted that it wasn’t even 5 miles from Disney. So, maybe a 5-10 minute drive to the park? Ehh, not so fast… First off, Disney is ha-UGE (see first paragraph). So, “5 minutes” from where? Also, even once you get to the park, you might have another commute. When my group went to Magic Kingdom, we got to a parking spot and waited for the tram. After taking the tram, we finally got to an entry point to go through and find that we had to either take a ferry or monorail to the actual park. So, we had to wait for that line. Then we took the ferry ride across the lake to meet bag checks, pass checks, metal detectors, etc. Blah, blah, blah.
Long story short: this process alone took an entire hour, and getting home took that long, too. Out of the parks we visited (Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios), this was the most tedious and in-depth. But keep this fact in mind when planning Fast Passes and wake-up times.
4. You’ll need to brace yourself for fashion (or lack thereof)
When it comes to Disney, you may need to adjust. While my most recent major trip was to Europe and I planned on looking cute (because do as the Europeans do), Disney World does not apply. I’d packed Sperrys, but other members of my group were planning on mostly tennis shoes. TENNIS SHOES?! We’re taking so many cute pics, and I want to look nice on vacay. Okay, yes, I’m all for classy dressing, BUT Disney World is in a category of it’s own. I wore tennis shoes every day at the parks and wouldn’t have it any other way because my feet were sore as is.
However, I paired my tennis shoes with outfit options like a cute-sy tennis skirt and athletic tank or patterned shorts and nice tank. And I still was definitely better dressed than most (#humblebrag). All I’m saying is you’re going to see some extremely underdressed people, and it’s a flippin’ theme park. One day I walked over 22,000 steps. I don’t care who you are: you’re going to kill your feet if you wear cute sandals. Don’t do it.
5. You’ll have to take a trip to Disney’s BoardWalk and Disney Springs
While our flight got in well before noon, our house wasn’t available till 4 p.m. A family friend suggested we hit up the BoardWalk while we waited. (Side note: these Disney properties don’t require a pass.) We grabbed lunch at the BoardWalk at the ESPN Club and walked around a little bit. And we think we found where Becky waited for Jesse in the Full House Disney World episode! Unfortunately, there was a lot of construction and renovation. So, when we wanted ice cream, there was nowhere to get that other than in a freezer at a gift shop. Disney’s BoardWalk is worth a visit for good food and a gorgeous lake view, but it’s definitely not worth a whole day.
Disney Springs is much more developed with shops, a bowling alley, a movie theater, the mammoth-sized World of Disney gift shop, lake view and street performances. We enjoyed coming here for dessert and shopping. If you’re looking for a change of pace and don’t have the time, money or desire for another park visit, stroll through the BoardWalk and Disney Springs. I can’t recommend the Ghirardelli shop at Disney Springs enough!
6. You’ll need to decide between quantity and quality
While there’s no way to eliminate one of these, you and your party need to determine: are we looking to go on a bunch of rides? Or go on fewer but more quality ones? The lines for slow kiddie rides tend to be shorter while queues for big roller coasters or thrillers can easily be near 2 hours. You’ll probably find a good mix of both, but find a buddy who is like you either wanting to wait for some big name rides or who can’t stand long lines.
7. You’ll need to consider ordering kids’ meals
I thought a big name place like Disney wouldn’t let someone who is obviously not 9 years old actually order a kids’ meal. But we did it several times, and it’s so, so worth it. The portion size isn’t all that different, but the price is often more around $6-7, not $11-12. And when you’re spending hundreds or thousands of dollars already, go for a kids’ meal. And they usually come with a bottle of water or low-fat milk, fruit and veggies. Win, win!
8. You’ll have options for healthy eating
Watching your weight? Or hey, just want to not overload yourself with junk the entire week? No prob! While ordering my Mickey Mouse Ice Cream bar at a stand, I noticed the menu offered a no sugar added treat. You can also look for Mickey Check on the menu. Read about these healthy options here. Don’t feel guilty about a scoop of ice cream or a cheeseburger here and there; it’s vacation after all! But if you’re looking for a lighter option or need some nutrients to fuel your body, these offer some options for you.
9. You’ll get another if you drop it
Bestie Riley bought her Mickey Mouse Ice Cream Sandwich, but as we walked away, she dropped it. A nearby park photographer told us they would give us a new one for free if we went back. And sure enough! I guess that $4.25 included insurance.
10. You’ll want to consider not using Fast Passes for parades
We made Fast Passes relatively late in the game (about one to two weeks in advance) and grabbed what we could. We got some for the Electrical Parade in Magic Kingdom and showed up in time to redeem our passes. But they basically just reserved a place for use to sit on the concrete in a round island in the middle of the street. Mmkay… But there were literally non-Fast Pass people right across the street, like, ten feet away from us… So, I can’t verify for every single parade, but it really wasn’t worth it when we could’ve used our one of three Fast Passes for a ride.
11. You’ll need to get the app
I’d read it several places, and it’s true: download the Disney World app. You can review your Fast Passes and check wait times for rides. SO VERY IMPORTANT: check the wait time before walking all the way to the line. We saw that one ride had no wait: woo hoo! But in actuality, it had broken down. So, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
12. You’ll need to be ready for delays on rides
See #11 above! We casually mentioned to a crew member that another ride had broken down, and he was like, “Again?!” From what I could gather, it’s not all that uncommon for rides to have delays. After a 75-minute wait for the Haunted Mansion, we finally hopped on. The ride moved so very slowly as is, but Riley and my car stopped in front of a clock with only a number 13 where the hands only moved counterclockwise. For a solid minute or two. That definitely wasn’t supposed to happen. It also happened on the People Mover in Magic Kingdom with Riley, Taylor and me. Although we experienced or heard about several breakdowns, rest assured: I never heard of any injuries or major problems. And if you think about it, with thousands of people milling about a concentrated area for hours on end, a breakdown or two is bound to happen.
13. You’ll have to hit up the Single Rider line
If you comfortable sitting next to a stranger and don’t have little kids to look after, this is the way to go. There’s the regular standby line, the Fast Pass line and then the Single Rider line. Not all rides offer the last option, but this can dramatically reduce your wait time. Although “single” is key, I was still able to wait with my crew all the way up until getting on the ride. The standby line for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith was 90 minutes; through the Single Rider line, I waited, rode and exited all in 30 minutes. BOO. YA.
14. You’ll have to buy Mouse ears
You’ve seen the Minnie ears in plenty of pics, pins and parties. But let me tell ya: they truly are everywhere. Just walking through the park, you will see ears and ears and ears and more ears especially in Magic Kingdom. From sequins to leopard print, Disney has about every version of Minnie Mouse ears you could ever fathom. Yeah, you’ll have to drop between $20-$25, but you’ll look so darn cute. And it feels great to be a kid again and not get judged for it at Disney World.
Disney World may be huge, but begin with these 14 tips to make your trip more manageable and enjoyable.