Disney Vacations are the stuff dreams are made of. And if you’re like most people you dream of your Walt Disney World Vacation long before it’s a reality. With months of planning under your belt and expectations to infinity and beyond, your vacation has a lot of expectations to live up to! So how do you make sure your much-needed vacation, costing thousands of dollars, delivers? Here are the 8 things we wish we knew about planning a Walt Disney World vacation.
- 1 What We Wish We Knew about Disney World
- 2 You Can’t Do Everything
- 3 Be Aware of Magic and Free Things
- 4 Staying on Property is a MUST!
- 5 You Can’t Afford to Skip the Planning
- 6 Rain, Heat, and Hurricanes
- 7 It’s all about the Transportation
- 8 Go to ALL Four Parks and Disney Springs
- 9 It’s Also All About the Food
- 10 Planning a Walt Disney World Vacation
What We Wish We Knew about Disney World
If you’re planning, or have planned a Disney Vacation, let’s face it, you’ve got plans! Big Plans! Amazing dining plans, your favorite ride list, maybe a special snack you’re just dying to try? Or perhaps you have high hopes for visiting during a certain time of year. Holidays, parties, runDisney events, and festivals happen annually. Check out the What Happens at Disney World each Month for a snapshot. Whatever your goals know that your Disney Vacation is not a checklist. We know this because we actually have a whole Disney Checklist section on this blog. And at the end of the day, after many vacations, they still are not all checked off. Is this bad? Nope. Read what we’ve learned so far.
You Can’t Do Everything
As expert planners, and we mean EXPERT, we were shocked that we couldn’t fit everything in. Heck, between browsing gift shops, waiting in lines, waiting for buses to show up, the sporadic rains, and getting derailed by some magical parade that showed up out of nowhere, there was no way we could have possibly foreseen everything that would screw up our well-laid plans.
But here’s the thing. You can’t fit in everything AND you shouldn’t try to. Our best advice? No matter which Disney trip this is for you decide right now that it’s not your last. Even if your calculating brain “knows” it’s your last Disney vacation or Only Disney Vacation due to finances, family, reality, etc. Give yourself the mental wiggle room to say “Let’s be sure to try that next time.” Believe us this mindset shift works wonders.
Be Aware of Magic and Free Things
We like lists… and sometimes they don’t include impromptu magic. Take a minute to realize there is magic around every corner at Walt Disney World if you look up to see it. We could not have planned for this. And per point #1… our magical moments we’re often not calculated into our daily plans. We didn’t build in time to play games, listen to the Dapper Dans, or even get our “first visit” button! In truth, we didn’t realize the magic was even there, until after we became Annual Passholders and allowed ourselves non-structured time in the parks.
If you’re planning a Walt Disney World vacation be aware that it’s not about the checklist. Mind we love lists, and we do have checklists… but like Pirates of the Caribbean, “these are more what you’d call guidelines.” You can’t plan magic! But be sure to STOP and enjoy it when it shows up. If you feel like you’re rushing from one thing to another, take a breath and lookup. Find the Hidden Pascals in Magic Kingdom. Play Agent P’s World Showcase in Epcot. Visit Pandora at Night in Animal Kingdom. Grab the FREE Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom cards and play the game. And watch a street show in Hollywood Studios.
Staying on Property is a MUST!
There are some that would blatantly disagree with us! BUT, we’re gonna stand pretty firm by the fact that if you’re staying at a Disney Resort everything is just more magical. From the night movies on the lawn to the Disney trivia at the pool to the towels folded up like Mickey on the bedspread. Even running to our rooms in the rain, through a crowded Disney commissary smelling of pizza, helped set the Disney mood. This would not be the case Off-Site, no matter how much you may see Mickey at a good neighbor hotel. It’s a completely different feeling. That said, Disney resorts are actually sometimes cheaper than off-site properties and have all the amenities you will need. All of them. If you’re worried about being trapped at Disney or plan to do Universal Studios or the beach one day, we’d still say Stay On Property at all costs. It makes your Disney Vacation feel like it’s supposed to. Check out our post about staying on the property… and staying off property.
You Can’t Afford to Skip the Planning
Following the Disney Timeline is absolutely necessary. Getting your Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs), FastPass+ Selections, Ordering your MagicBands, and Booking the Magical Express from the Airport are MUST-DO Items on your Walt Disney World Planning To-Do List. If you think these things can be skipped, let us tell you they can’t. It doesn’t matter if you are the Winging It QUEEN! Planning a Walt Disney World vacation is best when you can just show up and enjoy all the things.
This becomes harder if you’re using your vacation time wandering around Epcot trying to find a good place to eat, at the right price, with tables open. Even harder, is trying to find rides with shorter lines during high season. Or realizing the only show you really wanted to see happened yesterday. You don’t want your vacation to be a series of sub-par experiences and mediocre dining options. Simply because you failed to push a few buttons on your phone when your reservation window opened. Do the work ahead of time, so you don’t have to on vacation. Check out our favorite Disney planning tool. This Disney Printable Vacation Planner can come as a full set or you can buy park touring plans to take it slow. Check out all our bite-size guides to things at Walt Disney World.
Rain, Heat, and Hurricanes
Ahhh the joys of Florida weather! Another thing we couldn’t have planned for was the random rainstorms, hurricane issues, stifling heat, or cruelly frigid cold during the winter months. The weather can often make or break a vacation! The kids get burned and can’t be in the sun anymore. You’ve sweated through all your clothes by day 3 and need to build in laundromat time and find detergent.
Our best advice? Come prepared and be flexible. Really Flexible. Read our post on “Raining at Disney” flexibility. Pack the ponchos in your bag every day and buy the cheap ones ahead of time. Bring layers, bring pants. Be prepared to buy that 60 dollar sweatshirt for everyone in your travel party if it comes down to it. Be prepared to stay longer or leave early during hurricane season if the airport shuts down.
It’s all about the Transportation
It may seem like a minor thing…but it’s not! Transportation can MAKE or BREAK your vacation. If you’re a control freak, then plan on driving a car and parking at each park. But if you can go with the flow then be ok waiting for the complimentary bus, monorail, and gondola transportation options. And if you’re bent on getting everywhere on time, then maybe a Minnie van or Uber is more your style. Whatever your transportation preferences plan for them ahead of time and have a plan B. We’ve seen families in crisis mode because the bus isn’t arriving fast enough, they didn’t realize it takes 15 minutes to walk to the back of the park for their Be Our Guest Dining Reservation and they’re not willing to pay to get somewhere on time. Be flexible. Check out our quick guide on transportation options at Walt Disney World.
Go to ALL Four Parks and Disney Springs
You will see this question pop up all over the internet in your Disney Vacation research. Trust us here. No park is skip-able. While we understand that sometimes you don’t have the time, really the shortest Disney Vacation you should ever take is 5 days. 1 day for each of the 4 parks and 1 day at Disney Springs. In the summers, if you’re adding a water park day, then you’ll need 6 days minimum. Obviously many families have preferences and may not want to head to Animal Kingdom or have no interest in Star Wars. We get this. We totally do!!! BUT, it’s not really a Walt Disney World vacation if you don’t experience all the parks and immerse yourself in the magic. At least on your first Disney World visit, if nothing else, try to get to all four parks and Disney Springs.
It’s Also All About the Food
If you like the food at all. We mean AT ALL… then Disney is a foodie wonderland you should budget for. Crazy? Yes. And by budget we mean, leave a substantial cushion of money available for all those random Disney food snacks. Not just meals. Sure, we talk about the importance of Disney on a budget, but when it comes down to it- if you arrive back home and haven’t tried a Dole Whip, or the Colossal Cinnamon Roll, you’ll feel like you missed something. Don’t let your vacation be just about sticking to a budget and meal plan. Try the food. Enjoy your vacation.
Planning a Walt Disney World Vacation
While there are definitely more than 8 things we wish we knew before throwing all of our efforts and cash at a Disney Vacation, these 8 are the big ones. Need a little more guidance? Check out our other planning posts to help you get ready.
Rochelle Mariah is a writer, designer and photographer with an MLIS in Information Science and a B.S. in Arch and Design. Determined to make Planning a DIY Disney Vacation easier she makes lots of lists and drinks lots of coffee. When not designing apparel at Polka Dot Pixie Shop, she's watching old movies and planning the holidays. She has been traveling to Disney destinations since 2010.