Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world. They call it the "Happiest Place on Earth" many people agree. While some don't enjoy it because of the hot Florida weather and large crowds, many others think to love it and visit year after year. There is something about living the magic of your favorite Disney movies that creates an experience like no other. Here you can also be transported to other countries, time periods, and even planets!
As someone who has been going to Walt Disney World since before I could talk, you could say I have become a bit of an expert. Though the parks are ever-changing, there are some important things that never change. If you are a WDW newbie, you are probably excited and nervous about your first trip. Well, I'm here to give you all the insider tips! There are so many things to see and do on a Disney vacation and not enough hours in the day to cover them all. That is why I have compiled this list of 10 things you definitely must do while at Walt Disney World and 10 things to avoid. Keep reading to learn more!
20 Never Do: Pay For Water
I'll be honest here: food and drinks at Disney will cost you a small fortune. That's just facts. One way to save money is to never pay for bottled water while you are in the parks. Of course, you have to stay hydrated in that muggy Florida heat, but there are three cheaper options you can do instead. First, bring in your own bottled water from outside, that you bought at a store, not on Disney property. Second, you can pack a refillable water bottle and fill it at the parks' water fountains. Finally, every counter service restaurant offers free cups of ice water, regardless of whether you buy something. Win!
19 Must Do: Make Dining Reservations
If you want to experience a sit-down (known in WDW as table service) meal on your vacation, you MUST make reservations in advance. There are sometimes last-minute tables available due to cancellations but if you are going at a peak time like summer or the holidays or trying to get into a popular spot, don't bet on it. As soon as you are allowed (usually 180 days before you arrive), call, go online or ask your travel agent to book a table for you. You'll get a delicious meal in a magical setting, often with the opportunities to meet your favorite characters!
18 Never Do: Stay Off-Site
While you may be tempted to stay at just any old hotel close to WDW, think twice. You may save some money but that's about the only positive aspect of staying off-property. First, you have to drive into the parks which means fighting tons of traffic and paying for parking. You also then have to drive back after a long and tiring day of fun! Off-site hotels also rarely offer features that the Disney hotels have like magical theming, yummy resort restaurants, and fun free programming for the whole family. I have stayed at both and the Disney hotels made the trip so much smoother!
17 Must Do: Stay On Property
Staying off-site is one of the easiest ways to save money on a Walt Disney World vacation. But there is a reason that Disney resort hotels cost more than those in the rest of the Orlando area. Customer service is second to none and every employee (aka cast member) goes out of their way to make your stay great. In addition to helpful staff, there are tons of other perks to staying on-property. Extra Magic Hours let you stay in the parks earlier or later than other guests, there is free transportation around the resort, and there are always amazing activities to do at the hotel if you want a slow day away from the parks.
16 Never Do: Dress Inappropriately
In this case, dressing inappropriately covers so many different things. Disney has rules around proper park attire. Some no-nos include masks and costumes for adults, clothing that shows too much skin, and clothing that has obscene or rude graphics on it. It's a family place, so keep that in mind. When it rains in Florida, it pours, so packing a poncho or rain jacket is essential! Most importantly, dress for the weather. Orlando is hot a lot of the year but can also get down into the 50s in winter, so be sure to look up the temperatures for your trip when packing.
15 Must Do: Wear Comfortable Shoes
If there is one thing I have learned from all my trips to Walt Disney World, it is that you NEED comfortable shoes. This is not the place to plan a cute outfit - comfortable shoes are a necessity. You will be walking miles and miles around the parks and standing in lines all day, so you need to protect your feet and legs. I am not saying you need to wear old grandma orthopedic shoes. Find a pair that offers good support and won't leave your feet covered in blisters and calluses. Still be sure to pack some bandages just in case!
14 Never Do: Carry Packages Around The Parks
When traveling to WDW, chances are you will want to purchase some souvenirs. This is especially true if you have kids. But what if you don't want to tote bags of goodies around all day? Luckily, if you stay at a Walt Disney World resort hotel, you can avoid this. Simply ask the store cashier to send your packages to your room and they will be waiting there when you get back. All guests can also get their packages sent to a location at the front of the park for pickup when you leave or you can ship them straight home.
13 Must Do: Buy Souvenirs
There's a saying in the Disney community that if you see it, buy it! Disney souvenirs often have a short run on shelves so when you see something you want, get it right away. If it's a popular item it might be sold out at other gift shops and then you'll regret not buying it! If you don't want souvenirs that will clutter your house or take up tons of room in your bags, a pair of ears or a park shirt are great picks. You can wear them while you're on your trip to make the experience even more fun and magical.
12 Never Do: Drive To The Parks
If you can possibly avoid it, never drive into Walt Disney World. The traffic can get crazy, especially in the morning and right after the parks close. Paying for parking and walking or taking a tram through the huge parking lots are also not the most fun way to start a day of vacation. Getting to the right park can also be confusing if you haven't been to Disney a lot. Though there is lots of signage both on the highway and within Disney property, you have to make quick turns and lane changes among tons of other stressed-out drivers.
11 Must Do: Take Advantage Of Transportation
Rather than causing yourself stress by trying to drive to the parks, take advantage of other transportation options. For those who are staying on Disney property, there is an awesome free bus system that runs pretty frequently and will take you to the 4 parks, the Disney Springs entertainment district, and the other hotels. You can also use the new Minnie Van service by Uber. It isn't free, but you get to leave your resort on your own time and travel in magical style! Most off-site hotels offer transportation to WDW too, but run less often and usually make stops at multiple hotels, which will take much longer.
10 Never Do: Forget Sunscreen
As someone who is not from the South, the strength of Orlando's sun is astounding. It is so hot and will burn even tanned skin pretty quickly. That is why you need to put sunscreen at the top of your Disney vacation packing list. While there are some indoor attractions, you will be outside most of the day. Nothing can ruin a fun trip faster than a painful sunburn! Be sure to apply before you leave your hotel for the parks and reapply throughout the day, especially if you are going during the summer when it's super sunny and hot.
9 Must Do: Pack A Day Bag
Packing a small backpack or bag to take into the parks is key to a great day at Walt Disney World. Here you can stow your sunscreen, snacks, wallet, phone, room keys, tickets, poncho, water bottle, and other essentials. Having a bag means you don't have to stuff your pockets and worry about things falling out on rides. A bag is also handy for stashing your ears when they start to hurt your head or a change of clothes in case you get wet (from rain or rides). Be warned: you will have to go through a bag search before entering the parks but these usually move pretty quickly.
8 Never Do: Stick To Chicken Nuggets
One of my pet peeves is when people whine about Disney food. They think it's all just pizza and chicken nuggets. While this may have been true at one time, WDW actually has a wide array of delicious food options if you know where to look! Table service restaurants are obviously the best places to find "real" food, but there are plenty of healthy and interesting options at quick service locations, too. Research the different eateries on Walt Disney World's website before your trip to plan out the best dining options for you. You might be surprised to see salads, grain bowls, and gluten-free and vegetarian options!
7 Must Do: Try Iconic Park Snacks
You are on vacation, so you deserve a little treat! Calories don't count, right? Even if you are trying to look for healthy food options while at WDW, be sure to try at least one iconic park snack while you are there. Some popular choices include Dole Whip (a dairy-free pineapple soft serve ice cream), giant turkey legs, corn dogs, and popcorn. Of course, Mickey-shaped snacks are a must, too! Waffles, pretzels, ice cream bars, rice crispy treats, and more come in the shape of the main mouse's head. Make sure to snap a photo because these snacks are Insta-worthy!
6 Never Do: Make FastPasses You Don't Need
Yet another perk of staying at a Walt Disney World resort is the MagicBand. These devices act as a credit card, room key, and park ticket. They also hold your FastPass reservations, which let you skip the line for popular rides. Guests of WDW hotels can choose their 3 daily FastPasses up to 60 days before their trip to ensure they don't have to wait in long lines. But don't be fooled! Some rides that offer FastPass don't usually have long waits anyway. Do some research before your trip to ensure you don’t waste one of your precious FastPasses on attractions that don't need it.
5 Must Do: Reserve FastPasses Early
I know I sound like a crazy Disney person, but absolutely make sure you reserve your FastPasses the day you are allowed. There are only so many FastPasses available per ride per day. They run out super quickly for the really popular rides so getting one day-of almost never happens. If you are going during a peak time, this is especially important. The better you plan your FastPasses, the more fun attractions you will get to experience! Some rides you should definitely FastPass if possible include Test Track (Epcot), Flight of Passage (Animal Kingdom), Tower of Terror (Hollywood Studios), and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (Magic Kingdom).
4 Never Do: Watch The Parades
I realize this may be a controversial opinion, but I rarely watch the parades while I'm at Walt Disney World. The parades can be a fun way to see a lot of characters at once and sing and dance along to the music, but they're overrated in my book. Unless you scope out and claim a spot a long time in advance, it's likely people will be in the way of your viewing, which is a drag for small kids especially. Plus ride wait times go down during parades because so many people watch them, so it's a great opportunity to hop on a popular attraction faster!
3 Must Do: Watch The Fireworks
While the parades are just so-so, Disney does fireworks like none you have ever seen. The gorgeous displays are accompanied by music and light projections, making an immersive experience you won't soon forget. WDW fireworks are the perfect way to cap off a magical day at the parks. Plus, they blast so high into the sky that it's much easier to view them, no matter your height or where you are in the park. There are even some dining packages that get you a meal or snack along with a prime viewing spot to make your fireworks viewing experience even more awesome.
2 Never Do: Stay Rope Drop To Close At One Park
Staying from open to close at one park is asking to be exhausted. I have done it on more than one occasion and it is intense. First of all, you are fighting crowds on your way in and on your way out, which can make you feel like herded cattle. Being out in the sun and on your feet all day, walking thousands of steps, can make even the heartiest person cranky, not to mention little ones. Instead, start your morning slower by having breakfast at your hotel or leave earlier in the night so you can get your rest for another day of fun tomorrow.
1 Must Do: Park Hop
Disney experts love to park hop. In case you're unfamiliar with the term, WDW has a ticket add-on called Park Hopper, which allows you to come and go between the resort's 4 parks in one day. While this may not be the best option for first-timers, park hopping is so much fun. It allows you to hit just your favorite attractions at a park before moving on to the next. Park hopping is the perfect solution if there is a special event going on at one park but you don't want to stay all day there, like the Epcot Food & Wine Festival that happens each fall.