Disney Tips from An Old Pro

As our friends and relatives know, the Spidey family spends a lot of time at Disney parks.  In fact, we were just at Disney World in Orlando two weeks ago.  My guess is that we have visited at least one Disney location (multiple parks) each year for the past 15 years.  This includes the parks in Florida, California, France and Japan.  Hong Kong is the only global Disney park which we have not visited, a fact which just kills our 12-year old daughter because she wants to complete the cycle.

Yes, we enjoy Disney, and our kids do as well.  However, our decision 13 years ago to buy 250 points from the Disney Vacation Club is what really allows us to increase our frequency of visits.   If you like Disney and haven’t looked into DVC, you should.  In short, it’s a time share based on points.  Each unit, from efficiencies to three bedroom units, is assigned a point value based on the size of the unit and time of the year.  Big units at Christmas cost more points than smaller units mid-February.  The best thing is that every unit except efficiencies comes with full-kitchen and washer/dryer.  If you are a parent, you know how important that can be.  (As a reference point, those 250 points would cost about $28,000 before any closing costs and a monthly maintenance fee of about $110.)

Spidey in the Magic Kingdom

Over the years with our many visits, we have become, dare I say, experts in visiting Disney World, and our ideas and tips apply to other geographies.  Responding to a tweet request the other day about tips for Disney gave me the idea for this post.  Here are 10 things you should know as you plan your Disney trip.

1. Stay on Property.  I feel strongly about this, even though it can be more expensive.  Staying on property has several advantages, whether you stay at the Grand Floridian or the Pop Resort:

  • You get access to the Disney Transportation System.  This allows you to travel anywhere by bus from close to your room.
  • You can charge food and gifts in the parks to your room, thus keeping things on one bill.
  • You can buy goods in the park and have them delivered to your room.
  • You can use your room key as your park ticket (see #2 below).
  • You get free parking if you rent a car (see #4 below).
  • It is much easier to make Advanced Dining Reservations (see #5).
  • You can take advantage of early arrival days and late stay days (see #6).

2. Get Your Tickets from AAA. If you buy tickets at AAA you get the best price, but you also get a pass to Diamond parking, which is just behind disabled parking at each park.  This can be very helpful if you can’t get to the parks first thing in the morning (see #6).  This does mean, however, that you won’t use your room key as your park card and will have to hold on to two separate cards while in the parks.

3. Rent a Car. Trust me on this one.  Disney will tell you that you don’t need one.  I’m telling you that you will.  Some days, it’s just easier to drive than take the Disney Transportation System.  If you stay on property (#1) and buy tickets at AAA (#2), then parking doesn’t cost and you can park closer to the entrance than normal.  As good as the Disney Transportation System is, many routes are not direct and waiting for a bus, especially at park opening and closing, can be painful with tired children.  We normally stay at The Boardwalk, and the only Disney transportation from Boardwalk to MGM is via boat.  So – we normally drive.  It’s just faster and more convenient.

5. Reserve Meals Early.  Sit-down meals and character dinners fill up quickly.  Yes, you can wait stand-by, but it can take a while.  As best as I know, there is also no penalty for canceling a reservation at the last minute.  Guests staying on Disney property can make reservations both on the phone and online and can make up to 10 reservations per day.  Guests staying off property can only make one reservation per day.  I recommend getting familiar with the possible dining options and setting an alarm to remind yourself to make reservations.

6. Go Early and Stay Late. I highly recommend getting to the park early.  Perhaps this is obvious, but lines are shortest just after the parks open.  Our family gets to the parks early, gets on the rides and attractions we most want, and then bugs out to relax by the pool.  Then, we return in the evenings, after other youngsters and parents have pooped out and left, and ride all the rides again.  We avoid all parks in the middle of the day.

7. Plan Ahead and Stick to the Plan. We really believe in this.  Familiarize yourself with each park and decide the order in which you will visit the rides.  For example, know before Magic Kingdom opens that the family is heading right to Dumbo or Space Mountain or Haunted House.  I recommend getting The Unofficial Guide to Disney World for Florida.  This is the book that convinced us to make a plan.  It also provides readers with sample plans based on who you are:  singles, couples, families with young kids, families with older kids, etc.  Part of this plan must be utilizing Fast Passes to your advantage (see #8).

Spidey in Animal Kingdom

8. Use Fast Passes.  Fast Passes allow riders to use a separate waiting line to get on a ride from those waiting “stand-by.”  Machines are near specific rides to dispense the Fast Passes.  They are real pieces of paper.  The Fast Passes give you a specific hour window when you can return and get on the ride without waiting or with a very short wait.  Individuals can only hold one Fast Pass at a time or for a maximum of two hours.  It is a must to build getting Fast Passes into your plan (see #7).  Here are a few things we’ve learned about Fast Passes:

  • Give all your group’s tickets to one person so that he/she can run off to get Fast Passes for everyone.  This really works if one of your group doesn’t want to go on one ride or is willing to sacrifice for the group.
  • Get as many Fast Passes as you can, taking advantage of the rules that allow more than one Fast Pass when the time is more than two hours in the future.  At one point last trip, we each held two Fast Passes for Space Mountain, a Fast Pass for Splash Mountain, and a Fast Pass for Buzz Lightyear.
  • You don’t have to return exactly when the Fast Pass indicates.  You can return any time after the window opens.  For example, if your Fast Pass says you can ride Splash Mountain from 3:30pm to 4:30pm, you can also ride at 6:00pm.  You just can’t ride at 3:00pm or the next day.

3. Use the Singles Line.  The singles line can be a beautiful thing.  Last trip, we used the singles line for Splash Mountain, for Space Mountain, for Everest Adventure, and for Test Track, and, except for Test Track, still got to sit together.  Remember, Space Mountain is individual seats anyway!  They use the singles line to fill up cars.  At Test Track the wait was 60 minutes, but we got on in 15 through the singles line.

9. Read Up in Advance.   There are so many good web sites with inside information and with discussion boards where people can answer every question imaginable:

10. Muster Up as Much Patience as Possible. Lines will be long.  Kids and spouses will be cranky.  You will go over budget.  A ride will break that you or your kids wanted to experience (while you are in line or while you are on it).  People will be rude.

Remember above all — Disney is the Happiest Place on Earth.

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