PHOTO: Cinderella’s Castle at Walt Disney World. (photo via Flickr/Maria Eduarda Nogueira)
Heading to the world’s most magical place? There’s so much to see and do, whether you're going to Disneyland in California or Disney World in Florida.
How to maximize your fun amid all the choices (and occasional pitfalls)?
We asked travel agents who book Disney vacations for their best Disney travel tips:
Be flexible with travel dates
“It’s the number one way to save on your next Walt Disney World vacation,” said Steve Griswold, owner of Pixie Vacations.
“Everyone wants to travel during summer break, school breaks, and holidays. Take advantage of the off season and save a bundle. Not only will you find deals, but low crowd levels too during select weeks in May, August, September and January.”
Use a travel agent who specializes in Disney
“A vacation at Walt Disney World is an amazing experience and there is a lot of information out there, but some of it is not accurate or current,” said Nicole Loomis, Confetti Travel Company.
Book a Walt Disney World vacation package
“You can save the most money by booking a vacation package,” said Griswold. “For example, a Disney World Vacation Package would include transportation to and from the Orlando International Airport, your room, Disney park tickets, and the Disney dining plan. You can even add airfare to the package but should check airfare on your own too.
Buy 4-day or more park tickets
“Disney World tickets get cheaper the more days you buy,” said Griswold. “The difference between 4 to 5 days is $21.30, 7 to 8 is $10.65 per person.”
“The restaurants are most busy during breakfast time and in the 5-7pm time slot,” said Denise Lorentzen, Owner and Travel Consultant at Dreams Travel Consulting. “Try doing a later dinner after 7pm to avoid some of the crowds.”
Know the park layouts
Even though you may know which ride, show or restaurant you are heading to first, Greg Antonelle of MickeyTravels LLC said you should know how to get there:
“Navigating the parks can be a little tricky if you aren’t familiar with them, so it’s a good idea to take a look at the park maps ahead of time and be sure to have a copy with you,” he said.
Have a plan
“Spontaneity is perfect for some vacations. However, when it comes to Disney, you definitely will want to have a plan and make sure everyone in your party is familiar with it,” said Antonelle.
“There are so many amazing options that you can easily spend half your day just deciding where to go or what to do first. You want to know ahead of time what rides, attractions and restaurants are must-dos and plan accordingly. You won’t be able to (or even want to) have every minute of every day planned, but if you do some researching, planning and thinking ahead, you will be able to make the most out of your magical time in Disney."
Buy souvenirs off Disney property
“Make a stop at a Wal-Mart or t-shirt shop near Disney and you will find all kinds of Disney souvenirs at nice discounts,” said Griswold.
“Look for a light-up toy too. Nighttime toys are very expensive at Walt Disney World and very hard to resist when you are under four feet tall. Stop at the dollar store to get some Glo necklaces and bracelets. If pre-purchasing souvenirs is not your thing, save the souvenir shopping for the last day. This way, everyone can browse the whole trip and evaluate what they really want to buy.”
Bring the princess dress
“Purchase Disney Princess costumes before you travel,” said Lorentzen. “It's not uncommon for dresses to run over $75 or over $100 plus all the extras like shoes, crowns, etc. If you purchase them ahead of time and pack them, you will save a lot of money.”
Become tech savvy
“Take advantage of the tools that are available to use, such as the Disney My Experience App and Touring Plans which also has an app called Lines,” said Loomis.
“In Touring Plans, you can create itineraries to maximize your time in the park, check crowd levels at the different parks and get line waiting times. I have used it in all of the parks, and it is very accurate. Checking the refurbishment schedule is important too so you avoid disappointment and schedule your vacation when your favorite rides are available.”
“A Disney vacation can be exhausting,” said Loomis. “It is a lot of walking and is usually hot. Return to your hotel in the afternoon for a little rest and swim to recharge and make it back to the parks to see fireworks and enjoy the cooler evening weather.”
Start your day off with a show
“Arrive at Magic Kingdom just before park opening and make your way to Cinderella Castle, where Mickey Mouse will start your day in a Magical way,” said Margie Lenau, Wonderland Family Vacations. “The parks all have shows and excitement when they open, so get there early.”
“Make dining reservations, then your family or group can come together at least once a day, but feel free to separate and enjoy the parks the way they would like to,” said Lenau.
Don’t overdo it
“While there is so much to see and do at Disney, try not to fit it all in,” said Renee Tsang of Renee Tsang Travel.
“You know your family best, so plan your trip according to your family's habits. If you are early risers, then take advantage of rope drop activities to get there early before the crowds, take a break during the afternoon for pool time and head back in the evening for the shows.”
“Any dining location will give you a glass of fresh ice water, so if you carry a water bottle you can refill it, or just don't carry a water bottle,” said Lenau.
“Disney allows you to pack your own snacks, so bring lots of snacks to curb hunger pangs,” said Tsang.
“The heat, lines for rides and hunger combined together will mostly likely result in meltdowns or grumpy kids. Snacks will help take away the 'hangry pains' and make it easier to cope.”
Add a dining plan to your package
“Make your restaurant reservations online at least 180 days before travel,” said Jenny Denney, NWA Getaways Dream Vacations.
“If you're a true foodie, like me, go for the Deluxe Dining plan. You can either do three Table Service Meals a day or bank a few of your credits to do the two credit restaurants, such as California Grill, Citricos or Paddlefish.
"Believe me, when your meals are already paid for and you can order anything your heart desires off the menu, the food tastes even better.”
Book a character meal
“You're going to need to eat sometime, so you might as well maximize your time,” said Tsang.
“A character meal will offer a nice reprieve from the activities of the day and minimize line ups to get your photos and autographs with the characters.”
Fast Pass it
“Fast Passes are a must,” said Denney. “Lines at Disney, especially on the newer or popular rides, can be extremely long, so take advantage of Fast Passes.
"They can be made 60 days before your travel date if you are staying at a Disney Resort Hotel. Then, once you have used your Fast Passes each day, use the My Disney Experience App to choose more. This is a great way to maximize your time in the parks.”
“Take time to enjoy the sites, smells and sounds of the Disney Parks,” said Denney. “I know it's easy to get in one of the parks and feel like you need to rush, but the time to slow down and soak in all the magic. Have a sit-down lunch or dinner and cool off and let your feet rest, see amazing shows and never miss those parades.”
Go without the kids
“Disney can be a totally different experience when you go as adults,” said Denney.
“There are so many outstanding restaurants that are more adult, like Le Cellier or Victoria & Albert's. There are also wonderful stage shows and fireworks dessert parties that are much more enjoyable without your kids (I know, terrible, but it's so true).
"But the number one reason to go as adults is the simple joy of rediscovering the child within each of us in the most magical place on earth, be it with your best friends or with the one you love."