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Six experts share their tips on making the most of Walt Disney World Resort vacations.
Above Image is © Disney
You might think that Walt Disney World Resort is just for kids, or that it’s too expensive, too crowded, and perhaps even too complicated. We’re asking you to think again.
We recently sat down with six experts — three representatives from Southwest Vacations and United Vacations, two Vacation Coaches who have been travel professionals for many years, and a mom of three who has traveled to Walt Disney World Resort with family members 10 times — and they reveal that the Disney experience can be magical on any budget and at any age.
Here & Beyond: What would people be surprised to know about Disney?
People think that Disney is just for kids, that it’s only about the theme parks, and that it’s too expensive. They are surprised to learn that Disney also caters to couples, girls’ and guys’ getaways, even wellness vacations. You need to break down the price tag and look at what you’re experiencing. Then you’ll really see the value. — Lisa Malsch, Southwest Vacations
Disney is not just “It’s a Small World!” That’s the biggest shock for people. I don’t have children, and I go to Disney all the time. — Michael Tine, Travel Professional for 5 years, Orlando, FL
Disney is not near a beach [laughs]. People also don’t appreciate that the property is massive, 20 square miles. You can’t do it all in just a few days. — Scott Gierum, United Vacations
There’s a misconception that the meal plan isn’t cost effective, which isn’t true. — Wendy Riggall, Travel Professional for 19 years, Willow Grove, PA
H&B: What are the best ways to beat the lines?
It’s important to plan your itinerary ahead of time. Talk with your family about everyone’s priorities, and make use of tools like Disney’s free My Disney Experience app or its Touring Plans app. Remember, also, that the left line is always shorter, and use Rider Switch if you have a child that’s too small for a ride. — Heidi Rumpel, 10-time Walt Disney World Resort guest, and mom of three
Lisa: If you’re staying off property, arrive early and plan to stay late. If you’re staying on property, take advantage of the Extra Magic Hours to get in before a parks opens and stay after it closes. Consider traveling in the low seasons (when the parks aren’t as busy).
“One of my favorite Disney apps is My Magic Plus, where you can link park tickets, hotels and dining. You can use the app to link in your family members and manage and change your plans. It really is the cutting edge of technology. Plus, your MagicBand can open your room, act as your charge card …everything is on that band, from tickets and dining to FastPasses and PhotoPasses. The cast will even know if it’s your birthday.”
—WENDY RIGGALL, TRAVEL PROFESSIONAL FOR 19 YEARS; WILLOW GROVE, PA
—WENDY RIGGALL, TRAVEL PROFESSIONAL FOR 19 YEARS; WILLOW GROVE, PA
Go to MyDisneyExperience.com, and link everything through My Magic Plus — tickets, hotels, dining, everything. You can link in your family members, too. Use the app to manage and change your plans even while you’re on your vacation. Look at current wait times to plan your FastPasses. One bonus tip: The lines have been long to see the Frozen princesses, and FastPasses can be hard to get. We decided to have breakfast one morning at Cinderella’s castle. We were done before the park opened and we were first in line to see Anna and Elsa. — Melissa Backus, Southwest Vacations
Scott: Go on the rides during the parades. The crowds start gathering up to an hour before the parade starts, especially in the Magic Kingdom. Sixty days before you travel, start planning out your days with FastPass Plus.
Wendy: Go left when you get into the park instead of right! Or start in the rear of the park and move forward. Most people will do the opposite.
H&B: What’s the best way to use Disney’s FastPass Plus, the new system introduced in 2014 that allows guests to skip to the front of the line?
Heidi: Don’t waste them on parades; if you get there early enough, you’ll get a good spot. Instead, use them for the headliner attractions or slow-loading rides like the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
Melissa: Look at the wait times to select the busiest rides, and when you book the FastPasses, look at your dining plan so you know where you’re going to be. With the app, it’s all laid out, and you can manage your day.
Scott: Reserve your FastPasses as early as you can, because they do fill up, especially during peak travel. You can book 60 days in advance if you’re staying on property, and 30 days in advance if you’re staying off property. You can get additional FastPasses at kiosks after you’ve used your three for the day, but remember, you can’t get a new one until the last of your three has expired. So, for example, if your third FastPass is for 1:30 to 3 p.m., you can’t get another one until after 3 p.m.
Michael: Don’t use FastPasses for character meet-and-greets, unless it’s really important to your children, and don’t use them for the fireworks or parades, because there are so many places to watch. In fact, the best place to see the fireworks is from the beach at the Fort Wilderness campground!
H&B: Why are Disney Dining Plans an important part of the Disney experience, and what should first-timers consider when evaluating their options?
Heidi: I love that you pay up front. When you’re there, you don’t have to worry about it. Remember you can book up to 180 days in advance, which is important for character meals and dining at the top restaurants. One tip for families with small kids: Sit-down meals can be time-consuming, so you might want to consider Quick Service. You’ll get two meals and a snack, and it’s tons of food. Anything over $4 is good value for a snack credit. A couple of extra tips: You can ask for a large beverage and it’s still included (including a large Starbucks frappuccino at Magic Kingdom and Epcot!); and there are a couple of refillable drink stations at Epcot and Hollywood Studios.
Lisa: The dining plans are a great motivator to experience all the options Disney offers. I recommend that first-timers go with the Quick Service plan. Eighty percent of the time, first-timers who go with bigger plans end up with too much food. Start with the base plan, and then you can make an educated decision regarding whether to upgrade on your next trip.
Melissa: The dining plans are a very low-hassle way of knowing that your meals are covered, and they’re as all-inclusive as possible. We knew we didn’t want to spend hours in line for characters, and the kids wouldn’t want to spend hours at restaurants, so we combined them and did character meals.
Scott: It’s nice to not worry about spending money while I’m there. Plus, believe it or not, in one week, you’ll save hundreds of dollars.
Michael: I always tell guests to step out of their comfort zones. For example, check out Morocco at Epcot. Also, I recommend that parents use points for sit-down meals, and kids use them for Quick Service. And if you haven’t used all your snacks, take them home! They’re yours.
Wendy: If you’re doing character meals, you’ll have a significant cost savings with the meal plans. I recommend that you do Chef Mickey first. It’ll set the mood for the whole trip.
H&B: Do you have advice for families with young children and tweens/teens?
Heidi: Split up your FastPasses, because the older kids might be able to do the bigger rides on their own. Take advantage of Rider Switch. Also, it’s really important to bring ponchos, umbrellas, and a stroller for children ages 8 and under.
Lisa: Divide and conquer with your spouse; split up for half the day, then do things together. Splitting up ensures that the older kids can have longer days and do all the rides, while younger kids get breaks. With little ones, you don’t want to pack too much in, trying to get your money’s worth.
Melissa: Build in downtime, and leave the parks occasionally so you can eat at the hotel or in Downtown Disney. As parents, you want to enjoy yourselves too, so take advantage of Rider Switch. It works very similar to a FastPass, and I don’t think many people know about it. I also highly recommend the Park Hopper ticket option. If you’re staying in a resort between theme parks, you can split time between the parks and take a break during the day.
Scott: Research the shows, special activities, and entertainment options, and take advantage of the Park Hopper ticket. Honestly, it’s worth it for the flexibility it gives you.
Michael: Find a resort where you’ll be comfortable, and plan ahead. Your 3-year-old will need a nap, and the kids will need a break at the pool. And don’t be afraid to split up. Disney vacations are an opportunity to build relationships with each child, to create special experiences for each of them.
H&B: Why should adults consider a Disney vacation experience?
Heidi: Disney has fine-dining restaurants with well-known chefs from around the world, educational and cultural attractions, high-quality shows, and of course the rides, because adults love being kids, too. It’s amazing how much ground you can cover if you visit without kids. There are underground and backstage tours, boat rides, dinner tours on the lagoon, spas, championship golf courses, and really top-notch hotels and restaurants. And, if you are traveling as a family but would like a little grown-up time, you can take advantage of kids’ clubs and in-room babysitting services.
Lisa: One of my favorite things to do in the whole world is the Epcot Food and Wine Festival in the fall.
Melissa: At Epcot’s World Showcase, you can get samples of beers, wines, and food from around the world. It’s such a fun cultural experience.
Scott: There’s the ESPN Zone, Jellyrolls and Atlantic Dance Hall at the BoardWalk, and Downtown Disney, which is being reinvented as Disney Springs. And it’s rare to have so many world-class dining options concentrated in one place. There really is something for everyone, from a corn dog to a seven-course meal.
Michael: You’ll rekindle your childhood, you’ll get to ride the big rides, and there are amazing restaurants like Todd English’s bluezoo, Victoria & Albert’s, Ohana. Plus, the parks are open later now — to 9 or 10 p.m., sometimes even midnight.
Wendy: The rides and shows are fun no matter how old you are. Three of my must-dos are Soarin’, Space Mountain, and the Hall of Presidents, which is old school. And, you might discover a new gem when you simply walk up to something that doesn’t have a line.
H&B: What are some off-property gems that should be on travelers’ bucket lists?
Heidi: SeaWorld Orlando, Gatorland, Universal Orlando Resort… hashtag-don’t-tell-Mickey! My husband and I love Downtown Disney (soon to be Disney Springs), and we also take time to drive out to the Clearwater beaches.
Lisa: The Richard Petty Driving Experience, and Discovery Cove, an all-inclusive park owned by SeaWorld. And of course there’s Universal Orlando, for people who want the thrill rides, Harry Potter, and Blue Man Group.
Scott: There are 10 different beaches within a 90-minute drive. I recommend New Smyrna Beach on the east coast, and St. Petersburg-Clearwater on the west coast. Orlando has so many new things going on, especially around International Drive — the Orlando Eye, a new seaquarium, Madame Tussauds, and the 500-foot-high Polercoaster, which will be the world’s tallest rollercoaster. Downtown, visitors will enjoy strolling through Thornton Park and around Lake Eola.
Wendy: I recommend that people take the time to enjoy their resort. It’s not just a hotel room. Relax by the pool, take advantage of the amenities, and use Disney transportation.
Michael: For beaches, I recommend Tampa; you’ll have the gorgeous white sand, and the water is warm year round. I also recommend that people drive out to the Kennedy Space Center to see the space shuttle Atlantis.
With so much to see and do, a vacation at Walt Disney World Resort is truly magical for the young and the young at heart. With its four famous theme parks and a Disney Resort hotel to fit any budget and size, Walt Disney World Resort brings to life favorite characters and worlds, while creating memories to last a lifetime.
To get the most out of a Disney vacation, the Here & Beyond experts recommend booking a complete vacation package. Through tour operators such as Funjet Vacations, Southwest Vacations or United Vacations, you can book your flight, hotel, park tickets, optional meal plans and transportation in one easy process.
As to Disney artwork, logos, properties: ©Disney