The Happiest Place on Earth. The place where everyone reconnects with their inner child. The place where dreams come true. Traveling to Disney World can be a magical experience, but it can also be fraught with complications, stress, long lines and temper tantrums.
This guide will help to prepare you for your trip to Disney World with a list of what to pack, what to know before you go and the best things to do and places to eat in each park. A trip to Disney World deserves some planning; be sure to buy a book and study a map before you arrive.
What to Know Before You Go
- If at all possible, visit Disney World when school is in session and during a non-holiday time. The shorter lines and less crowded streets are worth taking the kids out of school to go at non-peak times. Read more on this in the “When to Go” section.
- You can bring your own stroller, cooler, water bottles and snacks to help save some money.
- If you’re renting a stroller, wheelchair or motor powered scooter from any of the parks, be sure to arrive early enough to get in line to rent and still be in line to enter the park before opening time.
- Make sure to tie a bandana or brightly colored pom pom on the handle of your stroller. Just like all the black suitcases at the airport, your stroller and everyone else’s will blend together in the sea of stroller parking.
- Disney World is a safe place. You’re generally ok to leave a diaper bag or tote bag of snacks in your stroller while on rides. Don’t leave valuables like a purse or wallet, but theft is low at Disney World.
- Sunscreen is necessary at anytime of the year in Florida. Especially if you’re traveling with small children, make sure to apply and reapply their sunscreen throughout the day.
- Make sure to keep yourself and your children hydrated, it’s easy to forget to drink among all the excitement of parades, characters and thrill rides.
- If you’re children are walking, be sure to check their feet periodically for blisters or hotspots, they may be too excited to notice before they get severe.
- You will get more done in the first two hours the park is open then you will in the rest of the morning and afternoon.
- Make sure to be at the turnstile at least 30 minutes before the park opens. If you’re lucky, the park gates will be opened before the official opening time.
- Be sure to leave plenty of time commute to the park and walk to the front gates, this can take 30 to 45 minutes, depending on crowds, bus schedules and parking. Once you arrive at the gates, your bag will be checked for sharp objects and weapons.
- As soon as you know you’re going to Disney World, buy your park tickets. Lines for tickets at the front gate will only slow your progression to rides and into the park. As well, if you buy today and the prices subsequently go up, they’ll honor the price you paid.
- One of Disney’s newest additions, the MagicBands, can be used as room key, charge card, entrance ticket and FastPass+.
- FastPass+ and MagicBands can be slightly complicated and confusing but are well worth the hassle of setting up before you arrive.
- Choose your FastPass+ rides as soon as you’re able. For more information on this, visit the Disney website.
- There are two types of families who visit Disney World. Some come for the food and dining experience, others would prefer to eat quickly and get back to the rides and shows. Try to guess or figure out which your family might be.
- Try not to eat right at noon and five with everyone else. If you brought snacks or can hold off, eat at odd times to avoid lines. Lines for rides may also be shorter during these common meal times.
- If you want to see everything at Disney World, start training. It’s easy to walk more than 10 miles a day going from ride to ride at the parks.
- There are lots of options for park entrance tickets. Some tickets let you go from park to park, some allow for only one park per day and some even include entrance into the water parks. Check the Disney website for more information.
- Many sites recommend staying off Disney property to save money. The benefits of staying on property (free, easy transportation, extra hours at the park) are worth the extra money. There are Disney hotel rooms at all price points, try to book early and choose the rooms with only the luxuries you really need to save money.
- If you have a big family or group, don’t be afraid to send half to the hotel to swim at the pool and half stay at the parks to keep walking and enjoying rides.
- Spending an entire day at the park can be stressful for families. If the kids are hot, tired and hungry, there’s no reason not to leave the park and go for a swim or nap at the resort. You spent a lot of money to be happy and enjoy your vacation, enjoy it; even if that means spending your time swimming in the resort pool and not at the park.
- Many families get up early, stay at the park until 1 and then go back to the hotel for naps and swimming. Once everyone is well rested again, you can return to the park for some more rides and the nighttime fireworks show.
- The food options at Disney World are wide-ranging and healthy. There are lots of options for vegetarians, people with gluten intolerance and other allergies.
- Disney has done a fantastic job of integrating new technology into their parks. One of the best additions are smartphone apps that include maps and updated ride times.
- The best way to see Disney is not always the most geographically logical. To fit in the most rides and attractions with the least amount of time spent waiting might mean that you walk across the park a few times. Wear comfortable shoes!
- If you’re visiting Disney with older kids or children who are not interested in parades, this offers you a great time to squeeze in some rides or eat. Disney’s parades are over-the-top, fantastic. Be sure to see at least one while you’re visiting.
- If you stay to see one of the park’s late night fireworks show and parade, know that getting back to the hotel will be slow and crowded, but worth it for the spectacular show.
- If you’re traveling with young children, don’t be surprised if they’re terrified of the characters. Crying and fear is a common reaction, the characters have seen it all.
- If you are visiting Disney World for a number of days, many parents recommend visiting Epcot or Disney’s Hollywood Studios before going to the Magic Kingdom.
- These parks have great rides and fun experiences, but Magic Kingdom is the most princess-filled and classic Disney experience. Many families also spend more time at the Magic Kingdom than other parks.
- If you’re traveling with anyone with a disability, be sure to check with Disney’s Disability Access Service before your arrival. They can help you to plan your trip to be as magical as possible. A disability can include people with attention problems, mental disabilities and physical disabilities.
- Most ride queues are wheelchair and power scooter accessible so that everyone can stand in line together. The lines that are not, will have special entrances.
- Though you will never see them displayed, ponchos are available in every gift shop, you just have to ask.
- Part of the magic of Disney is that there’s so much to do. You could actually never get on a ride at Disney World and still have a wonderful experience. There are shows, performances, parades, interactive displays, experiential interactions, shops, dining and characters to meet. Whatever your family chooses to spend their time on, make sure it’s exactly what you want to do. If there are certain rides that you want to do, get to those first before the lines get long. Crafts and interactive games will always be there and usually not have much of a line.
- If you buy a sword or light saber while at Disney, make sure that it will fit in your checked luggage. The TSA will likely take the sword away if you try to bring it through security at the airport.
- One of the big draws at Disney World is the shopping at the end of every ride. At the beginning of your trip, give each child a small allowance to buy what they want at the parks. This will relieve you of having to say no to each thing that they want to buy.
- Another big seller at Disney World are the light up toys available for sale by vendors walking among the crowds before a fireworks show or parade. Bring your own glow necklaces for your children to prevent needing to buy.
- If you’re traveling to Disney World with only adults or with older kids, consider taking Disney’s Behind the Scenes Tour to learn all about the magic.
What To Pack:
Your time at Disney World should be as much fun and least stress as can be. When packing your bag to take to the parks everyday, think of the essentials and things that you might need throughout. Here’s a list of some of the things you might want to carry in your daily bag.
- Snacks: A variety of snacks that don’t melt are a great option. Nuts, rice krispy treats, mints or lifesavers are small and easily portable.
- Emergency kit: When the time comes, you’ll be glad you have this. Pack a small zipper bag or make-up kit with bandaids, blister pads, pain reliever medication, hand sanitizer, hair ties, chapstick, sunscreen and some spare cash.
- Reusable water bottle: These are great in the parks because they’re easy to refill at any water fountain, you won’t have to pay for plastic bottles of water and you won’t have to wait in line when you or kids get thirsty.
Where to eat:
There are so many options of where to eat at Disney World and you really can’t go wrong. There are nice dining establishments that take reservations, there’s buffets and family style dining and there are lots of place to get counter service to eat on the go and get back to the rides. This is a list of some of the best restaurants in the parks.
- Be Our Guest: This new restaurant is situated below a picturesque castle scene. You can make a reservation to eat here but if you’re visiting during non-peak days, you should be able to get in without much wait. This magical restaurant is all about efficiency. If you haven’t preordered your meal, you’ll be escorted to a computer to choose what you’d like to eat. After choosing, you pick up your magical rose and choose a seat in one of the three Beauty and the Beast themed dining rooms. Your food is magically delivered to your table after only a few minutes wait. Drinks, silverware and napkins are self service. Be sure to try the Grey Stuff, it’s delicious.
- Friar’s Nook: This restaurant offers immediate service and great food. It’s located in the middle of a lot of great rides so lines can be long at certain times of the day, but it will move quickly. The cheeseburger and pot roast macaroni and cheese are fantastic. They’re quick, easy, delicious and not too messy to eat on the go.
- Aloha Isle: This is the best place to stop on a hot day. This little counter-service restaurant offers ice cream made with real Dole juices such as the pineapple and vanilla or orange and vanilla swirl. A great treat for cooling off.
- Main Street Bakery: Located just inside the entrance of the park, this is a great place to stop when you need a sweet treat. Almost everything in the store is made by hand, much of it right in front of where you order. A favorite treat is their Mickey Mouse rice crispy bars dipped in chocolate and covered in peanut butter chips or chocolate candies.
- The Land: This is one of those Disney restaurants that will never get full. Even on the busiest days, you should be able to order your food at one of the many counters and almost immediately find a seat. They have a wide-variety of healthy options. Much of the produce used comes from the Disney greenhouses located in the same building.
- Garden Grill: This rotating restaurant is one of the few places where you might get to see Mickey in Epcot. The meals are served family style so it’s all-you-can-eat. Be sure to keep an eye out as you rotate for the different scenes from the Living with the Land ride located below.
- World Showcase: Another great way to eat at Epcot is to have a small bite of food from each of the countries around the world showcase. Get some currywurst in Germany, pastries in France, beer in the UK, coffee in Morocco, horchata in Mexico and pasta in Italy.
- Brown Derby: This is one of the best restaurants in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Based off of the original, the restaurant has an old-Hollywood vibe and is a great place to have a relaxing meal. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to get one of their coveted outdoor tables. Reservations are available for indoor tables. Their menu includes a wide variety of options including duck, Wagyu beef sliders, Cobb salad (which is named for the owner of the original Brown Derby, Bob Cobb) and grapefruit cake. This is one of Disney’s pricier restaurants, but the atmosphere, food and drinks are worth it.
- Sci-Fi Dine-In: If you’re traveling with kids, this is the place to go. Each group gets their own car for the drive-in movie, equipped with dining tables. You get to sit, eat and watch mid-century B movies about the blob, inside, in the air conditioning.
- Flame Tree Barbecue: This restaurant will offer you some quiet space to escape from the crowds for a little while. All of the seating is outdoors and covered. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a spot overlooking Discovery River. The Flame Tree Barbecue offers counter service and is known for their smoked meats and salads.
What to Do:
The easiest part about Disney is that you won’t run out of things to do. There’s always a ride to go on, a show to watch, a craft to participate in, a parade to enjoy, a pool to swim in or a nap to take. You will go home from this vacation tired. Disney is an expensive trip and you should try to do and see as much as you can, but no one is having fun when the kids are having a tantrum.
Make sure that you take care of yourself and your kids to make sure they’re enjoying themselves, even if that’s napping or swimming at the resort. Do what will make everyone happy. One of the best strategies to see as much of Disney as possible is to arrive early (if you’re staying at a Disney resort, be sure to arrive at the park gate at least 15 minutes before the beginning of the extra magic hour) ride all of the big rides which will have long lines later in the day, go home for an afternoon nap or swim and then return to the park in the evening for more rides and the nighttime fireworks or parade.
Not to miss rides:
- For a thrill: Expedition Everest and Kali River Rapids (Expect to get wet!)
- For young kids: Finding Nemo: The Musical and Tri Cera Top Spin
- For older kids: Primeval Whirl
- For a scare: DINOSAUR
- For a learning experience: Kilimanjaro Safaris
- Why it’s unique: Animal Kingdom is a mix between a theme park and a zoo. There are lots of nature trails that will lead you into far-away lands and introduce you to the flora and fauna of Asia and Africa.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- For a thrill: Rock n’ Roller Coaster
- For young kids: Jim Henson’s Muppet-Vision 3-D and Voyage of the Little Mermaid
- For older kids: Toy Story Midway Mania! and Star Tours — The Adventure Continues
- For a scare: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
- For a learning experience: The Magic of Disney Animation and Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream
- Why it’s unique: Though its educative displays have been reduced in recent years, this is still one of the best places to learn about Walt Disney the man, Disney the company and movie-making.
- For a thrill: Test Track
- For young kids: Spaceship Earth and Frozen ride (slated to open early 2016)
- For older kids: Soarin’
- For a scare: Mission: SPACE
- For a learning experience: Living with the Land
- Why it’s unique: You’ll be transported around the world by only walking a few miles. Experiencing the decor, food and culture of various countries is a great way to teach kids about the world.
- For a thrill: Splash Mountain and Space Mountain
- For young kids: Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
- For older kids: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
- For a scare: The Haunted Mansion
- For a learning experience: The Hall of Presidents
- Why it’s unique: The quintessential Disney experience, for small children or if you have the time, you may want to spend two days here because there’s so much to see and do.
Services to use when planning your trip:
There are many, many services out there to help you plan your trip to Disney World. Disney’s website is the place to set up and learn all about your FastPass+ and MagicBands. If you’re wanting to plan your trip to be efficient and see as much as possible, one of the best resources is touringplans.com. Be sure to buy their book, The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and take a few weeks or month to review as much of the book as you can before your arrival. This group also offers an app that will store your daily agenda and give you updated, social-aggregated wait times for rides that are often more accurate than what is actually posted.
When to Go:
The simplest answer to this question is to visit Disney World while school is in session. Disney World will always be busy, but it’s busiest at the holidays and during school breaks. If you visit while school is in, crowds could be half the size they are during peak season. There are many resources (including touringplans.com) that offer a rating for each day on how busy the park will be. Temperatures on average fall between 62 (17) and 83 (28) degrees Fahrenheit.
December to mid-January: This is the busiest time of year. Peak season goes from right before Christmas into the first few days of January. January is often the coldest month with temperatures ranging from 48 (9) to 72 (22) degrees.
Mid-January to February: After Martin Luther King Day the crowds start to thin through President’s Day in February. This is the second, least busy time of year at Disney.
March to April: From mid-March to Easter the parks are very busy due to spring break, which falls on different weeks throughout the country. This is the second busiest time of year at Disney World. If you’re visiting during this time, you should expect great weather. Temperatures will range from 53 (12) to 82 (28) degrees. You could also get the occasional afternoon shower, but they rarely last longer than an hour or two. A full day of rain in Florida is very rare.
Mid-April to mid-May: After Spring Breakers have gone back to school, Disney World gets less busy. The crowds stay low until mid-May when schools start to release again. Temperatures are starting to warm in May, but are still tolerable.
June to August: After the holidays, June through August is the busiest time of year. Kids are out of school and parents are looking for a summer vacation. This also happens to be the hottest time of the year in Florida. If you’re visiting at this time, expect temperatures from 70 (21) to 92 (33) degrees. Be sure to wear your sunscreen and protect yourself from the hot summer sun.
September to October: From Labor Day to the beginning of October is the quietest time at Disney World. Kids have gone back to school and families aren’t yet ready for holiday vacations. The one downside to touring during the non-peak times is that some rides are closed for maintenance, park hours may vary slightly for special events and sometimes evening fireworks and parades may be cancelled. In September you should expect hot summer temperatures but October is one of the best months for weather at Disney World. The afternoon showers from the spring have stopped but the weather hasn’t cooled off to winter temperatures.
November to December: Between Thanksgiving and Christmas you’ll find crowds that are less than average. Thanksgiving is the third busiest time of year. Even though it’s winter, you can expect warm temperatures throughout the year in Florida. November is one of the best months to travel to Disney World for weather. You can expect temperatures ranging from 50 (10) to 79 (26) degrees.
Though unconventional, if at all possible the reduction in stress, money and crowds is worth taking kids out of school for. Think of it as an educational trip, you’ll be amazed how much they learn about animals, future technologies, other cultures and the land around them while at Disney World.