When visiting Walt Disney World, there are a lot of things that can save you time and money, or improve the quality of your vacation. Here are 101 random tips based upon our experiences in years of traveling to Walt Disney World. Some of the things are simple and easy to–like standing in a different spot than you normally might for the parade or fireworks.
Other things require a bit more effort, but will similarly make the trip more enjoyable. There’s really no rhyme or reason to the order, it’s basically just what popped into my head as I started writing the list. If you’re looking for Disneyland tips, check out our 101 Great Disneyland Tips post.
Not all of these tips will be applicable to everyone (if you’re already married, the tip on proposing probably won’t be of much use), but there should be something for everyone here. Whether you’re a first time planner or a weathered veteran who still has nightmare-flashbacks to that Castle Cake of ’96, there are tips for you here.
With these tips in hand, you can get the most out of your Walt Disney World vacation. We’ve just updated these tips for July 2016, removing a few that were no longer applicable, and updating others in light of FastPass+ strategy, new offerings like Rivers of Light, and a few other changes around the parks.
Make sure to also read the additional reader tips in the comments, as some of you readers have some great tips of your own that are really helpful. If you have some good tips, be sure to add them there, too. The more, the merrier!
With that said, let’s get started with the list…
- The “Free” Disney Dining Plan is not actually free. Room-only discounts of around 30% are very common at Walt Disney World, and you are forgoing this discount in order to receive Free Dining. Do the math before assuming “free” is best; doing a room-only discount and paying for dining is often cheaper, depending upon your hotel and party size.
- If you are celebrating a special occasion, make sure to pick up a button reflecting the celebration at your resort hotel or in the parks from Guest Services. You may receive special treatment if wearing the buttons. Read our Free Things at Walt Disney World post for other freebies!
- The best viewing place for Illuminations: Reflections of Earth is between the two gift shops as you enter World Showcase. This spot is informally known as the “Front of the House.” Look at the map in our Best IllumiNations Viewing Spots post for other great locations.
- You can currently purchase a 7-day Park Hopper that includes 3 free days, which offers $80+ in savings per ticket. As an added bonus, readers of this blog can save an extra $2 per ticket with discount code DISNEYTOURISTBLOG at check-out (expires September 1, 2016). Read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post for tips and tricks to saving money on Walt Disney World tickets.
- Besides saving money, one big reason to purchase tickets in advance is so you can make FastPass+ selections. If you’re unfamiliar with FastPass+, make sure to read our Guide to FastPass+ at Walt Disney World, as this will save you multiple hours in line per day.
- At Flame Tree BBQ, the full rack of ribs or sampler are $20 each (both are new menu items as of early 2016). Over at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe or Fairfax Faire, the 1/2 Chicken and BBQ Rib Combo is $16+. Any of these can feed two adults with moderate appetites, making them some of the best ways to use counter service credits on the Disney Dining Plan.
- In Disneyspeak, a travel agent is called an “Authorized Disney Vacation Planner.” Using them to book and plan your trip is a great way to save time and stress, and it doesn’t cost you anything! They get their commission from Disney, so the authorized planners won’t charge you for booking the trip or helping to plan. Request a vacation price quote from an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner here.
- A sidewalk that travels past Disney’s BoardWalk Inn (or Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resorts) and the Swan & Dolphin connects Epcot (through the International Gateway) to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Walking between the two parks takes around 30 minutes and can be faster than any other transportation between the two parks.
- Buying pins from Amazon or eBay to trade with Cast Members is the difference between spending ~$1 per pin and $8-10 per pin.
- While planning, request a free vacation planning DVD from Disney. The DVD is a lot of fun and a great way to get hyped for your trip!
- Disney’s Character Warehouse is an outlet carried heavily discounted and discontinued Disney merchandise. They have two locations off property, on I-Drive near Universal Orlando and on Vineland near Downtown Disney. The Vineland location is larger and closer to Walt Disney World.
- Frogg Togg Chilly Pads are a great way to keep cool in the parks. We swear by them. They’re just one of the unorthodox things on our Unique Walt Disney World Packing List post.
- In the parks, Sunshine Seasons and Electric Umbrella at Epcot, Tortuga Tavern and Be Our Guest Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, Backlot Express in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Restaurantosaurus in Disney’s Animal Kingdom all have drink refill stations for free refills.
- The Resort Loop monorail stop order is Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Contemporary Resort, the Transportation and Ticket Center, Disney’s Polynesian Resort, and Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.
- Make an effort to hang around the Magic Kingdom for 30 minutes after it closes (Main Street stores are open an hour after closing). You’ll be rewarded with The Kiss Goodnight.
- Currently, Frozen Ever After in Epcot’s Norway pavilion is the most difficult FastPass+ to score, with some dates ‘selling out’ of these FastPass+ 60 days in advance. (Wait times are regularly above 90 minutes–so be sure to get a FP+ for it!)
- Uber is significantly cheaper and more efficient than taxis. Read our Tips for Using Uber at Walt Disney World post for details.
- Speaking of Uber and Frozen Ever After, if you don’t get a FastPass+, we recommend Ubering to BoardWalk Inn, arriving 45 minutes prior to park opening, entering Epcot via International Gateway–it’s a shorter walk to Norway from that entrance. Gives you an advantage for the rope drop dash!
- For Summer 2016, Animal Kingdom will be open until 11 p.m. nightly. For Fall and Winter 2016, the park should be open until 9 or 10 p.m. nightly–we highly recommend Park Hopping over to Animal Kingdom and experiencing it at night!
- The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World is known as the “Disney Bible” among fans for a reason. Another good nickname for it would be “Disney War & Peace,” because it’s about as long as a Russian novel and will help you avoid the war zones at Walt Disney World to achieve vacation “peace.”
- If you’ve never visited Walt Disney World, you should go in with at least a rough plan of attack. We have 1-Day Itineraries for every park at Walt Disney World. If you don’t read those, prioritize the following as the first attractions to do each morning when you arrive: Toy Story Mania at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Test Track & Soarin’ at Epcot, Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Fantasyland or the “mountain” attractions in the Magic Kingdom.
- Disney Vacation Club members staying at Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort have access to the Top of the World Lounge, which is a great, uncrowded place to watch the fireworks. 360 degree shows (“Fantasy in the Sky” on December 30 and New Year’s Eve, and “Celebrate America” on July 3 and 4) and shows with perimeter bursts look especially good from up there.
- You can experience Turtle Talk with Crush without doing the Nemo dark ride by entering The Seas pavilion through the gift shop at the exit.
- Signature Restaurants are poor uses of Disney Dining Plan credits because it is highly unlikely that your meal at a Signature would cost twice as much as a normal table service restaurant if you paid out of pocket, yet they cost 2 credits as opposed to 1.
- The best viewing place for Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime parade during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is, without question, Main Street USA. It snows on Main Street during the parade, and the Christmas ambiance is best on Main Street.
- Free Wi-Fi internet is now available in the theme parks and resort hotels at Walt Disney World.
- The Electric Water Pagent is a cute little (unpublicized) light parade on Bay Lake outside the Magic Kingdom. It was originally created for the dedication of Disney’s Polynesian Resort in 1971 and was to run one night only. Due to popular demand, it still shows nightly! Approximate show times are: 9 p.m. at Disney’s Polynesian Resort, 9:15 p.m. at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, 9:30 p.m. at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, 9:45 p.m. at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground, and 10 p.m. at Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
- Kimonos at the Swan Hotel is a great place for karaoke, and it also has a solid drink menu.
- Unless you do it in the first 30 minutes the park is open, don’t do standby for Peter Pan’s Flight–use FastPass+. Unless you like torture.
- Get a free caffeine fix at Epcot’s Club Cool, where there are eight flavors of Coke products from around the world. Make sure to try the Beverly. It’s a rite of passage!
- A great selection of CDs featuring Disney theme park music are available in the Emporium on Main Street USA, but some of the best music is available (legally) online.
- The Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover is a great attraction for relaxing, and it rarely has much of a line.
- Due to the monorail stop order, it is fastest to walk to the Magic Kingdom from Disney’s Contemporary Resort, and to take the monorail from the Magic Kingdom to the Contemporary (unless there’s a line).
- Walt Disney World celebrates Christmas in numerous ways, and many believe it’s the “most magical” time of year to visit. We agree.
- If you want to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks from outside the park, the best location is from the Ticket & Transportation Center, to the right of the ferry launch. Disney’s Polynesian Resort is an alternative, but the view isn’t as good.
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Expedition Everest are both much better at night. Here are other Magic Kingdom Attractions that are better at night.
- Family photos taken from the front, dead-center of Cinderella Castle are most popular, but the back of the Castle is arguably prettier and a much more unique location for that family photo.
- Walt Disney World counter service restaurants will give you a free cup of water (ask for a large cup!) or a free cup of hot water.
- The only good “secret” Wishes! fireworks viewing spot is in New Fantasyland. Otherwise, the best spots are all on Main Street USA. Our Best Magic Kingdom Fireworks Viewing Spots post contains a map of the best and worst locations.
- Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe and Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Cafe both have similar toppings bars with items such as pickles, tomatoes, mushrooms, etc., allowing you to pile on the toppings to your food to get more bang for your buck.
- A great (free!) activity during the Christmas season is touring the Deluxe resorts to see their beautiful Christmas decorations and displays. Here’s a plan we’ve devised for taking the tour.
- Grab a snack (mac & cheese from Friar’s Nook) and take it to the second floor balcony at Pinocchio Village Haus for a great and relaxing view of Fantasyland.
- Don’t visit the Magic Kingdom on a Monday. Save it for the middle of the week when crowds are lower.
- The Kitchen Sink at Beaches & Cream is a really fun experience, but not the best-tasting dessert. We still recommend it because your kids will love the “show” when the Kitchen Sink is brought to your table.
- If you want a truly great shared dessert for 4 or more people, try the Baked Alaska at The Boathouse. Huge and delicious!
- Bell Services at Disney hotels will store your luggage, meaning you can enjoy the parks if you arrive too early on check-in day or have a late flight out on check-out day.
- Adults can always order from the kid’s menu, which is a great way to save money while still getting a meal that will satiate smaller/moderate appetites.
- Besides minor decorations in the Magic Kingdom, the only way Walt Disney World “celebrates” Halloween is with the hard ticket Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, which costs $50+/person to attend. It’s worth doing once, but even if you don’t do it, the fall is a great time to visit for light crowds and great weather.
- 50s Prime Time Cafe serves arguably the best milkshakes at Walt Disney World. If you want one, but don’t want a full meal, stop by the Tune In Lounge located in the same building as the restaurant, where you can order just a milk shake. We highly recommend the PB&J milkshake.
- PhotoPass Cast Members will take (free!) photos of you with your camera, so don’t be afraid to ask! Make sure your settings are dialed in before handing them the camera, as they will not typically adjust settings.
- Chances are, it will rain/sprinkle at least once during your trip. Throw-away ponchos at Walt Disney World are almost $10/each. Purchase packs of throw-away ponchos before your trip for ~$1/each.
- World Showcase has some excellent restaurants, but most are table service. The best counter service restaurant in Epcot is Sunshine Seasons in Future World.
- If you’re on the Disney Dining Plan, you can order a regular OR large fountain drink at counter service restaurants. The default is regular, so make sure to specify large if that’s what you want.
- If there are animal lovers in your family, eat at Sanaa and ask for a window view. Not only are the views great, but it’s one of the most underrated restaurants at Walt Disney World.
- Attractions don’t close when the parks close, meaning that you can get in a 90-minute line at 10:59 p.m. when the parks close at 11 p.m. and be in the park well past closing. This is a great way to experience rides with perpetually long lines, like Toy Story Mania or Seven Dwarfs Mine Train without wasting “valuable” time.
- Both monorails from the Magic Kingdom stop at the Ticket & Transportation Center. If that or Epcot is your final destination, take whichever monorail comes first or has a shorter line. Similarly, Disney’s Polynesian Resort is a short walk from the Ticket & Transportation Center (worth keeping in mind if the Resort Loop line is really long).
- If you have growing kids, a great spot for an annual photo is near the Cigar Shop Indian on Main Street USA. He’s a great measuring stick for their growth.
- Hidden Mickey spotting is a fun game for kids. The books/apps have different point levels for the various Mickeys. Offer prizes to add to the fun. If Hidden Mickeys aren’t your thing, bringing along an Imagineering Field Guide and hunting for hidden details is a great way to increase your appreciation for the design of the parks.
- Mizner’s Lounge at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa serves a mean Manhattan, and has a solid selection of good drinks beyond just what’s found on the resort-wide generic drinks menu.
- All of the World Showcase countries have little nooks to explore, but Morocco is one of the best. Head deep into the pavilion to find an authentic shop. Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s fun to peruse.
- If you anticipate “needing” a princess dress or pirate costume while at Walt Disney World, buy it from your local Disney Store or DisneyStore.com in advance during a sale. Much cheaper that way.
- If you plan on eating at Coral Reef in Epcot, book the earliest lunch or dinner reservation possible, show up slightly early to your reservation, and request a tank view for the most spectacular view of the marine life. Your request will usually be accommodated.
- Don’t get duped into buying into Disney Vacation Club by the alluring promotions while at Walt Disney World. Wait until you get home, research the Pros and Cons of Disney Vacation Club, and buy via the resale market if you’re going to buy at all.
- Ask for ketchup at Whispering Canyon Cafe. 😉
- Fantasyland attractions are best experienced first thing in the morning or last thing at night to minimize waits.
- Most of the entertainment that makes up Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (a hard ticket event in November and December costing $50+ per person) is shown during normal park hours and included with normal theme park admission from the week before Christmas until New Year’s…however, you will still “pay” for it in the form of ridiculous crowds and higher nightly room rates.
- The Hollywood Brown Derby serves exceptional mixed drinks. The Cobb Salad is also makes a nice, light meal if you don’t just want a liquid lunch or dinner.
- The bridge connecting Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club to Disney’s BoardWalk Inn is a decent place to watch Illuminations: Reflections of Earth from outside Epcot.
- If you’re staying at a Disney-owned hotel, you can have merchandise you purchase in the park sent to your hotel so you don’t have to carry it around all day.
- Sleepy Hollow in the Magic Kingdom isn’t a “full” counter service restaurant, but their ice cream sandwiches and other snacks, plus views of Cinderella Castle, are to die for.
- When it’s working, Old Faithful erupts on the half hour at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.
- Don’t be afraid of having some fun by decorating your room window in a Disney hotel. Lots of guests do it, and it can be a lot of fun for the kids. Christmas lights, posed stuff animals, and homemade signs are just some of the things you can use to set the “scene.” Don’t be surprised if Mousekeeping has a little “fun” with your set-up, too!
- Shops on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom are open up to an hour after the park closes. Do your shopping once you can’t do rides.
- Florida weather from November through February is unpredictable. Pack everything from shorts to a light jacket unless you’re really confident in the forecast. Here’s a full list of what you should pack for Disney during winter visits.
- Don’t waste Disney Dining Plan snack credits on bottled water or fruit. Get awesome cupcakes instead. This is one way to get the most bang for your buck out of the Disney Dining Plan.
- The most common proposal location at Walt Disney World is right in front of Cinderella Castle. For a slightly more unique twist on the same thing, go to the Wishing Well on the right side of the Castle. Here are 100 other great Disney proposal ideas.
- Request a free wake-up call each morning from Mickey or Stitch on the resort hotel phone. It’s better than a buzzing alarm, and it’s a cool way to wake up (it might even get your kids excited to start the day!).
- If you are visiting when there are two showings of Fantasmic at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, always see the second showing. The line will be much shorter and you’ll get better seats. Same thing goes for the Main Street Electrical Parade in the Magic Kingdom when it has two runnings.
- If you don’t want to wait eons at Enchanted Tales with Belle in the Magic Kingdom’s New Fantasyland, you should get a FastPass+ for it, or do it within the first or last hour the Magic Kingdom is open.
- Yehaa Bob is a great, family-friendly entertainer who performs most nights at River Roost Lounge (which is a bar). Jellyrolls is a fun dueling piano bar (for adults) located on the BoardWalk at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn.
- A few restaurants in Epcot’s World Showcase offer views of Illuminations. La Hacienda has the best view. Make late reservations that are at least 30 minutes before the fireworks, arrive early to them, and request a window table. Inform the server that you’re willing to wait 20 minutes for the window seat. Not only will you have a great view of the show, but your meal will end after the park closes, giving you a tranquil walk out of the park. We call this the IllumiNations Post Show Stroll.
- There are “party line” phones on Main Street and in Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom. Pick them up to listen in on some hilarious conversations. For other Walt Disney World “Easter Eggs” and secrets, read this.
- Country Bear Jamboree, Carousel of Progress, the Enchanted Tiki Room, and the Hall of Presidents are very divisive shows in the Magic Kingdom. All rarely have lines, too. Try them for yourself and form your own opinion rather than skipping them based on someone else’s opinion. At worst, they’re nice chances to relax and recharge in air conditioning.
- Dole Whips have a reputation that precedes them, but the lesser-known Citrus Swirl in the Magic Kingdom is just as delicious.
- Character meet & greet lines are typically shortest in Disney’s Animal Kingdom and typically longest in the Magic Kingdom.
- Disney hotels will hold packages mailed to guests for pickup by the guests. This is a great way to save money on Disney prices (or checked bag fees) by mailing yourself food or supplies you might need on the trip. Some hotels charge a small pickup fee.
- Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom is open for breakfast an hour before the park opens (so is Cinderella’s Royal Table). This is not just a great opportunity for an early breakfast, but also for empty photos of the Magic Kingdom!
- Select attractions have single rider lines that will save you a lot of time if you don’t mind splitting up from your group. The best of these is Test Track, where it’s not uncommon to save an hour or more on the posted standby time.
- Disney Springs is really starting to come into its own, and construction is almost complete! Read our Disney Springs Tips & Tricks that might help make the experience more enjoyable.
- Campfire Sing-Along with Chip & Dale is a (free!) campfire show at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground every night at 7 or 8 p.m., depending upon the season.
- If you give a PhotoPass photographer a (discrete) heads up, they generally can help you capture photos of your proposal.
- Walt Disney World offers numerous tours that range in price from free to super-expensive. A great, inexpensive tour is the Behind the Seeds Tour at Epcot.
- H20 makes the shampoo used at Walt Disney World hotels. You can usually buy larger bottles in the hotel gift shops, although stocking up on the ones MouseKeeping provides is pretty easy if you put it in your luggage each day so they replenish it.
- Instead of spending $10+ on each on-ride photo, get PhotoPass+ for UNLIMITED on-ride photos plus photos from PhotoPass photographers around the parks. Pre-purchase this to save more money.
- If you’re “Drinking Around the World” in Epcot, stop at La Cava del Tequila in Mexico instead of the stand outside. Much higher quality drinks.
- There is a detailed miniature train and village in the Germany pavilion. Special seasonal touches are added to the village during various times of year.
- If the Magic Kingdom is especially busy, take the monorail to Contempo Cafe in Disney’s Contemporary Resort or Captain Cook’s in Disney’s Polynesian Resort or take a boat to Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and visit Roaring Fork for a counter service meal. These are three of the absolute best counter service restaurants in Walt Disney World.
- If you see a tree creepin’ down the walkways at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, stop and watch. It’s actually DiVine, an incredibly talented (and camouflaged) performer. Likewise, if you see a trash can roaming around Tomorrowland, stop and chat with it.
- Arrive to the Magic Kingdom at least 15 minutes before it officially opens (as you should) and you will be rewarded with the Train Station Welcome Show. Perfect way to start a day.
- Chewing gum is not sold anywhere on Walt Disney World property. Plan accordingly.
- There are literally thousands of things to do at Walt Disney World, many of which are quite known and popular, some of which are relatively unknown. Read as much as you can when planning your trip–you can never know too much about Walt Disney World, but you can definitely know too little.
Want personalized help from someone who has a myriad of their own Walt Disney World tips? We recommend contacting a no fee “Authorized Disney Vacation Planner” (Disney’s term for a travel agent) to get a quote and to help you plan. They get their commission from Disney, so none of the authorized (key word) planners will charge you for booking their trip and helping. Here’s one such recommended Authorized Disney Vacation Planner.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help.
For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
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