Planning a trip to Disney World is one of the most exciting and stressful events in a parent’s life. Your whole family is thrilled about seeing Mickey and Co, but the bulk of planning naturally falls on one person (often Mom).
You probably have so many questions about where to stay, how to make your park days run more smoothly, where and what to eat, and how to save money. I’m here for you! As a Florida resident, we make fairly frequent trips to Disney, and as a freelance writer and travel blogger, I get to make all kinds of little extra trips to the parks. Sometimes they include my family, sometimes they don’t.
Regardless, I’ve picked up so many little tips and tricks for making your Disney trip easier, cheaper, and more magical, and I wanted to share them with you! Enjoy!
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means if I receive a small commission on items purchased through my link at no extra cost to you.
50 DISNEY WORLD HACKS TO MAKE YOUR TRIP EASIER, CHEAPER, AND MORE MAGICAL
BEFORE YOU LEAVE FOR DISNEY WORLD
1. Buy Disney gift cards at Target. Because they’re considered entertainment cards instead of gift cards, you can use your Red Card to buy them and get 5% off. You can use the gift cards for everything from paying for your tickets to buying food and souvenirs in the parks. It’s a significant savings if you’re buying enough to cover your whole vacation. In addition, it really helps you stick to an actual budget while you’re there instead of just constantly swiping your credit card and dealing with the damage when you return.
2. Buy separate gift cards for kids. You can actually combine all of your Disney gift cards, but if you’re letting your kids buy souvenirs, get each of them their own Disney gift card to spend. Tell them how much they have and remind them to use it wisely because when it’s gone, it’s gone!
3. Before you book your vacation, check a crowd calendar. Sometimes you have no choice about when your vacation has to be due to school breaks or activity schedules or jobs. If you do have some wiggle room, though, make sure to check a Disney crowd calendar (try the one on Disney Tourist Blog) to get an idea of what the parks will be like when you visit, and pick a week with lower crowds. Speaking from experience, crowd levels can make the difference between a magical vacation and a stressful and overwhelming week of waiting in ridiculously long lines.
As a general rule, avoid holiday weeks, especially Christmas and Easter, two of the busiest times at Disney World. If your only option is to go during a busy week, consider checking out the Disney VIP Tour to help maximize your time at the park.
4. Break up your Disney Vacation with a day trip. If you’re staying for a week, but only have tickets for 5 days, then instead of hanging at the hotel and pool on your day off, try taking a drive to see more of Florida. There are so many cool places within a short drive of the Disney Parks, and it will be nice to escape the crowds, noise, and lines so you’re refreshed for the second half of your visit. I have 13 easy day trip ideas for you to check out!
5. Avoid parks with Extra Magic Hours. When you’re planning which parks you’ll visit on each day of your vacation, double check to make sure that park doesn’t have Extra Magic Hours on the day you’re planning to be there. Unless you’re actually staying in a Disney Resort and participating in the Extra Magic Hours, try to avoid the parks that are scheduled for them that day. Crowds tend to be heavier.
6. Book your FastPasses close together in the morning. Did you know you can make your FastPass+ selections 30 days before your trip? If you’re staying at a Disney Resort you can select them 60 days in advance. You get to select 3 FastPasses, and my best tip is to book them fairly close together in the morning or early afternoon. They will give you an hour time span during which you’ll have to show up at the ride, and they won’t let you overlap times.
The reason you want to book them close together is that once you use up all 3 of your FastPasses, you can save another one for later that day. You can do this either on the My Disney Experience app or at a FastPass+ Kiosk in the parks.
7. Consider visiting the parks during a festival. Celebrations like Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival, Epcot International Festival of the Arts, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, and Epcot Food and Wine Festival are all chances to celebrate the season and get a little extra magic out of your trip.
8. Research photo spots ahead of time. Naturally, you’ll be doing plenty of research on which rides and attractions to visit, where you’ll be eating, and which characters your family wants to meet. Might I suggest adding one more thing to your plate? Do some Instagram and Pinterest scrolling to find some great photo spots and backgrounds. I ALWAYS find that once I’m inside the park it feels like too much of a hassle to stop and figure something out, or even stop and take a picture, unless I’ve planned it out ahead of time.
Want a Purple Wall photo? Great! Figure out where it is and schedule it into your day. Want a family photo in front of the castle? Do some research to find where the best spot to stand is. Want to share your favorite Instagrammable snacks? Follow some Disney food accounts for inspiration, then plan those restaurants or snack kiosks into your trip.
For my most recent visit, my sisters and I took screenshots of all the food and photo spots we wanted to experience, then posted them to a shared photo album. We then took the time to look on a map of Disney World and circle the spots where we wanted to stop.
This may seem silly now when you’re planning out the logistics of your trip, but I’m going to make an emotional plea here. You do NOT want to get home from your trip that you spent hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars on, and find that the only tangible memories you have are some shaky videos on your phone. Get the nice family pictures. Get the silly shot in front of a colorful wall. You will not regret having these memories to frame.
9. Borrow Disney Movies from the library before you go. I realized that my kids are much to young to know classics like Peter Pan, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid, so I had to go out of my way to introduce them and get them excited about the characters we’d be seeing on our trip. We love borrowing Disney DVDs from the library for this purpose. You can also check Amazon Prime Video (free 30 day trial if you don’t already have it), and maybe even download some for your travel days.
WHAT TO BRING TO DISNEY WORLD
10. Bring a phone charger with you. I don’t know what it is about being in the Disney Parks (the constant photo and video taking? The incessant checking of the My Disney Experience app? The mindless scrolling while you’re bored in line?) but you seem to run low on battery about twice as fast as you normally do. My best advice is to bring a portable charger, or at the very least a regular charger.
There are phone charging kiosks around the parks if you’re willing to hang out in the AC for a little bit while your phone charges, or leave it at Guest Relations while it charges and you go ride some rides. If you want to avoid the hassle, though, your best bet is to use a portable charger.
11. Bring rain gear. If you’re like me and shudder at the thought of rain ponchos, just grab a lightweight waterproof jacket in case of rainy weather (especially if you’re going in summer). If you don’t mind wearing a poncho, pack one ahead of time. You can buy them in the parks, too, but I’ve heard they’re around $10.
I personally don’t think you need an umbrella. You’ll have a hard time maneuvering through the crowds with it and you’ll all end up getting wet anyway when you have to stow it. You’ll be fine with a jacket or poncho with a hood. Or just go inside to wait out the rain! Florida rain storms typically don’t last too long.
12. Purchase an autograph book ahead of time. Save money by ordering a Disney autograph book from Amazon instead of buying a more expensive one in the park. There will be tons of moments where you stumble upon character meet-and-greet opportunities you didn’t expect, and your kids will be glad to have a book to commemorate it! Bring a Sharpie instead of a pen since it’s easier for the characters to hold.
13. Use a Polaroid or instant camera. One of the most exciting parts of our most recent trip was letting my daughter use her aunt’s Instax camera to take and immediately print photos of the character meet-and-greets. My other sister thought ahead of time to bring double sided tape to we could stick the pictures in the autograph book next to that character’s autograph right away.
14. Download and print a pdf map of the parks before you go. Yes, I know you can get the map on your My Disney Experience app. But what if your phone is running out of battery? What if the connection is slow and the map is not popping up? Also, sometimes it’s just easier to navigate with a paper map. We also wrote down our FP+ times, our top rides, and a flexible plan to follow for the day on our map. We didn’t use it the entire time, but there were a few times it was handy to have.
15. Stock up on stroller accessories before you go. If you have younger kids, you should definitely bring a stroller to the parks. This will basically be your home base for the trip, and you’ll need to access things quickly. For that reason, I would highly recommend ordering a few extra cupholders to stick on your stroller to hold water bottles, a hook to hold a bag or popcorn bucket, a rain cover, and a stroller caddy to help hold your phone, map, snacks, chapstick, or sunscreen.
16. Bring a bright towel. Speaking of strollers, one Disney hack a friend shared with me was to bring a bright towel and drape it over the top of your stroller. This serves 2 purposes: 1) you’ll be able to find your stroller quickly in the stroller parking areas, and 2) you’ll be able to dry off quickly after Splash Mountain (or any attractions that get you wet).
17. Bring a tiny backpack for young kids. They don’t have to carry it all day, just when you’re heading into a longer line. You can keep a small snack bag, an autograph book and pen, and something to do while they wait in line. It will be very lightweight, and nice for them to learn to be responsible for their own things. Just help them remember to grab it after the ride is done!
18. A sticker book makes the perfect distraction in line. If your kids are anything like mine, they go nuts for anything with stickers. My mom found small, lightweight sticker books for the kids to use in line, and it was a huge hit!
19. Bring a backpack AND a crossbody bag. I keep things like diapers, wipes, sunscreen, hats, and snacks in the backpack. That stays on the stroller. Then I bring my crossbody bag with me on rides with my camera and phone since I wouldn’t leave those things unattended.
20. Bring noise-canceling headphones. My 3-year-old is a bit more sensitive to noise and crowds, so next time we go we’re going to try this suggested hack from a friend with a fellow sensitive child. He loves watching the fireworks on video, but the noise in person really sends him into a meltdown. Noise canceling headphones can help kids, even if they’re not super sensitive, whenever they are feeling overwhelmed by the noise at the park, whether that’s on a ride, in a show, walking around, or during fireworks.
21. Pack snacks. I make 2 snack mixes for the kids (who are we kidding…for me too) for each day we’ll be at the parks. One is a salty snack mix (Goldfish, pretzels, crackers), and the other is sweet (candy, dry cereal, Teddy Grahams). Then I pack fruit and sandwiches in a small soft-sided cooler. Finally, I make sure to bring Isagenix shake packets, bars, and Hydrate mix so we have something healthy and nutritious to keep us fueled through our day.
HACKS FOR EATING AT DISNEY WORLD
22. Buy the souvenir popcorn buckets. It’s only $2 to refill them each time, and they are the perfect snack for waiting in line, waiting for a parade to start, or for the kids to munch on in the stroller while you’re walking.
23. Bring an insulated water bottle and never pay for water. Any restaurant in the park that serves fountain drinks will give you a cup of free ice water (or just water) if you ask. Use it to fill up your water bottle which will keep it cold for a long time.
24. If you’re in Epcot, stop at Club Cool by Innoventions. You’ll be able to drink tons of free samples of soda from all around the world. It will keep you nice and cool while also keeping your children occupied for as long as you’ll let them gulp down sugary beverages.
25. Snack your way through. My favorite way to do Disney World is to eat breakfast before arriving, snack my way through the park, then do a sit down lunch or dinner. You might consider having lunch be your sit down meal since it will get you out of the heat and be cheaper than dinner. You can snack on the food you brought with you into the park, but also try some of the fun and very Instagrammable treats Disney sells. Everything tastes better when it’s Mickey-shaped!
26. Don’t be afraid to split meals. Serving sizes are very large, and food can really add up. Try splitting a meal with someone else in your family. With all the snacking you’re doing throughout the day, half a meal will probably be more than enough to satiate you.
27. Order a kid’s meal. I discovered this little trick because I wasn’t sure what my picky kids would actually eat, so I just ordered a different kind of a kid’s meal. If they didn’t like theirs, I knew I could switch with them. I could not bear to see money go down the drain if they just didn’t eat at all. (The time to discipline your kids about eating the food that’s in front of them is not at Disney.) Anyway, I discovered that portion sizes are smaller and they’re cheaper, which was perfect for me.
28. If you’re going to do a character meal, make it breakfast. Breakfast is typically cheaper than the other meals, and it makes such a magical start to your day. You can even get into the parks earlier than they open if your reservation is early enough.
29. Try the “Bridge and Bakery” strategy for watching the fireworks at Epcot. This strategy was invented by my parents when we were kids, and I absolutely love it. Claim a spot on the bridge from England to France about 45 minutes to a half hour before fireworks start. Send someone in your party to the bakery in France and STOCK UP on pastries to enjoy while you wait for the fireworks.
TIPS FOR STAYING AT DISNEY
30. Stay at a Disney Resort. You’ll get all the benefits of free transportation, Extra Magic Hours, proximity to the parks, free Magic Bands, the Disney Dining Plan, and you can have packages delivered to your room. Don’t forget that the magic will continue during your stay! Some of the Value Resorts are incredibly inexpensive, but still offer all the perks. We loved the All Star Sports Resort and Pop Century Resort as kids. (By the way, if you’re a Florida resident like me, you can often get a discount when booking your stay).
31. …or stay at an Airbnb nearby. My family has done both, and there are pros and cons to each. Pro to staying at an Airbnb? Free parking, a kitchen for cooking your own meals, separate bedrooms for the kids, and just generally more space to spread our and relax. The only con (in my opinion) is that it’s a farther drive to get to the parks, and you’ll end up paying to park at Disney World anyway. (Use my link to get $40 off your stay).
32. Have your groceries delivered. If you’re flying into Orlando, the last thing you want to do is find a grocery story to stock up on food when you just want to get the magic started. Order your groceries online and have them delivered to your hotel or Airbnb. Try Amazon Prime Now (2 hour delivery and available to all Amazon Prime members), AmazonFresh grocery delivery service (add-on to Amazon Prime members for $14.99/month…but you can get a 1-month free trial), or services like Instacart or Shipt.
Related: Disney Swan and Dolphin Hotel Review
HACKS FOR INSIDE THE DISNEY WORLD PARKS
33. Go left! I learned this trick from our Disney VIP Tour. Our plaid, Michael, suggested that most people naturally go right when they enter the park. Try going left and moving counter-clockwise. Another tip would be to start in the back of the park (since most people head to the first ride they come across) and work your way, again, counter-clockwise.
34. Alternate indoor and outdoor attractions. This is another tip from the VIP tour. Central Florida gets VERY warm, especially during the summer months. A good way to avoid getting overheated is to alternate indoor and outdoor attractions so you and your kids aren’t in the sun for too long. Try an outdoor ride like Flying Carpets, then an indoor ride like Pirates of the Caribbean to cool off.
35. Download the My Disney Experience app. You’ll be able to check wait times, consult a map, find restrooms, restaurants, and shops, get FastPasses, make dining reservations, preorder meals (what?1?! Amazing.), and view and purchase your PhotoPass pictures. In short, it’s your entire Disney experience in the palm of your hand.
36. Celebrate with a button! Are you celebrating a birthday? Honeymoon? Anniversary? Graduation? Any special occasion? Make sure to stop by Guest Services in each park for a free button to wear during your visit. You’ll get extra little shoutouts from cast members!
37. Save your spot for a parade at least 30 minutes in advance. I know it feels like you’re wasting precious Disney time, but trust me. You’re going to want a great spot along the curb for watching these parades. And this is coming from someone who usually HATES parades. Disney just does it right! Anyway, this is a great time to rest, reapply sunscreen, drink water, take turns using the restroom, and grab a snack.
38. Wear layers. During winter, spring, and fall in Florida, most days start out pretty chilly (in the 50s or low 60s) then work their way up to upper 70s and 80s (which doesn’t sound that hot, but in the Central Florida sun it can feel suffocating). Dress in layers you can peel off as the day gets warmer. You’ll also want moisture-wicking fabric underneath your clothes to keep your body temperature a bit cooler (I love wearing a moisture-wicking tank tops or spandex under a dress or skirt).
Read more about what to wear for Disney World when it’s hot out!
39. Buy souvenirs at the outlets. Skip the hefty souvenir prices inside the parks and head to Disney Character Warehouse at Orlando Premium Outlets or at the International Drive Outlets. Much cheaper!
40. At Hollywood Studios: When doing the Toy Story Mania (the ride where you shoot at targets), aim for the bottom corners to maximize your score. This is another tip I picked up from our VIP tour. The bottom corners are usually where the high-point items are. Read what to do at Disney’s Hollywood Studios with little kids here!
41. At Epcot: Do the Frozen ride right away in the morning or choose it as one of your FastPass+ options. The wait time for this ride can be quite long, but it’s totally worth it to do if your likes like Frozen. (Heck, I even love the ride). The World Showcase doesn’t open until 11 a.m., but the Frozen ride (located in Norway) opens at 9 with the rest of the park. If you don’t want to rope drop the ride, make sure to secure it as one of your FastPasses!
42. Head to Disney Boardwalk for a break from the action. If you’re overwhelmed by the crowds and noise, try walking over to Disney Boardwalk from Epcot or Hollywood Studios. It’s kind of a hidden gem with restaurants, entertainment, arcades, and a great view. Get a milkshake at Beaches & Cream!
43. Ask cast members to take pictures of you with your own camera. On one of the occasions our whole family was at Disney together, we found a relatively open spot with Cinderella’s castle in the background. It wasn’t busy, and we wouldn’t be interrupting the flow of foot traffic, so I decided it would be an awesome spot to get a family picture. I normally don’t trust people to get a great shot with my DSLR since it can be tough to figure out since I use the viewfinder (not the display screen on the back) and I have a fixed lens (it doesn’t zoom in or out). I was going to settle for an iPhone photo by a fellow mom passing by.
Luckily, a Disney cast member taking photos for Photo Pass was hanging out nearby and offered to take the picture for us with my DSLR. She took a TON, giving us lots of options to choose from. To this day they’re some of my favorite shots.
Anyway, my point is, you don’t have to pay for photo pass. You can hand your camera to a cast member and ask them to take pictures for you with a character, in front of the castle, etc.
44. Use the Baby Care Center. Each of the parks has a Baby Care Center where you can breastfeed, pump, mix formula together, prepare baby food, change diapers, or take your toddler to the bathroom in peace. It’s a great quiet spot to regroup if you have little ones.
45. Download the Disney Play app. It’s an interactive app that finds where you are in the park and brings you trivia questions and games to help make waiting in line a little easier. This was a big hit with my 5-year-old!
46. Take advantage of single rider lines. If you’re traveling with young children, you might be tempted to skip the roller coasters altogether. But if you love thrill rides, check to see if there is a single rider line you can use. They go a lot faster than the regular queue and will allow at least one parent at a time to enjoy the fun rides! Expedition Everest, Rockin’ Roller Coaster, and Test Track all have single rider lines. Note: if there are 2 or 3 of you who want to ride, you can all get in the single rider line. Just know that you will be separated when you get on the ride!
47. Try the Rider Switch Service. This is great for parents traveling with little kids. Speak with a cast member if your kids are not tall enough to go on a ride but you still want to do it. They will show you where to wait while Party #1 goes on the ride. When Party #1 returns, the other adult (who can bring up to 2 more people along) can skip the line and go right on the ride (wait for the cast member’s instructions).
48. Have a plan, but be flexible. If you don’t know which rides and attractions are a priority to your group, you’ll end up waiting in long lines and feeling really frustrated all day. Take the time to plan and map our your ideal day, including when and where your FastPass+ selections are.
BUT, I guarantee the day will not go according to plan. Rides will be under repair, rain or lightning might ruin your plans, someone will feel sick or get overheated, your shoes might be uncomfortable, or kids will have a meltdown. Be flexible, and go with the flow. If someone needs to sit down and rest, let them. Missing one ride won’t ruin your trip, but miserable kids will.
Remember the point of the trip is to have fun spending time together, so figure out how to save the magic as best you can!
49. Watch the fireworks from alternate spots to avoid the crowds. By the end of the day, you may just be really sick of being in a large crowd. You don’t have to sit by everyone else in order to enjoy the fireworks! Consider viewing the fireworks from behind the castle or on a ride at Magic Kingdom. View the Epcot show from Disney Boardwalk. Try the Transportation Center outside of Magic Kingdom so you can still see and hear the show, but you’ll be the first to board the ferry or tram. If you’re staying at a Disney Resort, put the kids to bed and watch from your hotel balcony.
50. Embrace the magic. I know lots of grown-ups groan or roll their eyes at the thought of doing a Disney trip. It’s “so touristy” or “too expensive” or “not REAL travel.” There’s probably some element of truth to all three of those claims.
But Disney does a lot of things REALLY well. Almost every worker (cast member) I’ve encountered has been incredibly kind, thoughtful, and even downright cheerful. You don’t get that a lot when you travel. The parks and hotels are super clean. The rides are safe and enjoyable for all ages. There is a touch of whimsy and magic to every element of the experience. It makes people so HAPPY. Kids especially.
If you’re going to do Disney, you have to go in with the right attitude. You have to embrace the magic, or you will end up crabby and whining about the crowds, the lines, your tired feet, the weather, etc. Enjoy Disney World for what it is, and I guarantee no matter what goes wrong on your trip, you’ll still have fond family memories.