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My husband and I are SERIOUS Disney World lovers. We are even annual passholders and are leaving in 18 days for our 4th trip this year. The other day we were watching a Disney Splurge show and they were talking about how you can pay a tour guide to basically plan every minute of your trip. Of course it costs over $100.00 an hour with a MINIMUM of 6 hours.I was like… HOLY SMOKES! We could totally do that and not charge! That’s insane!! But I know the need is there. We’ve helped at least 4 of our friends plan their trips from start to finish. So I thought I’d add in some tips each Tuesday to help you plan YOUR next trip to Disney.

So I’ll start off today giving you my TOP 10 TIPS for planning any trip to Disney World. Next week I’ll do tips for Dining, ok?!

10. NEVER GO INTO DISNEY WORLD “COLD” Make SURE you do some planning ahead of time. Check websites that will give you tips like mousesavers.com ,or wdwinfo.com for information about planning. There are about a million more, but those are two of my favorites. They’ll tell you about saving money (which I’ll talk about here) and tell you which rides are down (for example Pirates will be down during our next trip.)

9. Check out SpiritAir.com !!! Spirit air has the most amazing flight deals if you can grab them. Last week it was running $19.00 each way per person!! That’s some cheap flights baby!(esp with gas so high!!) Now there is even more advantage to using Spirit Air, they fly into MCO (Orlando International) which means that you can use Disney’s Magical Express. Magical Express is a FREE transport service if you’re staying on Disney property. You check your bags in at the airport when you board your first plane and then they FABULOUSLY appear in your room later on that night. Make SURE you pack everything you’re going to need once you’re in the park for the first day in a carry-on bag b/c you may not get your bags till around 9-ish. *I’ll remind you of this when I do packing tips.

8. Consider Vacation Rentals By Owner instead of a hotel room if not staying on-property. Ok, hotel rooms are SMALL. They are too crowded for a family of four, much less MORE than four (which some of my readers have FAR more than). Most Disney “value” rooms will not allow you to have more than 4 in a room, so if you’re a 5+ family you will get out with more room and cheaper if you rent a house (most have their own pool!!!)
~You can go all the way from an 8 bedroom house with a pool and a game room 2 miles from Disney for 3,200/week. It would be a little over $3,000 for a 1 bedroom with NO kitchen, no private pool, and 7 less ROOMS at Disney Yacht Club. So if your family is large and you take like grandparents or something you can get out a LOT cheaper with much more space on lodging.

~For just your family (3BR, 2 BA) look into a house in Kissimmee (CLOSE to DISNEY!!). They range from $500-900 a week. If you’re a 5+ family the ONLY value resort you can stay in All-Star Music in a family suite (all the others you exceed limits). It would be over $1,000 for a week for that one TINY room (think normal size hotel room). So if you’re driving and you’re a 5+ family I’d look at VRBO.com and see how close you can get to Disney. Check Kissimmee & Lake Buena Vista for closest.

7. Book your dining reservations WELL in advance! People usually wait WAY too late to book their dining reservations and then they can’t get the meals the want! You can book your dining reservations 180 days in advance of your trip. If you decide you want to switch it around its no biggie you can cancel and add at will. Check out allears.com for EVERY restaurant in Disney World’s Menu WITH PRICE! This way you can see if you’re going to want to EAT anything at the restaurant. Totally worth it. I personally think you should know where you’re going to eat for every meal, even if you plan on eating back at the hotel room. I’ll give you LOTS more tips on dining too!

6. Decide with your family what rides they want to watch BEFORE you get to Disney World and plan your day off of that. There are so many rides at Disney it will pay dividends to know what people really want to do! Esp if you have some thrill seekers in your bunch. You can look at these MAPS and see what catches your eye. Then WRITE IT DOWN. You can even get customized maps made of just the attractions you want to see at this link.

I’ll teach you all about how to plan your traffic flow without turning into the Disney Trip Nazi! This link will tell you what time the parades and fireworks are which you need to schedule around. It also tells you which parks have extra magic hours (only available to you if staying on-property). There are also a lot of really AWESOME other things that go on in the park on a schedule you don’t want to miss, I’ll tell you about some of those in another post. Either way, never just show up to a park and “hope” you’ll get it all in. Make a plan, follow it.

5. Make your OWN autograph book. Characters get plenty of action signing autographs. And then if you’ve bought an autograph book you end up thinking “how am I going to display this stuff in the scrapbook later on?” So, what I suggest is buying an 8×8 scrapbook and pre-decorating the pages. Leave a space for your picture with that particular character on the page then prepare an area for the character to sign. Then when you get home all you have to do is paste the picture on the page and you’re all done. 🙂 It will also help you keep track of WHICH characters you really want to see (ie you want to see enough to stand in line for. Always prepare a few pages that are sort of blank for characters you’ve not thought of. 🙂 I LOVE our signature book, we just add to it ever trip when we find new characters and don’t spend tons of time getting autographs on characters we already have. Just get new pictures every once in a while. 🙂
4. Use Character Dining to your advantage. I know that a lot of people just LOVE standing in line in the extreme heat to let their child get Mickey sign their book, but I think that’s slap crazy! There are these BEAUTIFUL thing called CHARACTER MEALS. Now if you’re using the Disney Dining plan (which I advise if you’re staying on property, it can save you bout 30% in dining) then you get a sit-down meal every single day. I’d use Character Meals for this as much as you can to see characters you know you want to see. For example: Do Chef Mickey for breakfast FIRST DAY and you (the Fab 5) get signatures/pictures with Mickey, Minnie, Donald Duck, Goofy & Pluto all in one sit down meal. With no standing in the sun and then when you see these characters later on you just smile, wave and KEEP WALKING baby! NEED to see Lilo and Stitch? Well then hit O’Hana. What about the Princesses? Akershus Royal Blanket gives you the MOST princess for your buck. Believe me, you do NOT want to stand at Mickey’s Toontown Tent to get those signatures, takes FOREVER!

****I know all you mommies are INSANE and desperate to get that baby-girl into Cinderella’s Royal Table in the castle but it books up FAST. Also its important to note that you don’t mingle with the PRINCESSES at DINNER. Instead you get the fairy godmother and the two female mice. You only see Cindy when you come in and get your pic made with her, so DON’T be miffed…. I told you! The princesses are only there for b’fast and lunch. If the GOAL is to see as many princesses as possible hit Akerhaus. If you NEED Cinderella (which you’ll most likely see at Akerhaus as well) then do 1900 park fare for dinner where you’ll meet Cinderella, prince charming, the two stepsisters & the “evil” stepmother (all of who are really nice). Here’s a pic of Papa (husband) & Anastasia (one of the stepsisters). They were SO much fun btw.

3. Plan to get to the park AT PARK OPENING. Come on people, you’re at Disney World. GET UP AND GET GOING! Most people don’t realize that fast-passes for the top rides (ie: Soarin‘, Expedition Everest) can run OUT of fast-passes! Sometimes they’re gone by about 11. I mean gone for the WHOLE DAY. So if you get there at park opening you have a good shot of not only having MUCH shorter wait times but being able to get fast-passes for some of the top rides. Always ride the MOST POPULAR rides FIRST THING IN THE AM:

~*~ At Magic Kingdom this is: Dumbo (which does not have a fast pass), Peter Pan, Space Mountain (which is about to be closed down for a complete referb), Splash Mountain & Big Thunder Mountain.

~*~ At Epcot this is: Soarin‘, Test Track, Mission Space

~*~ At Hollywood Studios (former MGM) this is: the new TOY STORY RIDE (just opened this week and will be extremely popular so go there FIRST)grab a fast pass for Tower of Terror and/or Rockin’ Roller coaster on your way.

~*~At Animal Kingdom its Expedition Everest, the Safari, Dinosaur & Kali River Rapids.

Do not underestimate the popularity of these rides!!! There will be a time listed on your fast pass (see the picture next to this one) that you should return. But also read where it says “another fastpass ticket will be available after 11:35”. All the new fastpass distribution things print this. So you’ll know when you can get another one, but its usually a while after. You can’t have two active fast passes at one time.

 
If you TRY to do another fastpass and you’ve still got one active it will look like this:
 
 
 
 
 
Every single person who is planning on riding the ride MUST have their own fast pass.
 
I’ll say more about riders-swap later, but you can also get rider swap you can also see a cast member and get a riders swap ticket for when one of your kids is too small (or too scared) to ride a ride and someone must be with them but you BOTH want to ride. Just cause you have ovaries doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get to enjoy yourself at Disney!
2. Plan to take a BREAK Mid-day. Ok, do NOT argue with me about this, I mean it! It is better to do LESS and not have people wanting to kill one another than it is to hit every single thing at Disney World and find yourself screaming “I PAID TOO MUCH MONEY FOR YOU TO ACT THIS WAY!!!” around 4pm. Since you’re going to be getting their early (b/c you listened to my earlier tip), the best thing to do is to go back to your resort/house around lunch or soon after. For the next 2-3 hours (aka the HEAT OF THE DAY) you need to go back and rest. Tell the kids they dont have to sleep, but they do have to lay down and watch tv for at least 45 minutes or so, then they can go for a swim. This is NOT optional. I don’t care if your kids NEVER take naps. They should at Disney. Around 4-5 go back into the park. Since you will have (hopefully) taken a nap you’ll be able to make it to fireworks and still be able to get up early in the morning.1. Bring TINKERBELLE with you. People drop some SERIOUS money on souvenirs at Disney World. Whatever you normally pay outside the park is doubled inside. So to cut down on extreme kiddo melt-down/demands for toys, hats, etc BUY THEM BEFORE YOU GO!!! Each night our children behave in the park Tinkerbelle with all her fairy dust (glitter) leaves a treat for them when they wake up. We find deals like bouncy balls, hats, princess dresses & wands, stuffed animals, etc on ebay or at our local Walgreens or Wal*Mart (sometimes target) and store them for the trip. Then Tinkerbelle leaves them after the kids go to bed. When the kids don’t behave they don’t get a treat from Tink. We’ve even had Tink write BEHAVE or MIND in the glitter. Helps control insanity. Also buying things like glow-sticks after Halloween for about 50-cents (which go for like $7-10 at night in the parks and your kids will SCREAM to have them) can save you quite a bit. If there’s something that you can tell that they really want and you’ve never seen it before its a great idea to have your hubby go buy it without you and the kids being there then hide it. We found this hat for Logan we’d never seen and he was SO EXCITED when tink brought it to him.

Ok, well there’s my top 10. I had to RESTRAIN myself from writing much much MORE!

Looking forward to writing in the future. Stay tuned!!

Kristin is the founder and co-director of Tips from the Disney Diva & Devos. She started writing the blog when she realized there were many people going to Disney World and having a miserable time, and it was all from a lack of planning. She knew that she could help and has assembled the finest writing team she can find !