5 Things to Know Before You Go to Disney World


Our kids’ big gift this year was a surprise trip to Disney World between Christmas and New Years. Now, we knew it would be crowded. We knew there would be lines. But coming from California and having spent a lot of time at Disneyland and CA Adventure, we thought the sheer amount of parks and dispersion of the crowds would make the Disney World lines somehow more manageable.

The first picture is the box they opened on Christmas morning telling them they were going to Disney World! I had helium balloons in the box and they floated up with a note attached. They were SUPER excited. Less stuff, more trips, YES! <3

The wait times were tremendous – many of them 120 minutes long. But with a fast pass, you basically walk right on. The fast pass situation is totally different in Florida versus California and though you can book dining and attractions up to 60 days in advance of your trip, many of the attractions were ‘sold out’ until late at night (think 11:30pm for the Jungle Cruise), which wasn’t doable every day for us with the ages of our kids. Luckily, we had six days there to sort of figure it out, but even with all of my advance planning and reservation making, here are five things I wish I would have known before we got there:

  1. Get to the parks before they open. Waking up early is so not what I like to do on vacation. But you are not here to sleep, you are here to do Disney World right, and with as little hassle as possible. So take this as the number one tip I can possibly give you — be the first in line, and get on all of the rides that you didn’t get fast passes for before the lines get long. The parks often open before they are scheduled to. The first day we went to Magic Kingdom without a guide and got there at 11am, we spent four hours between getting into the park and waiting in lines and got on just two rides, which is when I threw a Hail Mary email and found a guide (info below). Just bite the bullet and get there when the park opens. You’ll get on the most rides between 9am and 10:30am, and have your first pass pass set up for 10:30am or so. As soon as you use a fast pass, book your next one because you can have three at a time on the app. You can also switch up your group and have two set for one ride and three for another, and potentially ride switch if you have a little one who isn’t big enough to ride.

  2. You do need reservations for lunch. When we’d go to the park in CA, we’d always book a nice dinner and just grab something quick for lunch at one of the park fast food options. The lines were so long at Magic Kingdom (Florida) for any real food, we ended up grabbing giant cupcakes and treats to hold us over, then took the bus back to our hotel and ordered room service.

    • On the Disney World App you can order food from their faster restaurants in advance. I wish I would have done that the day we didn’t have our guide, but on the other hand, I did get to eat a giant cupcake for lunch.

  3. A tour guide is worth every penny. We used a private tour guide for two days (for two parks) after our overwhelming Magic Kingdom experience. We maximized our time, didn’t wait in hardly any lines, and she knew how to navigate the crowds and easily maximize and finagle the restaurant and fast pass reservations. We were done by 3pm both days (including sit down lunches), got on all the rides we wanted to go on (during their busiest season) and still had time to go back to the hotel to let the kids swim and get ready for the nice dinners we like to do in the evenings. It took the stress and fatigue out of the equation and had we just booked a guide in the beginning, we wouldn’t have needed two days in Magic Kingdom.

    • Our guide was great with kids and once Shepherd was comfortable with her, she watched him for us while we went on a few of the rides he’s not big enough for. This was so helpful, I can’t even tell you, because our old way was that one of us had to miss out or ride switch. She was like a nanny, concierge and tour guide all in one. She even offered to push the stroller. I meannnnn.

    • Private Tour guide means they’re not affiliated with Disney. They run about $1200 for the day, which is thousands less than the Disney Tours. We used World Class VIP.

  4. You should give yourself at least five full days. And a bonus day if you want to spend time at Disney Springs (the shopping and restaurant mecca), chill at your hotel pool for a day, etc. Even with a tour guide, you’ll need about seven hours per park and there are so many parks:

    • Magic Kingdom (you’ll need 1 day with a guide, 2 days without)

    • Epcot

    • Hollywood Disney

    • Animal Kingdom (we skipped Animal Kingdom so I can’t speak to that, but the wait times for the Avitar ride in this park were showing 4 hours on the Wait Times App)

    • Water Parks: Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach

  5. You don’t need park hopper passes. We didn’t spend the extra money for park hoppers and I’m glad we didn’t. It’s not like CA, where you walk in between the parks. You have to travel by monorail, boat, bus or taxi and many of the parks are 20 or more minutes apart, not including the lines for security. I would recommend staying in one park per day, and trying to get your dinner reservation in that park as well. By the time we booked our trip, many of the nicer restaurants were already reserved, so I booked whatever I could get, not realizing it wasn’t practical for us to jump from one park or area of DW to another.

    • On the days we had our guide is was totally manageable to have dinner outside of the park because we wrapped late afternoon.

  6. This is a bonus one, but I think it’s so important to make reservations for everything, knowing you can always cancel within 24 hours. We realized there isn’t really a last minute if you want to say, eat at Belle’s Castle because things really do book up quickly. Had we known in advance we were going to use a private tour, I would have had them help make dining reservations for things that were already sold out, cause yup, they’re magic.

Here are some of our favorite memories and recommendations

  • Disney Springs for shopping and dining. We almost didn’t go because it wasn’t as convenient as Downtown Disney in CA. But it’s amazing, bigger and better than Downtown Disney. This is where the best restaurants are. We ate at STK outside on their patio and it was amazing.

  • They sell really great champagne in Epcot. In fact, we had Dom Perignon on New Year’s Eve in plastic champagne flutes. In Paris. I’ll never forget that.

  • Character Lunch. We’re not usually into these, (in fact, our guide booked this for us and we wouldn’t have done it otherwise) but I’m really glad we did it. The restaurant and buffet were super cute at Hollywood Disney’s Hollywood and Vine. Shepherd was over the moon that he got to hug Mickey.

  • We stayed at Disney’s Boardwalk Hotel and it was top notch. Not only that, we could walk to Epcot, take a boat to many of the other parks, and easily grab coffee, ice cream, cocktails or a quad bike on the boardwalk.