Almost every year since 2011, D and I have made a trip in the fall to Disney World. The first trip we took was D’s first time ever going and he loved it so much (and we had such an amazing time together) that we decided we would come back on a yearly basis, so long as it was possible. Last year was the only year we didn’t go, but it was for a good reason: we went to Tokyo instead. That means we’ve been 4 times now since we’ve been together. I’ve racked up quite a few tips for planning and making the most out of your Disney trip over the years, so I figured it was time to share!
Before I kick this off, I just want to mention that this is in NO way sponsored, and I am in no way affiliated with Disney. I’m just a fan who’s been through the planning process many times and wants to share some tips!
TIMING OF YOUR TRIP
Out of the 4 times we’ve been to Disney, 3 have been in September and 1 was in November. Both of those times are notoriously slow times of year to go, meaning the crowds are low. This is definitely desirable as that means less time waiting in lines and less hordes of people to deal with. Of course, one thing to keep in mind is that Disney is a popular place year round, so sometimes these “low” crowd times still can feel a bit crazy if you’ve never seen the really insane crowds of summer/spring break, etc.
Before we booked this last trip, I spent a good deal of time running numbers as far as what dates would have the lowest crowds, vs. the hotel prices for those same dates and what we ended up with was 9/5 – 9/12 at Coronado Springs. We’ve stayed there now 3 of the 4 times and it’s a very nice, quiet hotel – perfect if you’re looking for a “moderate” level hotel and especially if you’re traveling as a party of exclusively adults (less screaming children).
Because I’m slightly obsessed, I follow Disney World blogs year round, even when we’re not planning a trip. My all time favorite and best resource for planning is Josh’s blog at EasyWDW. That’s also where I get all the info on what the crowds will be like on any given week we’re targeting. He has very detailed crowd calendars that cover the whole year and are updated frequently.
To go along with the analysis I did on cost of the hotel and crowd calendars, I also am always on the lookout for the free dining promotion Disney puts out. Generally, you’ll see these in the fall, but sometimes they do them at other times. We didn’t do the dining plan the first year we went (we didn’t know about it at that point), but every year since then we’ve been able to do it and it saves SO much money and hassle. The plan we get is the middle plan – one counter service meal, one table service meal and one snack per person per day. This is about as much as we eat per day on a trip anyway so it works out perfectly.
If they’re not doing a free dining promotion, they often do a hotel discount promotion instead and you always have the option to buy the dining plan separately.
In the past two years, Disney World has switched the entire Disney experience over to magic bands. When you book your trip, you will receive your magic bands in the mail (they’re free and you can customize their color). There were a lot of mixed reactions when they first came out because the whole system had changed from what was being done before. However, this past trip in particular, I really began to appreciate the convenience of these bands vs. juggling cards and cash.
You’ll use these bands for the following:
– Getting into your hotel room
– Admission to the theme parks
– You can hook up a credit card to the account and charge everything you buy using the band
– If you have a meal plan, all credits are managed through the band (servers will scan your band at the table in restaurants)
– If you sign up for the PhotoPass system, the photos will be synced to your account using the band
– FastPass+ (more info below)
So, basically everything!
One of the biggest reasons why the Magic Band system was so controversial at first was because of how it changed the fast pass system. This was mostly because of the limitations that come with the system, however if you know how to work the system, it can actually work to your advantage.
With the new FastPass+ system, everything is managed electronically through an app or the Disney website. They also have kiosks in the parks if you prefer to use those. You can start booking your fast pass selections 60 days before your reservation, and if you want to do some of the most popular attractions at the parks, it’s a very wise decision to log in as soon as your 60 day period starts to reserve your passes – otherwise they can run out fast! This really only applies to the HUGELY popular things like the Seven Dwarves Mine Train, the Anna and Elsa meet and greet and Toy Story Mania. Otherwise (and depending on if you’re going to be there during normal crowds or INSANE crowds), you should be able to book them up to and during your trip.
Here’s how we used FastPass+ for this trip:
During the 60 day window, I logged on to make sure we go the highest priority/most popular attractions booked. I had a high level idea of what parks we would be at on which days, so I worked around that. You can only book fast passes at one park per day, even if you’re park hopping. I left a few days empty so we could plan on the fly. When we arrived, we were able to move fast passes around any time we wanted through the app. For example, if we were at Magic Kingdom and our next fast pass was scheduled in 10 minutes clear across the park, I logged on and moved it to later in the day or switched it to something nearby. It was extremely convenient. A few times, I was able to secure a fast pass for something only 5 minutes in the future.
After using the 3 fast passes we were allowed, we were sometimes able to book 4th and 5th fast passes, again for the same park we were already working with. To do this, all 3 of the original passes must be used, then you have to go to an in-park kiosk and see what’s still available for the rest of the day. We were successful doing this on two different days and as a result, we got to do SO many things and skip the lines.
So, apparently I have quite a lot to say about the Disney planning process! I will be continuing these tips in another post (or two), but I hope this has helped you if you’re planning to visit.
Ever been to Disney World?
What’s your favorite attraction?