My first family trip to Walt Disney World in Florida was in the pre-internet days of not so long ago. I had actually been 5 years earlier with a large group, but we only spent one day in the Magic Kingdom, so I was basically clueless the first time I took my family. We did very little planning other than booking our resort hotel. Nevertheless, we spent four days in the parks (only 3 parks back then) and had a generally good time; good enough that we decided to go back two years later. Before our next trip, I decided to read a guidebook. Wow, were my eyes opened! I realized we had made many mistakes on our first trip. After almost two dozen trips (over the next 20 years), allow me to save you from making rookie mistakes in planning your Disney World trip.
1) Not planning ahead – Now that the internet is available to almost anyone anywhere on countless devices, there really is no excuse for not planning ahead for a trip to Disney World. Disney veterans have all seen that family that stops in the middle of Main Street USA, looking at a park map and arguing over what to do first. You’re wasting valuable time!
2) Not understanding the size and scope of WDW – Disney World is not your local Six Flags! Think of it as a large city, with so much to do, you’ll never see it all in one trip. Even with all my trips, I still haven’t seen it all. It’s important to have a basic plan with what’s important to you. The theme parks, waterparks, shopping, dining and exploring are all part of a well-rounded vacation.
3) Not Fastpassing attractions – In recent years, Disney instituted Fastpass, a system that allows you to prearrange ride and showtimes for the most popular attractions. Don’t stand in long lines! Plan ahead. The best way to take care of this step is to download the My Disney Experience app to your favorite device. That way, you can have all your plans in one place.
4) Not booking ADRs – ADR is short for Advance Dining Reservations. If you plan to do any sit-down meals during your trip (and you should), book your favorite restaurants ahead of time. Walk ups are virtually non-existent. You can book as far as 180 days in advance. Menus are available online.
5) Arrive after rope drop (park opening) – With Fastpass, this is not as big a deal as it was years ago. Nevertheless, you can get a lot of things done at park opening, since most guests are sleeping in.
6) Not eating a Mickey ice cream bar/Dole whip – Disney World has several iconic snacks that you don’t want to miss. Mickey ice cream bars and Dole whips are just two examples. Try at least one.
7) Skipping Soarin’/7 Dwarfs/Toy Story/Kilimanjaro Safaris – Each of the four Disney theme parks has one or more top-notch attractions. Yes, they all draw large crowds. Regardless, make sure to schedule a Fastpass or ride during early mornings or late at night. These attractions are popular for a reason!
8) Skipping minor attractions – Don’t make the mistake of skipping minor attractions such as Carousel of Progress, The American Adventure, Flights of Wonder, etc. Not only are these attractions fun, but they rarely have a long wait and are great places to sit and relax for a while.
9) Skipping the nighttime activities – Can you believe, on our first trip, we failed to see any fireworks shows or parades? I’m still ashamed to admit that! These shows and parades might possibly be the highlight of your trip.
10) Skipping character meals – I will admit, character meals are expensive, especially for families. However, if you consider what you’re getting, you may want to reconsider. Hey, you gotta eat anyway, right? Plus, you and your kids will enjoy great interaction, pictures and autographs with your favorite Disney characters, all in a relaxed, air-conditioned setting.
11) Go from park opening to closing – You may tell yourself you can stay in the Magic Kingdom from 9am until midnight, but reality is different. Like any endurance test, and that’s exactly what a Disney World vacation is, you need to pace yourself and your family.
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12) Attempt several days in a row in the parks – Going along with point #11 above, you will run out of gas after 2-3 days straight touring the parks. Plan a day to sleep in or just enjoy your resort hotel.
13) Not visiting Disney Springs – Formerly known as Downtown Disney, plan to spend some time at this shopping/dining/entertainment mecca. Unlike the theme parks, it’s free to get in!
14) Skipping World Showcase because you have kids – Epcot is certainly a more “adult” theme park, especially World Showcase. Nevertheless, don’t think your kids will be bored. There’s much to see here and Disney has taken steps to make it more “kid-friendly”. Characters abound and native cast members in each country will entertain your kids with stamps, artwork and even writing your child’s name in the cast member’s native language.
15) Eating only burgers and chicken – Yes, Disney World has your basic burgers and chicken, if that’s what you want to eat. However, you don’t want to miss out on the many ethnic foods available in World Showcase, the resort hotels or the theme parks. You can also enjoy seafood, steaks and other tasty dishes. Plan to try something you can’t get back home.
BONUS TIP: Consider planning and booking your next Disney trip with an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner you can trust like Mickey Travels. They’ll help you get the best Walt Disney World deal, share expert advice and their services are totally FREE! It’s genius!