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A Disney World vacation comes, for most of us, at the end of a long wait and a lot of money spent. After planning for the best trip ever for months (or years), it is easy to get overwhelmed. There is so much information available online, it’s enough to make your head spin. After more than 10 trips to WDW, I have made some big time mistakes. Check out the biggest mistakes I have made and how I would do things differently.
Disney is a Trip Like None Other
During our most recent trip to Disney, as I found myself having to DoorDash blister bandages to Fort Wilderness, I got to thinking about some of the dumbest mistakes that I have made on various visits to the World.
We have traveled to WDW about 7 times in the last decade. Every trip has been exhausting, entertaining and chock full of memories. Of course, along with many many wonderful memories are some less-than-magical memories when things didn’t go as we had planned.
Each time we visit the Parks, we learn something new and figure out things that work for us and things that don’t.
You Can’t Plan for Every Scenario
But you sure can plan for a lot.
Check out our list of things to avoid, remember, or simply learn and embrace. The list that follows contains things that I wish I had done differently, services I wish I had learned about sooner, and things not to forget to bring along.
Disney Mistakes to Avoid
Alright, here they are. These mistakes are in no particular order. Skim through the see what applies to your fam.
Disney is NOT a Relaxing Vacation
Whether you are a seasoned travel pro or a total vacation rookie, Disney is a different beast. A trip to Disney in no way relaxing or restful. Most days include a lot of walking across enormous parks. Epcot alone spans over 300 acres! Plan to log many, many steps each day at Disney. On our most recent visit, we started the first day at Magic Kingdom and ended at night at Epcot. We walked 9.8 miles that day!
From early morning wake-ups to be able to “rope drop” (arrive when the park opens) to late night fireworks, don’t fool yourself into thinking that your time in Disney will be a vacation that “recharges your batteries.” Nope, Disney is more like a battery DRAIN than anything else!
Adjust your mindset accordingly and go into the trip knowing how tiring it will likely be for your entire family.
Grab breaks when you can and schedule some downtime whenever possible.
As I mentioned above, Disney Fatigue is a VERY real thing. Add in some oppressive Florida heat and humidity and you have the real likelihood of total exhaustion.
Here are some easy ways to grab some breaks and quiet moments:
- Schedule breaks to get out of the mid-afternoon sun and heat. Head to the pool or any air conditioned restaurant, resort, or even just plan for quiet time to rest back in your hotel room.
- Find a shady spot in the parks and sit for a bit.
- Succumb to a water-squirting-fan souvenir (or bring one from home)!
- Take advantage of the many shows and indoor attractions at each park to get out of the sun.
- Midday dining reservations are a great way to cool off and refuel.
Ease Yourself into Day 1
I know, I know, you arrive in Disney and OMG IT’S TIME TO HIT THE GROUND RUNNING!!! We have definitely had that mindset before (it’s hard not to). It is so tempting to jump into Disney head first.
Just a word of warning that when you do start out with the most exhaustive first day ever, it can be hard to really recharge for the days that follow.
On our most recent trip, we literally opened Magic Kingdom and then closed Epcot on our first day of vacation. We were borderline delirious by the time we crawled back to our campsite at 11 pm and when the next morning rolled around we were sore and didn’t want to get out of bed.
If at all possible, start small on day 1. Maybe that means sticking to just one park or taking an afternoon break at your hotel. It could also mean that you call it a night early and get a great night’s sleep before tackling day 2.
A Little Planning Does Go a Long Way
You don’t have to join every single Disney Facebook group and learn every insider tip. You don’t need to read every travel blog or guidebook. But you CAN save a lot of stress and disappointment by planning out your days in Disney BEFORE you arrive on property.
Here are a few of the things that you can (and should) plan before you leave home:
- Book your park days and reserve your spot at the park you plan to start each day at (this is currently required by Disney)
- Reserve any dining reservations you would like to enjoy starting 60 days before your arrival date. Popular restaurants fill up quickly and waiting an hour for walk-in service can be torture when your entire family is exhausted and famished. I like to reserve 1-2 sit-down meals per day. This gives us the chance to sit and relax a bit in the AC!
- I highly recommend becoming familiar with the My Disney Experience app before you arrive in Disney. Take a look at typical ride wait times so you can plan your strategy for the rides your family wants to get on the most. Learn how to use Genie+ and decide if you will use it or not (more on that below).
- If you are flying, figure out how you will get from the airport to Disney. Make any transportation reservations ahead of time.
Learn How to Use Genie+ and Lightning Lanes
When the word got out that Disney was scrapping their (free) FastPass for the (paid) Genie+ system, I wasn’t thrilled. I knew how to use the FastPass system and I loved that I could grab ride passes weeks (months) before we ever set foot in the parks. I was also pretty annoyed that Disney had taken away one more thing that used to be free and replaced it with a pay-to-play option.
Years ago when we only had one day in Universal, we bought the Express Passes. They weren’t cheap but they sure did save us a TON of time. In that spirit, I took some time to learn how Genie+ worked before we got to Disney.
Learn about Genie+ and how to book Lightning Lane passes with it. Figure out which rides are on your family’s MUST DO LIST and go from there.
You of course always have the option to skip Genie+ and wait for rides in the stand-by line. But if you think there’s even a small chance you might use the paid Genie+, learn about it before you go. There are some very helpful Facebook groups that are full of Genie+ pointers. I used these groups to learn how to use Genie+!
Good Days at Disney Don’t Mean DOING IT ALL
Remember that it is IMPOSSIBLE to do it ALL. Let me repeat that: THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO WAY that you can do everything in Disney on one or even five or ten visits! Having the best Disney Day is really what you make of it. Try to be realistic in your planning and be ready to go with the flow as much as you can!
Wear Comfy Shoes Made for the Miles
This mistake is probably the one that makes me just plain old mad. I know how much walking is involved in a Disney World vacation. I know that only the sturdiest, comfiest shoes should be worn. Flip flops and sandals are an immediate no for me.
So then what on EARTH made me choose tight, unsupportive “cute” sneaks over the sensible pair? I’ll never know (and I’ll never make that mistake again).
After just one long day in the parks, my feet were riddled in blisters and I spent the rest of the week in agony.
So please learn from my big mistake: opt for comfort over fashion. Don’t use your Disney trip to break in brand new shoes.
Consider a Stroller
We learned this one the hard way too. Disney is a lot of walking for adults, and that distance is only magnified for little kids. Consider tossing a stroller in with your luggage if you have a young child who might tire after walking multiple miles. Even if your kiddo does not use a stroller at home anymore, Disney can be a different experience.
A few years ago we headed to Disney with our then-4-year-old who had REFUSED to use a stroller at home for about a year. Half a day in Disney and he refused to walk and screamed unless he was carried. We ended up buying an umbrella stroller (that he was too big for!) in the parks. Such a waste of money when we had a perfectly good stroller at home.
There is NO Quick Way to Get ANYWHERE in Disney
If you plan on using Disney transportation (monorail, bus, boat, skyliner) it is IMPERITIVE that you leave at LEAST one whole hour to get from point A to point B. I usually plan on more like 1.5 hours for travel between parks.
While the Disney transportation is free (or at least, built into your stay), it is not super efficient. Depending on where you are trying to get to, you might need to take more than one mode of transportation.
For example: Epcot to Fort Wilderness
At the end of a long day, we were heading back to the campground from Epcot. There are a few different ways to get from one to the other. We decided on the monorail and boat. So we got on the monorail back to the ticketing center and then had to get off that monorail and get on the other monorail that goes to Magic Kingdom. From Magic Kingdom we waited for and then boarded the boat that goes to Fort Wilderness. It took 1 hour and 40 minutes total and after an exhausting day, it was way more transportation than I felt like dealing with. (We could have taken a bus from Epcot back to Fort Wilderness but then the bus drops you at the main bus terminal and you must board an internal campground bus to get to the campsite.)
Driving our own car to and from the park would have been the only direct way to travel, but since we hopped from Magic Kingdom mid-afternoon, we weren’t near our car for that to be a viable option.
Leave more time than you think you will need to travel to and from parks and resorts.
Pack the Rain Gear
I’m not sure why so many people are under the false assumption that Florida is hot and dry like a desert. Florida is the essence of TROPICAL locales. You can expect soaring heat and humidity plus sudden torrential downpours. The downpours sometimes last on and off for the whole day and other times leave as quickly as they appeared.
Don’t be left soaked and/or at the whim of the almighty gift shop.
Mobile Food Ordering is Your Friend
One of my favorite technological advancements in Disney since our last visit is the rollout of mobile food ordering. I LOVED THIS! Available at many quick service restaurants throughout the parks and resorts, you can access mobile food ordering in the My Disney Experience app.
Pop onto the app, find a quick service near you and follow the prompts to place your order and pickup your food.
We found this feature to be a huge timesaver! At one point I placed an order as we were getting off It’s a Small World ride for drinks at the restaurant next door, Pinocchio Village Haus. We literally walked off the ride, around the corner and into the restaurant, right up to the window and were handed our drinks. No waiting in lines to order and pay and no waiting in lines to receive our food.
One note about mobile ordering: If you plan to order from a popular restaurant, make sure you place that order a little earlier than you actually want to eat. For example, at Hollywood Studios in Toy Story Land, Woody’s Lunchbox is a VERY popular place to grab food. Their order pickup gets very full very quick and it’s typically a 1-2 hour wait via mobile order. I knew this before we arrived at the park, so around 9 am I placed my food order for lunch and got a pickup time of 11-11:30 am. It worked out great. As we got off of Slinky Dog Dash, I clicked “we are here” for our food order and the food was ready as soon as we walked up to the window.
Battery Packs for the Phone Drain
Years ago, I always had trouble keeping my phone charged during a day in Disney. While phone batteries last a bit longer these days versus ten years ago, you may find yourself using your phone more throughout the day than in previous trips. The obvious use is the camera, of course. But with the rollout of the My Disney Experience app, park visitors spending ample time on their devices ordering food, booking rides on Genie+, looking up wait times, and more.
Do yourself a favor and get a battery phone charger to keep your device charged and ready all day long. Disney also offers some spots with USB charging ports (you will have to bring along your own cord). These charging areas are free but they are also popular and tend to fill up so you might have to wait for a free outlet.
That’s it! Those are my top Disney lessons that I have learned over many years and many park visits. I truly believe that if you make sure to embrace or avoid (depending on the item) these things, you will have a better and more enjoyable Disney vacation.
Is there any advice you would add? Drop a comment below – I would love to hear it!