Most of the worst Walt Disney World experiences are the result of not having a laser focus on the purpose of your trip. Taking the grandkids for the first time? Aiming to have the best girls' getaway ever? Looking for a romantic anniversary destination? While Walt Disney World can be ideal for all of these, your priorities will depend on the trip you’re taking. And since the destination is home to four theme parks, two water parks, four 18-hole golf courses, and one shopping and entertainment mecca, all spread over 40 acres, the key to a magical time there is planning. You do not want to be wandering the parks aimlessly with Great-Grandma. To steer clear of the pitfalls and head straight to the pixie dust, be sure to avoid these 9 common mistakes people make when they go to Disney World.
1. Visiting At The Wrong Time
With the myriad festivals and holiday happenings throughout the year, there is much to lure you to the Disney parks -- you and tens of thousands of others. If you are a willing participant, that can make your visit. Unwilling? The crowds can just as easily break it. Though I have compiled the most recent list of Walt Disney World events here, that list is constantly being updated. Generally speaking, unless you must travel during these times, avoid the two weeks around Christmas and around Easter, since the parks routinely close when capacity is reached. The weekends of the Walt Disney World Marathon (January) and the Disney Princess Half Marathon (February) are particularly congested. Also, most established holiday weekends, such as the Fourth of July weekend, will see a spike in the number of visitors.
2. Assuming That Staying Off Disney Property Will Save Money
Choosing a hotel on Walt Disney World’s property, whether it’s designated deluxe, moderate, or value, ensures that your party will never depart from the magic the brand is famous for. In addition, staying at a Disney hotel entitles you to free transportation to and from the airport and to Extra Magic Hours in the parks. The standard Orlando resort fees, which can typically add as much as $30 per night to your rates, do not apply at Walt Disney World properties.
On the other hand, choosing an off-site hotel will require you to have a car or use a ride-sharing service such as Uber or Lyft. Both will cost you! Rental car fees are pricey in this tourist town. Daily parking at a Disney park costs $25 for standard vehicles and $30 for oversize vehicles. During our recent stay at a Holiday Inn Club Vacations spot roughly 7 miles away from the parks, we spent an average of $30 daily on Uber transportation.
Be aware, however, that though there is a Disney hotel available for every budget, larger groups (families of five or more) may find more affordable options off-site.
3. Not Downloading The My Disney Experience App
The free My Disney Experience app will serve you well both before and during your stay. Once you’ve downloaded it, you will be able to buy tickets, reserve spots in line at attractions, make dinner reservations, and shop for theme-park attire -- all from your phone! When in the park, you can conveniently check on wait times for your favorite rides and even order your quick-service food to avoid the lines. This is a Disney must-have.
4. Not Taking Full Advantage Of FastPass+
Included in your theme-park admission, the Disney FastPass+ service is designed to streamline wait times for the most popular attractions, shows, and character meetings. Using the My Disney Experience app on either your computer or phone, you can select up to three experiences per day for the length of your stay. Guests staying on Disney property can begin making these choices 60 days in advance of their check-in date, while all others can make them 30 days out from the day of their park visit. (This is yet another advantage of staying at a Disney hotel!)
If anyone in your party has a must-do ride or attraction, be ready to reserve a place in line at 7 a.m. EST exactly 60 days before your check-in date (or 30 days before your park visit). If you are unsuccessful, the standby line is always an option. However, be prepared to wait 90 minutes or more for your favorites. You can always make modifications to your choices during your vacation, but it’s best to have them in the bag.
5. Not Making Dinner Reservations
Possibly the most egregious of Walt Disney World mistakes is to leave your party’s most basic need -- food -- to chance. Nothing is worse than towing tired, hot, and hungry humans around while looking for a spot to sit and eat. We made this critical error just once in our many visits, waiting for 45 minutes during Spring Break for a simple hot dog. Never again. You may not want -- or have the budget for -- a table-service experience at every meal, but making a few dinner reservations can make or break your vacation.
Dinner reservations for the theme parks, Disney hotels, and Disney Springs can be made on the My Disney Experience app or by calling (407) WDW-DINE. All visitors can book 180 days in advance of their dinner date, starting at 6 a.m. EST. However, on-property guests may make reservations for their entire stay (up to 10 days) 180 days before their check-in date. This means that if you have a coveted dining experience on your wish-upon-a-star list, your chances of securing it are much greater if you’re staying at a Disney hotel.
As is also the case for FastPass+ reservations, the most celebrated eateries can book up within minutes. Do you have a little princess in your posse? Reservations for Cinderella's Royal Table, a character meal held within Cinderella Castle, get gobbled up in the twinkle of a star. Looking for a romantic gourmet dinner overlooking the Magic Kingdom? The California Grill gets booked up quite quickly, especially for the period during the fireworks show. Go for the unforgettable. Set a reminder to make your dining reservations exactly six months in advance.
6. Not Building Breaks Into Your Schedule
Few things are less magical than the Disney meltdown. The sheer size of the resort ensures that your dogs will be barking before long. Children of all ages will eventually reach their breaking point. The trick is to build breaks into your schedule so that you don’t feel like you're missing out. Disney hotel pools have been designed with just this in mind. Whether you’re watching the littles splash around a pirate ship at Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort or grabbing the gals and heading to your favorite Walt Disney World pool bar, a bit of refreshment will allow you to head back to the parks feeling renewed.
7. Not Spending A Day Outside The Park
Speaking of rest and relaxation, if you are fortunate enough to spend a week at Disney World, why not build an entire R & R day into your schedule? Your vacation may feel more like a vacation! Take a spa day, reserve a cabana deck at a Disney water park, hit the links, or cruise around Lake Buena Vista in your very own restored vintage car boat (see the Amphicar above). You and your party will be sparkling again in no time. An added benefit of a day spent at the shopping and dining center of Disney Springs is that no theme-park admission is required!
8. Not Noticing The Details
With all this planning, it is easy to overlook what sets the Disney parks apart from other tourist destinations. The Disney details, both the obvious and hidden, tell the emotional story of this property. When zipping through the new Toy Story Land, take note of how Andy's Tinkertoys set the stage (and realize that the scale makes you feel as if you’re the same size as his toys). Dining at Be Our Guest Restaurant? That feeling that you are actually stepping inside the Beauty and the Beast storybook is not an accident. Every element within each Disney park is painstakingly designed and imagined. Be sure to stop and smell the roses!
9. Not Using An Authorized Disney Vacation Planner
If all of this seems a bit overwhelming, you’re not alone. Many visitors hire an authorized Disney vacation planner to take some of the stress out of the process. If you hire one of these specialized travel agents, you’ll have full access to a pro from the time of booking to the time of your vacation. A planner is the perfect resource for everything from hotel and dining reservations to stroller or wheelchair rentals. Additionally, these planners have access to the most up-to-date Disney information.
In short, in order to ensure that the Most Magical Place on Earth is truly the most magical for you, know before you go. By all means, research, plan, and plot. But above all, dream!
About The Author
Donna Cantrell is the wife of a restaurateur, the mother of two children, a half marathoner, and a doctor of physical therapy who sees the world from her own special point of view -- Walt Disney World, in particular. She's been a fan of the park since she first visited in 1972, and she's logged more than 300 visits to Cinderella Castle since then. Post 50 Rx is her primer for joy across the decades and miles.