This is the unofficial, official guide to surviving a vacation to Walt Disney World. These are the things you’ll want to know before you plan and book your trip. The best practices; things that won’t bring you regret. I can’t make this any more clear: You Need To Read This!
Having spent hundreds of days at Walt Disney World I can tell you that if you’re going to invest in a vacation there, you want to be prepared.
So how do you do this? Isn’t there a million little things I have to know? Not really but there are some fundamental basics when it comes to planning and preparing.
I’ve narrowed them down to the topics below. Easy to read, easy to follow and most importantly, they will make your vacation go a lot smoother. That I guarantee.
*COVID-19 – Things To Know*
This is a new section to my survivors guide and unfortunately may be here for a while, as long as COVID-19 is around.
The Walt Disney World Resort has taken many precautions to keep guests safe while at the parks during the pandemic. I went opening week to see what it was like and here’s what I can say to help prepare you.
First, I felt very, very safe there. Disney is doing more than most grocery stores, gas stations and local business to help keep you safe. They are also doing the same for their Cast Members. I was very impressed with their response and feel very comfortable going there.
Face Masks Required
Once you step out of your car (for guests staying off property and parking) or out of your hotel rooms (if staying on property), you need to have a mask on.
Cast Members will ensure that you are adhering to this new policy. You will be wearing a face mask from these points, all day unless you’re doing the following:
- Eating or drinking (whether you’re dining or walking around the parks/resort/hotel).
- You’re back in your car or hotel room.
- You’re taking a break at a rejuvenation station (located throughout each park).
Basically plan on wearing it 95% of the time you’re out and about. Disney sells masks for $6 each and they are comfortable. You can find them in the parks, resort hotels and Disney Springs.
Everyone entering the parks or Disney Springs will pass through a temperature check station, managed by Advent Health. It’s super simple, a very quick process. They use laser guns to check your temperature, so no physical contact. It takes about 2 seconds to complete and you’re on your way.
There are markers all over the parks suggesting social distancing, particularly in lines for attractions and shows. They are super simple to follow. Just keep your group at the marker when you need to (sometimes it takes a bit to catch the group in front of you) and remain there until the group in front of you moves forward.
For shows, you’ll do the same thing in the queue. When it’s time to enter the theater, you’ll be placed on dots on the ground with your group. Cast Members will direct you to where you need to be. Super simple.
Dining locations also have markers outside and on tables that are closed to help keep your party distanced from others.
The whole system is easy to catch on to and you’ll be social distancing like a pro in no time.
You used to be able to walk into and dining location and order food. Not anymore. Now you must mobile order via the Disney World App. After placing your order and showing a Cast Member that your order is ready, you may go inside, get your food and sit down.
If you can’t mobile order for some reason, there will be a line to wait in to get to a register. You’ll then order, grab your food and sit down.
I highly recommend you use the Mobile Dining option as it makes things a lot quicker and smoother.
Also, dining reservations can only be made 60 days in advance instead of the normal 180 days.
These babies are everywhere; and it’s awesome! Before you get on a ride or show, they have sanitizing machines. After the ride or show, they have sanitizing machines. Before and after you dine they have sanitizing machines.
Throughout the parks they have hand washing stations. Basically everywhere you turn they are there for your use.
It use to be that you would have your bag checked at security before entering the parks. Now, guests are only asked to remove a few items if they have them like aerosol sprays, umbrellas and battery packs.
If you aren’t carrying any of these things you’ll simply walk through the metal detectors and be on your way. You don’t have to empty your pockets or remove your cell phone.
Strollers will still be checked before going through but the process has been simplified significantly. It’s a breeze now.
Checking in has never been simpler than now. Even though it’s “modified” it’s really the way it should be done all the time. That is, skipping the front desk and heading straight to your room.
This is all done via the Disney World App (again, a must have). Check-in through the app weeks or days before your arrival. Disney will send you a text when your room is ready on check-in day. They’ll tell you your room number and activate any MagicBands you have so you can enter.
Don’t have MagicBands? No problem! Just use your cell phone. You heard me right. Your cellphone can unlock your room door through the Disney World App.
If your room isn’t ready by the time you arrive you can still store your luggage at bell services. Of course, if for some reason you do need to visit the front desk, they are open.
My biggest complaint about the hotels are the elevators. Just plan on them being a pain if you’re staying in a hotel that has many floors. Only 1 group or 4 individuals are allowed in them at a time.
There will be plenty of times where there’s a line to use them and plenty of times where you’ll have to hit that up or down button more than once. Just be patient. Take the stairs if you can.
Cleaning service is modified so they will only change your sheets and towels every so many days. They do take the trach out each day.
Disney’s Magical Express is still running but they are putting less people on them than before. Basically every other row and side. I didn’t find this inhibiting in any way.
They did stop offering baggage service to your room for the time being as well as airport check-in at the resort.
Bus transportation to and from the parks is a different story. Each bus is divided into sections. One party per section, doesn’t matter how many many people are in that group. There are about 10 sections per bus so only 10 groups can board at a time.
Be prepared to wait, especially in the mornings. If you don’t want to arrange an Uber or LYFT to the parks.
Orlando weather is unpredictable. I’ve planned many trips to Disney World by looking at the weather days before and have come up short when trying to be prepared. I’ve learned a few things you’ll want to implement into your planning:
Don’t trust any weather app. I’ve looked at them all, confirming that there would be a 40-70% chance of thunderstorms each day of my visit. I pack accordingly. When I arrive, it rains once for 3 minutes. The rest of the time it’s sunny.
I’ve also experienced the opposite where the weather was supposed to be sunny, no clouds, but it pours rain on most of the days for 30 minutes or more.
Be prepared and pack for either situation. I’ve highlighted a list of things you’ll want to bring in the section below. Thunderstorms are common for Florida, even with sunny blue skies. They come out of nowhere and pour rain. Caught off guard and you’ll be soaking wet for most of the day.
I can tell you that Orlando is humid and hot most of the time. You will most likely experience consistent sweating as you spend your days in the parks.
The morning and evening can be nice but the middle of the day can be very draining. I suggest planning attractions in the morning and evening and shows during mid-day. Anywhere that allows you to be in some AC.
I highly recommend drinking water as often as possible to stay hydrated. Sweating all day is a killer and unless you’re used to this type of weather, it can really impact you mentally and physically.
What You Should Pack
Because the weather is unpredictable and hot most of the time, you should be packing for all scenarios. Here’s what i suggest:
- Water-resistant shoes – Comfortable sandals that can get wet and it’s no big deal. Or water-resistant shoes. Anything that could handle a rainstorm and puddles.
- Shorts/Dresses/Tee-Shirts – Because Orlando is hot most of the time I pack mostly shorts and tee-shirts. Your undergarments should be moisture-wicking if possible or just bring moisture-wicking shirts/shorts. It helps alot.
- Ponchos – These are the best and easiest solution to thunderstorms when they roll up on you. They pack nicely into luggage/backpacks and will keep you from getting drenched.
- Umbrella – Some people prefer these over ponchos and that’s fine. They can also be used for shade on hot days and it makes a big difference.
- Sunscreen – Those sunny days can be nice but don’t let a sunburn ruin your vacation. Bring sunscreen to protect yourself.
- Cooling Towels – These things are nice for those super hot days to help cool you down. They are cheap and provide relief for quite some time. Soak them at any drinking fountain or sink to replenish.
- Spray Fans – These things help cool you off while standing in a hot line. Disney sells them for an outrageous amount of money at the parks but you can get them online for much less.
Saving Some Dough
There are so many people out there that believe the only place to get your theme park tickets is directly with Disney. That anyone else trying to sell them are fraud. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
In my 20+ years of park going, I’ve always shopped for the best discounts on tickets. Right now I recommend Undercover Tourist for Walt Disney World Tickets.
They have the best pricing, are an authorized wholesaler and offer several different options for getting your tickets including shipped and e-tickets.
I also recommend booking your hotel through them as well, especially if you’re going to stay on property. They have better prices on rooms than Disney does.
To save on food for your vacation, use Amazon Prime Now Delivery and grab some groceries. It’s very similar pricing to shopping at a VONS or Safeway and they will deliver everything to your hotel for free.
I use this service everytime I visit and it doesn’t disappoint. You can shop milk, cereal, snacks, water and soda, bread, jams, chips, vegetables and fruits and more.
If you’re a planner like I am, you can bring these snacks into the parks and eat them during the day. While I tend to do at least one meal in the parks, I’ll eat what I brought for the rest to help save some money.
Where You Should Stay
This all depends on where you spend your time. For instance, if your group loves Hollywood Studios, I would recommend staying in the Epcot Resort area.
If your group loves Magic Kingdom then stay around Seven Seas Lagoon. I’ve listed the parks below and associated them with resort hotels that are nearby.
Magic Kingdom Theme Park – Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Disney’s Polynesian Resort, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, Boulder Ridge and Copper Creek Villas and Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.
Animal Kingdom Theme Park – Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, Jambo House and Kidani Village, All-Star Resorts and Disney’s Coronado Springs.
Hollywood Studios Theme Park – Disney’s Coronado Springs, Swan and Dolphin Hotels, Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resorts, Boardwalk Inn Resort, Disney’s Riviera Resort, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort and Disney’s Art of Animation and Pop Century Resorts.
Epcot Theme Park – Swan and Dolphin Hotels, Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resorts, Boardwalk Inn Resort and Disney’s Art of Animation and Pop Century Resorts, Disney’s Riviera Resort, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, Disney’s Old Key West and Disney’s Port Orleans Resorts.
Disney Springs – Disney’s Old Key West, Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort and Disney’s Port Orleans Resorts.
Breaking these down by price:
Value Resorts – Cheapest Places To Stay
- All Star Resorts
- Pop Century Resort
- Art of Animation Resort
Moderate Resorts – Mid-level Spending
- Coronado Springs Resort
- Port Orleans Resorts
- Caribbean Beach Resort
- Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground
Deluxe Resorts – Highest Spending Level
- Boardwalk Inn Resort and Villas
- Yacht and Beach Club Resorts
- Old Key West Resort
- Saratoga Springs Resort Villas
- Riviera Resort Villas
- Wilderness Lodge Resort and Villas
- Contemporary Resort
- Polynesia Resort and Villas
- Grand Floridian Resort and Villas
- Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort and Villas
- Swan and Dolphin Resorts
I’ve bolded the ones that I recommend for their pricing and location. In my opinion, the best place to stay at Walt Disney World is in the Epcot Resort area.
It allows you to walk to 2 of the 4 parks, take the monorail to Magic Kingdom and only need to bus to Animal Kingdom. Why is this a big deal? I’m not a huge fan of Disney World’s busing system so if I can walk somewhere in 5-10 minutes, I’ll do it.
Otherwise you can end up waiting around for 20 minutes plus for a bus that you may have just missed. No thank you.
Speaking of just missing a bus, Disney World relies heavily on its busing system to get guests from resort hotels to theme parks and back. If you’re staying on property your resort hotel will have a bus depot (or several) located outside the main building or surrounding area.
They run on a “20 minute schedule” meaning there should always be a Hollywood Studios bus coming about every 20 minutes. Same goes for all the other theme parks, water parks and Disney Springs.
Some resorts share their busing system with other resorts. For instance, All-Star Sports Resort shares its busing system with the other two All-Star Resorts. This means that buses can fill up fast.
Most Value Resorts share their buses with other resorts. Same with some Moderate Resorts except for Coronado Springs and Caribbean Beach Resorts. They are big enough that they usually just pick-up their guests and head to their destination.
Most Deluxe Resorts don’t share their buses though Boardwalk Inn does share with Swan and Dolphin on occasion.
Bigger resorts have multiple stops to make throughout the resort. Resorts like Caribbean Beach has over 4 stops to make before they take off. Same with Saratoga Springs Resort.
They only exception to this is if the bus fills up before they get to the other stops. This means every seat is taken and people are standing throughout the entire bus.
Depending on where your bus stop is at the resort, you may end up always seeing an empty bus or a full bus. I recommend staying as close to the main building as possible or in a preferred room to get the empty bus experience.
After you’ve spent the day at a park or shopping you may want to head back to your hotel or to another park. This is possible from any theme park by heading to the bus area.
Here you can grab a bus back to your hotel or to another theme park. Buses to Disney Springs usually need to be gotten on at your Resort Hotel until certain times of the day. Same with water parks.
Anyone can use the busing system here whether they are staying on property or not. It’s free to use.
A word of advice: taking buses back to your resort after a theme park closes or right after fireworks may take you a while. This is when the bus lines fill up and you may have to wait 40+ minutes to get back. Plan accordingly.
Disney World also offers airport transportation for guests staying on property (minus Swan and Dolphin). This service, called the Magic Express, picks guests up at Orlando Intl. Airport and takes you to your resort.
This service is free and in my opinion, should be utilized when possible. All you need to do is arrange it with Disney or your travel agent beforehand. Once your flight arrives, follow signs to the Magical Express.
A Cast Member here will make sure you get on the right motorcoach and you’re off! They will stow your luggage for you and remove it upon arrival.
Some buses make several stops so be prepared to hangout for a little while if your resort is last on the list.
The Magical Express service is also offered from your hotel back to the airport. They will pick you up 3 hours before your flight and take you to the same place you got picked up.
This service can be arranged in any fashion whether you need just to your resort, just from your resort or both. It can also be utilized same-day, especially for arrivals. Just talk to a Cast Member and let them know where you’re staying or when you’re leaving.
If you arrange it in advance, Disney will mail you luggage tags to put on any checked luggage you have. Any bag that has these yellow tags on them will be delivered directly to your room so you don’t have to pick them up at baggage claim when your flight arrives in Orlando.
I suggest using this service but keeping anything you might need after arrival in a carry-on bag. It can take them 2-3 hours to deliver them to your room.
Each resort also offers an airline check-in service so that you can check your bags and check-in for your flight before you leave the resort. It’s a fantastic service and is recommended for anyone with checked luggage or wants to skip airport lines.
FastPass+ and My Disney Experience
This is a must for anyone planning a trip to Disney World. You HAVE to utilize these services to get the most out of your vacation, period.
My Disney Experience is what Disney calls their online planning service at Disneyworld.com and is free to sign-up for. Once you have an account you can start to add your vacation components to it. These include:
- Theme park tickets
- Resort Hotels
- Family and Friends
- Dining Reservations
As you purchase these trip components you can link them to your My Disney Experience account. You can add friends and family who will be in your party as well as make dining reservations 180 days in advance.
Your MDE account as it’s called will show you all your plans, broken day by each day and activity. It can be utilized online or through the Disney World App.
Once you have your tickets and or resort hotel linked, you can start making FastPass+ reservations. If you’re staying on property you can book these 60 days in advance. If you’re off property, 30 days in advance.
For FastPass+ you’ll want to book these as soon as they open for you, 7AM EST. Why? All the big attractions will fill-up fast so be sure to do this!
I highly recommend scheduling your 3 FastPass+ reservations as close together as possible and as early in the morning as you can. I say this because once you use all your FastPass+ reservations, you can get more!
Once your initial 3 are used you can book 1 at a time for the rest of the day. It’s a good way to get more done without waiting in long lines.
Disney will “suggest” or show you available times. These can be changed after booking to allow you to get them closer together. Don’t ever delete a FastPass+ reservation when doing this. Simply modify it until you find the right available time.
Family and Friends
Some people go to Disney World with just their family and others take their entire family and some friends. However you do it, make sure to add these guests or connect their MDE accounts to yours so you can make reservations together.
Adding a new person to your account online is easy. You just need their name and age. If they are under 3 a DOB will be required.
When making reservations for FastPass+ anyone who doesn’t need a theme park ticket (under 3) does not need to be added.
However, when making hotel reservations and dining reservations, Disney wants to know everyone who will be there, including guests under 3.
Linking accounts with friends or family is also easy to do online but you can also call the help desk if needed.
Make them 180 days in advance and be sure to do it for the restaurants you love or want to visit the most. Be our Guest Restaurant fills up quickly. So does Via Napoli at Epcot.
You can make as many as you want as long as they don’t interfere with existing plans. Make sure you have added all your friends and family members to your MDE account so they can be included on them.
Can can modify reservations and even cancel them 24 hours before. Be sure to do this before that 24 hours otherwise you may be charged a no-show fee.
If something happens and you just can’t make it, stop by the restaurant and let them know or call Disney Dining to avoid that penalty.
And now you’re prepared to plan and survive a Walt Disney World vacation! Mickey and the gang are so proud of you and I am too!
Just remember that planning a Disneyland Resort vacation and a Walt Disney World Vacation are very different because they are two totally different experiences.
If you need to help with planning or have additional questions we are available to help answer them. Shot us an email or message us on Facebook.
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Dean has been writing and blogging for over 10 years. He specializes in Disney theme park news including updates, openings, special events and general advice for travelers. He doesn’t shy away from the good, the bad and the ugly. His previous work includes being a Cast Member at Disneyland and working as a travel agent.