The Ultimate Disney World Planning Guide (101 Tips and Tricks)

Photo by our incredible friend, Kylend - TKO.

Photo by our incredible friend, Kylend - TKO.

For as long as I could remember, I’ve been a ginormous fan of Disney parks. So much that we’ve been Disneyland Annual Passholders for over a decade and have made yearly trips to Disney World for the past 7 years. While we don’t consider ourselves as “pro’s,” we do get asked a lot about Disney World planning, tips and tricks. So I’ve compiled all of our best Disney World tips, tricks and best practices.

Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below! :)

Time Saving Tips:

Download the My Disney Experience App on Your Phone and Connect Your Reservations
The My Disney Experience (MDE) App is your hub for all Disney reservations. This is where you keep track of your hotel and dining reservations, you can view and edit your itinerary, make FastPass+ selections and adjustments, view attraction wait times and showtimes.

Select Your Magic Bands
Magic Bands are magical wristbands that act as your key to the world. It’s your hotel room key, park ticket, dining credit and can be used to pay for purchases when set up with a credit card.

** Your magic bands stay activated to your account, even after the trip. So you can reuse them for the next one!

Set Up the Magical Express
The Magical Express is Disney’s complimentary transportation. It really sets you into the Disney spirit from the moment you’re off the plane. You don’t need to worry about picking up your bags, they got you on that too.

Plan Your Park Days in Advance By Making Your FastPass+ Selections
60 days in advance for all Disney Resort and Official Disney Resort Guests
30 days in advance for park ticket holders

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FastPass+ Tips
- Plan your first 3 Fast Passes at 11am, 12pm and 1pm. Then get additional FP’s after.

- While in line for rides, keep refreshing the MDE to score new fast passes. People change their plans all the time so you’ll never know what you’ll score. We’ve gotten Flight of Passage FP’s within 20 mins of swiping.

Single Rider Line
Save time in line and ride solo. Test Track, Expedition Everest and Rock n Rollercoaster all have single rider lines.

Rope Drop to Maximize Your Time
Leave your hotel one hour before park open. The park security lines will be open and you will be able to wait inside the park for “rope drop” right before the park opens. The idea of rope drop is being inside the park right when the park opens so you can mad dash your way to knock out those hard to get FP rides done early.

Arrive with a Plan
Our strategy is to go early in the morning until we tire ourselves out in the afternoon, take a mid-day pool break or shopping break at Disney Springs then go back for round two in the evening.

Extra Magic Hours Also Means Huge Crowds
When choosing what parks to go to, avoid the parks with EMH

Make Your Dining Reservations in Advance
You can book dining reservations 180 days in advance. Pre-planning your dining will help you save time and decision making while in the parks. It also secures those popular, hard to get reservations.

Pro-tip: If you missed getting a reservation, check back on MDE for availability one day before. The cancellation cut off is 24 hours.

Eat Before or After Peak Hours to Avoid Long Lines
12-1pm lunch rush
5-7pm dinner rush

Mobile Food Ordering
This is probably one of my favorite Disney World tricks to skipping lines. Use the MDE to order your food in advance to avoid long lines and waits.

Use Uber or Lyft to Save Time Getting To Those Dining Reservations
Uber and Lyft are a great alternative to Disney’s bus transportation. It’s faster and not too expensive. It also saves time getting to dining reservations at the different resorts.

Only Have a Few Days in the Parks? Splurge on a Disney After Hours ticket to maximize the fun
Disney’s After Hours is a separate ticket to 3 hours of fun in the parks. Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios offers After Hours. It’s a great way to knock out most of the high demand rides and experience the park with the least amount of crowds. See our Animal Kingdom After Hours review.

After Hours - The most empty you will ever see Animal Kingdom.

After Hours - The most empty you will ever see Animal Kingdom.

Plan 45 mins-1 hour for Park Hopping
When park hopping, plan about 45-1 hr travel time with driving, parking or using Disney transportation and going thru security.
** Side note for drivers: You pay once for parking at the first theme park, then show the ticket at the rest of the parks.

Disney World Bus

Disney World Bus

Planning Tips:

Best Times to Visit Disney World: Holiday Season (early Dec) and Fall (Late Sept-Nov) for Food and Wine Festival

Lowest Crowds: During School - late Jan, early Feb, weekdays in early May, weekdays in Nov, early Dec

Best Weather: Jan - early May and Nov-Dec

Cheapest Times to Visit Disney World: weekdays in Jan-Feb, early May, Sept, Oct

Port Orleans French Quarter’s Christmas Decorations

Port Orleans French Quarter’s Christmas Decorations

Most Expensive Times to Visit Disney World: Easter weekend, Thanksgiving Weekend, Christmas week through the first week of the new year.

Best Themed Resorts: Art of Animation and the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Websites We Use To Help Us Plan Our Trips:
- Touring Plans: great resource to help come up with day plans, help you request a specific hotel room in your Disney resort, and has a pretty spot on Crowd Calendar.

- Disney Tourist Blog: a great resource for photos and candid reviews and updates.

Our Favorite Disney Resorts:

Book a room on the 4th floor lake view at Pop Century for an Epcot fireworks view.

Epcot Fireworks from a 4th floor lake view room at Disney’s Pop Century Resort.

Epcot Fireworks from a 4th floor lake view room at Disney’s Pop Century Resort.

Money Saving Tips:

Buy Discounted Park Tickets
Undercover Tourist sells discounted park tickets.

Save with a Disney World Vacation Package
Free Dining Package at Disney World - Who loves free food? WE DO!! Every year, Disney releases dates for a FREE dining package. The level of resort depends on the dining package.

  • Deluxe Resort Stays - Disney Dining Package = 1 table service credit, 1 quick service credit, 2 snack credits

  • Moderate and Value Resort Stays - Disney Quick Service Package = 2 quick service credits, 2 snack credits

    All come with a refillable resort mug.

Fall/Winter Sale - save up to 20% off on Disney Hotels with the Fall and Holiday Season.

** When staying on-site at a Disney World Resort, you have complimentary bus transportation around the World.

Port Orleans French Quarter Bus Queue Screen

Port Orleans French Quarter Bus Queue Screen

Save by Renting DVC Points
This is such a great and new popular alternative to staying in Disney’s finest, most sought out resorts at an affordable price. This is great if you are planning way in advance and you plan on no cancellations. We like renting through David’s Vacation Rentals.

Save with the Disney Chase Visa
- Sign up deal offers $200 statement credit.

- Use your Disney Chase Visa Perks in the Parks
- free Star Wars experience at Hollywood Studios
- free Disney Character experience at Epcot
- 10% off select merchandise $50 and more
- 10% off select restaurants
- 15% off select VIP Tours
- 10% off select Recreational Experiences
- 15% off select Spa and Salon locations
- Chase Lounge during Food and Wine Festival

Save with the Target Red Card
Buy Disney Gift Cards with 5% off with a Target Red Card.

Stay at an Official Disney World Hotel to Get All The Perks of Staying “On-Site” at a Budget Friendly Cost
Our personal favorite resort is the Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace. We love the Island Tower as it’s directly across the street from Disney Springs. This opens your food selection up to so much more in the Disney Springs area. It also opens your transportation options up as well. You can take the Disney buses from Disney Springs to any park or resort. Hilton Honors guests benefit by staying at this resort by earning or using points.

Stay at the Swan and Dolphin Resort
Another favorite resort due to its stellar location right next to the Boardwalk at a moderate resort price point ($150-300). The Swolphin has premium real estate being walking distance to Epcot (entrance via International Gateway) and Hollywood Studios. You also have complimentary boat transportation to Hollywood Studios and bus transportation to the other parks. This is a great option for Marriott Bonvoy Guests looking to use or earn points. Costco also offers great deals at the Swolphin.

The Dolphin Resort

The Dolphin Resort

Perishable items in an insulated bag with ice packs. Thank you, Amazon Prime Now!

Perishable items in an insulated bag with ice packs. Thank you, Amazon Prime Now!

Order Snacks From Amazon Prime Now and Have Them Sent To Your Hotel
Save time and money by ordering snacks from Amazon Prime Now and have it sent to your hotel in 2 hours. Things we usually get are a case of water, breakfast items, soy milk or soy creamer, Uncrustables, sun screen, any toiletries we didn’t bring with us. Having breakfast in the room or on the way to the parks saves us a ton of money and it also saves us a trip/uber ride to the grocery store. We also love that all of your perishable items are sent with an ice pack. How awesome is that?!

Amazon Prime Now will deliver groceries, toiletries, over the counter medicine, GoPro accessories, clothes, and more straight to your hotel bell service. Delivery is free for orders over $35.

* Note: Amazon Prime delivers to the front desk. Usually there's a $5 fee per box received. Amazon Prime Now delivers to the bell man FREE OF CHARGE. Learn more here.

Our Amazon Prime Now order :)

Our Amazon Prime Now order :)

Save on Stroller Rentals
Skip the expensive Disney Stroller Rental and rent from an off-site renter for less! Simple Stroller Rental starts at $5 per day with a $25 initial charge.

Pack Emergency Rain Ponchos
Florida’s weather is super unpredictable. These disposable emergency rain ponchos from Amazon are easy to pack in your day bag and are super cheap ($7.97 for a pack of 6 with prime shipping).

Skip the Car Rental and Use Disney’s Transportation System
If you’re staying on-site, save money by using Disney’s transportation system.

Shop for Souvenirs at the Disney Character Warehouse
Save money by shopping at Disney’s official discount stores. They have off-season items at unbelievably discounted prices. There’s two Disney Character Warehouses in the Orlando area. One at the Orlando Premium Outlets and one at the Orlando International Premium Outlets.

Shop for Souvenirs at Uniqlo in Disney Springs
Uniqlo at Disney Springs is AWESOME! They have some really cool Disney merch that’s a little cheaper than the World of Disney Store across the way. Some times have great deals depending on the day.

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Save Money at these Cost Efficient Quick Service Restaurants
Earl of Sandwich (Disney Springs) - Sandwiches ranging from $6-9
Yak and Yeti Counter Service (Animal Kingdom) - Snack Fried Rice $4.99
Flame Tree BBQ (Animal Kingdom) - Pulled Pork Fries with pulled pork and cheese $6.99

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Buy Disney Pins in Bulk online and Trade Them in the Parks
Find cast members around the world with lanyards or pin trading stores to trade pins :)

Skip the Autograph Book and Bring a Unique Item for Autograph Signing
I’ve seen an assortment of items to be signed by the characters. With Etsy and Pinterest, there are so many unique options that are cute momentos from your WDW trip. We’ve seen pillow cases, blank framed mats, ornaments, and blank Mickey Vinylmations.

Plan a Day off from the Parks Explore All That The Disney Resort Has To Offer
Disney World Resort has a ton of fun activities outside of the parks. There are two Disney-themed golf courses: Fantasia Gardens (near Swan and Dolphin) and Winter Summerland (right outside of Blizzard Beach). Both are super fun and super cute activities.

** If you have a Magic Your Way package booked, you will have mini golf tickets included in your package. Available before 4pm.

Look at the animals at the Animal Kingdom Lodge
They have a nice Savannah viewing area with seating.

** Animal Kingdom Lodge also has great dining options. Boma buffet and Sanaa are delicious!

Watch the Fireworks Without a Park Ticket
The Polynesian Resort beach offers a centered view of the Magic Kingdom fireworks. They pipe the music through the speakers and you’ve got a great fireworks view.

Magic Kingdom Fireworks from the Polynesian Resort’s Beach

Magic Kingdom Fireworks from the Polynesian Resort’s Beach

Experience Archery at the Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort
Guests ages 7 and up can take a 90-min archery class.

Take a Romantic Carriage Ride at the Port Orleans Riverside

Watch the Electrical Water Pageant from the Polynesian Beach, The Grand Floridian, Wilderness Lodge, Fort Wilderness Resort, and the Contemporary.

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Park Tips:

Walk to the Left
When going through security, most people will walk to the right. Head left for shorter lines!

Avoid Getting Sick on Vacay and Bring hand sanitizer
Being sick on your magical vacation is the WORST! Bring hand sanitizer or wipes and sanitize after every ride and after touching anything. Don’t be this person taking a detour to the hospital on our December Disney trip. ::face palm:: >>

Parking
You pay for parking once then you’re covered for the rest of the day.

Parking at Magic Kingdom is a little bit of a hassle. You park at the ticket and transportation center, then you have to take the monorail to Magic Kingdom.

Starbucks
Every park has a Starbucks. Lines may look long but they go by quickly.

Magic Kingdom Tips:

Change it Up and Visit During Christmas
Disney during the Holidays is such a magic time!

Holidays at Magic Kingdom

Holidays at Magic Kingdom

Buzz Lightyear Ride High Score Tips
-
Target the Red Robot. The interior of his arms will wave up and down. Hit the target for 100,000 points.
- Target the Volcano and make it erupt for 25,000 points.
- Target the underside of the Red Claw for 100,000 points.

Our Magic Kingdom Favorite Rides:

  • 7 Dwarves Mine Train

  • Space Mountain

  • Big Thunder Mountain

  • Little Mermaid

Le Fou’s Brew in front of Gaston’s tavern

Le Fou’s Brew in front of Gaston’s tavern

Magic Kingdom Must Eats:

  • Gaston’s tavern: Le Fou’s brew - Tastes like radiator springs red apple freeze. So good tho! Also, everyone raves about their cinnamon bun.. looks good but haven’t tried it.

  • Plaza ice cream: delicious “homemade” cookie ice cream sandwich. Great way to cool down during a park day.

  • Be our guest: get the Grey stuff, it’s delicious! Skip the French onion soup and the braised pork - they’re super salty. Be our guest doesn’t have the best food but it’s the ambiance that’s amazing. You can also preorder your food in the MDE to save time. (If you don’t, expect to wait an additional 30minsish to place an order and wait in line)

  • Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn: surprisingly good esp with the fixings bar. You can order tortilla chips and guacamole and then hook it up with all kinds of toppings

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Animal Kingdom Tips:

Go to Kilimanjaro Safari First Thing in the Morning For More Active Animals
The animals on the Kilimanjaro Safari are most active in the early morning and late evenings. Since there aren’t any late evening safaris, make a trip at the very beginning of the day to assure short lines and better chance of active animals.

Don’t Miss the Festival of the Lion King
A must watch for the whole family! Try to get seated close to the floor for the possibility of getting the little one’s involved in the show. :) This is also a great way to get out of the sun and in air conditioning.

Visit Pandora During Golden Hour for Epic Views
Just look at this photo for a reference.

Epic views of Pandora during golden hour

Epic views of Pandora during golden hour

Our Favorite Animal Kingdom Rides:

  • Flight of Passage

  • Kilimanjaro Safari

  • Dinosaur

Animal Kingdom Must Eats

  • Pongu Pongu: Night Blossom Drink is sooooo good!

  • Sa’Tuli Canteen: Some of the freshest, delicious eats in Disney World.

  • Flame tree bbq: pulled pork fries with cheese! The BBQ used to be good here but after trying polite pig, you’re not gonna wanna eat here.

  • Yak and Yeti: yummy, delicious, scrumptious food

  • Mahindi (drink cart): the Jungle Juice Slush is SO GOOD

  • Eight spoon cafe: baked Mac and cheese with pulled pork- haven’t tried it but the pics look delish!

  • Tamu tamu refreshments: Spiky (rum) dole whip slushy

Dole Whip Float from the Polynesian’s Pineapple Lanai

Dole Whip Float from the Polynesian’s Pineapple Lanai

Epcot Tips:

Visit Epcot During a Festival
- Festival of the Arts: January-February
- Flower and Garden Festival: Spring
- Food and Wine Festival: Fall
- Festival of the Holidays: Late November/Early January

Epcot during the Flower and Garden Festival.

Epcot during the Flower and Garden Festival.

Our Favorite Epcot Rides:

  • Test Track

  • Nemo

Sunshine Seasons Mongolian Beef

Sunshine Seasons Mongolian Beef

Epcot Must Eats:

  • Sunshine Seasons: so many good eats. Our personal fave is Mongolian beef and the spare ribs.

  • L’artisan des glaces (France) - brioche bun and macaron ice cream sandwiches. SO. GOOD!

  • France pavilion has some really awesome desserts and snacks at las halles (at the very end of France inside what looks like a store but in the back there’s food). Creme brûlée, paninis and sandwiches, macarons, all kindsa desserts

  • karamell kuche (Germany pavilion): everything here is really good.

  • Cronuts at a cart near test track

  • China (drink cart): lychee green tea

  • Lotus cafe (China): lychee ice cream, iced oolong peach tea, mango smoothie

  • Katsura grill (Japan): green tea cheesecake

Hollywood Studios Tips:

Toy Story Midway Mania: work together with your partner to unlock the secrets in each level. Our friends at Disney Everyday have a really great post outlining the cheats, I mean secrets. :)

Toy Story Land!

Toy Story Land!

Our Favorite Rides:

  • Rock’n Rollercoaster

  • Tower of Terror

  • Toy Story Midway Mania

Hollywood Studios Must Eats:

  • Backlot express: cute cupcakes and desserts! Star Wars cupcakes

  • Hollywood scoops: apple crisp a la mode

  • Sci fi Drive inn: great ambiance. Delicious shakes and smoothies.

  • ABC Backlot: solid counter service at Hollywood studios

Disney Springs Must Eats:

  • Polite Pig - the brisket is soooo good. Brisket sandwich even better! Also, the Brussels- don’t leave here without trying them!

  • Tea Traders - get a latte with Mickey art! SO CUTE! (You can get it to go too)

  • Wolfgang Puck Express: great use of a quick service dining credit. Delicious pizzas that you can share. Great portions.

  • Earl of Sandwich: Great sandwiches at great prices. Our personal fave is the Tuna Melt.

  • Morimoto - if you can swing the price, his food is always delicious.

  • Amorette’s Patisserie - huge selection of desserts. They even offer vegan desserts. Absolutely delicious!

Wolfgang Puck Express BBQ Chicken Pizza and an Earl of Sandwich Tuna Melt

Wolfgang Puck Express BBQ Chicken Pizza and an Earl of Sandwich Tuna Melt

Our Walt Disney Resort Faves!

Favorite Rides:
- Epcot: Test Track
- Magic Kingdom: 7 Dwarves Mine Train
- Hollywood Studios: Toy Story Mania
- Animal Kingdom: Flight of Passage

Best Breakfast: Kona Cafe (Polynesian)

Kona Cafe’s Big Kahuna Breakfast. It’s not on the menu anymore but they will make it if you ask.

Kona Cafe’s Big Kahuna Breakfast. It’s not on the menu anymore but they will make it if you ask.

Best Character Breakfast: O’hana (Polynesian), 1900 Park Fare (Grand Floridian), Chef Mickey (Contemporary Resort)

Best Quick Service Lunch/Dinner: Polite Pig (Disney Springs), Wolfgang Puck Express (Disney Springs),

Our meal at Polite Pig. The Brisket and Ribs plate. Each plate is 1 quick service credit on the dining plan.

Our meal at Polite Pig. The Brisket and Ribs plate. Each plate is 1 quick service credit on the dining plan.

Let us know if we missed anything! And happy to answer any questions you may have in the comments below. Thanks for reading and happy travels!