Today’s guest post is by Disney blogger Jonathan de Araujo. Read more of Jonathan’s articles at MagicGuides.com
Ever since opening to the public in 1971, Disney World has attracted a steady stream of visitors from around the globe. Today, this Orlando-area vacation mecca is the single most visited resort in the world, and its flagship park Magic Kingdom is the single most visited theme park in the world. Disney’s ability to keep things fresh and exciting has helped it to retain these top spots year in and year out.
If you haven’t yet been to Disney, there is no better time than the present to make your first visit. The resort is bigger and better than it has ever been in the past. With that said, let’s look at 15 things you should know before vacationing at Disney World.
Disney World is Massive
Disney World is spread out over 43 square miles of land, equal to that of San Francisco. It comprises four theme parks (Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Magic Kingdom), two water parks (Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon), more than 25 resort hotels, 300 restaurants and food kiosks, 3 golf courses, and two shopping and entertainment districts. To put it bluntly, Disney World is a resort on steroids!
Transportation is abundant at Disney World. There are buses, boats, and monorails to get you where ever you need to go within the park. And all forms of Disney transportation are free.
Here is a brief overview of what to expect:
Bus service running between the theme parks and resorts starts around 6:30-7 a.m and stops a few hours after the theme parks close. Bus service to Disney Spring (the main dining and entertainment district) runs until 2 a.m.
Disney has three monorail lines. The Epcot Monorail travels between the Ticket and Transportation Center and Epcot, while the Resort Monorail makes stops at Magic Kingdom and nearby resorts, and the Express Monorail travels between Magic Kingdom and the Ticket and Transportation Center.
Boat transportation travels between: Disney Springs and nearby resorts; Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and nearby resorts; and Magic Kingdom and nearby resorts.
Confused yet? I would recommend reviewing a Disney transportation map before you arrive. This will give you have a sense of the park layout and which mode of transportation each resort offers.
Disney World can get Crowded
Long lines and crowded sidewalks are commonplace at Disney World. That said, there are certain times of the year when the crowds are less. I would recommend planning your vacation around one of these off-season times if at all possible.
Disney entices guests to visit during these slower periods by hosting seasonal festivals, offering cheaper resort rates, and releasing special vacation package promotions. So not only will the lines shorter during the off-season, but your vacation may also be less expensive and more interesting.
Disney World is the least crowded during January through the early part of February, and during the months of September, October and November. As a general rule, expect crowds to be heaviest during school breaks, holiday weeks, weekends, and the summer months.
My favorite time to visit the park is during the autumn months because the weather is nearly perfect, the crowds are more subdued, and resort pricing is more favorable. Check out a Disney World Crowd Calendar for daily crowd estimates.
What is the FastPass+?
Disney’s “FastPass+" service allows you to reserve a spot on a ride or entertainment venue of your choice and bypass the lines. All you need to do is purchase a regular theme park ticket (or Annual Pass) and then make your 3 selections up to 60 days before you arrive (30 days if you are not staying at a Disney-owned resort). There is no extra charge for this service.
I would recommend selecting the most popular attractions that are known to have the longest lines. Pandora – The World of Avatar Attractions, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Peter Pan, and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train are a few of the most popular FastPass+ attractions at the moment. Make your selections as early as possible because these spots fill up fast.
What are Extra Magic Hours?
Guest staying at Disney World resort hotels receive a perk called “Extra Magic Hours." This allows you to spend more hours inside a theme park beyond normal operating hours. More specifically, Disney chooses one of its theme parks to open its doors one hour earlier or remain open up to 2 hours after regular closing time. The benefit is more time in the theme parks and less crowded attractions. There is no extra charge for Extra Magic Hours.
Disney gets to decide which park it designates on any given day – not you. Check with your hotel to see which park offers Extra Magic Hours for each day of your vacation.
Theme Park Ticket Get Progressively Cheaper
Unfortunately, Disney World theme park tickets go up in price nearly every year. However, there is some good news when it comes to taking a longer vacation at Disney.
The more days of theme park tickets you purchase, the cheaper they get on a per day basis. For example, three days of standard theme park tickets start at $101.67 per day whereas five-days worth start at $79 and nine days at $49.34 per day. It goes without saying that a nine day vacation is going to be much more expensive overall than a three day vacation, but it’s important to note that tickets are less expensive the more subsequent days you go.
Park Hopper Tickets are Nice, But not Worth the Money
A standard theme park ticket allows you entry into a single theme park for the day. For example, if you buy a Magic Kingdom ticket, you cannot use that ticket to get into Epcot. Disney offers an alternative to these single park with its “Park Hopper" ticket. The Park Hopper ticket gives you access to more than one theme park in the same day. Therefore, you could spend the morning at Animal Kingdom and the afternoon at Epcot, or whatever combination of parks you choose.
Sounds great on the surface. However, the Park Hopper ticket will cost roughly 30% more than the standard theme park tickets. Plus, you will waste valuable time traveling between parks that you could have been spent on attractions.
The only time the Park Hopper makes sense is if you are only at Disney for a day or two and want to see as much as you can in the shortest amount of time. Otherwise, save you money and do one theme park per day.
Take the “Keys to the Kingdom" Tour
If you are interested in the history of Magic Kingdom and a few extra dollars to spend, I highly recommend the Disney’s Keys to the Kingdom Tour. This 5-hour (!) guided tour takes you behind the scenes of Magic Kingdom and exposes you to the fascinating history and inner-workings of the park. Guests are given access to secret locations and learn interesting tidbits about how Disney World grew to be what it is today.
This tour is somewhere is the ballpark of $100 and will consume much of your day, so it’s certainly not practical for every guest. I also won’t recommend it for young children because they are apt to get bored quickly. But it does offer you a glimpse into how the world’s most visited theme park came to be and I find it to be a fascinating and worthwhile tour.
Perks of Staying at a Disney Resort
The Orlando area has plenty of resorts. However, most people visiting Disney World choose to stay at a Disney-owned resort because they are all located within the boundaries of the park and are – thus – more convenient to everything. But there are other reasons to stay at a Disney resort as well.
Disney resort guests receive special perks like: Extra Magic Hours, free transportation to and from Orlando airport, transportation to and from the parks and resorts, and advance booking for FastPass+ and dining reservations. You may spend a little more to stay at a Disney resort, but the perks and proximity make it money well-spent.
Value Resorts are Cheap
Now that you know staying at a Disney resort is the way to go, you have over 25 resorts to choose from. Where you stay really comes down to your budget. As the saying goes, “you get what you pay for" and Disney resorts are no exception.
There are 3 tiers of Disney resorts: Value, Moderate, and Deluxe. As you probably guessed, Value resorts are the least expensive and Deluxes are the most expensive, with Moderates falling somewhere in the middle. Deluxe resorts have the largest rooms, nicest grounds, best amenities and transportation, and are typically the closest to the theme parks. The downside is Deluxe resorts can be more than three times the cost of Value resorts!
If you are really looking to do Disney on the cheap, Value resorts are certainly your best option. This is especially the case if you have young kids. Values have bus transportation to the theme parks, food courts (no table service restaurants), decent pools, rooms that resemble motel rooms, and fun, kid-friendly themes. Not luxury and a little more noise than Moderates and Deluxes, but most people find them more than adequate.
The best part is that the least expensive Value resorts start at just over $100 per night. Compare that with $400+ of the Deluxe resorts and it’s really a no-brainer. But if you do happen to have plenty of money to spend, the Deluxes are the way to go.
Disney Dining Plans
While you can pay for food out-of-pocket at Disney World, most people opt for one of the three Disney Dining Plans. The three Disney Dining Plan tiers are (from least expensive to most expensive): the Quick Service Plan, the Standard Plan, and the Deluxe Plan.
In a nutshell, the Quick Service plan gives you a couple of quick service (casual dining) and a few snack items per day whereas the Standard and Deluxe plans give you the option of eating at table service restaurants (fine dining with waiters and waitress). If you are a big eater and don’t mind spending more, the Standard or Deluxe is your best bet. If you are a light eater, you may save more money with the Quick Service plan or just paying with cash or credit card as you go.
Save Money and Your Own Bring Food
Disney does permit guests to bring food and non-alcoholic beverages into the theme parks. Packing a lunch to enjoy inside the theme parks can really save you a bundle over the course of your trip.
The least expensive Disney Dining Plan costs an adult just over $50 per day. If you are look for the absolute cheapest way eat while at Disney World, you may want to consider shopping at an Orlando-area grocery store and preparing your own food. You could also buy groceries online and have them shipped directly to your hotel. Some rooms do have kitchenettes, so it is possible to cook hot meals in your hotel room if you wish.
Star Wars Land opens in 2019
Sometime in 2019, Disney is set to open a new section of the park it will call Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. It will be located inside the Hollywood Studios theme park and is eagerly anticipated by Star Wars fans, both young and old. If you can’t wait until next year, there are a few Star Wars attractions to see this year.
Star Tours is a Star Wars-themed attraction at Hollywood Studios. It was created by George Lucas himself and takes guest on a motion simulated journey through the Star Wars galaxy. Star Wars devotees should also check out the March of the First Order. This outdoor attraction features a live show by Captain Phasma and her squad of Stormtroopers. Watch them march up Hollywood Boulevard and onto Center Stage where Phasma orders her squad to stand guard.
Kids Under the Age of 3 Get in Free
Traveling with young children is never easy. However, one benefit to bringing infants and toddlers to Disney World is the fact that they won’t cost you a dime in theme park tickets. That’s right, kids ages 3 and under get in the parks for free. Food – on the other hand – will cost you.
Use a Disney Travel Agent (its Free)
All of this information may be overwhelming if you are traveling to Disney World for the first time. My advice to you is either seek out advice from someone you know who has been to the park within the last few years, or look for a good travel agent that specializes in Disney vacations.
But you may wonder, “how much do Disney travel agents cost? Is it really worth it when I can just book my trip online?" Most people are unaware that the services of these Disney travel planners is completely free of charge. This is because Disney itself pays agencies a small commission to market the Disney brand and help guests book their travel. It’s a great deal for anyone who needs some guidance in planning and booking their trip.
What can a Disney travel agent help with? They can answer your questions and give you advice about resorts, restaurants, and rides. They can also book your advance dining reservations, FastPass+ selections, and purchase your resort stay and theme park tickets. The best part may be the deals they can scout out for you. Disney travel agents monitor the current rates for discounts and special promotions so you pay the lowest possible price anywhere. When it comes down to it, there really is no reason at all not to use them.