Walt Disney World Orlando - tips, tricks, and observations

Overview

We recently took our first family trip to Walt Disney World (WDW) in Orlando, and I wanted to share some information that may save you time, money, and headaches.  We have two kids around 10 years old, so keep that in mind since some of our choices

Where to stay

Your choice in where to stay could depend on how much time you plan to spend at the hotel.  For us, the hotel was merely a place to shower and sleep when we weren't at parks.  A mini fridge, onsite ice machine, and ability to accept grocery deliveries were of paramount importance, and we needed easy transportation back and forth from the parks.

Given all the above, we stayed at the Port Orleans resort.  It is moderately priced, nice, clean, and has very good transportation via bus.

TIP:  the biggest perk of staying at a Disney hotel is the ability to book all your fast passes 60 days before your arrival.  This ensures that you get a good selection.  Fast pass selection opens at 7:00 AM ET so be ready, because there are literally thousands of people trying for passes the same time as you.


Getting to the Hotel

Another perk of staying at a Disney hotel is the Magical Express bus.  It takes you from Orlando airport to your hotel.

TIP:  in our experience, it is anything BUT express from the airport to the hotel since it takes a while to board, then stops at several hotels.  It took us 2 hours to get from airport to hotel.

That said, the trip is quick and easy from the hotel back to the airport.  You absolutely need to call the lobby during your stay and let them know your outbound flight info, and they will give you a boarding pass and a pickup time for your bus!!


Food

We chose to avoid meal plans, and I am thrilled to say that this worked extremely well for us.  For starters, I didn't want to feel constrained by, or even have to deal with thinking about credits, etc.  Also, since our kids are a bit older and not all that picky, we did counter service for almost everything.

A week or so before our flight, we bought a bunch of groceries from Instacart and scheduled delivery for our approximate hotel arrival time.  We were thus able to get tons of different apples, bananas, sunscreen, a paring knife, crackers, cookies, yogurts, etc.  The prices were only like 10% higher than a normal grocery store, and for the convenience it is well worth it.  So breakfast was fruits and yogurts, etc in our room every day.

TIP:  make reservations for any sit-down restaurants when you get your fast passes.  Via Napoli in Epcot was really good pizza.  50's Prime Time in Hollywood Studios was good food and a super fun experience.


Buses from Hotel to Parks

In our experience, the buses were well done.  The bus stop has a TV showing bus times, and it was really accurate.  Buses are clearly marked with destination to avoid "oops" trips.

That said, we were on the morning bus 1 hour before park opening, and thus they were fairly empty.  And we really hurried to buses after fireworks to beat the crowds, so while they were standing-room-only, crammed like sardines, we never waited beyond the first bus.


Arrive at Parks EARLY!!!

Again, if your kids can handle it, make sure you get to the bus stop 1 hour before park opening.  This will ensure you can get to the park, go through security, badge in, and get to the "rope" well before opening time.  Each park has a place where they rope people off--some have multiple ropes at various areas in the parks.  Generally, they drop the rope 5-10 minutes before posted opening time.


Fast Passes

You will get to pick 3 fast passes per day.  You can use your fast passes as early as 15 minutes before the start time.  You must use all 3 fast passes before you can get your next fast pass (and after the first 3, it is one at a time).  So try to get all 3 passes with times before about 1pm.

If your first fast pass time starts within the first hour or opening, your goal should be to hit the most popular attractions during that first hour when crowds are lowest.  EXAMPLE:

Magic Kingdom opens at 9:00 am
You have the following fast passes
  • Mine train - 9:45
  • Pirates - 10:45
  • Splash Mountain - 11:45
At 8:45 am you go to Tomorrowland "rope" and ride Space Mountain.  Then quickly walk to Big Thunder.  Then quickly ride Pirates, and Haunted Mansion.  Try to ride Peter Pan.  Use your Mine Train fast pass.  And so on...


Fireworks

Unlike Disneyland, you can freely stand almost anywhere for the fireworks shows.  Ask staff early in the day where you should be and when to get there.


Parades

If your kids don't love parades, this is the opportune time to ride things in Fantasyland!!  Make sure you know what times parades will be during the day, and be ready in Fantasyland during those times.


Staff

The staff are amazingly helpful and knowledgeable!  Ask them questions, and thank them!  They can make your time at the park way easier with tips and insider knowledge.

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