• Each year, millions of people visit Walt Disney World. While Disney makes it easy to have a great vacation, people still make mistakes while planning and visiting the parks. You can still have a fantastic time, even with making many of the mistakes below, but why not avoid them, and assure yourself of a trip of a lifetime.

    #10: Underestimate the size of WDW – Remember, Disney World is twice the size of the island of Manhattan. For the most part, you cannot walk anywhere, and when you can, it is a LONG walk. I hear people all the time who think Epcot and the Magic Kingdom are next to each other, that all the Disney hotels are within walking distance of the Magic Kingdom or that the monorail goes to all the parks and hotels. It takes time to go anywhere at WDW. Plan on at least 30 minutes to get from your hotel to the parks. Plan on everything taking twice as long as you think it will. Don’t assume this is Disneyland where everything is on one city block.

    #9: Trying to do too much – Our typical trip to WDW is 10 – 14 nights. I see families who plan on staying 4 nights, but try to do more than we have planned in 14 nights. Their days are so packed and scheduled, they end up running their kids into the ground, they have no time to enjoy all the options Disney has to offer that you can’t schedule. Go with a plan, but make sure your plan leaves plenty of wiggle room for unexpected changes.

    One related item, don’t force character meals on the kids. Plan one or two during your stay, your kids will get bored pretty quickly with them, if you do any more than that. You will be surprised how much they enjoy a nice dinner in the parks, without characters.

    #8: Extra Magic Hours/Park Hours – I see so many families who show up to the parks at noon, having slept in. By far the least crowded time in the parks is the first few hours, show up when the park opens, it is the best time to be in the parks. If you need to take a nap, do so after lunch, when the parks are the most crowded, and then come back a bit later. Also, I see families who have no idea what Extra Magic Hours are. Make use of them, especially the night time ones, where the parks are open three hours later to Disney resort guests. While not all the rides are open, most are, and it is great to be in the parks at night when it is not crowded, they are beautiful. For the record, I avoid morning EMHs, they just seem to make that park extra crowded, and I usually show up at the night time EMH just before the park closes to the public, one of the benefits of park hopping.

    #7: Disney Transportation – I guess I should say not making use of Disney transportation, but that was too long. Disney provides extensive transportation options, from buses, monorails and boats from your Disney resort to all parts of the parks. Disney also provides the fantastic Magical Express airport transportation. I am always shocked when I see someone rent a car, drive it from the airport to WDW, and then drive it to the parks. Learn and use the Disney transportation system, it will make your vacation much more simple and enjoyable.

    #6: Booking directly with Disney – There was a study done last year by Disney, concerning booking habits and the relative success of the resulting vacation by Disney World guests. Not surprisingly, those who booked directly with Disney through the Disney World website had the worst vacations, followed by those who called Disney directly to book, with the best results coming from those who booked with a travel agent. Say it with me, “I will not book my family’s vacation directly with Disney“. There, you are one step closer to a fantastic Disney vacation. Travel agents, specifically Disney specialists, have gone through this many times before with their own families, and help thousands of families each year get to Disney successfully, they can answer your questions, help you with problems, make suggestions on restaurants and resorts and get you the best price possible. It is a win/win relationship, you get a better trip, your travel agent makes a little money. It won’t cost you any money, or take any more time, so why wouldn’t you use a travel agent?

    #5: Planning last minute – Nothing says bad vacation like last minute travel. Disney does not ever have any great last minute deals, in fact, it is usually more expensive to book last minute as you pay full rate. You will also be limited on resort choices, as your preferred resort may be sold out. Also, waiting to the last minute will keep you from being able to make decent dining reservations. Plan ahead! I usually suggest to book at least three, if not six months or more in advance. Do your research, get the thing booked and let your travel agent worry about getting you any discounts that show up, there isn’t any reason to wait.

    #4: Not using Fast Passes – I cannot count how many times I have been walking through the Fast Pass line (it seems like it is always on Space Mountain), and I get jeers or comments about “butting in line”. My guess is less than 20% of park guests make use of the Fast Pass system, or even know what it is. Use it, it will save you time like you can’t believe. Fast Pass is free, simple to use, and even on days when the parks are empty, you should use it. Head on over to Fast Pass Information, and learn what the Fast Pass is, where you can use it, and the process, it will be worth the 5 minutes of your time.

    #3: Don’t do research – This is the one that really drives me crazy, and is basically a guarantee that you will have a horrible time. With the internet, and the number of Disney fan sites and information Disney provides, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to do a bit of research into resort, rides and restaurants, not to mention all those special things Disney does each and every day. If you are just starting your planning, here is what you need to do:

    1. Buy a decent guide book (I prefer the The Unofficial Guide to WDW), then read it
    2. Find an online Disney forum and sign up so you can ask questions that you may have
    3. Find a decent Disney travel agent to help book your trip
    4. Find out park hours, Extra Magic Hours schedules and rehab closures while you are there, as well as any special events made available during your stay.
    5. Make dining reservations to fit with your park plans (more on this below)
    6. Re-read your Disney guide book

    Now, you have to remember not to over plan as well (see #9 above). I typically have a calendar listing where we are going each day, the park hours, Extra Magic Hours and our dining reservation shown for each day, and I take it with us to the parks, the rest is open to what we feel like doing that day. Granted, I have been there a ton, you may want to add in notes on things to do, rides not to miss, etc.

    #2: No dining reservations – Since the introduction of the popular dining plans at Walt Disney World, all of the restaurants, both in the parks and resorts, have become extremely crowded. Our last trip, earlier this year was during a very slow time, and every single restaurant was completely full, and they were not allowing walk ups. If you show up at Disney without dining reservations, plan on eating counter service meals every meal, as that will be your only options. In addition to simply making your dining reservations, you must make them as early as possible. As soon as you know you are going, get them booked and set, you can always try to make changes later.

    #1: Staying off Disney property – I can see, back in the day before the value resorts were built, there may have been reasons to stay off property. Today, I can’t think of one. It isn’t any cheaper to stay off property, it takes longer to get to the parks, and you miss out on all the great perks Disney throws your way for staying in a Disney resort:

    • Disney’s Magical Express
    • Disney Transportation
    • Extra Magic Hours
    • Disney Dining Plans
    • Free parking
    • Disney service 24/7

    If you want to assure yourself of a poor Disney vacation, choose to stay in some non-Disney resort, rent a car, and spend all day driving back and forth between your hotel room and the Disney parks. Uggh, pure torture.

    I hope this top 10 was helpful in your planning. Of course there are more than 10 WDW mistakes, feel free to comment below and add yours to the list to help others planning.

    Make your Mom happy and share with your friends!
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    This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008 at 3:43 pm and is filed under Walt Disney World. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
  • 30 Comments

    Take a look at some of the responses we have had to this article.

    1. Sep 24th

      I agree whole-heartedly with most of the items listed. However, I have to at least point out that staying on-site is really set up for families of 4. Only the All Star Music resort has rooms that will even accommodate more than 4 people in a room.

      Since we have 5 in our family we often stay off-site unless we go for free dining or something. We have found that driving is at least as fast as the bus service once you know your way around. From a cost perspective there is no comparision. You can save a bundle and get much nicer accommodations than staying on site. Not only that, you can save a huge amount on food.

      The benefit of getting Extra Magic Hours is hotly debated anyway, so it’s not a big deal to just avoid the EMH park anyway.

      Staying off-site in a pool house at a nice resort like Windsor Hills is not for everyone. A lot of people don’t want to cook or clean while on vacation (most houses don’t provide maid service). But if you have a larger party and want more room and to save lots of money, it’s a great way to go.

    2. Rich Tritschler
      Oct 5th

      We have stayed off site and it was the best choice for the trip planned. It all depends on your plans and situation. Bonnet Creek Resort (next to CBR) has been a great location when we needed multiple bedrooms. They have transportation available to all the parks (though not as frequently) or we drive our car since we have free parking as AP holders. This gives us max flexibility and we sometimes drive from our WDW resort. Except for some peak capacity times in MK we can get back to our hotel quicker with the car than using WDW transportation. But it is nice to use WDW transportaion after a long night at DTD of having to many refreshments in EPCOT. We can book a night at Bonnet Crek for $95-110 a night. Better than 2 value rooms and we get a kitchen and living room.

    3. Bianca
      Oct 17th

      I don’t get why it is such a bad idea to book directly with Disney? Cause I just did and i’m affraid now… You tell us not to, but don’t explain why it is so bad..!

      Please tell me!! =|

    4. Oct 17th

      Bianca

      I didn’t say it was bad, just not as good as booking with a decent Disney travel agent. When you book with Disney directly, your relationship ends there. The reservation is booked, end of story. If you want to ask any questions, do any planning, make any changes, you have to do it yourself, and go elsewhere to get answers.

      If a discount is released, it is then up to you to find out about the discount, find out if it applied to you or not, call Disney (with the correct code and dates) to see if they can apply it for you, and then repeat the process each time a discount come out. If you book through a decent travel agent, they take care of all that for you, you just get a nice email or phone call telling you the cost of your trip went down.

      Also, for me, the biggest deal is to be able to just shoot of a quick email and know I will get a personal reply pretty quickly with an answer to my questions. With Disney, I have to call them (and pay long distance), speak to someone who doesn’t know anything about me or my reservation, and hope they can help me.

      There is no additional cost to book with a travel agent, you get better service, you will have a much better trip (according to the study), and most of the time, it will actually be cheaper for you, as they take care of discounts. For me, it is a no brainer.

    5. Bianca
      Oct 17th

      OK I understand now.. you’re right.. I had to call Disney to ask some questions… long distance.. oh well.. it is too late for me now but im happy I got this information. Thank you!

    6. Dec 31st

      Good list! People ask me all the time; “why are you going so long. 14 days? Isn’t 1 day for each park enough?”
      I answer; I take my time, explain about all the stuff they miss by rushing, tell them about things I have seen on my stays and they missed on running from ride to ride…
      However! Booking with WDW direct is OK when you have DVC! and dining reservations are not always needed. Leave some room for unplanned dinner. I don’t always know what I want to eat 6 months from now. And for those without kids! Eat late and most of the time there is place!

    7. Feb 21st

      I disagree with two of your bullets. I tried all the travel sites before reserving through Disney. It only cost me a couple hundred bucks more and the package was loaded with freebies. Package, of course, is the key — click, click, click and I was done.

      As for last minute planning, in this economy, I think it helps a lot.

    8. Mar 7th

      Len

      Unfortunate. All those freebies only cost you a few hundred bucks? Doesn’t sound like free to me. You do realize that most travel agents include all the same freebies, will almost always save you money, and are always there to answer your question and help make your trip the best it can be?

      Use a Disney only travel agent next time, it will cost you less, and I promise, you will have e a better trip.

    9. jody
      Apr 16th

      I have to disagree with the staying off site. For the price of staying in a one room motel on site with 2 teenage girls, we are staying in an off site 2 bedroom/2 bath townehouse/condo with jacuzzi in M/B, fullkitchen, W/D screen deck etc.. the resort has waterpark, mini golf, lake with paddle boats and plenty for kids to do during down time. The difference of having to rent a car (15 mins from parks) (and from what I understand the transportation system on site is slooowww) and eating in our place and offsite, we still come in way under what the cheapest vacation on site was quoted to us than if we stayed on site with all the xtras.

    10. Carol
      Jun 11th

      I have to disagree with the advice regarding booking through a travel agent. We are in Canada and perhaps things work differently here to the U.S. but after booking our Disneyworld trip through one of the largest Canadian agencies last year, we decided to get a quote from them again this year, and then get a quote by calling Disney directly. The result was that by booking with Disney – which we have done – the same trip is costing us slightly more than half of what it would if we had used the travel agency, and in fact, half of what it cost us last year for basically the same trip. That is a HUGE saving! We booked our vacation with this agency last year about 5 months in advance of our travel dates and recieved no discounts whatsoever after paying for the trip. The only extra we received last year, which we have not by booking directly with Disney this year, are some Disney resort luggage tags. And perhaps that is only because we are staying at a different Disney resort this year – who knows? Disney sent us perfectly usable paper luggage tags. It’s ludicrous to suggest that the travel agents do not make any money – that’s precisely how they make their money – they don’t work for free! A good example is that last year we looked at changing our resort after we had made our booking – we wanted to move from one moderate resort to another moderate. The travel agent said there would be a $125 administration fee. Out of curiosity I called Disney and asked if they charged an admin fee for changing resorts – the answer was yes, however it was $50. Travel agent pays Disney $50 to change reservation, pockets the other $75. I actually enjoy researching and planning our trips and there are many, many resources to help – most of them free! Your local library will have a wealth of guide books devoted solely to Disneyworld to help you, and there are numerous really good websites devoted to Disney resorts, restaurants, even menus! However if you really can’t be bothered doing anything towards planning your trip, then I guess it’s a good idea to use a travel agent. But visiting a few websites and reading a few guide books realy can give you the inside track on what a Disney vacay can really be when you know a few secrect tips and get advice from veteran Disney go-er’s!

    11. Jun 11th

      Carol

      I would have to agree, in your situation, I would have booked directly through Disney as well.

      However, I strongly suggest booking through a Disney specialist, not a large travel agency, or only agency such as Expedia or Travelocity. A Disney specialist can help you along the way, and never will charge you a fee above any change fees Disney charges. They are paid a commission by Disney to book your trip. If you run into a situation where you are being charged fees, move on, and fine someone else to deal with.

    12. Jeanna
      Jun 13th

      I have been to Disney World about 30 times. Each time I have booked calling Disney directly and each time I have made some of my best memories. Disney is a great place to have a family reunion. It’s a great place to go alone with that special someone. The best thing Disney started was their meal plan. The best deal is dining with 1 snack, 1 quick service and 1 table service. It’s more than enough food. Use your table service meals on family style or buffet dinners. Share your quick service meals with someone, most places have very large servings. Be smart where you use your snacks to get more for your dollar. I go to Disney to sleep in great hotels (even the value resorts), eat great food and be in a happy and safe enviornment. Trust Disney, don’t waste your money on a travel agent…call them and ask away with your questions. If you get someone who isn’t helpful call back and you will. Most importantly take advantage of the fact that you’re in the most magical place in the world enjoy yourself and have the time of your life.

    13. Kristen
      Jul 29th

      Hello, just wondering where I find a Disney Specialist travel agent??? Like a local one where I live or can I do it all over the phone with someone out-of-state?
      Thanks!

    14. Nancy
      Aug 10th

      I would also disagree and booking a Disney vacation with a travel agent. Before booking mine, I first went and created a package on Disney on-line. I then called a travel agent and spoke with a “Disney specialist” and gave them the same variables (dates, resorts, tickets, air, etc). Travel agent came out to be more expensive. Therefore I booked directly with Disney. Any questions I had they have been very nice and helpful.

      Perhaps a travel agent would work best if you’re not staying at a Disney resort and/or have other days planned around the Orlando area that are not Disney related?

    15. Jenny
      Oct 14th

      ? about transportation. Will have parents (both 70) with us on next trip and worried about waiting on the buses and not having a seat if the buses are crowded. Was thinking about driving to the parking lots and using the handicap placard….thoughts???? Suggestions?

    16. Oct 15th

      Jenny

      I have yet to be on a bus where guests did not give up a seat for someone who could not stand. I don’t think it would be a problem. You could drive, though there would still be significant walking involved, most of the handicap parking areas require as much walking as general public parking due to the available shuttles. Maybe you should try the bus first to see how it goes.

    17. Jenny
      Oct 15th

      Keith – thanks for the feedback!!

    18. James
      Jan 14th

      Unless you are staying at a resort with boat or monorail access to a park there is nothing magical about riding the buses around the property. After several years of staying at a condo off site and renting a car to drive in I found a deal this month (jan2010) to stay on site and we decided to give it a try. I found the magical express more troublesome than anything. Although you don’t have to collect your bags at the airport, they aren’t delivered to your room until much later that night. plus the wait for the bus was quite long. It was about 90 minutes from landing to resort. When we rent a van and get our luggage ourselves it is about the same length of time, possibly shorter and my bags are with me, not delivered later. We rent from the car rental places in the terminal at MCO and the lines are never very long and we have our car in less than ten minutes after grabbing our bags and drop off is even faster.
      The rooms on site are fine, but they are just that, one room. When we stay off site we have a kitchen, two bathrooms, two bedrooms. On site; one tiny room. The pools are just as nice at the off site places we have stayed (marriott vacation clubs and mystic dunes resort).
      Disney food is, on a whole, alright but good luck finding any vegetables. You can get carrot sticks and celery sticks, thats it. When we stay off site we eat at great restaurants and we have easy access to grocery stores for vegetables that we prefer like peppers/cucumbers/broccoli etc. Fruit is priced outrageously on property also ($1.50 for a banana…seriously) The money you save buying snacks and drinks at a grocery store compared to disney property will likely be substantial and remember Disney allows you to bring in any food you like that you don’t have to cook.
      We do pay for parking but usually we drive in early and spend the morning then leave for a rest and come back in the evening to whichever park is open latest. No we don’t get magic hours but after having experienced it on this most recent trip I don’t think it is worth it. You only pay for parking once per day.
      We have never paid more than $850 for a week in a two bedroom two bath condo.
      Our three year old(who is disney crazy) was asked after this most recent on site stay if he preferred the condo or the hotel better and he chose the condo because he has room to play and he gets his own room. Thats good enough for me.
      I would stay on site again but only at a monorail resort (contemporary or polynesian) or the wilderness lodge with boating to Magic kingdom. Anywhere else is just a hotel with nice theming.
      I guess you could rent a van/car and stay on site too but that defeats the purpose of staying on site in my mind. If I’m going to drive myself around I may as well drive from a nice off site condo.

    19. Larry
      Jan 28th

      James

      Thank you for your advice…you help me to make the right thing ,Stay off site, Thanks

    20. Laurie
      Feb 1st

      Hi, My son tried a “Disney Specialist” TA for our trip in March; the TA was recommended by a Disney fan site (either All Ears or Mouse Savers, can’t remember at this moment). The TA was several hundred dollars more expensive than the trip we booked on our own, and we have had no problem with either finding out about discounts or taking advantage of them (Thanks to Mouse Savers. Neither my daughter-in-law nor I have had any trouble getting polite, friendly Disney agents to answer my questions by phone. I am sorry that others have not had this experience. I think it all depends on how much time you want to spend planning your vacation. I agree with the person who said that it’s fun; I have a lot invested in my vacations and I enjoy planning the details myself.

    21. Gwen
      Feb 13th

      We are currently on an 8 day trip to Disney, staying in a FABULOUS 4 bdrm, 4 bath house in Windsor Hills. HELLO! It takes us 10 minutes to get to the park and costs $14 a day to partk. In exchange, we get to eat breakfast and dinner in our pj’s, park the car in a garage, use a washer and dryer (awesome since it rained yesterday), and spread out! We have a party of 6…so we would have spent a great deal more at a moderately priced resort since we would have needed 2 rooms (which would have been claustrophobic.) My family needs a chance to spread out and have some down time after 12 hours of together time in the park. Elbow room gives everyone a chance to recharge … one person can sleep undisturbed while 2 people watch different tv shows and a couple others play. We do not feel cheated by “not being immersed” in Disney culture 24/7. 10-12 hours a day really is sufficient.

    22. Mogie
      Mar 17th

      If you want to stay on Disney property, the best prices are at the Dolphin and Swan. They are on Disney property but are run by Starwoods in the Disney Boardwalk area. I just booked a 5 night 6 day vacationg for $810 total with my AAA discount, about 15% off. Starwoods has a great relationship with AAA. If you are a registered Teacher or in the Military, you can get even better discounts by booking through the site or by calling.

      I am buying park passes from a legitimate discount site, ticketsatwork.com which will save about 11% on a 4 day park hopper with 3 extra days free. I will keep an eye on flight prices and book directly from the airline website.

      My girlfriend and I split all the costs luckily:) so this trip will cost us both well under $1000 each, for room, flight, and park tickets.

      I highly recommend booking the trip yourselves. This trip would cost hundreds of dollars more through the disney website. Even sites like travelocity that offer packages for the same flight and hotel quoted much higher prices.

      Goodluck!

    23. Erin
      Mar 17th

      Hi all,
      Just wanted to put my 2 cents in…I myself am a Disney Travel Agent. I work for a web based company that is paid directly by Disney. I charge no fees. My prices are the same as if you went to Disney direct. The only difference is that I do all the “extras”…I book dining reservations, plan itineraries, send care packages with goodies for the kiddos, and basically answer any and all questions pertaining to Disney.
      I think that some travel agencies do offer discounts. However, paying a little less and dealing with being overwhelmed by trip planning may not be worth it.
      Beware when booking through a website…they are not obligated to tell you if you qualify for a disney offer that would save you money. I recently saved a client $800 by notifying him of an offer. He canceled with the website and rebooked with me…

      Good luck everyone! Happy planning!
      If I can be of any assistance, please let me know!

      Erin

    24. Jenny P
      Apr 25th

      I agree with booking with a travel agent. CAA in Canada (or AAA in the US) has some disney travel specialists and you get discounts off room rates and other perks as well when you’re a member. I was able to save $900 on my trip booked for May 2010. And they booked everything for our trip including limo service to the airport and back home again. Definitely worth it to book through a travel agent. The give you added tips that you may not think about and keep an eye on airline prices and Disney promotions so you get the best deals.

    25. lisa
      May 1st

      I disagree with the no travel agent part. We have been going to Disney every year for the past 10 years. One year I went with a travel agent 3 years ago and would NEVER do that again. Every time I wanted to change even a small detail, I had to call the agent and have her change it, then wait 3-4 days before she woud actually do it. I called and changed my promo code twice in the last 2 weeks, and changed 2 dining reservations, and had it done in minutes of changing my mind. I like to be in control of my own vacation, and with an agent your not- Disney wont even talk to you is you booked through an agent. Maybe first timers should use an agent, so they don’t miss out on anything, and make sure they’ve covered the details. But after that – DO IT YOURSELF !!!

    26. lisa
      May 1st

      I think renting a stroller should have made the list !!! Trust me bringing your own stroller IS worth it. Paying that price, and having to stand in line at the beginning of EVERY day forever is the worst mistake in my book. Then coming off a ride or attraction and trying to find your stroller among a million strollers that look the same is horrible.

    27. Rob Stockman
      May 12th

      Erin,

      A Disney Travel agent is the only person I would trust in booking my family disney package.As time is important to me I will depend on professional like yourself to not only booked my package but arrange all my other reservations, give me tips and ensure that I have the time of my life. I would not give myself a route canal so I use a denist. This also applies to travel.

    28. Angela
      May 25th

      I agree with the above people about staying off property. We go to Florida every March with a total of anywhere from 15-35 people, all comprised of families that range in size from child-less adult couples, to a family with 5 kids. We always stay off property at a “condo”. The size of our “rooms” sleep a family of 7 comfortably, or last year we had my mom and dad, my boyfriend and myself (we are in our mid-20s), my sister, and my cousin and his wife. That’s not even using the pull-out couch. We also had a full kitchen, an additional kitchenette, and 2 full bathrooms. It was very important to my mom and dad as well as my cousin and his wife to have their own rooms for privacy, and so if we were staying at a value resort we would have needed 3 rooms, and in addition would have had to purchase all of our meals. This is especially a big deal for the family of 5 kids, as buying all your meals on property would get pretty pricey quickly!

      The price of our condo for the week? $1000. For 7 people.

      Maybe you just have more money than the average family (or I have less than I thought I did) but staying at a value resort is a “splurge” that I’ve only been able to afford to do twice.

    29. Hale
      Jan 12th

      Anyone who thinks it takes 10-15 minutes to get to “the parks” from an off-site resort is kidding themselves. Disney property is huge. It’s at least a 15 minute drive from MK to AK. Off -site resorts that claim “10 minutes to Disney” translates to “10 minutes to one of the main entrances.” Plus, if you have a little one that requires afternoon naps, staying on-site is almost a necessity.

      If your vacation time is not as important as how much money you spend on a room, go ahead and stay off site. I’ve done both and will never stay off-site again.

    30. Jim
      Apr 4th

      Not sure how a value resort could be better. But I often find cheap hotel deals. The greatest was during the spring at a namebrand hotel right by the WDW main entrance. $25 a night. No lie. There were many european travelers there and we received free cont breakfast each night. Not if Disney can top that on site I’m In!

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