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:
- Buy a decent guide book (I prefer the The Unofficial Guide to WDW), then read it
- Find an online Disney forum and sign up so you can ask questions that you may have
- Find a decent Disney travel agent to help book your trip
- 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.
- Make dining reservations to fit with your park plans (more on this below)
- 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.