Editor’s Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.
Planning the perfect Disney vacation is an art form that requires equal parts pixie dust and homework. With so many choices for where to stay, what to see, and where to eat at the theme parks, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Whether you’re planning your first-ever theme park trip or you’re a veteran fan looking for some helpful tips before your next Disney World vacation, we’ve got you covered. Take your Disney experience from great to magical with these tips, ranging from money-saving hacks to essentials you won’t want to forget.
Related: More Disney vacations
Forgetting About Reservations
Disney World and Disneyland are using a park pass reservation system to control crowd levels during the pandemic. In order to visit, a theme park reservation is required (in addition to a valid ticket). First, make sure that the parks you want to visit have reservations available, then book your spot as soon as you buy your tickets. And don’t forget about dining reservations — with reduced capacity at many table-service restaurants, reservations are highly recommended, especially if you want to eat at one of the popular eateries or enjoy a character dining experience.
Under or Overplanning
You’ll want to make a general itinerary for your trip, taking into account your travel companions’ preferences, ages, and abilities. (If you’re traveling with younger children, be sure to check their heights, so you know what they can and cannot ride.) Consider the theme parks, restaurants, and experiences that are most important to your group before making reservations, and then create a game plan for each day. If you’re traveling with ride enthusiasts who want to experience as many attractions as possible, plan to get to the parks early or stay late to maximize time. If you’re taking the kids along for their first Disney trip, leave lots of free time to explore the parks and book a character meal or two, so they can see their favorite cartoons. Of course, it’s equally important to remain flexible and leave room for the spontaneous experiences that make a Disney vacation so unique.
Getting Overheated or Dehydrated
Florida weather can be intense. With highs easily reaching the 90s during the summer months, it’s easy to get dehydrated or overheated. Be sure to drink plenty of water (it’s free at quick-service restaurants, if you don’t want to pay for bottled water) and step inside an air-conditioned shop or show for a break from the heat. Dedicated Disney parkgoers might even invest in a cooling towel or portable fan, but my favorite way to beat the heat is by snacking on a refreshing Dole Whip.
Not Taking a Break
Disney vacations can be tiring. With so much magic to experience, you might find yourself trying to stay at the parks from rope drop to the final minute. That might be a great way to make the most of a single day at the parks, but if you’re spending several days at Disney, give your group the option to take a break midday. If you want to maximize your ride time, head to the parks just before they open, ride as much as you can while the wait times are shorter, and in the middle of the day (when the parks are most crowded and the sun is beating down), head back to the hotel to lounge by the pool or even take a nap. Then, you can return to the parks refreshed that evening. (This isn’t just a helpful tip for families traveling with young kids — as a 20-something theme park expert, I can’t overstate the importance of taking a break during a full theme park day. Everything is more magical when you’re well-rested).
Choosing Fashion Over Comfort
Speaking of that Florida heat, you’ll want to dress comfortably for the weather. On hot summer days, opt for light, breathable clothing, and no matter what time of year you visit, bring your most comfortable footwear. Between standing in lines and walking to and from attractions, your feet will probably be tired by the end of the day, so choose your comfiest shoes (and be sure to break them in before your trip).
Forgetting the Essentials
Water bottles, sunscreen, bandaids, blister pads, portable cell phone chargers — these are all great to have on hand in a fanny pack or backpack when visiting the theme parks. And don’t forget your approved face covering — Disney currently requires these for guests ages two and up. I highly recommend stashing a few extras in your bag, in case they get wet or sweaty (especially if you’re traveling with kids).
Not Checking the Schedule for Refurbishments and Special Events
Before finalizing your plans, check the calendar — park hours can change, so you’ll want to stay updated on any adjustments. Occasionally, an attraction will temporarily shut for refurbishments, so scan the calendar on the Disney website to see if any of your favorite rides will be closed during your trip to avoid disappointment. Specially ticketed events like Mickey’s Not-so-scary Halloween Party are currently on hold due to the pandemic, but when they restart, you’ll want to confirm those operating hours because Magic Kingdom may close earlier to accommodate the event.
Not Taking Advantage of the Free Activities
Disney vacations can be expensive, but the parks and hotels offer a number of free and affordable activities that guests of all ages will love. If you’re staying at a Disney hotel, plan to spend a day by the pool (many resorts have wonderfully themed pool areas that are an attraction in their own right). Also, be sure to check with the front desk for any complimentary events or programs. In the parks, take advantage of included experiences, like Wilderness Explorers, a set of interactive nature-themed activities at Animal Kingdom. Plus, there are plenty of options at the Disney World Resort that don’t require park tickets, like giraffe watching at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Spending Too Much on Souvenirs
If you want to save even more money, consider stocking up on Disney merch before arriving at the parks. You can find adorable, affordable Disney T-shirts, accessories, and more at places like Target, H&M, Uniqlo, and more. You’ll be glad you saved those extra bucks when you want to splurge on a Star Wars lightsaber or a new pair of Mickey ears once you’re there.
Elizabeth Rhodes is an associate digital editor at Travel + Leisure who loves all things theme parks. Follow her adventures on Instagram @elizabetheverywhere.