25 Disney World Hacks to Improve Your Vacation Experience
- Think Before Buying the Dining Plan – Some guests are “die-hard” Disney dining plan fans and that is perfectly okay, but if you’re looking to save money (check out my How I Save Money at Disney World and Visit the Parks More Often article), consider a quick service dining plan instead of the standard plan or skip the dining plan entirely. You will have to factor additional costs into your budget for food rather than having everything paid for when you arrive but for most guests the dining plan is a “nice to have” rather than a “need to have.” Foregoing the package may save you a little bit of money depending on what you order at each dining location you choose to eat at during your stay.
- Avoid Buying Water Bottles – For some reason water bottles tend to be a “hot-button” issue for many guests, but it’s an avoidable cost. Water bottles in the park are absurdly expensive (and drinks in general are – see tip number 3). If you want a water bottle, that’s wonderful and great in my book but don’t buy them in the parks or at the resorts. If you’re driving to Orlando, bring a case of water with you. A bottle in the parks can cost upwards of $4 so the savings vastly outweighs the inconvenience in my opinion. If you’re flying, you have a few options still. Some hotels sell cases of water, but the best way to save money is to catch an Uber of Lyft to a gas station or nearby grocery store when you arrive or on your way to the resort from the airport. The ride may cost you a few extra dollars to make the stop, but $3 for an entire case of water is more than worth the slight inconvenience to save you tons of money during your stay. You could also even have water delivered by grocery delivery companies Orlando.
- Drink Water When You Can – If you’re at a counter service restaurant or any other meal that doesn’t include a drink in the cost of your meal, ask for a cup of ice water instead of a fountain drink and save $3-$4 per guest in your party. The savings adds up quickly and a cup of ice water is completely free in the Disney parks. All you have to do is ask. However, be sure you ask for a cup of water or you may end up paying for a water bottle if they misunderstand your request. Additionally, if you don’t want to carry a water bottle around all day, stop by any counter service location in the parks with a fountain drink machine for a free cup of ice water.
- Leave Your Refillable Mugs in the Room – If you choose to buy a refillable mug or you get one with your dining plan of choice, do not take them to the parks with you. It blows my mind when I see guests with backpacks and 4 or 5 refillable mugs hanging off of them. The mugs are essentially just Disney themed plastic cups in the parks. The refillable mugs are only usable at quick service locations at the resorts, so save yourself the headache and leave them in the room unless you know you’ll be dining at another resort throughout your day.
- Take a Break Mid-Day – If you’re short on park days or taking a shorter trip than normal, many guests feel the need to spend sun up to sun down in the parks. Do yourself a huge favor and take a break in the middle of the afternoon and head back to your resort or go relax in the lobby of a nearby Disney resort hotel – The Boulder Ridge Villas lobby at Wilderness Lodge or the Boardwalk are incredible options! No matter where you are on property, a Disney resort is a short bus ride, monorail journey, or boat trip away. If you are staying on property head back to your resort hotel (fair warning: you can only use your resort pool unless you’re a DVC member) and spend some time at the pool to cool off in the warmer months. You may feel like you’re missing out on a few attractions but in all reality you may give up two to three attractions in the peak crowd times of the afternoon and the break will refuel you to stay out late! It’s well worth the slight tradeoff. That trade off is a pivotal portion of what I call the “Less is More” approach to Walt Disney World.
- Consider Buying an Annual Pass – For many of you, I know this may sound insane, but if you are going to make two trips to Orlando during the same year, you may be better off buying an annual pass and saving yourself money! We broke down the thought process in our Disney Annual Pass: When Is It Worth The Money? post. If you’re a Florida resident, it’s an even better idea because the cost is somewhat less in some scenarios!
- Get the Free Buttons! – This one sounds a little crazy if you’re not a returning guest to the parks, but if you want a little extra recognition during your day, be sure to pick up a button on your way into the park if you’re celebrating any kind of special day. If it’s your first trip to the park, an anniversary, a birthday, or anything else you choose to celebrate, tell guest services or almost any merchandise location in the parks/resorts and they’ll give you a free button to wear. Throughout the day, cast members will pick up on it and you may be surprised by what special things can happen during your stay as a result.
- Consider Ticket Bridging or Ticket Upgrading – A little while back I did an article including a practice called ticket bridging. It’s a super neat practice for saving money on Disney annual passes. It’s not the easiest thing to accomplish but can save you a fair amount of money towards the purchase of an annual pass. Check out the article linked for the full details. Additionally, if at any point during your stay you feel like upgrading your ticket to an annual pass, you can apply the money you’ve already spent on your packaged ticket towards an annual pass as an “upgrade” to your current ticket. It must be done before your stay and park ticket ends but is a great way to save a little money if you think you may be coming back in the near future.
- Book On Bounce Back Offers – If you know you want to return for another vacation in the not so distant future, call the reservations number before you check out from your resort hotel and ask about a “bounce back” offer. The booking offer can save you hundreds of dollars on a return vacation and is the only way we could make our villa stay in the Boulder Ridge Villas as affordable as possible.
- Book Tickets in Packages to Benefit From Cancellation – Every once in a while you may feel the desire to buy your park tickets independently of your resort reservations. Something you should be aware of is that if you buy tickets in a stand alone manner, the ticket is non-refundable. However, if you book your tickets in a package, the tickets are refundable by the same guidelines outlined for the package. Packages are refundable if cancelled at least 30 or more days prior to guest arrival. For other cancelation details see: Disney’s Site.
- Learn How to Pick Up a Galactic Hero Sticker – Similar to the buttons mentioned above, if you max out your score on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, you can pick up a special sticker to commemorate the occasion for the day! Learn how to max out your score in our How To Become A Galactic Hero at Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin! article!
- Visit the Boardwalk For Free Entertainment – I am notorious for recommending guests visit the Boardwalk resort area. If you get a little extra time during your stay, head over to the Boardwalk for some stellar views, a budget friendly pizza window, free live entertainment at night, and an incredible few hours of the best that Disney has to offer! The view alone managed to make it’s way onto our list of top places to catch a sunset at Disney!
- Debate the Park Hopper Option – If you’re a first time guest to the parks consider passing on the park hopper. If you’re a consistent reader here on the site (Thank you!) you likely know that I am a huge proponent of buying the park hopper add on for longer stays. I honestly believe it affords you far more flexibility than a one park per day ticket. At the same time, if you’re new to the parks you’re likely to spend an entire day in each park if you want to try to see and do as much as possible. The park hopper does afford you the opportunity to go back to another park to revisit a favorite attraction or see a favorite show again, but it certainly has it’s pros and cons, with the largest downside being price.
- Always Go to the Left – This is a tip that is becoming more and more main stream and known, which is sadly making it a little less reliable. At the same time, if you’re ever facing a split in a line or long park opening lines at the gates, it’s a good bet that the lines on your left will move a bit faster and tend to be a bit shorter. Most people are right handed so the natural inclination is to move to the right in most situations. Fight the instinct and head left, it may work in your favor!
- Consider Non-Disney Transportation – I know it sounds counter productive, but if you have to be somewhere fast and happen to be in a time crunch to make a reservation or other scheduled event, consider hailing an Uber or Lyft. Sure, it’s going to cost you $8 or so, but sometimes it’s well worth it in a time crunch! For other situations, make full use of Disney’s free transportation. It’s excellent most to the time!
- Consider Getting Planning Help – If you’re new to Disney travel, consider buying a travel planning book. One of the better ones is Birnbaum’s 2019 Guide Book. I wrote my own guidebook a few years ago called The Adventurer’s Guide to Walt Disney World, but things change rather quickly at Walt Disney World so the Birnbaum tends to be a more up to date option.
- Cut Through the Emporium – The Emporium on Main Street is the ideal way to get down Main Street on a busy day. The entire store is connected from the very front corner to the exit of Casey’s at the very end of the street. At peak times, this single tip will save you a surprising amount of time entering and leaving the park, but also getting around in general. Use the stores throughout the parks to your benefit. Most of them have multiple entrances and it’s a nice blast of AC while moving from one location to the next.
- Go Early and Stay Late – The earlier you get to the parks the better off you tend to be. The crowds tend to build at around 10:30-11:30am on an average day, so make the most of that first hour and you may be shocked at how much you can get done in a very short amount of time. If you need a few tips to make the most of that early time in the parks, use our How to Ride 6 or More Attractions in 90 Minutes or Less: With Only 1 Fastpass+! article to make the most of your time early on in the day. Staying late can yield similar results after the fireworks end for the night and guests slowly start to filter out of the park. Attractions tend to have shorter wait times near closing time and it’s well worth staying to the very end to catch the Kiss Goodnight! In my opinion, it’s the very best way to end a day in the parks.
- Take Ponchos With You – If you don’t want to get wet, consider taking a small and lightweight packable jacket with you in your park bag. Ponchos are incredibly overpriced in the parks and if you’re willing to stop by a dollar tree before your trip or make a quick order on Amazon, ponchos can be had for as little as $8 for a 6 pack to cover the whole family! It sounds crazy but you’ll appreciate this tip when the Florida rains come rolling in!
- Try A Water Park – If you’ve not been to a Disney water park, give it a shot. The tickets are a little cheaper than a day in the theme parks and the experience is wonderful for guests of all ages. Both Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon have a little something for everyone and Disney really sets the bar for clean and family friendly water parks! Every once in a while a VIPassholder event will pop up at the water parks as well (like this one).
Plus 5 more!
- Send a Post Card Home – Sending a postcard sounds like a tip from the 80’s and 90’s, but it really is an experience to try in the parks. Pick up a cheap postcard at a gift shop, write a friend a note or even self address the card, and you can send them via a mail box on Main Street or basically any resort hotel on property. The mailboxes are location specific and themed, but work just like a real mailbox. The mail may take a few days to reach it’s end destination, but the whole process can be a ton of fun for kids and adults alike. It may be old fashion but it’s a hidden gem and a piece of the magic that largely gets overlooked. “Hidden Disney” – The Functional Mail Service Within The Disney Parks!
- Come With a Plan But Don’t Overplan – For today’s Disney vacations, it’s inevitable that you will have to plan a few things to at least cover the very minimum. While I personally suggest going with a plan for at least what parks you’ll visit on what days and what table service meals you’d like to reserve ahead of time, avoid planning every little detail. Too many guests go into a Disney trip with either no plan at all or an over-planned attraction by attraction and minute by minute plan. Somewhere in the middle tends to be the optimal strategy. Once again, the “Less is More” approach is huge!
- Pack For a Variety of Weather Conditions – Florida is unpredictable. It can be 95 degrees in December or 95 degrees in August. It can also be 40-50 degrees in December if you catch an odd week. Be prepared for both and pack for both if you’re going at questionable weather times. Obviously, you’re not likely to need a jacket to keep warm in August (no seriously…. leave it at home!), but you never know what to expect in the “winter” (Or at least what Florida calls winter…). In the summer, trade that jacket for warmth in for a jacket for the rain and you should be set!
- Try Something New – Strive to try something new each and every trip to Florida. Book a new tour or try a new dining location. Step out of your comfort zone or try something you’ve always wanted to try. You can never see and do all that Walt Disney World has to offer so always strive to do something a little different. A great place to start is the Behind the Seeds tour at Epcot or a stop at Teppan Edo for some hibachi! Dining is always my go to at Disney and here are some amazing options for 2020 – Disney World Food To Try in 2020 – My Top Picks.
- Eat at Strange Times – You’re on vacation, eat at a time that isn’t all that typical. Not only can you secure hard to get reservations by doing this but it mixes up your daily routine and allows you the opportunity to avoid the peak afternoon crowds with a late lunch or early dinner. A late breakfast at a Table service location is a great option as well and allows you to make the most of the lighter crowds of the morning hours and then you can sit back and relax for a nice meal as the crowds start to build.
As always, if you have thoughts, concerns, questions, or even some tips of your own to share, don’t hesitate to reach out to us on Facebook or your favorite social media platform. Give us a follow while you’re there, and we’ll keep the conversation going in the future. We’re not the largest Disney community, but we’re one that’s there and one that listens. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day wherever you are!
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