If you’re planning a vacation to Disney World, ask twenty different people what their favorite planning tip is, and you’ll get thirty different answers!

Vacationing is meant to be fun, but with Advanced Dining Reservations, FastPass+, Extra Magic Hours, and ParkHoppers, a Disney World vacation can seem pretty daunting. It doesn’t have to be, though!

If you’re aware of some insider information, you can navigate your vacation planning and the parks with no problem even on the busiest days!

I’ve compiled the top 15 Disney vacation planning secrets that only the pros know, and I’m going to share them with you!

15. Watch for Special Deals

This one is a little tricky because Disney doesn’t offer many specials, but they can occasionally be found.

For starters, if you’re an Annual Passholder, a Disney Vacation Club Member, a Disney Visa cardholder, a AAA member, or a member of the military, you can get discounts on everything from park tickets to souvenirs. Check with Disney for details if any of these apply to you.

Disney is well known for offering two deals: free dining or room discounts. When the free dining is available, people often run for it, but the room discount can be the better value since the dining plans usually include more food than most people will eat, and you pay full rate for an expensive room. Plus, you don’t have to purchase a Magic Your Way Package to get a room discount and you do with free dining.

Finally, unless you’re a Cast Member, you won’t get employee discounts. However, Epcot has several pavilions that are sponsored by companies and this comes with perks. For example, Chevrolet sponsors Test Track. It has a special lounge designated for employees of these company who are visiting the parks. The Epcot lounges are beautiful and well appointed, so if you work for a company that sponsors an Epcot attraction, be sure to check into your eligibility!

14. Buy in Advance

Ticket prices for theme parks rise every year, so if you know well in advance that you’re going to be visiting Disney World, go ahead and buy your tickets. You’ll have to know what kind of ticket you’re going to buy (Park Hopper, water parks and More, etc.) but you just might save some money if the tickets get a price hike.

Buy your tickets in advance.

Buy your tickets in advance.

13. Bundle and Save

If you can buy things in a package, it’s sometimes a better deal. A Magic Your Way vacation package includes transportation to and from Orlando International, transportation around Disney property, park tickets, lodging, and sometimes a Disney Dining Plan. Buying all of this as a package can save you a significant amount of money as opposed to buying them individually. If you can bundle in Free Dining, you’ll get even bigger perks!

However, be sure to check the math.  Price out your choices both ways to see which is a better deal.  Run the numbers yourself, or get help from a recommended travel agent who specializes in Disney vacations.

12. Don’t forget the extras

Just because you paid for your tickets, lodging, and dining in advance, doesn’t mean you won’t have some costs in the parks. Although Disney is pretty good about being inclusive, you’ll still have some expenses – not least of all souvenirs. If you’re driving, you’ll have to pay for parking and you should tip anyone that provides you a service. If you plan on renting a locker in the park, that will be extra, too. And there’s no doubt you’ll want a Mickey Ice Cream at some point during your visit. Budgeting for these expenses ahead of time will help you be prepared when these expenses arise.

11. Save on Seasonal Rates

Disney uses demand pricing, and Magic Kingdom is the most expensive park. On the busiest days, Magic Kingdom tickets are well over three figures. On slower days, the cost is just over $100. Other parks are around $100 for peak days and you’ll save even more on slower days. Basically, a one-day park ticket will cost you about the same as a Broadway show.

If you can be flexible with your travel dates though, you can maximize your savings by visiting during the least expensive value days. Value days are usually when students are in school including January, February, and September. Most of March, June, and July are peak for spring and summer vacations, and the other months are regular. The exceptions are during Thanksgiving and Christmas, which are peak for school breaks.

10. Get an Annual Pass

Another secret with ticket discounts is to buy an annual pass. It might seem counter intuitive, but you can actually save money by spending more initially. This works in a couple ways.

First, AP holders are eligible for discounts in restaurants, resorts, and gift shops among other things. Plus, you get free parking! Even if one person in your group has the annual pass, you’ll get these discounts.

Second, you can save money on park tickets by getting an annual pass if you’re going to visit more than one time in a calendar year (no more than 364 days between check in one and check in two).

Here’s how it works: Say you’re going to take the family on a Disney vacation for Thanksgiving this year, and you want to see Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween party next year. Go ahead and get your annual pass in November (it’ll be activated when you first use it in the parks) then come back next October for Halloween. You won’t have to purchase tickets the second time around because your annual pass will cover it! If you can plan this far in advance and visit for a longer stretch, it can result in a huge savings!

9. Choose your parks wisely

Fortunately, Disney World has something for everyone! The littlest riders will love Dumbo the Flying Elephant and Peter Pan’s Flight while the more adventurous thrill seekers will get their kicks on Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. However, when both of these people are in the same family, things can get tricky.

Choose parks that best fit your needs and work your touring plan accordingly. If you want to go to all the parks but you only have a few days, be sure to get the Park Hopper. If you’re going to be in Disney for a week, you might not need the Park Hopper since you’ll have enough days to devote one day (or more) to each park.

You should also consider whether you’ll be visiting the water parks. The Water Parks and More Option is a popular but pricey ticket upgrade. If your family really likes big water slides and attractions, the water parks are for you! However, if you just want to splash around and maybe hit a few slides, choose a Disney World Resort that has these features as many of the Deluxe resorts do. Stormalong Bay at Disney’s Yacht Club and Disney’s Beach Club is basically a water park in itself with a lazy river, a sand bottom pool, and, yes, water slides.

8. Watch the Weather

We all know that weather in Florida is usually hot or rainy. Hot days tend to draw crowds, but many fans stay away on cloudy days. This is especially helpful if you live in the area. Visiting on a cloudy day will mean lighter crowds and shorter wait times.

Cloudy days mean smaller crowds.

Cloudy days mean smaller crowds.

7. Skip the Rental

Since Disney World provides complimentary transportation to all guests saying on-property, you won’t need a rental car. Even if you’re staying off-property, most hotels in the Orlando area provide shuttles not only to Disney World but also to Universal Studios and Sea World (although the scheduled running times may not be frequent or convenient).

Paying for a rental car is usually an added and unnecessary expense, and you can always use a taxi or Uber.

6. Get there early and stay late

Arriving for rope drop is not only a magical experience, it’s becoming more and more necessary. Crowds reach their peak around mid-day. If you’re at the park when it opens (I’m talking about being there at 8:30AM when it opens at 9), you’ll maximize your park time and be able to take a mid-day break during the busiest time of day. Hit the most popular attractions first since the wait times will be short and you’ll essentially be able to walk on attractions that may have an hour or more wait later in the day. After you’ve rested by the pool, head back to the parks for the evening. Crowds will be dying down and you’ll be able to enjoy the parks at night. Spoiler alert: the parks are beautiful at nighttime!

If you’re a Disney World Resort guest, take advantage of Extra Magic Hours whether they’re in the morning or at night. During these times, the general public is not allowed in the parks, and the wait times will be much shorter than during regular hours.

As a little extra, if you’re willing to forgo the fireworks, you can usually walk onto very busy attractions like the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train during Happily Ever After or Test Track during Illuminations.

5. Take Advantage of Apps

A Disney World vacation should be a time to put the technology away and enjoy the time with your family, right? Well, kind of. You shouldn’t be taking business calls or answering e-mails, but you should be using the MyDisneyExperience app to check wait times, read menus, and find the closest restrooms and transportation directions. The information that this app provides is invaluable. You can thank me later.

4. Use FastPass+

Of all the complimentary extras that Disney provides free with your base ticket, the FastPass+ has got to be the best! FP+ is a virtual queuing system that allows guests to essentially make reservations for attractions and shows that they’d like to visit during their vacation. It’s important to choose these FastPasses wisely, but that’s a topic for another post.

All you need to know right now is that Disney Resort Guests can book their FastPasses up to 60 days in advance and non-resort guests 30 days in advance. Using the FP+ system will allow you to enter a different line that will move much faster than the standby line because only a certain amount of people are allowed to enter per hour. Don’t underestimate the power of the FP!

3. Save on Food and Drinks

Did you know that you can take a cooler into the Disney theme parks? That’s right! As long as it measures 24″x15″x18″ or smaller, you can bring it into the parks. You’re not allowed to bring any glass bottles or alcoholic beverages, but water, soda, energy drinks, and non-perishable foods are all excellent things to pack in your Disney day bag. You can pack whole meals or just snacks, but no matter what you pack, it’s one less thing you have to buy in the parks.

If you get a Disney Dining Plan, you’ll get a refillable resort mug with your plan.

However, you can also purchase these mugs without having a DDP. Once you purchase the mug, you can refill your mug at any Disney Resort (but not in the parks). If you plan to take a mid-day break or even spend a whole day enjoying your resort or any of the other resorts on property, buying a refillable resort mug may be a good idea for you. The price tag may make you flinch a little at first, but you’ll easily pay for the mug in just a few refills.

Some restaurants in the parks, including Epcot’s Sunshine Seasons and the Electric Umbrella, also have self-serve fountain drinks. Once you buy a drink you can refill that cup.

Finally, you should know that you can get water for free at any counter-service location in Disney World. There’s no charge. Just tell them you’d like a glass of water, and they’ll be happy to give you as many as you want!

2. Turn Left

It’s natural for us to turn right and follow the flow of traffic, but if you turn left when you enter the parks, you’ll find that the left side of the park is almost desolate in the mornings. Attractions on the left side will have very short or nonexistent wait times as will those toward the back of the park. You might be fighting crowds mid-day, but since you’ll be heading back to your hotel for a mid-day break anyway, you won’t have a problem. When you come back for the evening, turn right and you’ll find that many people are on the left side of the park at this time of day.

1. Take your time

The main difference between a theme park and an amusement park is that a theme park is more than just a bunch of attractions set onto a concrete parking lot. A theme park has themed lands and plenty of details.

In my opinion, Disney does this best. Don’t forget to enjoy the details: the smells, the lights, the shops, the decorations. It’s all part of the bigger picture that you’ll only appreciate if you look at the small picture first.

What’s your favorite Disney vacation planning secret?

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