Top Four Tips for Creating Realistic Expectations For Your Disney Vacation

We’ve all seen the Disney commercials with characters roaming freely through the parks and riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad with guests all while whole families smile mouse ear to mouse ear. Everything seems perfect!

As we all know, nothing on this world is perfect – not even a Walt Disney World Vacation.

However, that doesn’t mean that plenty of fun doesn’t happen. It just happens a little differently than what you see on TV.

Real People, Real Vacations

When we’re traveling, we’re with real people who have good moments and bad moments. If you have young kids in tow, they may not always be happy even at the Happiest Place on Earth. Why? Because the parks can be overwhelming and exhausting especially for the little Disney fans but also for us big kids.

A study out of London in 2014 suggests that having low expectations is the key to being happy in life. Will the café around the corner serve you the best lunch you’ve ever had? Probably not. Will it be tasty and satisfy your hunger? Yes.

Thinking that nothing bad can happen at Disney World only sets you up for disappointment. However, with some good planning and realistic expectations, you can make your Disney World vacation very memorable.

Here are four tips for creating realistic expectations – and having the time of your life.

1. Learn the Lingo

Disney World is like a world in itself, and Cast Members and fans have created a language that is truly Disney. First time guests might not understand what it means when someone says, “Are you staying on property? Don’t forget to make your ADRs 180 days out and your FP+ reservations at the 60 day mark. Are you staying at a value, mod., or deluxe?” and “I love going to MK on my last day especially when it has EMHs. It’s like saving the best for last!”

Excuse me – what?  Can you translate that into English?

These are just a few of the shorthand expressions that guests use when discussing Disney World, but you have to know what they mean in order to survive in The World!

Before you go any further into your vacation planning, learn the basics and the deadlines:

Guests staying on-property or at a Disney Resort hotel (one owned and operated by Disney) can make their Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) 180 days before the first day of their trip and for every other day of their vacation. As a Disney Resort guest, you get this little perk that off-site guests (those staying at a resort hotel not owned and operated by Disney or one that is outside of Disney World’s property) don’t get.

FastPass+ (FP+) reservations work the same way but Disney Resort guests (and guests staying at a few good nearby “Good Neighbor” hotels) are eligible at 60 days before their vacation, while off-site guests can make their FastPass+ reservations 30 days in advance. This is a good argument for staying on property at least for your first trip to Disney World.

Be sure to learn a little Disney lingo before you go.
Be sure to learn a little Disney lingo before you go.

Reading Disney forums and talking to people who have visited several times can help you learn all of the short-hand and jargon you’ll need to know for your trip.

2. Learn crowd patterns

Visiting Disney World and expecting to have low crowds is very unrealistic. However, if you plan well and expect it, the crowds can be more manageable.

Crowds will be at their highest during the mid-day, but other factors can affect crowd levels too. If the park has EMH or Extra Magic Hours that day, more Resort guests will be in the parks before it actually opens. Then, even more people will come in increasing the crowds. If there are special events going on, like cheerleading competitions, the crowds will also be heavier.

Fortunately, there are some insider tips about how to avoid or at least manage these crowds.

Arriving at the parks early is a sure fire way to get a lot done before the crowds max out at mid-day. I like to take a mid-day break when the crowds and the heat are at a peak then return later once it’s cooled down a bit. If the EMH are after park closing, this is another great time to see and do a lot of things in a short amount of time.

Arrive early - you will be glad you did!
Arrive early – you will be glad you did!

Another great tip is regarding shows. If there is a second showing of anything (fireworks, parade, whatever), always go to the second one.

Finally, and this is probably my favorite tip of all, so much so that I hesitate to divulge the information, but here goes. Go left. Our natural instinct is to go right when given the choice. If you go left through the park, you’ll do the things on the left side before the other guests even get there. Then, you’ll be on the right side when most people are on the left finishing up their day and dealing with everyone else who doesn’t read this blog! You’re welcome. ☺

3. Know that you won’t see everything

Disney World is a huge place and coming in thinking you’re going to see and do everything is an impossible expectation no matter how long you plan to stay. With so many restaurants, attractions, shows, parades, and fireworks, you couldn’t possibly fit it all into your vacation.

Especially if you’re visiting with children, pacing yourself is important so as not to experience exhaustion, which will, undoubtedly, lead to meltdowns.

Pace yourself - you can't see it all, so don't even try. You will drive yourself and everyone around you crazy.
Pace yourself – you can’t see it all, so don’t even try. You will drive yourself and everyone around you crazy.

Create a list of must-dos, maybes, and nos. You may be able to eliminate things from your list at the outset just by looking at height requirements. If your kids aren’t tall enough, remove it from your list. Your must-do list will help you create your FP+ reservations, and your maybe list will serve as a backup once you’ve completed your must-dos. All of this planning may sound exhausting in itself, but it will likely build your excitement even more.

4. Planning leads to spontaneity

Sometimes your basic planning can lead to some great memories. Remember that special places create special memories, so splurge once on a nice restaurant or wait in line for the character meet and greet. If you plan well before hand, you can just let your vacation happen! Scheduling the big things like attractions, shows, and dining can let the little things fall into place.

How do you manage expectations for your Disney World Vacation?