I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
November 9, 2016
We consider ourselves to be an adventurous family, and if you read this blog regularly, you know we’re always up for heading to new destinations and exploring all they have to offer. So you may be as surprised as my husband and I were to realize that we’re also one of those families that heads to Walt Disney World year after year after year. The truth is that I can’t get enough of the place, and explaining the reasons why to someone who’s never visited and stayed within the resort can be difficult. I thought a lot about it and realized that the Walt Disney World Resort is the only place where I feel like I’m a kid again, in the company of my own children. When you stay within the resort– and do some advanced planning– you feel like you’re literally LIVING in the Magic Kingdom, 24-7. The resort grounds are beautiful. Food is in abundance. Special events, like movie nights and wagon rides and firework shows and special entertainment, are happening everywhere. Best of all, every single cast member you encounter seems completely dedicated to making sure you have everything you need. When we’re at Disney, we have no worries, and for that blessed week, we can devote our full attention to having fun with our kids. Now do you understand why I’m so eager to go back year after year?
I’ll be honest, though — If you don’t know what your’re doing when planning your Walt Disney World vacation, you’ll miss out on many of the experiences that make the trip so memorable. We’ve learned a lot over the years through trial and error– Now that we’re Disney planning pros, I thought I’d share all we’ve learned with you, in one handy dandy post. Consider these tips EVERYTHING you need to know to make your next Walt Disney World visit a huge success!
1. Do your research. Many people come to Disney without doing much planning , which makes for a very ‘meh’ experience compared to what it could have been if they’d done a little legwork ahead of time. There are all kinds of things you can do to get the most out of your trip- The key is to do your research at least six months before you go. Get started with The Complete Walt Disney World 2017, which has tons of information on every aspect of your Disney experience. There are also a TON of other books, blogs and articles on the Internet with advice on every aspect of Walt Disney World.
2. Take advantage of the Disney help line. My husband is a planner- and the first time he called the Disney hotline for help, he discovered that the operators are incredibly knowledgeable about everything you could possibly want to know about your vacation, from the most popular restaurants in the parks to their best estimates on when Disney will offer its Free Dining Plan (the operator even pulled up all of the weeks the discount was offered in prior years in order to make an educated guess). He now calls the hotline every time he has a question about anything Disney resort-related. The number: (407) 939-5277 .
3. Schedule your Disney trip during the off season. It makes a big difference. The best months to visit Disney are September, October and November. We went during Spring Break our first year, and we’ve gone in late September/early October since then. It really does make a difference! The weather is milder, it’s still warm enough for swimming, and lines are very manageable- The one time we visited during Spring Break, the crowds at Magic Kingdom in particular were so large that it definitely affected our total vacation experience.
4. Plan for a recovery day (or two! or three!) during your trip. My husband and I joke about families who are clearly doing the “Disney Death March”- visiting a park every single day of their vacation, from open until close. They. Look. Miserable. We like the two days on, one day off model for our Disney vacations. We spend our off days recovering by sleeping in, swimming at the elaborate resort pool, having great meals at other resorts, and exploring Disney Springs, which is really a lot of fun. Don’t miss The Lego Store while you’re there- Your kids will LOVE it.
5. Make all of your reservations six months in advance. If you’ve never done Disney before, you’re probably like “WHAT?!” But it’s true- Restaurant reservations open up six months ahead of time, Fast Pass + reservations can be made 60 days in advance, and the best restaurants and rides fill up FAST. So figure out when you want to do while you’re there and when you want to do it- then make those reservations as soon as you possibly can.
6. Plan to stay at the resort. I never thought I would stay inside Walt Disney World but once I tried it as an adult, I became a convert. We’ve stayed in the “Disney bubble” ever since. When you stay in the resort (and meticulously plan out your visit,) your entire vacation experience is filled with Disney magic 24/7 and with kids, this is just awesome. Read on and you’ll see why. We stay at the Caribbean Beach Resort each year- You can read more about that and the other WDW resorts we’ve visited here.
7. Consider using the Disney Dining Plan. It can seriously take your vacation to the next level. Part of our strategy is to plan our trip to coincide with one of the weeks that Disney offers its Dining Plan for free- This takes some guesswork (Disney doesn’t announce the dates ahead of time and there are only a limited number of Free Dining Plan reservations offered)- but we’ve gotten it right every year so far.
Why is the Dining Plan so great? If you plan it right and make reservations ahead of time, you can turn many of your meals into interactive dining experiences that offer far more than food.
Note: You do NOT need to buy the Deluxe Dining Plan. It may seem tempting, but trust me– It is waaaay too much food for the average person.
8. Best Walt Disney World Resort dining bets with kids at the resorts:
–Disney’s BoardWalk has a number of restaurants- Booking a meal there gives you the chance to stroll down the entertaining and picturesque BoardWalk either before or after your meal. You also have to check out the beautiful BoardWalk hotel- It’s my favorite in the resort and decorated with an elegant 1900s circus theme. Be sure and check out the pool!
-The Whispering Canyon Cafe at the Wilderness Lodge offers a western-themed, rollicking good time for kids. Periodically throughout the evening, kids are given hobby horses and encouraged to ride them in a long line throughout the restaurant. And while you’re there, be sure and ask for ketchup. Trust me on this. While you’re at the Wilderness Lodge, head outside to see the elaborate man-made geyser.
-Boma offers a huge South African buffet with lots of tasty options, as well as African drummers providing entertainment. We allow at least thirty minutes to tour the beautiful hotel and enjoy the balcony views of the Animal Kingdom’s exotic menagerie outside. Thanks to our dinner here, I once got to witness a giraffe chasing a zebra at top speed. I shit you not.
9. Plan your meals to coincide with special events. Certain resorts offer spectacular views of the nearby parks’ fireworks or the Electrical Water Pageant. Plan your dinner so that you can catch the show afterward. One of our most magical nights was spent on the beach of the Polynesian Resort after dinner, watching the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks explode right over our heads. We’ve also enjoyed watching the Electrical Water Pageant from outside the Wilderness Lodge after dinner.
Another longtime resort favorite is the Campfire Sing-Along with Chip & Dale, a free campfire show at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground every night at 7pm or 8pm, depending on the season. Afterward, a Disney movie is shown. This could be a fun after-dinner event for your family. There are also 2 45-minute wagon rides around Fort Wilderness Campground every evening – Tickets are $8 for adults, $5 per child and they leave from Pioneer Hall. No reservations are accepted and you have to pay cash.
10. Don’t ditch your car. Even if you fly to Orlando, it’s worth it to rent a car for your stay at Walt Disney World. Yes, I know there are shuttle buses that technically make driving unnecessary- but those buses are often crowded, have multiple stops, and force you to do a lot of waiting around/standing in line. Plus, it’s really not convenient to take a shuttle bus to dinner at another resort, and trust me- You will want to have meals at some of the other Disney resorts. Finally, if you’re staying at the resort, you can park for free at any of the parks. We often took the bus to a park in the morning, came back for a swim and a few hours of rest in the early afternoon, and drove back to the park for late afternoon/evening hours, when we could always find a vacated spot right up front near the gate.
11. Regulars at the resort decorate their hotel room windows with pictures, posters and stuffed animals. Let your kids create the decorations ahead of time and bring them with you to make your arrival more exciting.
12. Prepare for pin trading ahead of time. Did you know Disney cast members will trade one of their Disney pins for one of yours and they can’t say no to a trade? It’s part of Disney’s pin trading program and it’s SO FUN- We finally figured out the ins and outs of pin trading during our last Disney vacation and it was one of our favorite experiences of the week! If you’re going to do it, you’ll want to plan ahead and do a little research on how it works. Luckily, I wrote a complete Disney Pin Trading Guide, with everything you need to know to have the best pin-trading experience possible!
13. Enhance your older children’s Disney experience by bringing along books with great insider info on the parks. You’ll see a ton of people at the parks toting the Hidden Mickeys book, while the The Imagineering Field Guide to Magic Kingdom gives you all kinds of background information and fascinating tidbits on the park and its attractions. These books can also be a great way to make those waits in line less boring.
14. Staying in the resort? When mapping out your visit, consider choosing a park that has early Extra Magic Hours the morning after another park has late Extra Magic Hours—All of those resort guests will be sleeping in the next morning and crowds for that first hour should be even lighter than normal.
15. Publix is your new BFF. Remember that car you brought with you? You’re definitely going to want to use it when you arrive to make a pit stop at the local Publix. (Address: 4870 S. Apopka-Vineland Road) There, you can get waters and snacks to store in your room’s refrigerator, along with beer and wine (It’s ridiculously expensive at the resort) and- best of all- SOUVENIRS.
Yes, friends, this Publix has nearly an entire aisle of Disney dolls, plushes, magnets, pens, autograph books, keychains, water toys for the pool, and other memorabilia- all at a fraction of the price you’d pay at the resort. Best of all, this Publix has Disney ponchos for a couple of dollars apiece. Get caught in a rainstorm at one of the parks and you’ll spend more than $8 per poncho. BUZZ KILL.
Other nearby options:
Albertsons: 8801 Conroy-Windermere Road
Walgreens: 12100 S Apopka-Vineland Road
Walmart (open 24 hours): 1471 E. Osceola Parkway
16. Sign up for a wake-up call and let Mickey wake the kids each morning. This is an especially good idea on those mornings that you’re getting up extra-early for Magic Hours or a marathon day at the park.
17. If you plan to tip your ‘mousekeeper’ (and I highly recommend it), be sure to put it in a labeled envelope or leave a note with the money– Otherwise, they’re not allowed to take it. The resort’s housekeeping staff is really wonderful and they’ll often go the extra mile to accommodate you and your family.
Character Warehouse: 4949 International Drive, Orlando, FL 32819 (Bonus: This is in Orlando Premium Outlets, one of the best outlet malls I’ve ever seen, with Neiman Marcus Last Call, Off 5th, Coach, Kate Spade, The North Face, J.Crew, and basically any other outlet shop you can think of!)
Character Warehouse: 8200 Vineland Avenue, Orlando, FL 32821 (This location is smaller, but closer to Walt Disney World)
Theme Park Connection: 2160 Premier Row, Orlando, FL 32809 Not exactly an outlet, but sounds like fun nonetheless. This store features tons of collectibles from Disney and other theme parks, including loads of trading pins! The shop will also buy your used Disney memorabilia for cash.
19. When you arrive at any park, turn left and head to the back. This is just a good rule of thumb for any amusement park, but especially at Disney parks since they can get very crowded! Research has found that most people instinctively turn right when they arrive at an amusement park and go in a counter-clockwise direction… so go left to avoid crowds. You will also notice that the rides closes to the entrance are ALWAYS the most crowded early in the day. Start at the other end of the park and work your way toward the entrance for lower wait times!
21. Not on the dining plan? Adults can order kids’ meals at Disney. They’re actually pretty filling for adults with a moderate appetite.
22. If you’re staying in the resort, you can have your souvenirs delivered right to your room free of charge, so that you don’t have to carry them around all day. Of course, I didn’t figure this out until AFTER I had been carrying around souvenirs all day! I will definitely use this option the next time we visit.
23. Most Walt Disney World counter service restaurants will give you a free cup of ice water if you ask for it. They even have special cups just for free water. This may not seem like a big deal, but we used several snack credits for bottled water during our park visits, which we could have saved if we’d realized we could get water from counter service restaurants. Once we found out about the free water, my husband started stopping for a couple of cups every time we passed a counter service restaurant that wasn’t busy. As a result, we were constantly hydrating throughout our park visits and I can tell you that it completely changed our energy levels and endurance, particularly for the children. This tip is GOLD, y’all.
24. If you’re on the Disney Dining Plan, you can order either a regular OR a large fountain drink at counter service restaurants. You will get a regular drink UNLESS you specifically ask for large. Trust me, you’ll appreciate the large drink on a hot day a the parks!
25. PhotoPass Cast Members will take a free photo of your family with your camera or phone — This was ANOTHER detail I wish I’d known when we visited. PhotoPass Cast Members are stationed at all the best photo op locations in the parks and they are great photographers, so now Mommy can FINALLY be in the picture, too!
26. Ask for a button at your resort or at the park’s front desk to show you’re celebrating a special event. Disney Cast Members will give you a birthday (or other special occasion) button- and you may receive special treatment from other cast members throughout your stay, ranging from birthday singalongs at restaurants to balloons! So many guests have discovered this feature that you shouldn’t expect much to happen– However, when our ‘mousekeeper’ found my son’s button in our hotel room one day, she left this little treat on our bed. It’s the little things, people.
27. As long as you are in line by the time the park closes, you will get on the ride, no matter how long you have to wait. So, consider getting in line for one of the more popular rides ten minutes before closing- That way you won’t waste valuable park time standing in a long line for that particular ride. GENIUS.
29. Got a headache? Disney First Aid Stations will give you a free dose or two of pain relieving medicine-– No need to buy an overpriced bottle in the parks.
30. Know your apps. There are several invaluable apps that can vastly improve your Disney experience.
-The official My Disney World Experience app is a must. Use it to quickly and easily change your Fast Pass+ selections and restaurant reservations- This is invaluable, because while you do need to reserve things six months ahead of time, we’ve found that there are often openings (even with “full” Fast Pass+ rides) at the very last minute. I also loved the interactive maps- Markers on the app’s maps showed me where I was and where I wanted to go. Lastly, I used it to figure out where various characters were giving autographs at any given time- The app lists their whereabouts in real time! BOOM. Note: This app is a serious drain on your phone battery. Be sure to completely close out of it each time you finish using it on your phone.
-Many people swear by the Touring Plans Lines app, which is free to download but requires an annual subscription fee and also includes apps for wait times at the Universal parks. Not only does it give you accurate wait times (according to what I’ve read and heard from park goers), you can tell it which rides you want experience and it will give you an itinerary showing you which ride to go on at what time- It changes throughout the day based on wait times. I’ll be honest– I downloaded this app for our last visit and ended up not using it. It was too complicated and time consuming for me to deal with. However, if you’re a diehard Disney fan and can handle a schedule that accounts for every minute of your day (right down to the time it takes you to walk from one attraction to another), this app is definitely for you.
-The Undercover Tourist app is also very popular- It analyzes which days are best days to visit each park, gives you attraction wait times, and includes full menus for every Disney restaurant.
31. Learn the rules of Rider Switch. Here’s Disney’s official policy: If a child does not meet the height requirement or a Guest does not wish to board a particular attraction, no problem! With Rider Switch, one adult can wait with the non-rider (or riders) while the rest of the party enjoys the attraction. When the other adult returns, they can supervise the non-riding Guests, and the waiting adult can board the attraction without having to wait in the regular line again! This means you can still ride roller coasters and thrill rides without having to split up, even if someone in your party doesn’t like those kinds of rides. Awesome!
32. Link your park tickets to your Disney account, even if you buy them the same day. The cast member who sells you your tickets can help you do this. Linking your tickets to your account lets you reserve/change Fast Pass +rides from your phone and access photos from Disney rides and character meet and greets.
33. Bring along an extra, charged power bank for your cell phone. Power banks are inexpensive and invaluable on a long day at the parks- Both my husband and I either completely drained our cell phone batteries each day at Disney or came very close.
34. Getting blisters? Most Disney stores carry moleskin behind the counter. This might not seem like a big deal, but my daughter got a blister during our last Disney visit and I found myself wishing I had thought to pack some moleskin for the parks. If only I’d known I could find it at a Disney gift shop…
35. All Disney parks have free wi-fi. This means that you could bring along an iPad or tablet and use it instead of your phone to access the Disney app– and give your kids something to play on during a long wait in line.
36. If you have to buy rain ponchos in the park, save your receipt! If they rip (and they probably will rip- ours did), you can exchange them at a Disney gift shop for new ones, as long as you have your receipt. This matters, because the park ponchos are very expensive.
37. Make sure your entire family knows what to do if one of the kids gets lost. Not surprisingly, Disney has an incredibly efficient system for reuniting parents and children, so the best thing to do is to tell your child to find a cast member if they’re lost and reassure them that the cast member will help them find you as quickly as possible. Teach them to recognize cast members’ white oval name tags and make sure your child has your phone number on him/her somewhere. (I liked writing it in Sharpie on the arm or tummy when my kids were smaller.) Also, take a photo of your children when you arrive at the park so that you can remember what he/she is wearing and show it to cast members if your child is lost.
38. Early/late for your Fast Pass + reservation? You can generally check in 5 minutes before your Fast Pass + time and 15 minutes after your Fast Pass + time ends. If you make a mistake on your Fast Pass + reservations (this happened to us), you may be allowed in anyway at the cast member’s discretion once you explain what happened — Be polite and chances are, they’ll let you in, especially during the off season. (This also happened to us.)
39. If you can bear to miss the big evening shows and fireworks, it’s a GREAT time to ride the most popular rides. Lines will go way down during the show. Now that we’ve been to Disney several years in a row and have seen all the evening extravaganzas, we count on this time to ride all of our favorite rides. It really does make a difference! Plus, I have great memories of seeing the fireworks from the top of Splash Mountain one year and from the People Mover in Tomorrowland on another trip – It’s fun to have an unusual vantage point for the show.
40. Want to be chosen to participate in a show? Don’t be shy. Stand up, jump around, wear bright colors- Those audience members tend to be the ones chosen. I’ve heard this tip in the past and it’s true- We actually saw a man in a bright-colored shirt stand up immediately when they called for volunteers and wave his arms around eagerly. He was the first to be chosen!
41. Staying in the resort? Consider parking at the Polynesian Resort and taking the monorail to Magic Kingdom. Either start or end with a quick service meal at Captain Dave’s inside the Polynesian –It’s known to be one of the best quick service restaurants at Walt Disney World. The meatballs are wonderful and the hot roast beef and cheddar sandwich is also very good. It’s definitely a better meal than what you’ll find in Magic Kingdom.
We also parked at the Contemporary Resort on a different day and took the Monorail to Magic Kingdom. We had a late dinner after our visit at the Contempo Café, which was the best quickservice meal we had during our visit. We loved the Lobster Roll and Turkey sandwich with brie, green apples and cranberry chutney. The flatbread pizza was also delicious and dessert was absolutely amazing—scrumptious cupcakes, flourless chocolate cake, and peanut butter pie. The Contemporary is the first stop on the monorail coming out of the park, which is great at the end of a long day. Plus, the Café stays open an hour after the park closes, so we ate just before midnight, then went to our car and back to the Caribbean!
42. Want an extended (air conditioned!) midday break during your day at the park? Take the monorail to the Contempo Cafe at the Contemporary Hotel or Captain Dave’s at the Polynesian Resort or the boat to Roaring Fork at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge for lunch, then return to the park afterward. These are the highest-rated quick-service restaurants in the resort and visiting one of them on Magic Kingdom day is a great way to give the kids an hour or two to rest and get out of the heat and away from the crowds. The resort quick-service restaurants are generally wastelands during the afternoon.
43. Schedule a character breakfast in Magic Kingdom just before the park opens. You’ll get in the park before anyone else and can stop for family pictures when you go in, without crowds of people in the background!
44. The first person to visit Tinker Bell each day at Magic Kingdom gets to wake her up. So if that’s your thing, go for it- Her meet and greet is inside the Town Square Theater, right beside the park entrance. (And when we went to visit recently, the wait was only 5 minutes, so she may be a great alternative to the longer princess lines in the park.)
45. Make sure your little princess is dressed the part when you visit Magic Kingdom. Magic Kingdom is filled with little girls who’ve gotten expensive princess makeovers at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique- so if you have a little princess, consider dressing her in her favorite princess dress and doing her hair and “makeup” when you visit Magic Kingdom, so she won’t think she’s missing out on something.
46. Cool down and beat the crowds by eating at Columbia Harbour House in Magic Kingdom. This is one of our go-to spots for a little R&R at the park midday. The food is nothing special, but it’s nice and cool and most people don’t know that upstairs is an enormous second dining room where you can ALWAYS find a table.
47. Bring plastic jewels for Mickey’s Philharmagic. There’s a scene in this can’t-miss attraction in which The Little Mermaid’s gemstones appear to fly out into the audience. Secretly bring some along and toss a few into your kids’ laps with this happens!
48. Best Magic Kingdom dining options: You won’t find any James Beard award-winning restaurants here, but here are your best bets.
Be Our Guest- This is a brand new restaurant inside the Beauty and the Beast castle in Fantasyland and it is gorgeous. It is also very, very popular. Choose from a quick service lunch (if you can get in) or a more formal dinner, which will require reservations well in advance. When you order, be sure and ask for the secret menu item: ‘The gray stuff’—It’s referenced in the song ‘Be Our Guest.’
Sleepy Hollow Inn– Whether you’re looking for a meal or a snack, the waffles and waffle sandwiches are fantastic! Don’t miss this popular Magic Kingdom option.
49. If you’re traveling with kids, consider heading to Fantasyland at the beginning of the day. Most popular rides are Enchanted Tales with Belle, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Peter Pan- Ride these rides first or choose the Fast Pass +. Another option (this is what we do) – Save Fantasyland for after dark, when the little kids have gone home and everyone is lining up for the evening entertainment. Crowds at Fantasyland really thin out at night.
50. The Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom? WORTH IT. I’ll admit it- I’ve always bypassed the Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom because… BORING. But over the years, I’ve heard so many people rave about it that I became curious. Last week during a rainstorm at Magic Kingdom, I convinced my family to head for the Hall of Presidents to kill time and stay dry.
It was great! Seriously. Even my 7-year-old was riveted. Although the material is fairly dry, it is fast paced, the robots’ movements have GREATLY improved since we were kids, and when the curtains part and all of the presidents are standing there looking so creepily REAL, it’s awesome! I swear James Madison would not stop staring at me…
51. Take a break from the crowds by heading to Tom Sawyer’s Island. I can’t believe we took the raft ride there for the very first time on our last visit. It was great and the kids loved it! Plus, it’s likely to be the only place in the park that isn’t completely packed. Be sure and check out the cave- It is more elaborate than you’d think and a whole lot of fun!
52. Missing Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride? It was turned into The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh several years ago. While you’re on the ride, look for the picture of Mr. Toad handing over the deed to Owl. You can also find Mr. Toad in the courtyard outside the Haunted Mansion– His gravestone was added after the ride closed. RIP, Toad.
53. If you ask to pilot Mark Twain’s River Boat ride, you may be taken to the captain’s room where you can pilot the ship. Give it a try!
54. Take your kids on an interactive Pirate’s Adventure. One new feature at Magic Kingdom that many guests still don’t know about is the Pirate’s Adventure in Adventureland. Start at the old cartography shop next to the Adventureland Arch — There, you’ll be given a talisman that activates interactive features and sends your group off on one of five different adventures throughout the park. With the help of a map, you’ll find your way to each location, where your talisman triggers interactive features like smoke and noise. Families rave about these adventures and veterans recommend doing them at night, when the outdoor video screens are easier to see.
55. Epcot has three must-do rides and you have to do some careful planning to get on all three of them in one day:
-Frozen Ever After: You only get one Fast Pass + selection at Epcot. Use it for Frozen and reserve it in advance if you can — Not only is it the most popular ride in the park right now, but it can’t accommodate as many guests per hour as most of the other rides, so the wait times are long and the line moves very slowly. Your other option is to ride Frozen during Epcot’s IllumiNations show at night. While we were at Epcot in late September, the Frozen standby line went down to 15 minutes during IllumiNations. By the time we got over there, though, the show had ended and the wait was back up to 70 minutes– too long for us!
-Test Track: Many recommend going to Test Track first if you arrive first thing in the morning. We’re late-night park goers and always save Test Track for last (or for during IllumiNations)– In our experience, the wait time is substantially reduced the last half-hour the park is open.
-Soarin’: The new international version of Soarin’ should not be missed- It’s one of my all-time favorite rides, anywhere! A third theater has been added, which has helped reduce wait times quite a bit. During our stay in October, the stand-by wait was often down to 20 minutes; the day we went to Epcot, the wait was down to five minutes by the time the park closed!
57. Want your kids to be as enthusiastic about visiting the countries in Epcot as you are? Buy them World Showcase Passports at an Epcot gift shop (or help them make their own ahead of time) and challenge them to get stamps on their passports, available at the Kidcot Stations in 11 different countries. Some of the stations are harder to find than others, which makes for a fun scavenger hunt.
58. Look for the real hedge maze hidden in the the United Kingdom. Head back behind the shops and restaurants and you’ll find it. Kids (and adults!) love trying to find their way through it.
60. Find the hidden museums in Norway and Morocco. Most guests don’t even realize they’re there. Morocco’s museum is as revered for its architecture as its artifacts — When Morocco was constructed at Epcot in the 1980s, the king of Morocco actually sent Moroccan artisans and craftsmen over to do some of the work and detailing. In Norway, the gallery can be found inside the Stave Church — It showcases how Norwegian history and culture influenced the making of Frozen, and my kids found it fascinating!
61. While you’re in Morocco, look for Hollywood Studios’ Tower of Terror in the distance — The back of it was specifically designed to blend into Morocco’s landscape!
62. The best way to meet most of the princesses is to make Princess Storybook Dining reservations at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Norway at Epcot. Many families make reservations to meet the Disney princesses at Cinderella’s Royal Table in Magic Kingdom, but insiders know that the easier/cheaper way to get those autographs and photos is to make reservations for princess character dining in Epcot. The atmosphere is more relaxed, the food is Norwegian-themed and delicious, and if you’re on the Dining Plan, it’s only one table service credit, as opposed to two credits for the Magic Kingdom experience.
63. Save your spending money for Mitsukoshi Department Store in Japan at Epcot. Y’all. This place is AMAZING. Founded in Japan in 1673, the Epcot version is your one-stop shop for literally thousands of awesome Japanese imports, from silk kimonos to candy to hard-to-find Pokemon and Hello Kitty collectibles. Our kids now save their souvenir money specifically for Mitsukoshi (this year, most of their funds went to Pokemon!)- It’s a great place to shop because it really does have something cool for any budget.
By far, the most popular spot at Mitsukoshi is the Pick-a-Pearl station, where you choose an oyster from a water tank and a cast member opens it in front of you. You get to keep the pearl inside and can have it set in a ring or other jewelry if you want. The Mitsukoshi employees have turned this experience into a fun show that always draws a sizable crowd.
64. Epcot is the best spot to get autographs and photos from Mickey and his friends. I love Epcot’s Character Spot. Love. It. You wait in one fairly brisk line to get autographs with Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto. Do this and Princess Dining and Voila! Your kids’ autograph books are well on their way to being filled.
65. Best Dining Bets at Epcot:
Kringla Bakery Og Cafe- We happened upon this bakery/cafe in Norway at Epcot and loved it. Not only were the sandwiches and Norwegian baked goods heavenly (be sure and try one of the school house rolls), but there was no line whatsoever. Be warned- The kids’ menu consists of an Uncrustables sandwich meal- and that’s it- but our 7 year old was perfectly content with that option.
Le Cellier Steak House: Located in Canada, this signature restaurant is a resort favorite and requires reservations well in advance.
Teppan Edo- Located right above Matsutoshi Department Store in Japan, this hibachi grill is a treat for the whole family. Our kids have a blast watching the chef perform on the grill at our table and the food is always tasty. Teppan Edo is now an annual tradition for us.
Bistro de Paris- Located in France, this replica of a Paris bistro serves French fare (obviously) and it’s one of the most popular restaurants in Epcot. I’ve eaten there several times- It’s solid.
66. Make Toy Story Mania your Fast Pass + pick. It’s the most popular ride in the park by far, with the longest wait times.
67. Want to beat your opponent in the Toy Story Mania game? Y’all, I’ve got this figured out! Ignore the low point decoys at eye level and look high and low for the 500 and 1,000-point targets– Focus all your energy on hitting those. I do this every time and generally end up with a score several times higher than my husband’s score. He doesn’t know how I do it and it drives him crazy!
69. Hot and thirsty? Peevy’s frozen drinks are a must! We sprang for several of these during our day at Hollywood Studios– Peevy’s cast members will mix flavors on request and even add a shot of alcohol for adults!
70. Look for the key at Muppet Vision 3D. If you go to the muppet “ticket office” while you’re waiting for the show, it says that it’s closed– but a sign says “Key Under the Mat.” Look under the mat and you’ll find a key!
71. On the dining plan? Definitely opt for the Mama Melrose Fantasmic! Dinner Package. Mama Melrose is one of our absolute favorite restaurants at the resort- and if you choose the Fantasmic! Dinner Package there (meals are one table service credit each), you’ll also get tickets for priority seating at Fantasmic. This is the best show at the resort, and priority seating allows you to sit in the main section of the ampitheater- and on the evening we went, the priority seating area was far less crowded than the rest of the seating sections, which meant that we could sit as close to the action as we wanted.
72. Rest and recharge at the Star Wars Launch Bay. Cast members at the entrance will direct you to lines for character meet n’ greets or the Star Wars movie, but you can also simply walk inside, where you’ll find several (mercifully air conditioned) rooms full of Star Wars memorabilia and a large Star Wars gift shop. Best of all, there’s also a room filled with video game stations tablets loaded with Star Wars-themed games, as well as seating for parents! The day we stopped by, the room was nearly empty. My kids had a blast cooling off and playing some of their favorite games, while I stole a moment to simply sit and relax.
74. Pull on the rope over the well near the entrance of the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular. You’ll hear a voice from inside the well. You’ll also find crates hidden in the bushes that say “Do not open.” OPEN THEM.
75. Take a photo under the Singing in the Rain umbrella. It’s located in the Streets of America section across from the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt show. Pull on the umbrella’s handle and it will ‘rain’!
77. Put a penny on your lap when you ride the Tower of Terror- Watch it float when you drop!
78. Got a super Star Wars fan? First thing in the morning, take your child (ages 4-12) straight to the ABC Sound Studio to sign up for a spot in the day’s Jedi Training Academy shows — Your child must be present at sign-up. The Jedi Training Academy is a 30-minute live stage show that takes place throughout the day– 15 kids at a time get to wear a brown robe, take the sacred Jedi Oath, and learn lightsaber skills from a real Jedi master.
79. For a quick photo with Chewbacca, head to his autograph line a few minutes before the nightly fireworks show. The line will be non-existent and so will Kylo Ren’s line. Also keep an eye out for the Storm Troopers– They come through the Star Wars Launch Bay about every 15 minutes and will pose for pictures, as will the Jawas in the Cantina.
80. The Star Wars Dessert Party is totally worth it. Disney graciously invited my family to experience Star Wars: A Galactic Dessert Party and I can enthusiastically recommend it to those of you looking to celebrate a special occasion or surprise your Star Wars fans. This party is fun both for adults and children. In a roped-off section of the Star Wars Launch Bay, you’ll feast on a delicious array of Star Wars-themed desserts and adults will appreciate the Star Wars themed drinks at the open bar. You’re given plenty of time to enjoy your food and drinks, walk around the Launch Bay, and relax before the Storm Troopers lead you out to a roped off section of the park for fireworks viewing.
What made this a stand-out experience worth the money was the stunning quality and quantity of dessert options, the tasty mixed drinks, and the unrushed, uncrowded nature of the event. Adults were even given the option to get one last drink to take out to the fireworks show before leaving the Launch Bay. We felt like movie stars as the Storm Troopers led us through the crowds down a walkway roped off just for us to a section of pavement with optimal fireworks viewing. There, commemorative Chewbacca steins awaited each of us, as well as bottles of water, which was a nice touch. I also loved the fact that our viewing area was right by the exit — As soon as the show was over, we were able to head down the main avenue and leave the park ahead of the crowds. At $69 per adult and $39 per child (ages 3-9), this is a special occasion surprise no one will ever forget! Just be sure and make your reservations ahead of time.
81. Best dining bets at Hollywood Studios:
Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano- We LOVE this place- It’s the kids’ favorite restaurant in the resort. The Chicken Campanelle is fantastic and is definitely one of the top meals we’ve had at WDW. The minestrone is surprisingly delicious (and ordinarily, I don’t even like minestrone!), and the kids go crazy for the pizza. This restaurant is a required stop for our family. Advanced reservations are a must.
Sci-Fi Dine-In- The food isn’t the best there is, but the experience of sitting in a simulated drive-in and watching a 50s sci-fi movie makes this restaurant a popular option.
The Brown Derby- This is by far the best restaurant at Hollywood Studios, but it is also expensive and requires reservations. If you are looking for an elaborate old Hollywood dining experience, this is it.
82. Consider making breakfast reservations here before the park opens– This way, you can be first in line for the most popular rides.
83. Got little ones? Arrive early and head to the Tree of Life– That’s where 15 minutes before the park officially opens, Mickey, Minnie, Pluto and Goofy arrive, board a truck, and head into Harambe Village to start the day.
84. If the entrance is crowded, head to the Rainforest Cafe. There’s another entrance to the park at the back of the gift shop!
85. Get a Fast Pass+ for Kilimanjaro Safaris and Expedition Everest as soon as you can. You can reserve your Fast Passes 60 days before your visit- and the popular rides run out of Fast Passes quickly, well before the day of your visit.
86. Make advanced lunch reservations at Tusker house for between 1pm and 4pm and you’ll receive priority seating for the 3:15 Nemo show.
88. If you can’t get a Fast Pass+ for a ride, save the ride for the last hour the park is open. Many people visit Animal Kingdom the first half of the day, then leave for another park, so the lines are typically much shorter just before closing.
89. Look for the “secret path.” This path is open to the public, despite appearances to the contrary! You can find it as you head for Harambe Village. Look for the last path on the right after the Tree of Life and before the bridge to Africa. It is surrounded by lots of plant life, so you might have to look hard, but once you’re on it, you’ll have some great up-close views of the Tree of Life.
90. Animal Kingdom is a great place for character meet and greets. There are generally lots of Disney characters here and the lines are considerably shorter than they are at other parks.
91. On Kali River Rapids, prop your feet above the silver ring near the bottom of the raft if you don’t want to get your shoes wet— The water will go over your ankles during the ride if you keep them on the floor of the raft.
92. Don’t miss Conservation Station — It’s a great place to cool off, and with so many interactive exhibits and animal shows, your kids won’t want to leave!
93. Make time for the Festival of the Lion King show. The 30 minute, Broadway-style show is awesome, memorable, and easily one of the best shows you’ll see at the resort.
Flame Tree Barbecue- Known as the best counter-service restaurant in Animal Kingdom, the food is solid but not extraordinary. The ribs are good and the barbecue salad was hearty and filling. My favorite thing about Flame Tree Barbecue is that it has the best quick-service seating! Go to the left of the counter after ordering and you’ll find covered seating with seating fans. On a hot day, this is a great place to cool off!
Tusker House- Called a ‘little Boma,’ this restaurant is an Animal Kingdom favorite and features a buffet of traditional African specialties.
Tiffin’s- This upscale new restaurant is on the Disney Dining Plan (2 table service credits) and offers innovative international cuisine like lobster-popcorn Thai curry soup and Ethiopian coffee butter-infused lamb loin.
You could easily spend a day at Disney Springs — and we generally do. The shopping mecca has recently been upgraded to incorporate more upscale shopping options and some beautiful manmade springs– But don’t worry! ‘Downtown’ Disney is still thriving as well. We loved the fact that Disney Springs now has two distinct shopping and dining areas in one location– The new section feels more luxurious and refined while the older section retains the traditional party/vacation atmosphere for which Downtown Disney was known.
95. Best restaurants:
–The Earl of Sandwich is on the dining plan and has fantastic sandwiches. We have lunch here on each visit.
-We absolutely loved our recent dinner at The Boathouse. The food is fantastic (special mention to the famous filet mignon Oscar Style and the delicious french fries) and the experience makes for a true big night out. For an extra special addition, rent one of the dreamboats outside– boats shaped like classic convertibles– and enjoy a leisurely cruise around Lake Buena Vista! Reservations here are a must.
-We’ve heard great things about Raglan Road Irish Pub — The structure was actually built in Ireland and shipped to Orlando! It counts as a table service credit on the dining plan and gets great reviews from guests for its food, live Irish-themed music and award-winning Irish dancers. Reservations are highly recommended.
–T-Rex Cafe is probably the most popular restaurant in Disney Springs, especially with kids. With its exciting decor and ‘hands-on discovery zones,’ you’re going here more for the atmosphere than the food. Be sure and book your reservations well in advance — They fill up fast.
-We’ve been meaning to try Wolfgang Puck Express at Disney Springs for one of our quick-service meals — The Wolfgang Puck Express here in Nashville is delicious and I can’t imagine it would be any different in Orlando. For a more elaborate meal, check out the Wolfgang Puck Cafe’s table service menu.
-I can’t wait to try Morimoto Asia, the new restaurant from Iron Chef’s Morimoto. Lunch is one dining credit; dinner is two. Outside, you’ll find Morimoto Asia Street Food, which has some delicious-looking options for those who are more adventurous (octopus fritters, anyone?). It’s listed as a quick service meal, but when we went there in October of 2016 for lunch, we were told they weren’t accepting quick-service credits because Disney hadn’t told them which of their menu items qualified. Hopefully, this problem has been fixed since then. The food there looks FANTASTIC.
96. Stop for drinks at the Coca Cola Store Rooftop Beverage Bar. This popular new refreshment zone on the top of the Coca Cola Store is packed with people ordering these stacked trays of drinks. These are 16 different international sodas made by Coca-Cola– Order them plain, as floats, or a combination of the two and enjoy!
97. Get a customized superhero poster at the Superhero Headquarters. My kids are huge Marvel fans, so we always make a stop here when we’re visiting– The best reason to go is to have a Marvel movie poster created with your face in it as one of the superheroes! And trust me when I tell you the software is amazing and the staff is very good at what they do. I watched several people get posters made and it really did look like they were one of the superheroes in the poster. Awesome!
98. Visit the world’s largest Disney store. No visit to Walt Disney World is complete without a visit to World of Disney — It is vast and contains every kind of Disney souvenir imaginable. (It’s also our favorite pin trading location in the resort.)
99. Check out Chapel Hats, a small shop containing literally every kind of hat you can imagine. We bought three!
100. Pin traders won’t want to miss Disney’s Pin Traders, the authority on pin trading at Walt Disney World. Not only did both my kids trade there for the ‘I heart Disney Pins’ pin picture above (a pin I believe is only traded at this shop), we got all of our pin trading questions answered here. Super secret insider tip: Once a day, cast members here bring out a huge board with dozens of pins for one hour. You can find out what time the board will be out each day by visiting the Disney Pin Traders website – The time is listed at the bottom of the page.
Are you excited about visiting Walt Disney World yet? I hope so!
Plan ahead– and have fun!
I also welcome your best tips in the comments– After all, THE MORE YOU KNOW…
Thanks to the Walt Disney World Resort for hosting our visit to Hollywood Studios!
Header image via Theme Park Tourist/Flickr.