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The Ultimate Guide to Disney World – Tips most Don’t Share

disney world vacation

Step into the magical world of all the Disney World parks and become a kid all over again with the ultimate guide to Disney World. Put on your mickey ears and jump on board for the ride of your life!

I now know why they call Disney World the happiest place on earth because it most definitely is! Our family had the best time and it was a trip of a lifetime.

I planned the trip for almost a year and did so much research my husband thought I was insane. All of the research came in so handy though and I owe him a good ol’ I told you so!

I would not recommend just going to the parks and not having a plan or fastpasses done. Our trip went really well because I did a lot of planning and research ahead of time.

I am going to try and share with you my experiences and everything I learned before and after to make sure your trip is as good as ours was. I am an open book. Please feel free to leave a comment below or hit a contact at the top of the page if you have any questions!

disney world vacation

Don’t get me wrong we still had some hiccups and a rainy day but overall the trip was worth every penny!

Speaking of pennies I will share some Disney tips and tricks on how we saved some money and what I learned before that didn’t really help too much.

This post does contain affiliate links and I may earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase.

Disney World Vacation

My family of four, my husband, myself and two girls Annabelle 5 and Ella 3 were on vacation as well as my mother and her boyfriend. So 6 of us total. Six was not a bad number of guests when trying to book reservations and fast passes.

I can imagine that a large group would be much harder and have to break down to accommodate more attractions.

We flew from San Francisco with a direct flight to Orlando and the flight was almost 5 hours (6 on the way back). Below I will share some of the items that came in super handy during our flights and while waiting in line.

Again I researched this part and found some really good ideas and items that we were very thankful for multiple times on the trip.

Staying Off Resort at Disney World   

By far the most asked question during my research. Is whether to stay at a Disney resort or off the resort. I would highly suggest off resort! It is not a popular answer but in my opinion the best way to vacation at Disney World.

I will be doing a whole blog post on our rental and comparison because I want to be very detailed about it for others because I know it will help so many families save money and they will love it.

To break it down quickly if you don’t want the in-depth details there are so many pros to having a house rental over a hotel room.

Pros of Staying in an Airbnb Type Rental

  1. Your own space (no sharing walls or hearing people move outside or above you) multiple bedrooms and shared living spaces for groups to separate and have some alone time
  2. A washer and dryer (less to pack you can rewash stuff)
  3. Your own pool and hot tub 
  4. Multiple bathrooms (you aren’t sharing one bathroom with multiple people)
  5. Full kitchen so you don’t eat out as much (coffee makers included)
  6. Screened in private patio (no bugs or other people)
  7. Games, movie players, foosball table, poker table, etc all included in our rental
  8. Save a ton of money!

Let me break it down very simply just to give you an idea. Our house rental cost us $181 per night. We did choose a bigger one with 5 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms with the pool and hot tub. Ours also included the grill, propane, heated pool and heated tub (others don’t include the heated you pay $40 extra). So while finding rentals there are tons of options that cost less. We paid more for some of the extras.

At the same time as searching for an Airbnb, I called Disney and had them get me quotes for rooms at one of the resorts. First off if we were going to stay at a resort we would choose to do two rooms (one for us and one for my mom). So right off the bat that’s probably going to cost more than sharing one house. 

The lowest hotel room I could find was $189 per night for one room with two queen beds. So the same price pretty much for one room and we would need two. For a suite with a kitchen, they book out apparently 1 year or two years ahead and cost over $600 per night.

I have seen some people who have annual passes and use DVC points to have suite type rooms with little kitchens. According to the rep, those were not available at the time I was acquiring, which was 12 months from out trip dates.

Now for the number one reason, we loved our rental over a resort. The hot tub! I cannot tell you enough how each night after walking sometimes over 20,00 steps at the Disney parks how nice it was to soak in the sauna! Each night us four adults got in enjoyed a nice drink and relaxed and said over and over how thankful we were forgetting this place.

All while the kiddos slept upstairs easily in their frozen themed room. You can’t just leave kids in a hotel room while you go down to the hot tub (much less have to share it with strangers)! But you can leave them tucked in upstairs and go right outside to the hot tub and leave the door open and hear them if they get up as we did in our rental home.

disney world vacation

Perks for Staying at a Disney Resort

They do have perks for staying on resort. They offer magic bands and shuttles to the parks so you don’t have to pay for parking. The magic bands are not necessary at all we did not miss them and using the given cards was just as easy. The shuttles would be nice depending on which park you are staying at and which other ones you are going to.

For instance, you stay at a resort right next to Magic Kingdom. You get on the shuttle (a bus full of strangers and have to manage all of your stuff and strollers) and ride to the park. Even next to the resort you’re going to be on the shuttle at least 10 minutes till drop off. If you are visiting a park not right next to your resort (the parks are spread out) you can be on the shuttle for over 30 minutes sometimes.

Our house was 6.8 miles from the closet park and traffic took us no more than 15 to 20 minutes to get to them. We did not have to wait for shuttles or others to board we could go and come as we pleased. Yes, we had to pay $25 per day to park but it was fine and we saved so much on the rooms we were fine paying it. 

We also rented a minivan from Alamo for a total of $381 for 9 days and picked it up from the airport. If you are staying at one of the resorts they pick you up from the airport but It’s over 40 minutes from the parks from the airport. We had so much stuff I couldn’t imagine having to load it on and off a bus shuttle. 

Car Seats at Disney World 

There are also car seats to consider. It’s not something I ever read about but thought I would add in her to be upfront. If you are staying on resort you cannot use a car seat in the shuttles or on any type of Disney’stransportation. 

If you want to use them on the plane then you would have to stow them in your room the rest of the time. While using Disney transportation you would not have the seat available. Yes, buses are safe but what if something did happen and you did not have them restrained in their seat. If you did bring them you could use them if you wanted to uber anywhere (shopping, Target/Walmart runs, etc.)

While we were on vacation in Florida for 9 days, we went to Walmart 3 times, a Disney outlet store for souvenirs, went and got mani-pedis and shopped around at Ulta, Harley Davidson, and 5 Below. We also ate dinner out 3 times, Texas Steakhouse, Cracker Barrel, and Outback. 

Having a rental car and the car seats were very convenient for us. We did have to pay for gas but it was a whopping $2.40 compared to the $4.29 we were currently paying at home in California.

disney world vacation

Strollers at Disney World 

Since I mentioned the car seats I want to bring up the stroller as well. Just bring yours! Don’t rent one. We used it the entire time in the airport, back and forth to the cars, and at the parks. There is so much walking the kids wanted to sit or ride the skateboard the whole time. In fact, a lot of my pictures from the trip the girls are in their stroller!

We have the UppaBaby Vista and I can tell you know this stroller is worth every penny. Not only for this trip but the numerous other times we have used it for the last 5 years. The wheels do not get flat and the attachments are crazy useful!

Which Disney World Park to Go To

Which Disney World park should you go to? All four of them if you can, duh.

Really though our favorites in order were Magical Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios then Epcot.

Each park has great attractions but by far the best park is Magical Kingdom. It has the most rides and attractions plus the really cool downtown Disney with great shops. The view of the castle isn’t too bad either!

disney world vacation

Disney World Magic Kingdom

The magic at Disney Magic Kingdom is very real. As soon as you step into the park you enter into a world of extravagance and pure fun. Around every corner is something entertaining and exciting. To see the looks on our kids’ faces was the highlight of our trip.

We did this park two days in total. It was perfect to see everything we wanted and we got to see a lot of the attractions and ride most of the rides. It seems to be one of the biggest Disney parks and has the most to see and do.

The first park day of our vacation we spent at Magical Kingdom and we had some hiccups with our fastpasses. I’ll go into detail about those next.

Even with the hiccups, the park was a blast. The castle was a huge hit and it wasn’t even a ride or attraction. 

The girls have been watching Disney Plus and before each movie, they see the castle in the opening credits. I have been telling them that’s where we are going and where the princesses live. They started jumping up and down and getting really excited every time they saw it. Their favorite Disney characters are Belle and Cinderella.

The one thing I thought was really weird during our visit to Disney World, from what  I remember from Disneyland, was that we didn’t see any characters really.

The only characters we saw were in a parade or one of our fast passes. We also dined at the Crystal Palace buffet and Winnie the Pooh and gang were walking around. Apparently they get mobbed and don’t walk around like they used to.

Disney World Fast Passes

Disney World fastpasses are something that Disney World offers and they are amazing. Fast passes are basically a way for you to skip through the lines of the rides and get to the front faster.   Each entrance to each ride there are two spots, one is the regular line and there is another line for fast passes. They check your magic bands or cards at the front and again later in the line as well.

 Each line is clearly marked. Fastpass lines for most of the rides I would say you wait like 10 minutes depending on what time you go on the ride. While in the fastpass line you pass by a lot of people it’s really cool. 

To sign up for a fastpass you just sign onto your My Disney Experience app on your phone, desktop, or you can do it at the park at certain kiosks. There is a spot on the app and desktop that says add fastpasses. It is super simple and takes minutes. 

You search the date and park you want then they show you the times available. During my research, this is something I sweated over literally trying to get right. Check out Mouse Hacking and take a look at their suggestions I feel like they were the most accurate.

 If you choose to stay on resort you can sign up for your fast passes 60 days in advance. If you stay off resort it is only 30 days.

I booked mine two weeks in advance because of my blog and work I ended up partnering with Disney. I was offered some free tickets but they way they do it you cannot receive them anytime prior to two weeks. 

My fast passes were not very good but they could’ve been a lot worse for so two weeks in advance. I believe that if you only had 30 days to book them it would be fine. 

Here is the fastpasses info from Disney:

Disney FastPass+ service lets you reserve access to select attractions, entertainment and more. With the purchase of a ticket or Annual Pass, you can make selections as early as 30 days before you arrive—starting at 7:00 AM Eastern Time. Plus, if you are staying at a Disney Resort hotel, Disney Springs Area Hotels or other select nearby hotels, you can make your FastPass+ selections up to 60 days prior to check-in for the entire length of your stay. And the best part? There is no extra charge for this complimentary benefit.

Disney World

Rope Drop at Disney World

There really isn’t an actual rope drop but the time the park opens is referred to as the rope drop. Most of the time the parks open at:

Magic Kingdom 8 am

Epcot 9 am

Animal Kingdom 8 am

Hollywood Studios 6 am

If you want to get in some rides before the long waits I highly suggest you get there early and before the park opens. It takes a long time especially at Magic Kingdom to get into the gates.

You have to park or get off the shuttle, go through security, then scan your bands or cards. 

Everyone and their mothers (literally) are going to be heading off to the rides they want just like you but it’s not enough for the rides to get crazy wait times right off the bat.

We went into Epcot and went right to the Frozen Ever After ride and we were at the ride 25 minutes after the park opened (later then we wanted but sometimes it’s hard to get out of the house with little kids). The wait for the ride was 25 minutes.

There were tons of people heading in that direction and you can hear people saying hurry let’s go as we all walked to the same place. 

Fastpass Rides are Closed

One thing I do you want to touch on for fast passes if something happens if the rides are closed. The very first day at Magic Kingdom all three of our fast passes were canceled because the rides were closed. At first, I was like oh my god I’ve been planning this trip for like a year now and all three of mine are canceled that’s bull!

I was really disappointed in the beginning. I was super anxious because everyone was staring at me like what the heck. We were just about to go to our first fastpass. It was in 10 minutes.

I decided to try and see if I could get another one. You are only allowed three at a time. So I thought I would cancel the one that was closed and try and get another one.

Don’t do that!

If I had waited the 10 more minutes and our ride was closed for the chosen time I would have got a special fastpass for any ride in the park with a couple of exclusions.

For example that day at Magic Kingdom we got the fast passes and we can use it for any ride at any time the rest of the day except for the seven dwarfs mine train in Peter Pan it was really nice getting to just pick one and not have to worry about the timing. They were good for any time for the rest of the day.

You may also book additional fast passes for your group after your others are used. I tried this each day at the park and it never really worked for us and a lot of diehard Disney people say it works great but I ended up being on my phone so much and so worried that I was missing out.

I ended up just not worrying about it in and waiting in some of the lines that were less than 20 minutes and put my phone away. It was a great decision. 

Each ride has wait times on the app or on display on the entrances to the rides. We could just walk around and find ones we wanted with short wait times. Either way is nice and we used our app a lot but it was nice putting them away for a bit as well.

We did but portable chargers to charge our phones but none of us used them at all. I happened to have just bought a brand new iPhone 11 pro max so my battery lasted all day just fine. I took a ton of pictures and videos, I share them below!

Disney World Christmas Decorations

disney world vacation

Disney World at Christmas is amazing and everything you would think it is. There are huge Christmas trees at the parks, lights everywhere and tons of Christmas decorations.

They are not overbearing but it’s just the right amount of fun Christmas cheer. Disney World offers extra parades at night which do cost more, it is a whole separate ticket. 

We went December 4 through the 12th two of the days we went to Magic Kingdom the park closed at six and we thought that was going to be a huge issue but it was not, it was totally fine. We were done by six, our kids were past done.

We had a dinner reservation at 5:20 at Crystal Palace Buffet and didn’t finish until after 6:30 and they weren’t rushing us out or checking for tickets. We probably could have stayed but we didn’t want to we wanted to get the kids to bed and soak in the tub and go to bed early were still jet-lagged.

Disney World Castle

The Disney castle and magical kingdom are beyond your storybook fantasies. Totally breathtaking! My girls loved it from the second we saw it before we even arrived at the park. You can see it as you’re walking up. It’s just so big and beautiful and it just brings you back it makes me feel like a kid all over again.

I tried so hard to get the perfect Instagram family castle picture in front of it but  there’s a problem and so is everybody else so there are tons of people it’s hard to stop the flow of people walking

I tried multiple times but my kids weren’t into it you could see below this is the best I got. I highly recommend going to magical kingdom it over any park if you’re trying to pick one or two parks.

Disney World’s Epcot

Epcot was a very fun park we had great fast passes and I am seeing all the different countries in the beautiful architecture of the buildings.  We at lunch at a Mexican restaurant in the little Mexico area with margaritas and our table was overlooking the huge lake

One of the best rides there was Soaring. I know why everybody is obsessed with the ride I highly recommend that one!

I rated this one last in my list of favorites because it’s the least amount of Disney charm. Less on Disney characters and more about culture. There seemed to be fewer rides at that park too and more attractions. Of course, it was still really fun and we learned a lot about other cultures.

disney world vacation

Disney’s Hollywood studios

When I was planning the trip I knew Stars Wars was a huge new attraction and that no matter what day we picked Hollywood Studios was going to be a bit more crowded. Little did I know they just launched a new Star Wars ride that same week (announced after we purchased tickets) so Hollywood Studios was packed.

Everybody’s trying to get on the boarding passes for the new ride and I thought oh my gosh is this going to be crazy insane. The park really wasn’t that crowded in Star Wars I thought we wouldn’t even be able to walk the whole area it was fine we even rode a Star Wars ride with only a 10-minute wait.

Disney had traffic under control with people holding signs saying to keep right. 

The day we went to Hollywood Studios it was 80 degrees and humid. I was miserable but the park has a lot of indoor rides and attractions it ended up being fine. We were so happy to jump in the pool when we got back to our house!

By the way, I have no idea how people do the parks in the summer!

disney world vacation

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park

Ever want to go on a safari ride or explore the highest peaks of Mount Everest? Wonder what it would be like to roam around with dinosaurs and head down river rapids?

You can do all that and so much more at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

It is not just an animal park! The animals are everywhere and totally amazing but there are so many fun rides, wilderness exploration, and The World of Avatar!

The kids, husband, and I really enjoyed this park. We rode on a train, may many rides, and did a fun wilderness explorer book.

I believe one of the favorite parts of the trip for the girls was when they searched for all of the items in their scavenger book.

Throughout this park, the architecture is made to make you feel like you are in a jungle and it’s fun to walk through the park and see all of the animals as you go from ride to ride. 

disney world vacation

The safari ride was also a trip highlight. Our tour guide was really great and we were lucky enough to see some really cool animals in their habitats. 

disney world vacation

I would recommend riding the Kali River Rapids and taking the safari tour. We did not get a fastpass for the World of Avatar ride and the waits were over 2 hours so we chose to skip it. We still had a blast and definitely want to go back to this park.

Disney World Food – Dine There or Bring Food?

Everyone has to eat. So this is a big topic for Disney World. Where to eat?

I am going to be as simple as possible and no go into to much detail about it on this post but ill do a full post on it in the future.

You cannot go wrong with any food at Disney World. We ate at multiple places and have zero complaints about any of them.

You can bring whatever food and drink into the park that you want.

We brought in fruit and cracker packs, snacks, and drinks with us and also ate lunch and dinner at the parks.

We had a character dinner at Crystal Palace ( very expensive but fun and the food was good).

I would plan on doing a mix of both but there is no obligation to eat the food at the parks. If you want to bring all your food you can and eat there.

Some of the snacks they offer like chips and =granola bars are reasonably priced and the mickey ear ice cream other ice creams are $3.50

Disney World Photos

During our trip, I took a ton of videos and photos. I wanted to make sure I captured it to show the girls later on in life and help them remember the trip.

Below are some of my favorite photos and a couple of videos. Head to my Youtube channel to see all of the videos.

Disney World Trip

Disney World Deals

Our trip was very fun and we ended up doing it or a decent amount spent. We did buy a lot of souvenirs and ate out more meals than we planned.

If you want to save money I would suggest bring your food and renting a house. You can make food there and not have to eat out most meals.

Here are the items I bought for the plane rides and to play while we were waiting in line. I also made a trip to the dollar store and stocked up on stickers and Disney stuff beforehand.

Sharing helps me out so much!

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