- Download and begin to use the My Disney App. This app is all-inclusive and is used for making all your dining reservations, fast passes, hotel check-in and any other planning you'll need to do. As soon as you've bought your tickets, you'll want to link them up and start making your fast pass selections and restaurant reservations. You'll also want to link your hotel reservation to your app as well. Basically it's a one-stop-shop for all your Disney needs.
- As an adder to the above, book your dining ASAP. The big ticket restaurants fill up super quick (Be Our Guest can fill up 6+ months prior to going to the park) so if there are restaurants you've got your heart set on, you'll want to snag a reservation. If you can't get a reservation right away, keep checking because there will be cancellations. Also, be aware that there are cancellation fees if you don't show up or if you cancel within a certain amount of time. So be sure to check what the cancellation policy is.
- If you're staying on Disney property, use the Disney bus system. This is a great way to get around without having to drive and the buses drop you off right at the front of the parks which is super great. With our recent experiences, I wouldn't recommend using the bus system if you want to go to Downtown Disney. With all the construction going on, the buses have to take a longer route, they're always super full and aren't running as often/quick as the buses to the parks, so it's best to drive and walk the distance from the makeshift parking lots.
- If you're staying on Disney property, Magic Hours are your best friend. Magic Hours are special hours you get at certain parks on certain days that are either before the park opens or after it closes where only people who are staying on property get access into the park. This is a great way to get some of the big ticket rides done because the parks are significantly less crowded during Magic Hours,
- This is common sense, but make sure to bring sunscreen. The Florida sun is HOT, and you'll want to stay protected from it. Also, wear comfy clothes and especially wear comfy shoes. You'll be doing a ton of walking and standing which can be very hard on your feet - this is not the time to be super fashionable ;) According to my phone, we walked over 13 miles when we went to Epcot and Magic Kingdom.
- One thing some people don't know is that you can bring in your own food/snacks and drinks. This is a great thing to remember especially if you want snacks throughout the day. We love eating our meals at Disney then bringing snacks so we don't have to spend lots of money on food. Don't forget you can get cups of water for free instead of buying bottled waters which can get pretty pricey.
- Make sure if you're celebrating anything, to get a pin from the front of the park. Disney is great with customer service and if you're wearing a Birthday pin, everyone will tell you happy birthday. It definitely makes whatever you're celebrating a little more special.
Left: We got "Just Engaged" pins when we first got engaged. Right: Birthday pin for Caroline's 20th Birthday
- Be in line to enter the park at least 15 minutes before the gates open (the last two times we went, the park opened about 5 minutes early). About 5-10 minutes before the park opens, there is a welcome show with all the characters and the Mayor of Main Street and they "open" the park.
- If you want to ride the new Snow White Mine Train ride (so fun you definitely should do this), you'll have to get there first thing in the morning unless you're lucky and snag a fast pass on the My Disney app. Those usually sell out 2+ months in advance if you go on the weekend. You'll want to do this unless you want to wait 1.5-2 hours in line (the line won't die down). The best way to get to the Mine Train in the morning is to enter through the right side of Magic Kingdom and try to get to the very front of the line. A Disney employee will guide everyone to the back of the park (this controls the crowd) and will bring you to the ride. The same thing will happen if you enter through the left side of Magic Kingdom, but you'll get there a lot later than the right side. We've done this twice and have ridden the ride within the first 5 trains.
- If you get to the park as soon as it opens, you'll have a solid 30 min-1 hour before the park gets crowded and the lines get long. Most of the rides will be a 0-15 minute wait depending on the type of ride.
- (This is assuming Magic Hours line up with the day you visit the park. Be sure to check online to see when the Magic Hours are. Saturday at MK, they usually have Magic Hours from 12am-2am) Do everything you can in the morning then after you eat lunch, head back to the hotel for a nap and maybe some pool time. We usually take a long nap then head back to the park in the evening. Around 10pm, the park starts thinning out and by 12am, you'll be able to ride pretty much any ride you want to with little to no wait (expect maybe the Mine Train ride).
- If you're not staying on Disney property, you'll probably want to stay all day at whichever park you go to so you can get the most out of your park experience, especially since you don't have access to the Magic Hours so make sure you try to rest throughout the day and take it easy. Nothing worse than being burnt out within the first few hours.
- Magic Kingdom has some great parades and fireworks. Some of our favorites are the Festival of Fantasy Parade in the afternoon, the Main Street Electrical Parade at night and Wishes Nighttime Spectacular. This firework show is pretty super and definitely brings out your inner child.
Top Left: The MK Park opening show. Bottom Left: The walk to the Mine Train Ride. Right: Wear comfy clothes and shoes that won't hurt your feet.
Where to Eat:
- Be Our Guest Restaurant: This place is amazing and a fantastic experience! It fills up extremely fast but if you don't get a reservation, keep calling to see if anyone has cancelled. Lunch is more of a self-serve dining experience but it has very unique and super delicious options. Once you order your food at a kiosk, you can sit anywhere in the restaurant and a waiter will bring you your food. For dinner, the restaurant is transformed into a sit-down atmosphere and the food options are more upscale and gourmet - these options are also super delicious. During dinner, the beast will come out and you can get a picture with him before leaving.
- The Crystal Palace: If you want character dining at MK, this is the place to go to. We ate there a while ago and I don't remember the food being amazing (again, this was a while ago) but the experience is fun, it's a buffet and the characters come up to your table.
- The Liberty Tree: If you want traditional American food, this is the place to go - the food is delicious. Think Thanksgiving dinner but served family style. The atmosphere is super fun too because you feel like you're in an old colonial house and sometimes characters dressed in traditional colonial clothes come by to your table.
- Cinderella's Royal Table: If you have a little girl, this is a must do. You get to eat inside Cinderella's castle as well as meet the princess! We used to go here a lot when we were kids but we heard they've changed the menu since then.
Top Left: Food from the Liberty Tree. Top Right: Food from the Be Our Guest lunch menu. Bottom Left: Inside the Be Our Guest restaurant (main ballroom). Bottom Right: MK specialty - Dole Whip!
These are some quick meal places we like to eat at
- Aloha Isle (You need to get a dole whip if you're at MK - it's a staple)
- Casey's Corner (If you're in the mood for an all American hot dog and the fixin's; they have really good mini corndogs now!)
- Gaston's Tavern (I'm not too sure about the lunch food but it looks yummy and has some great pastries)
- Main Street Bakery (Best muffins and breakfast foods)
- Plaza Ice Cream Parlor (Fantastic ice cream sundaes)
How to do the Park
- There isn't too much strategy to Epcot other than to ride the big rides in the morning. Soarin' and Test Track are always the most packed so I'd say get there as soon as the park opens, ride one and get a fast pass for the other. We recently discovered that Soarin' has a very short wait during the fireworks show but then gets crowded as soon as it's over.
- If you get to the park early, more than likely, Spaceship Earth (the golf ball ride) will be crowded. This line will die down so wait and come back to it later in the day. Most of the lines for the other rides (other than Test Track and Soarin') will be shorter and if they're not at the moment, wait for a little and they'll die down.
- Epcot also has two areas called Innoventions where there are fun activities for the whole family to do and compete in.
- The countries open 2 hours after Future World opens (where all the rides are) and you'll want to take your time walking through the countries to experience all the shows, movies, sights and food.
- The Food and Wine Festival is one of my favorite events that Epcot hosts. It is every fall and even though the park is SUPER packed beyond belief and in the evening there are drunk people everywhere, the food is fantastic and totally worth it. They also have lots of different concerts every week.
- The Flower and Garden Festival is beautiful and is held every spring. They have all sorts of amazing Disney topiaries and landscapes around the park as well as fun areas to learn and do neat things at. There are also concerts throughout the festival.
- In England, they have concert series called the British Revolution which is a cover band for all the old school British Bands.
- In Canada, they have a Lumberjack show and they compete in a Lumberjack competition. This is a fairly new addition and is pretty neat.
- In China, they have an impressive acrobatic show. It's fantastic and mind-blowing.
- In France, they have a stunt show (French style) with chair stacking and miming. This one's pretty neat too.
- There are tons of characters throughout the park and a lot of the princesses will have appearance times in their native countries.
- Epcot's fireworks show, Illuminations, is AH-MAZING. It's not super kid-ish like the Magic Kingdom show but it has the best music and is so epic. Stephen and I just love this show.
Top Left: Chinese Acrobat show. Top Right: Banking game in Innoventions. Bottom Left: Lumberjacks from the Lumberjack show. Bottom Right: Inside the butterfly exhibit at the Flower and Garden Festival.
Where to Eat
Each country has an upscale restaurant and a counter service restaurant. Some of the upscale restaurants are buffets and some are not. Depending on what type of food you're feeling will depend on where you'll want to eat (we haven't been to all of the restaurants, but I know they're all delicious). Most restaurants will need reservations relatively far in advance.
Top Left: Pulled pork sandwich from a kiosk in America. Bottom Left: Macaroons from France. Right: The Biergarten buffet and show in Germany.
How to do the Park
- This park is filled with shows so make sure to get a showtime list and plan your day around the shows you want to see. Some of our favorites are Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular and Lights, Motors, Action Extreme Stunt Show.
- There is also random performances throughout the park and right now they have Cinderella's carriage and shoe from the movie that you can get a picture with.
- Some of their bigger rides, you'll need fast passes for. If you can't get a fast pass for Toy Story Midway Mania, you'll want to be there ASAP to get a spot in line. We got to the park 15 minutes after it opened last time, and it was already over an hour wait. Rockin' Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror will have long lines, but they're not as bad as Toy Story. The Great Movie Ride is a classic and so much fun - that line is starting to get more crowded than it used to so grab a fast pass for that if you can.
- One fun thing we like to do is attend a drawing class. There are free 30 minute drawing classes at The Magic of Disney Animation (along with some character meet-and-greet spots) and the characters that you can draw are endless. Of course, everyone has to agree on the character to draw but the sky's the limit with the animators who teach the class. They do step-by-step instructions so even the worst drawers can have a great picture.
- At night, they have their Fantasmic show which is a mix of fireworks and a performance staring Mickey and lots of other characters. This show is neat but Stephen and I like the firework shows at MK and Epcot better.
- During Christmas, Hollywood Studios hosts the Osborne Spectacle of Lights which is an unbelievable collection of Christmas lights all over one area of the park. It is so so magical with fake snow, music and dancing lights and is sure to get you in the Christmas spirit.
Top Left: Our finished drawings of Pasquale from Tangled. Top Right: Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights. Bottom Left: Cinderella's carriage. Bottom Right: Beauty and the Beast show.
Where to Eat
Hollywood Studios has a lot of fun themed restaurants throughout the park. Be sure to get a reservation for any of the sit-down restaurants early.
- 50's Prime Time Cafe: This restaurant will bring you back to the 50's with both it's decor and food choices. It's super yummy and the waitresses are so fun!
- The Hollywood Brown Derby: We've never eaten here but I've heard it's delicious and super fancy. Don't worry, you don't need to be dressed to the nine's to eat there though - you're still in a theme park ;)
- Hollywood & Vine: This delicious buffet also hosts a great character dining.
- Sci-Fi Dine-in Theater Restaurant: This is a one-of-a-kind restaurant. The whole place has old fashioned cars that you sit in and eat your meal while watching a big movie screen of old sci-fi movies. You really feel as if you're in a drive-through and the food is delicious!
What to do at the Park
We don't usually go to Animal Kingdom, so I don't really have any tips on how to do certain things. It's a great park, especially if you have kids.
- Some of the big rides that are a great hit are DINOSAUR, Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids and Kilimanjaro Safari.
- A neat little area is Rafiki's Planet Watch which is an area that is a train ride away and has a fun petting zoo, interactive exhibits and you can even watch medical procedures on the animals.
- Some great shows to see are Festival of the Lion King (amazing!) and Finding Nemo the Musical. There are also lots of places you can see characters and lots of random performances happening throughout the park.
- They also have some great behind the scenes tours especially involving animals which is great if you want to spend a little more money to do.
Left: The petting zoo at Rafiki's Planet Watch. Right: The Kilimanjaro Safari.
Where to Eat
We honestly really haven't eaten at Animal Kingdom before but they do have a Rainforest Cafe which is always a great choice. There are also lots of other nice restaurants as well as self-serve restaurants.
I'd love to hear what other tips and tricks you have!!
You can see our 2014 Disney weekend trip here and our 2015 Disney weekend trip here.
All of the opinions in this post are my own and have been formed based on personal experiences. Your Disney experience could be 100% different than the ideas expressed in this post.