This was my very first time in Disney, and although I will never claim to be an expert Disney-head, I learned a lot while visiting this magical land. I read, read, and read many other blogs, did my research thoroughly, and had help from a friend-who I would call an expert Disney-goer. So, I came up with my very own list of Do's and Don'ts, and other things to keep in mind that I was glad to know (and others that I wished I knew).
FIRST: Read my "Preparation Stage" article for some good pre-Disney planning.
1. GET THE DISNEY EXPERIENCE APP and DISNEY WRISTBAND
Guys, this app was a life saver! for real. Easy to use, it loads the map of the park you are visiting and locates you via GPS. If you need to find, let's say, a bathroom, and don't want to (or can't) afford to walk a million miles around the park, just load up the app and see where the closest bathroom is. It will even tell you what direction you should go. It also allow you to manage fast passes (more on that below), reservations, and gives you access to your photos. So easy!.
Now, your wristband is connected to everything. And I mean, everything, so try not to lose it. You will be able to effortlessly link you Disney account to your band, open your hotel room, use your meal plan, pay with your linked credit card (security code needed), access the parks, use fast passes, and link your pictures together with the Memory Maker PhotoPass. It's literally, magical.
2. GET A MAP AS A BACK UP.
Yes, the app is great, but sometimes, after taking a million pictures, your phone might die.- and honestly, there are NOT a lot of places where you can charge your phone. What to do!! have a map handy. You can find these everywhere. We got one from the hotel lobby the night before going to each park, and marked which rides we wanted to do first. That way we could plan a route that made sense (avoiding any extra-unnecessary walking is a must here!) and coordinate it with the fast passes.
3. RESERVE YOUR FAST PASSES AND RESTAURANTS AS EARLY AS YOU CAN
As soon as you have access to your fast passes and restaurant reservations (which is usually 30-60 days ahead), do it. Fast passes fill out fast (no pun intended). Especially for the most popular rides. Everyone is allowed 3 fast passes per day to begin with, but once you use them, you can go ahead and get more. So, it is smart to reserve your 3 fast passes for the morning (via the app or online), that way, you will have the afternoon to get more fast passes for other rides (you can use the many fast pass kiosks around the parks for this). High profile restaurants also fill out fast, so do the same for those.
Remember, the fast passes are linked to your Disney Wristbands which you will get with your stay at any Disney Resort. If you don't, you can still get fast passes cards, or purchase a wristband from any Disney Store.
4. USE DISNEY TRANSPORTATION
Disney has great transportation to the parks from your hotel (if you are staying in a Disney Resort); take advantage of it and use it! don't be tempted to drive there because you are carrying too much. Relax! You can bring in your stroller and other items on board. Disney buses are reliable, safe, and pick up/drop off every 10-15 minutes depending on time of the day. The Monorail is also a great way to get to the parks and back to the hotel.
If you do have to drive, PLEASE make sure to remember where you leave your car. Don't rely on memory! take a picture of your parking number or lot so you can find your car in the vast ocean of vehicles. The parking lots are huge!
5. CONSIDER THE DISNEY MEAL PLAN and BRINGING SNACKS.
Listen, food is EXPENSIVE at Disney. I bet you can spend more in food than you can in souvenirs. Since you do a lot of walking, you will get hungry, so plan ahead. You are allowed to bring snacks into the parks as well as bottled drinks (or refillable mugs). So, please do bring snacks with you, especially if you have little ones. One thing that helped tremendously in budgeting our meals was the Disney Meal Plan. You basically pre-pay in advance for your meals. You get meal credits for snacks, quick meals, and table meals, per day (depending on plan). One thing to know, the quick meals portions are pretty generous, and it can be easily split between two people (to save your meal credits)...NO lie.
The meal plan is perfect for families and it will absolutely save you money. (Especially when you go grab breakfast for 4 and they tell you it's $126). Yeah...here, scan my meal plan and that's it. I highly recommend you looking into this before your trip.
6. WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES
There is a LOT of walking involved at Disney. You won't be able to get away with just a few miles, unless you don't want to ride and see the beauty that surrounds you. We walked an average of 11 miles per day - give or take. I feel like we had a solid plan coming in the door. We knew where to go, what rides to hit first, which places to go next; we had lunch and/or dinner reservations that perfectly aligned with our pre-calculated route....and we still ended up walking a million miles.
Having comfortable shoes was very important. I wore a pair of Sketchers air cool Memory Foam and they were perfect. It saves you the torture of dealing with walking sores and foot pain. I'm not going to lie, our feet and legs were hurting at the end of each day, but it wasn't because of the shoes...it was just our own out-of-shape physiology.
7. BRING A RAIN PONCHO
Not only there are rides where a poncho should be a requirement, but the weather down in Florida can be quite unpredictable. It rains a lot, a different times in a day, and you never know if the saturated cloud you see atop of you is going to soak you through. Just have a poncho, or rain jacket, or umbrella. I find a poncho easier because, if you are carrying a backpack, it will also cover your stuff. A rain jacket might not be big enough to provide refuge to your belongings. If you take a poncho, buy it in advance since they can be quite pricey there. Also, make sure you get a good quality, non-disposable poncho. You will use it more than once, guaranteed. You can buy a good rain poncho for less than $10 at any retail store.
8. GET THERE EARLY
If the park opens at 8 a.m. get there at 7. That way you are guaranteed a short entrance line, and a good spot at the opening show. Each park has their own opening show, which is always fun to watch. ALSO, if you get there early, you can choose a ride that you don't have a fast pass for and get it over with, and save your fast-passes for other rides.
9. LOBBY HOPPING VIA MONORAIL
If you happen to make a reservation at one of the excellent restaurants in the (fancy) Disney Hotels, and wonder how to get there, fear not! You can easily access all these Hotels by getting on the Monorail from the Magic Kingdom. You can also visit other hotels and appreciate the lobbies, visit the shops, and browse around taking pictures. That's if you have some free time away from the parks, and if your legs are still functional, I mean.
10. MICKEY UP YOUR WARDROBE
You might think it's silly, but it's not. You will see people of all ages wearing Disney related gear. From Mickey's ears, to shoes, and t-shirts, and sweaters, and backpacks. You will regret not having mickey on your outfit, and then you will want to go buy some Mickey ears to wear around...but then, you will realize that those are a popping $25 a piece. Yeah. I wish I was exaggerating.
So, word of advise. Buy your gear ahead. Purchasing stuff online, or even at a Disney store near home is waaaaayyyy cheaper. I'm not saying don't buy souvenirs there, just know that if you want to get Mickey/Minnie ears or things like that, you will save a lot of money if you purchase these items in advance and have them already when you arrive to the park, especially if you are traveling with a family where every kid wants to wear something Disneysey (I might've made that word up).
DON'T GO CRAZY AT THE STORES
This one is a given IF you are looking to save some money. Unless you have it, in which case go ahead and buy away!, you should go into souvenir shops with mentality that you shouldn't spend unnecessary money on unnecessary things. Like I said before, if you want to Mickey up, buy your outfits in advance. OBVIOUSLY I'm NOT saying to refrain yourself from buying things! I'm just saying that you need to be conscientious of the amount of money you can spend if you buy something in every shop...and believe me...there are hundreds of shops.
DON'T TAKE THE WEATHER FOR GRANTED
Dress according to the season. I went at the end of the fall, and we still got hot when we wore jeans. I can only imagine wearing jeans in the summertime. I wouldn't. Check the weather the morning of and dress accordingly. Don't forget your rain gear or light sweater if you go in winter time. It can be chilly at night.
DON'T GET OVERWHELMED
This is perhaps the most important advice. It is easy, EASY, to lose your cool when you travel to a place that is so crowded. I know this because I had to remind myself to calm down a few times during our stay. Sometimes things are not well labeled or well explained. Sometimes it takes a few tries to figure out the meal plan, or how fast-passes work. Sometimes your kids will cry because they are tired of waiting in line, or because they are hungry or thirsty or just also overwhelmed.
Crowds do this to me, and to many people. Remember to keep calm. You are on vacation. You are in the most magical place in the world, and you need to enjoy it. Don't get mad at your kids because they want to eat cotton candy and ice cream at every stand... they are also on vacation mode and will probably ask you for every piece of candy they see. Just say NO, when a no is needed, and keep on to the next ride. Naps can be helpful too. it's really easy to leave the park at mid day, go to the hotel, take a nap, and come back. You will be happy you did, and your kids will thank you.
I promise, after a day or so, you will be a pro at navigating the parks, and the app, and at figuring out the best route of action to make the best of your time. Follow the tips above, and listen to my words in your head every time you feel you are going to lose it...."stay calm, enjoy your vacation".
Employees at the park are extremely helpful should you need any assistance with basically anything. My daughter had a little slip and fall (she was running, and it was raining) and she had scraped her knee. One employee saw her, and helped her up, made sure she was fine, gave her a game ticket, and was just so extremely pleasant that my daughter stopped crying.
GO HAVE FUN and enjoy the magic! Please tell me about your experience by commenting below, or if you have any other tips or suggestions for fellow travelers!
P.S. seriously, bring snacks, and a rain poncho. You are welcome.