Our Disney World podcast episode series continues with Disney World tips for families. Whether it’s your first Disney World vacation or you’re a seasoned pro, these tips will help you plan an enjoyable experience for your entire family.
Below are our favorite Walt Disney World tips for families.
Understand it’s probably going to be busy
Disney World remains a sought-after destination, particularly during peak times such as the summer months and significant holidays. Families venturing there should anticipate dense crowds, extended wait times, and a lively atmosphere. Being aware of these factors in advance will aid in setting realistic expectations and ensuring a more relaxed vacation experience.
Pack water and snacks
Disney offers accommodating guidelines regarding food items visitors can carry into their parks. Given Florida’s warm climate, water and snacks can be invaluable. It ensures everyone remains hydrated and invigorated while curbing costs on in-park dining.
Invest in a quality backpack cooler that keeps refreshments cool all day.
Arrive at the park early to enjoy shorter queues for your favorite rides. Aim to be there for the rope drop when visitors can first move towards the attractions. If you’re a guest at a Disney World Resort, utilize the 30-minute early entry benefit, granting you access to the park a half hour before other visitors.
Download the My Disney Experience App
The My Disney Experience mobile app is the ultimate digital guide to all things Disney World during your visit. Use it to manage your trip, order food, book Genie+ Lightning Lanes, chat with customer service, and view ride wait times.
Learn how to use Genie+
Genie+ is a paid service that replaces the old FastPass system and can help you make the most out of your visit by skipping regular queues at certain attractions. Get to know how it works in advance for a smoother experience. A working knowledge of Genie +, Lightning Lanes, Individual Lightning Lanes, and Virtual Queues is indispensable.
Is Genie+ necessary? No, not necessarily. Its value often depends on crowds and your itinerary. If crowds are below average, you can still get on most, if not all, of your favorite rides without paying for it. Regardless, it’s helpful to understand Genie+ and how it works.
Have a plan
Don’t go into your Disney World blind. Consider making a daily itinerary. Decide in advance which rides are a must-see, which parades or shows you want to catch, and which characters you want to meet.
Remember to be flexible if you run into closures, delays, inclement weather, or your family decides to go off script.
Plan your park days strategically
When planning visits across multiple days, consider the sequence of your park visits. Check the operating hours of each park and schedule your days accordingly. Incorporate rest days between intensive park visits for recuperation. If you intend to spend a late evening at Magic Kingdom, plan a rest day afterward or choose a park with a later opening time the following day to allow for some extra sleep.
Book dining reservations as soon as possible
You can book dining reservations 60 days in advance of your arrival. Resort guests have an advantage because they can book reservations for their entire trip, up to 10 days total, at the 60-day mark. If you have a particular restaurant in mind, secure your reservation as early as possible.
Use OpenTable for Disney Springs dining
Many of the restaurants at Disney Springs are also listed in OpenTable. Finding reservations through OpenTable is sometimes easier than directly through Disney World.
Create family rules for safety
Disney often draws large crowds, increasing the likelihood of family members getting separated. For younger children, think about providing ID bracelets. Some parents also opt for AirTags as a precaution. Teach your children to approach a cast member if separated and set a predetermined meeting spot for such instances.
Create a special code word for your family
This is my absolute favorite travel tip, not just for Disney World. It’s called the pickle. Half of our family are fast walkers. Navigating Disney World is always challenging with massive crowds (slow walkers), strollers, electric scooters, and large groups.
That’s why you need a code word. Ours is pickle. It started on a trip with my wife to NYC. It was challenging to try and walk next to each other around the busy city without running into people and obstacles. So, we devised a code word to use when we needed to split up to get around other people.
Don’t ask why our word is pickle, but it is. We’ve passed it on to our kids. When navigating the park to get to an attraction quickly, instead of getting frustrated or commenting about slow walkers, we say pickle, and every disburses, assembling back together (like the Avengers) once we’ve passed the “obstacle.” This tip works better with older kids and is kind of fun, honestly.
Find your pickle.
Take mid-day breaks
Disney World can be overwhelming, particularly for younger children. Taking a break in the middle of the day can be an excellent way to escape the heat and recharge for the evening. Head back to your hotel or resort for a dip in the pool, a nap, or some downtime.
Use Disability Access Service (DAS) if needed
Disney World accommodates guests who may have difficulty navigating the standard queue system of park attractions. Utilize Disney World’s Disability Access Service to make the experience more enjoyable and comfortable for everyone.
Contact Disney before your trip to learn what services are available and how to qualify for DAS. You can pre-register for DAS as early as 30 days before arrival and no later than 2 days before arrival.
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Find quiet areas for a break from the magic
Disney World can be overwhelming, especially for guests with cognitive disabilities. Disney World has more than a dozen break areas around the four parks that are less busy and can provide some relief from overstimulation. World’s complete planning guide for guests with cognitive disabilities. Another great way to get a quick break is to ride on the monorail or skyliner. Check out Disney World’s planning guide for guests with cognitive disabilities.
Check the calendar for special events at Disney World
Events like Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party or EPCOT’s Food and Wine Festival can add extra magic to your trip. Some events affect the park’s regular operating hours and require a separate ticket to attend.
Disney’s special events are a great experience if you’ve always wanted to attend one, but if you’re not interested, visits during these times of the year can be more crowded.
Drink free water
Save money and stay hydrated by taking advantage of complimentary iced water available at most food and beverage stands throughout the parks.
Order any food, snacks, or drinks for your trip from a local grocery store instead of buying them in the parks or resorts. Use Instacart, Walmart Delivery, or another delivery service or do in-person grocery pickup. Local grocery stores or superstores are usually packed with tourists doing the same thing. We only in-person trips to local stores if we’re souvenir shopping. Many of the Disney resorts accept grocery deliveries. You may need to pick it up at the hotel lobby or bell area. Check your resort policies before placing an order.
Use Rider Switch
If younger children can’t go on certain rides, the Rider Switch feature allows one parent to ride while the other stays with the child and then switch without waiting in line again.
Use the Baby Care Center
Each park has a Baby Care Center with changing tables, feeding areas, and even a shop for baby essentials. It’s a quiet and air-conditioned space perfect for families with infants.
Pack the essentials
Remember to pack the obvious park essentials, like sunscreen, water bottles, hats, and sunglasses, for those sunny Florida days. It will likely rain at least once during your trip, so bring ponchos, compact umbrellas, or easy-to-carry rain jackets. Purchase travel essentials in advance to save money instead of buying them in the parks.
Pack extra power banks and chargers
Between using the My Disney Experience app and taking photos, your phone’s battery will run out faster than you think. Keep it charged with extra power banks and chargers. Plan for your kids’ devices, too, if they have them, or they’ll hit you up to borrow your charger.
Use an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner
Authorized Disney Vacation Planners are travel experts who can help tailor a Disney vacation to meet your family’s needs, often at no extra charge. They can handle everything from dining reservations and park tickets to hotel bookings and more.
Use Disney Photographers for photos
The Disney Photo Pass gives you access to attraction photos and pictures taken by park photographers. It can be an expensive add-on. Go ahead and get your photo taken around the parks by photographers, even if you’re not buying the pass. You can purchase individual photos if you really like one.
Did you know park photographers will take photos using your phone, too? Using a park photographer helps you get pictures of your entire family with a professional touch.
Get out from behind your camera
We love taking photos to capture family memories. One day, you and your children will look back at pictures from your adventures. Don’t miss out on being part of those memories because you were hiding behind the lens as your family’s designated photographer. Get in the photos.
Do your homework before you arrive
Research park attractions before your visit so you know which ones your kids can ride and whether any attractions are closed for refurbishment during your trip.
Wear comfortable shoes
You will walk a lot at Walt Disney World. You can easily walk 10 to 15 miles per day. Invest in comfortable shoes and break them in before your trip. Increase your physical activity, especially walking, leading up to your trip to prepare for it.
Bonus Disney World Tips
Here are some extra Disney World tips we didn’t have time to include in the podcast episode. Enjoy!
Use Mobile Order
One of the most helpful features of the My Disney Experience Mobile App is mobile food and beverage ordering. We’ve found it to be super valuable to avoid long lines. It’s also great for ordering meals while you’re still in line for a ride. Everyone pulls out their phones, decides on a quick service restaurant, looks over the menu, and gives us our orders. Mobile dining allows you to choose a time frame for picking up the food so it’s fresh and ready to go when you arrive.
Use Merchandise Mobile Checkout
If you’ve ever been in the shops at Disney World, you know the lines can get long. Fighting the crowds in stores can be as challenging as navigating the park on a busy day. Merchandise Mobile Checkout allows you to bypass the line and pay for items directly on your phone.
You’ll need a Disney account and the My Disney Experience App to use mobile checkout. You scan the item’s barcode with your phone to add it to your cart, check out and pay on your phone and show the QR confirmation code to the Disney Cast Member near the exit before you leave. Cast Members have bags on hand if you need one. You’ll quickly receive a receipt of your purchase in your email.
Pick up Celebration buttons
One of the most fantastic things Disney ever did was create celebration buttons. These are free buttons for park guests to celebrate milestones like birthdays, anniversaries, and first visits. There are also partially blank buttons, so you can write your own celebration if desired.
You can pick up complimentary buttons at Guest Relations at any park or indoor merchandise location. We’ve also received buttons during check-in at the front desk of Disney World Resorts.
Celebration buttons used to be a bigger deal, and sometimes wearing one could mean special treatment or bonus perks during your park visit. With crowd sizes and the number of guests wearing buttons, it would be impossible for park staff to offer special perks to everyone. Disney Cast Members still go out of their way to give a warm greeting or someone a happy birthday if wearing a button. Many park guests join in the greetings, too, making it a unique experience for your family.
Shop after the park closes
One of the first things you’ll see when you walk into any Disney World Parks are stores filled with every Disney-related goodie you can think of. I’m a souvenir fiend, but I prefer to wait until the end of the park day to shop if we’re staying until close. First, it allows some of the crowd to clear out of the park before we make our way to the monorail. Also, who wants to carry extra bags filled with souvenirs all day?! Unless something specific is unavailable at one of the shops toward the front of the park, I usually wait until park close to purchase it.
Buy Disney Pins on eBay
If you or your kids are into pin trading, do yourself a favor and look for Disney pins on eBay before you head to the parks. If you’re unfamiliar with pin trading, Disney sells collectible pins in all its stores. They’re super popular among Disney fans. One of the coolest things about Disney pins is that you can trade them with almost any Disney Cast Member. Cast Members wear pins on pin-trading lanyards. Many stores have special pin boards with more pins available for trading. Cast members wear pins at the parks, water parks, resorts, Disney Springs and other select locations. You can ask to trade with them if they’re wearing one you like. They will always say “Yes.” Show them the pin you want and hand them one in return. You can even trade with other park guests. On my last trip, I saw a girl sitting at a table in Hollywood Studios with several pin books and a sign that said “Trades Welcome.”
Buying pins at Disney stores gets expensive, especially if they are larger or limited edition. We saved money by purchasing a lot of Disney pins on eBay. Make sure they are official Disney pins before buying them and not fakes. Amazon is another place to look for Disney pins. It doesn’t matter which pins you receive since you can trade any that you don’t want.
Disney sells starter kits with 4 pins and a lanyard. Starter kits are a great way to introduce your kids to pin trading. We found inexpensive Disney lanyards at Walmart several years ago. Our kids aren’t as interested these days, but we still bring them on each trip.
While buying them on eBay can save money, pin collecting can become expensive if your kids enjoy it and want to buy new pins in park stores.
Pack less and do laundry
If you’re staying at a vacation rental or other accommodations with access to a washer and dryer, do yourself a favor and cut the amount of clothes you’re packing in half. You can wash a load or two during the trip and wear the same outfits twice. No one will notice, and you’ll save tons of space in your luggage.
Save character dining for non-park days
If you decide to make reservations for a character dining experience, consider saving this for a non-park day. This won’t work for character experiences in a park, but it works for places like Chef Mickey’s at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Your family can enjoy a nice meal and see their favorite Disney characters without wasting precious park time.
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Kevin Payne is the budgeting and family travel enthusiast behind FamilyMoneyAdventure.com. He’s also the host of the Family Money Adventure Show podcast, where he helps families learn to manage their money better so they can afford to do the things they love.
Kevin is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance and travel. He is a regular contributor to USA Today, Forbes Advisor, Bankrate, Fox Business, Credible, and CreditCards.com.