Monday, 5 March 2018

Planning your first ever Walt Disney World holiday can be pretty daunting if you are more used to an all inclusive week in the Costa's or a weekend in Bruge. But let me tell you, planning a trip to Disney World doesn't have to be stressful, and in fact the planning and booking should really be half the fun.

If you are anything like me, you will relish making excel spreadsheets filled with park hours and fast pass reservations but it doesn't necessarily have to be like that and I understand not everyone will have the time or motivation to do so.

A quick google search will return literally thousands of websites and planning forums all dedicated to the house of the mouse if you really want to get into the magic. A lot of them will be covering the same key topics, but if you haven't got endless hours to scroll through web pages talking everything from Citrus Swirls to Soarin, then I would highly recommend taking 15 minutes to read my 10 tips below.

Even if you read nothing else before you board that plane, this little bit of information will make sure you have a fantastic trip.

1. Make Your Dining Reservations 180 days before!

No that isn't a typo. 1-8-0! 6 months, half a year basically. I know that may seem pretty extreme,but if you want to get a table at the majority of restaurants on Disney property then you MUST do this one. 

I was shocked when I was planning my first ever trip to WDW, to find that key restaurants such as Ohana and Cinderella's Royal Table were fully booked 179 days before. Needless to say I missed out on a few must do's that year as I was too indecisive with where I wanted to eat. 

There is just so much to choose from, themed dining, character meals, japanese, morroccan, italian, BBQ, the list is literally endless. Have you ever eaten next to a giant aquarium? or in a rotating restaurant? What about at a drive in movie? Well at Disney World you can and you really wont want to miss anything!

I would spend an evening with your group, looking at the Disney World Website to pick out some of the restaurants you want to eat at most. Make sure everybody has at least one that they really like and then have your list ready for when your 180 day window opens up. Then all you need to do is open up your My Disney Experience account and away you go. You will also be able to keep track of all your reservations on the app once they are booked. 

Tip: Book a restaurant even if you aren't sure that you will go. You can always cancel it nearer the time but you probably wont get a reservation if not. Just make sure you are clear on the cancellation policy. As it stands you have up to the day before to cancel or change your reservation.

2.Make Sure You Understand Fastpass+

Fastpasses can be booked 60 days before your holiday if you are staying at a Disney Hotel and 30 days before if you are staying at a hotel or villa elsewhere.
Just like booking your dining reservations this one is a must do!

Popular rides such as Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in Magic Kingdom and Flight of Passage in Animal Kingdom will get booked up fast, and if you don't fancy standing in line for 2 hours then I suggest you make good use of this complimentary service.

What you want/need to Fastpass will depend on your group, their ages and interests.

Although there isn't any attraction I would tell you to totally skip in the parks, there are some you really don't need to waste a fastpass on. Check them out here.

Check out my recommendations for:

Magic Kingdom

Animal Kingdom

Hollywood Studios


Just like Dining reservations, you make your fastpasses through the My Disney Experience app.
I have a bit more in depth info on that here.

3. Let Disney Do The Driving

Disney transportation is a vast network of buses, boats and monorails. We aren't talking a few coaches here and there ferrying people from their hotel and back. This is a serious fleet of craft spanning the entire 40 square miles of Disney property.

Buses will take you from every resort to any park and back again, but you can also make use of the boats and monorails to go between some of the resorts and parks. The boats and monorails are definitely worth a try at least once on your trip as the experience and photo opportunities on both are fantastic.

Read more about how to use Disney transportation here

Disney's Magical Express is also a fantastic way to get to and from the airport. Find out more here.

4.Rope Drop...and if you can't rope drop, get there early!

I know, I know. You're on holiday right, and you were hoping for a decent lie in. Well you can, but not everyday.

I can't stress the difference it makes if you get to the park for opening time. Those first 2 hours in the parks are the quietest time and you will be able to walk onto most rides and wait only a short time for the headliner attractions.

It is also a perfect opportunity to get some stunning pictures around almost empty parks.

If you arrive at a park at midday you will most likely find the parks to be busy, and rides such as 7 dwarfs and splash mountain could be anywhere between a 60 - 90 minute wait, meaning you may only get a few done.

By touring the parks early, not only are you getting the best value out of your park tickets, but you will have done most things by noon, meaning you can always spend the hottest part of the day back at your resort in the pool! Win-Win.

5. Tips on Tipping

Unlike back in the U.K, tipping is customary (read standard) in the U.S for pretty much anyone who provides a physical service. Although tipping is becoming more visible in the U.K, take it from someone who managed a number of hospitality outlets, it is different in the states, so don't get caught out. 

Now I'm not saying that you are going to be forced to tip as such, but if you didn't or you forget, don't be surprised if you are 'advised' to leave one by your server. 

Tipping is also generally a lot higher in the U.S.  In the U.K 10% is seen as a good tip for a restaurant, whereas in the U.S 18-20% is said to represent you were happy with everything. Less than that denotes you were not 100% happy. 

The main reasoning behind this is that service roles in the U.S offer lower rates of pay and so tipping is used to effectively top up this pay. 

If you plan to eat out at a number of table service restaurants you will need to budget for this. 

A tip or gratuity is not included on the dining plan so you still would need to leave a tip. 

Other times it would be necessary to tip would be to a taxi driver, somebody who carries your bags or brings anything to your room by request. It is also common practise to tip housekeeping services. Normally a couple of dollars a day is expected, however on my first trip to WDW as a very young adult, I was genuinely unaware of this and didn't tip housekeeping. Our room was still cleaned, beds made etc but you will often find if you do leave a token of appreciation they may go out of their way to add extra magic touches in your room, particularly if you are staying on Disney property.

Note: Parties of 6 or more will have an 18% gratuity added to their dining bill in Disney restaurants so make sure you don't tip twice.

6. Understanding the Florida Climate

Compared to the U.K, Florida can have some pretty extreme weather conditions and in order to get the most out of your trip, it is vital you are prepped for the time of year you are travelling. 

I would always recommend you check the extended weather forecast for your trip just before you go, however generally you can gauge the weather by the month you are travelling. 

Jan - Mar : Us Brits will find these temperatures beautifully pleasant, whilst the locals will be complaining they are cold particularly Jan/Feb. You will need to pack a few extra layers though, particularly for the evenings as it may become a little nippy. A cardigan or hoody will be fine, we aren't talking coat weather here. 
Rain will most likely occur a couple of times on your trip but you can easily plan around this with indoor activities or just grab a Disney poncho and do what we Brits do best... 

Apr - May: The temperatures are a little higher now, you will see it creep into the early 30's at times but the humidity hasn't hit its peak yet keeping it pleasant. 
You will likely witness a storm once on your trip or twice if you are unlucky, but these generally last no more than half an hour if that. Often it cools the area down slightly which is much needed. 
Just be aware though that we aren't talking april showers here, it literally pours and you can expect lightening. Disney are extremely good at getting everybody inside and rides that are a risk will be closed in advance but if you are away from Disney property for any reason, be sure to head indoors.

Jun - Aug: O.k if you don't do well in heat and/or humidity this is not the time for you to be going to the most magical place on earth as it will be more like hell on earth. During this time you will see temperatures shoot towards the mid 30's but rain/storms will become an almost daily occurrence, resulting in a particularly uncomfortable climate. If you are confined to the summer holidays due to work/children then you will have to be a little clever. Plan for lots of indoor activities and hit the parks early so you can be out of the heat at the peak of the day.

Sep - Oct: This period pretty much follows on from the last but the temperatures will decrease ever so slightly. Rain and thunderstorms will still be an almost daily occurrence but it is important to bare in mind that this is now also classed as hurricane season. 
Now often Orlando can be spared from any such danger as it is pretty central and inland however there is always a risk, and you should understand that you need to protect your holiday from the get go, particularly if you are booking it all yourself.

Nov - Dec: This is a really popular time for a lot of people to visit WDW. Particularly those that want to see the Christmas decorations and/or those who don't fare to well in the heat.
The temperature will generally fluctuate between the low to mid 20's and average rainfall is less than half of that in Sept and Oct making for a pleasant park touring conditions.
The evenings can be a little cooler and I would always pack a cardigan, hoody and light pair of trousers for this time of year. 

7. Don't Underestimate the Quality of Quick Service

If you visit any theme park in Britain, you will be hard pressed to find a decent meal full stop. At the very best a beef or chicken burger, fries, hot-dog or perhaps a pre-packed sandwich.

Disney on the other hand offers some highly acclaimed and unique dining options, a number of which are quick service.

I personally love the quick service at Disney for a number of reasons...

First off, you don't need to make a reservation, so you can literally decide on the day what you fancy and when.

Secondly, you can order your meal and be sat eating within a few minutes usually, which means you can be off touring the parks and hitting your favourite attractions again in no time.

Thirdly, there are so many different options, from BBQ to Japanese bento, falafel or fried chicken waffle sandwiches, you can easily eat something different everyday and you don't have to touch a burger for 2 weeks (unless you want to).

And finally it is GREAT VALUE. Meals can be anywhere from around $10 to $19 but let me tell you, at the majority or outlets, the portions are huge and you might want to share... let me rephrase that, you might need to share, because whether you like it or not there is just so much food!

Check out my Top 10 Quick Service Restaurants.

8.Character Meals

Character meals are not only a lot of fun and food, but a great way to save you and your group a whole load of time and hassle. 
If you know you or your kids really want to meet mickey and pals, or Rapunzel and Flynn then I would highly recommend booking a character meal at the corresponding location, especially if you are visiting at a peak time. 

You could potentially spend aaaages queuing to meet your favourites, and most aren't constantly available in the parks so dependent on your schedule you might miss them completely. 

By booking a character meal you get to sit down and enjoy some food with your family and have the characters come to you. You can easily cross off a whole list of them in one meal depending on where you are dining. 

Some you may like to try include:

Akershus (Norway, Epcot) - This Royal Banquet features the princesses and some really interesting Norweigan cuisine which I loved, but picky eaters may wan't to give this a miss. 

Crystal Palace (Magic Kingdom) - This one is buffet style and features Winnie the Pooh and friends. The breakfast is really good value here and a great way to start your day in the parks. You will easily find something for everyone to eat, no matter what time of the day.

Chef Mickeys (Contemporary Resort) - This is probably the most popular Character meal on Disney property so you will want to make your reservations for this early. It is a buffet with a variety of eats and is the only place that gives you the chance to meet Mickey Mouse in his chef whites! Cute!!

Ohana (Polynesian Resort) - Here you can enjoy the 'best friends breakfast', as well as some fun and games with Lilo and Stitch. Food is served family style and includes, scrambled eggs, sausage and Stitch waffles! Yum

Trattoria al Forno (Boardwalk) - Recently this under the radar spot has started offering a 'Bon Voyage Breakfast' featuring Rapunzel and Flynn Rider as well as some other beloved prince and princesses. This is a set menu and features steak, pancakes and an interesting sounding breakfast calzone. 

9.Plan in some Down Time 

I know, I know, this holiday has cost you and arm and a leg, and your other arm... and half your other leg! Its natural to want to do everything and spend every waking minute in the parks and on an attraction but this really will end in one of two ways. You will either be so tired you have to rest when you don't necessarily want to, and/or you and your entire party will end up crabbier than Sebastian.

Plan to come back to your hotel for either a nap or some pool and sunbathing time in an afternoon. This is a great way to recharge your batteries before the extra magic hours and potentially get out of the sun when it is at its hottest. 

Allow for a couple of lie ins, particularly if you are attending late night extra magic hours the night before.

Make sure you allow for some time at the water parks. Both Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard beach are fantastically themed with rides and waves for all the family. This can be a great way to relax and rest without actually feeling like you are. 
You are still in a park and you are still having fun but compared to pounding the pavement of Epcot or wandering miles around Animal kingdom you are riding the waves and soaking up some sun on a lounger. 

I also recommend taking at least one day or a couple of half days to do something outside of the Disney parks. You might want to take a trip to the Everglades to see the virtually untouched natural beauty of the marshes and its inhabitants.

Not such an outdoors kind of person? Perhaps some retail therapy at the Florida outlets? 

There are literally 100's of things to do in and around WDW that don't require entering a theme park. Plus I think it's nice to see the real Florida and not just it's theme parks. 

10. Wear Comfy Shoes!

This might be last on the list, but it really should be your number one priority.

A pair of shoes can literally make or break your trip, and I have lost count of the number of people I have heard ruined their trip by wearing inappropriate shoes.

You are going to be doing a lot of walking, and I mean a lot. This is not the time to be breaking in a new pair of converse or any shoe for that matter.

Pack shoes that you already find comfy, and have been well worn to have the best chance of averting any sort of blister or damage.

What you wear is really down to personal preference. Some people might want to wear their comfiest vans. I am a flip flops girl. No material, means no potential rubbing or blisters. If you don't like toe posts, maybe try a slider or Birkenstock. I personally just like a good pair of havianas.

Whatever you wear, your feet are going to get hot and the chances are they will be aching at the end of the day, but choose the right pair of shoes and that will be your only problem.

I'm risking sounding like my mother here but, it isn't a fashion parade! And to be honest, there's nothing less flattering than somebody sat on a bench in Animal Kingdom nursing their bleeding, weeping ankles. Yuk!

I hope you have found this useful. If you have any questions or need advice planning your first trip, or any trip for that matter, please get in touch via the form below or alternatively message me on Instagram. I will ALWAYS get back to you!

K x


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