Ever since my boyfriend and I decided to move to south Florida for the summer, Disney has always been one of the things we knew we had to explore. I hadn't been to Disney in a while and he had never gone so what better timing then now? Once we decided we were going to take the plunge and invest some time and money into our Disney vacation, I went into full planner mode to think of the best way to execute this vacation and maximize our time at the park. I also knew that, after we experienced Disney, I wanted to compile our experience and share the "dos and the don'ts" of Walt Disney World. Prepare yourself, this post will be a long one.
Let me tell you a little bit about our over-all experience before I jump into the nitty gritty. Disney World is a big deal! Not only is it "the happiest place on earth" but it should also be labeled as "the most expensive place on earth". Obviously, I am being sarcastic but money can run very quickly when talking Disney. I knew this from the get-go. Since this was not my first time at the parks, I had a leg up for planning. My mom warned me to plan early in-order to get into reservations that we wanted or to avoid block-out dates (for Florida residence). The main things you'll need when planning for Disney:
A cute notebook to write it
TIP: Plan out almost everything. Writing things down will help you remember different prices, options and things you want to see (or really don't want to see).
Understand and know how much you want to spend. Disney can be expensive, but it doesn't have to be. As college students, we wanted to experience Disney to it's fullest but realistically.
Once I started planning our trip, I went to different social media outlets like Pinterest and Instagram to find posts and accounts about the hottest things to see, eat or do while at the park. I followed girls like Disney Trips and Dole Whip on Instagram. They have a passion for DIsney which helped me plan out exactly what we needed to do.
Now that you have the three must haves for planning your trip to Disney, let me share with you the dos and the don'ts for exploring Walt Disney World. I broke them down into smaller sub-categories so they are easier to look up. If you have any questions, make sure to leave a comment, message me on Instagram or send me an email!
Ways to save money:
Bring your own snacks, lunch and water bottles
THIS . This right here is my #1 recommendation. Although we did snack and eat out while at Disney, we also did bring our own food and drink. We drove to Target, which was close to our hotel, the night before our first day and picked up some pretzels and items to make PB&Js. We brought them with us every day we went to the park, along with our water bottles. This saved us extra money we would've spent on lunch, snacks or water. I brought my swell, which kept my water cooled all day (which is a good idea if you decide to go in the summer time).
Go to brunch, but only once. You really don't need to go to a character brunch every single day that you are at the parks. The buffet brunch for two people was around $70 and the food was just average. We really didn't come for the food, though, but more for the experience. The one I recommend the most is with Winnie the Pooh and Friends at the Glass Castle in Magic Kingdom.
Check to see if your work offers discounted tickets. The hotel that I interned with offered a discount on a couple different types of Disney passes, which saved us a couple of bucks in the end.
Characters you must see:
This is really up to your digression depending on who you like the most. Since Mitch (my boyfriend) had never been before, I knew we needed to hit the classics. My tip while trying to meet characters is to use one of your three fast-pass options for meeting popular characters like Mickey and Minnie. Often times, meeting characters like Mickey or Minnie can take over an hour in line. Just book it ahead of time through the app to cut out unnecessary waiting.
Rides you have to go on:
EPCOT: Spaceship Earth. This ride is a classic. The actual ride is inside of the Epcot ball, which takes you around Earth and different time periods.
HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS: Toy Story Mania. This ride is newer, but it was so fun! Between my boyfriend and I, it was probably one of our favorites. The line was long, but definitely worth it. The animation and interaction was so fast-paced and spot on. We loved it.
ANIMAL KINGDOM: Kilimanjaro Safaris. Although Animal Kingdom does have Avitar, the safari was ranked favorite. It was nice to take a break fro walking around in the heat to sit and enjoy the animals on property.
Purchases that are worth it (snacks and presents):
Turkey Leg: so amazing! We had one on our last day while in Animal Kingdom. We had to hunt for the Turkey leg but eventually found it. Yes, turkey legs are still at Animal Kingdom!
Dole Whip: I never knew this existed until I found it on Instagram. It is such an amazing and refreshing treat.
Churros with Carmel Sauce: Classic to Disney. My favorite churros we had (pictured on this post) were in Mexico while going "around the world" at Epcot.
Peach Iced Tea from Joffrey's Coffee Stand: If you ever do drink anything, get this OR the frozen raspberry lemonade. They are both refreshing and worth the extra money.
When it comes to souvenirs, I decided to go with a simple Christmas ornament with the date of our trip written on it. The price was around $15 and it's something we can have for a long time to come. Another great idea would be a coffee mug, I purchased mine for around $13... not too bad!
If you do decide to book a hotel that is off-property, make sure that they offer transportation to and from the parks. Parking is an added expense that can be easily avoided. We ended up staying at the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista in Disney Springs, they did offer a shuttle bus too and from each of the parks which was super convenient.
If you book far enough in advance, some people who have timeshares on Disney property will actually rent out there space on AirBNB. This is a great way to have the experience of staying on property without the cost!
Use the Disney World app ahead of time to plan out any reservations or fast-passes. It's also a very useful app to use while at the parks. The app shows you everything from wait time for your favorite character to ordering food on the go.
What to not spend your money on:
FOOD. You do not need to eat out for every single meal in order to get the most out of your Disney experience. Often times, reservation meals are overpriced. My suggestion would be to pick one meal and one restaurant, like the brunch buffet I spoke about earlier, and experience your character meal. If you do decide to eat out any other time, check out some of the "street vendor" type foods, or even the quick-dinning options. Some of the quick options are simply burgers and fries, but others (especially in Animal Kingdom) have some great options to eat at. If it looks interesting or appealing, get something small and share it just to taste.
Souvenirs. Be careful with these and pick your souvenirs wisely. I suggest just picking one small item that you know you will get use out of. The entire time at Disney, we took tons of pictures and videos as our own free souvenirs. Most of the trinkets and sweatshirts are over-priced. Stick to something that will be used to memorable to you!
Piggy-backing off of that, the photo memory pass was another item that was not necessary to purchase. Every Disney employee who had a camera was more than willing to use our camera to take our pictures, as well as there own camera; this means we got the same picture on our own camera without the price.
Rides that were not worth the wait:
Na'vi River Journey in Animal Kingdom / Avitar was (in my opinion) not worth the two hour wait. Although the inside of the ride was beautiful, it was underwhelming for the wait time. The world of Avitar outside of the rides was beautifully done, and I suggest anyone go and visit it for themselves.
My biggest tip is to plan ahead and be cautious with your money. What really saved my boyfriend and me was planning ahead. I used my cute notebook to write down each day of our trip, what park we wanted to visit and what special events they had that day (along with any reservations we had made). I also wrote down things like reservations for our hotel, times, and other information vital to our trip. Another tool I really loved using was the Disney World app. I touched on this earlier in the post, but that really helped us determine where we needed to go while in the park.
Thank y'all for reading through to the end! This was a lengthy one, so if you have any questions at all please reach out to me via comment, email, instagram dm, anything!