7 Secrets to Making the Most of a Disney Vacation
Updated: Feb 26, 2020
We love #Disneyland and #CaliforniaAdventure in Anaheim, California! We love #WaltDisneyWorld in Orlando, Florida too! We visit these parks any chance we get so we've picked up a few #TipsAndTricks along the way that we wanted to share. We created a great checklist of things to bring on your next Disney vacation that is included at the end of this blog. After years of family trips to Disney we know what to bring (and not bring, haha). So be prepared for a great Disney day by downloading our free packing list today.
Tip #1 Cut Down the Cost of Tickets
Well in advance of your Disney vacation you can be saving up credit card rewards points that will save you big bucks on your tickets. We love our Disney Rewards credit card from Visa and we use it for all of our monthly purchases. They usually have a special bonus for signing up. That isn't even an affiliate link I added there; I just like you and want to give you the inside scoop on the best way to get discount tickets! Our Visa card usually yields enough points to pay for about half of our family's tickets if we take one Disney trip per year. Of course you should pay your balance off each month so you are not racking up debt. When you are planning a trip to any of the Disney Parks or a Disney cruise you can call Visa to redeem your rewards points and they will send you a rewards card that you can use to pay for your park tickets or a portion of your park tickets or cruise. You can also check the special offers available on the official Disney website to see if there are package deals available for the time you are traveling.
Tip #2 Pay Less Per Day
The more days you visit the parks the less you pay per day. We generally visit the parks for at least 4 days in a row so that the cost per day is very reasonable. We have a trip planned to Walt Disney World in December where we will be visiting the parks for 7 days! We originally planned 5 days but then realized it would only cost an extra $120 for our family of 6 to visit the park for 7 days instead of 5 days. Check the Disney Park tickets website to see what the cost for tickets for your family would be. You might also consider something like the CityPASS that allows you to visit more than one attraction in a city. On our most recent trip to southern California we bought the CityPass and we were able to visit Disneyland for three days, Legoland for one day and Sea World for one day. By clicking the link below (or near the bottom of our Shop Page) you can find out how CityPass can save you money in cities all over the world. This is an affiliate link so I could potentially make a small commission at no cost to you if you click the link and it will help me to keep bringing you great Disney blogs. Thanks!
Tip #3 Choose Trip Dates Wisely
Visit the parks when it's cooler and less busy. This is our best tip for having a happy and magical vacation. Crowded parks combined with heat really put a damper on fun. Proven fact: kids and parents alike will have melt downs from high heat and over-crowding so avoid it if you can. Of course if your only option is to go in the middle of the summer then by all means go. A day at Disney is still better than a day not at Disney. However, if you have flexibility in your dates then choose days that are less crowded and cooler. You can search online for Disney crowd prediction calendars to see what days will be less crowded. Generally all school breaks are high traffic times. Our favorite times of the year to visit Disney are late fall, early winter (when they have Christmas decorations up) and early spring. Our most recent trip to WDW was in December of 2018. If you scroll through the photos below you can see highlights. Just click the arrow on the right side of the first photo and it will scroll through all 9 photos.
Tip #4 Reducing Wait Times
Install the official Disneyland App or Disney World App on your mobile device before you go to the parks. Spend less time in lines by using the mobile app to find the shortest lines in the park. Fair warning though, everyone is using this app so check the lines for yourself when you walk by rides. If you walk by a ride that was closed and just opened back up you should jump in that line because it will be extremely short. Likewise, if you walk by a ride that has a very long line you might want to keep walking and check your app for lower wait times so you can return to that ride later. Also, definitely take advantage of the FREE fast pass systems that allow you to bypass long lines in all of the parks (explanations for each park are below). In the summer of 2018 Disney introduced the Play Disney Parks App that has interactive features that make waiting in lines a lot more fun so they seem shorter. Lastly, there is a new feature called Mobile Ordering on the official park app that allows you to order food throughout the parks on your mobile device and save time in food lines.
FASTPASS at Disneyland and California Adventure works differently than WDW. Our strategy at the Disneyland parks is to have a runner that gathers our FASTPASSES throughout the day. We send one person (the runner) to the most sought after FASTPASS first thing when we get into the park. The FASTPASS runner must have the park ticket for each person that is going on the ride because you feed the park tickets into the machine to get the FASTPASSES. Each person riding has to have entered the park that morning (they can't be sleeping at the hotel). You can get another FASTPASS after your return time for your current FASTPASS arrives or 2 hours after you obtained your current FASTPASS. Return times are strictly enforced so be sure to return to the ride during that return window so you can take advantage of the shorter wait time.
FastPass+ at Walt Disney World is a little different than at Disneyland. At WDW you book your passes online up to 30 days in advance of your stay. If you are staying at a WDW resort you can book the passes up to 60 days in advance. You can select up to 3 FastPass+ passes per day in advance and they will be linked to your ticket or magic band. After you scan your first FastPass+ in the park you can modify your next pass for the day on your mobile device and try to get it for a time close to when you will be done with your first pass. After you use your 3 pre-selected passes you can obtain another FastPass+ in the park for that day. You can get extra passes at one of the in-park kiosks or on your mobile device. After your first additional FastPass+ is done you can get another pass and so on. Therefore, you'll want to book your top 3 priority rides for the advanced FastPass+ and try to make those reservations early in the day (or modify them when you are in the park to be earlier) so that you can get as many other passes as possible. ***Note: Please see our Blogs for each of the Disney World Parks to see which 3 fastpasses we recommend that you book for each park.
Switch Rider is available at all of the Disney Parks and you should definitely use this. If you have a child that doesn't meet the height requirements for a ride you can obtain a Switch Rider pass (ask a cast member by the ride entrance). With Switch Rider both parents can ride the ride without waiting in the long line twice. When the second parent returns to the ride they get to go in the FASTPASS or FastPass+ return and they can take 2 other guests to ride with them. So we use fast passes for the first parent/kid group and the Switch Rider plus the 2 guest passes for our second parent/kid group. Our older kids love this feature because they get to ride the best rides twice - once with Dad and once with Mom.
Summer is right around the corner. Are you ready for the heat? Disney fans love these cooling towels and water misters for the parks. And don't forget the sunscreen. These are great products for summer at home too! These are Amazon links and if you purchase something I get a small commission at no cost to you. You get the same regularly low Amazon prices. Thanks!
Tip #5 How to Save Money on Food
Food at the Parks: When we eat at a Disney park we sometimes share bigger entrees or we order side dishes or smaller items. We found a great side cup of macaroni at Flo's Dinner in California Adventure that was almost enough to make a meal and it only cost $3. At Eight Spoon Cafe in Animal Kingdom in Disney World they serve a Baked Mac & Cheese with Pulled Pork that we loved for only $6.49. The kid's meals are great in all of the parks and fill our kids up for much less than an adult meal. Pizzas are always great for sharing so we order those when we can. We also love the Disney Parks corn dogs so we eat those fairly often. We try to avoid extras things like ice cream since they don't fill you up. But sometimes a churro or bucket of popcorn looks too good to resist. We actually love the souvenir popcorn buckets from Disney and we use them at home all the time so a popcorn purchase is always a must for us on every trip. On our most recent trip to Disney World we discovered that they will refill the souvenir popcorn buckets for only $2. So we ate a lot of popcorn on that trip!
Bringing Snacks: We bring lots of our own snacks and drinks into the parks (check online to see what is allowed, pretty much anything but glass containers is allowed). Bringing your own snacks is a great way to save $$$. Our kids think we are cheap... we think we are frugal, haha! Disney food is awesome! We love to eat meals in the park but we try to limit ourselves to buying one quality meal per day or two smaller and less expensive meals per day. We eat a large breakfast at our hotel each morning to get our tummies full. Then we stock up our park bags with snack packs of chips and granola bars. High calorie snacks are actually the best choices because you get pretty hungry walking all day in the parks. We also bring in 20oz bottles of Coca-Cola and bottled water too. The restaurants in the park will give you free cups of ice water so we get those at mealtimes but the bottled water or water bottles are a great way to get a drink while on the go. To save time we grab snacks from our snack stash on our stroller just before we get in line for a ride. That way we can eat our snacks while we wait in line instead of stopping to eat snacks. You can shop some of our favorite Disney snacks straight from Amazon by clicking the links below. Again, we could earn a small commission at no cost to you. Thanks!
Tip #6 Relax and Be Happy
Every parent has made the mistake of being in such a hurry that we snap at one of our kids or our spouse. I see people do it all the time in the parks and it really turns a magical day into a rotten day. The child's face shrinks and the adult walks off in a huff. It's so much better to keep your day sweet, full of laughter and packed with great memories by chilling out a little bit and stopping to admire the views or take a photo with a character. The best way to ensure everyone feels like they have a say is to have each person in your group pick 2-3 rides that they really want to do. Be sure you get to those rides and you can consider everything else to be icing on the cake. It's okay to save some things for next time too. That way you have even more to look forward to on your next visit. We don't say good-bye at the end of a Disney trip. Instead we say, "See ya later Mickey!" Your kids will remember the fun they had if they can remember their parents were having fun too; so relax and be happy.
Tip #7 Take Too Many Photos
Your days will go by quickly and you'll forget all the things you did unless you take a lot of photos to remember your trip. I've been known to take 100-200 photos in a day but even if you don't want to take that many you should take more than you think you need. Trust me, you'll treasure these photos of your kids and they will treasure the memories too. When I get home from any trip one of my favorite things to do is download my pictures right away and look through them all. Then a few weeks later I will start to work on a Shutterfly photo book of our trip. You can make a beautiful photo book to remember your trip for years to come. If you go to www.shutterfly.com you can receive a gift for signing up. They often put their books on sale so be sure to check your email for discount codes before you order your newest book. Our most recent trips to Disneyland and California Adventure were in 2018. If you scroll through the photos below you can see some of the highlights. Just click the arrow on the right and it will take you through all of the photos.
Other Disney Blogs
For specific information on each of the Walt Disney World Parks you should check out our Animal Kingdom and Epcot blogs. Other WDW blogs are coming soon! We'll let you know which Fastpasses you will want to pre-book, which attractions are our favorites in each park, our dining recommendations and where you can get free drink refills in each park.
I want to do an entire blog post about lodging options but I had to include a few links here so I don't forget about them. I recently found a great way to book a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) resort without joining the DVC. It's called the DVC Rental Store and they have Orlando options, Southern CA and 3 beach resorts. It's not a frugal lodging option but it is a great way to enjoy a fabulous vacation and live like a DVC owner without the commitment. There's also a company in Orlando called Incredible Vacation Homes that rents large luxury homes. If you have a large travel party or you just want a luxurious place to stay this could be a great option for you. Of course, if you want a less expensive way to enjoy a larger space than a hotel room and/or you have a large party you can check out VRBO through the link below or on our SHOP Page. VRBO is also a great way to rent out your own home when you are away on vacation. Just a note that VRBO is an affiliate link so I could make a small commission at no cost to you if you sign up. Thanks for your support of Destination Families!
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Free Packing List
We have created a free download with our Disney Parks checklist (see below). This list includes all of our 10 essential items for every family trip and our 10 essential items for Disney Parks. Some of the first 10 essential items will be necessary on your way to Disney such as movies and pool stuff (if you stay at a hotel) but those items can be left in the hotel on your actual park days. Some of the items on the essentials list like snacks, a great camera and first aid supplies should be on your list of things to bring into the parks each day. All 20 items are good to bring along on most any family trip but they are particularly great on a Disney trip.
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