My top tips for planning a holiday to Walt Disney World, Florida
Updated: Jan 24, 2019
First of all, it's not really a 'holiday'. Well, not in the traditional sense anyway. There will be a lot of time spent walking (and possibly queuing) in the heat, some very long days and not a lot of downtime. It's a fantastic experience, but it may not be how you and your family want to spend your time on vacation. Definitely do your research before you book. There are plenty of Facebook groups with lots of advice, plus theDIBB is an invaluable resource.
Talking of research... you DO need to plan before you go. Some people might disagree with me and be happy to go with the flow, but I believe that you will get to experience a lot more by planning months in advance for the days you want to visit the theme parks, the times of the rides you want to do, and making reservations for the restaurants you want to eat at (yes, really!)
The parks are extremely busy all year round, and if you want to guarantee getting on that must-do ride or meeting your favourite character without queuing for hours, you'll need to book a FastPass+ via the Disney website. You can do this 60 days before if you're staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel, or 30 days before if you're not. Restaurant reservations can be made 180 days ahead. Find out all you need to know at MyDisneyExperience.
Be prepared for the sheer scale of the place! Orlando is often many Brits' first trip to the US, and you just can't imagine the size of everything before you arrive. Everything is bigger - the cars, the roads, the food, and of course the theme parks! If you consider that the whole of Alton Towers could fit into one of the Walt Disney World car parks, you start to get a sense of things. Take a breather when you first arrive, and get used to it all before you tackle your first park.
Which brings me onto my best piece of advice - you don't have to do everything. No really, you don't! Aside from the fact that you won't physically be able to fit it all into two weeks (you could easily spend a month or more in Orlando and not run out of things to do), it is supposed to be a holiday. Accept that you won't see everything, pace yourself and take some rest days. Prioritise your 'must-dos' and consider anything else a bonus. Everything will be much more enjoyable that way.
It's not all about the big rides either. I've had quite a few people tell me that they're not interested in visiting Walt Disney World as they're not 'into' rollercoasters so it would be a waste of time. Well, guess what? They couldn't be more wrong. There is so much more to the parks than thrill rides. The shows, the characters, the buildings, the parades, the fireworks, the restaurants, the shopping... need I go on?!
Seriously, I'm not into big rides (except for my slightly weird obsession with The Tower of Terror), and I still haven't done everything I want to do at Disney, even after four visits. Although I have been on the Tower of Terror a total of eight times! But don't be put off if you don't like rollercoasters, as there are plenty of things for everyone to enjoy.
It doesn't have to cost the earth. Okay, so of course it's not going to be a cheap holiday.
BUT there are ways of saving money, both before you go, and when you're there. For example, we flew economy, took indirect flights (not ideal with young children but we coped), and we took the kids out of school for two days (sshhh) which saved us THOUSANDS of pounds. We stayed in a budget hotel outside the Walt Disney World resort (after all, you don't spend a lot of time in your room), but we actually loved our accommodation.
And whilst we were there, we saved money on food and drinks by making several trips to the supermarket, rather than pay Disney prices. So it can be done on a 'budget'. Even if you don't think you can afford to go, it's worth pricing up all the options.
Wait until the kids are old enough to remember it. Again, I know some people will disagree with this, but I personally think it's worth waiting to go until your kids are old enough to both fully enjoy and remember the experience.
My youngest son was in reception class at school (he was just about to turn 5 years old) when we went, and it's lovely that he can share his memories of it with us. He did fall asleep and miss the Magic Kingdom fireworks one night though!
Prepare your kids in advance. We started watching (and re-watching) Disney films for a few months before we went, so that they would recognise more of the characters, and it meant that they got a lot more from the experience.
And talking of the characters.... my youngest son was completely overwhelmed when we first met Mickey and pals up close. They're big, and can be quite scary for little ones, so it's worth trying to get your children used to meeting similar characters here before you go, or at least take it slowly when you first encounter them at Disney.
Newsflash: There is more to Orlando than Disney, and there is so much more to Florida than Orlando.
We stayed at a hotel on International Drive, which meant we were in a brilliant location to explore other non-Disney attractions in Orlando. We also took a break from the theme parks, and drove to beautiful Clearwater Beach for a night. It was great to see more of the Sunshine State, and I'd highly recommend factoring in a bit of time for a road-trip if you can.
Finally, you'll want to go back! Be prepared for SERIOUS holiday blues when you arrive home. I think it's a combination of being able to escape the real world for a couple of weeks, the ever-present sunshine, and the friendliness of everyone you meet, but you will want to return to Walt Disney World. I guarantee it!
Have you been to Walt Disney World, or are you planning a trip at the moment? I'd love to hear your thoughts and your top tips!