What You Should Know Before You Book Your Walt Disney World Vacation
The Disney theme parks have some really great and unique offerings that can be especially helpful when planning and embarking on your Disney vacation, but there’s so much information out there that these offerings sometimes get lost in the shuffle. My purpose for writing this specific post is to compile all of the helpful information and tips that I’ve discovered into one, easy-to-read place as I plan my own family vacations and learn more about the parks.
If you’re like I was the first time I started planning for a family vacation to Disney World, I was a little confused about such things as “FastPass” and “MagicBands” and how they work. While they do work on a very basic scale (such as scanning your “MagicBand” at the park gate for admission or walking up to one of the few “FastPass Kiosks” in the parks to reserve your spot on whatever ride is left), they can actually do a lot more that you may not be aware of – some of it may even save you some money or time. It may seem complicated at first, but I hope that this post will help clarify some of the more confusing aspects and reveal some of the rather “hidden” features and offers that every Disney guest should know about before booking in order to get the most out of their Disney vacation.
At this time, I mainly have tips related to Walt Disney World as that is the Disney Theme Park I am most familiar with. Each Theme Park is a little different (for instance, the Disneyland “FastPass” system works differently than the “FastPass” system at Disney World), so some of these tips will not apply to the other Disney Theme Parks. I will try update the items on this list whenever I learn of changes to offerings or policies.
Also, please note that Disney offers and policies are subject to change at any time (especially pricing) and they do make changes quite often (though they are usually very minimal changes, so most of this info should still be relevant at any given time). I recommend that you always double check the official Disney website to make sure that you have the correct information for the time period you will be visiting the parks, and if you can’t find what you are looking for on their website (certain things aren’t always easy to find from my personal experience) I highly recommend calling them and speaking with a Cast Member about any specific concerns or questions you may have. They usually have the answers and are happy to help, and if they don’t have the answers they do their best to find out.
WALT DISNEY WORLD TIPS:
(Last updated January 29, 2019)
All Tips on this Page Apply to Walt Disney World Only
(Other Disney Resorts around the world have different systems)
Tickets, Travel, and Hotels
- All Disney tickets allow you to visit only one park per day (i.e. if you go to Magic Kingdom on Monday of your trip, you cannot visit any other park, such as EPCOT, that same day). This also means you cannot reuse that ticket on another day (each ticket only buys admission to one park for one day). The exception to this rule is a “Park Hopper” ticket, which allows you to visit as many of the parks as you wish on a single day. If you want to be able to Park Hop each day of your trip, you will need to purchase separate “Park Hopper” tickets for each of those days.
- If you stay offsite (anyone staying in a non-Disney hotel outside of their property), you will have to pay separate fees for parking at each of the theme parks. In May 2017, the average price for parking at the theme parks was around $20 for standard parking (that really starts to add up each day). Check the Disney website for more information on parking fees.
- Disney Resort guests have the option of free transportation to the parks and Disney Springs on Disney buses or Monorails. Some resort hotels have their own dedicated buses (meaning these buses only stop at that particular resort, such as “Art of Animation” resort buses), while others share buses with other resorts (such as “All Star Music” shares with “All Star Movies” and “All Star Sports”). Those with shared buses can end up having a longer wait time and a longer ride to your destination due to extra stops, so it’s good to be aware of this when booking a Disney hotel. Three Deluxe Disney Resort Hotels are on what is known as the “Monorail Loop” just outside of Magic Kingdom as well, which are The Contemporary, The Grand Floridian, and The Polynesian.
- Disney Resorts offer a lot of free or cheap services and experiences that are unique to Disney hotels. Some hotels have specific Disney theming, such as the Art of Animation Resort or the Caribbean Beach Resort, and others offer one-of-a-kind experiences unique to that specific resort, such as drawing classes at Art of Animation with a Disney animator or songs around the campfire at the Fort Wilderness campsite. Resort hopping (visiting other resorts) is encouraged, meaning that you may be able to participate in a lot of these unique offerings even if you aren’t staying at that particular resort. Nearly all Disney resorts also feature at least one pool, a restaurant/counter service food, a souvenir shop, a kid’s playground, an arcade, and movies-by-the-pool on certain nights, among other things. Be sure to check out the amenities and activities offered at the different Disney Resorts before you book to see which is the best fit for you and your family.
- If you fly into the Orlando Airport, “Disney’s Magical Express” bus will transport you to your Disney Resort Hotel for free if you arrive between a certain time period. This only works if you are staying onsite and flying into the Orlando Airport, so if you stay offsite or arrive a different way, you will need to find your own transportation for your entire trip. To learn more about how “Disney’s Magical Express” works, check out Disney’s official webpage.
- If you are driving to Disney World, be aware that there are a lot of toll roads in Orlando outside of Disney Property. Also be aware that each toll is a different amount and accepts different types of payment methods depending upon the toll booth. Some take credit cards, others take cash and offer change, while others require exact change (as in exact coins – they don’t even accept dollar bills). You don’t want to get to a toll booth that requires exact change and not have it or they could charge you with a large fine (I’ve seen as much as $100 fine for not paying the 75 cent toll). These toll booths will also be where you least expect them, so be prepared. One morning we needed to go to Walmart a few miles away from Disney World property and we had to pay a toll to get back to Disney again. Some tolls are even as high as $3, so my advice is to carry some cash and coins with you in the car just in case.
- Walt Disney World tickets are no longer paper tickets. When my family went to Disney World for the first time 21 years ago, we had paper “Forever” tickets with pictures of Mickey and friends on each. We actually had a day left for each of us and got to use those tickets for admission 20 years after they were first purchased! Now Disney tickets are plastic cards that are scanned at the theme park entrances (sort of like a credit card, except you tap the scanner rather than swipe). For our last trip, we actually didn’t receive any of these plastic card tickets since we already had “MagicBands” (which our tickets were loaded on to), so if your an onsite guest with a “MagicBand” before your arrival, you may not get a card version at all. You may also receive a ticket/ticket number by email that you can print off (which I recommend doing just in case), though you probably won’t use it unless you loose your card and/or “MagicBand”. Sadly, Disney tickets now expire 14 days after you use your first day, so no more Forever Ticket options like 20 years ago.
- Disney Resort guests and Annual Passholders get complimentary “MagicBands” which serve as their theme park tickets. However many tickets you have purchased for each day will be uploaded to your “MagicBand”, so their is no need to pull out your physical Disney ticket each time you enter the theme parks. This means that if you buy tickets for four days of your trip (e.g. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday), you will use the same “MagicBand” each day at each theme park. The “MagicBand” is worn on the wrist like a watch (or if you have a second generation “MagicBand” you have the option of popping out the center piece/token and placing it in a lanyard-type holder you wear around your neck). To learn more about how “MagicBands” work, check out Disney’s official “MagicBand” webpage.
- Your Disney “MagicBand” also serves as your Disney Resort room key (meaning each person in your party automatically has their own room key), your admittance to “FastPass” lines, and your I.D. link to “PhotoPass” photos taken by Cast Members throughout the park. Also, if you are taking “Disney’s Magical Express” bus from the Orlando airport to your Disney Resort, your “MagicBand” will also serve as your ticket for the bus.
- You can use your “MagicBand” like a credit card to pay for purchases in stores or for food in most restaurants. All you need to do is tap your “MagicBand” to the credit card machine (it will have a spot to the left of the keypad below the little lights) and then enter your four digit PIN number as you would for a debit card. From our experience, any purchases you make with your “MagicBand” in the Disney Parks or Disney Springs will be charged to the credit card you used to pay for your resort hotel room unless you provide them with another card. You can ask them to charge your purchases to a different credit card if you prefer, just make sure you do this at the front desk before you head to the stores and buy all those souvenirs.Also, we discovered that they add up your purchases with your “MagicBands” all along before charging your account. Once you hit $500, they then charge it all at once. For instance, if you make purchases with your “MagicBand” at “World of Disney” in Disney Springs, “Agrabah Bazaar” in Magic Kingdom, and several other shops/restaurants throughout your trip, you most likely won’t see each of those transactions come through separately. Rather, they will all come through as one large charge from Walt Disney World once you’ve charged $500 worth (this is not a limit though, you can still continue to make more purchases after you reach this amount). So, while charging with a “MagicBand” works the same way as if you were to pay with your actual credit card at a store, those purchases won’t probably show up on your account until you reach $500 (or the end of your trip if you don’t spend that much).
- You can customize your “MagicBand” after you book your Disney Resort stay. According to the website, you can customize your band so long as it is at least 11 days before your arrival date. However, we received several emails from Disney stating that we must customize our “MagicBands” before 30 days out since that was the deadline for them to ship the bands to us, so pay close attention to any special notifications or emails you get from Disney to make sure the dates/deadlines aren’t different from what you are expecting. You may choose one of their color options for free (otherwise all of your “MagicBands” will be a grayish/black color by default). You may also purchase a “MagicBand” from the Disney Store or in the parks that are much more decorated with such things as characters and special designs, but these often cost upwards of $20 each. Disney’s official “MagicBand” webpage has more info about how to customize your “MagicBand” before they are shipped to you.
- Offsite guests can purchase “MagicBands” to use instead of a physical ticket if they prefer. As far as I know, offsite guests (those who are not staying at a Disney Resort) can only use their “MagicBand” for park entrance and “FastPasses” (not for purchases or restaurants). If you are staying offsite, you must pay for your “MagicBand”, which can be ordered from the Disney Store online, in the parks, or at Disney Springs.
- To enter the park with your ticket or “MagicBand”, you tap either to the Mickey symbol on the entrance pedestals. Once the ring around Mickey and his head shape lights up green, you will place your finger or thumb onto the fingerprint scanner until it turns green. You will need to do this each time you enter the park, even if you are re-entering the same day.
- The “FastPass” system (aka “FastPass+”) is sort of like a Disney VIP line/section and is available for most attractions and shows. When you use “FastPass”, you basically get to cut-in-line because you have reserved your spot for that attraction or show ahead of time. This allows you essentially skip the typical 30 minute or more wait times for attractions. For shows, you may be seated in a special section or you may just be allowed in to the seating area earlier than those guests in the “Standby” line so that you have a better choice of seats. Keep in mind that you may still have to wait a little while (especially if you arrive early to a show or if a ride was just loaded), but the wait time will be significantly less than that of the “Standby” line in most cases. For example, my family was able to get “FastPasses” for each of us for Splash Mountain sometime in the mid-afternoon on a Tuesday, and we were able to ride within ten-fifteen minutes. We literally walked passed an incredibly long “Standby” line of people who were waiting over an hour to ride. “FastPass” is definitely a must-do for these popular attractions if you are able to get one. Note that these “FastPasses” go fast and there are only so many per time slot/show time, so get them when you can and keep checking the “My Disney Experience” app often to catch the most-difficult-to-get “FastPasses”.
- “FastPass” reservations work differently for shows than they do for rides. For shows, you will typically have a “FastPass” arrival time window of fifteen minutes before a show starts. That means that if you want to see the 6:00pm showing of “Finding Nemo: The Musical” and are able to get a “FastPass” for this show, you will need to arrive between 5:30-5:45pm. This is because you will be let in to the theater before those in the “Standby” line (or in the case of a show with a dedicated “FastPass” seating section, such as “Rivers of Light”, it takes a while for them to seat all of those people before the show starts). For rides, you will be given an hour long time block to arrive (unless you are close to park closing hours, in which you may just be given a 30 minute time block). This means that your party may arrive at any time within this hour to ride this ride using your “FastPass” reservation. However, once a “FastPass” is used, it will disappear from your list of “FastPass” reservations, so you can only use it once (meaning that you may not re-enter the “FastPass” line and ride again). If you want to ride the same ride again, you will either have to get in the “Standby” line or, if available, get another “FastPass” using one of the kiosks or your “My Disney Experience” app on your mobile device (the latter is most definitely recommended over visiting a kiosk which most likely would require you to leave the area and walk to the nearest kiosk as they tend to be far and few between).
- You are only allowed three “FastPasses” for each park to start with. This means that you can only pick three attractions and/or shows to “FastPass” in the beginning. Once you use those three “FastPasses” you may then choose one additional “FastPass” to use. Once you use that additional “FastPass” you may choose one more and so on. For example if I am visiting Magic Kingdom on Monday and I want to ride ten rides and see two shows, I can only get “FastPasses” for three of those rides/shows to start with (you may have any combination of rides and shows so long as it is only three total). So, I may choose “FastPasses” for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (ride), “Enchanted Tales with Belle” (show), and Splash Mountain (ride), which is a total of three “FastPasses”, but I cannot get any more “FastPasses” for any other rides/shows until I have used these three. After I have used these three “FastPasses”, I can get one more “FastPass” for another ride (or even the same ride/show I’ve already done), such as Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. After I ride Space Ranger Spin and use this additional “FastPass”, I can get one more “FastPass” for another ride/show (and so on until the park closes). Keep in mind, however, that EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom all have a tiered “FastPass” system, so you may not be able to get all of the “FastPasses” that you want at the same time (e.g. if I am at EPCOT and want a “FastPass” for Soarin and Test Track, I can only choose one of these for my first three “FastPass” selections because they are in the same tier. I may get the other “FastPass” after using the other three, however, if it is available).
- Walt Disney World Resort Hotel guests can reserve their first three “FastPasses” up to 60 days before their arrival date and for up to ten days of their trip (meaning if you are visiting Disney World for fourteen days and have fourteen days worth of tickets, you can reserve three “FastPasses” for each of the first ten days of your visit). You will want to log onto the Disney website at 7:00am ET (that’s 4:00am for those of you on the West Coast) on the day your “FastPass” options become available to you (exactly 60 days before your arrival day). Some of the most popular “FastPasses” go in a matter of minutes, so you’ll want to prioritize which ones are most important to you and secure those first.
- Those staying offsite (not Disney World Resort Hotel guests) can reserve their first three “FastPasses” up to 30 days before their arrival (aka their first park day since they aren’t checking-in to a Disney hotel) and the same rules apply (see number 4 above).
- Your Walt Disney World “FastPass” selections will become available at exactly at the time given either 60 or 30 days from your arrival (depending on whether you are staying onsite or not). When we reserved our “FastPass” selections 60 days before our trip two years ago, we were told that our “FastPass” options would become available at 7:00am ET on the sixtieth day before our trip. As we found out, if you log on to the Disney website (“My Disney Experience”) even just a minute before 7:00am ET 60/30 days before your arrival, it may appear that the website is not working or that you will not be able to select your dates for “FastPass” selections, but don’t worry. It’s most likely not a website glitch. When we logged on 30 minutes early when our 60 days arrived, it looked like the website wasn’t working, even up to 6:59am ET. We thought we were going to lose out on our “FastPasses” and have to call about the website issue, but at 7:00am ET time, everything appeared and we were able to select our trip dates and “FastPass” choices… a little Disney magic maybe?
- “FastPasses” go fast, so you may want to have more than one person in your party logged into their accounts at the same time to acquire several at once. Since you can get three “FastPasses” for each of your theme park days (for up to ten days of your trip), you may want to each work on separate days at the same time or work together to grab the most popular attractions/shows. For example, I and my mom logged into our separate Disney accounts at the same time (we made sure our accounts were linked to each other beforehand) and we each had our own list of “FastPass” selections organized by priority for us. So, while I was getting a “FastPass” for Frozen Ever After for our EPCOT visit on the Thursday of our trip, she was getting a “FastPass” for Toy Story Mania! for our trip to Hollywood Studios on Tuesday of that same week. This way, we were able to get two “FastPasses” at a time until all of our “FastPass” slots were filled for each day. You can get these “FastPasses” in any order (day or park), so we went for the hardest-to-get “FastPasses” first (like my example above) rather than going in day or park order.
- If you don’t get a “FastPass” you want because they are already gone, you may still be able to get them at some point. This is especially true for those staying offsite, because those staying onsite have already had thirty extra days to get these “FastPass” reservations before those staying offsite. Keep checking as often as possible (several times a day if you can) to see if someone lets go of their “FastPass” for the ride/show you want. These will go fast too because other people are also waiting for someone to cancel their “FastPass” for that ride/show, so that’s why you want to check often and get it as soon as you see it. Even if your not totally sure if you can fit that time slot into your schedule, grab it anyway if you really want to ride that ride or see that show. It’s usually easier to re-work your day plan than to find the exact time you want for an already-full “FastPass” ride/show.
- While you’re in the Disney World parks, check the “My Disney Experience” app often to try to get the “FastPasses” you want. Whether you want to change a “FastPass” to a different ride/show or a different time for that same ride/show, or you want to get your next “FastPass” after you’ve used your others, you’ll want to keep an eye on this app. While we were in EPCOT, we used our first three “FastPasses” for “Turtle Talk With Crush” (show), The Seas with Nemo and Friends (ride), and Frozen Ever After (ride). Once we were finished with those (around 4 or 5pm) we wanted to ride Test Track, but there was a wait time in the “Standby” line of about 60 minutes. We checked the app and a “FastPass” became available for Frozen Ever After (which had a wait time of nearly two hours) and was gone within a minute. We checked every few minutes after that for the next 30 minutes or so as we walked around the “Flower and Garden Festival” and a Test Track “FastPass” became available (which we grabbed as soon as we saw it). After we rode Test Track, we decided we’d like to ride it again if we could, and we ended up getting another “FastPass” right before closing time. The same thing happened when we wanted to ride Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom. It’s a good idea to keep checking if you can and not give up if you really want to ride a specific ride or see a specific show (just be aware that this app does use cell phone data, so make sure you have enough data in your cell phone plan or you may be charged extra if it uses too much).
- If you’re standing in a long “Standby” line, check the app for a “FastPass” for that ride if you can. Like I said above, Frozen Ever After regularly sees two or more hour wait times in “Standby”, but we could have gotten a “FastPass” to ride it again if we wanted (but we opted for Test Track instead). If you are able to get a “FastPass” and leave the “Standby” line, you may get to ride that ride a lot sooner than if you had continued to wait. This happens more often than you would expect.
- Basically the opposite of what I said for number 10, if you see a short “Standby” line for a ride you already have a “FastPass” for and you are willing to wait in that short line, cancel your “FastPass” reservation for that ride and choose a different one immediately. We had a “FastPass” for Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid ride from 6-7pm, but around 1:30pm we discovered it had a “Standby” wait time of about 15 minutes. We decided to wait in line to ride and cancel our “FastPass” for that ride so we could get another one for a different ride at a different time instead. If you are okay with changing your schedule around a bit, you may very well be able to ride more rides or see more shows than you thought you would.
- It is possible to change one of your “FastPasses” without loosing the others. I wasn’t aware of this at first and was nervous to make any changes to a “FastPass” for fear that I would loose my others as well. However, I was able to change my selected “FastPass” to a different time (or even a different attraction) without affecting the others. Just be aware that if you don’t have “Park Hopper” tickets you won’t be able to acquire a “FastPass” in a different park without letting them all go first. So if you’re thinking of maybe going to EPCOT on Monday instead of Magic Kingdom, but you already have “FastPass” reservations for Magic Kingdom on Monday, you won’t be able to see what “FastPasses” are available on Monday for EPCOT without losing all of your Magic Kingdom “FastPasses”. You will really want to be absolutely certain that you want to change days, because once you let go of your “FastPasses”, they are most likely gone for good unless someone cancels theirs as well and you are able to get those. For this reason, once you choose your “FastPasses” for each park on whatever days you selected, you are pretty much locked in to those parks on those specific days.
- To use “FastPass” in the Disney World parks, reserve your “FastPass” ahead of time, then walk up to the “FastPass” pedestal (like the entrance pedestal) within your allotted time and tap your “MagicBand” to the Mickey head until it turns green. Once it turns green, you are ready to head to the ride or inside the theater right away (though sometimes there is still a minimal wait, but nothing like “Standby” wait times). Your “FastPass” reservation should disappear from your “My Disney Experience” app as soon as you use it, but it may take a little bit (if it doesn’t disappear within five or ten minutes, try editing your plans or notes and see if that doesn’t make the app update your “FastPass” reservations in the process).
Advanced Dining Reservations, Mobile Order, and the Disney Dining Plan –
Get your “Advanced Dining Reservations” for restaurants ahead of time and work your schedule around these. “Advanced Dining Reservations” are the hardest things to get and/or change (even over “FastPasses”) so you want to make them your first priority. If there is a restaurant you really want to eat at, I would even suggest planning what days you visit each park around that reservation availability. For example, if I really want to eat at “Cinderella’s Royal Table” and I have four days worth of tickets to Disney World, I will check ahead of time to see what days/times are available for reservations before deciding what day I will visit Magic Kingdom. If I think I want to visit Magic Kingdom on Monday, but the only reservation available to “Cinderella’s Royal Table” is at 2:00pm on Wednesday, I will make Wednesday my Magic Kingdom day instead (of course, this may not be an issue if you have “Park Hopper” tickets and can visit more than one park per day). From there, I will reserve my “FastPasses” for Magic Kingdom on Wednesday, working around my dining reservation time and location.
- Some “Advanced Dining Reservations” go extremely fast. You can usually reserve a spot at these restaurants 180 days in advance to your arrival day, so you may want to consider this when picking your vacation dates. If you decide to take your vacation sooner than 180 days away, you may be able to still get a dining reservation for your vacation, but it may be a lot more difficult. You may need to take the same approach as your “FastPass” selections – checking as often as possible until one becomes available.
- Disney’s new Mobile Order system is often much faster than standing in line. Not all Disney restaurants offer Mobile Ordering, but the list is growing rapidly. This fantastic new feature available through the My Disney Experience App allows you to order your food ahead of time with a credit card and then you can pick up your order at the counter when it is done. With the way this works, you can order food from anywhere in the park and do other things while the Cast Members prepare your food rather than stand in a long line of people waiting to order (and then waiting again for your food to be made). Occasionally you may still have to wait in a line (though it is usually much shorter than the regular line) to get your food at very popular restaurants such as Woody’s Lunch Box, but the process is much less stressful and time consuming from our experience.
- While it may be referred to as the “Free” dining plan, you still have to pay for a “Disney Dining Plan”. Unless you are going at a time of year in which you can get it for free under certain conditions (usually it comes with a specific length of stay in select resorts that are not discounted), you will actually pay for a specific vacation package and get a certain amount of food “credits” to use in restaurants. I recommend doing a lot of research on whether this will benefit your family more than the other offered discounts (such as room discounts) as they usually cannot be combined with other offers. The general consensus out there seems to be that the Disney Dining Plan is best for larger parties that want to eat at several expensive restaurants (especially character meals). Otherwise, it may end up being cheaper for you just to pay for your meals individually during your trip or to charge them to your “MagicBand” as you go. To read more about Disney’s dining options on their website, click here.
Additional Info –
- “Extra Magic Hours” are available for Disney Resort guests. For those staying onsite, Disney often offers extra hours either before a park opens or after closing exclusively for resort guests to enjoy the parks (meaning those staying offsite or driving in for the day will not be allowed in during these hours). This schedule is ever changing from week-to-week and is only available to select Disney Resorts, so check the schedule online and each day at your Disney Resort (the schedule should be posted somewhere in the lobby).
- Be aware that your schedule will most likely change. Actually, I’d be surprised if it doesn’t. I am a super organizer and planner (as you can probably tell), but I learned that when you are in Disney you have to have a flexible schedule. Doing so will allow you to possibly do more than you thought you could, and there are some things that you may have to give up due to scheduling issues or weather delays. Since this is common, it will be easier to enjoy your time much more if you don’t mind your schedule getting rearranged often throughout the day.
- While it’s good to be flexible in your schedule, it’s also a good idea to have some sort of loose plan for each of your days in the park. There is so much to see and do it can be really overwhelming, and there’s no possible way to fit everything into one day – even if there aren’t a lot of rides or shows you want to do, the wait times can take up a huge amount of time in your day. For that reason, it’s a great idea to research what you’d like to do ahead of time (approximate time it takes to ride the ride/see the show, average wait times, where in the park they are located, etc.) and prioritize so you make sure each person in your party gets to do at least one thing that they really want to do.Planning a rough draft of what you want to do in each park is also especially helpful when figuring out which area of the park you want to be in for certain times of the day. Since each park covers a lot of space and, therefore, there’s a lot of walking between each attraction, you don’t want to be running all over the park to make it to what you want to do (especially if you have “FastPass” times reserved or dining reservations). For instance, if I have reservations at “Be Our Guest” restaurant at 12:00pm, I don’t want to schedule a “FastPass” to meet Mickey at Town Square at 1:30pm because they are on opposite ends of the park and I wouldn’t make it in time even if the park was empty and I ran. It’s a good idea to figure out ahead of time where each attraction, show, or restaurant is located so you can do the things in that area around the same time.
- You will have to go through security before entering each park. All theme parks have a bag check in which you are expected to lay all bags (backpacks, purses, coolers, etc.) on the security table and wait for a security officer to go through each pocket. Some are faster than others, but in general they try not to take too long and are usually quite friendly and pleasant. This is located before you get to the park entrance where you scan your ticket or “MagicBand”, and you will go through security every time you are about to enter one of the theme parks, regardless of whether or not you have already been to that same park already that day. In addition to this, you may be selected at random to go through a metal detector (or in the case of Magic Kingdom, it seems that many guests are now required to go through a metal detector). While it may seem tedious for us as guests to go through this process, I can imagine it is probably much more tedious for the security guards to do this job all day every day, but they almost always still manage to have a smile on their face and engage in polite conversation. Safety is a priority for Disney, and in today’s world I am thankful that they do this. I feel much better knowing they are keeping the guests as safe as they can – even if it does take me an extra five or ten minutes in line.
- Make sure you leave any banned items behind. Such things as weapons (or even things that may be mistaken for weapons, such as squirt guns), selfie sticks, and opened beverage bottles are not allowed in the parks (you can take in unopened/sealed bottles so long as they are not glass or alcohol). Make sure to check the list of banned items before attempting to enter the parks.
- Disney World has special offers for veterans and those who are currently in the armed forces. The Military Discounts for Park Tickets page on the Disney website includes information on current ticket discounts for Service Members (active or retired) and their families. Military personnel may also receive certain resort rooms at a discount.
- Disney World also offers specific accommodations and help for those who are disabled or have special needs. Depending on your need, Disney has different offerings that may be helpful to you, such as disabled parking and rentable wheel chairs. Find out more about these services on the Disney website. For guests with cognitive disabilities and Autism, take a look at this Disney PDF for even more detailed information on what they offer.
- “PhotoPass/Memory Maker” is optional and can be purchased before or after your trip. Though sometimes used interchangeably, “PhotoPass” generally refers to any single photo taken by a “PhotoPass” cast member (such as at a character meet and greet) which is uploaded to your Disney account when the photographer scans your “MagicBand” (you won’t be charged for any photo taken or uploaded to your account unless you go to your Disney account and choose to purchase them). “Memory Maker” is the general term used for a photo package you can purchase with a certain number of your “PhotoPass” photos. You may purchase a “Memory Maker” package during or after your trip or before your trip for a minimal discount (in general I would not recommend getting “Memory Maker” ahead of time unless you are absolutely certain that you will want a large amount of “PhotoPass” photos because it costs so much. You won’t save that much by buying it ahead of time, so I think it is worth the extra money to wait and see if you really like the photos or want that many). You can also buy single “PhotoPass” photos individually, but from my experience they are quite expensive (about $15 a piece last I checked). To read more about “PhotoPass/Memory Maker” official rules, visit the Disney website.
- “PhotoPass” cast members and most other cast members will take a picture with your phone or camera as well for free. You don’t have to take selfies all day or buy costly “PhotoPass” photos if you don’t want to. You can usually get the exact same shot with your own camera if you ask a cast member to take it for you.
- No pets are permitted in the Parks except for approved service animals. Certain Disney hotels do allow pets to stay for a fee, however, so you may want to research this ahead of time if you plan to bring a pet or if, on the other hand, you would rather not stay in a hotel that allows pets because of allergies or some other reason.
- Smoking is only allowed in designated areas at both the Parks and the hotels.
- Anyone over the age of 14 cannot wear a costume or mask into the park. Click here to read other clothing rules.
- There are measurement requirements for certain things such as bags and strollers.
- Photography and videography for non-commercial use is encouraged on most attractions and for most shows. There are a few exceptions to this for various reasons (such as Star Tours), but in general Disney does not mind if you take your own photos or videos. Be aware that the use of flash or video lighting is not permitted on certain rides and during certain shows – listen for the announcement over the speakers before a ride/show to know what is/isn’t allowed.
- Disney counter-service restaurants will give you free ice water in a to-go cup if you ask. You can find free ice water in any park, but in Animal Kingdom they will not give you a lid or straw due to animal-safety, so you may want to buy or bring your own water bottle to this park in particular.
- Disney stores no longer use plastic bags for purchases. This is true of the local stores I have been to as of last summer (2018), and at the time I was told by a Disney Store Cast Member that the Parks would be eliminating plastic bags in the future as well. As of my last trip to Walt Disney World in November 2018, they were still using plastic bags, but be aware that this may change in the future. If you’d like a bag for your purchase at a local Disney Store (and possibly the Parks at some point), you will either need to purchase a reusable bag (they usually have some for around $1) or you will need to bring your own. If you are in the Parks, you may also have the option of sending your purchases to the front of the park or your Disney hotel to pick up later, so be sure to check into this ahead of time to see if it is something you would like to do.
- There are two official Disney discount stores near Walt Disney World. The Disney Character Warehouse Outlet on Vineland Ave. and on International Drive are practically down the street from Walt Disney World and located quite close to each other. While these Disney outlets do occasionally have regularly priced items, the majority of their stock is heavily discounted. I have found Disney T-shirts as low as $0.99 and Mickey Ears for $1.99! Prices do very depending upon the item and style of the item, but these outlets are a great place to stop before going to the Parks since you can even sometimes find current Park and Disney Springs offerings (Mickey Ears, T-shirts, bags, etc.) for a lesser price then you will find in the Parks and Disney Springs. A little pro tip too – if you have a child that wants to go to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique or The Pirates League, check the outlet beforehand for discounted princess dresses and pirate outfits. Also, if you like to pin trade, there are often great discounts for pin sets and individual pins as well.