20 Top Tips for Doing Disney Right

A trip to Walt Disney World can be overwhelming for even veteran visitors. After all, we're talking 25,000+ acres, four major theme parks with hundreds of activities and attractions, and about 500 places to eat, drink, and be Disney. However, those who do their homework will find that insiders know how to make a trip to Walt Disney World even more enjoyable--and much less overwhelming.

"Planning and organizing are essential to a successful Walt Disney World vacation," says Bob Sehlinger, author and executive publisher of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World (see "Be An 'Unofficial' Insider"). However, Sehlinger adds that too much planning can lead to a lack of spontaneity. "What we are saying is that you need a plan. You don't have to be compulsive or inflexible; just think about what you want to do before you go."

Here are 20 insider tips for doing Disney right:

1. When to Visit
Insiders know to visit during the cooler months and to try to stay away during the peak periods of family vacationing. Prime times for families (and extended families) are when the kids are generally out of school--June, July, and August, around major holidays, and during spring break from late-February through April.

2. Let the Memories Begin
As part of the "Let the Memories Begin" show, Disney guests become part of the nightly spectacular--when photos taken in the park during the day become larger-than-life projections on Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom (and at "It's a Small World" at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim). This groundbreaking new experience celebrates the deep memories created in Disney's theme parks every day. Insiders know they can also share their home videos and snapshots at a special "Let the Memories Begin" hub (

3. Be Among the First
There's always something new at Walt Disney World and those in the know simply know to head there before the word gets out. Options include the expansion of the New Fantasyland (nearly doubling in size with the grand opening at Magic Kingdom Park this past December); "Under the Sea--Journey of the Little Mermaid" and "Enchanted Tales with Belle" at Fantasyland; the re-engineered Test Track Presented by Chevrolet in Epcot's Future World, including the new and already-popular Chevrolet Design Center; the opening of Splitsville, America's Bowling Alley, in Downtown Disney West Side; and lots of tasty new dining options (see #18).

4. Stay Disney
It's not just Disney World propaganda--staying in a Walt Disney World owned- and -operated resort has many advantages, including: complimentary "Magical Express" baggage service and transportation from Orlando International Airport (with special luggage tags that bypass baggage claim and send bags straight to the room); easy access to a variety of Disney-driven transportation options (no tow vehicle needed!); "Extra Magic Hours" (see #5); and the "Disney Dining Plan" (see #18). Other advantages include convenient locations, themed resorts, a generous complimentary youth stay policy (generally those 17 and under stay with parents and grandparents for free, up to room capacity), youth services and facilities, all-in-one ticketing, parking fee exemption, and preferred tee times for golf (plus free transportation). These advantages are for all Disney accommodations, including Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground.

5. Location, Location, Location
Doing insider Disney is easier with the best home base for exploration--and mid-day swimming breaks and siestas. Of course, those visiting Walt Disney World in their RV will want to seriously consider Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground. Those visiting without their RV and with young children will want to consider one of the "monorail resorts," including Disney's Contemporary Resort, Disney's Polynesian Resort, and Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa--all convenient to Magic Kingdom and monorail transportation to Magic Kingdom and Epcot. The spacious new suites at Disney's Art of Animation Resort are ideal for adults and kids who don't want to share a standard (and standard-sized) room. Adult couples visiting without children will enjoy a location close to Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios, including Disney's Yacht Club Resort, Disney's Beach Club Resort, and Disney's BoardWalk (which also features great nightlife).

6. What Line?
Disney's FASTPASS system allows guests to avoid waiting at certain popular attractions in all four theme parks. If the posted wait time for an attraction is long, smart guests can use their park passes to obtain a no-fee FASTPASS with an assigned return time (within an hour-long window) with little or no waiting. There's also the innovative "rider swap" program that allows one parent to wait with a child who is unable to ride an attraction while one parent rides--then they switch with minimal wait time. "Tip Boards" located at strategic crossroads also give approximate wait times to save time and steps. Those who arrive right when a park opens or head to popular attractions during parades will also find shorter lines.

7. Extra Magic
The "Extra Magic Hours" program provides access to certain parks before and after normal opening hours. It's only available to those staying in Walt Disney World owned- and -operated resorts--plus Walt Disney World Dolphin, Walt Disney World Swan, Shades of Green, and the Hilton at Downtown Disney. The exclusive time is one hour before park opening and up to three hours after park closing. The park varies from day to day, providing up to 16 extra theme park hours each week!

8. Spahhh
Park hopping can be stressful at times and that's why Walt Disney World features several world-class spas. The Spa at Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa features the feel of old upstate New York and themed treatments and packages like the Adirondack Stone Therapy (using hot stones) and First Spa Experiences for those 4-12. The Mandara Spa at the Walt Disney World Dolphin radiates Balinese tranquility and eastern-leaning treatments, including special Generation YSPA offerings for Generation Y. Disney's beloved Grand Floridian Spa at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa was closed for enhancements until early-2013, but will reopen with more soothing options than ever. There are also more than a half-dozen additional spa and massage treatment locations, including Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, Disney's Wilderness Lodge Resort Hotel, Disney's Coronado Springs Resort Hotel, and Disney's BoardWalk Inn.

9. Shop 'til You Drop
The theme parks have lots of unique shopping options (Vinylmation figurines remain the rage--and D Street has the largest collection!), but the resorts and, specifically, Downtown Disney also have some super shops. Once Upon a Toy in Downtown Disney Marketplace is a great place for kids--and kids at heart--to build and customize decadent toys in five uniquely themed rooms. Tren-D carries chic sundresses, handbags, and more with oh-so-subtle Disney designs. Hoypoloi features fine art and jewelry pieces. Kids will also love Disney's Candy Cauldron, while adults might enjoy Sosa Family Cigars and the huge Orlando Harley-Davidson Store. Disney veterans also know to save their shopping until late, when they'll be heading back to their accommodations-and that certain merchandise can be delivered to their Disney resort free of charge.

10. Go Fish
Many visitors don't know that Walt Disney World has world-class fishing right in its backyard. Guests on BASS-guided fishing excursions routinely catch bass weighing two to eight pounds! Plus, BASS fishing participants at Walt Disney World receive a one-year BASS membership, which includes a BASS Times magazine subscription, special discounts, and more.

11. A Need for Speed
The Disney-based outpost of the nationwide Richard Petty Driving Experience ( lets participants get behind the wheel--or in the passenger seat--of a NASCAR race car reaching speeds up to 140 miles-per-hour on the mile-long tri-oval track. In addition, the Disney's Formula One-style Exotic Driving Experience allows lucky insiders to take the likes of Lamborghinis, Porsches, and Ferraris out for a spin.

12. Fore!
Many duffers may not know that Walt Disney World is consistently ranked one of the world's great golf destinations. Disney's famed Osprey Ridge Golf Course was crafted by Tom Fazio, while Joe Lee designed the Magnolia, Palm, and Lake Buena Vista layouts. Unofficial Guide golf writer, Larry Olmstead, says Osprey Ridge may be closed for renovations and management of the layout will eventually be turned over to the new Four Seasons Resort.

13. Visit Exotic Times & Lands
Most everyone knows they can "travel" the world without leaving the grounds of Epcot, but many may not know that the fantasy travel experiences continue at the various world-famous resorts. The possibilities for guests and visitors alike include the South Seas (Disney's Polynesian Resort); exotic Africa (Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge); 19th century South Florida (Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa); the Old South (Disney's Port Orleans Resort); the hey-day of the Mid-Atlantic shore (Disney's BoardWalk); old New England seaside (Disney's Beach Club Resort and Disney's Yacht Club Resort); America's Great western parks (Disney's Coronado Springs Resort); and America's iconic 20th century at Disney's Pop Century Resort.

14. Senior (and Grandkid) Moments
The Unofficial Guide earns its keep just with guidance for those who choose to bring their grandkids, including making an orientation visit without them; setting time and walking parameters; insider tips on wheelchairs and electric carts; any rides to possibly avoid (hint...there aren't many); and their famed "Dumb-or-Die-in-a-Day Touring Plan" for those with small children.

15. Circus Allure
Labeled the "hottest thing under the Orlando soleil" by one reviewer, Cirque du Soleil's "La Nouba" is decadently white hot when it comes to costumes and acts ranging from the high wire to trapeze to aerial ballet and so much more. It's easy to make an insider Downtown Disney night of it with pre- or post-show reservations at nearby Bongos Cuban Café, The Dining Room at Wolfgang Puck Café, or Portobello--as well as even more evening entertainment at House of Blues.

16. Epcot's Colorful Gardens
All of Walt Disney World's flowers and gardens are colorful, but Epcot especially comes alive from March to mid-May every year. That's when the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival takes place, including interactive gardening seminars, demonstrations, a children's play area, a butterfly garden, Disney character topiaries, and gardens ablaze from the colorful entrance plaza to the far reaches of World Showcase.

17. Fireworks & More Galore
The "Wishes" fireworks and multimedia extravaganza at Magic Kingdom is better than ever, but insiders know to check the schedule for Epcot's "IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth," "Fantasmic!" at Disney's Hollywood Studios, and the "Main Street Electrical Parade," also at Magic Kingdom. For in-the-know families or groups of up to ten, a "Wishes" fireworks cruise on Seven Seas Lagoon provides a unique view and experience.

18. Eat
When combined with highly-recommended accommodations and attractions "Magic Your Way" packages, the "Disney Dining Plan" features a complete cruise-style vacation stay/play/eat offering to suit different budgets and appetites--including at least two meals and one snack for each night of a Disney resort stay. In the parks proper, there's a diverse menu of options for foodies and those who just want to grab a quick bite before hitting another attraction. Those staying at or visiting Animal Kingdom Lodge (ask about spacious Vacation Club accommodations) will want to enjoy Africa-inspired cuisine (and South African wines) at Jiko-The Cooking Place, as well as more casual buffet-style dining at Boma-Flavors of Africa. For a splurge, it's hard to beat Todd English's bluezoo and Grand Floridian Resort & Spa's Victoria & Albert's (the only AAA Five-Diamond restaurant in Central Florida). New Epcot options right on the lagoon include Tutto Italia and La Hacienda--a perfect place to dine and enjoy the nightly fireworks. Other unique or new dining options include French-inspired Be Our Guest (the first Magic Kingdom restaurant to offer wine and beer-dinner only); Italian Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria; German Karamelle-Kuche (all things caramel); Pollo Campero (chicken and more); La Cava del Tequilla; Kouzzina by Kat Cora (comfort food from the famed female chef); Kona Island Sushi Bar; and the new Chef's Table at Flying Fish Cafe. 'Foodie' insiders specifically return to Walt Disney World every fall for the tasty Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.

19. Drink
Couples without kids will enjoy bar hopping (without drinking and driving!) at hotspots like The Wave at Contemporary Resort (where all wines are in screwtop bottles and organic beers are big); hip Rix Lounge; cocktails and tapas at Coronado Springs Resort; tiny La Cava del Tequila in Epcot's Mexico Pavilion; sparkling prosecco and more at Tutto Gusto; pub grub, drinks, and entertainment at the Rose & Crown (don't miss an evening there if the Hat Lady is entertaining); and Victoria Falls, with its signature South African margarita at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Kids and kids at heart will want to head to Epcot's Club Cool, where those in-the-know get free samples of eight soft drinks from around the world (it's sponsored by Coca-Cola).

20. And Be Very Disney
More than a dozen varied and in-depth Disney tours are reasonably priced and provide a backstage behind-the-scenes way to be very Disney. The half-day "Keys to the Kingdom Tour" is just $74 (ages 16 and up only), with visits to themed lands and backstage-- including lunch. The all-ages "Family Magic Tour" is just two hours and $34 (ages three and up and no charge for those under three), providing a primer to first-timers with children as they (literally) skip through magical lands. A "Grand Voyage" luxury boat trip aboard the luxurious 52-foot Grand 1 Sea Ray affords spectacular views and is even offered during the "Wishes" fireworks display ($520 per hour for up to 18 people).

For More Info
The Walt Disney World website,, is the most comprehensive planning tool available, including lots of insider tips and pricing.

Be An 'Unofficial' Insider
Known simply as the "Big Book" by insiders, The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World weighs in at almost 850 pages and provides detailed insider information to first-timers and veterans alike. The beloved "Touring Plans" are worth the price of the book on their own, but there's much more. The 2013 edition includes how to cut Disney wait times in line by four hours a day and the latest scoop on Universal's "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™." Fans of the book may also want to consider: Mini-Mickey: The Pocket-Sized Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World; The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids; The Unofficial Guide Color Companion to Walt Disney World; and Beyond Disney: The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando, SeaWorld, and the Best of Central Florida. The "Unofficial" series also includes guides to Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., cruises, and more.