You may not have won the Super Bowl, but you are going to Disney World! You've bought your tickets, made your park reservations, and begun your official countdown to magic hour, a.k.a. the moment you first spot Cinderella Castle. You've got the big stuff checked off your to-do list, but if you haven't been to the parks since you were a kid or even in just the last few years, it can seem daunting to plan a vacation that lives up to your Disney fairytale dreams.
With so much to do and see (and eat) in each park, fitting in everything you and your theme park posse want to do in one day can be as stressful as trying to leave the ball before your carriage turns back into a pumpkin.
Luckily, Women's Health partnered with a fairy godmother who knows the Walt Disney World resort like the back of her metaphorical wand. PlanDisney panelist Bryanna B. shared the inside scoop on how to prepare for your trip to Disney World, how to navigate the parks, and how to stay healthy and happy while hopping from ride to parade to show—and all the pixie dust in between.
1. Virtually pre-visit the parks with the My Disney Experience app.
A few weeks prior to your trip, download the My Disney Experience mobile app and double check that your tickets are ready to go and park reservations align with your desired dates. "That is like having all of Disney World in your hand," says Bryanna. "You can see park maps, wait times, everything."
If it's been a minute since your last visit, take some time to scan the park maps so you don't waste time taking roundabout routes from, say, Frontierland to Adventureland in Magic Kingdom.
And, unless you're going the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve (a notoriously high-traffic time at Walt Disney World), check the ride and show wait times on the app a week before your trip. If you're going to Epcot on a Tuesday and really want to ride Frozen Ever After, for example, check the wait times a week prior to get an idea of the ride's popularity at different times of the day.
2. Make a magical must-do list.
"Everybody has their own ideas of what they want out of a Disney trip," says Bryanna. "Some people want to experience the sights, the sounds, a snack or two, and just enjoy it. Others want to hit every single ride, and even do some twice." But she cautions against packing so much into each day at the park that you completely wipe yourself out. Not to mention, over-planning may create unrealistic expectations and, consequently, disappointment if you can't accomplish everything—and what's magical about that?
Instead, create a must-do list and a nice-to-do list, says Bryanna. "If I'm going to Disney's Hollywood Studios, I know I want to ride The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror because it's one of my favorites," she says. So, with that in mind as her number-one priority, Bryanna builds the rest of her day around it. Maybe that means beelining to Tower of Terror as soon as the park opens to beat the lines, planning to see the Beauty and The Beast Live On Stage show (another favorite) in the afternoon when there's likely more crowds, or taking a moment to rest and recharge while trying a new snack.
Having a clear list of high-priority rides, shows, and experiences is especially helpful if you want to use purchase Disney Genie+ service, Bryanna adds, which allows you to make Lightning Lane entrance selections one at a time for different attractions throughout the day. As long as you accomplish the must-do's on your park plan, everything else will feel like icing on the Mickey Mouse-shaped cake.
3. Take advantage of PlanDisney resources.
Once you know which attractions you can't Disney without, Bryanna suggests checking out the Disney Parks Blog for updates on special events, seasonal treats, and other in-the-know happenings that you might miss otherwise. For example, perhaps there's a special Halloween-themed dessert you can pencil in tasting between a must-do ride and a nice-to-see show.
She also recommends following the PlanDisney Instagram account for park updates and tips straight to your feed from PlanDisney panelists like herself. "You can see different videos of tips and tricks from each of the panelists because all of us have different experiences," Bryanna explains. "I'm a young adult and tend to go to Disney without kids, but if a mom is looking to plan a trip with younger kids and how to navigate that, we've got you covered, too." If a guest has a specific question, or on the flipside, doesn't even know where to start, Bryanna recommends reaching out online to a PlanDisney panelist with a similar lifestyle and interests (there are tons of panelists to choose from).
PlanDisney also recently launched a podcast, so you can listen to insider insight and gain planning inspo while going about your day or even as you pack for your trip.
4. Pack the all-day essentials.
A day at Disney World requires the right accessories—and I'm not talking about a pair of Mickey ears that perfectly matches your ensemble (though that certainly doesn't hurt). Some must-bring items include:
5. Find relaxation spots throughout the day.
Shady spots are your best friend after spending hours under the Florida sun, says Bryanna, even if that just means taking a moment to sit on a bench or stand beneath a tree. Those are great spots to catch your breath, have some water, and regroup before heading to your next attraction. One of Bryanna's go-to R & R spots is the Connections Cafe & Eatery in Epcot where you can sit down, charge your phone, and eat a snack (you can even schedule mobile food ordering so it's waiting for you when you get there).
For those staying at Disney Resorts Collection hotels, Bryanna also suggests guests go back to their resort in the middle of the day to rest and recharge in the comfort and privacy of their own room. "I'll come back mid-afternoon at the heat of the day, and I might go to the pool or I might just take a nap," she says. "And then I'll head back out later on in the evening for fireworks or just to stroll around."
In her experience, it's an under-the-radar strategy because so many guests are focused on "hitting everything" all at once.
But don't worry, if you can't make it back to your room, these are the best spots in each park to catch a few Zzz's:
- Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park: Finding Nemo: The Big Blue... and Beyond! - This fabulous stage show won't put you to sleep, but it's definitely quieter than the Festival of the Lion King (and it's air conditioned!). If you're simply exhausted and have ever fallen asleep for a few minutes at the movies or during a Broadway show, then you might nod off here.
- Epcot: Impressions de France - This short film is shown in a dark, air-conditioned theater with fairly comfortable seats, a.k.a. a napper's paradise. Plus, there's usually not a line to get in (it's not what one would call a "thrill" ride), so it's easy to sneak in a quick cat nap between grazing at Epcot's various food- and drink-based festivals.
- Disney's Hollywood Studios: Muppet*Vision 3D and Vacation Fun - An Original Animated Short with Mickey & Minnie - Both of these shows are louder than the Epcot recommendations (truly top-tier dozing spots), but they both take place in dark and cool theaters with comfortable seats. So, even if you're only able to close your eyes for a few seconds, it's better than nothing.
- Magic Kingdom Park: Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress and The Hall of Presidents - The Hall of Presidents is the best place to take a nap in Magic Kingdom—hands down—because it's dark, cool, and pretty quiet in the theater. The Carousel of Progress is a solid second choice, but it's such a charmingly kitschy ride—with a catchy theme song—that first-timers may not want to miss it.
6. Plan strategic water breaks.
Staying hydrated is key to having a healthy and happy day at Disney World, but taking water breaks can often be overlooked in favor of sprinting to the next ride. Bringing a reusable water bottle will save you tons of time and money since each park features hydration stations and water fountains, most of which are conveniently located near bathrooms.
Pro tip: If you want to travel light, pack a collapsible water bottle to store in a small bag or even your pocket after sipping.
While it's pretty impossible to hydrate on a thrill ride, Bryanna recommends taking advantage of entertainment moments, like watching a parade, to drink some water and relax. "When I'm watching the Festival of Fantasy parade, I like to take a little bit of a break over in Frontierland, which is where the parade starts," she says. "I'll sit over there, watch the parade, and then as it goes by, the crowd goes with it. It's a little bit more relaxed [after that], and I can enjoy the attractions over there." This way, you're multitasking in the most magical way possible.
7. Thrive in the lines.
Remember your must-do list? This is when it matters. "Knowing which rides you want to hit on that specific day or within the time of your trip is the most important part of planning because maybe the line is really long today. But tomorrow night, you can plan to stay at the park later and go on the ride during that time instead," says Bryanna. Most of the popular rides tend to have the shortest lines around park opening and closing, so if you miss out on a high-priority experience one day, it could be worth your while to adapt your plan by waking up earlier or staying later the next.
That said, sometimes, hour-plus lines are just unavoidable, so you might as well embrace them as part of the experience. "My husband and I like watching movies in line... we pop in headphones, and the line goes like that," says Bryanna. "I've also seen a lot of families play the Heads Up game in line, too." Instead of thinking of those minutes (no matter how many) as just a waste of time, think about how you can turn it into a fun time.
8. Make celebrations extra special with sweet surprises.
Did you know you can order specialty cakes to specific restaurants at Disney World? Yep, whether you're celebrating a birthday, anniversary, graduation, or just a really awesome Thursday. All you have to do is head to the Walt Disney World website, search "Specialty Cakes," and you'll find an ordering page with a list of restaurants ready to whip up a magical surprise for you, says Bryanna.
If cake's not your thing, there's also the Disney Floral and Gifts team, which can make you special celebratory baskets, floral arrangements, and even balloon bouquets.
9. Remember what you came for: magic.
And that magic isn't found in any particular ride or fireworks show, but in the memories you make while experiencing all of them. So, try not to stress the small stuff and keep a positive, open-to-anything mindset, suggests Bryanna.
"I think, oftentimes, people can get really bogged down when they think, 'I have to do this or else my vacation is ruined,'" she explains. "I totally understand that some guests go in with specific things they want to do, but just enjoy the vacation because when you're relaxed and you have that mindset of 'I'm here to have a great vacation,' positive things happen."
Even if your plans go awry, having an optimistic mentality will allow you to see new opportunities present themselves. Perhaps not being able to do a ride you wanted or missing out on a favorite show will prompt you to discover a new attraction that you end up loving even more. Who knows, but as Walt Disney himself said, "All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them."