Are you planning a trip to Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, FL? This October, Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, will begin an 18-month long celebration of its 50th Anniversary, providing generations of kids (and kids at heart) with lifelong memories.
“The World’s Most Magical Celebration,” Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary Celebration, will last from October 1, 2021, until April 1, 2023. That means there’s still time to save up for and plan your family trip to the most magical place on earth!
Kidding Around Contributor and former Florida resident, Melanie, shared some of her secrets to getting the most out of a trip to Walt Disney World Resort. So grab those Mickey Ears, and let’s get busy planning a trip to visit him in sunny Orlando, Florida.
Planning A Trip To Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Florida
Whether this is your family’s first trip or you’re a seasoned Disneyphile, planning a trip to “The Happiest Place On Earth” can be a stressful, confusing undertaking. Constantly changing health protocols and planning deadlines, make a trip to the Walt Disney World Resort more work in advance than most domestic vacations.
But it’s ok. You can do this, and you have a seasoned Disney visitor who’s been through the “Disney College of Knowledge” training that travel reps go through on your team! So let’s get started with those tips!
1. Do Your Research
If you’re a fan of podcasts, then I highly recommend Shannon Albert’s WDW Prep School! She has all the info you’ll need to stay up-to-date with policies and changes at the park. She’s an excellent free resource, and with everything surrounding COVID-19 changing things continuously, it’s good to have the latest info.
If podcasts aren’t your thing, or you don’t have the time to do homework for a vacation; then I encourage you to at least keep these links handy:
- WDW COVID-19 Response
- WDW Face Covering Guidelines
The Resort has specific requirements for what they will accept as a face mask, so unless you want to get stuck at the gate paying $2 for a disposable mask – make sure you have the proper masks for your trip if they are currently required within the resort.
- WDW Crowd Calendar on WDW Prep School
Most families have a restricted window for when they can visit due to school schedules. If that’s the case, this information won’t be as helpful. However, if your schedule allows for some flexibility, use this crowd estimator calendar to help you plan your trip around busier days in the parks.
It’s also worth looking at the changes planned in the coming months:
- The new WDW Annual Pass options will begin September 8th, 2021. The price increase, and restructured benefits now exclude some popular perks for pass holders.
- FastPass and FastPass+ will be retired and replaced with Lightning Lane. This new fee based option ($15 a day) will allow guests to schedule a ride time, one at a time, for popular attractions.
- The addition of a personal concierge type service on the My Disney Experience app – Disney Genie will assist guests with planning out their day.
2. Stay At A Walt Disney Resort Partner Hotel
This section contains Stay22 Affiliate links.
While I used to advocate staying on property and in a Disney-owned hotel, several things have changed my thoughts on that. First, I now recommend people select a Disney Springs Resort Area Hotel. There are six hotels to choose from, and while Disney doesn’t own them, there are still WDW perks included!
My kids and I have recently discovered Wyndham Lake Buena Vista/ Disney Springs Resort Area. We loved it so much this past fall; we visited again in the spring!
Disney Springs Resort Area Hotels all provide transportation to the parks, a discount booklet for use at Disney Springs, and the use of “Early Magic Hours” daily. The only benefit given at an on-property resort location that isn’t at these is the “complimentary” magic bands. But, that’s ok, with the money saved, you can purchase your own from the Disney Online Shop!
The Wyndham even has Mickey waffles for breakfast and one of the only Character meals outside the park!
3. Pay For Your Trip With Disney Gift Cards
Take the money you will use for park tickets, food, and other Disney Purchases and use it to buy gift cards. No, this isn’t some crazy scheme.
Ok, maybe it is.
But, as expensive as it is to take a trip to WDW, saving at every possible opportunity is ideal. Wholesale stores like Costco and Sam’s sell multipacks of Disney Gift Cards to reduce the face value. It’s not much, only about 3%, but if you spend several days at the parks with your family – the savings add up.
4. Don’t Opt-In For The Park Hopper Ticket Option
Before I get angry emails from people, let me just preface this by saying: every family is different, and what doesn’t work for me might be perfect for yours if you use Park Hopper religiously; great.
Depending on the age of your children, I would say skip the Park Hopper Tickets. Travel agents will push them, but you should consider the inflated ticket price carefully first. In my experience with young children, it’s just not worth the extra cost for the privilege to come and go from parks throughout the day. During a week-long stay – we used it twice. The hundreds of additional dollars to our trip for that luxury could have been spent on something else.
Having said that, if you are traveling with teens, and your itinerary includes split days where half the day the family is together, and the other half teens and parents go their separate ways, it would not be a terrible idea. That way, the family can spend the afternoon in one park and then explore other parks on their own at night. But, of course, I still would only recommend this if you have the money to check off all the other boxes on your WDW bucket list.
5. Pin Trading At Walt Disney World Is A Must Do For Young Kids
Pin trading is the solution if you are looking for a clever way to get your child distracted from all the shiny expensive souvenirs in the parks.
Disney fans take pin trading very seriously, but it can also be a fun distraction in the parks and a way for your child to interact with cast members that aren’t in character costumes.
You can start by purchasing a bulk set of trading pins off of Amazon or eBay. It doesn’t matter what pins you get because trading them is more challenging if you start with ones you like. You just need to ensure the pins are backed with the authentic black, rubber Mickey head backing. Cast members can only trade for those.
My kids and I try to collect a theme. We’ve collected Alice in Wonderland theme (Cheshire Cat), The Muppets, The Little Mermaid, Character Cupcakes, Star Wars, and others. Cast members all wear lanyards, and each gift shop has at least one pin trading board to pick from.
The distraction of seeking out pins, cast members, and pin trading boards helps distract kids from the souvenir onslaught coming from every direction. Plus, it makes for some incredible memories.
Speaking of souvenirs.
6. Head Here To Buy All The Disney Souvenirs
I have a secret spot where you can find authentic Disney brand souvenirs at a fraction of the cost.
- The ponchos you’ll need when it starts to downpour in the park
- Mickey’s ears
- Disney shirts
- Stuffed animals
- Key chains
- Tote bags
- Beach towels
- Disney hats
- Anything you can think of to purchase! Even Disney pins, with the year, stamped on them. We like to get them every time we go to mark the occasion.
So, where is this magical place? This well-guarded secret of mine?
Walmart, but not just any location. It needs to be the one at this Kissimmee, FL Walmart location. The Disney souvenir section is half the size of a Walmart neighborhood market. It’s massive and worth a stop when you get into town.
7. Get A GPS locator tag for your stroller
If you don’t have young children, you can skip right over this and head to the next tip.
However, if you have stroller-age children and plan to utilize a stroller in the park, invest in a GPS tag to zip tie to the bottom of it. One of the most problematic things that occur within the Disney parks is the moving of strollers. Depending on when it happens, it can chew through an excessive amount of time while you search for it or completely ruin the day if it’s raining.
It took us an hour in the rain to find our stroller after lunch when it happened to us. That was the end of our day. The $30 apple tag investment will pay for itself multiple times over in the time not wasted within the park if it happens to you.
8. Pack Young Children’s Lunches
The kids’ meals in the parks mainly consist of chicken fingers or Uncrustable brand sandwiches. However, the parks allow you to bring in soft-sided coolers, so we took full advantage of that.
I found a cute Mickey-themed soft-sided lunch bag in the dollar bin at Target and used that each day to create a “Happy Mickey Meal” for my son. It included the same Uncrustable food the other kids in the park were eating, and a Good 2 Grow brand juice sipper with a Disney character topper, a snack, and a little piece of Mickey candy. Packing a kid’s lunch allowed him to start eating as soon as he became hungry without waiting in a line to order and receive food.
9. Choose Your Sit Down Dining Reservations Wisely
Keep in mind that even with reservations at some in-park restaurants, you’ll need to wait. This is problematic in that: a) you’ve already paid handsomely to be there, b) now you are paying to wait so that you can pay some more.
For this reason, if you’re visiting the parks during peak time, I would skip the in-park meals that are hard to book. Instead, there are opportunities to do meet and greet character meals outside of the park.
The only in-park meal that I highly recommend is the Tusker House character meal at Animal Kingdom. It’s easily one of the most under-appreciated character meals within the resort. Tusker House Restaurant serves a buffet of African, Middle Eastern, and American cuisine. Guests are guaranteed to meet some of their favorite characters, including Donald, Goofy, Minnie, and Pluto, dressed in their Animal Kingdom safari outfits.
Outside of the parks, I would attend this Disney Resort meal every day if time, money, and distance were different – the Luau at the Polynesian. The dinner is served family-style, and it’s worth every penny. If the Luau isn’t in the budget, you can also visit the Polynesian to grab a dole whip and admire the view. Every year, my kids and I snap a family photo in the unique “Great Ceremonial House,” which serves as the hotel lobby.
10. Enjoy The 50th Anniversary of the Walt Disney World Resort
Beginning October 1st, 2021, the Happiest Place on earth will begin its 18-month, 50th-anniversary celebration!
If you want to visit the park during the celebration, you need to book your trip as soon as possible. Within minutes of the anniversary announcement, days at the park started selling out at the current reduced capacity. That was months ago when the information about the anniversary was made public.
Changes made in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney World include:
- Mickey and Minnie will dress for the occasion in outfits fit for a celebration as big as this!
- Cinderella’s Castle will be decorated for the occasion in Gold bunting and a 50th-anniversary plaque.
- Spaceship Earth at Epcot will have new reflective lights added to the surface permanently.
- Magical fireflies will surround the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom Park.
- The Hollywood Tower Hotel at Disney’s Hollywood Studios will have new unique features for the celebration.
More information about the 50th Anniversary Celebration at Walt Disney World Resorts can be found online.
- Skip the autograph books and opt instead to bring a photo mat for characters to autograph! Then frame your vacation photos with them!
- Check out the event schedule at the WDW resort locations. For example, Fort Wilderness offers a campfire moonlight movie that features Chip ‘n Dale, which is free to attend. Fort Wilderness also has horse stables that offer pony rides for a minimal fee. (Check the status of events – they are currently suspended due to COVID-19)
- Unless the promotion you book includes the meal plan for free, or you have ravenous teenagers to feed, do the math before paying for the meal plan. People often struggle to eat all of the food included, and eating ala carte is usually less expensive than the meal plan.
- Venture outside of the Walt Disney Resort Property. Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando is gorgeous and includes a Disney Amphitheatre!
- If you travel the east coast often, invest in a UNI pass. It’s a universal car toll transponder that covers systems in 18 different states on the eastern seaboard. For example, the toll roads in Orlando sneak up on you, and having this pass on your car is a great stress reducer for when you are stuck in Orlando traffic and get pushed into a toll road (it happens); you can just zip through. It also makes travel into Atlanta easier if you frequently do that.