A Twenty-Something's Guide to Planning a [Last Minute] Trip to Disney World04 April 2016
Late last July, it finally hit me that in just two, short months, I'd be turning the big 2-8. Birthdays never really bothered me before; I tend to view getting older as a privilege. But for some reason, 28 felt different, like I couldn't hide in my twenties any longer. I had to come to terms with my adulthood. So, it occurred to me that there was really only one way to truly welcome this new chapter of my life.
I was going to Harry Potter World for the first time. And why not throw in a few days at Disney World while I'm at it?
As it turns out, though, most people don't plan a trip to the happiest place on earth a mere nine weeks in advance. Most people – presumably the mothers and fathers of young tikes like ours did for us – plan these trips a year out because, as I would soon learn, reservations to anything you could ever hope to do in Disney World become bookable exactly 180 days before your scheduled trip.
But if you find yourself in a predicament like me, and not like most people, you can use this guide to make sure your trip to Disney World is as magical as ever.
PURCHASE YOUR TICKETS AS SOON AS POSSIBLE
Buying tickets as soon as possible enables you to select your Fastpass+. FastPass+ is a reservation system for select attractions and entertainment so you can avoid long wait times. You can designate your FastPass+ attractions up to 60 days in advance if you're staying at a Disney hotel or 30 days in advance otherwise. Taking advantage of FastPass+ is one of the best ways to get the most out of your Disney vacation, so get those tickets ASAP!
Discount tickets for Disney World are available on sites like Undercover Tourist or for AAA members. You can still take advantage of FastPass+ if you create an account with My Disney Experience once your tickets arrive.
DECIDE IF YOU'LL STAY ON OR OFF-SITE
This might be one of the first internal struggles you'll face, and it won't be your last. For every family vacation I've ever taken to Disney World – and this trip marked my ninth visit – we've stayed on Disney property all but once. Weigh the benefits of each option and go with what seems most appropriate for your plans. Staying on-site will grant you easier commuting from your hotel to the parks on free shuttles, complimentary MagicBands, free transportation to and from the Orlando International Airport and Extra Magic Hours which are extended entry hours before park opening or closing. We recommend exploring the budget-friendly All-Star hotels.
Staying off-site may provide cheaper rates, free continental breakfast or an in-unit kitchen, more luxurious accommodations or the ability to book with loyalty points. Some off-site properties offer free airport shuttles and free transportation to the parks, but at more sporadic times. If you want the full Disney experience, we recommend staying on-site.
CHECK CROWD CALENDARS
With only four days between Disney World and Universal Studios to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we wanted to be as strategic as possible. Undercover Tourist offers a free crowd calendar that predicts how busy the park might be, shows which days on-site visitors can take advantage of Extra Magic Hours and marks special events like Disney marathons or the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot every year. This will help you determine which days to go to which parks.
SET UP YOUR MAGICBAND
MagicBands resemble an athletic band, but offer a world of convenience and are provided for free to visitors staying on-site. If you take the time to set it up on My Disney Experience, it can become your hotel key card, park tickets, dining reservations, credit card and FastPass+ all-in-one. You can save time during check-in by bypassing the front desk altogether, maximizing your park time. Disney will text you the number of your resort room and a map while you're enroute. You can head straight to your room, swipe your band and voila! Drop your stuff off and head straight to the Magic Kingdom.
SELECT YOUR FASTPASS+
FastPass+ is the best way to cut down time spent waiting in line for rides and attractions and are available for anyone who purchases theme park tickets. We recommend doing some research and using your FastPass+ for rides that are known for having long wait times. As mentioned, you can allocate your FastPass+ either 60 or 30 days in advance of your trip, depending on if you're staying on or off-site. Your FastPass+ will be valid for a window of approximately one hour during which you can show up at the ride and virtually skip the lines. And even though you'll only start with three per park per day of admission, you can pick up more at ride kiosks once you're in the park. FastPass+ is an amazing way to make the most of your time at Disney. We highly recommend loosely planning out your day to take advantage of them as much as you can, as Disney requires you wait two hours between each FastPass+ time slot.
DOWNLOAD THE MY DISNEY EXPERIENCE APP
This is another time-saver. While you're at the parks, you can use the My Disney Experience app to check wait times of rides and entertainment start times. And there's no need to worry about burning through your data package; Disney offers free wifi at each theme park.
CONSULT THE EXPERTS
If you still need more information to plan your trip, check out some of our favorite resources that focus strictly on Disney and Universal Studios.
DisneyTouristBlog are the experts on all things Disney, as they visit multiple times per year. Check out their recommendations on how to structure a day in specific parks.
For all things Disney eats, head to The Disney Food Blog. Start here with her 56 dining secrets and here for her list of top budget-friendly restaurants.
For information on discount park tickets, dining options and special events, we recommend visiting MouseSavers or Undercover Tourist.