The benefits of the Disney Dining Plan are twofold. It costs about 75 bucks a day. That sounds steep (and it is), but considering that many entrées at Disney restaurants easily fall into the $30-40 range, you’ll actually end up saving money with it. The other major advantage is that it allows you to just relax. You have to pay off your Disney vacation before it starts, so if you’re on a dining plan, you don’t even have to think about the sting of how high those numbers are on the menus. And, yes, there’s a lot to be said for that. It feels luxurious because it IS luxurious! Just be warned that gratuity is NOT included in any of the plans, so you will have a (comparatively) small, incidental cost with each meal.
Finally, hold out for the best deal possible. Don’t rush to throw all your money at Disney. Or at least get more for it! Disney regularly offers significant discounts throughout the year. It’s true that they have blackout dates, but if you play your cards right, you can often overlap them in just such a way as to include Christmas if you get creative. The best offers are usually either 25% off your room or a free dining plan. These both offer massive savings, so try to wait to actually plunk down the money until one of these fantastic specials are available.
Another major perk of staying in a Disney hotel is that you get to book your FastPasses a month before everybody else! Normally, you can select your FastPasses 30 days prior to arrival, but staying on site lets you do so 60 days out! There are people who know in advance what they want to do and when they want to do it. They then reserve their FastPasses (and dining reservations) at the stroke of midnight on the exact 60th day out. In fact, this is exactly what YOU should do! If you don’t, you realistically may not be able to FastPass extremely new or popular rides. And, no, I’m not exaggerating. You’re paying for perks like this if you stay at a Disney resort, so you may as well take full advantage of them!
First of all, decide which park(s) you’ll be visiting on which days of your trip. If you’re dead set on visiting the Magic Kingdom on Christmas day (and, yes, there IS something magical when you do that!), know that you’d better get there early. Last time I did that, the park hit capacity around 10AM. Yes, really! Or you can plan around high traffic days to cut down on crowds. Try going to Hollywood Studios on Christmas day. You practically have your run of the place! I once did that, and it was so deserted that my wife and I were the only humans on one street in the park and a bunny was just chilling in the middle of the road. This wasn’t after hours or anything either. The park was open, but everybody else was elsewhere.
Befriend those in line around you. They’re your combat buddies and they’re in the same foxhole you are. Not only will talking to them help humanize them, reducing the likelihood of them or you losing your temper (more common than you think), but it will also make the wait seem much shorter than it actually is. Everyone has a cell phone now. You can use them to play games and *gasp* enjoy your time at Disney World, even while waiting in line! While waiting 3 hours to ride Avatar Flight of Passage (worth it), I got an impromptu Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian lesson from the people in line around me. True story! And, most importantly, it kept the 3 hour wait from feeling like 3 hours!
Or, failing all that, you could just pop in the NES game, Adventures in the Magic Kingdom. That’s totally the same as going to the park, right?
Of course, staying on Disney property for the entirety of your trip completes your fantasy in and of itself. But there are other perks to staying on site, and they are myriad! If you fly into Orlando, Disney will pick you up and whisk you away to your hotel via the Magical Express! And if you prefer a good ol’ American road trip as your pilgrimage to Mouse Mecca, you still reap the rewards of staying with Disney. Parking is no longer free (as of this year), but at 13 bucks a day, it’s still cheaper than the $22 you’ll pay to leave your car in perhaps the largest lot you’ve ever seen at one of the theme parks. And this isn’t a word you get to use very often at Disney World, but you also receive complimentary shuttle service to anywhere you want to go on the property! You can also have any goods you purchase delivered straight to your room so you don’t have to lug them around all day. And you can use your room key or RFID (Magic Band) bracelet as a credit card during your stay and charge any purchases to your room.
Don’t be that guy… I once saw a bitter, old woman complain the entire time as she waited to ride Toy Story Midway Mania. In case you haven’t enjoyed the ride yet, it’s a shooting gallery, and it’s a ton of fun! Anyway, after waiting 2 hours (I know because I had the misfortune of being right behind her), when she finally got to ride, she sat there, arms crossed, refusing to participate. This begs the question of why she even waited so long in line to begin with! She chose to have a bad time. And it’s not like she’ll get those 2 hours back… Think of how expensive those two miserable hours were for her. Don’t be that girl…
Here’s a radical alternative. Full disclosure, this only works if you have the Park Hopper option, and that does cost extra. The Magic Kingdom is easily the busiest park on any given day. So go there as the park opens every day! No, the opening ceremony never gets old. Space out everything you want to do at the Magic Kingdom over the course of your trip and get in a ride or two every day before heading to the park you actually plan to visit that day. For example, let’s say it’s an Epcot day. Have your FastPasses and dining all lined up and ready to go at Epcot, but go to the Magic Kingdom and ride Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad as a standby before the park gets busy, then resume your Epcot day as normal. By doing this, you don’t have to devote an entire day to the Magic Kingdom, but you get the bonus of the castle slowly finding its way into your view every single day as you approach the park. And, no, I won’t make fun of you for shedding a tear at the sight of it. Every single day. Well, not much anyway… You could instead (or also) do this after your chosen park closes, and have a similar desired outcome.
This next pointer is only available if you stay at a Disney resort, but it really is a topic of discussion unto itself. Disney offers a few different dining plans you should consider. My favorite is the creatively named Disney Dining Plan. It allows you a quick service meal, a table service meal, and 2 snacks for each night of your stay. If offers the best of both worlds, so you can have a nice, romantic evening at Tutto Itailia Ristorante (or anywhere in Epcot, really) and grab a quick bite at Harambe Market as you explore Animal Kingdom. If you don’t want to devote the time or money to a daily sit-down meal (though you absolutely should try them, as they’re amazing), there’s the Disney Quick-Service Dining Plan, or if you really want to splurge, you can go with the Disney Deluxe Dining Plan (be careful with your schedule on this option or you’ll end up planning your entire vacation around food, though there is something to be said for that).
Get there at park open every day! This is doubly true if you decide to forgo Disney’s lodging. I know, I know. It’s your vacation, and you want to sleep in. But think of how much you’re paying to sleep in. Is it really worth it? No. Simply put, the park will NEVER be as empty as it is when it opens (especially during Extra Magic Hours). Take advantage of this (relative) emptiness, and make a beeline to whatever popular attraction you didn’t get a FastPass for. The luckiest I ever got by doing this was to ride Space Mountain twice, Haunted Mansion thrice, and the Seven Dwarf Mine Train all in an hour. While that wasn’t on Christmas day, it was certainly during the Christmas season (December 27th, to be exact), so it still counts! While you probably won’t get that lucky that often, it’s still the best chance you have, so don’t blow it on a few extra zs…
Remember why you’re here! You’re here to relax and have a good time with your friends and family! You spent a LOT of money to make that happen, so choose to have a good time while you’re here! Yes, you always have the choice. Let no one take it away from you. Walt Disney himself was once asked if he was an optimist or a pessimist. He responded that he was a behavioral optimist. He said that he always chooses to put forth the best Walt he can. Well, you’re in Walt’s World now (particularly if you’re standing near the Fire Station on Main Streets, USA at Disneyland in California!), so why not channel him and choose to put forth the best you you can muster.
Book your FastPasses as early as possible! FastPasses allow you to go through a much shorter line than the regular (standby) one. You get three of these per day, but there are a limited number of them per attraction, and popular attractions will run out quickly! Basically, use these on your nonnegotiable, must-do rides. I’ve seen 3 and 4 hour waits during the Christmas season (Avatar Flight of Passage says, “hi!”). You could burn a quarter of your day waiting in line for a single ride, or you could simply FastPass it. Yeah… That’s a no-brainer. Once you’ve used up your initial 3 FastPasses, you can (in theory) book more, one ride at a time. It’s not a bad idea to do so, but it can be slim pickings as to what attractions still have available FastPasses as the day wears on.
It’s not all going to be sunshine and rainbows. You are choosing to go to one of the most crowded places on Earth, at one of the most crowded times of the year. And you paid a lot of money for it. Guess what. So did everybody else in that massive crowd with you! This is a perfect recipe for tempers to flare… I call this Christmas of Attrition. By God, I paid a lot of money to visit Mickey, so I’m gonna have a good time, damn it! The best example of this can be seen in Vacation when Clark Griswold exclaims:
Build in rest days, if possible. Disney is such a high energy place that you’ll find yourself completely exhausted in a few days. If you’re pushing your party to cram in the maximum amount of fun you can, trust me, you won’t. But this doesn’t mean rest days are just sit-around-in-the-hotel-and-watch-tv days. As I already stated, each Disney hotel is fully themed and has plenty of stuff for you to do. I once saw a group of guys playing a pick-up football game on the Goofy “How to Play Football” field at the All Star Sports Resort, and their fun was totally infectious! These days allow you to rejuvenate while enjoying some of the lesser explored aspects of what Disney has to offer! For example, did you know the Big Blue Pool at the Art of Animation resort plays music underwater? And it’s a lot more fun than listening to your kids getting cranky and complaining about their feet hurting all day!
Now I know everything at Disney is expensive, believe me. But staying on the premises isn’t as hard on your bank as you think. You can get value accommodations for about a hundred bucks a day (with moderates around three hundred and deluxe about five). Yes, you can find cheaper rooms nearby (though you should stay away from Orlando proper unless you’re packing…), and yes, you can even find some nicer ones. But there’s another bonus that can nearly offset the price difference by itself: Extra Magic Hours. Every day, at least one park offers this. Morning Extra Magic Hours (sic) mean that resort guests (that IS you, right?) are allowed entry into the park an hour before it officially opens, while evening Extra Magic Hours allow those sleeping soundly in their Disney cocoons to have their run of the park two hours after it officially closes. Those park tickets are expensive, so maximizing this extra is a perfect way to offset the additional cost of staying in the House of Mouse!
Stay on site! It’s true that the Mouse wants you to spend as much of your vacation on his property as possible, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing! Every Disney hotel is fully themed, from the opulent Grand Floridian to the price worthy All-Star Music Resort. Each has at least one “feature” pool, and many have secondary “quiet” pools. All the hotels have obligatory gift shops as well, and many of them have other amenities, such as gyms or spas. In the past, staying at any Disney resort allowed you to use the services of all Disney resorts. While this is no longer 100% the case, it’s still true more often than not, so if you see a restaurant, pool, or shop you like at another hotel, you can likely still use it.
I think you're all fucked in the head. We're ten hours from the fucking fun park and you want to bail out. Well I'll tell you something. This is no longer a vacation. It's a quest. It's a quest for fun. You're gonna have fun, and I'm gonna have fun... We're all gonna have so much fucking fun we're gonna need plastic surgery to remove our goddamn smiles! You'll be whistling 'Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah' out of your assholes! I must be crazy! I'm on a pilgrimage to see a moose. Praise Marty Moose! Holy Shit!
Similarly, book your dining reservations as early as possible! The culinary experiences at Disney are top notch, and you definitely don’t want to miss out! You truly will feel like royalty at the Be Our Guest restaurant, but it’s also the most popular place to eat in the Magic Kingdom. I’m speaking from experience here, as I COULDN’T book a reservation for that one because I waited too long, and I only barely made it in. My wife had her heart set on that restaurant, and, had we not gotten so lucky, it would have put a damper on the entire day. Some people criticize booking so much of each day so far out in advance because it removes any casual spontaneity from you trip. While that is true, I promise you that many other people certainly will be doing so, so if you don’t play along, you’re only cutting into your own time in the parks each day. At the time I’m writing this, a single park entry costs $123. At that price, you’d be nuts to sabotage your vacation by adding to your wait time.
Leave during the high traffic part of the day and recover at your hotel. I get it. There’s so much to see and do, and you want to see and do it all, right? If so, fission mailed. It’s just not gonna happen, and you’re gonna have to accept that. I totally understand wanting to be in the park from open to close! In fact, I once stayed in the Magic Kingdom from 8AM to 3AM the next day (Extra Magic Hours FTW!). But you can only do that so many times before you simply crash, hence those rest days I was just talking about. If you took advantage of my earlier advice and got there at park open, you can get in at least 4 attractions and lunch before the park really gets busy. Then you can chill back at your home away from home until your dinner reservations. It might sound like you’re giving up a lot of time, and you are. But it’s the least useful time of your day. With all of that time, you’ll likely only get in a ride or two. And, no, I’m not kidding. So you should use your precious time resource to recharge, so you can play in the park until close. After all, you have to be up early tomorrow to get there when the park opens, right…?
No, that’s not the latest, greatest cartoon in Goofy’s “How to” series. That would be 2007’s “How to Hook Up Your Home Theater,” and it’s a classic. But in all seriousness, making it through The Happiest Place on Earth and keeping a smile on your face can prove difficult. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I LOVE Disney! It’s not the company, and it’s certainly not the cast members. Rather, it’s all the other guests. And if you think it sounds like I want to open up my own personal theme park ala Cartmanland, you’d be right! (And the best part is… You can’t come!)
Disney World is a huge place with so much to see and do, so the first thing on your agenda to have a good time is to… have an agenda! We’ve all heard the axiom failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Well, at Disney, truer words are never spoken. It’s Disney. At Christmas. You’re going to wait in lines. But proper planning can help at least somewhat mitigate this annoyance.