In honor of Disney World reopening this past weekend, I wanted to share with you some of my top tips for visiting based on our recent trip in January. We take regular trips to Walt Disney World. In the last twelve years, I have visited Disney World about eight times. I have visited with family, friends, my niece, and my spouse; both in large groups and with just one other person. Although there are certainly people who are far more knowledgeable about Disney or who have visited far more than I have, I think that I can still share some valuable tips with people who are visiting for the first time or who haven’t visited recently. These tips for visiting Walt Disney World reflect our most recent trip in January, but I encourage you to visit https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/ for up-to-date information on the current changes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The tips below assume a certain knowledge of Disney World. If you haven’t planned a trip before (or recently) I strongly encourage you to visit my post on planning tips and resources first. I hope you find both posts helpful!
#1: Don’t purchase park hopper tickets
Not everyone will agree with this recommendation, but I will explain to you why I advise against it. For those unfamiliar with the park hopper option, it is a costly add-on to your basic park tickets that allows you to visit more than one park in the same calendar day. Without it, you are restricted to one park per day. I think it’s definitely a waste of money in most circumstances. First, park hopper tickets are a significant expense. Even if you plan to park hop only one day, you pay the same flat fee as if you were park hopping every day of your visit. The cost ranges from $65 – $85 additional per ticket. So if you are a family of four visiting for six days, the park hopper option will cost you an additional $340 on top of the over $2,000 you are paying for your base tickets.
Secondly, it isn’t generally a good use of time to switch parks. Going from one park to another is extremely time consuming. This is true both if you are using in-park transportation or your own vehicle. You must first walk all the way to the front of whatever park you are currently visiting, travel from one park to another, and then wait in line to re-enter the new park and walk through that park to your desired attraction. We did select the park-hopper option on a previous vacation. We only used it on two days and wasted close to an hour traveling each time. This is especially frustrating if you are visiting during non-peak season when park hours are much more limited. Instead, I recommend planning your trip so that you can make the most out of one park per day (and if possible plan a second day for your favorite parks).
#2: Consider eating dinner outside of the park
Some of the best restaurants in Disney World are located at the resorts and Disney Springs. While there are definitely some great restaurants in most of the parks, I encourage you to consider dining options outside of the parks. One of our favorite meals on a recent family trip was at 1900 Park Avenue which is located in the Grand Floridian. Some other great options include Jiko at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, the California Grill at the Contemporary, and The Boathouse in Disney Springs. Check out touringplans.com’s list of top table service restaurants here.
#3: It’s not worth eating at the Be Our Guest Restaurant
I encourage you to skip the Be Our Guest Restaurant for dinner specifically. This is based on our most recent trip to Disney World in January. Prior to that trip, we had eaten at the Be Our Guest Restaurant before, but only for lunch. For lunch, it operates as a quick-service restaurant. In fact, we think it is one of the better quick service restaurants in Magic Kingdom. The menu includes some healthy and fresh options which is a nice break from the widely available fried food. Our January trip was the first time we were able to get a reservation there for dinner.
I am sad to say that it was hugely disappointing. For dinner, they offer sit-down table service for a set price of $62.00 per person (plus tax and gratuity). The menu is extremely limited. I got the lamb and Brian ordered the steak. Neither meal was very good. My lamb (which no longer appears to be on the menu) was the fattiest lamb I have ever been served. Neither meal was very flavorful and the service was some of the worst I have encountered in Disney World. We were also disappointed by dessert. The grey stuff wasn’t particularly delicious. We were in the main room which was so crowded and loud that it felt like a cafeteria and our server rarely made an appearance. There are so many other really great dining options that I encourage you to consider one of those instead. My favorite table service restaurant in Magic Kingdom is the Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen.
#4: Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge (E.g. Star Wars land)
A few thoughts on the new Star Wars Land in Hollywood Studios. In our opinion, Disney did a great job making this area feel really immersive. Much like Universal Studios does a magnificent job making you feel like you are in the Harry Potter movies, Disney makes you feel as if you could indeed be at the Black Spire Outpost. It was fun to walk around the land and take in all of the sights, sounds, and merchandise (and occasional storm trooper).
Unfortunately (and I doubt anyone will find this surprising), it is insanely crowded. It was certainly the busiest part of any park during our six-day visit. Despite this, even if you aren’t a fan of Star Wars, it is worth a visit. Just try to visit early in the day and mentally prepare yourself for large crowds.
Neither of the rides is ground-breaking from a technological standpoint. The Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run ride is somewhat confusing and difficult to see the action and follow the story line unless you are in the front seats (see the next tip below). The Rise of the Resistance (the one that we had to get a ‘boarding group’ for to even be allowed to ride) was fun and involved several parts or stages. However the main part of the ride is really just another large vehicle following a mostly flat track from room to room with a few elevators throughout. And depending on the noise level, it is easy to miss some of the introductory information that sets the scene for the ride.
#5: Try to be the Pilot (On the Millennium Falcon Ride)
For this ride you are divided into groups of six. Each group enters a small room (your ship) and sits in three rows with one seat in each row on either side of a center aisle. Before boarding, you are assigned a ‘job;’ either a pilot, gunner, or engineer. If possible, you want to be the first two people in your group of six because you will be assigned to be the pilots. The pilots control where the ship goes and have the most interactive roles. They also have the best view of the action. The gunners and engineers seats (the second and third rows of seats) are pretty lame. You are trying to watch the screens at the front of the ride but there are flashing lights on the wall next to you. Your only job is to push the buttons when their lights flash. We found this mostly a distraction from enjoying the ride, but there are actually negative implications to your story line if you miss or ignore the buttons with flashing lights.
#6: Take a free drawing class
Disney currently offers two opportunities to learn to draw a character with a Disney animator. I highly recommend participating in one of these classes if you can find the time. The process itself is fun (even for those of us who aren’t great artists) as the animators take you through drawing the character step-by-step (the characters are assigned before each class). It can be a bit fast-paced for young children, but my husband and I enjoy turning it into a light-hearted competition. Plus, you get a custom (and free) souvenir from your trip. In the past we have drawn Eeyore and Donald Duck.
The first opportunity is currently offered at Animal Kingdom and requires you to take the train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch and the Conservation Station. It isn’t super convenient, but sometimes on a hot afternoon it is nice to sit for a few minutes and enjoy a low-key train ride. In keeping with the theme of the park, you will draw an animal character. On our last trip we weren’t super stoked to find that we showed up for the session that was scheduled to draw Ed (one of the hyenas from the Lion King), but it is fun nonetheless.
Classes are also offered at the Art of Animation Resort which is now connected to Epcot and Hollywood Studios via the Disney Skyliner. They are offered three times per day (11am, 2pm, and 5pm) in the lobby and you don’t have to be a guest of the resort to participate. The characters for these classes tend to be more classic Disney characters.
#7: Go on a backstage tour
A few years ago when planning a trip to Disney World, I discovered the page where they list special events and tours. I was immediately intrigued. I did a bit a research (you can find reviews online) and decided to try it out. These can be a bit pricey (most require you to have purchased park admission in addition to the tour fee) and some don’t allow children under a certain age. However, if you find the idea of behind-the-scenes access and information appealing, I highly recommend looking into these tours.
I recommend starting with the Keys to the Kingdom tour. For about five hours you get to visit some really cool behind-the-scenes places in the Magic Kingdom. In addition to traveling through the untilidors, we were able to see the park floats and areas where they set off nighttime fireworks. We also got to access the Haunted Mansion using the VIP entrance (which was super fun). Our tour guide was also incredibly informative and taught us a lot about Disney history as well as some upcoming changes in the parks. I highly recommend this tour. We have also done the World Showcase: Destinations Discovered tour which was a comparable tour of Epcot’s World Showcase. We hope to do the Undiscovered Future World tour on a future trip.
On our most recent trip in January, we took the Backstage Magic tour. We traveled via private motor coach for seven hours to behind-the-scenes locations including Creative Costuming (where they make and repair all costumes for all cast members) and the American Adventure show (and some of the first animatronics in the park). We also visited the Central Shops (where ride vehicles are repaired), walked through the utilidors under Magic Kingdom, and got to get an up close view of the floats for the Rivers of Light show in Animal Kingdom. A really nice touch on this tour was that although you aren’t allowed to take your own photos, the tour guides take photos for you at specific points throughout the tour and then email them to you. This tour included lunch at Tiffins in Animal Kingdom.
These are some of my top tips for visiting Walt Disney World in 2020. What tips would you share with someone planning an upcoming trip?