Tips to Maximize Your Disney World Vacation


This fall break, my family embarked on the ultimate experience: a Walt Disney World vacation. When I started planning our trip in early spring, I knew next to nothing about a Disney vacation. The only advice I received was to start planning early! Because we were spending a lot of money on this trip, I wanted a great return on our investment and it to be as close to perfect as possible. As I learned all things Disney and planned our vacation, I kept asking myself, “Is this all necessary? Will all of this be worth it?”

Now that we’re on the other side of our vacation, I’m happy to report that, YES, the research and planning are absolutely worth it! Had I not learned all I could and planned ahead, our trip might not have been as good as it was. If you’re in the midst of planning a Disney vacation or hoping to plan one in the future, here are my tips to help you maximize your Disney World vacation and hopefully save you a little time in the process. 

Use a travel planner that specializes in Disney vacations.

This is number one for many reasons. There’s always something new happening at Disney. In fact, there are some significant changes coming in 2024. A travel planner who specializes in Disney vacations will be up to date on all the ins, outs, and changes at Disney. They can help you find the best accommodations to fit your budget, help you explore and book special dining reservations or experiences, assist with reserving transportation to and from the airport, and provide support if something unexpected happens before or during your trip. 

Learn the Disney lingo.

Genie+, lightning lanes, virtual queues, ADRs, park hopper…the list could go on. When I recapped our trip with my neighbor, she said it felt like I was speaking a foreign language–and I have to agree. As I mentioned, I knew nothing about Disney when I dove into planning, but I quickly realized I would need to know all the Disney terminology to plan successfully. I started with the official Disney app, My Disney Experience, and checked out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2023 from my local library on recommendation from my sister-in-law (there’s a new version for 2024). When I first picked up the book, the size was a little intimidating, but it was helpful in understanding all the Disney terms and the ins and outs of the parks. Then I moved on to watching YouTube videos for a more tangible look at how others were doing Disney, which led me to my next tip.

Know the basic layout of and what is offered at each park.

From watching various YouTube videos, I first learned what rides and attractions are offered at each park and then prioritized our must-dos and skips. I know some people like to surprise their kids with vacations, but I found that sharing our plans with our children made planning easier. As we watched videos together, I understood their interests and assessed their risk tolerance, which further helped me prioritize rides, attractions, and experiences. Exploring the interactive maps in the My Disney Experience app and learning the location of our must-dos was also helpful. The maps show wait times for all attractions and where to find certain characters, which is beneficial while in the parks. Trust me, with young kids, you want to minimize crisscrossing the parks or waiting in lines as much as possible. 

Stay at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel and take advantage of early entry hours–if it fits your budget.

By staying at a Disney resort, you get access to Disney transportation, which makes getting to the parks much easier. In addition, resort guests get access to the parks 30 minutes before they officially open. Not every ride is available during early entry, but utilizing this extra time afforded us to ride some of the biggest attractions with little to no wait time.

If your budget allows, purchase Genie+ and learn how to use it.

When you start your Disney research, you will most likely come across something called Disney Genie and Disney Genie+ (again, learn the lingo). Disney Genie is a complimentary service that helps you plan your park day. Honestly, I did not find the complimentary service very helpful, but paying the extra cost for Genie+ allows you to use Lightning Lanes to bypass the regular standby line and minimize your wait time (again, please take time to learn the lingo). On their site, Disney states that on average guests using Genie+ can enter two or three attractions using the Lightning Lane entrances, but if you learn how to use it, you can do so much more. We purchased Genie+ each park day and used it to successfully skip the standby line for most attractions and ride everything on our must-do list, and more. I highly recommend following Rob from EarScouts on YouTube and watching how he uses Genie+ in each park for the most comprehensive tips and strategies. 

Bring your own snacks to the parks.

Thankfully, Disney lets you bring your own snacks and drinks into the parks. If you’re traveling by air to Disney like us, you can order groceries and have them delivered straight to your resort. This is an easy way to save some money on food and ensure you have snacks on hand if you do end up waiting in long lines. We opted for things like granola bars, cereal, fruit snacks, popcorn, bananas, mandarins, bottled water etc. Because we prioritized early entry at the parks, we ordered enough breakfast on-the-go items to eat in our hotel room or while en route to the parks. After tackling a few rides/attractions during early entry, we typically grabbed a larger snack in the park or enjoyed a character breakfast. We also brought two refillable water bottles with us. In the morning, we filled them at our resort and then refilled them in the parks during the day. 

If it fits into your budget, purchase Memory Maker/PhotoPass.

This was a last-minute addition to our trip, but I’m so glad we made the choice to pay extra for this service. PhotoPass allows you to capture all your vacation moments through photographers that are located throughout the parks and at certain attractions/experiences. All photos conveniently show up in your My Disney Experience app for you to download. As the resident amateur photographer of our family, I’m often the one taking the photos of my family and rarely showing up in them. For this vacation, it was important for us to capture images of us all together. PhotoPass allowed us to do this and get some great photos in the most notable locations in Disney World. My recommendation is to purchase this in advance to save some money.

If you’re traveling with young children, I definitely recommend renting or bringing a stroller.

Our kids are seven and four and no longer use a stroller when we do any activities here at home, so I was on the fence about using a stroller at Disney World. However, I sought the opinion of my Indianapolis Moms Contributor community, and the response was a resounding YES: you need a stroller. I’m so glad I took this advice and rented a stroller from a local company because I don’t think we would’ve accomplished as much as we did without it. We averaged over 20,000 steps/10 miles of walking per day. I know that my kids would not have been able to walk that much without a lot of breaks. We also wouldn’t have been able to move as fast as we did, which is key during those early entry minutes when everyone is rushing to the top attractions. The stroller also provided extra storage for jackets, snacks, and souvenirs.

My last and final tip is specifically for you, the one taking on the immense task of planning this magical experience for your family…remember, it’s your Disney World vacation, too!

You deserve to experience the magic of Disney World as much as your children, so make sure you prioritize things you want to do as well. There were a few rides that I knew my husband and I might enjoy even though the kids would not. Thankfully, Disney allows you to do rider swap (again, learn that Disney lingo) when needed. We made the conscious choice to do what we wanted and eat what we wanted, even if the kids weren’t interested. And I’m glad we did!

Our Disney World vacation was one we will remember for a long time. I’m sure we could have done this trip with a lot less planning, but we wouldn’t have maximized our experience or made it worth our financial investment. A Walt Disney World vacation can be overwhelming, but the time spent preparing for our experience was absolutely worth it! If you’re planning your own Disney vacation soon, I hope the tips I shared save you some time (and stress) and help you create the most magical experience for you and your family.