20 Disney World Hacks for the Best Vacation Ever

Megan Zander | Feb 1, 2019 Money
20 Disney World Hacks for the Best Vacation Ever
Image: Megan Zander

disney world vacation hacks
Megan Zander

Disney World is truly a magical place for a family vacation. But, real-talk time -- it's also wicked expensive and can get massively crowded. There's the cost of tickets, hotel, food, possibly airfare, and the souvenirs the kids won't stop begging for, combined with the fact that there are lines for everything from the rides to the bathroom. All of this makes it easy to get overwhelmed and frustrated in the hot Florida sun. Suddenly, this perfect family trip to the Magic Kingdom feels like a stroll through an evil forest. 

With four theme parks, two water parks and a massive shopping, dining, and entertainment area known as Disney Springs, it's impossible to see and experience everything the Disney World Resort has to offer in a single visit. Having a game plan before heading out helps, but culling the list to a few places and attractions that are must do's can help prevent a vacation hangover once back home. 

I happened to marry a Disney freak who quickly converted me into being the Daisy to his Donald. We stormed Cinderella castle as newlyweds, strolled around Epcot looking for snacks while I was pregnant with twins and have been back to check in with Mickey and the gang every few months since our boys were 7 months old. Throughout our travels, we've learned there are some easy tricks anyone can do to make a Disney World vacation the epic vacation it's meant to be. 

From how to score free ice water and tips for scooping up sweet souvenirs without spending a dime to a great place to watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks without being squished against 12,000 strangers, I've rounded up some of my best Disney World hacks for the best family vacation ever. While many of these suggestions are geared towards those traveling with babies or young children, some, like where to find get free celebration pins (just engaged, perhaps?) will add a sprinkle of pixie dust to anyone's vacation.

  • Use Clear Baggies to Sail Through Security

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    Disney takes security extremely seriously, which is why staff thoroughly examine every bag and stroller that enters the park. (That tiny zipper compartment on the camera case -- yes, they'll want to open it). To get to the fun faster, try organizing items in a diaper bag or backpack into smaller clear zip-top bags. They can easily be picked up and examined, and quickly tucked back into the bigger bag. 

  • Visit the Baby Care Centers

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    With one, maybe two changing tables per bathroom, getting a fresh diaper in Disney can take some time. The line may be shorter if Dad takes diaper duty to the men's room, but each park also offers a Baby Care Center for those changing and feeding needs. Along with plenty of changing tables, they feature offer private rooms to nurse, high chairs, microwaves, and a place to purchase baby essentials. 

  • BYO Straws 

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    Disney has done away with single-use plastics like straws and cup lids, which is great for the environment, but not so awesome for toddlers who struggle to sip from an open cup. Straws can sometimes be gotten on request, but packing a few, or better yet, a sippy cup, can prevent kids from soaking their shirts. 

  • Score a Free Pin

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    Swing by Guest Relations at any park for a free pin to help make this vacation even more special. There are pins for a first visit, for birthdays, anniversaries and even general "I'm celebrating" ones perfect for every day. Not only is it a fun souvenir, but having cast members and other guests notice the pins makes kids feel like rock stars. 

  • Leave the Selfie Stick at Home

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    Disney World has a strict "no selfie stick" policy. Leave it at home to avoid having to go all the way back to the car or hotel room to stash it. Worried about getting great group shots without a stick? Disney photographers are all over, and they're happy to take some snaps with a cell phone, along with their professional gear. 

  • Bring a Baby Carrier

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    A baby carrier is key for vacationing at Disney World with two or more kids of different ages. While this might not be the trip where baby boards a coaster, many rides (It's a Small World, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and Pirates of the Caribbean to name a few) have no height requirement so the whole family can ride, even if the baby is napping. 

  • Get a Fourth FastPass+

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    Disney tries to cut down on wait times by letting guests book three FastPass+ reservations in advance. But what not many people know is that once those three FastPass+ are used, guests can visit the Disney app or any FastPass+ kiosk to book another FastPass+ (and another one once that's one's used!) 

  • Free Ice Water

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    It's easy to get dehydrated in the Flordia heat, but buying bottles of water adds up quickly. Thankfully, free cups of ice water are available at all quick service food counters. Ask a cast member by the food pick up area, and if there aren't already filled cups out and ready for the taking, they'll be happy to assist. 

  • Try an Alternative to Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique

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    Lots of princes and princesses dream of getting made over in the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique inside Cinderella's castle, but reservations can be hard to score. Check out the Disney Springs location, which may be easier to get into. Other options: the Pirates League, where kids can get a mermaid or pirate makeover or the insanely talented face painters over by Space Mountain. 

  • Make the Stroller Stand Out

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    iStock/emadrazo

    Disney stroller parking lots are massive, making it hard to find the kid's black stroller in a sea of others (plus cast members often shift strollers around to make space, making it even hard to find that diamond in the rough). Add a bright ribbon (or glow bracelet after dusk) to make that kid chariot easier to spot. 

  • Collect Free Souvenirs at KidCot Stations

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    Take a stroll around Epcot's World Showcase to visit one or all 11 Kidcot stations. Kids can learn how to say "Hello" in a different language at each one, and collect postcards that feature a picture to color on one side, and fun facts about the country on another. Each spot also gives a sticker to add to a suitcase themed zip-top bag to hold all the cards. It's fun, and all free!

  • BYO Souvenirs & Glow Sticks

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    Disney gifts shops have anything a child could ever want ... for a hefty price. Prevent the tantrums and spare the bank account by hitting up the dollar spot or Target beforehand to stock up on some small toys and clothes featuring their favorite characters to hand out during the trip. Grab some glow sticks for parade time and save even more. 

  • Never Lose a Magic Band

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    Megan Zander

    Magic bands can be used to get into the parks, charge things to a Disney Resort room, and hold FastPass+. In other words, losing one means hitting pause on the fun until it's found or having to get a replacement. Help them stay on by looping a small elastic on to the band before fastening, then pulling the elastic over both bands to help keep them connected. 

  • Eat Faster With Mobile Order

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    When the fam is hungry, waiting in long lines for food is the last thing anyone wants to do. Luckily, many quick-service spots offer mobile ordering, which means the food will be either ready and waiting or just about done by the time the squad gets over to the restaurant. Surely Lumiere would approve of such fine service. 

  • Get the Most Out of Meet & Greets

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    Megan Zander

    Lines for meeting Disney characters can take a while, which is why it's worth enjoying the interaction once the kids (finally!) get to the front of the line. Getting an autograph and cheesing for a picture is fun, but don't be afraid to play with the characters! Ask Ariel what's cool about life under the sea or bring her a dinglehopper (fork). Challenge Gaston to a flexing contest. These memories will stand out more than any photo. 

  • Baby + Buffet = Savings

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    Kids under age 3 eat free at any Disney buffet, making them a budget-friendly way to feed the family. Plus, many buffets include characters that come right to the table. This way baby is distracted enough that mom may finally get to eat a hot meal, and everyone can get some photos with their Disney faves without having to wait in line. 

  • Pack Snacks

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    Megan Zander

    Disney's cool with bringing in snacks, so be sure to toss some chips, fruit, or granola bars in the bag each morning before hitting the parks. BYO snacks a great way to save some moola (remembering that $7 Mickey-shaped pretzel). Plus, having some familiar snacks can help tiny tummies recover from all the rich vacation treats.  

  • Be Rain Ready

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    Rainstorms can pop up at any time, even on the sunniest of days in Florida. Packing rain ponchos and flip-flops (or at least extra socks) can come in handy, but many people forget to shield the stroller from squalls. Consider covering the stroller before heading into a longer ride like Spaceship Earth to avoid a wet surprise when coming out. 

  • Use Rider Switch

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    Megan Zander

    If mom and dad both want to ride but are traveling with kids who are too small or aren't feeling it (my 6-year-old anytime the rest of us want to ride Dinosaur), make everyone happy with Rider Switch. Just bring the whole family to a cast member and explain the need to do a switch off. One parent will ride while the other waits with the baby or whoever is sitting out. Then the other parent gets to ride, without having to wait in line all over again. 

  • Get a Crowd-Free Fireworks View

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    Guests who dine at California Grille get a great view of both the Magic Kingdom and a delicious meal. Can't score a reservation near launch time? No worries, just come back with a same-day receipt and watch the pretty booms from the stunning outdoor observation deck. 

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