As a miles and points person, I find Disney completely unintuitive. When most people take a vacation, they just expect that it’s going to be expensive. But when you primarily travel using airline miles and hotel points, you get used to getting things for far less than retail price. That is to say that I was like a fish out of water on two Disney trips this year – one to Disneyland Paris in late September and one to Disney World in Florida at the end of November — and it shows in some of the newbie mistakes I made. Trips to Disney cost me far more than most of my other trips this year (e.g. I surely spent more on two trips to Disney than I did on my trip to 8 or 9 countries over 3 continents in our 3 Cards 3 Continents challenge). Disney vets will take for granted all of my observations here (and hopefully they will chime in with more info in the comments about how you can do better yet), but today I wanted to share some of the stuff I really got wrong on my two Disney trips this year in the hopes that they save some readers planning first Disney trips from repeating my mistakes.
1) Not spending months preparing
Richard Kerr recently tweeted about how you need to have a lot of time to put into planning a Disney vacation. In a conversation with folks who know a lot more about Disney than I do, a few Disney experts agreed that those who walk through the gates without a clear plan in mind in the morning are just lighting money on fire. I’ve always been the type of person to read the guidebook on the plane on the way to my destination, so my Disney preparation was far too light.
I don’t say that lightly though: my wife spent a good chunk of time reading blog posts and snippets of books and asking friends for advice. It wasn’t for total lack of effort that we went in underprepared, but I have to admit that the task of preparing properly for Disney vacations seemed tedious to both of us. I think that’s largely because neither of us are all-in Disney people. That might make you question the rest of this post since it is coming from admitted non-fanatics. In response, I would strongly encourage you to prepare for your own Disney vacation by reading as much material as you can that is written by Disney fanatics so you can avoid the same mistakes, but since Disney is a perennial favorite vacation destination, I thought it worth pointing out what I did wrong as someone who feels like an expert in saving on travel but a complete novice at doing anything Disney-related.
Preparing (or not preparing enough as the case may be) for our trips to Disney gave me more of an appreciation for folks who just don’t enjoy miles and points. When we write about our trips here at Frequent Miler, we sometimes get asked about how long it takes us to do what we do in terms of earning and burning miles and points (as in “How long did you spend searching for award X, Y, or Z?”). That question always feels so irrelevant for me because I enjoy searching for award space and making great redemptions, so it doesn’t feel like time wasted. But on the other hand, I don’t enjoy reading about Genie+ this and Lightning Lane that and so on. My wife generally hates having to use a mobile app for as many things as you need to at Disney World. Even just so simple a part of the process is loading Disney gift cards to our Disney account in order to combine the value to buy Disney tickets just isn’t something enjoyable for her.
There were a lot of silly little things we didn’t know. For instance, you buy tickets online, but the barcode you get isn’t your ticket. You need to either buy a Disney magic band in advance (a little watch that you can tap to terminals for park / ride entry, it costs about $20) and link your admission to that, or wait in a line to get a physical “ticket” at the park before you wait on line to enter the park. That physical ticket is a plastic key card. We didn’t realize that we should have linked admissions to subsequent parks to the key cards we got at the first park — so we didn’t bring those cards and wasted part of Day 2 waiting in line for new cards (before learning our lesson and linking admission for Day 3).
We also didn’t know how app-intensive the entire experience would be. My wife felt like she wasted half the day looking at her phone to check ride wait times or find directions to the next attraction or to make Lightning Lane reservations (when we decided to buy Genie+ for the last park we visited). If you’re not tech-savvy, Disney World seems like it would be an awful experience these days. We are tech-savvy, but my wife still doesn’t enjoy having to use an app for everything — so even though we were capable, it didn’t add to the enjoyment of the experience for us. I’m sure glad we brought a battery pack with plenty of juice to keep our phones charged!
And so while we were both excited to bring our kids to a place that we certainly expected would feel magical for them, we didn’t prepare as well as we could have, And I say that while emphatically recommending that anyone considering a first time trip to Disney World should indeed prepare relentlessly or be prepared to light money on fire. Or maybe prepare relentlessly and still prepare to light money on fire (Disney is still expensive any way you slice it).
2) Not knowing that Disneyland Paris tickets get more expensive same-day.
Tickets to Disneyland Paris are typically significantly less expensive than the usual cost of tickets to Disney World in Orlando, but five minutes cost us double.
The weather in Paris during our time there this year was cold and rainy. We kept wavering as to whether and which day to go to Disneyland Paris right up until late at night the night before the last day we could go. We finally decided to give it a go just before midnight in part because tickets were only about $60 per person (we needed 3 tickets since our two year old still gets in for free). Unfortunately, we dragged our feet until just a couple of minutes past midnight. Since at that point (i.e. after midnight Paris local time) we were buying tickets for same-day park entry, the price doubled. We went from an expected ~$60 per ticket to about $120 per ticket. We begrudgingly paid the price, but we weren’t very excited about lighting $180 on fire by procrastinating for a few extra minutes.
I’m not going to add a separate bullet point for this, but we also should have prepared for the weather a bit better. It was raining hard for the first couple of hours of our Disneyland Paris visit. Enterprising individuals were just setting up shop outside the park when we got there (before it really started raining hard) and they were charging 5 Euro for ponchos. I wish we had bought those rather than spending more than fifty dollars for four ponchos inside the park. Ouch. We did bring those ponchos to Disney World last week (believe it or not, we hit rainy weather in Florida also!) and I admit that I felt like we had some street cred wearing our Disneyland Paris ponchos at Disney World Orlando. It still wasn’t worth fifty bucks.
3) Not doing Disney Genie+ for our first full park day in Orlando.
Genie+ is Disney World’s system to cut to the front of the line. The “Lightning Lane” is a fast-track line onto a ride. You can buy Genie+ the day of your trip to the park (the price can vary, but on the days when we looked it was $29 for the day per person) and then use Genie+ it to pre-select an entry time for approximately one ride every two hours (the reality gets more complex, but there are Disney-specific blogs where you can learn more about it). Some rides are not part of Genie+ and rather have individual Lightning Lane entry, where you pay separately just for that ride. Cost varies for individual Lightning Lanes also, but my understanding is that the more popular rides are in the $16-$25 range for an individual Lightning Lane pass.
We went to Animal Kingdom (on the Monday before Thanksgiving) for our first full park day in Orlando. The park was an absolute madhouse with crowds everywhere. We spent half the morning debating what to do since the lines for everything were ridiculous (we quickly realized that the “My Disney Experience” app will tell you the wait for each ride before you walk across the park to find out). We eventually spent 2+ hours on line to do the Kilimanjaro Safaris. That Safari was certainly five or 10 minutes of fun, though I’m less convinced that it was worth 2 hours of our time in line. Apart from that ride, we only did one or two other things all day long in Animal Kingdom (other than stare at our phones and wait).
A couple of people in our group wanted to try the Avatar ride, but the wait was literally 4 hours long. Four hours! Four hours on line for a minute or two long ride after you’ve paid more than 100 bucks to get into the park is quite a shock to the system. It’s just absolutely bonkers and it flies in the face of stuff we do in our travel hacking hobby like spending 34,000 points for 7 or 8 hours in a lie flat business class bed to Europe. At ages four and two, my kids definitely don’t want to stand in a line for 2 hours or 4 hours and while we could have split up with me taking a ride while my wife did something with the kids and vice versa, that would have meant missing out on 4 hours of (hoping to be) watching my kids have fun in the park. Nobody really wants to spend Disney money just to stand in line all day. But that’s what you’ll do if you’re not prepared.
And again, that’s not to say we didn’t try to prepare, just that I don’t think we were ready for what that was going to entail for this trip and we weren’t in the mindset of adding the cost of Genie+ each day. We thought we could just wait in line here and there where necessary without a full grasp on what that would look like.
At the end of the day, the moral of the story is that you don’t want to spend all day long in line for two or three rides. I really feel like paying for Genie+ so you can skip the line (on at least some rides) is absolutely worth the money. To be clear, that’s not a perfect solution. Not all rides are included with Genie+, so if you have your heart set on a specific ride or two you may need to buy an individual Lightning Lane pass or you may not be able to get a pass like that at all (we wanted to do the Frozen ride, but it was never available on Genie+ and they don’t sell individual passes to it anymore). Further, you’ll still spend some time waiting in the Lightning Lane and you can only make one or two lightning lane reservations every two hours or something. It’s an imperfect system, but in my opinion it’s just not remotely worth the money you spend on Disney without Genie+ unless you know you’re visiting during a time of very low demand when the park is unlikely to be crowded.
We paid for Genie+ on the day we went to Epcot (a few days after our Animal Kingdom experience) and it was worth every penny of the $29 we spent on it per person. We did far more on our day at Epcot than any other day in the park and probably spent less time cumulatively in line over the course of the entire day than we did waiting for just that safari at Animal Kingdom.
Yes, it costs more for Genie+ and my understanding is that you won’t know how much Genie+ will cost until after midnight on the day you’re going to the park (you can’t buy it until after midnight the day of arrival apparently and then you can begin reserving Lightning Lane at 7am, so be ready to stay up late and get up early). But I think you might as well consider the cost of a ticket to Disney World as being cost of an entry ticket plus the cost of Genie+ because that’s really what it takes to enjoy the park. I talked to so many people (at the park and at my hotel) who said that Disney World just wasn’t enjoyable for them because they only got to ride two rides and they spent all day waiting in line for a lot of money. The problem is that when everyone pays for the Lightning Lane, it won’t matter anymore. I don’t know that there’s a great solution to this problem. Disney obviously has far more demand than they can serve. Usually the solution to high demand is to increase prices. That’s effectively what they’ve done with Genie+, and people are still paying for it. Still, if and when I go to the Disney parks in Florida again, I’ll be paying for Genie+ again too.
4) Not bringing more food.
It seems we could have really packed up and brought far more food than we did as Disney World allows guests to bring outside food and nonalcoholic beverages. That would have been smart. We brought the usual couple of snacks we keep in our diaper bag, but not much. We were aware that you could bring in food, but we really didn’t think to scale it much. We actually didn’t spend a ton of money on dining in the park, but I think being more prepared with extra food supplies would have saved us some money and a bunch of stress of dealing with kids saying “I’m hungry” when they’re really just bored because we’ve been in line for 2+ hours.
5) Not shopping in advance for Disneywear
This tip actually isn’t a mistake we made per se, but it quickly occurred to me during the trip that if you have a family, you could probably save yourself a bunch of money by shopping for things like t-shirts and mouse ears in advance. If you’re into the “magic” of getting your stuff in the park, have at it. But I’d at least guess that if you have a set of mouse ears on your kids when you walk in, you might be able to save a bit on paying the Disney price.
I saw one set of ears that were really cool (the ears were kind of like bubbles with red light-up Mickey ears inside of them – hard to describe, but they looked cool!). I asked the mother where they got them and she told me that there is a Disney outlet somewhere in the area and that they have a lot of stuff you won’t find at the park and for better prices. I don’t know if that’s true, but I know that in general stuff inside the park is so expensive that shopping for some of those souvenirs in advance could save you a few bucks.
In our case, my mother-in-law was excited to get personalized mouse ears for our second son at the same place in Disney Springs where she had bought them for our first son a couple of years ago, so I wouldn’t have changed how we handled that, but I think the tip of doing this kind of thing outside the park can save you a chunk of change.
6) Not maximizing Disney gift card offers / stocking up with a bit of extra credit.
We bought Disney gift cards in order to cover the cost of our entrance tickets (which was significant since we needed tickets for my family and a couple of additional family members who joined us on the trip). We purchased some of those gift cards at office supply stores to earn 5x. Others we bought from ShopDisney using Chase Offers for 10% back. But we didn’t do the best we could have.
We don’t have a supermarket in our area with great gift card promotions, but we probably could have looked to maximize some grocery gift card promos while traveling. And however we got our gift cards, we should have gotten a bit more than what we needed to pay for our tickets. You want to be careful not to overbuy and end up with gift card money you’re not going to use (or feel compelled to use), but you’re probably going to spend some money at the park. We stayed at a hotel with a shuttle to the parks (the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress), but we ended up deciding to drive to the park to get there and back on our own schedule. One morning, we paid for “preferred” parking ($50 vs $25 for standard parking). I wish we could have maximized some of that spend with discounted gift cards and/or increased rewards.
It’s worth a mention here that Bilt Rewards points can be used to buy Disney park tickets. I believe they are the only rewards currency that can be used to directly buy Disney tickets. While I think you’ll only get 1.25c per point in value this way, it could certainly take some of the sting out of the cost of a trip.
7) Not making our strollers distinctive
This tip has nothing to do with money unless you consider time to be money — and given how much time you’re already going to spend in line, you really don’t want to waste more of your time searching for your stroller at stroller parking. You basically can’t bring your stroller in line for any rides or inside entertainment venues, so you end up constantly parking your stroller in a sea of strollers. Strollers inevitably get moved (we were about 50/50 on actually finding our strollers where we left them — and out of the 50% of the time where they hadn’t been moved at all, we only remembered where we parked about 40% of the time.
I don’t know the rules as to what is allowed on your stroller, but whether with a Disney balloon or something brightly colored (or perhaps some sort of flag that stands above other strollers?), doing something to make your stroller stand out is going to save you some time and frustration.
These Disney revelations are not revolutionary. Many of them could have been alleviated by being better prepared. I think we are well-spoiled by miles and points and the way that luxury experiences like business and first class flight redemptions and luxury hotel award stays kind of fall in our laps in this game. The same just isn’t true of Disney — it takes preparation. Some things are simple (like making your stroller distinctive), but if you want to avoid walking out and wondering what happened to the contents of your wallet, it pays to be prepared. Read everything you can and be ready for Disney to be an experience far different from miles and points travel.
As an adult who is planning a trip to Disneyworld to attend a wedding, I found this post so helpful and validating! I spent several hours trying to research hotels and feeling defeated that every search that would be simple in a points context led to seemingly endless information to research, before I remembered that Nick mentioned Disney on the podcast.
I’m still not enthusiastic about Disney, but this will give me a starting point of what to look into to make the most of it if I’m going to need to be there.
Disney World has gotten to a crazy level of planning required to get the “value” from it, and it will probably continue to stay that way for years due to demand. With essentially unlimited demand from a worldwide customer base there are a lot of people to contend with visiting and there is not a lot of incentive on Disney’s end to make major improvements that can reduce congestion (I’m not really sure what major things they could do, short of building more parks and limiting attendance as they have already started to do).
We had the chance to visit last year as the pandemic restrictions started to ease and I am glad in hindsight we went when we did. There was no Genie+ yet, dining reservations had dropped to 60 days out, extra early/late hours had not come back – it made the planning simpler. We only went to WDW because Disneyland was still closed when we started planning the trip. We also went off peak which makes a huge difference! We aren’t crazy into Disney so that will probably be the only visit to WDW for some time.
For anyone not into the crazy level of Disney planning, I think you can have a better time at Disneyland with more reasonable levels of trip planning. It doesn’t get the same international draw that Disney World does and it benefits from being smaller in simplifying the planning. There are so few Disney owned hotels they aren’t a factor the same way as at Disney World, there are only 2 parks and considerably less restaurants to consider. The family and friends I have that are into Disney all prefer Disneyland for enjoying their time at the parks.
I don’t think I saw a comparison from Nick’s end – was Disneyland Paris more enjoyable for the uninitiated?
Here is what I commented on another blog today:
We have given up any thoughts of visiting DisneyWorld. Pricing was always high to visit a Disney park. But now it is outrageously high, to the point of price gouging! I own stock in Disney and I hated what Bob Chapek was doing. He was in charge of Disney parks prior to his promotion to CEO. Chapek was not well liked in that position either. When Chapek took over the CEO position, I knew he was bad news! It may take Disney 10+ years to overcome the damage that Chapek did to the Disney brand. Chapek has ruined the Disney image and this post proves that. Not even 10 years ago, one did not need any excessive planning. Making dinner reservations was the big thing that we all planned. Not spending hours on our smartphones making reservations for all the attractions.
So the need for park reservations is just another reason for us to not visit! Disney Genie+ and Lightening Lanes are just two examples of excessive greed that Chapek put into place. As of right now, we see no reason to support this price gouging. What was wrong with FastPass? Disney was losing revenue? Exactly! Disney gave the reason that all these reservations, etc., was for crowd control for Covid. No, this was a way to make up revenue that was lost while DisneyWorld parks were closed.
Pricing for Disney is so high that many middle class Americans simply cannot afford a Disney vacation! That is so wrong! If it wasn’t for the middle class supporting Disney for the last 70 years, Disney as a company would not have the assets they now have.
Our next Orlando trip will be for the Universal expansion. We may go to Disney Springs, but buying park passes is out of the question! I am not alone with this attitude. Every day I read about another person and their family and their horrible overpriced DisneyWorld experience. Vote with your feet and vacation somewhere else. It makes me angry as stockholder to tell customers to go somewhere else. But it is the only way to make Disney change.
This post just pains me. We have been to Disney 30+ times in the last 20 years and it has just gotten so complicated. These changes were supposed to help the family that only visits every 5 years vs the superfans. Disney needs to read this post. When someone that travels the world with ease has this much difficulty with a Disney trip, something is wrong.
Disney is just broken. We used to go when the parks first opened in Florida back in the 70s and I always had a fond spot for it even as I got older. My wife and I visited a few years ago on one of the supposedly slower weeks but it still was just lines everywhere.
The cost is crazy. $100+ for the park, more money just to get faster lines, crazy prices for food, long lines, need reservations for many/most of the restaurants.
No idea what the solution is but I would never wait 4 hrs in a line for anything and really anything over 30 minutes is crazy. Especially for rides that are so short. It is sad since I did like the parks and had good memories of them but I could not imagine going to them with kids and the amount of money a family would spend.
I think the last time we were there (2018?) we spoke with a family of 4 and their budget was something like $5-6,000. I’d rather go to Europe for that and I’d probably spend a ton less.
Young kids are just as happy with a playground. Not many kids I know enjoy waiting for anything. My nehpew when young didn’t even like waiting for food in a casual restaurant and preferred going to cheap buffets so he could get the food right away.
$5-6,000 is probably average for a family of 4, they always make a ton of costly mistakes with money and time.
Mobile food ordering is a game changer, order your food wherever you want, when you are close, hit the button to process it, wash your hands and grab a table, food is ready to pick up by that time.
And mobile orders code as restaurant on Amex Gold.
We like to go a 2-3 days after a cruise. It is hard to fly to Florida for
a cruise (cross country) and not hit WDW. What i find a bit surprising the
last few times we have gone were the amount of Adults only walking
around. We went on a weekend also. Look at the photo on your bullet
point #3. Never would I dream of going without kids but told my husband
next time just us two will try it out.
Probably less stressful.lol
average American families can’t afford it anymore, it’s mostly adults from the northeast heading down for a few days to relax and escape the cold, in the evening the locals show up with their kids.
Disney with two adults and no kids is actually nice, hit a ride, walk around a resort, sit in an outdoor restaurant and have a drink, whatever you want.
Great post. Disney sounds like h*ll to me. Have never been and have no desire to go.
Sounds absolutely horrible and the comments of “getting it down after a few times” are like hearing that you’ll stop coughing after your first few packs of cigarettes.
I get that there are Disney lovers out there, but the error I’d personally have taken away in this scenario would have been the error of making a trip to Disney World against my better judgement.
A lot has changed with Disney since COVID where pre-pandemic there were so many great tricks that just don’t work anymore. I remember going 4FP with a PPO ADR at BOG to ride 7DMT multiple times before rope drop…you just can’t do that anymore. The 2 tricks I’ve had great success with more recently are: 1) hacking the lightning lane with rider switch and 2) getting character breakfast reservations 70 days out at Topolino’s and Chef Mickey’s using a bump & run method. Happy to elaborate if anyone is interested. Thanks Greg, Nick and team for everything you do!
Lol, I’m a pass holder so I understood what you said, nobody else here will understand your Disney terminology.
English on the blogs.
How do you hack lightning lane with rider switch? Can disability pass be worked in as well?
I am not familiar with disability pass, I know there is DAS which is disability access services but I haven’t used those before. Probably should draw the line somewhere…
Sorry for using too much terminology John, I won’t do it again.
Yes , I’m referring to the DAS for an actual disability.
Can you let me know how to hack lightning lane with rider switch?
My wife and I have a 16 mo, 3 yo, and 7 yo and we’ve been to Disney every year for the past 4 years. In our second trip, we decided to drive down so we had our van and pay for a park hopper ticket and those two things made a massive difference. The park hopper allowed us to start in a slower park and go to magic Kingdom later in the day when there are less people. We would stay at the first park until noonish, take the kids back to the hotel for lunch and a nap, then go to magic Kingdom around 4, get an early dinner at one of the restaurants, then stay until closing.
When going to Disney with small children, you just have to decide what is really important to you to experience (a specific ride, restaurant, merch, etc), making sure you do those things so everything else is icing, and just enjoy the experience of being at Disney. I liken Disney to being in the Maldives. Even if you subsidize the cost woth points, it still cost a lot of money for a maldives vacation so you want to get the most for your money. But many times, just enjoying your hotel room, pool, service, and beach is enough and makes for a special experience. Disney is the same. Taking time to walk around and enjoying the perfectly manicured spaces and superb service are enough.
All parents want to make Disney a “magical” experience for their children but children just enjoy being with their family and doing things that they want to do. When you try to do “everything” it just puts uncessary stress on everyone and makes being at Disney into a chore.
Sounds horrible. I enjoy Disney films but the park experience sounds ridiculous – pay large amounts of money AND have to spend a ton of time planning to have a decent experience? No thanks, I’ll spend my time and money visiting actual sights and avoid the late capitalist hellscape of the Disney parks.
I’m laughing at all the comments saying “It’s ok Nick, you’ll get it down after a few tries…” How many times do you think Nick is going to take his kids to Disney, knowing what you know about him!?!???
Most important thing is to go during the slowest time you can. September best generally. Never EVER during a holiday, especially if you are a novice. I second the idea of staying on property to save time and get into parks early.
Time is money!
Look into renting from a Disney Vacation Club owner and get a Deluxe for the price of a Moderate.
Absolutely echo the comment about Thanksgiving week. With kids that are not school age yet, you went a week or two too early. Going after Thanksgiving and before Dec 15 or so and your experience is very different (and it is still all decorated for Christmas). You never had a chance as soon as you planned for Thanksgiving week
I went with my 7 year old son to Epcot this week on Monday, seemed like a great day to go after kids all went back to school from Thanksgiving break. Most rides had small waits except the few big ones (Ratatouille, Frozen, Test Track), but even those were under an hour with no Genie+, except when Ratatouille broken down for an hour when we were 5 minutes from the front (which I read before happens often). Signed up right at 7am for Guardians of the Galaxy and the wait was under 1/2 hour once in for that. Spent a good chunk of the day eating, getting a couple drinks, and just enjoying the beautiful 75 degree weather. Crowds were minimal. It definitely depends on the day though, but we try to hit up Disney on days we know crowds will be less. However, the price is high and only getting higher. We usually just do Disney 1 day when in Orlando, and even then it’s often close to $1K for a family of 5. Usually maximize gift card discounts before going (we just finished the Sams Club 24% off ones we got many years back utilizing Amex Offers).
As a Disney blogger, I couldn’t help but cringe at some of those newbie mistakes! Those are the exact things I repeat over and over of what not to do. :(.
Regarding food at Disney World, a big help is ordering from Amazon Fresh and having it delivered to your hotel! Place the order the day before you leave and then pick a 2 hour time slot when you want it delivered. Order snacks, breakfast items, water, Gatorade (sunscreen so you don’t have to pack it!), etc. Gamechanger, especially if you kids.
I also laugh that my Disney vacations are sooo much more expensive than my European or Asian ones where we are gone for 2-3 weeks. Many times we stay at the Hyatt Grand Cypress since I’m Globalist, but with the recent changes to early entry being everyday for onsite guests, you really lose a lot of time since you can’t rope drop an empty park anymore if you are staying offsite.
We have a 1-year old, so we’ve discussed Disney in the future. The crazy thing about Nick’s experience and what I hear and read is how much more you need to pay and invest in time ABOVE the high ticket prices to get a good experience. IE in addition to the high ticket prices “you just have to” also spend a king’s ransom on a Disney hotel to get in early, add on Genie+ to be able to avoid insane lines, get a VIP Tour Guide (to Melissa’s point below) to really enjoy yourself, etc. If I’m booking a cheap plane ticket (LCC, Southwest flight on points), I don’t mind spending another $50-60 for seat selection (boarding position A1-15 for SW), as my expectations for the base experience (plane ticket) are low/moderate. But Disney tickets are high enough priced that I expect a really nice experience without investing a ton of additional money or time (either mine, or a planner who I pay directly or indirectly).
Our kids are now 20-27 so our bigtime disney days are behind us. I agree with disney merch – I bought my daughter’s princess outfit at costco and did my own version of bippity bobbity boutique via mom in the bathroom near the castle. She LOVED it. We diligently took our kids to disney almost annually until they were all double digit. However, at this point – our kids have very little memories of disney. BUT they do remember the first time they saw a humpback whale, hiked the AT, and saw the northern lights. The real adventures cost less and last a LOT longer!
This was painful to read, wife and I are annual pass holders from Connecticut.
Your experience is typical of a random person doing Disney but I didn’t expect this from you, lol. Don’t feel bad though, it is a lot to take in. Slight brag here though, we take day trips to Disney about every 9 months or so (yes, we fly out of Connecticut early and fly home from Orlando late, same day) and get more than a few rides in. Two of our trips we hit all four parks, rode at least two rides per park and had something to eat in each park. We definitely sleep in the Uber back to the airport.
Disney is all we can do right now, we both lost our jobs of 26+ years and our income now is just over half of what we were making before Covid.
We take frequent short trips on our days off trying to use points and deals. Our last two night, three day trip last month it was more expensive to board the dogs than our total expenses for the trip.
That doesn’t sound like bragging at all. That sounds horrible!
I currently live in SoCal. As a military veteran, I can get a discounted multi-day park hopper pass for Disneyland. It’s a really good deal so I try to use it. I went YESTERDAY on a WEDNESDAY and it was SLAMMED.
It was more crowded than I remember it being in August (after school started back). I think what’s changed is that more people are not waiting for the allocated school breaks to go the parks anymore. They’ll go whenever.
Also, you can plan until you’re blue in the face but you can’t predict rides going out of service. That was a frequent event yesterday which caused some standing around and debating — whether to wait for the ride to become operational again (and be one of the first in line) or pivot to something else.
None of my siblings or I ever had any interest in going to Disney (yes, we did watch the regular amount of movies as children). We were all much more interested in Legoland. It’s always seemed like the worst possible use of time and money. Then again, so does the Maldives so I am probably in the minority!
Highly recommend your next Disney adventure be to Tokyo…DisneySea is the best theme park in the world (IMO) and the level of planning necessary for Tokyo Disney, while not zero, is significantly less than WDW. Plus, you’re in Tokyo!
I second this! Also, the Tokyo Disney crowds are super well-behaved and the parks are very, very clean.
Totally agree with Disney in Japan! The main planning is what day(s) to go (there is a prediction calendar) and whether to stay on the park or nearby. The tickets system is way simpler.
I’ve been to Tokyo Disney and DisneySea 1 day each on 3 separate trips (and Universal this year). I had company on 2 of the trips. I’m not a Disney fanatic, but like theme parks and rides. In general, the Japanese have really taken to theme parks (Disney, Universal) and, believe it or not, it’s one of the more Japanese things you can do. Most people dress up, bring the plushies, buy the merch. The parks are spotless, the people super polite, and the children well behaved. The Disney parks in Japan owned and operated by a Japanese company and they pay royalties. So, very different.
I’m a massive Disney planner! I’m sorry things were so bumpy for you. Planning for Disney is an absolute fire hose of information, so I understand it’s hard to wade through for someone who doesn’t want to be all in. For WDW y’all were unfortunately there at a very busy time, so that makes smaller things more annoying. For the future, I would buy a membership to Touring Plans ($11 about). They do pretty accurate crowd forecasts and you can scroll through the year and pick what should be green days for each park. They also do which ride when touring plans, cutting out the cost for the Genie stuff. Also, I’ll recommend looking at the Disney Swan and Dolphin for points hotels. They are on property between Epcot and Studios. That will save you the parking fees at the parks for most of it and puts you into walking distance for two parks. As for scaling the food, they do let you bring in some food, but they don’t let you bring in a big cooler, so remember to stay in the sweet spot for that. I don’t want to get too carried away here, but those handful of things should help you get started on the right foot at least. I hope you don’t give up on it. Once you get your systems down, it’s pretty set it and forget it.
I second the use of Touring Plans! We’ve been using their plans for YEARS and it helps cut line wait times tremendously. As for Swan/Dolphin, we’ve given up using points there . . . it just costs so many with resort fees tacked on. They do give you a cash discount when booking 2 rooms together, so we went that route when there over spring break. We paid with Marriott gift cards previously obtained at a discount (via Amex offers). That helped a bit + we earned a chunk of Marriott points. So at least we felt like we were getting something for our spend.
Nick, practice makes perfect. I have an annual pass. After repeat visits, I have developed a system with which I have done as many as 15 attractions/rides in a single day when I’m solo (even without Genie+). I would suspect that after you embed your lessons learned, even with kids, your visits will be far more efficient.
Nick, after reading your post, it makes me sooooo glad my son is 26 now LOL!
I’ll be the first to admit that I am NOT a Disney fan and don’t plan on going back anytime soon, so I’ll admit I just skimmed most of this, but from what I read, this seems like a good start to what you need to do to gets the most for your time and money. (Our family joke is that after going to Pirates of the Caribbean at WDW, we discovered it was cheaper to take the kids to the actual Caribbean. Not to mention actual Europe over EPCOT.) If ever a place needed to be studied before going, it’s Disney.
The thing about Disney is, if you have kids, you need to go once or twice. You really can’t avoid it, particularly if you have any princesses in the family. It is magical – once or twice. Then, you can absolutely say the best thing about Disney is it’s in the rearview mirror – great memories. Been there, done that, got the souvenirs. Now on to real places to show the kids – for a whole lot less money and effort.
We were super fortunate in that my daughter got interested in other exciting activities (rock climbing) at a young age, so at about age 7 when she mentioned Disney we gave her the choice of going to Disney World or an outdoor climbing trip. It was the last we heard about Disney and fortunately we never had to go.
I’m glad your daughter is independent enough to make up her own mind. Rock climbing is a great sport for kids, especially if they’re not team sport minded. I won’t say you got lucky by missing Disney, as I have some great memories of taking our then 8 year-old daughter in full Princess mode to Disney, but if they’d rather do something else, then by all means don’t force it on them.
Best Disney memory – Finding Cinderella by accident. As anyone who travels to Disney knows, the most difficult princess to find is Cinderella. (Sorry guys, Jessica Rabbit is not a princess.) There are no set times for her without spending some major money. And all the little girls want to see her. We were having dinner at the restaurant in Cinderella’s castle when I had to go to the bathroom. There was a back staircase to go down to the men’s room, and on my way back, I saw Cinderella sitting all alone in the center of this small, tall room. I quickly asked her if she was going to be there for a few minutes, she said yes, and I dashed upstairs to grab my daughter. I didn’t tell her why, I just said come with me. We headed down the stairs and there she was. My daughter was so excited, she got to talk with her for several minutes before the crowd also discovered her and then we had to leave. Only downside was, my wife had to sit with our 3 year-old son, who had no interest, so she missed it.
That was Disney Magic. The rest of it has all the romance of planning the Normandy Invasion.
Missing the old fastpass is like (as I did) getting the Club Carlson card right after they eliminate last night free. (The old pass system required preparation but with just a little effort you could see a ton without much waiting.) Also: Arrival+ and the frog would allow you to redeem points for Disney tix, if you were so inclined. I’m glad my kids aren’t into it… any more.
We have been very frequent Disneyland visitors but as our kids have grown they prefer a beach destination more.
We were incredibly spoiled how we started our Disney trips, first was Jan 2008. Economic crisis and major off season meant we were walking off and right back onto rides. My son was 4, we did the Buzz Light-year ride 36 times over 2 days. An even better thing happened that pushed ride queues from 10 min to nothing; it rained. Most of the other park goers were locals who left with the rain. We had picked up ultra cheap Walmart ponchos before we went and still got soaking wet but loved full access to rides for hours. The end to our night was when our tired 6 year old caught a raindrop square in her eye on the Matterhorn, that was enough for the day. Day 2 was rainy all day so the parks were empty. Best of all was that we scored Grand Californian rooms for about $150/night. Sad to say this but it sure was nice having discretionary money when most everyone else didn’t…
We had similar patterns over the next years, usually Feb trips avoiding weekends and the long holiday weekend. Absolute joy, and still cheap ticket prices.
WDW was a completely different mess, after one trip we knew we didn’t need to go back.
Sounds like Disneyland Paris is the way to go, might need to just travel there rather than California.
Did your kids enjoy the experience? I guess that’s what is most important.
But after reading this, I never want to do a Disney vacation.
I am not a Disney fanatic, but had a conference every year in Orlando around Halloween and learned about Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween party. This was the way to go. The park closes early on these days and reopens 7-midnight. The kids can “trick or treat” with provided bags as they go around the park and the parade is different, the characters are all in costume. But the key to why this was wonderful: At the time, they limited the number of tickets sold so the park was not overcrowded. the kids were up late but that was part of the fun for them too and we would never go back to long hot days at the park.
Wow, this was painful to read. Especially given how incredibly thorough Nick is with EVERYTHING travel related. I agree that Disney isn’t as exciting to plan for and you don’t get the same rush as finding great award availability in business class. BUT, it’s completely necessary for a successful Disney trip and I’m honestly shocked by many of the mistakes. No affiliation with them but mousesavers.com has always been a great source to both have the intricacies of Disney programs explained clearly, as well as direct you to many discounts and deals. They also have a newsletter they send out with updates on everything Disney, from cruises to parks to DVC points rental.
At least you’ll know next time!!
As the founder of MouseSavers.com (I retired and sold it to my brother almost 8 years ago), I appreciate the kind words about the site and newsletter. I love the FM guys and it pains me to see anyone waste time or money unnecessarily.
Next time (!!!). ROFL
Ow, this story hurts my heart! Disney, and Universal, takes preparation and learning. I have spent 4 years studying almost every day, and still learn something new all the time. I enjoy it a lot, but can see how it would be overwhelming to someone not into theme park travel
The outlet malls in Orlando have Character Warehouse outlets that are legitimate and sell licensed Disney merchandise. Selection will vary and they don’t necessarily stock the same merchandise that is sold in the parks.
We just took my son to Disney in October for a week. We stayed at the Waldorf Astoria with points and we only used the shuttle system once. It was way too crowded. Instead, we just called a Lyft to take us and pick us up…cheaper than renting a car and paying for parking at the hotel and at the park. This was our first time at the park and I did research and called family members that pre-covid were park regulars. Going in October, our crowds were low. We enjoyed the benefits of Mickey hours in the AM and also bought tickets for Mickey’s not so Scary Halloween Party…which was the best time to ride all the rides at MK. We used Genie plus the first few days, but then got upset when they raised the prices on us during the week we were there. I had stocked up on Discounted Disney gift cards for park purchases. We avoided the busy park times by coming back to the room and having some down time from the park and ended up just enjoying the parks in the mornings and evenings (also helped us avoid the heat of the day, because it was still hot in October.) This was by far the most expensive vacation we have taken and our hotel and flights were covered with points. It was still very enjoyable and we didn’t try to optimize every minute and really felt that we did it right by taking the middle of the day off. Did we ride every ride, no…but that was never going to happen with my family. Did we ride pretty much everything we wanted, yes. Wile I don’t think we will do Disney World again (unless it is just for a special event like the Christmas party on one evening before a cruise), we do hope to go to Disneyland Paris at some point. We absolutely prefer the Disney Cruises though. Much more relaxing and still have the Disney Magic. Those can be expensive too, but I max out all the discounted Disney Card offers and try to make use of the special offers they have for Disney+ or just the 35% fare offers they have been promoting. Makes it doable for those that want a Disney experience.
Off season, if there is such a thing in Orlando, is the#1 tip to Disney. Sounds like you did your research and had a nice trip
Nick-will the 5% Chase Freedom Paypal category stack with the 15% off Chase Offer if we have it on our Freedom card? Do Chase Offers work with Paypal (it does say that payment needs to be made directly with the merchant in the terms, but is Paypal directly with the merchant since it is an option for payment on Disney’s site?
Yes, PayPal orders through shopDisney trigger Chase Offers. I’ve similarly also used PayPal for a Best Buy offer to get Disney gift cards.
Try it first with a smaller purchase. I have used PayPal at a pharmacy and received the full 8X. 3X for pharmacy and 5X for PayPal.
Yeah it’s a whole world unto itself, lol! That said, I’m not sure the value is there anymore. We took our young kids there (~5-10 years old at the time) for about 5 straight years along with 2 Disney cruises 10-15 years ago. They still offered paper FastPass tickets which were easy to maximize if you didn’t mind hoofing it all over the park but now the app-centric nature doesn’t appeal to me.
FYI as our kids got older we shifted our travel spend first to national parks (as they became more proficient at hiking, etc.) and later alternating with international travel (as they could appreciate cultural and culinary treasures). We haven’t looked back…
Oh Nick! this was the equivalent of your reading a post where someone cashes out amex points for giftcards. Painful. I wish you would have reached out to us Disney Pros! So much to unpack here. Surprisingly I don’t believe in Genie Plus EXCEPT For MK. The other parks are do’able with a system without it. Things like when to arrive at the rope, which order to go etc make a huge difference. I visit the parks for a week every other month.
Something that I really really recommend for a new person is a VIP Tour Guide. WAIT before you roll your eyes hear me out. You split the cost! All 4 parks in one day – private van between the parks, arriving BEHIND the ride – avoiding ticket lines and you drive in a van backlot to the rides. No walking! 10 people can share a guide so you can either have a group of 10 friends or join a VIP facebook group and cobble your own group. We did our own VIP tour in Disneyland for my P2 fathers day gift as a bucket list. Loved it. Used VIP this past summer at WDW and I cobbled a group together. WE all shared the cost and it was awesome. So highly highly recommend more so now than ever thanks to Genie and the elimination of pre arranged fast passes.
Also anyone else reading this, yes points miles great just not at disney. You need the perks of on property to really maximize your time/effort. The 30 minutes extra in morning doesn’t sound like much you gets in 2 attractions ahead of the masses.The perk of extended evening hours for Deluxe guest – awesome. Sometimes that is the only time we go to the parks during the deluxe hours and get it all done. Payng for anything with a giftcard really slices the cost down. Using a DISNEY EXPERT Tour company helps! The better ones will provide you with tips, booklets, planning services all for free.
In a world where we all want to save money etc – you need to pick and choose HOW to do that at Disney. Giftcards YES! Hotels no.
The trouble with Disney is EVERYONE has an opinion you can get lost in a sea of blogs and it is just too much to comprehend. There are paid and inexpensive sites out there. I would recommend following ONE Site as I learned that lesson with points. Follow to many sites and your mind implodes.
In the old days, before Genie, I could promise you short of Christmas Day or Easter day, follow the system and you will not wait more than 15 minutes for ANY ride ever. Genie has made that tougher. I refuse to use it – not b/c of money but the whole head in the phone thing. HEnce maximizing early morning/evening deluxe etc.
NExt trip WILL and CAN be better.
Melissa – any recommendations for Disney planning groups, other than the one mentioned above (mousesavers)?
There are a couple I like and sort of depends on your approach. A free one is WDW Prep School. The detailed variation of plans is NOT there but you get an overall grasp but it is thru different articles etc. But it is free. I don;t think it is as good as a paid site where approaches are constantly tested etc. My absolute favorite blogger, Josh Humphrey from easyWdw died in March and honestly a part of disney went with him. There is no on like him. Never will be. WE have all been scrambling since he died honestly b/c it is HARD to find good reliable TESTED data. A paid site I found I tested it myself. While a lot of knowledge I obviously know and the subscrption cost would not be worth it to me, I found myself agreeing with a decent part of it and liked how the site took into account all different vacation styles. It is called WISH UPON A PLANNER. It reminds you of a playbook strategy – more wordy than Josh and not as direct but data I can agree with. They also do Genie tutorials etc.
Disney is so freaking expensive. If you fail to plan you plan to fail. It can be overwhelming but the Wish Upon a Planner site has cheat sheets and take with you cards that for a new person I can see where it would be helpful. The main thing that you absolutely must must be willing to do is arrive to a park 30-60 mnutes before it opens. That is pretty much the KEY to the lock. Then of course it is knowing which ride to hit and in what order. Geinie is NOT necessary with proper planning. Hope that helps!
What order do you recommend at HS and Epcot?
What order for riding rides at MK do you recommend? We have a group with a 3 year old, 4 year old and two babies. 2 of us will have a disability pass, if that makes a difference. Should we get Genie?
Did you prequalify with Disney for a Disability pass? It is good for up to 6 people and it is basically a fast pass. So 2 people on a Disability pass will cover you for 12 people. In that case you just handle it as a fast pass. Are you familiar with contacting Disney BEFORE your trip? They prequalify you over the phone etc. so it is quite easy to handle and show up prepared.
No, we do plan on doing the video conference soon to get the disability pass. Do you have any recommendations in what order to do the rides?
Having the das pass makes it much easier. I’d arrive at MK 30 minutes before opening . Hopefully your an on-site guest eith bonus 30 in morning. So I need to know that before I can tell you ride order. It’s different for offsite vs on-site
We are staying in a Disney springs hotel that gives us early magic hours
And is the disabilities pass involving wheelchairs and physical disabilities?
I’ll answer later tonight when home
If it were me with kids that little, I would plan to arrive at MK 30 minutes BEFORE early entry assuming this is a normal day – not Christmas Day etc. You will be let into MK before opening and make your way towards the Fantasyland rope. You want to be one of the first people on Peter Pan – very popular ride. Then It’s a Small World then Winnie the Pooh. Park will be opening around now to non resort guests and you will be heading over Buzz Lightyear and Tomorrowland Speedway Then you Back to Fantasyland to handle Ariels underway adventure, merry go round, princess meet and greet etc.THEN I would head over to Dumbo area for Dumbo and Great Goofine coaster. Obviously this is a much more condensed plan b/c you have a Disability Pass. I would select 7 Dwarf Mine train providing your kids are tall enough the FIRST thing you do in the park. So while you are on Peter Pan, Small World, Pooh etc your time is ticking to return to Seven Dwarf. You will have a full hour to return to ride once time hits so keep scheduling rides as you go.
Thank you so much for this! I can schedule more than one ride return time at once? Should we get genie as well? Our kids are almost 3 and 7 months so this may also involve rider switch unless one person in our group wants to wait with my kids and my sisters’ kids for SDMT, etc
I have never used a Disability Pass. I do know you can pre register for 2 rides before you get there but the list for those may not have what you want. So some people do purchase lightening lane pass etc. . Read this article. Do I need to purchase the Disney Genie Plus i… | planDisney (go.com)
Thanks so much! No physical disability, it’s a GI issue.
Look at this to for Rider Swap
The biggest mistake was going during Thanksgiving week. Disney crowds are so bad that I would never consider a trip when most kids are out of school.
We are a Disney-loving family and we take our kids every year or two, depending on what other trips we have planned. I will be the first to tell you that it’s not for the faint of heart. Dining reservations alone require a significant time investment on our part. It’s definitely worth it to us, but with Disney, some people get it and some people don’t. As Nick mentioned, going with insufficient planning will ensure a hot and miserable experience for your family and the parks will probably never see you again. But – you are exactly who they want to see – the once in a lifetime trip takers who will bleed money for a week. We annual passholders were referred to by the recently-departed CEO as an “unfavorable attendance mix” – ha!
For the stroller issue, an Air tag might be a good solution, in addition to, or in lieu of, making your stroller look distinctive. I am so, so, not a Disney person. Years ago I went with god-children, and I recall the best time was playing around in the parking lot with the kids before the park opened.
My wife and I took our kids, now 18 and 20 to Disney once. ONCE. We waited until they were around 10 and 12 so they would remember it. I’m not sure how it is now, but we were able to stay at either the Swan or Dolphin hotel (I can’t remember which one) on points and the room came with a free speedpass or whatever they called their ride scheduling thing at the time. They had just launched the service and I got the feeling that we were essentially beta testers. Even then it was a fairly miserable experience. My advice to anyone planning a Disney trip is this: don’t. You can (and almost certainly *will*) have a more enjoyable, more relaxing, more authentic experience doing just about anything else just about anywhere else. #bah #humbug 😉
Lol we live in PA and have taken my daughter who is 23 at least 32 times. When done right it is magical. A favorite memory is at athe Boardwalk Inn we were going to a our room and it was a hot June day. The couple in the elevator told us what a waste of money. Rode 2 rides and gave it up. My daughter who was 8 at the time turned to them and said “We did 21 attractions today, saw a parade, took a 5 hour swim break and saw fireworks”. They thought she was kidding. June is a hot busy time but we nailed it. Always do.
I am going to bet Snow White Mine Train WILL NOT be availalble to preregister to ride. You could head there IMMEDIATELY in the morning, like you need to be one of the first 100 people on that ride, skip peter, THEN do Pooh then Small world and pre register for Peter Pan if that is permitted. I just don’t know what is on that registered ride list….