Visiting one of Disney’s magical parks is a truly memorable experience. Whether you’re visiting as a family or as a couple, there’s so much to explore. To help direct you through your first visit, we’ve prepared a handy guide full of tips and tricks to save money, get the best seats and to find some of Disneyland and Disney World’s hidden treasures.
Money saving tips
With fantastic merchandise, themed restaurants and meet and greet experiences, the cost of a trip to Disney parks can add up quickly, but there are plenty of ways to save money. Firstly, it’s worth noting that you can bring your own food into the parks. Becky at Tips from the Disney Diva recommends getting your food shopping done to avoid spending within the park. She said: “Food prices in Disney World can vary and buying your own groceries ensures you’re eating the items you want for a price that isn’t going to blow the bank. Either visit a local grocery store or pre-order your groceries to arrive at your hotel for check-in.”
If you do dine at the parks, sharing meals is a great way of saving some money. “Many of the combo meals available at Disney World are generous in portion size,” said Becky. “Split these between two and order an extra side dish or an appetizer to share. Don’t be afraid to do this at restaurants, it’s a common request and servers will always comply.”
There’s cash to be saved on merchandise, too! T-shirts can cost anywhere from $15-$100 (€14-€94) each, according to Becky. She said: “Save yourself big bucks and by your t-shirts before your trip.”
It’s also worth letting the park know if you’re celebrating a special occasion, as you may get some extra perks. Tell the staff when you’re checking in and making dinner reservations. Becky said: “During one of my trips to Disney World, my partner was celebrating his birthday. We ate at Cinderella’s Royal Table and received a special welcome along with the obligatory free cupcake. What I wasn’t expecting (along with the proposal) was the assortment of gifts that awaited when we returned to our hotel room after my partner proposed to me. Balloons, badges and his and her Disney engagement mugs were the magical touch left by mousekeeping.”
Take advantage of the free activities at Disneyland and Disney World too. Becky shared some of her favourites. “Most evenings, Disney resort hotels show a Disney movie ‘under the stars’. This is a great way to unwind after a long day in the parks. Showings are usually around 7pm by the pools.”
Disney’s Fort Wilderness resort also has a free treat for visitors: “Roast marshmallows around the campfire before taking part in a good old sing along, then meet with Chip and Dale before catching the resort’s movie under the stars.”
Here are a few extra tips to save money on your trip.
Keep to a budget with Disney Dollars
Buying and using Disney Dollars is a great way of limiting your spending. Disney Dollars are equal in value to the U.S dollar but you can use them to set yourself a budget. They are charged as a purchase, not as a cash advance, so they are useful for avoiding ATM fees. Don’t order them in advance though, otherwise you’ll have to fork out for shipping fees.
Don’t buy water
You can get cups of water for free at all the food and drink stands.
Walt Disney World’s hidden secrets
Often, trips to Disney parks can be a whirlwind of excitement and a little bit of chaos. But, as Dopey Diva from Tips from the Disney Diva explains, slowing down to explore the park’s hidden secrets is completely worthwhile. “Walking down Main Street can be entertainment all in itself. Make sure you look up and pay attention to the upper windows of the buildings,” said Dopey Diva, “you might be surprised at what you see.
“Another great secret is on Prince Charming’s Regal Carousel located in Fantasyland. Did you know Cinderella has her own horse on the carousel and Prince Charming’s horse is located right beside it? For anyone hoping to ride on Cinderella’s horse, just look for the one with the gold ribbon on its tail.”
Disney World pays huge attention to detail in every aspect of the park, even in its shops. Dopey Diva said: “Have you ever taken the time to look around the Sir Mickey’s store (in Magic Kingdom) at the cute decorations they have? Have you ever looked up at the ceiling? If you do, you will see somebody is peering in to the store.”
Once of the parks more unusual secrets is DiVine, a character who blends into the foliage and can often be found on the path between Africa and Asia in the Animal Kingdom. “She blends into the trees so well, it is easy to miss her,” said Dopey Diva. “If you are ever walking that way and see a large crowd of people stopped and staring at what looks like nothing, odds are they have found her!”
Tips for your first trip to Disneyland California
Disneyland Park in California is the only theme park designed and built under the direct supervision of Walt Disney, so it has a few magical tricks up its sleeve. If this is your first trip to Disneyland Park California, Character Diva at Tips from the Disney Diva has some advice for you.
Fastpass, PhotoPass and Ride Swap
“If you guys are wanting to do any of the big attractions such as Hyperspace Mountain or Splash Mountain, you probably want a FastPass,” said Character Diva. “They are completely free and you can get these for select rides. You can get one at a time and use it to wait in a shorter line. World of Color and Radiator Springs Racers in CA Adventure operate separately from the other FastPasses, so technically you could have FastPasses to say Radiator Springs Racers, World of Color and the Frozen musical all at the same time.”
For those travelling with children who don’t meet the minimum height requirements, there is the option of a Rider Swap. Character Diva said: “If someone didn’t meet the height requirement, everyone in the party could go to the line entrance and ask the cast member for a rider swap. They will give you a special pass so that someone can wait with whoever doesn’t meet the requirement and then use the special Rider Swap pass to go again afterwards, without having to queue again.”
With so many rides and special moments to remember from your trip to Disneyland California, it’s worth considering the park’s PhotoPass. You can get the pass for one day for $39 (€37), or one week for $69 (€65). Character Diva said: “Disney PhotoPass is Disney’s way of you being able to purchase all of the pictures the Disney photographers take of you and your family with characters around the park, any ride photos, special experiences like the Jedi Training Academy or Wilderness Explorer ceremony, and any character meal photos.” There is no limit to the PhotoPass, so take advantage of it and collect hundreds of photos to create a family album. It’s worth noting that Disneyland no longer mails you the images on CDs or adds borders to the digital copies. Character Diva added: “So if you want to add fun borders or character autographs, make sure you do that while you’re in one of the parks. You can only add them at the photo shops in California Adventure and Disneyland.”
Another top tip from Character Diva is to ask park photographers if they have any “magic shots”. You can get some beautiful photos where Disney edits in Disney images into your prints.
Where to dine
Unlike Disney World, Disneyland Park doesn’t offer a formal dining package. Character Diva recommends skipping the sit-down restaurants and opt for quick service. “I like to eat at Village Haus, the Pinocchio-themed restaurant in Fantasyland, as it’s centrally located and is a great place to stop, Rancho del Zocalo and Cocina Cucamonga in California Adventure are also great. If you don’t mind eating in Downtown Disney, I suggest Earl of Sandwich.”
Planning, booking and rides
Best time to visit Disneyland and Disney World
When booking your tickets to Disney World or Disneyland, be flexible. Generally the resort is busiest during school holidays. If you don’t mind taking your kids out of school for a few days, you’ll have a much quieter trip. September is a great time to go because prices are lower and the weather’s still beautiful.
Book all dining reservations 180 days in advance
If there’s a particular restaurant you want to dine at, make your reservation as soon as possible. Popular tables fill up weeks in advance. Some of the most popular are Magic Kingdom’s Be Our Guest and Le Cellier Steakhouse in Epcot’s Canada pavilion. Slots open for reservations 180 days in advance at 12.01am. They’re gone within minutes, so mark it on your calendar.
Pick up the phone!
In Disney World, if you see pay phones in Tomorrowland or in the Main Street hat shop, pick it up to hear conversations between Disney characters.
Singing in the Rain
Near the back lot tour entrance in Disney World is a ‘Singing in the Rain’ umbrella, if you press the button, you get rained on. This is great entertainment for kids and adults alike and perfect to cool off in the midday sun.
Epcot at Disney World has the second largest aquarium in the U.S! For a unique dining experience, check out the Living Seas restaurant where you can dine among the fish. Book as soon as possible.
Get the best theatre seat
Want to check out one of Disney World’s theatre attractions? Incoming audience are moved all the way down each row, so if you want a centre seat, follow a large group of guests in. They’ll be at the end of the row and you’ll get the middle seats. While this is not guaranteed, it gives you a better chance of sitting in prime seats.
Rides to rest on
The Walt Disney World Railroad takes around 25 minutes, so it’s the ideal ride if you need to give your feet a break.
Best time to watch parades
Disney World’s Magic Kingdom holds several parades each day and they’re extremely popular. Opt for the evening ones when it’s cooler and less crowded.
Don’t get trapped during a parade
Avoid Adventureland and Frontierland starting 30 minutes before a parade is due to start. The route cuts them off from the rest of the park.
Use your FastPass wisely
Use the line-skipping system for attractions with the longest lines, don’t waste it! The Tip Board in the hub of each park lists the waiting times. You can also find these on the My Disney Experience app.
Best spot to view Epcot’s firework display
Restaurants around Epcot’s World Showcase book up quickly for the nightly IllumiNations show. So try to get your reservation in as quickly as possible. Otherwise, head to the lagoon with the rest of the crowds.
Best spot to view Magic Kingdom’s firework display
California Grill on the top floor of Disney World’s Contemporary Resort next to the Magic Kingdom has an amazing panoramic view and an observation deck. Book weeks in advance!
If your child is too short to go on a ride, ask the nearest cast member to give you a voucher so they can cut the line when they’re tall enough. For example at Splash Mountain they’re called “Future Splash Mountaineer”. Many of the major rides have their own versions.
Quickest way through queues
On some of the park’s biggest rides, look out for the Single Rider queue. This fills up empty seats that appear among larger groups and moves much quicker than the usual queue.
Where to get a beer
You can buy alcohol at most areas of Disney World, apart from Magic Kingdom. Here, the only place you can get a drink is at the Be Our Guest restaurant.
Don’t miss Disney’s “kiss goodnight”
Stick around right before Magic Kingdom closes for the night to see the park’s “kiss goodnight”. The castle lights up and they play the original dedication speech by Roy Disney when the park opened in 1971.
Avoid Liberty Square if you need the bathroom
There are no bathrooms in this part of Disney World, because in the colonial times, there were no bathrooms. If you need to go, head to neighbouring Fantasyland or Frontierland.
Best Magic Kingdom rides to enjoy at night
Spectacular lighting, fireworks and a magical atmosphere make some rides at Magic Kingdom well worth staying up for. Take a trip on the Liberty Belle Riverboat, Astro Orbiter, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.