This is the post I’m sure most people have been expecting: the Big Fat Disney blog.
I will preface this by saying that Disney World in Orlando is a travel experience like no other — and it requires preparation like no other. Disney World isn’t really the kind of trip you should just wing unless you’re able to visit often. If you are planning your first trip, or only go every couple of years, you should put in the legwork to maximize your time and money. There is a catch to everything and a trick to every catch, and if you play the prep game right you can have an experience like no other. There is way too much to planning for me to document it all here, but if you reach out to me directly I am happy to provide you with specific tricks and tips to make your trip the best. I’m not a travel agent so I don’t charge, I’m just passionate about the House of Mouse.
Note: I am not going to detail a lot of activities within the parks, because most are pretty common sense. Ride the rides. See the shows. Watch the fireworks. Hug the characters. I am primarily going to write about the magical opportunities still on property, but not right in the parks.
Best Time to Visit:
- Whenever schools are in session. I tend to travel in early to mid September, when most schools have just started and it’s too soon to pull kids out for a vacation. Or in the spring shortly before spring break occurs. There is never a slow time to visit Disney, but if you avoid school breaks, it becomes a lot less chaotic and crowded.
- Similar to the above, I select times to visit that don’t run up against or overlap with any holidays, small or large. I have no desire to get sardined into a park and wait hours in line to ride even the silliest attractions, and have to preorder my dinner chicken nuggets at 9AM. No thank you.
I always recommend staying on Disney property. It is so convenient, and each resort has unique theming and experiences and cuisine. My favorites are
- The Polynesian Village Resort. This is our DVC home resort, and if you ever get a chance to visit you’ll see why we love it. The theming really does transport you to a tropical location. All the on-site offerings are top notch, and it’s right on the monorail loop which gives convenient access to Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Plus you can get dole whips whenever you want them. And that right there makes it totally worth it.
- Kidani Village Resort. This is my second favorite resort, because it is built out around the savannah. If you get a savannah view room, you can wake up each morning to zebras and giraffes grazing right outside your balcony. The only downside worth mentioning is that it is shaped like a very large horseshoe, and if you get a room towards the end of the horseshoe, you might end up with a 1/2 mile walk. Not the end of the world, but when you have already done 30k+ steps in the park, it feels even longer getting back to your room. But the further rooms have the best animal views, so it’s still worth it.
- Old Key West Resort. This is one of the more budget friendly resorts on property, but still holds all the Disney magic you would expect from the higher tier spots. One thing I love about Old Key West is that each section of the resort has it’s own pool and hot tub, so pools are never as crowded as they are in other resorts where every guest is trying to get into the same small area. There is also an internal bus system which helps with getting around. The one down side is that some of the rooms have windows that face front into the walkway, which means there is flourescent light pouring into the room all night. If you’re a light sleeper, make sure to request a room that doesn’t have that big window facing front.
- Sanaa is located within Kidani Village, and it’s my all-time favorite restaurant. It’s an Indian African fusion, and the restaurant is shaped like a semi circle with savannah views from all the windows. They have a bread service appetizer that can easily feed four, and they bring out different kinds of naan breads and loads of unique dips and sauces to try. I can usually make a meal out of bread service alone. If I’m feeling especially hungry, I’ll tack on their butter chicken. It’s amazing.
- Satuli Canteen in Pandora at Animal Kingdom. This is in a park, but is hands down my favorite quick service location. Their build your own bowls are absolutely delicious and the best value out of all the parks. I usually do the potato hash base, chicken (or chicken + steak combo) for my protein, and the creamy herb sauce. And yes, I have them add the fruit boba.
- Chicken Guy in Disney Springs. This is a weird recommendation because it’s…just chicken. But, it’s really good chicken. And you can choose from dozens of different sauces. And it’s the best value on Disney property entirely. My favorite sauces are the curry mayo, and then I love mixing the garlic parmesan with buffalo.
- Trader Sam’s at the Polynesian Village. Trader Sam’s is a themed bar at the Poly, and is definitely a must try. It’s very interactive, and every drink you order impacts the bar as a whole. Certain drinks will cast the bar under an enchantment, and you have to perform incantations to break to curse. The bar itself is even rigged so that the bartenders can prank the customers while they eat and drink.
- Raglan Road at Disney Springs. It’s a restaurant and bar, and while the food is good but not great, the entertainment is awesome. I’m a huge Irish dance fan, and every night they have amazing dancers and live music every 30 or 60 minutes.
- Monorail hopping — basically just hop on the monorail, and hop between the top three resorts: Polynesian, Grand Floridian, and the Contemporary. Each one has unique restaurants, bars, shopping, and activities. It’s a super fun and cheap way to enjoy the day, and soak up some Disney experiences that most people never get a chance to.
- Oga’s Canteen at Hollywood Studios. I know that this is like a Mecca for Star Wars fans, and a few people have mentioned they preferred it to Trader Sam’s (blasphemy!) but I really haven’t been impressed any of my trips there. The drinks range from mediocre to flat out awful, and depending on your server it isn’t always an entertaining experience. Star Wars fans should definitely try it anyway, but if you’re just looking for a unique environment with good drinks, there are way better opportunities on property.
- Waiting in line to have pictures taken with characters. I can’t stress this enough. There is absolutely no need to wait in line for photos with characters. Reserve a character dinner. Show your Disney Visa at the secret spots. Head to a photo spot 5 minutes before and catch the character is it walks to the post. But please, do not waste time standing in line for a photo.
- Disney Dining Plans. Dining Plans can be helpful if you really want to get a lot of speciality dining in on your trip. If you want three sit down meals a day, a character meal every night, and if you want snacks between each meal, it can be a savings. However, just going through the parks a la carte, you really don’t need to spend that much. I usually skip breakfast or just grab something quick and light, I do quick service for lunch, then specialty dining for dinner. I don’t do much snacking — I have a few favorite things, but nothing that would apply to the dining credits. So I find that most people that use the DDP end up spending 30% more than I do for the same length trip. So I’d recommend skipping it to save money without compromising on good food. It’ll save you time too, so you can get on more rides and see more shows, rather than sitting inside a restaurant.
- Last but not least, visiting Disney over an holidays is very overrated. I never saw the appeal to visiting on Halloween Day, or on Christmas morning, or on New Years Eve. The decor is up and the merch is out weeks, if not months, ahead of time, and the special holiday activities are offered for a really long time. Going right over a holiday just means you are competing with ten times more people than usual for the same experience, and I see absolutely no point other than to say that you were there. And if that’s what you want, then good on you. But just know you’ll have a much better time a couple weeks before or after.