Tips for a stress-free Disney World vacation

Courtesy of Walt Disney World/Matt Stroshane, photographer

Book as far in advance as possible from Tips for a stress-free Disney World vacation

Tips for a Stress-Free Disney World Vacation

You’re on vacation, relax!
Tips for a stress-free Disney World vacation

Courtesy of Walt Disney World/Matt Stroshane, photographer

If you’re looking for stress-free travel, Walt Disney World may not be the first destination that comes to mind. Between knowing where to stay, choosing which theme parks to go to, and deciding what to do once you get to the parks, there’s a lot to keep straight. If you aren’t totally sure how to navigate the parks in a calm, cool and collected manner, you can leave feeling like you were never on vacation at all. Luckily, there are plenty of tips on how to have a fulfilling trip for the whole family without losing your mind.

Book as far in advance as possible

Book as far in advance as possible

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As soon as you know that you want to go on a Walt Disney World vacation, it’s time to book it. Like any other vacation, the more time you have to plan, the more seamless your trip will end up being. Also, Disney vacations require a ton of forward planning and thinking. Restaurant reservations open up 180 days before you dine, and FastPasses open up 60 days before the first day of your vacation. If you book your Disney trip with just six weeks to go, you just may miss out on some restaurant reservations and skip-the-line passes you want.

Avoid busy times of the year

Avoid busy times of the year

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It may be tempting to go to Disney World over a holiday weekend. You already have Labor Day weekend or the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day off, after all. But that means there are millions of other families that have that time off too, and they might also be going to Disney World. While it’s increasingly hard to find an “off” season for Disney, know that holidays such as the Fourth of July, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve are some of the busiest for the parks. If possible, try to avoid these times and all of the massive crowds that come with them.

Stay on site

Stay on site

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If you can afford to do so, stay at one of Disney’s resort hotels. Not only are these resorts expertly themed and fitting for travelers of all kinds, but there are a lot of perks of staying at a Disney resort. You can book your Fastpasses 60 days in advance (normal guests have 30 days), get transportation from the airport to your hotel, have access to transportation to and from the parks throughout the day, and have the benefits of Extra Magic Hours (extended hours before or after the parks opens to the general public). You’re also going to be on property, allowing you to easily bounce from theme park to resort to wherever else you may want to go.

Use Fastpass+

Use Fastpass+

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If you haven’t been to Disney since you were a kid, here’s the rundown: FastPass+ is a free service available to all Disney park guests, allowing you to skip the line for some of the best Disney attractions, like Splash Mountain, Soarin’ and Tower of Terror. You get three per day at one park. These go fast, especially for popular and new rides, like Seven Dwarves Mine Train, Slinky Dog Dash and Flight of Passage. FastPasses open up 60 days before your first hotel night at 7 a.m. EST for Disney resort guests (and 30 days for those staying off-site), and booking these at the 60-day mark means you’ll save precious time at the parks and get to ride the rides on your bucket list.

Realize you can’t do everything in one trip

Realize you can’t do everything in one trip

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You may want to ride every ride, see every parade, meet every character and eat every single iconic Disney theme park snack, but it’s just not possible. Even people who go to Disney World multiple times a year have restaurants they’ve never eaten at, shows they’ve never seen and characters they’ve never met. If you try to pack a lifetime of activities into one week, you’re going to be stressed to the max. Disney World isn’t likely going anywhere anytime soon, so you can always try to go back to see the things you missed.

Make meal reservations ahead of time

Make meal reservations ahead of time

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Part of planning your Disney vacation means that you need to figure out what you are going to eat and when. If you are really itching to eat at one of the best restaurants at Epcot (or elsewhere), then you want to make sure you can book your reservations 180 days in advance, or keep checking the My Disney Experience app leading up to your vacation to see what restaurants are available. While some table service restaurants have walk-in spots available, it’s a rare occurrence. Just strolling up to Le Cellier and getting a table is unlikely, and trying to do so can be stressful.

Have a plan — but don’t overplan

Have a plan — but don’t overplan

Courtesy of Walt Disney World/Matt Stroshane, photographer

There is just a certain amount of planning that comes with a Walt Disney World vacation. You need to plan for what park you’re going to go to on what day so that you can book your Fastpasses 60 days before you even get to Orlando, for instance. But one of the things you should never, ever do on a Disney vacation is plan every single moment. Keeping you and your group on a strict plan with an hour-by-hour block of exactly what you’re going to do when will leave you frazzled. Things change. It could start pouring down rain at any moment, or you could get absolutely famished just a few hours after lunch. Heck, sometimes Toy Story Mania will just sound like more fun than another ride on Tower of Terror. You have to know when to let go of a plan and go with the flow instead.

Utilize Disney transportation

Utilize Disney transportation

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Trying to navigate the traffic on your way to and from the theme parks is one of the things you should avoid at Disney World. If you stay at a Disney hotel, their bus service (called the Magical Express) will take you right from the Orlando airport to your resort, saving you money and the stress of figuring out how to get from MCO to Disney World. Once you’re on property, Disney has buses, a monorail, boats, Skyliner system and even a few walkable paths that will get you to where you need to go around the resort. While you will have to wait in line to use this free transportation, it sure beats waiting in traffic and navigating the winding roads on your own.

Pack your park bag well

Pack your park bag well

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When packing a backpack for a day at the parks, you want to make sure you’re packing everything you may need or want and nothing more. You are going to be walking around all day, so carrying anything more than the essentials will wear on you. Things you should never leave your hotel without include a refillable water bottle, Band-Aids, pain relievers, sunscreen, a power bank for your phone, hand sanitizer and anything you may need for your kids (if you have them). Packing these essentials (and little else) means you can avoid any problems that may arise, without breaking your back.

Know what not to bring

Know what not to bring

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Listen, we all want to get that super Instagrammable shot in front of Cinderella Caste. But you’re going to want to leave that selfie stick at home. If you happen to bring a toy gun, loose ice or stroller over a certain size, you will be at best asked to take that item back to your car or hotel, losing precious time in the process. So it’s best to study up on the sometimes surprising items banned from Disney parks.

Wear comfortable clothing and shoes

Wear comfortable clothing and shoes

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When you go to any of the four Walt Disney World theme parks, remember that you could easily walk more than 10 or 15 miles on any given day. So prioritize comfort over anything else. It’s best to wear lightweight clothing and comfortable sneakers that are worn in (but not worn out). While those heels and Minnie Mouse dress may be stylish, they’re not practical, and dressing for style over comfort is one of the many rookie mistakes you don’t want to make at Disney World.

Go early, stay late

Go early, stay late

Courtesy of Walt Disney World/Matt Stroshane, photographer

The idea of getting up at the crack of dawn to go to a theme park may seem awful, but you didn’t go all the way to Disney World to sleep your trip away. Getting to the parks at rope drop (the hour or so before opening) means that you’ll be able to walk right on most attractions for that first hour or two of park operations. The parks are least crowded during the early morning and late night, so take a break around 2 p.m. or so when things get amped up and come back after dinner for smaller crowds and lower stress.

Make use of the My Disney Experience app

Make use of the My Disney Experience app

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One Disney park hack insiders know: You can book more than three Fastpasses per day. Just check the My Disney Experience app the moment you scan into your final pre-booked Fastpass of the day and you can set up a brand-new experience, saving you even more of the time and stress of waiting in line. This isn’t the only use of the My Disney Experience app. This free mobile app is a godsend. No matter where you are in the parks, you can check wait times, find highly coveted merchandise, book dinner reservations and even order quick-service meals on this app.

Take breaks throughout the day

Take breaks throughout the day

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If you want to have shorter lines and lighter crowds, you definitely want to get to the parks early and stay late. That does not mean that you should spend 12 hours or more a day walking around a massive theme park in the sun. After doing that for just one day, you’ll be beyond exhausted. The parks get significantly more crowded during the afternoon and early evening, which is also when the sun is its strongest. Avoid the masses and the stress they bring by going back to your hotel during the afternoon for a nap or refreshing dip in the pool. If you don’t want to leave the park, use these bustling and blazing afternoon hours for relaxing shows or a long lunch at one of the best Magic Kingdom restaurants.

Don’t feel the need to keep your group together all the time

Don’t feel the need to keep your group together all the time

Courtesy of Walt Disney World/Matt Stroshane, photographer

If you’re traveling with a few friends or with a bunch of family members, you may feel compelled to keep everyone together at all times. It is a group trip, after all! But the truth is that people are going to have different interests. Grandma and your 4-year-old son may just want to see “Beauty and the Beast-Live on Stage” at Hollywood Studios, while your tween daughter may want to pilot the Millenium Falcon in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Splitting up the group ensures everyone has the Disney vacation they want, and you can easily meet up at meals, shows or other experiences in which all parties want to participate.

Have a designated meetup spot

Have a designated meetup spot

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Yes, you and your group are traveling to Disney World with cell phones, but when the park gets super busy, your signal may drop out. Trying to reunite — whether you were separated by choice or by accident — can be difficult and cause a lot of tension. If you and the other adults in your group split up, be sure to have a designated meetup spot, be it a restaurant, statue or attraction. Knowing that you’ll meet back up by the “Tangled” bathrooms at 2:30 will help to alleviate a lot of stress.

Teach your kids safety

Teach your kids safety

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One of the scariest things that could happen to you and your family at Walt Disney World is getting separated from your children. Teach your kids that if they can’t find you in the packed parks that they should find a cast member with a name tag and tell them they got separated from you. The cast member will take it from there, helping them look in the immediate area for you and then taking them to guest relations or a childcare center to be reunited with you. As a parent, be sure to take a photo of what your child is wearing every day when you leave your hotel room so you have the most updated information to give cast members.

Stay hydrated

Stay hydrated

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It’s easy to get dehydrated when you’re walking 10 or so miles per day in the blazing Florida sun. And you may not know this, but there are a lot of scary side effects of dehydration, including headaches, anger and dizziness. That’s all quite stressful. Be sure to bring a refillable water bottle and keep drinking that H2O. If you forgot one, don’t feel the need to shell out $5 for a bottle of Dasani. The quick service locations at Disney World will give you cups of ice water for free.

Seek out air conditioning

Seek out air conditioning

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Even in the middle of January, temperatures can be in the upper 70s, and the intensity of the sun and humidity come summertime is unmatched in most of America. As the temperature rises, so do tensions. Take frequent breaks from outdoor attractions and lines by knowing where to soak up some supreme air conditioning. Cut through gift shops whenever possible to avoid crowds and UV rays. And when the heat gets seriously overbearing, take in a show. Attractions like the Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom or Voyage of The Little Mermaid at Hollywood Studios are lengthy, have comfortable seating and are in show buildings that are pumped with A/C.

Wear sunscreen

Wear sunscreen

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Even in the middle of the winter, that Florida sun can be mighty strong, and you don’t want your family vacation to be one of those unfortunate times you forget to wear sunscreen. If you get a sunburn or severe sun poisoning on your trip, you’re going to be in for a long week of pain. No matter the time of year, throw on a little SPF. You’ll never regret that you did, but you certainly will regret it if you don’t.

Know what attractions you don’t have to wait for

Know what attractions you don’t have to wait for

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You may think that you always have to wait in line to ride basically anything worthwhile, but that is actually not the case. Classics and fan-favorite rides like Pirates of the Caribbean, Mad Tea Party and Spaceship Earth can get long lines, but if you watch wait times on your My Disney Experience app and know not to just rush into the first thing you see, you can walk right on. Other cult favorite attractions (which just so happen to be some of the best rides at Magic Kingdom) such as Country Bears Jamboree, Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress and the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover almost never have a wait and are pure delight. As the parks get more crowded throughout the day, seek refuge in rides like this.

Use mobile ordering

Use mobile ordering

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Lines for quick service spots like Casey’s Corner or Satu’li Canteen can get really, really long at lunchtime. But those in the know realize you can also skip waiting in line for food by using mobile ordering. Using the My Disney Experience app on your smartphone, you can order from quick service locations at all four Disney World theme parks. Just select what you want to eat and, once you’re in the area, indicate that you’re ready to pick up your food. Your order will be hot, fresh and ready in a fraction of the time it would take to wait in line to order, giving you much more time to take another spin on the teacups.

Eat when people ride, ride when people eat

Eat when people ride, ride when people eat

Courtesy of Walt Disney World/Kent Phillips, photographer

The best way to avoid stress at Walt Disney World is to avoid the crowds. While it’s impossible to do this completely, being a bit backwards in your own schedule can help. That’s why you should plan your meals for times when people don’t typically eat. Quick service spots like Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café at Magic Kingdom or Yak & Yeti at Animal Kingdom get swamped at 12:30 and 6 p.m, but if you hit up those same spots around 2 or 4 in the afternoon, you may actually have tables available. Additionally, you’re far more likely to score a reservation at the best Epcot restaurants or the Contemporary Resort’s fabulous California Grill at 4 p.m. than you are at 7. Not only can you eat in peace in the off-hours, you can also take advantage of shorter ride lines while most guests are eating at classic meal times.

Use package pickup/delivery

Use package pickup/delivery

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Buying merchandise can be one of the most fun parts of a Disney vacation, but carrying that new T-shirt, plush or piece of art around the park all day is a drag. Luckily, Disney offers package pickup and delivery at its parks. Any item purchased during the day can be sent to a second location near the front of the park where you can pick it up as you leave for the day. If you’re staying at a Disney hotel, they can also ship your souvenir back to your resort. For an additional fee, Disney will also ship your souvenirs right to your house.

Go to after-hours events and parties

Go to after-hours events and parties

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Far and away, the most stressful part of a Disney vacation is that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of other people around you at all times. And while it’s totally impossible to completely avoid crowds, you can experience the parks with fewer people by attending one of Disney’s After Hours parties. These “hard ticket events” (meaning they’re not included in normal park admission) allow a limited number of guests entry into Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom for three hours after the parks have closed to standard guests. Most rides are still open, and attendees can eat all the popcorn, ice cream treats and bottled sodas they want. Lines are virtually nonexistent, meaning you can have a relaxing yet highly enjoyable and productive time at the parks.

Spend time outside the parks

Spend time outside the parks

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When the parks get too crowded, it may be time for you to explore beyond the gates to avoid meltdowns. Walt Disney World has a ton of places to explore and eat on property. If you’re looking for a more relaxing afternoon, go explore one of the resort hotels. Many of them offer free or low-cost activities throughout the day, such as crafts, scavenger hunts, games, movies and musical performances. You can also explore Disney’s Boardwalk or Disney Springs for some shopping and dining. Disney World also has mini golf, water parks and tons of fun activities you don’t need a park ticket for.

Go to the spa

Go to the spa

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Beyond leaving the parks to eat or shop or explore, you can embrace the stress-free Disney vacation life by going to the spa. The Grand Floridian, Saratoga Springs Resort, Coronado Springs Resort, Animal Kingdom Lodge, the Yacht Club and the Dolphin Hotel all have spas on site. While services at each of these resorts vary, you can get a massage, facial, body treatment and certain salon services to truly unwind at Disney World.

Don’t nickel and dime every little thing

Don’t nickel and dime every little thing

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While knowing how to visit Disney World on a budget is a great skill, if you’re constantly thinking about the cost of your vacation, you’re going to stress yourself out a lot. Sure, no one needs that $7 Mickey pretzel, and — yikes! — are spirit jerseys really $65?! But it’s all a part of being on vacation. Doing a cost-benefit analysis of every single part of your trip is a great way to remove yourself from the magic of Disney and stress yourself out.

Remember: You’re on vacation

Remember: You’re on vacation

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What’s the No. 1 way to ensure you’re not stressing on your Disney World vacation? Remember that final word: “Vacation.” Not everything you plan will come to fruition. Rides break down, lines get long, rain will come and you’ll get exhausted when you planned on having tons of energy. If you go into your trip with the mindset that you’re going to have a great time no matter what, you will have a great time. Just know that you can go with the flow and leave with a lifetime of memories. At least, that’s how theme park veterans do Disney World.

More from The Active Times:

33 Ways Disney World Has Changed Since It Opened

Every Attraction at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Ranked

20 Ways Disneyland and Disney World Are Completely Different Places

The Best Rides at Disneyland vs. Walt Disney World

Unique Attractions at Disney Theme Parks Around the World