30 Hacks to Make You a Disney Vacation Planning Genius

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When it comes to planning a Disney vacation for your family, there can be a LOT to consider! You want everything to be perfect and plenty of amazing memories to be made. But, that’s not always what happens. Disney trips are often expensive, stressful, and sometimes you feel like you need a vacation after your vacation to recover!

That’s why I’ve put together this list of Disney vacation hacks for every step, from planning to recovery!

Planning Hacks

If you’ve never visited a Disney park before, you may be surprised at the amount of planning some people do to prepare. It may seem like overkill, but the truth is prior planning can help save you a ton of time and stress.

1. Talk to a Travel Agent

Whether or not you want to actually use a travel agent, they have a lot if information to share. How could they not, it’s their job! If you want to, using a travel agent can save you a lot of time, headaches, and money. But even if you don’t have them book your trip, you can ask them questions!

Reach out to a Disney vacation planner, like me, and tell them what you’re thinking about. They can let you know what is going on in the parks that time of year, what the crowds are like, what the cost is like, and  even provide personalized recommendations based on your family!!

Every client that I work with receives a personalized itinerary complete with reservations, rides, and bucket-lists. Not everybody follows that plan to a T, but it’s been a great help to everyone as it provides information about what to do when.

2. Get Your Hands on a Planning Workbook

The interest is one of the best resources for, well – basically anything now a days. You can plan the whole trip by yourself and be sure that it’s perfect. But, having the right tools will certainly make it a LOT easier.

One of the absolute best tools to snag when you’re planning out your trip is a planning workbook. There are many options out there, including my very own Pixie Dusted Planner which you can get here (Use promo PDP20 for 20% off this item). It is filled with every worksheet you could need to make some magic, and it is the exact planner I use for my very own trips!

3. Put Important Dates in Your Calendar

There are 3 important dates to remember when you are planning a Disney World vacation. Dining reservations can be made 180 days before you arrive, FastPass reservations can be made 60 or 30 days before you arrive (depending on your hotel), and everything must be paid in full 30 days before you arrive (if you are staying on site).

The best way to keep track of these dates is to plug them into the calendar app on your phone and set a reminder. You’ll want to be up and ready to book the second these reservations become available for your trip, to ensure you get to book everything you want!

4. Use YouTube to Decide if a Ride is Too Intense

One of the most popular questions I see is “do you think (ride x) is too scary for (child’s age)?” It’s a difficult question to answer, because not all kids are the same. I swore my niece was going to be terrified of the big rides once she was finally tall enough to ride. Boy oh boy was I wrong! She LOVED them.

It really depends on your child’s preferences. The best way to tell is by testing the waters. Thankfully there are tons of YouTube channels dedicated exclusively to documenting rides at various parks. So, you can “ride” virtually anything before you even arrive.

If there’s something you’re not sure about, check out the video and even show it to your child. That way there are no surprises when you get to the loading dock.

5. Pinterest is Your Friend

If you’re not on Pinterest, you absolutely want to be. It’s one of the absolute best sources for all the Disney information you can possibly handle. You can follow me and other Disney bloggers to see the latest articles. Or do a search for the topics you need more information about.

You can also sign-up for the Pixie Dusted Newsletter, here, to make sure you’re in the loop on all the latest news.

Money Saving Hacks

Who doesn’t want to save a few dollars where they can? Sure, you expect to pay a certain price for a trip to Disney. But if you could save a couple hundred dollars with very little effort, why wouldn’t you?

6. SwagBucks it Up!

I swore of SwagBucks long ago, it was just too much work to be worth the while for me. But I recently spent some time on the site again and found it has changed…ALOT.

It used to be that you had to spend hours trying to take survey after survey just to earn a few bucks. But now there are SO many ways to earn! It’s not a program that’s going to pay your rent, and maybe not for your entire vacation.

However, there are several no hassle ways to earn SwagBucks with what you already do online – searching, shopping, and watching videos.

These SwagBucks can be converted to real cold hard cash and used to pay for part of your trip!

7. Don’t be Afraid to Stay off Site

There are some great benefits to staying onsite at a Disney Resort. Whether you are visiting Disneyland or Disneyworld, you can enjoy extra hours in the parks.

At Disney World you can count on free transportation, and early Fastpass booking. But, Disney isn’t cheap. They know that you want those perks and they want to make you pay for it. You can usually save at least a little bit of money by just staying off site.

*If you simply can’t bring yourself to stay off-site (I’m right there with you!), renting DVC points is a GREAT way to save a TON. You can usually book a deluxe resort for the same price as a value resort. Find out more about renting points here*

8. Get Gift Cards

Many people don’t know that you can pay for your Disney vacation in gift cards. Even less people understand why anyone would bother. The reason, you can save hundreds!

Disney gift cards are often sold for less than face value at bulk stores like Costco, where you can find them for 2-7% less. You can also save 5% at Target by using your RedCard to purchase Disney gift cards.

This may not seem like a huge savings, but when you consider the average price of a Disney vacation is $5,000. 5% off is a savings of $250 dollars. That’s less than the cost of the memory maker package (which you should totally get), or a splurge meal like Cinderella’s Castle!

9. Get Grocery Delivery

This is probably my favorite money saving hack, because it also improves your trip. You can order groceries to be delivered directly to your hotel or resort for your stay. Why would you do this? Well, because you can skip those pricey Disney themed restaurants by packing snacks and even meals in your day bag.

If you have any dietary restrictions, this hack is especially great for you. Disney does a wonderful job of providing options for everyone. But bringing your own food ensures your safety and comfort, rather than depending on Disney to have items that not  only fit those restrictions but actually taste good as well.

10. Check out this post for 18 ways to Save!

These are some of my top hacks to save money on a Disney vacation, but there are a LOT more. Everyone has got a few tricks up their sleeve to save! Be sure to check out some more of mine, in this post filled with 18 ways to save.

Dining Plan Hacks

The dining plan is available only at Disney World, so not all of these will apply for a Disneyland trip. The Disney Dining Plans, or DDP, are a popular add on for a Disney World vacation. You pay upfront for meals and redeem credits for food throughout your stay. Some love it, some hate it. You can find out more about the DDP here.

11. Do the Math

The Disney Dining Plan isn’t necessarily going to save you money. It can, if you use the credits for high price meals. However, cost isn’t the only reason guests choose to include this in their vacation package.

For some, it’s incredibly convenient to have everything paid for and done before even arriving. It saves some stress and keeps you from constantly racking up the numbers in your head.

Personally, I’d rather save the difference in cost and spend it on souvenirs. If that sounds like a plan for you, then you’ll love this handy too. The Disney Dining Plan Calculator lets you plug-in all the meals you’d like to have while in the parks and tells you if the DDP is worth your while.

12. Check The Menus

Even before you use the DDP Calculator, your’ll want to check that the options in the dining plan suit your style. There are 3 different tiers, and each offers a different price point and meal credit type.

You can see a complete list of all participating restaurants here and make sure it includes all your favorites. It’s even worth your while to go as far as looking at some menus, to verify that the meals are something you and your family will enjoy.

13. Keep Track

If you do opt for the Dining Plan on your vacation, you’ll want to find a system to keep track of all those credits. You know how it’s SO much easier to spend money with a debit or credit card than it is with cash? Ya, dining plan credits are the same. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll be blinded by all the delicious snacks.

Next thing you know, it’s day 3 and you have no dining credits left with 3 more days to go.

You can track your credits easily inside the My Disney Experience App, with a piece of scrap paper, or with a pre-made tracker. You can grab a tracker like this from Etsy, or use the one included in the Pixie Dusted Planner bundle.

14. Sharing is Caring

One of my chief complaints about Disney food is that the portions are just too big. There are SO many options at Disney World. I hate having such a large meal that I don’t have room to savor any of the super yummy snacks!

Most of the meals are big enough that you can share with someone else.

Sharing a dining plan meal is an especially good move if you are planning a 2-credit meal, such as Cinderella’s table or the Hoop-de-Doo dinner show.

15. Free Starbucks!

With the dining plan, each person will receive a certain number of snack credits per day. You can also ask to exchange 1 meal credit for 3 snack credits. Disney has some amazing snacks, but you should know..

You can use Dining Plan Snack Credits to get ANY SIZE Starbucks drink your heart desires. Come day 3 of your trip, you’ll be ecstatic to caffinate.

FastPass Hacks

Disney World vacation planning has, at least, one big benefit over Disneyland – you can book your FastPasses ahead of time. Why is this great? Well, because otherwise you would have to wait in line to get FastPasses and there’s already enough lines at Disney.

Unfortunately, everybody is eager to book their FastPasses. With that in mind you’ll want to use these 5 hacks to ensure you get to pick-up all your favorites.

16. Change Your Party Size

If you are in a group of 4 or more, you might have a hard time snagging FastPasses for some of the most popular rides. But don’t be discouraged! Each FastPass has a 1-hour window during which you can ride, and the windows only increase in 5 minute increments. What does that mean?

Get overlapping  FastPasses for your group.

Check for groups of 2 for FastPasses. You can normally snag 2, or more, sets that overlap. For instance your first group might have a FastPass for Space Mountain between 1:00pm and 2:00pm. Your second group should be able to find FastPasses for Space Mountain between 1:15pm and 2:15pm or similar. That way everyone can still ride together!

17. Pick Your Dates Carefully

If you stay on site at Disney World, you can book your FastPass reservations for your entire trip 60 days from the date of your arrival. However, if not you can only book 30 days before each date of your trip.

This gives you a HUGE advantage if you are staying onsite, because you could book some dates more than 60 days in advance.

Schedule the most popular rides for the end of of your trip, rather than the first day. Less people will have access to schedule those dates, and you’ll have a better chance of securing those hard to get rides.

18. Keep Checking

Sometimes people cancel their FastPasses. It could be because their trip was canceled, or they rescheduled certain rides, or they opted to not ride those at all. If you can’t get the FastPasses you want on your first day they are available, just keep checking back.

1-2 days before the date you’d like, or even on that date, is an especially good window to check.

Many people underestimate the energy it takes to get around the parks all day. After a few days, they may cancel some FastPasses to take a day off. Then you can swoop in and pick them up.

19. Don’t Book Them All

Full disclosure: I haven’t tried this one, personally. However, I’ve heard from other frequent park goers that it has worked from them.

Most of the parks operate on a 2-tier system now, where you can book 1 FastPass from tier 1 and 2 from tier 2. After you’ve gone through all 3 you can book FastPasses for anything you’d like, including at a different park.

Some people, however, have reported that if you book just 1 FastPass ahead of time you will get a clean slate immediately after it is scanned for you to get in line. Supposedly, you can then book another tier 1 FastPass or even book for another park.

Again, I haven’t tried it – yet. If you do try this or have done it before, let me know in the comments!

20. Shoot for Mid Morning

If you do book all 3 FastPasses for the day in advance, you’ll need to use all 3 before you can book anymore. Booking your FastPasses in the afternoon or at night, will make it difficult to get any more. And booking them for first thing in the morning is a waste, since you can walk on to most attractions within the first 2 hours of park open.

So when should you try and schedule FastPasses for?

The best time to schedule your FastPasses is late morning to early afternoon. This allows you to rope drop several attractions, use your FastPasses, and book additional FastPasses throughout the day.

Packing Hacks

Have you ever gone on a vacation, an arrived to find you forgot your phone charger? We travel at least once a month, but it never fails that someone forgets something. Well, that was at least until we started using these handy hacks.

21. Write it Down

Make a list, and check it twice. (yes, just like Santa). This will help you to make sure you’ve thought of everything you need, gathered it all, and tucked it away inside your suitcase.

If you’re having trouble creating a list of what to pack, or you feel like you’re forgetting something, you can grab my free packing list (no sign-up required) here.

22. Start Early

It is never too early to start stocking up on supplies for your Disney vacation. In fact, we never stop. #confession

Keep a cardboard box somewhere convenient to drop in items you purchase for your trip. Whether it’s sunscreeen you found on sale, a cute top you couldn’t pass up, or snacks you know you’ll need. Having a Disney box around lets you space out the spending you need for your trip, and prevents you from loosing items you bought in advance.

23. Have Items Shipped To Your Resort

Once you’ve filled your Disney box, you can tape it up and ship it to your resort. In fact, you can ship anything! This is especially handy if you will be flying with an airline that charges for checked luggage. You can save a good bit of change by shipping your supplies.

Need more information how? Check out this helpful guide from MamaCheaps

24. Get Packing Cubes

Another great hack to stay organized while packing and throughout your trip is to use Packing Cubes. You can fit a lot more into your luggage, and separate your clothing from your toiletries and shoes.

I absolutely LOVE these, and use them everywhere we travel. When I get where we’re going, I just pop the cube out of my suitcase and directly into the closet or dresser in our room. It helps me stay sane and feel like I’m right at home.

25. Use Your Carry-on

One very important thing to remember when you are flying to Disney World is that you may not have access to your checked luggage for several hours.

Disney World offers free transportation with the Magic Express round-trip from the airport to your hotel. It is SO helpful and instantly makes you feel like you are on vacation. They even pick up your checked luggage for you, so you  won’t have to worry about lugging it around.

Unfortunately,  it can take 4 or more hours for that checked luggage to arrive in your room. You’ll need to keep this in mind while packing your bags and keep anything you’ll need right away in a carry-on. Depending on when your flight lands you may want to include a bathing suit, a change of clothes, or even PJ’s in your carry on to make sure you and your family are comfortable.

Park Hacks

Once you finally get to Disney there’s even more great ways to enjoy the experience!

26. Pack the Perfect Day Bag

Packing a bag, or back-pack, for a Disney day is an art form. It takes some patience, planning, and preparation. But when done correctly, it can be your best tool to keep everyone happy, even in the scorching heat.

You’ll want to include some snacks, a small first aid kit, and a few less conventional items. I always pack MadLibs, a deck of cards, and a bottle of Mio. Want to know why or what else you should be bring? Find out here.

27. Skip the Lines

No one likes to stand around in line, but it can definitely happen if you don’t have a plan for Disney. Even with the use of FastPasses, you will probably end up waiting around for something. Now, if you follow the FastPass hacks above, you’ll only be waiting for your next window to open.

But what do you do in the mean time?

In between FastPasses is the perfect time to check out some of the less popular attractions. They’re just as fun, promise, but the lines are never as long as the thrill rides.

28. Take a Break

Everyone does Disney at their own pace. Maybe you are up at the crack of dawn, or maybe you like to shut the parks down. Either way, make sure to make time for a break.

Florida gets HOT. And Disney gets crowded. If you’ve been up since 6am, and here’s why you should be, it’s easy to get irritated by these factors. Plan to get out of the parks for lunch and enjoy some time in your room, Disney Springs, or by the pool, to unwind before heading back. You might lose a few hours, but you’ll save your sanity.

29. Savor the Flavor

Disney parks might be best known for their rides and attractions, but some of the food is out of this world! Don’t settle for second best and don’t miss out on  some fan favorite foods while you’re soaking up the sun.

You can find recommendations all over the internet for where to go and what to get, and we’ve got some suggestions of our own. Check out these guides to our favorite foods at Disney.

Best Quick Service at Magic Kingdom

Best Quick Service at Animal Kingdom

Best Quick Service at Epcot

Best Quick Service at Hollywood Studios

Best Quick Service at California Adventures

Best Snacks at Disneyland

30. Pile on the PhotoPass

If you’ve purchased the Memory Maker add-on for your trip, and you 100% should, you need to make the most of it! It’s not a cheap package, but you can get a lot of bang for your buck. Be sure to always scan your Magic Band for all the ride photos, you may even want to scan two bands just to be safe. More than once I’ve ended up with someone else’s on ride photos, and didn’t get our own.

But there’s more to Memory Maker than ride photos.

All of the parks have photographers that will happily take fun family photos for your album. Disney even adds a little magic to some! Check out this list from Mouse Travel Matters of all the photo ops!

Headed to a RunDisney event? Don’t miss My No Guilt Life’s guide to PhotoPass at at Run Disney!

Whew!

I feel like I just came back from a Disney vacation having written all that! It’s a bit to take in, so be sure to bookmark this page so you can check back as your countdown continues!

Have some share worthy tips? Let us know in the comments what your #1 Disney hack is!

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