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The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2020

The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2020

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The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2020

1,551 pages
16 heures
Aug 13, 2019


THE trusted source of information for a successful Walt Disney World vacation

The best-selling independent guide to Walt Disney World has everything you need to plan your family’s trip—hassle-free. Whether you are planning your annual vacation to Walt Disney World or preparing for your first visit ever, this book gives you the insider scoop on hotels, restaurants, and attractions.

The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2020 explains how Walt Disney World works and how to use that knowledge to make every minute and every dollar of your vacation count.

With an Unofficial Guide in hand, and with authors Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa as guides, find out what’s available in every category, from best to worst, and get step-by-step, detailed plans to help make the most of your time at Walt Disney World.

Aug 13, 2019

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The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2020 - Bob Sehlinger





•What is Walt Disney World?

•How big is Walt Disney World?

•What’s the difference between the Magic Kingdom and Epcot?

•What do these new words and acronyms mean?

•Are Universal and Disney the same? Where are the Harry Potter rides?


WE MAY BE BIASED, but we think Walt Disney World (WDW), in Orlando, Florida, is the best collection of theme parks on earth. Its combined size, quality, and ambition go far beyond that of any other amusement park or theme park you may have seen.

If this is your first visit, you’re probably familiar with Disney World through Disney’s theme park advertising. It’s great at showing families enjoying exciting rides and meeting its famous characters. But 30-second ads don’t convey where to find those rides and characters.

Walt Disney World has four theme parks. If you’re familiar with any of them, it’s probably the Magic Kingdom—the first one built and the one most people think of when they hear the words Disney World. The other three theme parks are Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Walt Disney World also contains two water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. But there’s more: over three dozen hotels and a campground; more than 100 restaurants; a massive year-round sports center; an outdoor mall/entertainment/hotel complex called Disney Springs; 6 convention centers; 4 golf courses; and an array of spas, recreation options, and other activities.


WALT DISNEY WORLD IS HUGE—around 43 square miles, about double the size of Manhattan and slightly smaller than Miami.

For easy reference, we (and Disney) use the theme parks as rough guides to locations within Walt Disney World. The Magic Kingdom Resort Area, for example, is about 7 square miles and contains the Magic Kingdom theme park and nearby hotels, restaurants, golf courses, and entertainment. The Epcot Resort Area is roughly 1.5 square miles and contains the Epcot theme park, nearby hotels and restaurants, and so on. Most of these areas are separated by miles of barely developed Central Florida swampland.

The areas are so far apart that it’s not possible to walk between them. Instead, you’ll usually get around via the Walt Disney World transportation system’s fleet of buses, boats, cars, monorail trains (monorails), and aerial trams. In fact, Disney World’s bus system is the third largest in Florida, behind Jacksonville’s and Miami’s. The Disney transportation system is so large that Part Nine of this book is dedicated to it.

Because of Walt Disney World’s size, it would probably take around two weeks to explore most of it. Most families don’t have two weeks to spare, so we’ll tell you the best things to see in the time you have.


The Magic Kingdom

When most people think of Walt Disney World, they think of the Magic Kingdom, opened in 1971. It consists of Cinderella Castle and adventures, rides, and shows featuring the Disney cartoon characters. It’s only one element of Disney World, but it remains the heart.

The Magic Kingdom is divided into six lands arranged around a central hub. First you come to Main Street, U.S.A., which connects the Magic Kingdom entrance with the hub. Arranged clockwise around the hub are Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland. The Magic Kingdom has more rides, shows, and entertainment than any other WDW theme park. A comprehensive tour takes two days; a tour of the highlights can be done in one full day.

Five hotels (Bay Lake Tower; the Contemporary, Polynesian Village, and Grand Floridian Resorts; and The Villas at the Grand Floridian) are connected to the Magic Kingdom by monorail and boat. Three other hotels, Shades of Green (for the US military and their families), Wilderness Lodge (incorporating the Boulder Ridge Villas time-share units), and Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, are located nearby but aren’t served by the monorail.


Opened in October 1982, Epcot is twice as big as the Magic Kingdom and comparable in scope. It has two major areas: Future World consists of pavilions concerning human creativity and technological advancement; World Showcase, arranged around a 40-acre lagoon, presents the architectural, social, and cultural heritages of almost a dozen nations, each country represented by replicas of famous landmarks and settings familiar to world travelers.

The Epcot resorts—the BoardWalk Inn & Villas, Dolphin, Swan, and Yacht & Beach Club Resorts and Beach Club Villas—are within a 5- to 15-minute walk of the International Gateway, the World Showcase entrance to the theme park. The hotels are also linked to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios by canal and walkway. Epcot is connected to the Magic Kingdom and its hotels by monorail. An elevated ski lift–like gondola system called the Skyliner links Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios to Disney’s Pop Century, Art of Animation, Caribbean Beach, and Riviera Resorts.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Opened in 1989 in an area a little larger than the Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios (DHS) has two main sections. One area, occupying about 50% of the Studios, is a theme park focused on the motion picture, music, and television industries. Park highlights include a re-creation of Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards from Hollywood’s Golden Age, several rides and musical shows, and a movie stunt show.

The other half of DHS is two immersive lands based on popular Disney film franchises. Toy Story Land opened in 2018 with two highly themed but relatively simple rides for children. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is the most anticipated new theme park land in the United States since 2010. It will have two cutting-edge, large rides for older children, teens, and adults when it opens August 29, 2019.

DHS is connected to other Walt Disney World areas by highway, canal, and gondola but not by monorail. Guests can park in DHS’s pay parking lot or commute by bus; guests at Epcot resort hotels can reach DHS by boat, on foot, or by gondola.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

About five times the size of the Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Animal Kingdom combines zoological exhibits with rides, shows, and live entertainment. The park is arranged in a hub-and-spoke configuration somewhat like the Magic Kingdom. A lush tropical rainforest serves as Main Street, funneling visitors to Discovery Island, the park’s hub. Dominated by the park’s central icon, the 14-story-tall, hand-carved Tree of Life, Discovery Island offers services, shopping, and dining. From there, guests can access the themed areas: Africa, Asia, and DinoLand U.S.A. Discovery Island, Africa, and DinoLand U.S.A. opened in 1998, followed by Asia in 1999. Africa, the largest themed area at 100 acres, is home to free-roaming herds in a re-creation of the Serengeti Plain.

Pandora—The World of Avatar, based on James Cameron’s 2009 film Avatar, is the most significant recent expansion. Its biggest draws may be the animals and scenery—including floating mountains and glow-in-the-dark plants—which Disney has replicated from the movie. See Part Thirteen for full details.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom has its own parking lot and is connected to other Walt Disney World destinations by the Disney bus system. Although no hotels lie within Animal Kingdom proper, the All-Star Resorts, Animal Kingdom Lodge & Villas, and Coronado Springs Resort are all nearby.


DISNEY WORLD HAS TWO MAJOR water parks: Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. Opened in 1989, Typhoon Lagoon is distinguished by a wave pool capable of making 6-foot waves. Blizzard Beach opened in 1995 and features more slides. Both parks pay great attention to atmosphere and aesthetics. Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach have their own parking lots and can be reached by Disney bus.


Disney Springs

Themed to evoke a Florida waterfront town, Disney Springs encompasses four areas, each with shopping, dining, and entertainment: the Marketplace, on the east; the West Side, on (surprise!) the west; The Landing, on the waterfront; and Town Center.

The Marketplace contains the country’s largest store selling Disney-character merchandise; upscale resort-wear and specialty shops; and numerous restaurants. The West Side is a diverse mix of nightlife, shopping, dining, and notable entertainment, including a dedicated Cirque du Soleil show found only at Disney World.

The Landing offers additional shopping and arguably the best dining options in Disney Springs. These include The Boathouse, an upscale waterfront seafood eatery, with better steaks than anything nearby; Morimoto Asia, a high-quality midpriced table-service restaurant from Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto; Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’, a restaurant from celebrity chef and Florida native Art Smith that features local farm-to-table ingredients, traditional Southern cooking, and excellent cocktails; and Wine Bar George, serving tasty Mediterranean small plates and a well-curated list of affordable wines.

Disney Springs includes three multistory parking garages, with short walks to the middle of the action. It is also accessible via Disney transportation from Disney resort hotels and theme parks.

Disney’s BoardWalk

Near Epcot, the BoardWalk is an idealized replication of a 1930s East Coast waterfront resort. Open all day, the BoardWalk features upscale restaurants, shops and galleries, a brewpub, and an ESPN sports bar. In the evening, a nightclub with dueling pianos and a DJ dance club join the lineup. Both are for guests ages 21 and up only. There’s no admission fee for the BoardWalk, but the piano bar levies a cover charge at night. This area is anchored by the BoardWalk Inn & Villas, along with its adjacent convention center.

The BoardWalk is within walking distance of the Epcot resorts, Epcot’s International Gateway, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Boat transportation is available to and from Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios; the Skyliner gondolas connect the BoardWalk to the Studios and the hotels on its route; and buses serve other Walt Disney World locations.

Disney Cruise Line: The Mouse at Sea

Disney launched (literally) its own cruise line in 1998 with the 2,400-passenger Disney Magic. Three more ships were added, and three more will join the soon-to-be seven-ship fleet by 2023. Most cruises depart from Port Canaveral, Florida (about a 90-minute drive from Walt Disney World), or from Miami on three-, four-, and seven-night itineraries. Bahamian and Caribbean cruises include a day at Castaway Cay, Disney’s 1,000-acre private island. Cruises can be packaged with a stay at Disney World. Disney offers a free online video to help familiarize you with DCL cruises. View it at disneyplanning.com; note that you’ll be asked to complete a short survey first.

To get the most out of your cruise, check out The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line, by Erin Foster with Len Testa and Ritchey Halphen.


Disneyland is something that will never be finished. It’s something that I can keep developing. It will be a live, breathing thing that will need change.

—Walt Disney

WHAT WALT SAID OF DISNEYLAND is also true of Disney World. The chart on the opposite page shows all of the major construction projects that have been completed at Walt Disney World in the last 2, 5, and 10 years.


DISNEY’S EMPLOYEES are called cast members. How you’re treated by the ones you encounter can make or break a vacation. Fortunately, Disney staff often go the extra mile to make your visit special, as the following three readers report.

First, from a Paron, Arkansas, woman:

We encountered a problem with FastPass+ midweek—somehow, only one of us had FastPass+ on our MagicBand and the other four did not. At the kiosk near Tower of Terror, an attendant pointed out the problem. No more passes were available for the day for Toy Story Mania!, and others wouldn’t be available until evening during Fantasmic!, for which we had a dining package reserved. We were disappointed and confused, but we went to dinner determined to just wait in line later for Fantasmic! As we sat down to eat, customer service called—the attendant had independently reported the issue for us, and we were given the three FastPasses we thought we had originally! And we were still able to enjoy dinner and Fantasmic! We were blown away by the service and communication on the part of the cast. Well done!

A family from Pawnee, Illinois, was assisted in a health emergency:

On our first day at the resort, our 6-year-old grandson woke up with a deep cough, fever, and kind of wheezing. Our daughter-in-law contacted the desk and found that WDW provided a shuttle to a local prompt-care facility. As it turned out, the shuttle wasn’t available, so they called a cab instead and covered the cost! Our grandson was able to be seen by a physician and received medication that allowed him to get better and salvage the trip. We can’t say enough about what the staff and WDW did for us that day! They were terrific!

A family from St. Joseph, Michigan, had this to relate:

We had a very unexpected and wonderful surprise waiting in our stroller after the Country Bear Jamboree. Out of nearly 30 strollers, ours had been visited by Santa Mickey while we were in the show. We came out to a stroller decorated with silly bands, Christmas ornaments, and a snowman Mickey plush toy. Our 5-year-old son was delighted, not to mention the rest of our party. Just another way that WDW goes one more step to make a magical experience.

Finally, from a suburban Philadelphia family:

At Expedition Everest, I witnessed expert handling of a group of teenage line-jumpers by Disney staff. Once they reached the loading area, cast members ushered them aside in a very calm and friendly fashion, causing no apparent disruption. I didn’t see where they were ushered or what happened next, but I did not see them board the ride. It was as if they were never there.


LIKE WALT DISNEY WORLD, the Universal Orlando Resort consists of two theme parks, a water park, several hotels, dozens of restaurants, and other entertainment venues. It sits about 14 miles east of Walt Disney World, just off I-4.

Both resorts are owned by media companies: Comcast owns Universal, and the Walt Disney Company owns Walt Disney World. Thus, admission tickets bought for Disney World can’t be used at Universal, and vice versa.

Because they’re owned by different companies, Disney and Universal are generally viewed as direct competitors—the time and money you spend in one place are time and money not spent in the other. In reality, we think the Disney and Universal parks complement each other; if you’re in Orlando for themed entertainment, it’s worth visiting both.

Universal’s big claims to fame are its spectacular lands themed to the Harry Potter film franchise: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal’s Islands of Adventure (IOA) and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts at Universal Studios Florida (USF). Both are highly detailed areas with amazing technology and beloved characters. (Len has never seen the films or read the books yet happily spent 6 hours exploring just Diagon Alley.) And Universal continues to expand, adding more hotels and rides to its almost 1,000 acres of land.

Universal is a high-quality alternative to Walt Disney World, so we cover its basics in this guide. For an in-depth guide to everything Universal has to offer, try The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando, by Seth Kubersky.


IT MAY COME AS A SURPRISE to many, but Walt Disney World has its own somewhat peculiar language. The following charts list some abbreviations and slang you’re likely to bump into, both in this guide and in the larger Disney (and Universal) community.




•Where can I find a planning checklist and timeline?

•What is My Disney Experience, and how do I use it?

•When is Disney World least crowded and most crowded?

•What are Extra Magic Hours, and how do I use them?

•What special events happen while I’m in Walt Disney World?

•Where can I call or write someone at Disney with questions?

Visiting Walt Disney World is a bit like childbirth—you never really believe what people tell you, but once you have been through it yourself, you know exactly what they were saying!

—Hilary Wolfe, a mother and

Unofficial Guide reader from Swansea, Wales


IN ADDITION TO USING THIS GUIDE, we recommend that you visit our sister website, TouringPlans.com. The companion blog posts breaking news for Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, Disney Cruise Line, and Disneyland.

TouringPlans.com complements and augments the information in our books, and it provides real-time personal services that are impossible to build into a book. The book is your comprehensive reference source; TouringPlans.com is your personal concierge. Sign up for free here: touringplans.com/walt-disney-world/join/basic.

With that free access, you’ll be able to create custom touring plans, follow them in the parks, and get updates to them if conditions change while you’re there. You’ll also find up-to-the-minute information on attractions, shows, restaurants, crowds, park hours and operations, and more.

A few parts of the site require a small subscription fee to access: a detailed, day-by-day crowd calendar, for example, or a service that sends your hotel-room request directly to Disney. That subscription covers the costs of the extra people, technology, and external companies that it takes to provide them, beyond what’s needed for the books.

Here’s a brief rundown of some of the things you’ll find on the site:

CUSTOM TOURING PLANS The best and most efficient touring plans are found in these guidebooks. They’ve been used by hundreds of thousands of families over the years, usually with excellent results. They depend, however, on your arriving at the park before opening. For some families with children, and for those who bristle at rising early while on vacation, being on hand for park opening is a nonstarter. In those cases, and for others with unique circumstances, we provide custom touring plans online.

If getting up early isn’t an issue, you can customize the plans in this book by simply skipping any attractions that don’t interest you.

A DETAILED 365-DAY CROWD CALENDAR FOR EACH THEME PARK Subscribers can see which parks will be the least crowded every day of their trip, using a 1–10 scale. You can also view historical crowd data and check the accuracy of our predictions.

HOTEL-ROOM VIEWS AND ONLINE FAX SERVICE We have photos of the views from every hotel room in Walt Disney World—more than 30,000 images in all—and we’ll give you the exact wording to use to request a specific room. For subscribers, we’ll even automatically fax your request to Disney before you arrive. A mother who used the fax service writes:

The fax-ahead feature was wonderful! We got a room with a GORGEOUS river view! My husband’s jaw dropped when he saw what our view was like! He immediately gave me a big high-five. Thanks!

Disney tries to accommodate your request, but its ability to do that depends on a number of variables that we can’t control. Most of the faxed requests we send on behalf of readers are honored in full or partially, but sometimes Disney just can’t make it work. Feel fortunate if you get what you asked for.

TICKET DISCOUNTS A customizable search helps you find the cheapest tickets for your specific needs. The average family can save $20–$80 by purchasing admission from one of our recommended ticket wholesalers.

FASTPASS+ INFORMATION We show every FastPass+ reservation available at every attraction in the parks on a single page of our site.

ANSWERS TO YOUR TRIP-PLANNING QUESTIONS Our online community includes tens of thousands of Disney experts and fans willing to help with your vacation plans. Ask questions and offer your own helpful tips.

LINES APP Our in-park app, Lines, is available on the Apple App Store and Google Play. Designed to accompany you in the park, it has lots of interesting, free features and provides ride and park information that Disney doesn’t, including:

•Posted and actual wait times at attractions. Lines is the only Disney-parks app that displays both posted wait times and the actual times you’ll wait in line. The wait time you see posted outside of a ride is often much longer than the real wait time, often because Disney’s trying to do crowd control. With Lines, you can make better decisions about what to see.

Ride now or wait recommendations. Lines shows you whether ride wait times are likely to get longer or shorter. If you find a long line at a particular attraction, Lines tells you the best time to come back.

•Real-time touring plan updates while you’re in a park. Lines automatically updates your custom touring plan to reflect actual crowd conditions at a given moment. You can also restart your plan and add or change attractions, breaks, meals, and more.

•In-park chat with our Lines community. Do you have a question while you’re in the parks? Ask our community of thousands of Liners and get a reply in seconds.

The Unofficial Guide and TouringPlans.com, along with the Lines app, are designed to work together as a comprehensive planning and touring resource.

This mom from St. Louis used all of the tools in our toolbox:

The Unofficial Guide was the perfect place to start planning our vacation (actually our honeymoon). After reading the book, I had a good idea of what hotels I was interested in, and I had must-do and must-eat places somewhat picked out. I then took the knowledge from the book and switched to the website to personalize our touring plans and use as a reference when needed. The book and the website together made our trip INCREDIBLE.

A mother from Lexington, South Carolina, echoes the sentiments of the mom above:

The Lines app and the personalized touring plans were unbeatable! If we missed a step or took extra time on something, it was so easy to catch right back up. The book allowed me to preplan our entire trip, from what to pack to what to see and eat. It was priceless. We traveled during Thanksgiving week, so the parks were at very high crowd levels. The planning allowed us to maximize the use of our time and quietly rejoice that we weren’t the ones standing in line for hours.

Our other website, TheUnofficialGuides.com, is dedicated to news about our guidebooks and features a blog with posts from Unofficial Guide authors. You can also sign up for the Unofficial Guides Newsletter, which contains even more travel tips and special offers. Next, we recommend that you obtain the following:

1. WALT DISNEY WORLD RESORT VACATION-PLANNING VIDEOS Disney has online videos advertising the resort’s offerings. To view them, you’ll need to fill out a short survey at disneyplanning.com . You can access videos about Walt Disney World, Disney Cruise Line, and other Disney destinations from the same website.

2. GUIDE FOR GUESTS WITH DISABILITIES An overview of services and options for guests with disabilities is available at disneyworld.disney.go.com/guest-services/guests-with-disabilities , at Guest Relations when entering the parks, at resort front desks, and at wheelchair-rental areas (locations are listed in each theme park chapter).

3. VISIT ORLANDO DEALS If you’re considering lodging outside Disney World or think you might patronize out-of-the-World attractions and restaurants, obtain a Free Vacation Planning Kit and the Orlando Official Visitors Guide (both free) from the Visit Orlando Official Visitors Center. The discounts cover hotels, restaurants, ground transportation, shopping malls, dinner theaters, and Disney and non-Disney theme parks and attractions. For more information, view the deals at 800-643-9492 or 407-363-5872 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern time year-round, or go to visitorlando.com. You can also download the Visit Orlando app and sign up for emails on the website.


AS YOU GO THROUGH THIS BOOK, you’ll see many references to date-specific planning milestones for your trip: You can start making Disney dining reservations 180 days before your arrival, for example, and you can make FastPass+ ride reservations 60 or 30 days before your visit, depending on whether you’re staying on or off Disney property. And you might be wondering about other milestone dates that are important to know for your Disney trip.

Starting on the next page is a comprehensive timeline that represents the major research, decisions, and tasks that come into play when preparing for a typical Walt Disney World vacation. Next to each milestone, we’ve put a reference to the section in this book that has the information you need for that milestone, and/or links to our website and blog for additional material like photos or videos.

Most Disney trips involve about a dozen important dates to remember. If you’ve started planning more than 11 months before your trip, you’ll have plenty of time to do research ahead of those dates. If you’ve decided to visit Disney World within the next couple of months, you’ll have a few more decisions to make a bit quicker.

Do you really need to do this? Absolutely—the demand for good rides and restaurants far exceeds their capacity, and you won’t get near them without planning and reservations. Consider that around 60,000 people visit the Magic Kingdom on an average day. A hot restaurant such as Be Our Guest, running at full speed, can serve lunch to maybe 1 in 12 of them. A very popular character meet and greet, such as the Frozen princesses, may be able to handle 1 in 50 park guests during an entire day of operation. Those are not good odds.

Making dining and attraction reservations as soon as possible is vital if you want to eat at nice restaurants and avoid hours-long waits at popular rides. Other reservations, such as those for spas or recreational activities, can frequently be made when you arrive in Orlando, especially if you’re visiting during a slower time of year or you’re flexible with the date or time of your appointment. But your best bet is to research early and make reservations as soon as Disney allows.

How to Plan in a Hurry

We get variations on this email a lot:

OMG! Our first Disney trip is in three weeks and I just found out about the Unofficial Guide. I had no idea about all the preparation I should have done! What do I do?

Three weeks is plenty of time. You’ll still want to go through the timeline following, because those steps are important, if not mandatory—you’ll just have a more compressed schedule.

If your preferred places to eat are already booked, check out our guide on page 282 that shows highly rated alternatives to hard-to-get restaurants. Also check TouringPlans.com for advice.

You’ll also want to follow the touring plans in the back of this book—they’re your insurance against long waits in line. They suggest which FastPass+ reservations to get, and when. If our recommendations aren’t available, our free touring plan software can make alternative suggestions and work with whatever FastPasses you can get.

12–9 Months Before Your Trip

You may already have a general idea of when you want to visit Disney World. What the trip will cost you, however, can be a surprise. Take a couple of evenings to plan a budget and an approximate time of year to travel, and to narrow down your hotel choices.

•Establish a budget. See pages 76 – 78 in Part Four for an idea of how much Disney vacation you can get for $1,000–$3,000, for various family sizes. More information is available at tinyurl.com/500-disney-vacation .

•Figure out when to go and where to stay. Begin researching resorts (see Part Five ) and the best times of year to visit to avoid crowds (see page 31 ). Our own Erin Foster has devised an excellent method for finding the best vacation dates for your family. See her planning blog at tinyurl.com/planningwdw .

•Brush up on discounts. Disney releases certain discounts around the same time every year. Check mousesavers.com for a list of these regular discounts, when they’re usually announced, and the travel dates they cover at tinyurl.com/wdw-historic-discounts .

•Create an account at My Disney Experience (see page 28 ). You’ll need it to make hotel, dining, and ride reservations later.

•Make a preliminary hotel reservation. This typically requires a deposit equal to one night’s cost, and it guarantees you a room. You can change or cancel your reservation without penalty for several months while you continue your research.

•Disney Vacation Club members can make reservations at their home resorts starting 11 months before their trip. See page 102 for information on how to rent points from a DVC member.

•Investigate whether trip insurance makes sense for your situation. If you’ll be traveling to Disney World during peak hurricane season (August and September), it might be worthwhile. Third-party policies, such as those from insuremytrip.com , are usually cheaper than Disney’s trip insurance, and often more comprehensive.

•If you’re not a US citizen, make sure your family’s passports and visas are in order. Passports typically need to be valid for six months beyond your travel dates. An electronic US visa is typically good for two years from the date of issue, if you need one. See esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta for details. As of 2019, you must apply for a visa at least 72 hours prior to arrival.

9–7 Months Before Your Trip

Now is the time to start thinking about where you’ll be eating and what you want to do in the theme parks.

•Get familiar with Disney World restaurants (see Part Six ). When Disney’s dining system opens at your 180-day mark, you can make reservations. See touringplans.com/walt-disney-world/dining for current menus and prices at every Disney restaurant, all searchable.

•Disney Vacation Club members can make reservations outside their home resorts starting seven months before their trip.

•Also get familiar with the Disney Dining Plan (see Part Five , page 215 ). If you’re planning to stay at a Disney hotel, you’ll need to figure out if the plan will save you money on the restaurants you’ve identified.

•Check the best days to visit each park. Use our Disney World Crowd Calendar to select the parks you’ll visit on each day of your trip: touringplans.com/walt-disney-world/crowd-calendar .

6–4 Months Before Your Trip

Become familiar with Disney’s rides, shows, and attractions, and start planning what you’ll see each day. This will help you identify potential bottlenecks, which you can address using our touring plans and Disney’s FastPass+ system. You can make FastPass+ reservations in a few weeks.

•Review the attractions and shows at the Magic Kingdom ( page 476 ), Epcot ( page 529 ), Disney’s Animal Kingdom ( page 567 ), and Disney’s Hollywood Studios ( page 600 ).

•Make a list of must-see attractions in each park. If you’re unsure about your child experiencing a particular attraction, see our Small-Child Fright Potential Chart on pages 408 – 411 . Every attraction is listed. Also see on page 412 a chart listing height requirements for the attractions. Finally, you can preview attractions on YouTube at tinyurl.com/wdw-ride-videos .

•Review our touring plans (see page 55 ) and use them to begin putting together a touring strategy for each park. You can also use our touring plan software: See touringplans.com/walt-disney-world/touring-plans . By starting now, you’ll be able to see what attractions would benefit from FastPass+, which you can reserve 60 or 30 days before your trip. You’ll also see whether you’ll need the Park Hopper option on your theme park tickets, which you’ll purchase later.

180 Days Before Your Trip

Now you can start making dining, recreation, and other reservations.

•Make reservations for sit-down dining beginning at 5:45 a.m. Eastern time online at 407- WDW-DINE (939-3463). If you’re staying at a Walt Disney World resort, you can make reservations for up to 10 days of your trip today.

•Revisit the economics of the Disney Dining Plan after you’ve made dining reservations, to verify it’s still worth the money. If not, call Disney to drop it from your reservation.

•Make reservations for the following:

Theme park tours (407-WDW-TOUR (939-8687)

407-WDW-PLAY (939-7529)

Spa treatments (407-WDW-SPAS (939-7727)

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (407-WDW-STYL (939-7895)

Theme park dessert parties (407-WDW-DINE (939-3463)

120 Days Before Your Trip

As your vacation approaches, it’s time to make concrete arrangements for your days in the theme parks.

•Purchase your park admission at least this far in advance (see pages 80 and 81 for ticket details and add-ons). Our Least Expensive Ticket Calculator will find you the best discounts on Disney tickets: touringplans.com/walt-disney-world/ticket-calculator.

•Link your tickets to your My Disney Experience account so you can make FastPass+ reservations at the 30- or 60-day mark.

•Save money on stroller rentals in the parks (if needed) by renting from a third-party company; see page 402 for our recommendations. You can also save on wheelchair and ECV rentals this way; see page 423 for details and recommendations.

60 Days Before Your Trip

The theme for this week is the three F’s: FastPass+, fitness, and refunds. (If you’re a stickler for precision, then substitute funds retrieval for refunds.)

•Disney resort guests and those staying at select on-site resorts can make FastPass+ reservations (see page 64 ) starting at 6 a.m. Eastern time. Once that’s done, update your touring plans. If you’re using our online touring plans, we’ll redo your schedule so that you get to your chosen attractions on time.

•Start a walking regimen to prepare for the 7–10 miles per day you may be walking in the parks. See page 391 for more on that.

•If you decide not to go to Disney World, you have 30 days to cancel most Disney vacation packages without a penalty; room-only reservations can be canceled without a penalty until five days before your trip. See page 97 for a review of Disney’s cancellation policies. Otherwise, you can start your online check-in at Disney resorts 60 days before you arrive: disneyworld.disney.go.com/trip/online-check-in .

45 Days Before Your Trip

•Final payment for room-only reservations is due if you book online within 45 days of arrival (payment of room-only reservations booked farther out isn’t due until check-in).

•Customize and order your MagicBands ( page 87 ) if staying on-site.

•Make Disney’s Magical Express reservations ( page 437 ) if flying, or make other transportation arrangements.

•If you want to switch resorts or make additional dining reservations, now is a good time to check, owing to cancellations at the 45-day mark.

30 Days Out

•Final payment is due for Disney vacation packages.

•Off-site guests can make FastPass+ reservations (see page 64 ) beginning at 6 a.m. Eastern time.

•Confirm park hours and finish preliminary touring plans.

•Download our Lines app so you can follow your touring plan and get updates in the parks: touringplans.com/disney-world-app .

•Arrange to stop delivery of mail and newspapers.

•Arrange for pet or house sitters.

2 Weeks Out

•Arrange grocery delivery to your resort (see Part Ten , page 475 ).

•If you’re flying to the US from another country, complete the Advance Passenger Information and Secure Flight ( APIS ) process at least 72 hours before your flight. You should be able to do this through your airline’s website; otherwise, make sure your travel agent has your information. You’ll need to provide the address where you’ll be staying in the US, so have that information handy when you complete this form.

•Check that you have enough prescription medication.

6 Days Out

•This is your last chance to cancel Disney room-only reservations booked online without 407- W-DISNEY (934-7639).

•Check the weather forecast for Orlando: tinyurl.com/wdw-weather .

•Start packing. See touringplans.com/blog/tag/packing-tips for our tips.

5 Days Out

•Fax your room request to Disney. We can do this for you automatically. See tinyurl.com/wdw-hotel-fax for details.

•This is your last chance to cancel Disney room-only reservations booked by phone or travel agent without 407- W-DISNEY to do so.

4 Days Out

•Purchase Disney’s Memory Maker photo package (see Part Ten , page 472 ) at least three days in advance to ensure that all photos are linked as soon as you arrive. You’ll also get a discount if you buy your package ahead of time.

2 Days Out

•This is your last chance to cancel reservations at Victoria & Albert’s restaurant or any behind-the-scenes tours.

The Day Before

•Check in to your airline online.

•Finish Disney resort online check-in, if you haven’t already done so: disneyworld.disney.go.com/trip/online-check-in .

•Cancel any unneeded dining or baby- or pet-sitting reservations.

•Do one last check of park hours and weather.


A SET OF HIGH-TECH ENHANCEMENTS to Disney’s theme parks and hotels, officially known as MyMagic+, includes issuing rubber wristbands (MagicBands) with embedded computer chips that function as admission tickets and hotel keys; it also encompasses Disney’s FastPass+ ride-reservation system and its dining-reservation system.

MyMagic+ requires you to make detailed decisions about every day of your trip, up to six months in advance, if you want to avoid long waits in line (see the previous section for a complete trip-planning timeline). FastPass+ requires that you make reservations months in advance to ride Disney’s headliner attractions if you want any chance of avoiding long waits in line; obtaining MagicBands requires detailed information about your traveling party; and restaurant reservations require you to know the exact time you want to eat, and where, six months before you arrive.

The Walt Disney World website (disneyworld.com) and mobile app are the glue that binds all of this together. Because you have to plan so much before you leave home, we cover the basics of both the website and the app in the next section. While we may provide navigational instructions here, note that Disney’s web designers move things around all the time, so you may have to hunt around to find some features. Full coverage of MagicBands starts on page 87; details on how FastPass+ works start on page 64. You should read that FastPass+ section before making any reservations.

My Disney Experience at DisneyWorld.com

In this area of the Disney website (disneyworld.disney.go.com/plan), you can make hotel, dining, and some recreation reservations; buy admission; and get park hours, attraction information, and much more.

TECHNICAL PROBLEMS Type My Disney Experience issues into Google and you’ll get back 102 million 0800 16 90 749 in the UK for help.

BEFORE YOU BEGIN Set aside at least 30–40 minutes to complete this process. Make sure you have the following items on hand:

•A valid admission ticket or confirmation number for everyone in your group

•Your hotel-reservation number, if you’re staying on-site

•A computer, smartphone, or tablet connected to the Internet

•An email account that you can access easily while traveling

•An account at My Disney Experience

•A schedule of the parks you’ll be visiting each day, including arrival and departure times and the times of any midday breaks

•The dates, times, and confirmation numbers of any dining or recreation reservations you’ve already made

If you’re coordinating travel plans with friends or family who live elsewhere, you’ll also need the following information:

•The names and (optional) email addresses of the people you’re traveling with

•A schedule of the parks they are visiting on each day of their trip, including their arrival, departure, and break times

•The dates and times of any dining or recreation reservations they have made

GETTING STARTED Go to disneyworld.disney.go.com/plan and click (+) Create Account. You’ll be asked for your email address, along with your name, home address, and birth date. (Disney uses your home address to send your MagicBands and, if applicable, hotel-reservation information.) You’ll also be asked to choose two security questions and answers—write these down and store them in a safe place, or save them as a text file. If you forget your login information, Disney will ask you these questions to verify your identity.

DISNEY HOTEL INFORMATION Next, MDE asks whether you’ll be staying at a Disney hotel. If you are, enter your reservation number. This associates your MDE account with your hotel stay in Disney’s computer systems. If you’ve booked a travel package that includes theme park admission, Disney computers will automatically link the admission to your MDE account, allowing you to skip the Linking Tickets step on the next page. If you’ve booked a Disney hotel through a third-party site like Expedia, that site should send you a Disney reservation number to use here.

REGISTER FRIENDS AND FAMILY In the upper-right corner of the homepage, click My Disney Experience to access a welcome page with links to existing hotel and dining reservations. Click the My Family & Friends link; then enter the names and ages of everyone traveling with you. You can do this later, too, but you’ll need this information when you make your FastPass+ and dining reservations.

Back on the My Disney Experience page, click My Plans in the top-right corner of the page. A calendar will then appear—if you have a Disney hotel reservation, the calendar should display those dates of travel. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to manually enter your reservation number: click the (+) Add More Plans widget on the right side of the page, then click the link titled Link Reservations and Purchases, and follow the instructions.

LINKING TICKETS You will need to have purchased theme park tickets for each member of your group, and linked them to each member’s My Disney Experience profile, before making some reservations.

If you haven’t purchased your tickets, do so now. Disney’s website doesn’t have the cheapest prices for theme park tickets of three or more days. See pages 82–87 for where to find better deals.

If you’ve already purchased tickets but have not linked them, click the (+) Add More Plans widget on the right side of the page under the heading My Plans, Reservations and Tickets. Click on the option titled Link Reservations and Purchase, then click the link titled Tickets, and follow the instructions.

MAKING FASTPASS+ RESERVATIONS Navigate to the My Plans page. You’ll see the same (+) Add More Plans widget. Click it and select the FastPass+ Selections option from that menu.

On the next screen, indicate which members of your group will be with you. On the screen after that, choose the park and the date on which you’re visiting. You can make advance FastPass+ reservations at just one park per day.

If you’re park-hopping, you can start with up to three FastPasses in one park. Once those are used or expire, you may reserve day-of FastPasses (one at a time) at another park, but don’t expect much to be available at the second park. Disney is under considerable pressure to allow guests to make FastPass+ reservations at the same time for both parks, but we don’t expect it to happen anytime soon.

Now you’ll see a list of your chosen park’s participating FastPass+ attractions. Select the ones you’d like to reserve; if an attraction isn’t selectable, either all of its available FastPass+ reservations are gone or the attraction is closed at the time shown.

At this point, the website will show you which attractions have FastPass+ reservations available and three possible return times. The default view shows morning FastPass+ availability, and you can select afternoon, evening, or specific times to display.

Select the attractions and return times that most closely fit your plans for the day, or, if you’re using our touring plans, select the set that most closely matches the suggested FastPass+ return times on the plans. After confirming your selections, you can check for alternative return-time windows for each attraction.

You’ll need to repeat these steps for every day you want to use FastPass+ in the theme parks.

If you’re unsure of the attractions or times of day you should use FastPass+, our touring plan software can make recommendations that will minimize your time in line. See page 64 for details.

If the initial set of FastPass+ return times conflicts with your plans, you can check whether alternate times are available that better fit your schedule. The good news is that you can change each attraction’s return times separately. Plus, if none of the return times for a particular attraction work for you, you can pick another attraction at this stage without having to start over.

A reader from White Plains, New York, found this all too much work:

It was tough to set up for a big group—we ended up just getting the same FastPasses for everyone.

You’ve gotta hand it to Disney—making FastPass+ reservations online combines the efficiency of a third-world bureaucracy with the excitement of double-entry bookkeeping.

MAKING DINING RESERVATIONS From the My Plans page, click the (+) Add More Plans widget, then click the Reserve Dining link. (You may have to reenter your travel dates.) A list of every Disney World eatery will be displayed. Use the filtering criteria at the top of the page to narrow the list.

Once you’ve settled on a restaurant, click the restaurant’s name to check availability for your dining time and the number of people in your party. If space is available and you want to make a reservation, you’ll need to indicate which members of your party will be joining you. You’ll also need to enter a credit card number to hold your reservation. If you want to make other dining reservations, you’ll need to repeat this process for every reservation.

My Disney Experience Mobile App

In addition to its website, Disney offers a companion app on iTunes and Google Play (search for My Disney Experience). It includes park hours, attraction operating hours and descriptions, wait times for buses, restaurant hours with descriptions and menus, the ability to make dining and FastPass+ reservations online, GPS-based directions, counter-service meal ordering, the locations of park photographers, and more. My Disney Experience is optimized for the latest phones and tablets, so some features may not be available on all devices.

Our Recommended Websites

Searching online for Disney information is like navigating an immense maze for a tiny piece of cheese: You may find a lot of dead ends before you get what you want. Our picks follow.

BEST Q&A SITE Walt Disney World’s Mom’s Panel consists of mothers chosen from among 10,000-plus applicants. The panelists have a website, DisneyWorldMoms.com, where they offer tips and discuss how to plan a Disney World vacation. Several moms have specialized experience in areas such as Disney Cruise Line, runDisney, and traveling with sports groups; some speak Spanish, French, and Portuguese too.

BEST MONEY-SAVING SITE MouseSavers (mousesavers.com) keeps an updated list of discounts for use at Disney World resorts. These discounts are separated into categories such as For the general public and For residents of certain states. Anyone who calls or books online can use a current discount. The savings can be considerable—as much as 40% in some cases. MouseSavers also offers deals on rental cars and non-Disney hotels in the area, along with a calendar showing when Disney sales typically launch.

BEST SITE FOR CAR-RENTAL DEALS The website Autoslash.com will use every available discount code for every car company in Orlando to find you the best car-rental deal. See page 440 for more details on car rentals.

BEST SITE FOR GUESTS WITH FOOD ALLERGIES At allergyeats.com/disney, you enter your allergies and your park, and it shows you where and what you can eat.

BEST GENERAL UNOFFICIAL WALT DISNEY WORLD WEBSITE Besides TouringPlans.com, Deb Wills’s AllEars.net is the first website we recommend to friends who want to make a trip to Disney World. Updated several times a week, the site includes breaking news, tons of photos, Disney restaurant menus, resort and ticket information, tips for guests with special needs, and more. We also check wdwmagic.com for news and happenings around Walt Disney World.

SOCIAL MEDIA YouTube is an excellent place to find videos of Disney and other Central Florida attractions. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are popular places for Disneyphiles to gather online and share tips and photos. Walt Disney World’s official social-media outlets are facebook.com/waltdisneyworld, twitter.com/waltdisneyworld, and instagram.com/waltdisneyworld.

BEST DISNEY DISCUSSION BOARDS There are tons of these; among the most active boards are disboards.com; forums.wdwmagic.com; our own forum.touringplans.com; and, for Brits, thedibb.co.uk (DIBB stands for Disney Information Bulletin Board).

unofficial TIP

See tinyurl.com/planningwdw for a handy worksheet to help with this step.



WALT DISNEY WORLD IS BUSIEST from Christmas Day through the first few days of January. Next busiest are spring break (mid-March through Easter week); Thanksgiving week; the first few weeks of June, when summer vacation starts; and the week of Presidents’ Day.

The least busy time historically is Labor Day through the beginning of October—but see our caveats following. Next slowest is mid-January, after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, through Presidents’ Day in February (except when the Walt Disney World Marathon is held after MLK Day). The weeks after Thanksgiving and before Christmas are less crowded than average, as is mid-April–mid-May, between spring break and Memorial Day. (Note that we expect larger crowds after Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens in 2019, regardless of whether it’s near a holiday.)

Late February, March, and early April are dicey. Crowds ebb and flow according to spring-break schedules and the timing of Mardi Gras and Presidents’ Day weekend. Besides being asphalt-melting hot, July brings throngs of South American tourists on their winter holiday.

The rule of thumb is that Walt Disney World is less crowded when kids are in school. However, Disney has become adept at loading slow periods with special events, conventions, food festivals, and the like; discounts on rooms and dining during slower periods also figure in, as does the number of employees Disney decides to use in the parks. These influence park crowds, as this New Orleans couple describes:

Everything we read led us to believe that October after Columbus Day and before Halloween week would be relatively uncrowded. Nothing could have prepared us for the crowds we experienced. I may not have understood the crowd estimates, but barely being able to move was not what I expected. At Epcot, people were sitting on the cement to eat—I felt like I was at an Ungrateful Dead concert! In fairness, the cast members were absolutely awesome, which went a long way toward at least giving Disney one more chance—just not in October.

And from a St. Louis family:

We found the walkways to be surprisingly uncrowded, especially compared with the queues—which were absolutely packed. Wait times were excessive, and FastPasses were exceptionally hard to acquire. We travel to WDW quite often, at various times of the year, and this was the worst experience we’ve had with FastPasses. It was also significantly more crowded, with much longer lines than the same week two years ago.

A Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, woman gave May a shot and doesn’t think she’ll do it again:

This was our ninth visit to Walt Disney World, and we travel from Wisconsin. I am a Disney fanatic and love everything Disney! We have visited in October, March, November, and most recently May. I would not go in May again. It was hot and humid and the crowds were the worst that we have experienced. Early November was the best with great weather, and the parks had their Christmas decorations up.

In short: The World can be packed at any time, and you’ll need to look beyond the time of year to pinpoint the least crowded dates. For a calendar of scheduled Disney events, see tinyurl.com/wdwevents.

Off-Season Touring

We strongly recommend going to Disney World in the fall, winter, or spring because of the milder weather, generally smaller crowds, and deeper discounts. However, these benefits come with some trade-offs.

The parks often close early during the off-season, either because of low crowds or because of special events such as the Halloween and Christmas parties at the Magic Kingdom. This drastically reduces touring hours. Even when crowds are small, it’s difficult to see big parks such as the Magic Kingdom between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. Early closing also usually means no evening parades or fireworks. And because these are slow times, some rides and attractions may be closed. Finally, Central Florida temperatures fluctuate wildly during late fall, winter, and early spring; daytime highs in the 40s and 50s aren’t uncommon. Still, it’s so much easier to see the parks during the off-season that we’d advise taking children out of school for a Disney World visit. See page 389 for the pros and cons of this approach.

If this isn’t possible, we want to make clear that you can have a wonderful experience regardless of when you go. Our advice, irrespective of season, is to arrive early at the parks and avoid the crowds by using one of our touring plans. If attendance is light, kick back and forget the plans.

DON’T FORGET AUGUST Kids go back to school pretty early in Florida (and in a lot of other places too). This makes mid- to late August a good time for families who can’t vacation during the off-season.

A New Jersey mother of two school-age children spells it out:

The end of August is the PERFECT time to go (just watch out for hurricanes; it’s the season). There were virtually no wait times, 20 minutes at the most.

A family from Roxbury, New Jersey, agrees:

I recommend the last two weeks of August for anyone traveling there during the summer. We have visited twice during this time of year and have had great success touring the parks.


Why is the world’s best theme park in the world’s worst climate?

—A reader from Clackamas, Oregon

LONG BEFORE WALT DISNEY WORLD, tourists visited Florida year-round to enjoy the temperate tropical and subtropical climates. The best weather months generally are October, November, March, and April (see chart on page 36). Fall is usually dry, whereas spring is wetter. Rain is possible anytime, usually in the form of scattered thunderstorms. An entire day of rain is unusual.

SUMMER TEMPERATURES CAN FEEL LIKE 120°F Did you know that air temperature is measured in the shade? So if your phone’s weather app says it’s 95°F in Orlando, it’s warmer if you’re standing in the sun, and hotter still if you’re wearing dark-colored clothing.

Florida’s notorious humidity makes the heat feel worse because it prevents your perspiration from evaporating to cool you

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