Orlando 2015: Tips and Tricks

This post is the sixth (and final) in a series about our 2015 family vacation to Orlando. The series includes these posts:

The Internet is full of tips and tricks for visiting Orlando theme parks. I suggest you read those lists, but I leave this post here for my future self and for those who have asked for advice on planning a trip. I don’t pretend to believe that anything here necessarily applies to any family but my own. In no particular order, here are some things I found useful:

Be ready to make Advanced Dining Reservations. You can start reserving tables at Disney World restaurants 180 days before your trip. That means everyone else can, too. Do your research in advance and be ready to login to the Disney site to make your reservations as early as possible.

Make a touring plan. To make dining reservations, you’ll need to know which parks you’re going to visit each day. I recommend having at least some kind of plan for the day that gets you to your must-do attractions and factors in dining reservation times. I used touringplans.com to plan out each day of our trip (Disney and Universal).

Use touringplans.com and the Lines app.

Make FastPass+ reservations as soon as possible. Read up on how Disney FastPass+ works and be ready to make reservations online 60 days before your trip. FastPass+ is different from FastPass and goodness knows when FastPass+ will evolve or be replaced by something new, so make sure you are getting the latest information on the current ride time reservation system.

Use the FastPass+ kiosks. Once you have used your three FastPass+ advance reservations, you can request extra reservations one at a time from FP+ kiosks scattered throughout the parks. In my limited experience, this didn’t work for the top tier attractions but worked OK for the slightly less popular attractions (shaving off 5-10 minutes of wait time or getting first seating for shows). I aimed for FastPass+ times between 10am and 2pm so we used them up early enough to request more and didn’t get them too early in the day since it takes a while for lines to build up for all but the most popular attractions. For example, at Animal Kingdom we had a 9:55am FastPass+ time for Expedition Everest. We went to DINOSAUR first and waited a relatively short time then went to Expedition Everest for 9:55am.

Visit Kilimanjaro Safari first thing in the day. If I was redoing that day at Animal Kingdom lodge, I would have gone to the Kilimanjaro Safari first thing instead of DINOSAUR. The animals are more active the earlier you go.

Check the single rider lines. Depending on your family dynamics, the single rider lines can be a huge time saver. We did this a few times for re-rides. The 13 year old would ride first and I would ride last so the 9 and 10 year olds were never on their own. Obviously this approach doesn’t work unless your kids are older and confident enough.

Bring cheap, compact rain ponchos. We used our rain ponchos several times in August and it was great having them close at hand – we didn’t let the rain slow us down too much! And the ones we brought from Canadian Tire were maybe 1/3 the price of disposable Disney ponchos.

Bring compact water containers. It was very hot when we visited so staying hydrated was a priority. We carried five 500ml flat / foldable / collapsible water “bottles” in an extra small backpack along with our ponchos. Everyone would fill up at a water fountain and drink up as we walked between attractions. It was just as convenient as buying bottled water and less wasteful.

Bring some sustaining snacks. Although we try to keep on touring bag light (ponchos, water bottles, sunscreen), we normally bring along a snack to quell the inevitable peckish feeling. While I think it is great to indulge in some treats while on vacation, much of what is readily available isn’t the best people fuel. We relied on almonds, pistachios, dried fruit, and granola bars to tide us over between meals then bought sweets as treats later in the day.

Be choosy about treats. There are so many tempting treats at theme parks and Disney has a dizzying array everywhere you turn. You could wander through Epcot and eat a week’s worth of calories and a month’s worth of sugar without any problem. Maybe I overthink these things, but I think it’s worth holding out for treats that are special and different from what you find near home. Drink Butterbeer, not a big brand soda. Get handmade caramel popcorn, not rice krispie treats. Seek out the rarer items like zebra domes and Dole Whips.

Wear comfortable shoes. Be prepared for lots and lots of walking. I’ve seen estimates that a typical Disney visitor walks 8-15 miles each day, so everyone should have comfortable footwear. Some people recommend Keen-style sandals that. I went with a well cushioned trail running shoe. Whatever your preference, take footwear that has already seen a bit of walking time to reduce the risk of surprise blisters.

Consider zippered pockets. Knowing my wallet and phone are safely secured in a fastened pocket for thrill rides makes a big difference in how much I can relax and enjoy the ride.

Escape the heat with table service in the afternoon. One of the more inspired planning ideas I stumbled upon was to book our sit-down table service meal in the early afternoon. This let us visit attractions during noon hour when many people were heading to lunch and then enjoy a leisurely air-conditioned meal away from the heat of the afternoon. We didn’t do this everyday but it worked really well when we did.

Watch the fireworks. Some of us watched Fantasmic and we watched IllumiNations but we didn’t make an effort to watch a full-fledged Disney fireworks show. After catching part of the Frozen fireworks at Hollywood Studios, I really regretted not coordinating time for all of us to watch a full fireworks show. Disney fireworks really are spectacular.

Ask for help with Disney transportation. I found Disney transportation a wee bit hard to follow, and that’s with experience navigating public transit in New York, San Francisco, Toronto, Montreal, and Boston. Don’t be afraid to ask someone for help!

Eat at 50s Prime Time Cafe and Whispering Canyon Cafe. These dining experiences are highlights for our family out of everything we did.

If you want photos, buy and really use Disney PhotoPass. We bought the Disney PhotoPass and I am really glad we did. We were not super diligent in stopping for photos at every opportunity, but our best family photos were taken by Disney photographers.

Think twice about the Disney park hopper option but get Universal Park-to-Park tickets. The park-to-park tickets at Universal Studios let you ride Hogwarts Express between the two Universal parks and I think that is a must-do experience. But we didn’t need Park Hopper at Disney. I would expect this to be a much different experience if you were a regular Disney visitor, but as a family visiting Disney for the first time, there was no need to hop between parks. As it was, we couldn’t possibly see enough in each park with the time we had.

Stay at a Disney Vacation Club property. We loved Animal Kingdom Lodge and the perks of a DVC property were great. A full kitchen and laundry in our suite was perfect for our family of five. We ate breakfast in our room most mornings and ran a couple loads of laundry, which meant our luggage was more minimalist than would have been possible otherwise.

Check out the other posts in this series for how we planned our trip, where we stayed, how we got around, what we ate, and what our favourite experiences were. Hope it’s useful to you:






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