A Walt Disney World arch gate on the road in Orlando, Florida, USA.


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When I started planning my family’s first trip to Walt Disney World Resort, I went in blindly. You just book a hotel and get a park reservation, right? Absolutely not.

Planning a trip to “the happiest place on Earth” has been confusing, convoluted, and irritating. And if you’re a go-with-the-flow type of person like my spouse (who does not understand why you can’t just show up at Magic Kingdom Park and figure it out from there), Disney World will shut your brain down.

Here are tips I've been using to save my sanity while I plan one of the most complicated vacations ever. 

Gallery: Expensive Mistakes To Avoid at Disney

Avoid Using a Disney Travel Agent
You might think it would make things easier to just pay someone to figure it out for you. But when I looked into using one, I found the whole ordeal to be a turnoff. The agent I inquired with didn’t offer anything that was a can't-miss deal at the resort hotels. There was a lot of talk about “booking it immediately” or else “losing the discount, as it was subject to capacity.” If the agent isn’t going to be booking rides for you at 6:59 a.m. on Genie+, a paid service that allows guests to skip the regular line and use the shorter Lightening Lane, you can probably book your own trip.

Use Discount Sites
If you haven’t checked out Undercover Tourist, it’s a go-to for finding some useful discounts and tips. Through the site, I found a hotel in Disney Springs with free shuttle service to the park for a discounted rate, as well as discounted Disney World park tickets. Look for Disney park specials around Black Friday, which is when I got my tickets.

Check Facebook Groups and Reddit
Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of information out there on how to plan a Disney World trip, which might make a travel agent even less useful. One of the most important things I’ve read is how to use the Genie+ app, which is not something you want to leave until last minute to understand. I’ve also picked up some great money-saving Disney World tips, such as getting a Target RedCard to save 5% on Disney purchases, or that there’s free water throughout the park.

Make a Ride Game Plan
I’ve been using the site Touring Plans to help make sense of what rides to shoot for and when to ride them at the various theme parks. For a fee of $20, you can create a daily itinerary that’s optimized to work for your timing. I’m also going to really regret that I shared this hack.

Test Drive Your Sneakers
Multiple Disney blogs report that the average amount of walking one does during a day at Disney is around 10 miles. I’m making sure my shoes are ready. I love ON Cloud sneakers, which are super cushiony.

Don't Worry About Character Meals
Everyone says you have to do the character meals at Disney World, which involves making a reservation at a crowded restaurant to meet Mickey, princesses, and other assorted Disney cast members. I don’t doubt this is an extremely cute experience. But Be Our Guest, one of the most popular character meal events, costs roughly $70 per adult and $40 per child. Add that up for a family of four and that’s a large chunk of money. We’ll just subsist on Dole Whip.

Invest in an Apple AirTag
We’ll be taking a stroller with us, and here’s a tip that I learned perusing forums: Your stroller may be moved by park employees if they need to reconfigure a space. To avoid potential onsite stress and wasted time, I’m attaching an Air Tag to said stroller. This is a case where I’d rather pay extra for something to avoid an anxiety attack. 

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