There’s so much to do at Walt Disney World, but where do you begin?
I’ve created a WDW checklist of sorts collecting 25 of my favorite special experiences that make Disney trips magical. I’ve already warned against wanting to do it all at Walt Disney World, so don’t think you should squeeze all of these into your next trip. Just keep them in mind the next time you’re at the parks – a few Disney secrets from me to you!
(1) Be a night rider. You haven’t ridden WDW’s Haunted Mansion, Spaceship Earth, or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad until you’ve ridden them at night. It’s a fact that it takes a while for your eyes to adjust after they’ve been out in the sunlight (especially if you’re night blind like I am) and since Haunted Mansion and Spaceship Earth have relatively short lines most of the time, you’ll miss some of those details as your eyes adjust to the dark. Same goes for BTMR with its random patches of sunlight confusing your eyeballs, but other dark rides (like Pirates and Star Tours) have long enough queues that you should be just fine.
(2) Watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks show from California Grill. Book your dinner reservation at the right time (the reservation line can help you with that) and you can get a great view of the fireworks at Magic Kingdom. Even if you can’t get a table by the window, there’s an observation deck that’s open to all diners.
(3) Do the Disney Vacation Club tour. Even if you’re not interested, they drive you around in a nice car, show you some pretty photos, and then give you free ice cream (and occasionally an extra perk like a gift card or some fastpasses). It’s a perfect thing to do when it’s too hot and crowded to do anything else and all you have to do is find a DVC booth and tell the cast member you want a tour. Who knows…maybe you’ll find a DVC plan that’s just perfect for you!
(4) Enjoy the cheaper show at the Polynesian resort. The luau is a ton of fun, but if you want to save money call the resort and ask when the torches will be lit. Grab a quick service meal from Capt. Cook’s and take it outside to sit somewhere near the resort path running along the beach. The torches are lit by one of the fire performers from the luau and he usually adds a little flair so it’s a fun thing to see before you enjoy your tropical beachside meal.
(5) Get the best table at Pecos Bill’s. If you’re having dinner at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn, have someone try to snag one of the outside tables about ten minutes before your parade of choice is about to start. You’ll have a great view of the action while you enjoy your meal and there’s a little stone wall that kids can stand on if they need to see over the heads of other viewers.
(6) Top 5 Front Row. Unless it’s very busy, the cast members will usually allow you to request the front row on attractions (especially if you’re a small group). They’ll have you step to the side and you should be loaded first on the next vehicle. It’s not worth it to do this every time on every ride, but at least once in your life be sure to ride in the front row on Soarin’, Tower of Terror, Splash Mountain, and Pirates of the Caribbean.
(7) Top 3 Back Row. Have a strong stomach? Follow the same procedure as above but ask for the back row on Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Big Thunder Mountain. The back row on Kilimanjaro Safaris is also a fun place to be, especially if you want unobstructed photos of the animals!
(8) Enjoy the rain. If there’s rain on the forecast, it’s a great time to go to the parks! Head out in your rain gear (but skip the umbrella since it’s just a pain in crowds) and enjoy shorter lines. BTW – this is a great time to enjoy Splash Mountain since you’re already wet! Just skip the gift shops and quick service restaurants because they will be packed with people trying to wait it out.
(9) Pilot the Liberty Square Riverboat. They don’t always let you do it, but it’s worth asking!
(10) Rest on the railroad. If it’s too hot or your feet are too tired, grab a seat on the train that circles the Magic Kingdom. It takes about a half hour to make a full circle around the park and they don’t make you disembark if you don’t want to, so you can just ride that train around and around if you want. Combine that with some kid headphones and an iPod that has sleep sounds on it and you just found yourself the best kid nap location in the parks!
(11) Watch the flag ceremony. A flag retreat ceremony happens every day at 5PM in Magic Kingdom and it’s a nice little moment. If you happen to be traveling with a retired veteran, you can stop in at Town Hall and ask to be part of the ceremony.
(12) Run at a resort. I love doing early early morning runs at the WDW resorts. It might seem crazy to add even more mileage on to your day, but running first thing in the morning gives you a chance to explore all of your resort’s hidden paths while working up an appetite for Tonga Toast or Mickey Waffles. My favorite resorts to run are Port Orleans French Quarter and Coronado Springs.
(13) Sit in the center. After being at WDW for a while, you might notice that you have a sudden urge to rush wherever you go. People rush to get in line, they rush onto ride vehicles, and they rush to grab that last seat on the bus. Where you don’t want to rush is at shows like Mickey’s Philharmagic or MuppetVision 3D. Unless those shows are nearly empty (think late night extra magic hours), the cast members will request that you move all the way down. This means that people who were eager to be the first ones in the theater will be all the way at the end of the row, while slowpokes like you get to enjoy the center seats.
(14) Do Not Pull. Outside the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, you’ll see an archeological dig sign with a rope and a sign that says “Do Not Pull”. There are also crates scattered around that say “Do Not Open”. You know what to do…
(15) Get a haircut in Magic Kingdom. Not many people know that the Harmony Barber Shop is a real, working salon but you can get great kids cuts here with a little pixie dust (think glitter, hair gel, and a special certificate if this is the first haircut for your child!).
(16) Stretch your dining dollar. Order drinks without ice (the soda is thoroughly chilled) and load up on cheese + mushroom toppings to split a Pecos Bill burger combo between two people. It’s delicious and economical.
(17) Collect a Different Set of Disney Autographs. If you’re taking your kids around the World Showcase, stop and get an Epcot passport (or just use some of the back pages in your other autograph books). Find the kids activity centers in each pavilion (there will be a place to color a Duffy bear on a stick) and ask the cast members to stamp your passport and sign their names. Most of those cast members are actually from the countries they’re representing, so you’ll get a wide variety of signatures and this is a fun way to collect autographs without fighting that horrible rush for the princesses.
(18) Be a bathroom snob. The bathrooms between Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland and Frontierland are crazypants crowded no matter when you go. If you aren’t in a rush, keep walking until you reach Pirates of the Caribbean and use the bathrooms in the gift shop. They’re probably the cleanest and least crowded in the park!
(19) Get an avocado margarita at the Mexican pavilion. No, it’s not on the menu. Yes, it’s better than it sounds.
(20) Go on safari before dining at Animal Kingdom Lodge. If you have dinner reservations at AKL (and you should because those restaurants are amazing), head to the hotel a little early and take a pair of binoculars if you have them. The animals are usually viewable (especially around sunset) and there are cast members available to tell you about the wildlife you’re viewing. Personally, I love the shaded seating areas and having such a nice spot to unwind after a day of walking the parks. If you don’t have time to view the animals until after dinner, you still may be able to find cast members who have night vision glasses for you to borrow.
(21) Start your morning at Animal Kingdom Lodge. On days when we aren’t headed to the park, it’s fun to go to AKL instead to see the animals waking up and enjoy sitting out in the sun with a cup of coffee and a Zebra Dome. This treat is served at Boma and it’s like a little coffee flavored cake thing that’s too incredible to even describe. You can grab one along with your coffee at Mara, the quick-service food stop in the resort.
(22) Attend a Campfire Sing-a-Long at Fort Wilderness. As long as you’re staying somewhere on Disney property, you’re invited to a free campfire gathering to eat s’mores, watch a Disney movie, and sing along to old camp songs. The times for this vary depending on the season, so call Fort Wilderness to find out when you should head over. Added perk – Chip and Dale usually stop by and this is one of the only ways to enjoy a character experience for free.
(23) Be the nice person on the bus. Give up your seat to an older person or a woman that’s expecting. Help someone who is struggling with a stroller. Offer kleenex, park maps, or advice if someone needs it. Seriously – so rewarding!
(24) The Carrot Cake Cookie at The Writer’s Stop in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I can’t even…too hard to…you just have to get one. AMAZING.
(25) The Ultimate Disney Day if you have no Fastpasses. Lots of sites will offer you one-day plans for your day at WDW but mine wins. Wake up early and take a morning run through your resort. Get cleaned up and ready for the day with Stacey’s Must Do List playing in the background (it’s tradition!). Drive to the Polynesian resort.and valet park your car for $15 so you can go in and get some Tonga Toast and hot chocolate at the Captain Cooks. Take the monorail to Magic Kingdom for park opening and head to the left because the bulk of the crowd will go to the right or straight through the castle. Start with Splash Mountain, move on to Big Thunder Mountain, hit up Haunted Mansion and keep moving around the edge of the park, hitting It’s a Small World, Dumbo, Mickey’s Philharmagic, and any Fantasyland action that doesn’t have a long line. Grab a hot dog or an enormous cookie ice cream sandwich on your way out of the park and catch a bus to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. If you don’t have Fastpasses, you’re probably out of luck for Tower of Terror but it might be worth checking the single rider line at Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster so stop over there. If it’s a no, ride The Great Movie Ride, experience The Magic of Disney Animation, visit the Muppets at MuppetVision 3D, and see if you can grab lunch without a reservation at the Sci-Fi Dine-in to cool off. Either take the boat or the 30 minute walking path over to Epcot and head to Spaceship Earth since the lines should have calmed down by now. Move on to the Nemo and Friends ride or Ellen’s Energy Adventure (depending on your preference) and then stroll around the countries grabbing snacks from each pavilion to create a continental dinner. Finish the night with a funnel cake and a spot against the wall to view Illuminations. Don’t forget to grab a bus back to the Polynesian to pick up your car!