I’ve Been to Disney World Over a Dozen Times, Here Are 3 Things I Never Miss (and 3 I’d Never Do Again)

Do: rope drop. Don’t: skip a buffer day.

Catrina Yohay/Paula Boudes

I was 19 months old during my first trip to Disney World (God bless free admission for littles). Since then, I’ve visited the Orlando, Florida destination just over a dozen times and counting—with more trips on the horizon. As a seasoned vet, I’ve weathered my fair share of Disney wins and whiffs. So, before you embark on your own vacation, read on for three things I never miss while visiting the happiest place on earth, plus three mistakes I’ll never make again.

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Abigail Nilsson/Walt Disney World

DO: Stay at a Disney Resort Property

For the full Disney experience, staying on property is the way to go. With multiple lodging options ranging from value resorts that start around $200 a night to deluxe hotels that will set you back much more, there’s something for every budget and party size—including family suites, cabins and private villas. The benefits are also too good to ignore including early park admission, extended evening hours, access to Disney dining plans and additional flexibility on dining reservations, plus proximity and convenience with multiple forms of complimentary transportation to and from the parks.

For me, the devil is in the Disney details: the transformative theming throughout each hotel, the intricate storytelling around every corner, heck, even the Mickey Mouse wake-up call that greets you in the morning. The resorts have a unique way of keeping the magic alive long after you leave the parks. It’s nostalgia that strikes a deeper chord and elicits a special kind of pure, uninhibited joy you’re only able to feel when you think no one’s watching. To experience that is an extraordinary thing (and, in my opinion, worth every penny). 

DON’T: Wing It on Dining

Though the crowds may come and go, table service dining reservations will always be a hot commodity at Disney. Even if you’ve done your research and plan on hitting the parks during the low season, winging your sit-down meals will no doubt cause more grief than good. Utilizing the advanced restaurant booking option will save you the headache of limited options, ridiculous wait times and hangry travelers.

To that end, the Disney dining reservation window opens up 60 days before your planned arrival, and though that may sound like plenty of time, we don’t suggest you dilly-dally. Set a reminder on your phone for the first day reservations open to increase your chances of securing the experience and dining time of your choosing, especially if your party is large or you’re hoping to lock in any of the popular character dining options. If your top picks are already full, continue to check availability leading up to your visit (and even day of while exploring the park) as someone else’s canceled lunch at Roundup Rodeo BBQ could be your vacation highlight.

Amy Smith/Walt Disney World

DO: Rope Drop on Park Days

For the uninitiated, “rope drop” refers to the official theme park opening each morning when cast members welcome guests into the various lands. It’s an insider term that essentially means you’re first in line to enter the park and therefore, first in line for your favorite attractions. To successfully rope drop, you need to arrive at the park well ahead of the listed opening time (I suggest about an hour before, but you do you). Once you scan in using your MagicBand, you’ll be able to enter the park and beeline your way to your desired area where you’ll be greeted by cast members holding, you guessed it, crowd control ropes. Once the park officially opens, the ropes are dropped and the fast walking begins (because yes, you will get yelled at if you run).

Rope dropping requires an early wake-up call and lots of Joffrey’s coffee, but it’s the easiest way to make the most of your day and check off a handful of popular rides before the wait times max out. Plus, without the crowds, it’ll feel like you have the park to yourself (and there’s no better time to snap that photo in front of the castle). 

DON’T: Skip a Buffer Day

I’m a firm believer in hitting up all four of Disney World’s main parks in a single visit (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios), but four straight days of early mornings, late nights and 20K steps will exhaust even the most seasoned Disney diehards. If time allows, building in a buffer day to put your feet up by the pool or grab a bite at the resort will make your overall vacation way more enjoyable. And who knows, you may even run into Goofy on your way to the hotel lobby.

My preferred Disney vacation formula? Two park days, one buffer day, followed by two more park days (with plenty of snack refueling in between).

Matt Stroshane/Walt Disney World

DO: Get Disney Genie+ (but Maybe Not in Every Park)

Disney Genie+ is a paid service that allows guests to skip the line on select rides via a special queue called a “lightning lane.” Only one lightning lane selection can be made at a time, and guests must either redeem their current selection or wait two hours before making another. Though it debuted in 2021 with a flat rate, the service now utilizes dynamic pricing ranging from $15 to $35 per person, depending on how busy the park is.

If I’ve already lost you, no shade. Perfecting the art of the Genie+ service takes research and patience (more tips here), but to maximize your time and avoid lengthy lines, it’s well worth the investment—just not necessarily at every park.

Like most things in life, not every Disney World park is created equal, and though Genie+ might be crucial in some, it’s not as necessary in others. If you’re on a tighter budget, skip paying for the service when visiting Epcot or Animal Kingdom. In general, these parks tend to have shorter wait times, lighter crowds and fewer attractions available on the app (plus Animal Kingdom closes earlier than the other parks, so there’s less value overall). To get the most bang for your buck, stick to using Genie+ in both Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios.

DON’T: Be Swayed by Snack Seduction

It’s no secret Disney World is known for its crowd-pleasing snacks—they have T-shirts to prove it, after all. From popcorn and pretzels to churros and Dole Whip, there’s no shortage of treats to indulge in while on property. If the algorithm’s up to snuff, we bet your Instagram feed has been filled with “best of” Disney food roundups and “can’t miss” snack tours for weeks leading up to your trip. If you’re hoping to plan the perfect vacation, you may think you need to experience them all, but at $6 plus a pop, those tiny treats can add up quickly. To save money (and avoid buyer’s remorse) don’t be swayed by snack seduction. Read up on reliable reviews (we suggest this interactive food guide by one of our favorite Disney content creators), map out your must-haves and enjoy the goodness—after you snap a pic, of course.

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Executive Managing Editor

Catrina oversees content production across all PureWow verticals. When she's not managing editorial schedules, digital issues or newsletter production, you can find her...