As a Disney World "native," I know a lot of things tourists get wrong when visiting the parks.
It's definitely worth it to check out the resorts and water parks outside of the theme parks.
Don't feel pressured to do it all in one trip because there's no way anyone could.
Growing up just a few miles from Disney World, I consider myself a Disney native. Heading to the parks on the weekends, for day trips, and "just because" was my normal.
One of my favorite parts of living in Orlando was the sheer number of tourists. Sharing this little corner of the globe with people far and wide was a special experience, and it made the community warm and welcoming to outsiders.
But there are a few things I wish tourists knew when planning their trip to Disney World.
There's plenty to explore outside the 4 main theme parks
I love a day spent at one of Disney World's four theme parks, but there's more to the property.
Popping over to Disney Springs (the shopping, entertainment, and dining district) and the Disney resorts is well worth your time. Plus, they're free to visit.
Related video: These are the most expensive spots in Disney parks
Pro-tip: You don't have to be a guest to visit the hotels. But you can't park in the lots unless you have a confirmed dining reservation. Hop on Disney transportation (like buses, monorails, or the Skyliner) if you're just looking to explore.
Although you have to buy a ticket, the two Disney water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, are also must-dos.
An annual pass is cheaper than you might think
I'm a lifetime annual passholder, and it's really not that expensive if you visit the parks often — even if you can't benefit from the sweet Florida-resident discounts.
If you don't live in-state, a pass costs about $1,300 a year. But one-day tickets can cost over $100 and one-day park-hopper tickets are closer to $200.
If you're planning on taking a few multiday vacations to the parks a year — especially at peak teams like spring break and the winter holidays when ticket prices peak — the annual pass will probably save you money.
Not to mention the added perks of the pass, like not having to pay for parking at the parks, having the ability to park-hop, and getting discounts across the property.
You can always upgrade your day pass to an annual pass.
It's nice to have a little escape from the Disney bubble
There's so much to do in Central Florida, and I wish I didn't wait so long to explore Downtown Orlando, Winter Park, Winter Garden, and Celebration.
You'll find amazing dining, shopping, and cultural sites. Or, better yet, drive to the local natural springs, state parks, or one of the state's beaches.
Plan for rain even on the sunniest days
In Florida, you can almost always count on rain.
The tropical weather is unpredictable year-round. It could be beautiful one minute and pouring rain the next — especially in the warmer months or during hurricane season.
Even if you're used to rain back home, it's a whole different breed here. You can expect huge gusts of wind, thunder, and lightning.
Bring your own rain ponchos and umbrellas and carry them with you. If you spot rain, head inside for a bit. Odds are, it'll be over before you know it.
Always travel in the off-season if you can
As a native Floridian, you couldn't pay me to go to Disney World during a school holiday.
Always do your best to travel in the off-season. This means skipping summer vacation, spring break, and the winter holidays.
Though not always possible depending on your family's schedule, you'll save a little time and money by visiting in February, May, September, and early October. Plus, the weather is great those times of year.
I'm a big fan of taking an afternoon break
Naps aren't just for those under 5, especially when you're on a Disney vacation.
The parks are overwhelming, the Florida weather can be brutal, and it's tough on your body to walk all day. If you plan to "rope-drop" the parks (enter right when they open the gates) it's a big ask to stay until closing.
Don't hesitate to head back to your hotel and take a break around 3 p.m. or so. Not only is this the warmest (and most miserable) part of the day, but it makes staying late so much more reasonable.
If you're traveling with kids, this break is a must. But even if you don't want to take a nap, this is a great time to rest at the resort, jump in the pool, or just soak up some much-needed AC.
Arrive before the park opens if you want the 'rope-drop' perks
It might sound nice to lounge around in the mornings, slowly but surely making your way to the Disney parks by opening time. But you'll probably end up being late.
There's an unspoken rule that the parks open a little early. This is especially true when there are popular attractions, like Rise of the Resistance and Flight of Passage.
If possible, arrive at the park 30 minutes to an hour before opening. This will let you get the perfect spot in line to rope-drop.
The first hour after the park opens usually has the shortest wait times.
You'll never be able to do it all in one trip
With so much to do in Disney World, you have to make peace with the fact that you can't possibly do everything. Even if you spend more than a day in each park, time has a way of getting away from you.
Instead of rushing from activity to activity, focus on being mindful in the moment. The magic of Disney really comes alive in the downtime, so don't be afraid to go off on a midday adventure or stop and watch a sudden show.
It's better to go at a reasonable pace than to overwhelm yourself and your family trying to do it all.
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