Pitfalls To Avoid When Planning Your Family Trip To Disney World

Millions of people visit Disney World each year, which not only means the parks are still very popular but also that there is a lot of good and bad advice out there. When you're planning a trip to the Most Magical Place on Earth (remember: Disneyland is the Happiest Place on Earth) there are a few ways to ensure your trip has a little extra pixie dust. After all, the four busiest theme parks on Earth are Disney parks, so there is a lot of magic to go around. Over 157 million guests will visit a Disney park somewhere in the world during the year and there's a reason why folks clamor for that Disney magic time and time again (per USA Today).

If you plan on being one of the nearly 60 million annual visitors to the world's most popular theme park, keep these tactics in mind (via Magic Guides). By doing a little pre-planning you'll save yourself from a whole lot of Disney-induced headaches (and hopefully prevent some park day meltdowns, too). From saving money to enhancing the Disney magic, knowing your way around the watering hole to perfecting the art of the reservation, we've got your Disney bases covered.

Staying off-property

Although more expensive, staying on property means access to a lot of extras. Free transportation to the parks and other resorts and extra time in the parks means more magic for your family. Though a lot has changed in the last few years in terms of on-property hotel guest perks, there are two distinct advantages, according to Undercover Tourist. Per the outlet, on-site resort guests are able to book both Lightning Lane ride selections and dining reservations before anyone else. Those are both big deals for planning focused Disney guests. For example, off-property guests aren't able to book Lightning Lane reservations until 7 a.m. the day of their visit to that park. So who knows if your favorite ride would even be available by then!

More than that, the Disney bubble is real for guests, particularly if they stay on-site. The Disney bubble is how folks describe the immersive quality of a Disney vacation. When staying at a Disney hotel, you get to keep that immersive bubble going 24/7, even on off-park days. Perhaps that's one big reason why TouringPlans reports that 90% of their users stay on-site during Disney World visits. The site also mentions that guests tend to prefer Disney resort hotels because of their commitment to options as well as the quality of the rooms and property.

Not taking advantage of refillable mugs

When staying at a Disney property, you'll have access to their refillable mugs. For one price, you get a reusable mug that can be filled for free all day every day of your trip for up to two weeks at all resort hotel properties, even if it isn't your home base hotel. That means free coffee, soda, and anything you get from the drink stations. Treasured Family Travels says the refillable mug is absolutely the best deal at Disney World. The site mentions that not only are the mugs lidded with a handle, but they're also insulated so your cold beverages will stay cooler longer, even in the blistering Florida sun.

Disney Dining notes that whether or not you buy a mug depends on how many non-water beverages you consume. For instance, the outlet explains that just a cup of coffee at Pop Century Resort is $3.49, so over five days that equates to $17.45, which is nearly the cost of the refillable mug. Even if you only used the fountain beverage station twice a day it would be worth it even for just a few days on the property. Don't forget you can fill up your cup with Powerade in the morning to get ahead of your hydration goals for the day! Just like single-use water bottles, drinks like Powerade are more expensive at Disney Parks, so utilize those refillable mug savings.

Forgetting your park reservation

Park reservations are a relatively new phenomenon at Disney World, stemming from the reduced capacity following the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, they're required to enter each park even if you have tickets, so it's important not to forget to make your reservations! It's possible that you can make a reservation on the day of your park visit, so long as the park hasn't run out of reservations. According to Disney Tourist Blog, the two parks that are consistently hitting their reservation limits are Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. While Bob Iger has said he will look into the reservation system now that he is in charge again, there is no definite end date for the system as of now.

USA Today says guests should go ahead and make their reservations when their tickets are purchased to ensure availability. Your reservations can be changed at a later time if your plans change. If the park you want to visit isn't available the day you want to go, you can keep checking to see if it becomes available or add on a Park Hopper pass, which allows you to change parks after 2 p.m. (via USA Today). Depending on the kind of tickets you have (or if you're an Annual Passholder) will determine how many park reservations (3-5) you can have at any one time (per WDW Prep School). Not to worry though, once you use a park reservation, you can make another one for the next open day in your vacation itinerary.

Paying full price

While there might not be a lot of on-site discounts to take advantage of at Disney World, some pre-planning can save you a lot in the long run. Mostly this can be done by buying discounted Disney gift cards or utilizing any programs like a membership at Cosco or BJs that you might have. While Mousehacking admits that gift cards can seem like a lesser value than using cash, they explain that if you plan on spending a lot of money at Disney, it makes sense to use gift cards. The outlet reports that you can generally get Disney gift cards at a discount of between 5-10% fairly easily with stores like Target always selling them to RedCard members at that 5% discount.

Disney Tourist Blog states that it can take a little while to get the hang of getting the best gift card deals out there between credit card rewards and discounts. Still, the site says as long as you aren't putting yourself into debt to try and save a little money, it's nice to save a bit of money on a trip. You can combine your gift cards up to $1,000 on the Disney Gift Card site and keep track of them using your Disney account login information. You can also use the gift cards to pay for your hotel bill or anything else on Disney property, including snacks and souvenirs.

Forgetting an external battery

Disney World can be a drain on your stamina, but it's also a drain on your phone's battery life. While you can rent portable chargers throughout Disney World, save yourself the fee by bringing your own to charge each night. Largely because of the My Disney Experience App, you might be using your phone more often than you normally would which means your battery isn't going to last as long as it normally would. Knowing that, it makes sense to pack a power bank or external battery to keep your phone alive during even the longest of park days.

How To Disney notes that though you might be able to plug into a charging area somewhere in the different parks, it's much easier to charge your phone on the go with a battery pack. The site also mentions that charging packs aren't hard to pack and are pretty affordable, especially for how useful they can be. Don't miss out on those extra photo moments because of a dead phone! Keep in mind too that you can rent a power bank at various locations throughout Disney World, though if you plan on returning it might be worth just buying one outright.

Always paying for water

Did you know that one freebie you can always get around Disney World is ice water? Stop by most quick-service restaurants, food kiosks or stands that serve fountain beverages and ask the cast member for a cup of ice water. You can even save the ice cubes in a refillable water bottle (or your refillable resort mug) and fill it at a water fountain for more ice-cold water. Southern Living notes that water fountains and bottle refill areas are often found near restrooms at the different parks for easy access.

Steps to Magic mentions that some of the water fountain water can taste pretty mediocre, though you find spots once in a while that are cold and refreshing, like the fountain between the Crystal Palace restaurant and The Emporium on Main Street USA. The site also says you can always stop into one of the Disney World Starbucks locations for their patented triple-filtered water, but you will need to wait in line for it. Don't worry, it's still free! Plus you get some much-needed air conditioning while you wait, so it's a win-win.

Not taking advantage of popcorn buckets

One of the ways you can tell who is a frequent Disney parks attendee and who isn't is who takes advantage of the incredible popcorn deal around the park. If you purchase a popcorn bucket, you can get unlimited popcorn refills for just $2.20. That's true even with popcorn buckets you've purchased in the parks in the past, which is awesome for anyone who has a bucket they really love.

Because of the low price point, Magical Guides says the popcorn refills are one of the best budget snacks in the parks. They also point out that you can buy just a popcorn box that isn't refillable for $5.50, but it's probably worth the extra to get a proper bucket that can be filled again. Although the classic butter flavor is the one included in that $2.20 refill price, Magical Guides also says there are several kinds of popcorn to be found all over Disney World, from the tasty maple popcorn in Canada at EPCOT to Kat Saka's kettle corn in Galaxy's Edge in Hollywood Studios.

For folks looking for particular kinds of popcorn buckets, The Mouse For Less suggests looking in places that would thematically make the most sense. For example, if you want an animal or "The Lion King" design, check out Animal Kingdom, or for "Star Wars" fans, your best bet for themed buckets is at Hollywood Studios. Keep in mind, some of the buckets are very popular and will sell out.

Neglecting dining reservations

Several dining locations around Disney World require dining reservations ahead of time. While there might be limited availability for walk-ups, some locations don't offer walk-up dining at all. It's important to keep in mind where you want to eat before you get to the parks; reservations open 60 days before your trip.

Undercover Tourist says that folks who venture out to Disney World during less busy times of the year can relax a little more about making dining reservations because they won't disappear as quickly. Even so, the outlet also mentions that if your Disney World vacation is a major milestone in your life, it's worth making reservations as soon as you can. But Undercover Tourist also suggests checking the My Disney Experience App for dining availabilities starting a week before your trip because you might be able to score a cancellation reservation.

If you do forget to make reservations, there are a handful of locations that usually have availability. The Mouse For Less suggests checking out dining spots like The Plaza or The Diamond Horseshoe at Magic Kingdom, Coral Reef or Nine Dragons at EPCOT, Hollywood and Vine at Hollywood Studios, and Yak and Yeti at Animal Kingdom.

Skipping rest days

Traversing Disney World is not for the faint of heart. Even for the most athletic Disney parks adventurers, rest days are important to recoup your stamina and to just enjoy your resort. Disney resorts are full of activity, hidden details and amenities to enjoy, so be sure to see them! When it comes to making the most out of a well-deserved rest day, Mickey Blog has a few suggestions for the weary traveler. First of all, sleep in or take naps throughout the day before lounging at the pool, the site says. Per Mickey Blog, you could also venture out to Disney Springs for a little shopping, go golfing or go resort hopping to see the non-park Disney sights.

Kenny the Pirate says the best way to spend a rest day is to head over to The Boardwalk. Not only do you have access to lots of food options, resorts to peruse, and shops to meander, but you also get gorgeous views of the river too. The site also says you and your family can even rent bikes to take a scenic ride around Crescent Lake. Plus, if you stick around until nighttime, there's usually a movie playing on the Village Green (per Kenny the Pirate). Don't forget to stop by Beaches and Cream for an ice cream treat while visting The Boardwalk, too!

Not downloading the app

Even if you don't plan on using Genie+ or Lightning Lane during your Disney World vacation, the My Disney Experience App is a must-have. From wait times to reservation modifications, a lot can be done in the app. You can even find out if Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is down before trekking across the park.

All Ears calls the MDE app (also known as the Disney World App) a "lifesaver" and something guests absolutely need for their trip, particularly newcomers. Beyond the more complex uses of the app, it also includes a map so you know where you are, which can be really helpful if you're desperately searching for a bathroom or need to make a reservation on time.

For guests looking to attend as many spectacle events as possible during their Disney World adventure, the app can be a big help. Per Disney Lists, the app includes all the information you'll need to get to all the parades or fireworks on time. You can also find out when different characters will be out for their meet-and-greet sessions as well as where they'll be in the different parks.

Over planning

It can be easy to over plan a Disney World vacation. Going hand in hand with planning rest days, it's vital to keep your schedule a little open to really experience the magic. If you over-plan, you might run yourself ragged (and your family too). It's OK to take a midday break before heading back to the parks later or calling it a night early, according to Insider. By the same token, the outlet notes that the ideal Disney World trip length is a week to give guests enough time to see what they want to see while still relaxing.

Not only does over-planning mean you don't have room for spur-of-the-moment surprises, but it can also set you up for disappointment. Disney Tourist Blog says that over-planning a vacation (of any kind) can create unnecessary stress and build up intense expectations. Instead of doing that, create a loose plan with reservations and must-do activities but leave room for some magical spontaneity.