While visiting Walt Disney World is one of the most magical vacations you can possibly go on, if you are travelling from the UK there is a lot to think about before arriving. Coming from someone who has flown to Orlando well over 25 times from the UK, hopefully I can provide a few things that will assist anyone who is heading to WDW soon! Many of these tips can also be applied for any visitor to the parks.
Book a seat close to the front of the plane
I will give away this tip on the basis that you all promise to make sure that you allow me a seat close to the front whenever I have a trip coming up! So why does it matter where you sit on the plane, one word, immigration.
Flying for 9+ hours is a long time to be sat in the same position and when the plane lands the last thing you want to be doing is queuing at immigration and speaking from experience, the queue can be lengthy if you land at a busy time of day.
Booking your seat close to the front of the plan allows you to get off the plane ahead of hundreds of others (though sadly not Premium Economy or First Class) which could save you a lot of time and get you to WDW a lot faster! If like me you can’t afford to travel First Class or Premium Economy then do keep in mind that there are Economy seats available upstairs with airlines such as Virgin Atlantic and upstairs always get let off the aircraft first.
Pro tip – If you have been to the US within the last couple of years you can travel through the faster lanes at immigration, I believe you also need to be a smaller party to be able to do this. I have seen the immigration officer’s waiver the rule on visiting within a couple of years before so do keep that in mind. Orlando Airport was actually the very first to introduce a fast-track clearance service to international travelers.
Book FastPass+ and Restaurants Before You Go
Speaking of fast-track services, (see how I linked these two together?) FastPass+ is a free service offered by Disney that allows you to book up to three experiences a day in advance so you can skip the regular lines for some of the most popular attractions on property.
You can book these up to 30 days in advance or 60 days if you are staying at any of the Walt Disney World Resort Hotels so it is well worth doing and all of this is done via the My Disney Experience App.
If you are worried about planning every part of your vacation don’t, you can change these as and when you like once you are there. If you don’t book in advance you will find it hard to find a FastPass+ on the day for some of more popular attractions like Frozen Ever After, Toy Story Midway Mania and Soarin’ Around the World.
Restaurants at Walt Disney World can be booked 180 days in advance and again I would advise doing this as soon as you possibly can. As soon as that 180 day mark hits, get onto the MDE app and book. Restaurants such as Be Our Guest and Le Cellier are always fully booked and I have known them to show no reservations at all even if you leave it half a day late in booking.
Restaurant reservations can be changed at any time (up to 24 hours before the meal itself) so don’t feel too concerned with booking so far in advance.
In short, planning is essential when going to Walt Disney World and is perhaps even more important when travelling from the UK.
Manage Your Spending
Make sure you keep an eye on the exchange rate months before you travel as the ever fluctuating rate can make a huge difference on the amount of dollars you can get for the pound.
On top of this, while of course Disney takes cards (you can also map your card onto your MagicBand) I find that taking dollars is a much better way to manage spending when in Disney. Hotel rooms in Disney all have safes and what I tend to do is split my money out per day that way I don’t end up spending it all in a couple of days, something that is very possible if you are a huge Disney fan like myself.
Be prepared to tip heavily too and make sure you take additional dollars for tipping. Whereas in the UK tipping is not something we do, ever, it is commonplace in all restaurants across Walt Disney World. If you are travelling with a party of 6 or more, 18% gratuity is added as standard and is mandatory to pay.
Stay at Walt Disney World
If it’s your first trip to Walt Disney World and if you can, I would recommend staying at one of the many fantastic hotels on property. I have stayed at many from value, moderate and deluxe and can honestly say that all of them gave me a great experience. Obviously the more expensive the hotel the better the quality but generally you can’t go wrong.
Not only does staying at Disney give you a more magical experience but you also get the benefits of Extra Magic Hours, MagicBands and transportation to and from every location on property. Disney buses tend to run every 20 minutes or so and are a great way to get around the resort free of charge. Considering Walt Disney World is around twice as large as Manhattan, walking is not an option.
From my experience, most people visiting from the UK tend to stay 2-3 weeks in Orlando, normally 2 weeks.
One of the worst possible things you can do (and speaking from experience this will ruin your trip) is rush around the parks to try and fit in as much as possible, as fast as possible. While you might be able to do this for a couple of days, by day three you will get tired, grouchy and will be starting arguments with whoever you are travelling with.
It helps that I have been fortunate enough to travel to WDW so many times but we tend to get to the parks as soon as they open and often do not leave until they close, every day. How you might ask? We take things slowly, sit and rest when we need too, sometimes having a drink and just enjoying the park atmosphere for an hour or so.
You don’t need to rush from one attraction to the next; there is so much of the parks to explore outside of just the experiences that are on the map, though that’s a whole different blog post!
Also, don’t be afraid of taking a cheeky afternoon nap back at the hotel.
Related to this, all flights from the UK to Orlando arrive late afternoon/early evening and don’t forget the time difference. I would advise getting to bed at around 9/10pm to ensure a good night’s sleep. If you achieve this then there shouldn’t be any jet lag the next day and you can enjoy a full day at the parks!
Take advantage of the FREE Disney Dining Plan
Most Americans I have spoken to in the past have advised against taking out the Disney Dining Plan and I can see the reasoning behind it, it’s often not worth the price and can work out more expensive than simply paying for the meals. If you are from the UK and travelling for 2+ weeks then it is well worth it providing you book the more expensive restaurants that are available on the plan.
Once a year (usually) Disney put on an offer whereby if you book to stay in select resort hotels you receive free dining for the duration of your stay. If you can choose a resort that gives the middle tier dining plan (one snack, sit down meal and counter service per day) then it makes complete sense to take advantage of the offer.
As mentioned, take advantage of the restaurants that have the most expensive menus to really enjoy the benefits of the Disney Dining Plan, don’t be afraid to choose restaurants that require two credits. If you are going around October/November time you can also use your snack credits at the International Food & Wine Festival at Epcot.
Magical Express Booking
For those staying on property at WDW, Magical Express is available to take you from Orlando International Airport to your hotel (and back again when you leave). Booking this isn’t quite as simple as it is in America and you will need to fill in a separate online form in order to be able to secure a place on one of the buses.
We usually stay on property and I would recommend taking the Magical Express if you are primarily planning on going to the parks at WDW. We often also visit Sea World and Universal Orlando (think Harry Potter!) parks but catch a cab from our hotel to these parks.
If you are planning on renting a car you can still catch the Magical Express as Disney offers a service of bringing your rental car to your resort at a later date.
I could have written a lot more tips here but think this post would have gone onto to be a bit of an essay to read! UK readers, do you have any other tips for travelers going to Walt Disney World?
Ryan has been travelling to Walt Disney World from the UK since a young age of just 3 and his trips over the years inspired him to start Themeparktrader.com, a site dedicated to bringing theme park news from all over the world in one location. He also produces a weekly podcast with the co-founder of Theme Park Trader and spends a lot of his spare time on Twitter @ryanogs.
Need more Disney in your life?