How to visit Disney like a pro

Next time you travel to Disney, do it the right way.

Next time you travel to Disney, do it the right way.  (iStock)

Pulling off a perfectly harmonious family vacation at Disney World may be harder than dislodging "It's a Small World" from your brain. But follow these ten do's and don'ts at Disney World and you may actually have—dare we say it?—a magical time.

Don’t: Insist on a Disney-run hotel.

There are perks to staying at one of Disney's 31 hotels and resorts, including extended hours and free parking at the parks, one-stop booking, and heavily themed public spaces that will wow the kids. Tempting, we know. What Disney's properties don't offer, however, are the better value, nicer rooms, and tricked-out amenities that you can find elsewhere in town.

Instead: Shop around.

Orlando attracts a lot of conventions, and you'll often find a higher-quality hotel experience at places that cater mostly to conventioneers rather than Mouseketeers. The Waldorf Astoria Orlando, for example, opened in 2009 near Epcot, and rates can be $100 less than at the Grand Floridian (Disney's top-tier resort) and only about half the price at certain times of year. The Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott in Grande Lakes and the brand-new Four Seasons Resort Orlando are also good options.

Don't: Rely on Disney buses.

Disney's extensive bus network will get you between its parks and hotels for free, but there is still a price: your time and patience. After a long day of waiting in line for rides and attractions, it's a drag to wait in line for a bus ride—especially one that can be excruciatingly slow and uncomfortably crowded. The bus system locks you into orbiting exclusively within the world of Disney. Sure, you could take a taxi, but the fare adds up quickly.

Instead: Rent a car.

Because of mass visitor volume, Orlando has some of the cheapest rental rates in the country—as low as $25 a day. All of the usual suspects are represented at the airport (Hertz, Avis, Enterprise). Of course, the $17 daily parking fees at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom do add up (parking is free if you stay at a Disney-run hotel). The low rental rates buy you a lot of freedom, though: Having a car lets you visit non-Disney theme parks, explore downtown Orlando's thriving food scene, or even hit the beach.

Don't: Overspend for tickets.

Disney pushes its Magic Your Way tickets, which are one- to ten-day passes valid for the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Disney's Animal Kingdom. Given the steep discounts on multi-day tickets, the impulse is to buy tickets for as many days as you'll be in Orlando. But if you have unused tickets at the end of your trip—say, if a rainy day keeps you away from the parks, or if you decide to do something that's not mouse-approved—you can't get a refund.

Instead: Play it by ear.

Since you can upgrade a Magic Your Way ticket and get the same multi-day discount, it pays to buy conservatively and add more days, if necessary. Note, too, that Magic Your Way tickets only get you into one of the four parks per day. The $54 Park Hopper add-on, which allows you to visit multiple parks each day, is worthwhile for many visitors—especially those who have only a few days in Orlando and want to cover as much ground as possible.

Don't: Wait in line.

Patience is a virtue at Disney, where it's common to wait in line much longer than the ride itself lasts. However, that doesn't mean that you should resign yourself to wasting hours of precious vacation time. Dying to go on Splash Mountain, but not willing to brave the hour-long queue? There is a way around it.

Instead: Skip the line.

Dozens of Disney's most popular attractions are now equipped with the FastPass+ system, which essentially holds your spot in line, leaving you free to explore other parts of the park. You can pick which attractions you want to use the pass for before you even leave home, then proceed there during your assigned time slot to leapfrog nearly to the front of the line. There are a set number of FastPasses per ride per day—and they do run out—so you'll do well to get one for a ride on your must-do list as soon as you arrive at the park.

See more in-the-know travel tips for Disney.

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