WHERE THE PROS GO

Walt Disney World Resort
By Suzanne Aresco

I admit it: I am still a child at heart and a true believer in Disney magic. My heart beats faster every time I walk down Main Street USA in Disney’s Magic Kingdom toward Cinderella coaster ride that sends me on twists and turns in the dark. So, you can imagine how excited I was to escort 30 of our AAA Travel associates for a four-day Agent Education Program to learn tips and tricks for planning a spectacular Walt Disney World Vacation.

Weary from early morning flights, we quickly discovered the magic in using Disney’s Magical Express motor coach transportation. Our bags, which we checked at the airport at our departure cites, were carried away to our Disney resort upon arrival at Orlando International Airport, allowing us to bypass baggage claim. In fact, we didn’t have to touch our bags until they appeared in our hotel rooms. Magical Express is just one of the perks available for guests staying at select Disney resorts. The Disney motor coach brought us directly to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, which is modeled after an African safari camp. With giraffes, zebras, gazelles and flamingos roaming the property, this resort captures the spirit of Africa. And, if you book a Savanna View room, you’re likely to see these animals right from the balcony of your room.

Our first pro tip is to preregister prior to your vacation to ensure that check-in at your resort is a breeze. You can do this at MyDisneyExperience.com, where you can download the Disney app to keep track of all your plans and select your personalized MagicBands. MagicBands are your park tickets, resort room key and form of payment all rolled into one convenient wristband. Our group preregistered and arrived at the resort with our MagicBands on our wrists. As soon as our rooms were ready, we were notified via text and were able to access our rooms using the MagicBand.

We also learned how to book FastPass+ reservations for those must-do rides. FastPass+ allows you to reserve a window of time up to 60 days prior to arrival to ride select attractions, so you don’t have to spend as much time in line in the parks. In Disney’s Animal Kingdom, I recommend getting a FastPass+ for Avatar Flight of Passage in Pandora: The World of Avatar. In Disney’s Hollywood Studios, use your FastPass+ for the Slinky Dog Dash rollercoaster in Toy Story Land. Because of their thrills and unique features, both were top-rated with our entire group, and we were thankful that we could zip through the FastPass+ line in the parks with a touch of our MagicBands.

One of the first things that our group learned in our welcome session is that the Walt Disney World Resort comprises four theme parks—the Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot—two water parks, more than 30 resorts and villas, and sprawling campgrounds scattered across the 40 square miles that are home to this popular vacation destination. Wow!

Walt Disney World also features more than 400 restaurants throughout its parks and resorts. With so many dining choices, it’s common not to know where to start. That’s why our next pro tip is to add a Disney Dining Plan to a Walt Disney World vacation package and make advance reservations at restaurants, especially those highly sought-after reservations for Character Dining experiences.

Disney dining enthusiasts often make dining plans as soon as the reservation system allows: 180 days in advance of their arrival. Those staying at Disney-owned and -operated resorts can book dining for the length of their stay—up to 10 days. Popular options such as Chef Mickey’s character breakfast at Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Be Our Guest Restaurant at Disney’s Magic Kingdom fill up 180 days in advance. Our AAA team recommends that you allow plenty of time on your itinerary to experience Disney’s memorable dining establishments and to schedule your dining plans so that you are close to the parks or other attractions that you want to visit each day.

Our third pro tip is to pick the Disney resort that best suits your personality, budget and vacation needs. Our AAA travel agents had the opportunity to visit Deluxe, Moderate and Value resorts. We loved the feeling of being on an African safari at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, our host hotel. And everyone felt the modern vibe at Disney’s Contemporary Resort as the monorail glided right through the main concourse of the resort to whisk guests to the Magic Kingdom. We also explored two whimsical Value resorts: Disney’s Art of Animation and Disney’s Pop Century Resort, where we had the chance to view the Disney Skyliner, a gondola-style transportation system scheduled to open September 29 that will connect these resorts to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Finally, we toured the Wilderness Lodge and the new Copper Creek Cabins, perfect for a multigenerational family looking for a lot of space to spread out.

Walt Disney World is a place where you never see everything on one trip, and new attractions are continually revealed. New this year is Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This long-awaited land presents the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run attraction and the Planet Batuu, where you can sip blue or green milk at the Milk Stand—just like Luke Skywalker. Consider a visit during the holiday season to experience Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom (these events require a separate ticket).

As travel agents, my colleagues and I are fortunate to travel to such amazing places as Walt Disney World Resort so that we can offer advice to make your trip memorable. We would love to help plan your next trip to the Happiest Place on Earth.

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