Heather’s Hints

A Guide to Planning Your Walt Disney World® Trip With AOTA INSPIRE 2024—Save Money, Maximize Fun, and Navigate Like a Pro

Enjoy this series from AOTA’s own Heather Parsons, who is sharing her years of experience visiting Walt Disney World as a child (and an adult!), to help us make the most of our time in Orlando.

Heather Parsons, VP, AOTA Federal Affairs

As a child, my family went to Florida every summer to visit friends and relatives. We often spent a couple of days at Disney World, where I made some of my favorite childhood memories.  After a 25-year break, I took my husband and daughter on their first visit to Disney World in 2015. We have been going back ever since.

If you are thinking about pairing a trip to Walt Disney World with AOTA INSPIRE 2024, I hope the knowledge I have gained over the last 9 years, can help you plan your visit, save some money, and make your trip easier.  

Tip #1

Save Money By Buying Your Tickets Through the AOTA INSPIRE 2024 Hotel and Travel Page

A great perk of attending AOTA INSPIRE 2024 in Orlando is that you get access to discounted park tickets, reserved for AOTA INSPIRE 2024 attendees. These tickets provide a huge cost savings over what you would otherwise pay to visit Walt Disney World at the end of March. The conference site also allows you to buy discounted tickets for you to visit the park for a partial day.

Important information: If you buy an AOTA INSPIRE 2024 conference ticket, you will need to go into your “My Disney” account and make a park reservation. Because the conference tickets are not dated, Disney wants to know when you will be visiting their parks. You must make a reservation for the first park you will visit, for each day of your ticket. You can always modify this reservation as long as there is availability. If you have a park hopper, you may “hop” to any park after you have entered the park where you have your reservation. Partial day tickets also need a reservation. Be sure to check availability for your dates before purchasing your tickets.

In order to buy AOTA INSPIRE 2024 conference tickets, you must purchase your tickets by March 20, 2024.

Regardless of where you buy your tickets, one choice you will need to make is whether to buy a “1 Park Per Day” ticket that allows you to visit one theme park (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom) on each day of your ticket, or whether to buy a “Park Hopper” ticket that allows you to visit multiple theme parks each day. While “1 Park Per Day” tickets are cheaper, “Park Hoppers” give you more flexibility. Just keep in mind that you will have to take transportation to go from one park to the other as none of the parks except Epcot and Hollywood Studios are walking distance to each other, but there are multiple transportation options.

Tip #2

Make Your Reservations for Sit-Down Restaurants Up to 60 Days Before Your Visit

In March, spring break will be in full swing and theme parks will have some of the highest crowds they experience all year. One way to make sure you have a place to sit down and eat, is to make advanced dining reservations for any sit-down, table service restaurants you want to eat at. These reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance and are highly recommended, even at slower times of the year.

If you are unable to make dining reservations, continue to check back. Many people cancel reservations in the days leading up to their trip. I have found the most success looking for openings the night before. Finally, many restaurants allow you to join a walk-up list through their page in the My Disney Experience app, providing one more option to get into those table service restaurants. (I’ll discuss the app in more detail later).

You may prefer to be more spontaneous and skip dining reservations all together. There are lots of counter service restaurants throughout the parks, so you have plenty of food options. These dining locations can be found in the My Disney Experience app. Many counter services locations also allow you to mobile order your food ahead of time. Finally, you can also check out the Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot –there are dozens of outdoor kitchens with garden inspired menus.

If do you make a reservation, and choose not to go, remember to cancel it no less than two hours in advance or Disney charges a cancellation fee.

Tip #3

Download the My Disney Experience App

One of the most crucial things that you should do to make your Disney experience easier is to download the “My Disney Experience” app. Take the time to explore the app and all of its features so that you are familiar with them before you get to the parks. Here are a few features that I find the most useful.

• Maps: Select the map icon at the bottom of the main page of the app and it will take you into an interactive map of Walt Disney. The first page shows you rides and wait times. But if you click on the arrow next to “wait times” you get a drop-down menu with many different options including restrooms, character meets, entertainment options and dining locations. You can choose to see this information on the map, or you can see it in list form by selecting “show list”.

• Mobile Order: Most of the counter service locations at Walt Disney World allow you to order your food ahead of time through apps mobile order function. You can find this option by selecting the three horizontal lines on the bottom of the main page and then select “mobile food orders”. When you choose “create an order” you will see all the restaurants with mobile order options, and you can view their menus. On busy days, the only available arrival windows might be in the future. You can even plan ahead by selecting a 30-minute arrival window for a time in the future. Once you are close to the restaurant, you can let them know to prepare your food through the app.

• Tip Board: The tip board can also be found by selecting the three horizontal lines on the first page of the app. It will show you all the attractions and shows in each park and the wait or show time. From this page you can book your “lightning lanes” if you have purchased Genie+ to skip the lines (I will discuss lightning lanes more later). You can also toggle over to the dining tab of the tip board. This tab shows you what table service restaurants are currently accepting walk-ups and lets you join the walk-up list, what table service restaurants still have available reservations, and shows you the next mobile order arrival window for counter service restaurants.

Tip #4

Know What Each Park Has to Offer: Your Family’s Favorite May Not be the Magic Kingdom

• The Magic Kingdom: The Magic Kingdom is the park that everyone thinks of when they think of Walt Disney World. Cinderella’s castle sits at the heart of the park at the end of Main Street U.S.A. Different lands surround the castle including Fantasyland, which celebrates classic Disney stories such as Peter Pan, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Tomorrowland is based on a futuristic world and includes two roller coasters, “Space Mountain”, and the newest ride in Walt Disney World, “Tron”, which simulates bringing you into a computer before racing around the grid. Other lands include Liberty Square, where you can find the classic dark ride, the “Haunted Mansion”, and Adventureland, where you will find another classic dark ride, “The Pirates of The Caribbean”.

The Magic Kingdom has a daily parade and multiple small cavalcades of characters throughout the day. The evening finishes with a fireworks and projection show on Cinderella’s castle. The Magic Kingdom has more rides than any of the other parks, and is open the latest, making it a great choice if you are using a half-day ticket, or if you are only going to be able to visit one park during your trip.

• EPCOT: EPCOT is designed to highlight man’s achievements and different cultures around the world. In this way, it reminds me of a World’s Fair. The front half of the park includes a section named World Discovery, which is a celebration of science and technology, and includes my favorite roller coaster anywhere, the “Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind”. This section also includes “World Nature” that explores different parts of our planet and has a new exhibit, “Moana, Journey of Water”.

The back half of EPCOT is the World Showcase which celebrates 11 different countries. EPCOT will be hosting the International Flower & Garden Festival from February 28 to May 27th. This festival includes special topiary displays & exhibits, garden-inspired dishes at multiple outdoor kitchens, and a concert series. While EPCOT has some great rides for children including “Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure” and “Frozen Ever After”, it is often more popular with adults because of the focus on food and beverages, and because it is spread out over a large space, with fewer rides in between.   

• Hollywood Studios: As you can probably guess, Hollywood Studios is themed around the movies. This park tends to be a favorite for older kids and is one of my personal favorites as well.

A fan favorite land is “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” which includes an epic ride “Rise of the Resistance” that takes you through an Imperial star destroyer, has a life size Millenium Falcon that you can fly by riding the “Millenium Falcon Smuggler’s Run”, and where you may run into Chewbacca, Rey, or the Mandalorian.

The Toy Story Land is whimsical and built from the perspective of a toy in Andy’s back yard and includes three different rides and multiple character interactions.

Finally, “Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway” brings you inside a cartoon for an adventure with Mickey and Minnie. Hollywood Studios is extremely popular and tends to be one of the more crowded parks. If you need a break from the crowds, I recommend going to a show. My two favorites are the “Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular” and the “Frozen Sing-Along Celebration”.

• Animal Kingdom: The Animal Kingdom is both a theme park and a zoo combined. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, much of the park focuses on animals and animal conservation.

To me, Animal Kingdom is hands down the most beautiful of the four main parks, with an immersive environment that makes you forget you are in Orlando, Florida. There are many ways to see the animals including “Kilimanjaro Safaris” which take you on a ride to see the animals of the African savannahs, and multiple animal trails including Gorilla Falls, where you might see Grace, a four year old gorilla who received occupational therapy when she was young to help her overcome a delay in her motor coordination skills.

The park also highlights imaginary animals including an immersive land, Pandora, that is based on the Avatar movies. Pandora includes one of my other favorite rides, “Flight of Passage”, where you fly on the back of a mountain banshee. In Asia, you can ride “Expedition Everest”, a roller coaster where you barely escape the Yeti guarding the mountain.

While I adore Animal Kingdom, there are fewer rides here than in the other parks. If you have limited time, consider spending only half a day here. Unless your travel party loves animals, in which case you can easily fill an entire day.

• Typhoon Lagoon: Walt Disney World has two water parks that rotate in operation. Typhoon Lagoon is the water park that will be open starting March 16.

If you buy a Conference ticket through AOTA, it includes one free day at Typhoon Lagoon, or one of the two mini-golf courses on Disney property. Typhoon Lagoon has the largest wave pool in North America, with waves as tall as six feet! There are a total of 12 attractions, including an area for children, a lazy river, and seven water slides. 

Tip #5

Universal Does Not Give a Big Discount on Tickets, but You Can Purchase Tickets for After 4pm

AOTA has reached out to Universal to see if they will provide better discounts than they have currently offered. Universal rarely discounts their tickets, and are only offering a very small discount for AOTA INSPIRE. However, AOTA INSPIRE attendees can purchase an after 4pm ticket, which allows you to enter one Universal park after 4pm. These tickets are not available directly through Universal.

Tip #6

Understand How Each Park Handles Accessibility and the Needs of Guests With Disabilities

If you or someone in your party has a disability or needs accommodations to experience the park, there are many resources available at Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando.

At Disney World, a guest who has difficulty tolerating extended waits in a standard queue environment may register for the Disability Access Service (DAS) program. If you or someone in your travel group is eligible for this program you may pre-register for DAS up to 30 days before your visit, but no less than 2 days before your arrival. If you do not pre-register, you may also register in person at Guest Relations when you arrive.

All of the details about DAS can be found on the Disability Access Service page of their website. More information on all the Walt Disney World accommodations can be found on their webpage, Services for Guests with Disabilities, including how to pick up handheld devices for audio descriptions, captioning, or audio amplification.

One resource that I have found particularly useful when traveling with anyone with sensory sensitivities, or who may be overwhelmed by the park, is their guide to attraction details. This guide includes a full checklist for each attraction, including scents, darkness, flashing lights, loud noises, surprises, and many other details that could impact the ride experience.

Universal Orlando has an Attractions Assistance Pass for guests whose disability does not allow them to wait in a standard queue environment. If you or someone in your travel group is eligible for the IBCCES Individual Accessibility Card (IAC) you must register within 30 days of your visit to the park and at least 48 hours before your arrival. The IAC card is valid for one year. More accessibility information can be found by visiting the Universal Orlando safety and accessibility webpage. Universal also has a sensory guide with a description of all their rides.

Stay tuned for more of “Heather’s Hints” to make the most of your time and budget visiting Disney World with AOTA INSPIRE registration.

Note: Individual experiences with saving at Disney may vary, and it’s advisable to check the latest park policies and promotions for the most accurate information. Saving strategies mentioned are suggestions and may not be applicable to all situations. Always consider your own financial circumstances and plan accordingly.

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