These are hidden gems at Walt Disney World.

Whether visiting at Christmas or in spring, these tips will make your Disney trip more magical

From fast passes to special parades, a little planning goes a long way to get the most out of a visit to Walt Disney World

So, the countdown has begun.

I’m fired up for my daughter’s first visit — a surprise — to Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, for the holidays.

I was thinking this won’t be too bad. I figured things must slow down just a little when everyone is home enjoying their families by the tree. I assumed spring break would probably be much busier than Christmas, so this would be a great time for me and my 6-year-old to enjoy it.

Besides, there’s no time that’s not a great time to visit the place where magic happens.

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As I was planning my trip, I found out a few things I thought might be good to share with my AJC family. Just this week, I’d seen some chatter on my NextDoor app where someone was looking for a “Disney consultant.” Hmmm, is that a real job, I thought?

Well, I’m no Disney consultant, and it’s only my third time at Walt Disney World and Magic Kingdom. But I’ve got a few practical tips below, keep reading. 

A trip to Disney can be good or great, and how well you plan can make a big difference. I’ll never forget my first trip — I didn’t plan ahead and just showed up. I took four of my nieces and nephews. Just me and them, ranging from age 3 to 12. Yikes! 

One of the highlights of the trip actually had nothing to do with Walt Disney World itself. I lost the rental car keys at a gas station in the middle of Florida. About two or three hours after tears and literally tearing the car a part, I found the keys in the car seat of my youngest niece. I’m sure there’s a parent out there who can relate.

From that trip I learned to always check the child’s car seat for missing keys. I still remember my mom’s final words when I called her after my panic attack: “I told you so.” Oh, mother! I learned also that it’s better to plan far ahead for Disney to get the most out of the trip. 

One of the first things to know is that the Christmas season has become busier for Walt Disney World than any other time, and December is the peak planning time for anyone who wants to make the trip this coming spring. “Christmas season, spring break and traditional holidays like Thanksgiving and 4th of July are some of the busiest periods. Guests visiting during those times will find extended operating hours and additional entertainment,” said Annette Gibbs, public relations manager for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. She said now is the time that most people begin scheduling the trip for spring and summer.

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Take time now; save time later

I’m convinced that with some time and patience you can plan a great Disney trip without an agent. Nothing against travel agents; they are paid to help you get what you need out of your trip. But if you’re like me and want to go at it yourself, here are a few helpful and practical tips, in no particular order, that might help you:

If you’re making the visit any time in December, be sure to catch Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade. The special-ticket event includes nighttime fireworks, a stage show and, wait for it, SNOW! You’ll get to see snow flurries on Main Street, and I hear it’s a-mazing.

One of the things I always think about first with any trip is cost. Here’s something I found out while planning my December trip. January is a month for some significant savings. Starting Jan. 18, guests will be able to purchase a four-day, 4-Park Magic Value Ticket for $85 a day (plus tax), which comes to $340 (plus tax). The 4-Park Magic Tickets include one day of admission to Magic Kingdom Park, one day at Epcot, one at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and one day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. This, folks, is a steal. Park Magic Tickets will be available for purchase beginning Jan. 18, 2019.

As simple as this may seem, remember to pack your water bottles and snacks. You’ll buy snacks while you’re there, but there are places to fill your water bottles because Disney is environmentally friendly, of course. Just remember that galss water bottles and containers are prohibited. Also, ice cold water is available for free at any Quick Service Restaurant

Don’t forget your MagicBands! What’s a MagicBand? Glad you asked. It’s a pretty wrist band (you’ll have it as a souvenir after your trip) that gets you everything you need at Walt Disney World, so you don’t have to scramble for tickets. It’s personalized and adjusts for kids and adults alike. 

Once you decide you’re making the trip, you should immediately set up your My Disney Experience account, get your tickets, then get your fast passes. A fast pass is the way to go. Trust me. No, really, trust me! I know you’ve probably heard everyone tell you this. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but it’s the best way to get you a spot on the rides you really don’t want to miss.

Remember my story about the car keys earlier? Well there’s an even worse scenario. You forget where you parked your car after a long day of magic that takes your mind away. Once you park, take a photo of the location. Tweet it out. Post it on Facebook. Do whatever you have to so you have a reference of where you left your vehicle.

After parking, hop on one of the complimentary parking trams to head toward the Transportation and Ticket Center. After a routine bag check, you will have the option of taking a ferry or a monorail (express or resort) to the Magic Kingdom. My rule of thumb is to go with whichever has a shorter line. If possible, take the resort monorail. It will stop at the Polynesian Resort and Grand Floridian before hitting the Magic Kingdom. Upon arrival, follow the flock to the ticket turnstiles. You’ll scan your MagicBand and a finger to enter. Don’t forget which finger you scanned.

If your kid is like mine and loves all things princess, you should save your money for this incredible splurge item if you can: the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique (bet you can’t say that five times fast). Trust me, it’s bibbity and bobbity and the most precious once-in-a-lifetime memory for your little princess. It’s about as girlie girlie as you could possibly get.

And if the princess thing is not for your kidsplurge instead for the character breakfast. Be sure to sign up early. I suggest you do it now, even if your trip is months off. You can make your reservations at any time, and there’s no advance payment fee in most cases. 

Walt Disney World has some new things in store for 2019. I’ll miss them, but if you’re planning now you might want to include them in your reservations. 

For the first time, Walt Disney World Resort is giving guests and basketball fans a glimpse of the exciting action coming to the new NBA Experience at Disney Springs in summer 2019. This one-of-a-kind destination — developed by Walt Disney Imagineering in collaboration with the NBA – will feature hands-on activities that immerse guests into the world of professional basketball.

And, last but certainly not least, remember that it is crowded, but don’t let the crowds overwhelm you. Enjoy every moment of the magic. If you’re lucky enough to do more than one day or park, my best advice is to revisit what you loved or what you missed. And if you can, why not do what I’m doing and plan a day in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Even outside the park there’s so much to do. Who wouldn’t love a day of mini-golf in Orlando?

Happy planning. You don’t have to be a Disney consultant to make your trip the best ever.

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— Kaely Holloway contributed to this article.

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