Whether 2017 is going to be your first trip or your 100th, there is plenty to be aware of heading into your 2017 Walt Disney World trip. Here are 17 things you need to know about your 2017 trip. I've tried to fill this post with outbound links and links to our other content so you can get the best information out there!
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1. Pandora - The World of Avatar is Set to Open May 27
While it seems like it's been under construction and like we've been asking "But why Avatar?" forever, Pandora - The World of Avatar at Animal Kingdom is set to open May 27. The land looks amazing, and as a lover of Animal Kingdom I can't help but be pumped to have even more to do there.
2. Magic Kingdom will have more drinking than last year
In late 2016, Magic Kingdom expanded its alcohol offerings to include restaurants beyond Be Our Guest. Alcohol hasn't made it to quick service or carts yet, but it's hard to see how this isn't just a matter of time. Gaston's Tavern especially is just begging for a beer offering (not that I don't absolutely love Le Fou's Brew).
3. Tend To Your Fastpasses
If you're not a Walt Disney World vet, you might be puzzled by Fastpass+. Or you might think you know it while missing out on some of the best options. It's important to book your Fastpasses ahead of time, but it's equally important to tend to them. Check whether you can improve your time slots, check whether you can get rid of your current selections, and always keep adding on the day of until you're heading home.
4. Try Keys to the Kingdom
I wouldn't highly recommend this for your first trip, but it would be amazing either way. Keys to the Kingdom is the backstage tour at Magic Kingdom, and the on-stage parts are worth the cost alone. Our review of Keys to the Kingdom is here.
5. There Are Three RunDisney Events, and You Should Try One
While #WDWMarathon weekend may be over, there are three more RunDisney events with a total of nine races at Walt Disney World this year. The three events, each of which has a 5K, 10K, and Half Marathon, are: Princess Half (February 23 - 26, 2017), Star Wars Dark Side Half (April 20 - April 23, 2017), and Wine and Dine (November 2 - November 5, 2017). RunDisney events are awesome, and if you're interested, I highly suggest checking out some of our posts on them.
6. Splurge on Club Level
You can't know club level until you try it and milk it for everything it is worth. Free alcohol and free food can really add up the savings. Club level can be a pricey addition to many reservations, but there are sweet spots. The best of these is probably the Savannah View upgrade to Club Level at Animal Kingdom Lodge. That upgrade costs just over $80 per night some nights. We reviewed the Animal Kingdom Lodge Kilimanjaro Club here.
7. Don't Expect Toy Story Land or Star Wars Land
You've heard tons about these lands, but as anyone who has been to Hollywood Studios recently will tell you, there are no signs these will be done in the near future. If you're not a frequent Disney traveler, and especially if you could save up for a longer trip in 2018 or even 2019, you might consider putting off your trip.
8. Expect More Upcharges
As Walt Disney World faces declining attendance, Disney will continue to try and find ways to make money with upcharges. These are things like the express bus and the cabanas. We're already going to see a ticketed Star Wars event. Even Fastpass is an upcharge at Disneyland now. Expect more things like this in 2017. Some might be worth it, some not. We'll try to keep you updated on which are which.
9. Stay in a Disney Hotel
Confession: I never knew staying off property was an option until my adult years. I just didn't know it was a thing people did (though my family did stay at the Swan once before it shared all the perks of the Disney hotels, and it was quite awkward for us). Many people I'm sure have the opposite impression - that staying on property is never worth it. If you've never stayed on property, you just have to try it in 2017.
There are plenty of affordable Disney hotel options, and I've had some great times at Disney's value resorts. The perks (Magical Express, Extra Magic Hours, unified bus system) are definitely worth a try. As I'll say about the dinners in a bit, the resorts can really be a key part of the Disney experience. They create a sense of escapism that is fulfilling in a whole new way. Our current favorite? Animal Kingdom Lodge!
10. Check Out the New Star Wars Options
Hollywood Studios is overrun with pretty mediocre Star Wars options. I say that as a huge lover of Star Wars. We can hope that some of the new options might be something special. Unfortunately, the two new big ones are both paid. First, you've got the nighttime ticketed event Star Wars: Galactic Nights. Then there's the Star Wars Guided Tour, that clocks in at SEVEN hours. I'm amazed by that length, given that the very awesome Keys to the Kingdom tour is only five hours at a (seemingly) more interesting park.
11. Try the New and Newish Bars
AbracadaBar, which just opened in 2016 on the Boardwalk, and Trader Sam's Grog Grotto, from 2015, are two of our new favorite spots at Walt Disney World. Trader Sam's is amazing and a little bit hidden (besides the line outside), so if you haven't had a chance to make it to this great bar in the Polynesian, we highly suggest getting over there. A third one worth checking out is Jock Lindsey's Hangar Bar in Disney Springs.
12. Understand, but don't worship, crowd calendars
Some people swear by crowd calendars, some people think they're worthless, the truth is probably somewhere in between. Some seasons are busier than others, but when your calendar says Tuesday afternoon is worst than Wednesday afternoon for no discernible reason, it is stretching the truth. Understand the busy seasons, but don't build your day-to-day around the calendars, especially (see number 3) if you've got your FP+ under control. If you must, there's one over on Undercover Tourist.
13. Try A Ticketed Holiday Event
Our first ticketed holiday event was Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, and it was great. Having been to WDW too many times to count, seeing the park in a whole new theming was an amazing experience. I'm hoping to try Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party in 2017, and I'll hope to see you there, too!
14. ADR ALL DAY
"ADR" is the acronym for "Advance Dining Reservation" - a redundant phrase Disney uses to describe its dinner reservation system. There are amazing restaurants in the Walt Disney World resorts, and if you haven't checked them out, you're really missing out. These restaurants are not just an extra thing to try, they are part of the Disney experience, like the resorts themselves. We suggest Jiko and Sanaa at Animal Kingdom Lodge, but it's really hard to go wrong at any Disney restaurants.
15. TRY DVC RENTING
We haven't written much about renting Disney Vacation Club points yet, but that's not because it isn't an important part of planning a Disney vacation. Renting DVC points is probably the most underrated hack you can use to save on your Disney vacation. The idea is basically to rent hotel time from a Disney Vacation Club member. This usually winds up saving a lot of money compared to what a Disney hotel stay costs. For more, we suggest heading over to David's Vacation Club.
16. Disney Springs Will Continue to Improve
Disney Springs has been a marvelous improvement over old Downtown Disney, and with more restaurants and bars slated to open in 2017, it will only get better. If you've been staying away because you never loved Downtown Disney, or because you were waiting for Disney Springs to be more developed, the time to go is now.
17. Remember that points, miles, deals, discounts, and cards are you friends!
We've avoided talking up ourselves until now, but c'mon, you knew it was coming. Make 2017 the year you expand your trip planning horizons. Don't book the same way you did last year. Look into low-cost airlines, look into earning and using points, and keep up on the latest discounts. Give yourself a chance to do Disney better for less. Start with our Intro to Points and Miles.