I've been going to Disney World for over 30 years. Here are 14 things I always do there.

I've been going to Disney World for over 30 years. Here are 14 things I always do there.
·9 min read

I skip the long meet-and-greet lines by booking a character breakfast.

tarah and her child with mickey mouse at chef mickey's restaurant
Chef Mickey's is one of my favorite breakfasts because it's so close to Magic Kingdom.Tarah Chieffi

Everyone wants to get Mickey's autograph when they go to Disney World, so the character meet-and-greet lines can get pretty long. Instead, I always book one of Disney's character breakfasts.

I usually choose based on my kids' current favorite characters so they can get photos, a hug, and an autograph while we eat breakfast.

There are usually about four or five characters, and they circulate around the room, so each one should pop by your table at least once during your meal.

These tend to book up quickly, so you'll want to make your reservation right when your booking window opens up (60 days before your trip).

When it gets too hot or the kids get tired, we head back to the hotel for a swim.

shot of the pool at the polynesian resort at disney world
Disney World's Polynesian Resort has the best splash area for younger kids.Tarah Chieffi

I used to think I had to be in the theme parks from open to close so I could squeeze in as many rides and shows as possible. But the way I do Disney has changed quite a bit over the years.

Now that I typically travel to Disney with my three kids, I know that pushing them from morning until night is a recipe for disaster.

We still get to the parks pretty early, but we almost always head back to the hotel pool (our favorite is at the Polynesian Resort) to relax and recharge after lunch. It's the hottest part of the day and the lines are usually the longest, too.

After a couple of hours, we're cooled off and ready to head back to the parks.

I pass right by Starbucks and head for Joffrey's, which has the best coffee at Disney World.

hand holding cup of joffrey's coffee in tomorrowland at disney world
Joffrey's has locations across the Disney World parks and resorts.Tarah Chieffi

When I'm at the parks, I like to get things that are unique to Disney. For coffee, that means Joffrey's.

It has fun flavored coffees like the frozen Kona mocha, but its real strength is its espresso and cold brew.

Take it from someone who drinks her cold brews black, Joffrey's is the superior Disney coffee.

I always ask the PhotoPass photographers if they offer any fun magic shots.

tarah and her family posing for a magic photoshoot in front of cinderella castle disney world
I don't feel silly when they tell me to hold invisible balloons because I know we'll get a cute photo out of it.Tarah Chieffi

I don't visit Disney World without purchasing Memory Maker, the service that lets you download all of your ride and PhotoPass pictures from your vacation.

The photographers are excellent at getting great shots in front of iconic landmarks. But they also do "magic shots," where fun Disney characters or balloons are added to the photo.

Sometimes they'll do this automatically, but you can always ask your photographer if they have any available. They differ from park to park and there are seasonal shots for holidays and special events, too.

Satu'li Canteen is the best quick-service restaurant at Disney World.

plates of food from Satu’li Canteen in animal kingdom
Satu'li Canteen has one of the best quick-service menus.Tarah Chieffi

Aside from our character breakfast, I don't book a lot of table-service meals at the parks. I don't like being locked into plans — we just stop and eat when we get hungry.

My favorite place to do that quickly is Satu'li Canteen in Animal Kingdom's Pandora section. The food tastes so fresh and you can customize your meal with different meats, veggies, and grains.

I love the cheeseburger pods (they taste just like a McDonald's cheeseburger) and the green Hawkes' Grog ale.

I ride Space Mountain first thing in the morning when everyone else is running toward Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.

sign over the tomorrowland bridge at magic kingdom in disney world
I turn right at the castle and head straight for the Tomorrowland bridge.Tarah Chieffi

I love Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, but I don't love waiting in line.

Most people head straight there when Magic Kingdom opens in the morning, but I make a beeline for Tomorrowland to get on my favorite coaster at Disney World: Space Mountain.

At that time of day, the wait is usually less than 30 minutes (sometimes half that), and the interactive queue is one of my favorites.

Since I still want to ride Mine Train, I just check the wait times throughout the day and wait for the line to calm down.

I love eating and drinking around Epcot, especially during the festivals.

tarah holding food and drink from epcot
The Mexico pavilion always has new margaritas to choose from.Tarah Chieffi

When my husband and I have the chance to visit Disney on our own, we love to spend an evening eating and drinking our way around Epcot's World Showcase.

It's almost guaranteed our visit will fall during one of the four annual festivals, and we can sample dishes from food booths around the park.

A few of my favorite items that you can find all year are the hummus fries from Spice Road Table, the avocado margarita from La Cava del Tequila, and a jumbo pretzel and beer from Sommerfest.

My husband made it a tradition to shop for theme-park jewelry.

tarah posing with joy at epcot while wearing disney jewelry
My earrings are from the Mexico pavilion and the necklace is from the Morocco pavilion.Tarah Chieffi

My family has collected a number of souvenirs over the years, including ornaments and toys.

But during a visit for our anniversary, my husband bought me a pair of sugar-skull earrings from Epcot's Mexico pavilion, and since then, he's picked out a piece of jewelry for me every trip.

Our favorite places to look are around Epcot's World Showcase and at Animal Kingdom.

I ask everyone in my group to pick one or two must-do attractions instead of planning out our entire day.

tarah and her son posing in front of mickey and minnie's runaway railway at hollywood studios
My 5-year-old’s only request was to ride Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway at Hollywood Studios.Tarah Chieffi

Rather than make a minute-by-minute spreadsheet to map out our day, I've learned everyone is happier when we opt for a less stressful approach.

I ask my kids and husband to share the top things they want to do at each park, and we do our best to squeeze each one in. It can be anything from getting cotton candy to riding Peter Pan's Flight.

It makes our days feel more relaxed, but we still each get to do our favorite things.

Even if we bring a car, I make sure to take at least one ride on the monorail and the Skyliner.

shot fo the skyliner gondolas at disney world from inside one
The views from the Skyliner are great, but I also love the cool breeze you get while riding.Tarah Chieffi

I love all forms of Disney transportation. They're basically like attractions themselves.

The monorail gives me major nostalgia and the newer Skyliner offers awesome bird's-eye views of the parks and hotels.

I go out of my way to take at least one trip on each form of Disney transportation on every vacation.

I skip the big crowds around Cinderella Castle and watch the Magic Kingdom parades from Frontierland.

a disney world parade float starting in frontierland
Mickey’s Celebration Cavalcade is part of Disney World’s 50th anniversary.Tarah Chieffi

I'm not a huge fan of big crowds or waiting in line. That's why I head to the little corner in Frontierland between Splash Mountain and Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn to view Magic Kingdom's parades and character cavalcades.

This is the spot where the parades start, and it's usually not too crowded, making it easy to see the show and snap some unobstructed photos.

You get a lot of extra waves from the characters on the parade floats, and you can go off to your next activity while everyone else on the parade route is still watching.

I have to get a boozy Dole Whip at Wine Bar George in Disney Springs.

tarah drinking boozy dole whip at wine bar george at disney springs
Wine Bar George is one of the best restaurants at Disney Springs.Tarah Chieffi

I didn't eat a lot of Dole Whip as a kid, but now I can't visit Disney World without ordering it at least once.

My favorite version is the boozy Frozcato from Wine Bar George in Disney Springs. The frozen libation is made with moscato, vodka, and pineapple Dole Whip.

It's cold, delicious, and has a tropical kick. I always crave one as soon as I arrive on Disney property.

No Disney World visit is complete without a ride on Haunted Mansion.

disney world haunted mansion lit up at night
During Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, the Haunted Mansion looks extra creepy.Tarah Chieffi

I can't quite pinpoint what it is about Haunted Mansion that makes it a must-do ride.

Maybe it's because I have so many childhood memories of it. It could also be the ominous-yet-catchy music or the chilling special effects.

Whatever the reason, it doesn't feel like a Disney trip until I visit this classic attraction.

Kilimanjaro Safaris is different every time I visit, and I always like to see what the animals are up to.

tarah riding kilimajaro safaris with her children at animal kingdom
My kids love pointing out all the animals on Kilimanjaro Safaris.Tarah Chieffi

There are more than 34 species of animals living on the Harambe Wildlife Reserve at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

You can see many of them on the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride, but they're wild animals, so they're always doing something different.

You may see them being very active one time you ride and resting peacefully the next. When baby animals are born each year, you can see them with their mothers, as well.

I feel like I'm visiting old friends when I go on this ride.

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