I will never forget when my parents took me and my siblings to Disney World for the first time. When I turned the corner of Main Street and got the first glimpse of Cinderella’s castle, I was convinced that magic and pixie dust was real and that dreams do come true. Little did I know that 14 years later I would have gone on several Disney trips and have the pleasure of becoming a cast member at the most magical place on earth.

So you want to go to Disney World? Well, you’re in for a fun-filled family vacation where you will make memories that last a lifetime. That is if you are prepared. For every handful of smiling, happy parties I saw come through my work location, there was one miserable, exhausted party that was completely lost. For the amount of money you will spend on this vacation, you should know exactly what you’re in for. It is not exactly magic and pixie dust all the time. There is a lot of hard work and planning on your part before you even step foot in a park. So, watch your step, take small children by the hand, and keep your hands, arms, feet, and legs inside the ride at all times. Here’s everything you need to know before you go the distance:

Get to Know My Friend, Fast Pass+

When you book your Disney vacation, the first thing they tell you to do is download the My Disney Experience app. There is a reason for this; it is a very valuable tool for making dining reservations, looking up wait times, and most importantly, making Fast Passes. In case you didn’t know, Fast Pass is a tool where you can basically make reservations for attractions for shorter wait times. You can make these reservations a few months in advance through the app so make sure to nab one for your favorite rides because the popular attractions go quick. The most common questions I got as a cast member were about fast passes, so save yourself some time and confusion and do your research.

Make Reservations

One of the most important aspects of any vacation is food. Disney is no different. The most important thing to know is that Disney is not a place where you can just walk into a restaurant without reservations. Make sure you make reservations for every sit down meal of your vacation on the app to avoid waiting an hour or more to get your dinner. If you want to make reservations for popular restaurants like Cinderella’s Royal Table or Be Our Guest and you don’t want to eat dinner at 4 PM or 10 PM (if at all), make your reservations a month in advance.

Know Your Food Options

Disney dining can be expensive, but there are a lot of great options available to you. Familiarize yourself with Disney’s dining plans to figure out which option is best for your party. Your wallet will thank you! Not every meal in Disney has to be a sit down; there are several snack carts and quick-service restaurants spread throughout the park. Quick-service restaurants are a great lunch option but selections are limited. Some quick-service restaurants have whole menus while others have three items. You can find the full menus for any quick-service restaurant on the app, so make sure you do your research - especially if you are traveling with picky eaters. Most of the food comes pre-made and remember options are limited. Snack carts are similar. Some sell strictly ice cream others have popcorn, turkey legs, fountain drinks, and churros. You can find the carts menu posted somewhere on the cart.

Pack Light For the Park

All your bags will be inspected upon arrival to the park. And when I say inspected, I mean every single pocket will be opened. If you walk into the park with a purse and a huge 16 pocket backpack, they will all be opened. Also, keep in mind that you will have to bring these bags with you on the rides, it’s not like six flags where you can just leave your bag on the ride platform. You will also be walking… A lot. So save yourself the hassle and try to pack as light as possible.

Ah, Parades and Fireworks… Avoid Them!!

This is probably one of my least popular tips but trust me; you will thank me in the end. I get it, you want to get the full Disney experience. Disney parades and fireworks are spectacular and second to none, but trust me you don’t have to see them all. As magical as it may seem on TV and Youtube, keep in mind that everyone in the whole park has the same idea and will be gathered in one area at once (claustrophobia overload). As a cast member, we followed the rules of electricity meaning you follow the path of least resistant. This is the key to any successful Disney vacation and will cause your party the least amount of stress. Yes, seeing Mickey in the parade is awesome but guess what: if everyone is gathered on Main Street to watch the parade, then there will be no one in line for rides! Also, the firework shows may be spectacular, but be warned that once it is over, everyone will push for the exit mercilessly and the lines for the tram, monorail, and buses will be crazy long. That can lead to a lot of stress when your party is exhausted after a long day of playing in the park. When I was playing in the park with my fellow cast members, the second we heard the “Happily Ever After” music in Magic Kingdom, we would make a run for the exit. You will get a much better view on YouTube, trust me.

Get the Park Hopper

The park hopper pass allows you to visit multiple Disney parks in one day. It is a little more money than normal admission but trust me, it’s worth it. As a cast member, I was able to hop from park to park and it definitely has its advantages. If we got to a park and the wait times were too long, we would just hop on a bus and go to another park. Disney doesn’t follow your plan, you follow Disney’s. Although it seems like there’s a lot to do in the parks, you’d be surprised how quickly you can do all the attractions your party wants to do. If your party does everything they want to do in one park, you have the rest of the day to play in any of the other three parks. It also opens up your options as far as food goes because it won’t limit your options to just one park a day. If you want to go to the Crystal Palace for dinner one night and Cinderella’s Royal Table the next (both in Magic Kingdom), then you can do that.

Make a Must Do Plan For Rides and Shows

In my opinion, this is the most fun part of planning any Disney vacation. The Disney website lists all the attractions in every park, get to know them well. Make sure you research the average wait times for each ride to get a better understanding of which rides you want to fast pass. Research is especially important if you are traveling with young children or individuals with disabilities. Make sure you know which rides have height requirements if you have children under 46-48”. If you are traveling with individuals who are immobile, be aware of what rides and shows offer wheelchair accessibility.

Take Time to Chill

After all, this is a vacation! Disney is not exactly the rejuvenating, laying on the beach with a drink type of vacation. It’s a whole lot of fun, but you will also be walking an average of 20,000 steps a day. It’s so easy to get caught up in all the magic and want to spend every waking moment of your trip at the parks. But, when your party is hot and exhausted by day three, remember to take some time and relax. Take an afternoon off from playing in the park and sit by the pool, grab a drink at a bar in Disney Springs, or look into Disney’s spa packages. Don’t let anyone tell you different, Disney can be stressful. Take some time to relax so you won’t need a vacation from your vacation.