Before you start to plan your Disney World trip, you should first be familiar with the park itself.
Sure, everyone knows Mickey Mouse, Cinderella Castle, and the monorail, but there’s A LOT to know about Disney World.
For starters, Walt Disney World Resort is a huge place. It’s well over 40 square miles – nearly twice the size of Manhattan! You could visit the park dozens of times and still never see and experience all the resort has to offer. So, as you’re planning a Disney trip, you should focus on the things you really want to see and do because you won’t be able to experience everything.
Here are some of the key features of Walt Disney World Resort:
- 4 Theme Parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- 2 Water Parks: Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon
- 20+ large resort hotels
- 4 large golf courses and 2 mini-golf courses
- 2 dinner shows
- Disney Springs (shopping and dining district)
- The BoardWalk (entertainment district)
- water sports, boating, and fishing on one of Disney’s on-property lakes
The more you learn about Disney World, the more you’ll be able to plan and book the trip of your dreams. As you research, make a list of the attractions, events, hotels, and restaurants that sound interesting to you. This way you can begin to create an itinerary and map out the most magical vacation for you and your family.
Start with our Disney World Map page, and then go from there.
2. When Can You Go
When you’re ABLE to go to Disney World is probably the single biggest consideration.
In a perfect world, we could go on vacation at any time of the year. But this isn’t always possible because of our work and school schedules.
If you’re bringing the kids, then you’ll have to either 1. plan your trip around school vacations or 2. take them out of school for a week or so.
Also, YOU may not be able to get time off from work or family commitments.
Everyone has a different situation. But before you can even being to consider planning a Disney trip, you’ll have to decide when you and your kids can both take the week off.
Once you have determined that you can make it happen, then you’re ready to consider some of the other factors. There are better and worst times of the year to visit Disney World, as we will now discuss.
See our Best Time to Go to Disney World for some pointers.
With crowds comes longer lines and more competition for dining reservations and Genie+ selections. Plus, the cost of theme park tickets goes higher as the demand increases (surge pricing).
Crowds are usually at their peak during school vacations, weekends, around holidays, and during the summer months. January -March is often the slowest time of year (with the exception of February vacation and the holiday weekends).
Be sure to consult our Crowd Calendar as you are planning a trip to Disney World.
Central Florida is known for its mild winters and hot, hot summers.
If you don’t like heat and humidity, then avoid the summer vacations at Disney.
Winter gets a bad rap, but it’s really not bad at all. However, the water parks and pools may be closed so this time of year isn’t for everyone.
I personally love to go to WDW during the autumn months (for the cooler weather and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party).
The early Spring (before the heat) is a really nice time to visit Disney, especially if you love flowers.
Be sure to check our Disney World Weather page for more on the Orlando-area climate.
5. Length of Stay
How long you stay at Disney World comes down to 1. what you want to accomplish while you are there, 2. how much vacation time you have available, and 3. your budget.
Most people find that 4-5 days is a good length for Disney trips. At the bare minimum, you should book a stay for at least 3 nights. Anything less and you’ll feel rushed.
If your goal is to experience the major attractions at multiple theme parks, without feeling rushed, then allow for at least 3 or 4 days. A one-week trip to Disney World is the optimal length for first-timers because you will be able to go to all 4 theme parks at least once, and still have extra time to spend at a water park, return to one of the theme parks, or just relax by the pool, rent a boat, or play golf.
For most families, your theme park tickets will end up being the most expensive part of your vacation. Disney’s ticket pricing is designed to encourage longer trips longer – the more days you go, the cheaper tickets become on a per-day basis. So that’s at least one reason to extend your vacation!
For the time being, Disney requires that you make reservations for each day that you visit a theme park. They’re also not permitting park-hopping at the moment (no Park Hopper tickets).
Before you purchase your tickets, we suggest that you check the park reservation calendar for the availability of the parks you wish to visit. Then you can purchase your park tickets and link them to the My Disney Experience app.
Do you need some help? Check out our page on the best Disney travel agents. Their free services can get you the best deals and take the stress out of planning a trip to Disney World.
6. Resort Hotels
When it comes to booking a room at Disney World, you must first consider is whether to stay at a Disney resort hotel or an off-property, non-Disney hotel.
There are many advantages to staying at one of Disney’s hotels. Each Disney resort has its own theme, unique character, and special magic.
Disney Deluxe Resorts are the top tier (most expensive) with the largest rooms, best amenities, and closest proximity to the parks. These are Disney World’s most impressive hotels!
Disney Value Resorts are the least expensive option. They have smaller rooms, decent food courts, large pools, and bus transportation to the parks. Value resorts are great for families w/ kids, and those people who are on a budget but want to stay on Disney property.
Disney Moderate Resorts offer something in the middle – good transportation, nice rooms, a variety of dining options, and middle-tier pricing. There’s really a resort for everyone’s budget at Disney World.
There are a number of perks when you stay at a Disney World Resort. Plus, each hotel has direct access to Disney’s free transportation system (buses, boats, and monorails).
Disney resort hotels tend to have much more in the way of recreation options in comparison to off-site hotels (and a lot more Disney magic).
Off-Property (non-Disney) Resorts
Many of the non-Disney, off-property hotels are still quite close to Walt Disney World. Some are even located on Disney-owned land (but not owned and run by Disney).
Why do people stay at an off-property resort? Well, depending on the situation, off-property resorts tend to be cheaper. This is especially true for families of 5 or more people because oversized rooms at Disney can get pricey.
Off-property hotels tend to have larger rooms and nicer amenities than many of the Disney Value and Moderate Resorts. However, you are further away from the parks and may end up spending more money on transportation to and from the park.
Airbnb is another option you may want to consider, especially for larger groups.
Which is better: A Disney World Resort hotel or an off-property hotel?
At the end of the day, you can have an excellent experience staying at either an on or off-property resort. However, we think that staying at a Disney resort gives you that full Disney experience, and it’s worth the extra cost!
Can’t decide? See our Comparison of Disney World Hotels page, or contact The Vacationeer to discuss your options.
You may be close enough to drive, but most people end up flying to Disney World.
If you plan on flying, it is a good idea to start checking the fares as soon as you decide to go. Airfares fluctuate wildly and if you see a great deal, then you should grab it quickly.
The closest airport to Disney World is Orlando International Airport (MCO). From there, Guests staying at a Disney Resort hotel can take the Magical Express service, a free roundtrip shuttle service that runs between Orlando International Airport and any of the Disney Resort hotels. Note that the Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB) is another nearby airport, but Disney’s Magical Express service does not run here.
Once at Walt Disney World Resort, you’ll use Disney’s complimentary transportation network of buses, boats, and monorails. Disney transportation runs between resorts, theme parks, and Disney Springs (shopping and dining area).
8. Create your Itinerary
Itineraries are important because they can save us time. Create an itinerary based on the high-priority experiences you wish to have at Disney World.
Whether it’s rides, restaurants, Disney World shows, character dining, resort hopping, shopping, golfing, boating, or whatever, the possibilities are endless at Disney World. Be sure to see our Magic Kingdom Rides, Epcot Rides, Animal Kingdom Rides, and Hollywood Studios Rides pages, as well as our Magic Kingdom Restaurants, Epcot Restaurants, Animal Kingdom Restaurants, and Hollywood Studios Restaurants pages to find the best options. These resources will be invaluable as you plan your daily itinerary.
You may also want to check out our Disney World Youtube Channels page.
9. Make your Reservations
Update: FastPass+ has been replaced with Disney Genie+. See our What is Disney Genie+ and Are Lightning Lane Passes Worth It pages.
FastPass+ selections, Advanced Dining Reservations, and theme park reservations are three of the most important considerations as you plan your Disney World trip.
FastPass+ is a Disney reservation system that allows you to reserve access on the ride of your choice. By reserving access, you are essentially jumping on the ride without waiting in line.
Each ticket holder receives three complimentary FastPass+ selections per day (for a single park).
Guests staying at a Disney-owned resort can make their FastPass+ selections 60 days in advance (30 days for everyone else).
The best strategy for FastPass is to choose the rides that 1. you want to go on (duh), and 2. that have the longest lines.
Need help? A Disney travel agent can take the hassle out of this process and make the FastPass reservations for you. Contact The Vacationeer today!
Advance Dining Reservations
Advance Dining Reservation (ADR) system allows you to make reservations at table service restaurants. Guests can make their Advance Dining Reservations beginning 60 days before their trip (starting at 7 am).
There are tons of table services restaurants throughout Disney World, and a number of Disney character dining events to choose from as well. Book your table as early as possible because the popular restaurants go fast!
Theme Park Reservations
Disney now requires theme park reservations for each Guest. No reservation, no entry into the park! See our discussion of Disney Park Pass for more information.
Questions? Contact The Vacationeer and let them make all of your dining reservations.
10. Budget for Extra Expenses
Vacations end up being more expensive than you had initially planned on. Sad, but true.
At Disney World, you may end up paying extra for things you didn’t count on. This may include snacks, beverages, and Disney souvenirs. Then there are other extras like PhotoPass Memory Maker, Character dining, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, VIP tours, Disney After Hours, golf, boat rentals, Ubers, etc. Of course, these things are completely optional and you can always say “no.”