Now that we have covered the basic elements of your Walt Disney World vacation, it’s time to start thinking about the nitty-gritty details of your trip. Improvising on-the-go can cost you money and lost time while you are at the park, so creating an itinerary will keep your vacation on track.
If your trip to WDW is 4 days or fewer, you will most likely spend each day exploring at least one of Disney’s 4 theme parks. Consider a Park Hopper pass so that you have the ability to jump between parks during the day.
Time is of the essence, so we recommend that you map your route and create an itinerary of high-priority attractions so nothing is overlooked.
If your Disney World vacation is a week or so, consider spending one day at a Disney water park (Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon), at a non-Disney property (such as SeaWorld, Universal Studios, Busch Gardens), golfing, boating, shopping, or just taking a day off to relax.
Reservations for theme parks and dining should be made well in advance of your trip, so the process of selecting which restaurants and attractions are top priorities should begin as soon as you book your trip (if not before).
As you research your options, make notes to help you formulate your Walt Disney World itinerary.
Here are a few things to consider when making your daily plans:
One of the primary factors for your daily itinerary should be how late the park is open each day you’re there. Park opening and closing times can vary from day-to-day. So you might want to base your daily park choices on which park has the longest hours — or at least make sure you don’t shoehorn yourself into only being able to visit a certain park on the one day during your trip that it closes early. Some parks take longer to fully experience than others, and you don’t want to run out of time.
A great perk of staying at an on-site Disney hotel is having extra time in the parks when the general public is not allowed in. While not all attractions operate during these extended hours, it’s still a great way to get a few extra rides in with typically lower wait times. The previous Extra Magic Hours program has now been replaced by two offerings:
Early Theme Park Entry
Disney Resort hotel Guests (and Guests of other select hotels) may enter the Disney parks 30 minutes earlier than the general public, every day of the week. Each of the four parks offers this perk every day of the week; which park you choose is solely up to you!
Extended Evening Theme Park Hours
Guests at Disney Deluxe Resorts, Deluxe Villa Resorts, and a few other select hotels may also enjoy additional time at specific parks on specific nights. You’ll want to check the latest schedule to verify which dates and parks are available during your trip.
Waiting for Rides/Attractions
It’s an unfortunate fact that a sizable portion of your Disney World trip will be spent waiting in line to get on rides or see shows. Fortunately, there are ways to minimize this as much as possible.
When most people think of waiting in line for a ride, they’re thinking of what Disney World calls a Standby queue. It’s line waiting in its simplest form; you walk up to an attraction entrance, wait in line for as long as it takes, and then get into the ride vehicle.
Standby wait times can fluctuate wildly throughout the day, often peaking in the mid-afternoon. While you can’t do anything about the length of the line itself, you can game the system a bit by deciding when to enter that line.
For your most important attraction of the day, I suggest doing what frequent visitors call “rope dropping” the park. This means that you are at the park before it opens for the day, enter the park as soon as Guests are allowed in (as soon as they “drop the rope” that is keeping people out), and go directly to the desired attraction so you can ride it with as little wait as possible.
Other tactics to try to avoid the worst of the standby wait times is to go during the afternoon parade, or to go when most people are having lunch/dinner. The Disney Genie section of the My Disney Experience app will also show you a forecast of wait times for each hour of the day so you can better plan your arrival time to minimize waits.
One further tip that won’t necessarily help you avoid an extended wait time but will certainly increase your comfort level. As a long-time Floridian, I highly recommend doing all of the rides that have completely-outdoor waiting lines either early or late in the day; when it’s miserably hot/steamy outside during the afternoon hours, I prefer to hide away from the midday sun by experiencing the rides with indoor air-conditioned queues. These rides are also less likely to close during afternoon thunderstorms.
If your trip happens to occur in the months immediately following the opening of a highly-anticipated attraction (such as a new roller coaster), you’ll likely find that you can’t simply go stand in line for that ride. Instead, you might have to use something called a virtual queue.
It’s exactly what it sounds like — rather than physically standing in line, your spot in line is held virtually via the My Disney Experience app.
A virtual queue is both good news and bad news for your itinerary planning.
The good news: Historically, people have spent as much as five or six hours (!) waiting in line for a new ride — I did that when Seven Dwarfs Mine Train opened and don’t recommend it. Those long lines are not the case with virtual queuing. Your wait might technically still be that long, but you don’t have to spend that time actually waiting in a line. You’re instead free to go have plenty of other fun elsewhere in the park during that time, and then come back when it’s time to ride.
The bad news: Competition to grab a spot in the virtual queue can be fierce. Spaces open up daily at 7AM and again at 1PM. On dates when Extended Evening Theme Park Hours are offered for select Resort Guests, another round of queuing begins at 6PM. On the busiest days, all available slots can be claimed within seconds of being released. To give yourself the best possible chance of snagging a spot, read Disney’s extensive instructions ahead of time so you know exactly what to do at 7AM on the day you wish to visit.
Priority Attraction Entrance (Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lane)
Many rides and experiences in the parks have a special Lightning Lane entrance which allows you to bypass the regular line and board more quickly. If you’ve been to Disney World in the past, you might remember these entrances having been previously called FastPass or FastPass+. The Lightning Lane concept is still mostly the same, but there’s one big difference: you now must pay to enter the Lightning Lane.
Most rides which have a Lightning Lane entrance are packaged together into a bundled service called Genie+. For a combined fee of approximately $15-$30 (varies based on date/demand/park) per person per day, Genie Plus lets guests make reservations to use the Lightning Lane entrance at more than 40 attractions throughout the parks. Guests make their first Lightning Lane reservation on the morning of their visit and then make additional ride reservations, one at a time, for the remainder of the day (subject to availability). Disney says this service will usually help you experience a quicker load time on 2-3 attractions on a busy day (maybe more on less-crowded days), which can help save you hours of waiting in line.
Note: The paid Genie+ service should not be confused with the basic Disney Genie service, which is an itinerary suggestion service inside the My Disney Experience app. Disney Genie provides suggestions of what to do based on wait times and your interests. Genie+ saves you time waiting in line by letting you instead select a time to return to ride.
Individual Lightning Lane entry
The Lightning Lane entrances at the most popular attractions in each park are not included in Genie+ and are instead sold separately. You’ll be able to purchase one entrance per day for each ride offering this individual entry service. The cost usually ranges from $10-$20 per ride and varies based on the attraction, date, and availability.
If a ride’s Lightning Lane is sold under this individual pricing structure, it will not be included in the Genie+ package offering.
You can’t actually book your Lightning Lane entrances in advance — they’re available for purchase only on the day of your visit — but you’ll still want to research them in advance to include in your daily itinerary.
Disability Access Service
A special service is provided to assist Guests who have a condition that interferes with their ability to wait in line. This offering, called the Disability Access Service (DAS), assigns return times so Guests don’t need to be physically present in the attraction line (but still experience a similar length of wait as those who are waiting in line).
There’s an important distinction when understanding DAS: qualifying is based on a guest’s ability to wait in line, not their ability to stand in line. Most attraction lines are wheelchair accessible, so a wheelchair alone is unlikely to qualify someone to use DAS. There’s no official list of disabilities which automatically qualify, but some which may qualify include ADHD, autism, or anxiety. Each decision is made on an individual basis, and Disney alone has sole authority to grant or deny DAS to a Guest.
This is a highly-nuanced topic that we can’t completely cover in just a few sentences. We suggest you read our extensive guide to the Disability Access Service for further details.
Timing Your Meals
Your itinerary should include a solid plan on when you’re going to eat your meals.
Unless you have breakfast reservations for an in-park restaurant, we do NOT recommend that you have breakfast in the park. You’ll likely be missing out on some of the lowest ride wait times of the day if you’re off getting food right after the park opens. One option is to have breakfast at your hotel’s restaurant before heading to the park (the restaurants open early enough to allow this without missing park opening). I personally prefer to just have bagels and cream cheese in my room and opt for an early lunch — that lets me sleep in just a bit and still get to the parks early.
Speaking of an early lunch, having your meals during an off-peak time is a great way to avoid wasting time waiting in long lines at counter-service restaurants. If you have lunch at noon and dinner at 6PM, you’ll quickly notice that pretty much everyone else in the park had the same idea. Not only will there be longer waits in line (and for your food to be prepared), but you might even have to “hover” a bit to find an empty table. If you do have to dine during the busiest hours, take full advantage of mobile ordering within the My Disney Experience app whenever you can.
Of course, should you have dining reservations at a table service restaurant for lunch or dinner, your time for that meal is set and you just need to plug it into your daily itinerary.
Planning When to Stop and When to Go, Go, Go
With the prospect of a full vacation in front of you, it’s easy to either over or under do it.
Yes, you’re on vacation, so it’s tempting to sleep in. But doing so will put you a step behind everyone else in the park, meaning you’re at the mercy of higher crowds and longer lines. Waking up early and getting to the parks right away goes a long way toward starting the day right.
On the other hand, if you plan to go nonstop from morning to night seven days in a row, you’re going to crash midweek and have a miserable time. You’ll probably end up losing more time due to the inevitable meltdown than if you had just planned to take some downtime along the way.
Take it from someone who spend more than a decade battling the central Florida heat: the afternoon sun will suck the life right out of you. A midday break is just the thing to rejuvenate your spirits.
If you’re staying on-site, you can easily go back to your hotel for a midday nap or dip in the pool. I also like to give myself at least one “day off” during my trip. I usually just spend it relaxing at the hotel or maybe checking out the animals on the Savanna at Animal Kingdom Lodge — but you might want go play a round of golf, sit on the lakeside “beach” at some resorts, or have a laidback day at Disney Springs (go shopping, have a meal, take a balloon ride, or see a movie).
Giving some thought now to periods of activity and periods of rest will help make sure your vacation doesn’t veer off track.
Our Top Tips for Disney World Itinerary Planning
With all of the above in mind, it’s really going to come down to a matter of personal preference. Once you have a good handle on all of the things to do, see, eat, and experience at Disney World — what do you want to do each day?
Only you can answer that question. But here are a few of our favorites to consider when planning your daily itinerary:
Some of the most popular rides for Lightning Lane passes and Disney Genie+ are:
- Magic Kingdom – Seven Dwarfs Mine Train; Space Mountain
- Epcot – Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind; Frozen Ever After; Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure
- Hollywood Studios – Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run; Rise of the Resistance; Slinky Dog Dash; Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway
- Animal Kingdom – Pandora’s Na’vi River Journey; Avatar Flight of Passage; Expedition Everest
Some of the other most popular attractions at each of the four Walt Disney World theme parks include:
- Magic Kingdom – Haunted Mansion; Magic Carpets of Aladdin; Pirates of the Caribbean; Splash Mountain (currently closed)
- Epcot – the pavilions of Epcot World Showcase; Mission: Space; Test Track; Spaceship Earth; Soarin’; Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind
- Animal Kingdom – Expedition Everest; Jungle Cruise; Kali River Rapids; Kilimanjaro Safaris
- Hollywood Studio – Fantasmic; Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster; Toy Story Midway Mania; Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Some of our favorite WDW restaurants include:
- Be Our Guest Restaurant, Magic Kingdom – This ornate French eatery with a Beauty & the Beast theme offers fixed-price dining.
- California Grill, Disney’s Contemporary Resort – Contemporary Resort’s premier restaurant is a great spot to watch the fireworks and offers breathtaking views of the park.
- Chef Mickey’s, Disney’s Contemporary Resort – Popular breakfast & dinner buffet restaurant with special visits from Mickey and friends.
- Cinderella’s Royal Table, Magic Kingdom – This Cinderella-themed eatery is set in a room that resembles a medieval castle’s banquet hall.
- Flame Tree Barbeque, Animal Kingdom – Tasty BBQ featuring a relaxing outdoor pavilion with amazing views of Animal Kingdom. And it’s quick-service, so no need for a reservation!
- Hollywood Brown Derby, Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Retro dining establishment with fantastic caricatures of old-time celebrities on the wall.
- Le Cellier, Canada Pavilion at World Showcase, Epcot – Steaks are a specialty at this top-notch table service dining establishment.
- ‘Ohana, Polynesian Village Resort – All-you-can-eat, American-style (with a Polynesian twist) buffet for breakfast and dinner.
- Teppan Edo, Japan Pavilion at World Showcase, Epcot – Guests are seated around the teppanyaki grills as skilled chefs prepare your meal in front of you.
- The Boathouse Restaurant, The Landing, Disney Springs – Upscale waterfront dining experience featuring steaks and seafood, Amphicar tours, Italian water
taxi tours, and live music.
- Via Napoli, Italy Pavilion at World Showcase, Epcot – Amazing pizza! Need we say more?