How to Plan a Disney Vacation 

Discover the 9 Simple Steps to Planning a Disney Vacation 

How to Plan a Disney Vacation


This guide will take you through how to plan a Disney World vacation step-by-step. Disney vacations have become harder to plan each and every year, with Disney Genie+,  Advanced Dining Reservations, My Disney Experience, transportation, etc.  There’s so much to know, and this Disney vacation planning guide will be your go-to resource.

Visiting Walt Disney World During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Before we start, please be aware that certain parks, hotels, restaurants, and experiences may be modified, limited, or unavailable at this time.

Note that the free FastPass+ perk has been replaced with the paid Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lane pass options, and Extra Magic Hours has been replaced with Early Theme Park Entry / Extended Evening Theme Park Hours.  Disney’s Dining Plans are still suspended for now.

We urge you to contact a Disney travel agent for the latest information. Fill out this form and The Vacationeer will give you a free quote.

Disney has implemented a series of health and safety measures during the ongoing COVD-19 pandemic, including:

Disney Park Pass System

In order to promote physical distancing and manage attendance, Disney requires that all theme park reservations are made via the Disney Park Pass system. All Guests ages 3 and older must have a park reservation –  and a valid admission for the same park on the same date as the reservation –  in order to enter. Park hopping (visiting more than one park per day if your ticket allows it) is permitted after 2PM; no reservation is needed for the second park of the day.

Face Coverings

Update April 2022: Face coverings are optional for Guests in both outdoor and indoor locations, as well as on Disney transportation. Disney recommends Guests who are not fully vaccinated continue wearing face coverings in all indoor locations, including indoor attractions and theaters and on enclosed transportation. Face coverings are not permitted while using water slides or while in the water.

Getting Started: How to Plan a Disney Vacation

Planning a Disney vacation can feel like a daunting task, especially for first-time guests. Be aware that the properties of Walt Disney World cover around 43 square miles, which is almost twice the size of Manhattan!

There are so many engaging activities, exciting attractions, magical details, and wonderful restaurants and resorts.  It’s nearly impossible to experience everything at Disney World over the course of several trips, let alone in a single visit to the park. That’s why it’s important to start your planning early and decide what you should prioritize on your trip.

How do you start your Disney World vacation planning?

As you start to plan for a Disney vacation, you should first conduct your research well in advance of booking the trip. Once you decide where you want to stay, what theme parks you wish to visit, and how many days your vacation will last, then you can begin to book your trip. Next, create a detailed itinerary for each day so that your vacation will include every event, attraction, and restaurant you wish to experience.

Without a daily itinerary and at least some knowledge of the park, Disney World can be a confusing and overwhelming place. Informed and organized vacationers are less stressed, save more money, and have more fun!

Another great option is to work with a professional Disney Travel Agent. As you may have seen on our Disney Travel Planners page, we recommend the agents at The Vacationeer Travel Agency. Visit them at

Fortunately, there are lots of Disney World resources online these days, so getting up to speed with the ins and outs of the park is well within your reach.

Even so, with all the information out there, narrowing down these search results to find the most relevant information can be a challenge. Therefore, MagicGuides has created the 9 Steps to Planning a Walt Disney World Vacation in an effort to condense the most relevant information into one comprehensive guide.

Not only will being organized well in advance of your trip save you money and reduce your level of stress as your departure nears, but it will also secure your spot at popular resorts, attractions, and dining establishments.

Now, let’s first summarize some general Disney World information.

Disney Vacation Terminology

Before you can get down to the nitty-gritty of planning a Disney vacation, you really need to know the lingo. Below we have defined some of the terms and concepts you are bound to encounter as you research and book your trip to Disney World.

Disney World vacation planning

Disney World At-A-Glance

Here are 8 key things you should know before going to Disney World:

  1.  Walt Disney World has 4 major theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios*
  2.  Disney World has 2 water parks: Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon*
  3.  There are over 20 large resorts owned and operated by Walt Disney World on the resort’s grounds
  4.  WDW operates 5 golf courses and 2 mini-golf courses
  5.  There are several lakes on Walt Disney World property offering boating, kayaking, fishing, and other water sports opportunities
  6.  The main dinner shows at Walt Disney World is Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue
  7.  Disney’s BoardWalk is considered the main entertainment district
  8.  Disney Springs is the largest shopping and dining district at Disney World

Learn More Here:

✔️  To learn more about Disney’s Magic Kingdom theme park, see our Magic Kingdom Secrets and Magic Kingdom Rides pages.

✔️  To learn more about Disney’s Epcot theme park, see our Epcot Secrets and Epcot Rides pages.

✔️  To learn more about Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park, see our Animal Kingdom Secrets and Animal Kingdom Rides pages.

✔️  To learn more about Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park, see our Hollywood Studios Secrets and Hollywood Studios Rides pages.

✔️  For a comparison of Disney World’s water parks, see our Typhoon Lagoon vs Blizzard Beach page.

✔️  Use our Disney World Map and Disney Transporation Map to chart your route before you arrive.

Disney World Resorts

Best Disney Resorts

There are two types of resorts/hotels available to Walt Disney World guests: on-site (official Disney-owned resorts located within the park) and off-site (non-Disney resorts located outside of the park).*

Learn More Here:

✔️  To learn more about Disney’s in-park resort hotels, see our Disney Value Resorts, Disney Moderate Resorts, and Disney Deluxe Resorts pages.

My Disney Experience

My Disney Experience is the app & website where registered guests can update their profiles, view reservations, and vacation packages, plan itineraries, see Disney PhotoPass photos, and add/ remove people from friends and family lists. Use it in conjunction with the Disney Genie app to help you determine which rides you should go on next!


MagicBands are colorful wristbands that act as an all-in-one device to effortlessly connect you to the vacation choices you made with My Disney Experience.

They are used to enter the parks, unlock your Disney Resort hotel room, buy food and merchandise, and more.

MagicBands are no longer free, but you can purchase them online or in the park for a small fee.

Early Theme Park Entry and Extended Evening Theme Park Hours

How to plan a trip to Disney World

A great perk of staying at an on-site Disney hotel is the ability to spend extra time in the parks during hours where 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.  These are usually held on Mondays at EPCOT and Wednesdays at Magic Kingdom, though this can change from time to time.  You’ll want to check the latest schedule to verify which dates and parks are available during your trip.

Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lane Passes

Disney’s FastPass+ system has been replaced with the paid Disney Genie+ service.

For $15 per ticket per day, guests are able to use the Lightning Lane entrance at over 40 attractions throughout the park. Guests make their first reservation on the morning of their visit and make additional ride reservations, one at a time, for the rest of the day.

Disney also offers individual Lightning Lane passes at its highest-demand attractions Guests are able to purchase up to 2 Lightning Lane passes per day at these attractions.  Cost ranges from $7-$15 and varies based on the attraction, date, and availability.

Contact The Vacationeer for additional details.

Here is a chart to help you figure out which rides are part of Genie+ and which rides are only for the pay-per-ride Lightning Lane pass.

Attraction Disney Theme ParkIncluded in Disney Genie+ Purchase Individual Lightning Lane Entry
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Magic Kingdom
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger SpinMagic Kingdom
Disney Festival of Fantasy ParadeMagic Kingdom
Dumbo the Flying ElephantMagic Kingdom
Haunted MansionMagic Kingdom
“it’s a small world”Magic Kingdom
Jungle CruiseMagic Kingdom
Mad Tea PartyMagic Kingdom
Meet Mickey at Town Square TheaterMagic Kingdom
Meet Cinderella and a Visiting Princess at Princess Fairytale HallMagic Kingdom
Meet Princess Tiana and a Visiting Princess at Princess Fairytale HallMagic Kingdom
Mickey’s PhilharMagicMagic Kingdom
Monsters Inc. Laugh FloorMagic Kingdom
Peter Pan’s FlightMagic Kingdom
Pirates of the CaribbeanMagic Kingdom
Seven Dwarfs Mine TrainMagic Kingdom
Space MountainMagic Kingdom✓ Until 8/7/22✓ After 8/7/22
Splash MountainMagic Kingdom
The BarnstormerMagic Kingdom
The Magic Carpets of AladdinMagic Kingdom
The Many Adventures of Winnie the PoohMagic Kingdom
Tomorrowland SpeedwayMagic Kingdom
Under the Sea ~ Journey of The Little MermaidMagic Kingdom
Disney and Pixar Short Film FestivalEPCOT
Frozen Ever AfterEPCOT✓ Until 8/7/22✓ After 8/7/22
Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic RewindEPCOT✓ Beginning 5/27/22
Journey into Imagination with FigmentEPCOT
Living with the LandEPCOT
Mission: SPACE – GreenEPCOT
Mission: SPACE – OrangeEPCOT
Remy’s Ratatouille AdventureEPCOT✓ After 5/31/22✓ Until 5/31/22
Soarin' Around the WorldEPCOT
Spaceship EarthEPCOT
Test TrackEPCOT
The Seas with Nemo & FriendsEPCOT
Turtle Talk with CrushEPCOT
Alien Swirling SaucersDisney's Hollywood Studios
Beauty and the Beast Live on StageDisney's Hollywood Studios
Disney Junior Play & Dance!Disney's Hollywood Studios
For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along CelebrationDisney's Hollywood Studios
Indiana Jones Epic Stunt SpectacularDisney's Hollywood Studios
Meet Olaf at Celebrity SpotlightDisney's Hollywood Studios
Mickey & Minnie's Runaway RailwayDisney's Hollywood Studios✓ Until 8/7/22✓ After 8/7/22
Millennium Falcon: Smugglers RunDisney's Hollywood Studios
Muppet*Vision 3DDisney's Hollywood Studios
Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring AerosmithDisney's Hollywood Studios
Slinky Dog DashDisney's Hollywood Studios
Star Tours - The Adventures ContinueDisney's Hollywood Studios
Star Wars: Rise of the ResistanceDisney's Hollywood Studios
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror™Disney's Hollywood Studios
Toy Story Mania!Disney's Hollywood Studios
Avatar Flight of PassageDisney's Animal Kingdom Park
Celebration of the Festival of the Lion KingDisney's Animal Kingdom Park
DINOSAURDisney's Animal Kingdom Park
Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden MountainDisney's Animal Kingdom Park✓ Until 8/7/22✓ After 8/7/22
Feathered Friends in Flight!Disney's Animal Kingdom Park
It’s Tough to Be a Bug!Disney's Animal Kingdom Park
Kali River RapidsDisney's Animal Kingdom Park
Kilimanjaro SafarisDisney's Animal Kingdom Park
Naʻvi River JourneyDisney's Animal Kingdom Park
The Animation Experience at Conservation StationDisney's Animal Kingdom Park

Advance Dining Reservations

Disney World Dining

With Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs), you’re able to secure your table at some of Disney’s most popular restaurants.

All guests can make their advance reservations for dining up to 60 days in advance.

Disney Resort hotel Guests may make their reservations up to 60 days in advance plus the length of their stay (up to 10 days).

✔️  If you’d like to leave your trip in the hands of professionals, and possibly save money in the process, we recommend you speak to our partners at The Vacationeer Travel Agency. Their services are always free and they’ll plan the vacation of a lifetime for you. Visit them at

The 9 Steps of How to Plan a Disney Vacation

Now let’s delve a little deeper into what you need to do in order to plan a Disney vacation. We have arranged these steps in roughly the order in which you should consider them.

Here are the 9 Steps to Planning a Disney World Vacation:

Disney World vacations

1. Decide When To Go to Disney World

Once you’ve made the decision to book a Walt Disney World vacation, then the next step is deciding which time of year to go.

The biggest considerations for choosing when to visit are promotions, festivals, crowd sizes, and weather.

Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of each consideration.


During their slower seasons, Disney World offers several promotions to lure guests to the park.

By far, the largest and most popular promotion Disney offers is the Free Dining promotion. For select dates in the fall and winter (usually August – December), Walt Disney World offers this free dining promotion to guests who book vacation packages with non-discounted resort hotels and non-discounted park tickets. Each member of the booked party is eligible for Free Dining.

There are a few caveats.

  • First, the promotion sells out quickly because, well, who doesn’t like free food? So act quickly if this promotion appeals to you.
  • Secondly, a 3-night minimum stay is required (with a maximum of a 14-night stay). This means that you are not eligible for purchasing discounted WDW tickets from authorized resellers (so do the math to determine which promotion or discount will save you the most money in the long run).
  • Next, there are room exclusions for the promotion. The following do not qualify: All-Star Movies, Art of Animation Little Mermaid Rooms, Bay Lake Tower, Fort Wilderness campsites, Port Orleans Resort French Quarter, all 3-bedroom Villas, Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian, and standard rooms & bungalows at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. Port Orleans Resort Riverside is eligible, but only for select dates.
  • And lastly, guests who are participating in the promotion are required to purchase tickets that include either the Park Hopper Plus option, or a 2-day (or more) Park Hopper.

So, while the Free Dining plan is a wonderful promotion, be sure that it makes financial sense, includes menu items to your liking, and aligns with your particular Walt Disney World vacation plans.

The Disney Travel Agents at The Vacationeer stay up to date on all the current promotions and can add them to your reservation if they will save you money, even after booking.  Click HERE for a free, no-obligation price quote.


Walt Disney World is a great destination any day of the year. However, there is something about the seasonal festivals which make the park extra magical.

Besides the spectacular Flower & Garden Festival during the month of May, most of our favorite seasonal events take place during the Fall and Winter months.

Epcot hosts The Food & Wine Festival in September and October, and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is a real treat for Magic Kingdom guests around – you guessed it – Halloween. During November and December, the wildly popular Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party takes place at Magic Kingdom, as do a host of other holiday events, such as A Frozen Holiday Wish Show (Magic Kingdom), Christmas Day Parade on ABC (Magic Kingdom), Joyful! (Epcot), Holidays Around the World (Epcot), and Jingle Bell, Jingle Bam (Hollywood Studios).

If we had an absolute favorite week to be at Walt Disney World, we may have to choose some time in early December. The park is festive, the weather is comfortable, and the crowds are lighter than normal.

Crowd Size

Crowd sizes are a major consideration when planning a trip to Walt Disney World.

Because park attendance fluctuates throughout the year, there are certainly better (less crowded) times of the year go.

For those of you who are not tied down with obligations, you are in a much better position to be flexible with your travel dates. For the rest of us, work schedules, school schedules, and other factors often influence the timing of our vacations, so we just have to plan a trip around a timeframe that works.

With millions of annual visitors, each Walt Disney World theme park can become crowded. The week you choose to visit the park can have a major impact on wait times for attractions and crowd density on the sideways and in the restaurants.

The best way to gauge crowd sizes any particular day – at any one of Walt Disney World’s 4 theme parks – is to consult our Disney Crowd Calendar.  By using data compiled from recent years, our crowd calendar determines which theme parks will have the shortest lines and which parks will have the longest lines.

While not everyone has the flexibility to plan their trip around the least-crowded dates, crowd calendars can still be a valuable tool to help you to maximize your Disney experience during your visit.

When is Walt Disney World Least Crowded?

Walt Disney World parks are typically less crowded from January 2nd until just prior to Presidents’ Day week (third Monday in February), the week after Labor Day until just prior to Thanksgiving week, and the week after Thanksgiving weekend until the week prior to Christmas. As a general guide, when schools are in session, WDW is usually less crowded.

When is Walt Disney World Most Crowded?

Walt Disney World parks generally experience their highest attendance around school breaks. These include around Presidents’ Day week (third week in February), the Spring Break timeframe from mid-March through late April, Memorial Day weekend, Summer (mid-June through Labor Day), Thanksgiving week, and Christmas week through January 1st.

Learn More Here:

✔️  To learn more about avoiding crowds at Disney World, see our Disney Crowd Calendar, Best Time to Go to Disney, and Avoid Lines at Disney World pages. And if you are considering a trip to Disneyland, see our Disneyland vs Disney World, Disneyland Resort Map, and Disneyland Crowd Calendar pages.

disney trip planning


Any How to Plan a Disney Vacation guide must discuss the nuances of Disney’s weather.

First of all, Orlando, Florida is known for its warm and sunny weather. Ice and snow are virtually non-existent here and the temperatures rarely dip below the freezing level.

That said, there are some seasonal differences that you may want to take into consideration when booking your Disney World vacation. January is typically the coolest month, July is the warmest and wettest, and June has the most sunshine hours.

Our favorite seasons at Walt Disney World are probably pleasant spring and fall seasons, and our least favorite season is during the summer months. Not only are the crowds heavy, but the weather can be quite hot and humid. If you do plan a summer vacation at Disney World, remember to come prepared with the proper amenities to keep you cool and hydrated.

Learn More Here:

✔️  To learn about Disney’s unpredictable weather patterns, see our Disney World Weather and Disney World Attractions for Rainy Days pages.

2. Decide on your Length of Stay (How many Days)

Because there is just so much to see and do at Walt Disney World, there is really no right answer for how long your Walt Disney World vacation should last. However, there are several wrong answers. One wrong answer would be staying for only 1 or 2 days!

We recommend that any trip should last at least 4 days, with an ideal range of a full week or so. Some people buy an Annual Pass and spend 30+ days at the park, so the sky is the limit! It just depends on your budget, time limitations, who you are traveling with, and what the goals of your trip are. But with so much to see and experience, a day or 2 won’t even scratch the surface of what Walt Disney World has to offer.

How Long Do Most People Stay at Disney World?

Most Disney World vacations last 3 – 7 days. Many guests devote one full day to each of the four Disney World theme parks. Given their size and number of attractions, it’s certainly possible to spend two days each at Epcot and Magic Kingdom. Additional days can be spent re-visiting one of the parks, going to a Disney water park, or doing other various activities, inside or outside of the park.

But the bottom line is, if your objective is to experience most attractions, shows, parades, etc., you really need to provide yourself with adequate time/days to explore all facets of each park.

Many guests like to spend a day or two at other (non-Disney) Orlando-area attractions – such as Universal Studios, Busch Garden, and SeaWorld. Other guests set aside a day or two for golfing, boating, or simply relax.

If your trip to Disney World is a “rite of passage” event for the kids – and your goal is to just experience the popular rides and get a feel for the park – 3-4 days is doable. However, just be aware that you may feel as though you are rushing to get as much in with your time constraints.  You probably won’t be able to experience everything that you set out to achieve.

Besides simply having enough time at Disney World, another reason for booking a longer WDW vacation is the financial incentive. The more days you spend at the park, the less the cost of your daily ticket. That’s not to say you will spend less money on an 8-day pass vs a 3-day pass, for example, because you won’t. However, the cost per day goes down substantially the more days you spend at Disney World.

Thoroughly review all current promotions and ticket pricing scenarios before deciding on the duration of your Disney World vacation.

3. How to Travel to Disney World

Once you have determined when you will go to Walt Disney World, and for how long, it’s now time to start considering how you will get to the park.

The two most common modes of transportation to Walt Disney World are by car and by air. Buses and trains also come in and out of Orlando, but these options tend to be more problematic with luggage considerations.

Consult your bus service or Amtrak for their guidelines on luggage if you decide to go this route. If you plan on driving your own car to Disney World, be sure to print out good maps or have a GPS device ready to go. Since most people fly to Disney World, let’s review some of your best options for booking a flight.

Most people use airline travel search engines – such as Priceline, Kayak, Expedia, or Travelocity – to book their air travel. We also recommend checking ITA Software by Google. This search engine won’t allow you to book through their website, but it’s regarded as the most robust search engine for finding airline deals. If you have flexibility with your booking dates, sign up for Airfarewatchdog alerts. You can get real-time or daily alerts for special offers and flight deals between your departure city and Orlando.

Ways To Save at Disney World

Here are a few more cost-savings tips for booking your flight to Walt Disney World:

  • For the best deals, book six weeks in advance.
  • Scan for deals in the morning, as most airlines offer their best deals at this time. Act fast because good deals get scooped up quickly.
  • The most inexpensive flights are often the earliest departures in the morning.
  • Wednesdays are typically the cheapest days to fly.
  • Credit cards with frequent flyer mile points can save you money on future flights.
  • Not all airlines offer their cheapest flights through travel search engines. Check low-cost airlines individually to see if booking directly through their website is less expensive.

Learn More Here:

✔️  To learn more about ways to save at Disney, see our Disney World Cost Calculator, Free Things to Do at Disney World, Disney World Discounts, Disney on a Dime, Disney Gift Card Discounts, and Free Disney Vacation articles.

4. Choose a Disney Resort Hotel

planning a disney world vaction

There are two options for lodging at Walt Disney World. You can either stay at an official Disney-owned on-site resort, or at a nearby (non-Disney) off-site resort. Let’s look at the advantages/disadvantages of each type of resort hotel.

Official Disney On-Site Resorts

There is something special about staying at an official Disney resort.

For one, each resort has its own distinctive character, charm, and identity. You can leave the real world behind and surround yourself with Disney magic, 24/7.

Since all resort guests are on Disney World property, you will be in close proximity to all the parks and have direct access to monorails, boats, and buses.

On-site guests also receive special perks that off-site guests do not. These include Early Theme Park Entry,  the ability to book Dining Reservations and Lightning Lane Passes ahead of non-Disney resort guests.

There are 3 main tiers of on-site Disney Resorts: Value, Moderate, and Deluxe. There’s also a Deluxe Villa tier, which is essentially a WDW timeshare.

The only major disadvantage of staying at a Disney resort is the cost. With the extra perks and close proximity to the park, these resorts are more expensive than off-site resorts, so your decision will really just depend on your budget and the priorities of your vacation.

Off-Site Resorts (non-Disney)

Non-Disney off-site resorts compete with on-site Disney Resorts.

Most of these properties are further away from the park and do not have direct access to the monorail. Despite this, many off-site resorts are still quite close to the park, with some – in fact – situated on Disney- owned land.

While you won’t enjoy the same perks as on-site guests, these off-site properties are generally very nice.

Most have all the amenities of the more expensive Disney Resorts (some even have more), and the rooms are often larger. If your party has 5 or more guests, off-site resorts offer more value, as most of the on-site 5-person+ options are quite pricey.

The bottom line is, if you are sticking to a tight budget and don’t mind being a little further away from the action, a non-Disney resort may be your best bet. You
can have a fantastic vacation staying at either on or off-property resorts.

We just recommended that you explore both options in weighing the pros and cons of your situation. You can certainly split your nights between on-property and off-property. But if you are only at Disney World for a few nights, we recommend just paying a little more to be on the property.

Watch The Vacationeer Kiki discuss Disney World Resorts. We rank her #1 on our Best Disney World YouTube Channels list so we definitely recommend her content!

Learn More Here:

✔️  To learn more about where to stay at Disney World, see our Disney Value Resorts, Disney Moderate Resorts, and Disney Deluxe Resorts pages.

5. Buy your Theme Park Tickets

It’s possible that you may end up spending more on park tickets than on your hotel room, so the decision about which tickets to buy is an important one.

We recommend you review all your options well in advance so you have time to think about which package makes sense for your budget and duration of stay.

And remember, you now need not only tickets, but also a theme park reservation (Disney Park Pass) to enter a theme park.

Where to Buy your  Disney Theme Park Tickets

As a general rule, always purchase tickets through an authorized seller/reseller and buy your tickets well in advance of your departure. This will shield you from the inevitable price hikes which occur at least once every year. Buying tickets early also gives you the best chance of securing a reservation to your desired park on your desired day.

Your Disney Travel Agent can also purchase tickets for you. The Vacationeer can help you with that!

Buy your Theme Park Tickets Early

As far as pricing advantages go, the longer the duration of your park tickets, the less each ticket costs per day. As Disney states, “the longer you play, the less you pay per day.”

Single-day tickets are pricey (even more pricey during holidays, school vacations, and weekends), whereas multi-day tickets become much cheaper by the day.  After 3 days, the cost of additional days substantially decreases with each additional day.

Whatever you do, don’t wait to buy tickets at the gate, and never buy your tickets via eBay, Craigslist, or another unauthorized reseller.

Buy early, buy smart, and buy for as many days as your time and budget will allow!

Disney Park Hopper Tickets

When you buy a standard ticket to a Disney World theme park, the ticket is good only for visiting a single park per day.

The Disney Park Hopper option allows guests entry to more than one theme park per day by starting at one park and then moving to another park after 2PM.

We especially love the Park Hopper for spending the first part of the day at one theme park, then spending the evenings at Epcot to take advantage of the wonderful dining options at World Showcase.

Park Hopper tickets are more expensive than standard park tickets, but they allow for much more flexibility during the day.

It’s an especially great option for those who have a limited amount of time at Disney World, and for those who have short attention spans!

6. Select your Disney Dining

food at Disney World

If this is your first trip to Disney World, you may be surprised by all the world-class, fining-dining experiences the park offers.

Gone are the days when Disney was known as a “burgers and kid’s meals” type of destination.

Sure, there are plenty of quick-service restaurants and stands around the park, but there is also an eclectic mix of fabulous table-service restaurants to satisfy the toughest of culinary critics.

Some restaurants are themed around Disney attractions, others are geared towards families or offer formal dining experiences.

All-you-can-eat buffets are popular, as are ethnic restaurants. Epcot’s World Showcase offers culinary experiences aligning with the specific country represented, while Disney Springs has an abundance of fabulous dining experiences to choose from.

With over 140 restaurants on Disney World property, there is really something for everyone’s taste buds at Walt Disney World!

If you plan on dining at table-service restaurants during your vacation (recommended!), Disney allows you to make dining reservations up to 60 days in advance. This is another example of “the early bird catches the worm,” as slots during prime hours go quickly, especially at popular dining locations like Cinderella’s Royal Table and Chef Mickeys.

Be sure to consult our Walt Disney World Crowd Calendar to stay on top of when your 60-day ADRs window opens.

Disney Dining Plans

Note: Disney’s Dining Plans are currently suspended. We will update this page as more information becomes available, but have kept the information below for your reference in the meantime. 

Guests should consider the Disney Dining Plan to see if it’s right for them. The Disney Dining Plan must be purchased as part of a package, which includes your Disney Resort stay, Disney park tickets, and the Dining Plan.  (Disney Vacation Club Members may also add the Dining Plan onto their vacation point stays). Therefore, if you are staying off-property, you will not be eligible for this perk.

The Disney Dining Plan has different tiers and price points, so you really need to review the current rates to see if you will actually save money by utilizing this perk and if the food items included in the plan will accommodate your family’s taste buds.

Some people find that they can save more money – and have more flexibility in their food options – without the plan, while others find a plan that is perfectly suited to their needs.

Spend some time reviewing the details of each plan and weighing the pros/cons before locking yourself into anything. We have created the Disney World Dining Plan Calculator to help you decide which plan is right for you.

As we referenced before, Disney’s Free Dining Plan is a promotion Walt Disney World has traditionally offered for select dates during the less crowded fall weeks. Guests must book vacation packages with non-discounted resort hotels and park tickets to be eligible.

Besides not being able to purchase your tickets and lodging at discounted rates, other caveats include the limited availability of time slots (non-vacation weeks), the fact that the promotion sells out quickly, and the exclusion of certain resorts.

With that said, this is Disney’s most popular promotion for a reason, and we recommend taking advantage of it if your schedule allows it.

Learn More Here:

✔️  To learn more about dining at Disney World, see our Be Our Guest Restaurant Review, Best Magic Kingdom Restaurants, Best Epcot Restaurants, Best Animal Kingdom Restaurants, Best Hollywood Studios Restaurants, Disney World Vegetarian Restaurants, Disney Reservations Calculator, and the Disney Dining Plan Calculator pages.

Are you going to Disney with a school group or youth organization? See our  School Trips to Disney World blog post for more on that.

7. Transportation to/from the Airport

Orlando International Airport (MCO) is about 20 miles from Walt Disney World. If you are flying to Disney, you must arrange for transportation to your hotel once you have landed.

Some guests opt to rent a car for the duration of their stay in Orlando. This can be easily accomplished by booking a rental car to be picked up at the airport. Off-site resort guests often take taxis (expensive) or Uber/Lyft (less expensive) directly to their hotel.

Sadly, there is no longer a complimentary (free) option for transportation from the airport to Disney World, as Disney’s Magical Express ceased operations in early 2022.  In its place, two paid shuttle bus options have begun operation: Mears Connect and Sunshine Flyer.  Prices for both are a little under $20 per adult (one-way) with discounts for kids and round-trip transfers.

Learn More Here:

✔️  To learn more about Disney’s bus, boat, and monorail transportation, see our Disney World Transportation Map page.

8. Create a Daily Itinerary

disney world rides

Now that we have covered the basic steps for planning 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 less, you will most likely spend each day exploring 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 (like SeaWorld, Universal Studios, Busch Gardens), golfing, boating, shopping, or just taking a day off to relax.

Since theme park reservations (Park Pass) and Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) should be made well in advance of your trip, 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 you begin researching WDW attractions:

Some of the most popular rides for Lightning Lane passes and Disney Genie+ are:

• Magic Kingdom: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Space Mountain

• Epcot: Frozen Ever After, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure

• Hollywood Studios: Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, Rise of the Resistance, Slinky Dog Dash, and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway

• Animal Kingdom: Pandora’s Na’vi River Journey and Avatar Flight of Passage

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

• Epcot: the pavilions of Epcot World Showcase, Mission: Space, Track Testing, Spaceship Earth, Soarin’

• Animal Kingdom: Exhibition 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 – Relaxing BBQ featuring an outdoor pavilion with amazing views of Animal Kingdom.

• 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?

Check out the Disney Restaurant Reviews before making your reservations

There are over 140 restaurants operating within Disney World, and most of them are fantastic! We recommend that you spend some time reviewing on Tripadvisor and Yelp before making your Advance Dining Reservations (or speak w/ a Disney Travel Agent first).

Learn More Here:

✔️  Be sure to review our Fun Things to do at Disney World,  Disney Tips and Tricks, Magic Kingdom Secrets, Epcot Secrets, Animal Kingdom Secrets, and Hollywood Studios Secrets pages to give you some interesting things to look for while you are at WDW.

✔️  For our analysis on the theme park attractions, see out Best Magic Kingdom Rides, Best Epcot Rides, Best Animal Kingdom Rides, Best Hollywood Studios RidesBest Disney Attractions for Kids and Toddlers, and Best Shows at Disney World articles.

9. Create a Disney Packing List

Disney World Trip Planning

Depending on the duration of your Walt Disney World vacation, you will most likely pack lots of items to take with you. Let’s look at some of the things you should include in your WDW packing list.

Luggage / Backpacks for Disney 

First and foremost, make sure your luggage/backpacks are in tip-top shape for the journey, and of adequate size to hold your travel essentials. If not, then we have done the leg-work for you by creating the Best Backpacks for Disney World page.

Our list includes a variety of colorful Disney-themed backpacks for kids, daypacks for in-park use, as well as some larger travel backpacks for adults.

Disney Souvenirs

Next, consider purchasing some of your Disney World souvenirs before your departure.

This may sound odd, but purchasing items beforehand – like t-shirts, trading pins and lanyards, Disney autograph books, games and toys, and Mickey Mouse Ears hats – can save you money and time spent shopping for these items at the park. Plus, you will have these Disney souvenir items ready to use as soon as your flight touches down in Orlando.

See our Best Disney World Souvenirs page for our recommendations.

Packing List

And finally, it’s time to think about which clothing items, documents, toiletries, medications, electronics, swimwear, baby items, food and snacks, and other accessories you will need to pack.

From our experience, you will arrive at Disney World – thinking you have packed everything you will need for your trip – only to discover that you left an important item or two at home.

For your convenience, we have created the Disney World Packing List to ensure that nothing is overlooked during the packing process.

Print this list and check items off as you pack. We have also included a few recommended items on our Packing List.

These include links to inexpensive ponchos, comfortable shoes, external batteries, USB wall chargers, and Disney beach towels, as well as water bottles and Frogg Toggs Chilly Pads for those warm days at Disney World.

Well, there you have it. We hope our Ultimate Guide to Walt Disney World Vacation Planning will get you on the right path to planning, prioritizing, and booking your magical vacation to Disney World.

Don’t forget.: The best, and often least expensive, way to plan the ultimate Disney Vacation is to put your trip in the hands of professionals, consider contacting our friends at The Vacationeer. Their services are always free and they’ll help you create the vacation of a lifetime.

Visit them at!

Learn More Here:

✔️  Review our Disney World Packing List for some of our packing recommendations, including the Frogg Toggs Chilly Pad and refillable water bottles. Also see our Best Disney Backpacks, Best Fanny Packs for Disney, and Disney World Souvenirs pages for more packing and luggage suggestions.

Final Thoughts

We hope our How to Plan a Disney Vacation page helps you make sense of this confusing process. Feel free to browse through other Magic Guides pages, including our Disney World Trivia, Disney World Statistics, Christmas at Disney World, Pets at Disney World, Adventures by Disney, Disney World Payment Plan, and Why Use Disney Vacation Planners articles.

If you need help planning and booking your magical Walt Disney World vacation, then please contact our friends at The Vacationeer. Their services are always helpful and totally free of charge!  Click HERE for a free, no-obligation price quote.

Thanks for reading and we hope you have a magical Walt Disney World vacation!