The days of just showing up to Disney buying a ticket and walking through the gates are long gone. If you’ve never been to Disney World before you may not realize the amount of planning people put into their vacations to the magical land of Disney. You can book vacation packages 499 days in advance, dining reservations 180 days in advance and fast passes up to 60 days in advance (if you’re staying onsite), not to mention there are more websites than Ican count telling people where to stay, what to eat, which rides to go on, crowd calendars, reservations finders, itineraries you name it! Disney can be very overwhelming, but it does not have to be. If you have no idea what I’m talking about or want a simple guide on how to plan for Disney World this VERY quick guide to Walt Disney World perfect place to start. Then check out our other Disney articles for Disney World Updates and more in-depth planning advice!
Decide When You Want to go to Disney World
The time of year you travel will impact the cost of the resort rate, airfare, ticket prices and sometimes even restaurant prices.
Disney rarely ever has low crowds just less busy times and you can usually tell when those are going to be based on ticket prices for a day ticket. Try to go when a one day ticket is at a non-peak rate for less busy parks, but don’t expect low crowds. Historically the week after Thanksgiving, early December, January, February and late September avoiding holidays are “less busy” according to current crowd calendars. That could change tomorrow so take it with a grain of salt. Basically, if schools are out, the parks will be busier.
Disney World tries to announce refurbishments in advance so plan accordingly to what will be open during your vacation. Last minute changes happen along with unscheduled closures, so also plan to be flexible (very rarely but it happens). Click here to see if any of your most important attractions will be closed during the dates for vacation.
Set a Resort Budget
How much do you want to spend on a resort? Disney has 3 price categories for their resorts, value, moderate and deluxe. The differences between these categories go beyond location and if there’s a restaurant in the resort. There is a difference in the pillows, beds and square footage, pools, size, layout etc.
If you have more than 6 people, you will need a deluxe resort bedroom villa unless you plan on staying in multiple value or moderate rooms. Want to stay on the monorail or have direct park access? You will need to stay in a deluxe resort. If you need more space or a better, quality bed, a value resort is not the place for you. Maybe you don’t have the budget for deluxe and moderate is your happy medium or maybe you don’t care about the resort at all and want to budget as much as possible and value fits the bill!
Choose a Resort
After you’ve picked the resort category that fits your needs, you need to decide on which hotel! Yes, that was just deciding a resort category. Each resort has its own theme.
When choosing a Value resort, it’s easy to choose the resort with the least experience price. There are theme differences and a few offer family suites and some were recently redone which may help you decide if the cheapest price doesn’t sway you.
For Moderates, I prefer either of the Port Orleans Resort. This is simply personal preference, but Port Orleans are both MUCH smaller than the other moderate resorts so that is always my first pick. Simply size of the resort and theming are a priority for me. Also, Port Orleans has ferries to Disney Springs which makes it slightly more appealing as well.
Deluxe is a different story. Grand Floridian, The Polynesian, and The Contemporary resorts are on the monorail. If you stay at the Contemporary, you can walk to the Magic Kingdom. Animal Kingdom Lodge is nice and quiet and offers animal views. If you stay at Boardwalk or Beach/Yacht Club you can walk or ferry to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. At Wilderness Lodge, you can ferry to Magic Kingdom. Some of the deluxe resorts offer villas with kitchens and multiple bedrooms. They all have amazing pools, amazing restaurants, offer tons of activities, and are top of the line resorts. Choosing a Deluxe resort is purely a personal preference.
Do you want a Dining Plan?
This is a million-dollar question when booking a Disney vacation. A dining plan can cost a lot of money, that may or may not be money well spent.
Since we do mostly quick service, signature lounges, and snack for meals and usually only do a table service one or two days out of our vacation, the dining plans are usually not cost effective for us. We also don’t eat enough for the quick service plan to be worth it. When our son is a teenager this might be a different story though!
If you have big eaters, want your vacation to feel all-inclusive, want to do lots of character or signature meals or simply want to prepay for your meals (remember you will still be paying tips) then the dining plan might be a good choice.
How Many Days To Visit the Parks
Now we get into the nitty gritty fun part. How many days do you want to go to the theme parks? I suggest (and for first timers especially people choose to have the first and last day as travel days). Go to Disney Springs, swim at your resort, go resort hopping along the monorail etc. If you’re planning at 7-night vacation 5 days in the parks should allow you to do and see most things and get some downtime to relax at your resort.
If you are using Disney’s Magical Express (Disney free transportation to and from the airport only for resort guests) you will leave your resort at least 3 hours before your flight. Keep that 3-hour window in mind when booking your flights and choosing park days. Yes, that means if you are leaving on 6:00 am flight you will be leaving your resort at 3:00 am or even earlier. It also means doing a park on your departure day isn’t really cost effective unless you have a night flight.
My Disney Experience
Sign up for a My Disney Experience “MDE” account. Then download the app to your phone and play around with the website. Once you have a vacation booked you will use this site/app to select your MagicBand colors, reserve dining, select FastPass+ attractions, get park hours, see park maps, and just about anything you will need for your vacation.
180 days from your check-in day you can start to reserve dining at 6:00 am eastern on the website or 7:00 am eastern by phone. The most popular restaurants will book up 180 days out or even earlier because if you stay onsite you can book for your entire vacation at one time on the 180th day from check-in (for up to 10 days at a time). So, if someone is checking in three days before you they actually can book earlier than you can. If you are staying offsite you will not be able to book your dining all at once and will need to book your dining reservations 180 days from the day you will be dining at the restaurant. If you have a Travel Agent they should be able to help you out with this!
If you stay onsite 60 days from your check-in date you can reserve your FastPass+ attractions. What is a FastPass? It’s a reserved time for you to enter a special faster queue line for select attractions. Depending on the park some of the attractions have a tiered system where you can only pick one from that list and need to pick your rest from another list. Look this all up and have a game plan before you go to reserve them. If you have a Travel Agent they should be able to help you out with this!
What are attractions should you FastPass+? It’s a personal preference, but typically the most popular are roller coasters/big thrill rides, new rides, character meet & greets, and nighttime shows. The new rides in Toy Story Land, Flight of Passage in Pandora and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom are typically the hardest fast passes to get. Try for those first if you want to ride them. Peter Pan’s Flight is also high up on the list for some reason. It’s not a thrill or new ride, but VERY popular.
Additional Things to Think About
Disney offers an unlimited digital photo package called Memory Maker. Before you pack, look at the weather. Allocate money for tips for dining, bell services, bus drivers, travel to the airport, etc.. You may want to bring a portable cell charger, rain jacket, backpack, water bottle, stroller, baby carrier or other things to make your life easier in the park. If you are a US military veteran and/or active duty, Disney has discounted rooms and tickets at amazing good rates.
For Disney World Resort packages, your final payment is due 30 days from check-in. If you change your mind about something or need to cancel your trip altogether, you can make changes until that date.
Ready to Start Planning a Walt Disney World Vacation?
Contact Dream Makers Travel Agency today to book your vacation and get FREE concierge level planning included with every booking.