Planning a trip to Walt Disney World is full of joyful anticipation and excitement. You begin dreaming of exploring the World. Meeting characters, hitting every attraction and making memories to last a lifetime. As you navigate your way through the vast array of choices to make for your dream trip to become a reality, your head begins to spin. The number of decisions and options is mind-boggling. Going to Disney is not like going to an amusement park for the day. There’s a reason they call it Walt Disney WORLD!
I have visited Walt Disney World numerous times throughout my life. No two trips were ever the same. I have been there as a kid, a teenager, with my future husband and in-laws , as a mother of toddlers, a family of 6, a mother of teenagers, solo, and with extended family. Other than a few obvious exceptions, I have done the planning for most of these trips myself. I am a Disney fanatic and enjoy spending hours researching all the options about as much as I love going! Learn more about my Disney World obsession on my about me page.
My love for going to Walt Disney World runs deep. To me, it offers an opportunity to immerse yourself and your family in a world of magic and beauty that is hard to find anywhere else. It breaks my heart when people return from their time at Disney World and say that they will never go back. I am convinced that with good planning, realistic expectations, and some pixie dust everyone can find the magic and wonder of Walt Disney World.
Where to Begin
You can find lots of Walt Disney World planning guides all over the internet. Most of them will start with a timeline of when to start booking. First your resort, then your dining, planning park days and Fastpasses. This all seems reasonable but there is so much more to making the right choices for YOUR trip. You have to know what kind of trip you want to have before planning your trip!
What Kind Of Trip Are You Taking?
What the heck do I mean? This seems like an odd question but the kind of trip you are taking should guide all of the choices you will make. Every trip cannot be planned the same way. Considering the needs and expectations of your party is crucial. You have to know what kind of trip you want in order to make it all that you are dreaming of. Let me give you some examples of what I mean.
Kinds of trips:
- Romantic Couples Trip
- Large Extended Family Trip
- First Time Family Trip with Babies
- We Are Only Going Once Trip – jam it all in (I will need a vacation from my vacation)
- We will Be Back Trip – we want to have great experiences at a relaxed pace
- We Have Been There Done That Trip – looking for new experiences without missing your favorites
- Keeping the Non-Disney, Non-Crowd loving Person Happy Trip
- Celebration Trip – bring on the extra special experience
- I Still Want to Send My Kids To College Trip – we want to take our family to Disney but not pay for it for the rest of our lives
- My Kids Can Pay For Their Own College Trip – let’s break the bank and live big! (VIP tour? Oh yeah!)
- Bucket List Trip – Do a Run Disney Event and Stay at the Polynesian (Yes, this is mine!)
You will probably have to take some time to think about this and it is worth doing. Consider who you are traveling with? What are their ages, experience with Disney, daily schedules, mobility? Will you need to accommodate naps or mobility issues? If you are traveling with toddlers and/or grandparents you probably should not plan 4 parks in 4 days sun up to sun down kind of trip. If you are traveling with a bunch of teenagers that’s a different story. Considering the kind of trip you want will help determine your priorities and guide you in the million choices you will have to make.
Every trip is unique and should be planned accordingly.
Walt Disney World Planning
When, Where and How Long
Now that you have taken the time to consider the kind of trip you are taking you can begin to make the 3 big decisions–when, where and how long.
Obviously, things like school, work, and holidays will be the biggest factor in deciding when you can take your vacation. But if you have some flexibility there are things to consider when choosing your dates.
Weather– This is very unpredictable in Florida. But there are general assumptions you can make. May-September will be HOT and a little rainier. October-April will be cooler and dryer. If you are traveling with young children or elderly ideally you should try to avoid the hotter months.
Crowds– Does anyone in your party not do well with crowds? If you know that crowds are some thing you want to try to avoid as much as possible, some careful planning can make that possible. If you have the flexibility.
Budget-When you choose to go can make a big difference for what your trip will cost. Naturally if you are going over a holiday break prepare to pay premium prices. But, if you can pick a slower time to go on vacation you will save a little money.
Special Events – There are several special events at Disney througout the year. These events may be things that you want to avoid or things you want to attend. They will also affect crowd levels.
Watch for a seperate post about choosing the right time for your Walt Disney World vacation.
I know you are going to Walt Disney World 🙂 But now the big question is where are you going to stay. There are so many options! It’s a daunting task. Your choices include staying at a Disney value, moderate, deluxe or DVC property, an off-site hotel or a rental. Based on the kind of trip you are taking, there are certain things to consider. Is having a conveniently located resort worth the extra expense? Are you willing to give up something like the dining plan or a character meal to make that fit in your budget? Or are you willing to stay off site to have more space and stay in budget? Where you stay will influence the kind of trip you have.
Budget– Of course, this will likely be what ultimately drives your final decision. You should have a good idea of what you are willing to spend on accommodations. Then find what works best for you within that budget.
Unfortunately, the realities of life such as schedules and budget will probably dictate this for you. I really prefer at least a week. Typically you will use 1-2 days for traveling and a non-park day in the middle of your trip is a must for keeping your sanity. So, with a week-long trip, this leaves you with 4 full days for parks. No matter how long you stay you will not see everything. You may want to consider doing a water park day or a day at Disney Springs too.
Some families do 3 day trips and others do 14-day trips. Do what works best for you. Even if this is the only trip you plan to take to Walt Disney World you really do not need to see everything. Savor and enjoy the experiences you have. This is about making memories that last a lifetime. Even if you only went to one park for one day you can experience the wonder and magic found only at the most magical place on earth.
Walt Disney World Planning
Sadly, it has become mandatory that you plan and schedule out most of your time at Walt Disney World. And you should do this 180 days before your trip. Yes, exactly 180 days. You see if you have your heart set on doing a character meal or eating at a sit down restaurant in general you need to make Advanced Dining Reservations (ADR’s).
To make ADR’s you will need to know what parks you plan on going to on what days. So, you should start making a daily schedule ASAP.
Again, this is also something that is very personal and specific to your trip. Some people will want all meal times planned out and reservations made for all of them. While other people are comfortable with eating quick service meals whenever they are ready to eat with no pre-planning. Most of us will fall somewhere in the middle. My family generally make 2-3 dining reservations for our entire trip.
Watch my YouTube Trip Planning Video!
All the Extras
I was all ready to start talking about park tickets with you but we are not still not ready for that. Before deciding how many days you need park tickets for there are a few more things to consider. This includes park hours, any extra events and special experiences that you may want to add.
You can check park hours HERE.
Here is a short list of some of the extra activities and events you might want to add to your agenda:
- Early Morning Magic (not to be confused with Extra Magic Hours which are available to Disney resort guests)
- Disney After Hours (again, not the same at Extra Magic Hours)
- Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
- Guided Park Tours
- Character Meals
- Bibbity Bobbity Boutique or Pirate League
- Dessert Parties
↓↓↓↓↓↓↓Here is a list of 25 more things to do at Walt Disney World!↓↓↓↓↓↓↓
It’s best to decide if you are adding any of these events to your schedule before buying park tickets or scheduling dining. (We will talk about dining reservations in a minute)
One example is Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Tickets to these parties allow you to enter the Magic Kingdom at 4:00. The party typically lasts till 12:00 am. A separate park ticket for that day is not necessary. Trust me, 4:00-midnight will be more than enough time in the park for one day.
Disney Springs is another location where you might want to plan some time for. This is Disney’s outdoor dining, shopping, and entertainment complex (kind of like the parks without the rides and cost of admission) There are also two waterparks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. More options to consider when planning your itinerary.
Now that you have an idea of what your daily schedule you can look at park tickets. There are 4 separate parks at Walt Disney World, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. Look at what each park has to offer and determine which ones you want to visit. You should plan at least one whole day for each park. Magic Kingdom and Epcot can both require two days if you want to see the majority of the park.
Depending on how long you are staying you may find that you can not make it to all 4 parks. That’s okay!! Remember to focus on the experiences you are having and the making of memories. That is way more important than running your family ragged and making everyone miserable to see all the things.
As I mentioned above, it is best to have a break from parks sometime during your trip. There are a lot of things to do outside of the parks like golf, water parks, Disney Spring. You do not need a park ticket for every day of your trip. And having time to relax at your resort will be just what you need after a couple of park days.
I will have another post about how to buy discounted park tickets.
There are many options when it comes to getting your people fed at Disney World. The time and money you spend on eating can be significant, so having a plan in place is important. Do you like having leisurely, sit down meals once or twice a day or do you prefer to eat on the go? Is eating on a budget a priority or are you a foodie who wants to experience all the unique dining options at Disney?
My family is picky and we are not big eaters. Spending money on table service meals was not something we did very often. Generally we did one or two character meals per trip. The rest of the time we would eat quick service meals and eat in our room. A good combination of sit down meals and on the go eating works best. Knowing your dining priorities will simplify your planning.
Disney offers dining plans. This a way to pay for your dining before your trip. Having a dining plan can be great for budgeting and convenience but it has it’s pitfalls too. When the plan is used wisely it can save you a bit of money depending on where you will be eating. Disney also offers a promotion for free dining on occasion. At first glance a free dining plans sounds like a no brainer. But there pros and cons to going during a promotion and it is not always the best way to save money. I will have a separate post about dining plans soon.
Let's Get Planning!
The beautiful thing about a Walt Disney World vacation is all the possibilities it holds. This can also make planning that vacation very overwhelming. Stop for a minute to think about what you hope to gain from your time at Walt Disney World. Consider the memories and moments you want to create with your family. look back on are key in planning your dream Disney vacation.
I hope is to help you plan and prepare for a Disney vacation that you will forever cherish.
4 Real Disney Mom