The Ultimate Walt Disney World Planning Guide
Whether you are a first time visitor or park expert, planning a Walt Disney World vacation can be incredibly time consuming. There are tons of moving pieces and the Disney lingo can be overwhelming in itself. No worries! Our ultimate Walt Disney World Planning Guide will assist you.
We have rounded up all 13 steps to planning a Walt Disney World vacation from start to finish and put them in an easy-to-read article for you. If any of the steps do not apply to your trip, just skip it and move on to the next section. Whether you are ready to jump right in and start planning your trip right this minute or you have just started looking into it, our Walt Disney World Planning Guide should be able to help.
Note: Our Walt Disney World Planning Guide includes articles that we have written about each subject. Underneath each section, you will find links to our articles that are relevant to the mentioned planning stage. These will open in a new page so feel free to click away and go back and read them later. They are just our experiences.
Tip: We have made some Disney World printables to help you keep track of your plans. Feel free to print them and use them for your trip!
1. Learn About The Walt Disney World Resort
The first part of any Walt Disney World Planning Guide is understanding what exactly Walt Disney World is. 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 374 restaurants, 313 shops, 32 resorts, Disney Springs, and a BoardWalk area make up the Walt Disney World Resort. The entire Resort measures 27,258 acres or 43 square miles.
Walt Disney World is the most popular vacation spot in the world, welcoming more than 50 million visitors per year. It is truly the most magical place on earth.
2. Make A My Disney Experience Account
Your ultimate planning tool will be your My Disney Experience Account. From here, you will be able to explore all that Walt Disney World has to offer, make FastPass selections, see entertainment times and park hours, purchase tickets, and make dining reservations. I recommend that every adult in your party make their own My Disney Experience account; just be sure to become “friends” on the website so you can make and modify plans for each other.
Download the My Disney Experience App on your smartphone so you can access and make your plans on the go. This app will be your best friend during your Walt Disney World visit!
3. Decide When To Visit
If visiting the Disney water parks is important to you, Summer is definitely the best time for you to plan your vacation. Plus, with many people shifting their trips to the Fall and Winter to partake in special events, Walt Disney World is not as crowded during the summer as it once was… but it is still just as hot!
Early Winter is a popular time to visit Walt Disney World because the parks are decorated for the holidays. Although busy, it is very cool to see the parks this time of year.
If you can plan a trip in the early Spring, I would encourage you to do so. The parks are not nearly as crowded, the weather is not miserably hot, and wait times for rides are much shorter. You will be able to do more at each park.
My favorite time to visit is during the Fall. We start our day at Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival, sampling food from around the world and getting our Passport stamped. Afterwards, we head to the Magic Kingdom for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party where we trick-or-treat around the park, take pictures with characters dressed in their Halloween costumes, and see the specialized parade and fireworks show.
Although there is no “bad” time to visit Walt Disney World, you may want to take into consideration the special events that go on throughout the year. Keep in mind that some of these events require a separate ticket, which means you’ll be spending more money.
Epcot: International Festival of the Arts (January-February), International Flower and Garden Festival (February-May), International Food and Wine Festival (August-November), International Festival of the Holidays (November-December)
Hollywood Studios: Flurry of Fun at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (November-December)
5 Things To Do At Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, Disney Holiday Hotels, Having A Very Merry Christmas At Disney World, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, Tasting The World At Epcot’s Food And Wine Festival, Very Merry Christmas Party: Worth The Price?, What To Expect At Epcot’s Flower And Garden Festival
4. Choose The Duration Of Your Vacation
How long will you stay in Florida? Can you only take five vacation days from work? Seven? Figure out how many days you can allow for this vacation.
5. Transportation To Orlando
How will you get to Orlando? If you have small children and will need to bring a lot of gear, driving will probably be your best option. Couples may want to make the most of their vacation and opt to fly instead of spending hours in the car. Many cities offer direct flights to the Orlando International Airport (MCO) or neighboring Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB).
Tip: Start your vacation with a picture in front of this adorable Disney wall at MCO.
Tip: When looking at flights, be sure to use a private browser. Rates will increase if you continually look. Also, Tuesday is the “best” day to buy airfare.
6. Will You Stay On Property Or Off?
Alright, it’s the biggest decision on our Walt Disney World Planning Guide: do you want to stay on Disney property or off?
The biggest advantage to staying off property is that hotel rooms are much cheaper. It is also easier for you to explore more of Orlando because you can stay anywhere in the city.
The biggest disadvantage is that you will have to travel to the parks, which means paying for parking ($22 per day) and gas. If you fly to Orlando, you will also have to purchase a rental car or pay for a Lyft/Uber to get around.
As you can imagine there are lots of perks to staying on property: themed experiences, make FastPasses 30 days sooner, eligible for a Disney Dining Plan, Extra Magic Hours (get extra time in the parks), complimentary transportation across Disney property, Disney’s Magical Express (transportation and luggage service from the airport to your hotel), golf opportunities, and you get the full Disney experience.
But, these benefits come with a price tag.
There is a way, however, to get around the hefty price tag: DVC rental points by owner. If you decide to rent DVC points from private owners you can enjoy the conveniences of a luxury Disney resort at a reasonable price. By renting, there is no need to commit to a long-term contract to enjoy the Disney Vacation Club resorts’ spacious accommodations and home-like conveniences (private balconies, full kitchens, and separate bedrooms anyone?). Popular reseller SellMyTimeshareNow.com offers by-owner DVC timeshare rentals at resorts like Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas and Disney’s Beach Club Villas for rates sometimes lower than local hotels.
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7. Decide What You Want To Do
The list of things to do at Walt Disney World is truly endless. Do you want to ride rides, see live shows, get pictures with characters, check out the Disney hotels, enjoy themed dining, see the nighttime shows, shop at Disney Springs, or visit the water parks? By deciding what you want to do, you can start to figure out how much time you will need at each park.
Since you are coming to Orlando, are there any other things you would like to do? Go to the Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld, WonderWorks, Medieval Times, or shop at one of Orlando’s impeccable outlet malls. Maybe you would like to spend a day at the nearby Kennedy Space Center or just relax at your hotel. Contrary to popular belief, Orlando has a lot more than just Walt Disney World.
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8. Buy Tickets
Now that you have decided how many days you want to spend at Walt Disney World, you can buy your tickets on the Disney website. Ticket prices are determined by the number of days you will be visiting. If you want to visit more than one park per day, add the Park Hopper option to your ticket. There is an additional choice for adding the Disney water parks to your ticket or you can buy those individually. If you are pressed for time, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot are all doable in half of a day (each).
Do you plan to vacation at Walt Disney World more than once in a calendar year? If so, you may want to become a Passholder. The perks of this annual pass are phenomenal: admission for one year to all four theme parks (with no blackout dates), eligibility to visit all four parks in one day, free parking, PhotoPass downloads, and discounts on food, merchandise, spa, and salon purchases throughout the resort plus special event tickets. The Platinum Pass (at the time I’m writing this article) is $849 plus tax, almost $200 cheaper than buying a seven-day park hopper twice in one year.
Florida residents are eligible for even more annual passes and cheaper tickets.
9. Make Dining Reservations
This is probably the most important part of our Walt Disney World Planning Guide. Dining reservations can be made 180 days in advance. That means today, I can make a reservation at a restaurant in 180 days. Popular restaurants will be booked 180 days out, especially ones offering a character meal: Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, Be Our Guest, Chef Mickey’s, Cinderella’s Royal Table, The Hollywood Brown Derby, ‘Ohana, and Trattoria al Forno. The good news is that people change their plans A LOT.
You should be able to snag a reservation at a booked up restaurant if you check periodically. It’s not guaranteed, but we typically score reservations that we want about a week out, due to Disney’s strict restaurant cancellation policy.
That being said, Walt Disney World has 374 restaurants to choose from! Only a few require reservations while the others are counter service. We like scheduling one “sit down” meal a day because it gives us a chance to take a break. Plus, Disney’s theme dining is incredible. But you by no means have to.
If you don’t want to make any dining reservations and simply want to show up at the park and eat at restaurants that don’t require reservations, go for it. This is your trip!
50’s Prime Time Cafe, Be Our Guest, Boatwright’s Dining Hall, Bon Voyage Adventure Breakfast, Brown Derby, Canada’s Le Cellier, Cooke’s Of Dublin, Crystal Palace, German’s Biergarten, Italy’s Via Napoli, Liberty Tree Tavern, Portobello Country Italian Trattoria, Raglan Road, Tokyo Dining, Yak & Yeti
10. Book FastPasses
You can schedule three FastPasses in advance for every day that you have a ticket. Please, take advantage of this! FastPasses can be made 30 days in advance or 60 days if you are staying at a Walt Disney World Resort. Figure out what your first day of FastPass eligibility will be and put it on your calendar, make a note on your phone, whatever you need to do to remind yourself.
By staying at a Disney property, you will be able to score a FastPass to the most popular attractions (Avatar Flight of Passage, Frozen Ever After, Na’vi River Journey, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Toy Story Mania). Unfortunately, a lot of these will be FastPassed out when the 30-day window opens. I have still not been able to get a FastPass for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train or Avatar Flight of Passage.
Once your initial three FastPasses have been redeemed, you can schedule one FastPass at a time for the remainder of the day. These can be made at any park. Book your FastPasses early so you can knock those out and then FastPass attractions as you go through the parks.
Tip: The three FastPasses made in advance can only be at one park. If you are visiting more than one park in one day, be strategic. The photo below lists the FastPasses I have made for March 2nd. We are beginning our day at Epcot and finishing at Hollywood Studios. Aside from Frozen Ever After, there is nothing at Epcot we are dying to ride, so we made our FastPasses for Hollywood Studios that evening.
11. Put Together An Itinerary
The Disney website will put together an itinerary for you based on the plans that you have made. I encourage you to print these out or type up your own.
While you can view your plans on the Disney App, it has been known to crash or not work because so many people are trying to access it. By having a print copy of your plans, you will never miss a dining reservation (and be charged!) or FastPass selection.
12. Buy Disney Park Gear
Now, it’s time for the fun part: buying Disney Park gear! Matching t-shirts, Minnie ears, Magic Band decals, and buttons are popular at Walt Disney World. While there is nothing wrong with wearing “normal” clothes to the parks, I like to dress for the occasion. I think it’s easier to buy all of your Disney gear in advance so that when you walk into the park you are ready to go for the day.
If you have a Cricut or Silhouette machine, you can make most of your own Disney gear. I buy a lot from Etsy or Disney themed stores that I find on Instagram. Amazon and the official Disney website are both great choices, too. This is my favorite part of our Walt Disney World Planning Guide!
Shop our Disney Essentials on Amazon!
13. Enjoy Your Time At Walt Disney World
Planning a Walt Disney World vacation is a lot of work, but it will all be worth it! If you go to Disney World with a plan, you are less likely to be overwhelmed. And Disney is VERY overwhelming, especially if it is your first visit.
Once on vacation, make sure that you plan for the day ahead. Take whatever you may need for the day to the parks with you.
The Ultimate Walt Disney World Planning Guide
I hope that our Walt Disney World Planning Guide has helped answer any questions that you may have had surrounding your vacation. Let us know if you have anything else to add to our Walt Disney World Planning Guide!
Book your Walt Disney World vacation today!
Walt Disney World Planning Guide Free Printables
Print these and use them to keep track of your plans!
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Taylor Pittman Hardy wrote this article.