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How to Plan a Trip to Disney World

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Disney World Vacation Planning Guide

Are you overwhelmed at the thought of planning your Disney World vacation? You are not alone. There is so much information out there on how to plan a trip to Disney World that it is hard to figure out where to turn.

That is why we have come up with a fully comprehensive Disney World Vacation Planning Guide. It should not only answer many of the questions you have, but should also help you get started thinking about everything from when to travel to how much to budget for.

When should I start planning my Disney vacation?

We know you are going to want to have the best Disney World vacation possible so we’ve come up with some things to think about when you are in the beginning planning stage.

As soon as you have nailed down your dates for making the trip to Disney World you need to start planning.

For many people this means beginning to plan a year in advance. For others, this means planning 6 months out.

No matter your situation, you want to make sure you give yourself plenty of time to plan so that you can have the most magical experience ever.

Disney World Vacation Planning Guide

Planning Dates for Disney World Vacation1. When Do You Want to Vacation in Disney World?

Everyone has their favorite times to to vacation in Disney World, whether it is because of the weather, holidays or crowds.

What you need to know is that Walt Disney World is wonderful any time you go and you will need to choose a time that works best for your family’s situation.

Here is what you should know:

Disney World is pretty crowded year-round, but there are certain times that are better to go to Disney because the crowds are less. This is when a Disney Crowd calendar can come in handy.

Disney is aware of this and reflect it in their ticket price structure.

Most people planning a Disney World vacation go in the summer when the kids are out of school.

Disney knows this and prices those tickets at a premium rate.

When is the cheapest time to go to Disney World?

If you are willing to go during off peak times, you will find that Disney throws out deals for a certain percentage off Disney resort packages. It can save you up to 30%!

Something else you should factor in when you plan a trip to Disney World is the special events.

Disney World Special Events 2020

  • Epcot International Festival of the Arts: mid January-February
  • Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival: March-May
  • Disney’s Star Wars Galactic Nights: April
  • Epcot International Food & Wine Festival: October-November
  • Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party: September-November 1
  • Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party: November-December
  • Holidays Around the World: November-January 1

You may want to take part in the events to steer clear of the parks because they are some of the most crowded times of the year. Make sure that you keep up with this list of events when planning your trip dates!

Walt Disney World in Florida Theme parks2. What Disney World Parks do you want to see?

There seems to be confusion for those who have never been to Disney World as to which parks are part of the Disney World theme park system.

  • Walt Disney World has four theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios.
  • There are two water parks:Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach.
  • There is also a shopping, dining, and entertainment district:Disney Springs.
  • Disney has it’s own 18 Hole Golf Courses: Disney’s Palm, Magnolia, Oak Trail and Lake Buena Vista
  • There are two Disney-owned mini golf courses: Winter Summerland and Fantasia Gardens.

Disney World Vacation TipsKnowing how large Disney World is, you will need to plan how many days you will need at Disney World. This will most likely be based on two things: vacation budget & time.

Ideally, you should spend 7 days in Disney World. The longer your stay, the better deal you are going to get.

We know that not everyone has 7 days of vacation to burn or money in the bank to fund such a lengthy stay at Disney World.

If you don’t have 7 days, I would suggest that plan for at least 4-5 days if you want to be able to adequately see all four parks (5 if you want to add in a water park).

Saving Money on Disney Vacation3. What is Your Budget for Disney World?

When you plan a trip to Disney World, you really should start with a budget.

There are many factors that will determine how much a trip to Disney World will cost.

This includes where you will stay, how many Disney park tickets you will need  and the time of year you plan to go to Disney World.

A good average cost for a family of four traveling to Disney World would be $150-300 per night for hotel stay and $110 per person, per ticket per person.

You should also factor the cost of food and parking ($25 unless staying at a Disney Resort) per day.

How to Choose a Disney Resort4. Do you want to Stay on Disney property or not?

Staying at a Disney World Resort

If you choose to stay at one of the Walt Disney World Resorts, then you will most likely purchase a Disney Resort Package that gives you resort stay, tickets to the park with the option to add on a Disney Dining Plan.

There are many benefits to staying at a Disney Resort, but the best perks are:

  • MagicBands
  • Extra Magic Hours
  • Early Access to FastPass+ Reservations
  • Advanced Dining Reservations
  • Transportation

Once you make the decision to stay on Disney property, you will need to decide which of the Disney resorts is best for your family.

Disney has three tiers of resorts: Value, Moderate and Deluxe. Within each category, there are also different price variations based on type of room and views.

Many resorts only sleep four, while others Disney resorts can sleep five comfortably. There are even suites available for those with larger or extended families.

Be sure to study each of Disney resort carefully to make sure the one your choose can meet your needs.
Coral Reef Dining AreaDisney Dining Plan
One of the most challenging part of Disney World vacation planning is meals. There are many different types of restaurants and they span from counter service to table service.

If you book a Disney World Resort package, you will have the opportunity to choose (if you wish) to take part in the Disney Dining Plan.

Depending on the Disney Dining plan level you choose, you will pay one price to receive a certain number of meals per day during your stay.

For some these meal plans are a great way to try out different restaurants and can be a wonderful value if you are a foodie or want to have a sit down meal once per day.

For others (especially those with small children) the Disney Dining Plan can be a waste of money.

Make sure you read up on whether or not the Disney Dining Plan is right for your family.

Mickey Mouse themed kids room

Staying Off Disney Property

If you are looking to travel to Disney World on a budget, one of the main ways to save money is to stay off Disney property.

You will find plenty of nice resorts and rentals in the area.

We have often stayed off property at Windsor Hills, a gated community closest to Animal Kingdom. It has wonderful amenities and gives us lots of room to spread out!

The only main difference when staying off property is that you will have to purchase your Disney World park tickets separately, provide your own transportation (some times) and while you can use the Disney World Fastpass system, you will not get first dibs on the passes.

No matter whether you choose to stay on Disney property or not, you will still get some of these same perks:

  • Use of the My Disney Experience App & Disney World Vacation Planning tools
  • Ability to choose 3 Fastpasses (per day/ per park) in advance of your trip
  • Photopass service (if you choose to purchase)

Disney Luggage5. Know What to Pack for Disney World

Florida weather can change at the drop of the hat. It can be hot and steamy or rainy and it can vary different times of the year and different times of the day!

You should always pack warm weather clothes along with a jacket just in case. 

We also have a great Disney World packing list that gives you all the information you could possibly need in terms of what you should pack in your luggage and in your Disney day bag to the park.

Timeline for Planning a Trip to Disney World

6-12 months out

  • Choose vacation dates and determine whether or not your vacation will fall on any of the Walt Disney World festivals or events. Add tickets (if needed) for those events you wish to take part in.
  • Make either reservations at a Disney Resort (get the best price on a Disney World Resort Package) or book stay at an off-site resort/ hotel. If staying off Disney property, go ahead and purchase your Disney park tickets online.
  • Determine which parks you will go to on which days. This is important for the next step in the planning process.
  • Book your Disney dining reservations. Disney dining usually opens 180 days before your park visit. If you wish to dine at some of the more popular Disney restaurants, it is crucial that you book these reservations early. You can always change them at a later date.
  • If attending Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, book your tickets online.

3 months out

  • Begin reading up on the most popular rides and attractions at each park you are visiting and make a list of your top choices for Fastpass Reservations.
  • Look at Disney Character Meet & Greet locations and determine which characters you most desire to see.

60 days out

  • If you are staying at Disney property you will be allowed to book your Disney Fastpasses 60 days before your Disney Resort stay. This date is very important so be sure to mark it on your calendar!

30 days out

  • If you aren’t staying on Disney Resort, you may begin booking your Disney Fastpass reservations 30 days before your first park day.

7 days out

One week out from your time in Disney World should finalize your trip details!

  • Those staying on Disney resort property should go through the on-line check in process to make sure your Disney Resort reservation is correct. The online check in will allow you to go straight to your room on the day of your arrival and bypass the traditional check in desk experience.
  • Make sure that you have copies of all Disney tickets. I suggest taking pictures of all Disney (card) tickets. In the event you lose a ticket, this is the only way to get them replaced when you go to guest services.
  • Check through Fastpass reservations to make sure all parties are attached as they should.
  • Make a decision at least 3 days prior to your trip about using the Disney Photopass Memory Maker service. If you do, you can save $30.
  • Start packing for your Disney vacation. We have a great Disney World packing list you should see.

Please know that we don’t get paid for our advice (just our advertisements), so you can get an honest perspective from a real Disney insider!

We do receive a small incentive for products & services we endorse. We only endorse things we use ourselves and services we trust.

The fee we receives helps us with our expenses of running this site and traveling to Disney to bring you the newest information.

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Kris Boyd

Wednesday 27th of September 2017

If you have a Target Red card, buy Disney gift cards before you go. You save 5% on the price of the card. You can use the gift card on any Disney purchase, including food.


Wednesday 27th of September 2017

Yes, it is something we also recommend:


Thursday 22nd of June 2017

Great list!


Tuesday 17th of January 2017

Have you heard specific dates for when mickeys very merry Christmas party starts? I was given my vacation week November 5-11 and was hoping it was the start of the Christmas activities.


Sunday 22nd of January 2017

Yes, typically Christmas decorations get set up as soon as they take down Halloween decorations. You will get to see all the Christmas activities in Magic Kingdom during those dates.