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The Ultimate Guide for Planning a Trip to Disney World

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Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through a link.

Planning a trip to Disney World can seem overwhelming. Well, it was for me, especially on my first trip. Here’s a planning guide I came up with after planning multiple trips to Disney World for my friends, families, and myself! Feel free to skip or change some steps to best fit for your Disney World vacation!  

Important Updates:

  • Disney’s Magical Express now discontinued (no free transportation options between the airport and Disney Resort)
  • FastPass+ replaced with Genie+
  • Extra Magic Hours replaced with Early Theme Park Entry (Disney Resort hotel guests and select other hotel guests can enter the parks 30 minutes early)
  • Extended Evening Theme Park Hours available for on-site guests staying at Deluxe and Deluxe Villa resorts and select other hotels
  • Now selling “park-specific pricing” for single-day tickets (1-day, 1-park), which does not require any Park Pass Reservations.
  • Park Pass Reservations are needed for date-based tickets, Annual Pass, and Florida Resident Ticket for trips before January 9, 2024
  • Disney After Hours Events returned
  • Park Hopping hours start after 2 PM
  • Advanced Dining Reservations are available 60 days in advance (180 days before the update)
  • Disney Dining Plan returning on January 9, 2024

1. When to Go

Partners Statue (Magic Kingdom)- Planning a Trip to Disney World
©Yumeology
Partners Statue (Magic Kingdom)

So when should I plan to visit Disney World? 

This really depends on how flexible your schedule is. 

If you can only go on federal holidays, see if you can add some extra days before or after those dates. 

If your dates are flexible, here are some factors to keep in mind to narrow down your choices.

Events 

Are there any special events that you want to go to?

Here are some events to take into consideration:

  • EPCOT Festivals (four in total)
    • International Festival of the Arts
    • International Flower & Garden Festival
    • International Food & Wine Festival
    • International Festival of the Holidays
  • Halloween at Disney World
    • Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (additional ticket purchase required)
  • Christmas Holiday at Disney World
    • Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (additional ticket purchase required)

Crowds

It’s best to consult a crowd calendar when choosing dates.

As a general idea, Disney is least crowded during: 

  • January ~ February
  • September
    • be sure to watch out for 3-day weekends and special events (such as Epcot festivals and Disney marathons)
  • December (before the holidays)

Remember that the higher the crowd, the higher the price.

Check Park Pass Reservation

Update: Starting December 8th, 2022 Disney is implementing “park-specific pricing” for single-day tickets (1-day, 1-park). This means that you’ll need to check if they still have tickets available for the park that you plan on going to.

Park Pass Reservations are needed for date-based tickets, Annual Pass, and Florida Resident Ticket for trips before January 9, 2024

Disney World currently uses a Park Pass Reservation System where guests must make a reservation in advance for each park they are planning on visiting. Make sure that the park passes are available for the dates you are planning to go. 

2. Choose Where to Stay 

Disney's Wilderness Lodge Resort -Planning a Trip to Disney World
©Yumeology
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort

Disney Resort or Off-Site Hotel (non-Disney Resort)

First, ask yourself whether you want to stay at a Disney Resort or an off-site hotel (non-Disney Resort).

Benefits of staying at a Disney Resort include:

  • Free transportation to and from parks and Disney Springs
  • More time in the parks
    • Early Park Entry – Enter any theme park 30 minutes early.
    • Extended Evening Hours (for Deluxe and Deluxe Villa Resorts) – Stay in select parks longer on certain days.
  • Early access to dining reservations
  • MagicBands and MagicBand+
    • You can purchase certain MagicBands at a discounted price, use the MagicBand as a room key, enter parks, and purchase merchandise and food.
  • Free Parking for theme parks and resorts!
    • Note: You will have to pay for resort parking.  Starting from January 10, 2023, you can stay at a Disney resort hotel with complimentary overnight self-parking!
  • Disney-themed resort
  • Dining Plan (available after January 9, 2024)

Benefits of staying at an Off-Site Hotel include:

  • Less expensive 
  • More room space 
  • Loyalty rewards
    • Earn points if you’re a member. 
    • Use your points to stay at the hotel.  
  • Early Park Entry and Extended Evening Hours for select off-site hotels 

Obviously, the benefits will differ for each off-site hotel, such as complimentary continental breakfast, so check those benefits beforehand. 

Off-site hotels are often cheaper than Disney Resorts, but you may not save as much, especially if you’re considering renting a car (rental fee, parking fee, gas fee). So make sure to compare the total cost before deciding. 

Questions to Ask 

With so many resorts to choose from, it can be hard to determine which one is right for you. The “best resort” will differ for every person.  

Here are some questions to consider when choosing:

  • What’s your budget?
    • Disney categorizes its resorts into four: value, moderate, deluxe, and deluxe villas. If you have a lower budget, consider a Disney value resort or an off-site hotel.
    • Have a tight budget but want to stay at one of the luxurious Disney Resorts? Consider renting Disney Vacation Club points to stay at a deluxe villa.
      • Disney Vacation Club or DVC is a points-based timeshare program where members purchase points yearly and use those points to stay at a Disney Resort. At David’s DVC rental, you’re able to rent points even if you’re not a DVC member! Check the “cost calculator” tab and see how much you can save.
  • How many people are you going with?
    • If you’re traveling with a larger group, consider a Disney Deluxe Villa Resort, a suite-type room for an off-site hotel, or Airbnb/Vacation Home Rental
  • Are you going with the kids? If so, how old are they?
    • A Disney Resort might be a better choice if you’re traveling with kids because of its Disney theme. Younger kids might like the “cartoony” Disney theme at value resorts more than the subtle Disney theme at moderate and deluxe resorts.
  • How long are you staying?/Will you spend a lot of time at the hotel?
    • If you’re only going to be there for a short time or at the parks the whole stay, you probably won’t need to care about the hotel amenities. 
    • If you plan to go to the resort pool, remember that Disney Value Resorts doesn’t have waterslides. 
  • Which transportation do you want to use?
    • There are many different transportation options for Disney Resort guests; buses, boats, Disney Skyliner (gondola system), and monorails. See what type of transportation is available for each Disney Resort. 
    • If you’re also looking at an off-site hotel, see what type of transportation the hotel offers. 
  • Which park are you going to visit the most?
    • If you plan on visiting Epcot or Hollywood Studios more than once, consider a resort near the Boardwalk where you can walk to the park or use a water taxi. Or consider a resort that offers the Skyliner service.

3. How to Get There

Airplane - Planning a Trip to Disney World

There are many ways to get to Disney World; by car, train or plane. 

If you are considering a road trip, add some extra days to rest when planning your Disney World vacation!

4. Where You Want to Go

Slinky Dog Dash- Planning a Trip to Disney World
©Yumeology
Slinky Dog Dash (Hollywood Studios)

At this point, you want to have a general idea of where you want to go each day. Which parks do you want to visit? Visiting any water parks? If you only have two days to go to the parks, figure out which parks you want to go to or if you want to do all the parks by park hopping. 

Any Harry Potter fans? Schedule a day at Universal Studios during your Disney World vacation. Remember, there’s more to explore in Orlando. 

4a. Attractions/Shows/Characters

Look through the available rides and shows with your family and determine which theme parks you want to go to. Are there any characters your family wants to see? 

5. Check Park Hours

Park Hours are different for each park every day, so be sure to look at the park hours to schedule a rough idea of what dates you want to go for each park. 

*Note: If you’re staying at a Deluxe or Deluxe Villa Resort, be sure to check when those Extended Evening Hours are. 

6. Book a Hotel

Lion King Family Suite (Disney's Art of Animation Resort)- Planning a Trip to Disney World
©Yumeology
Lion King Family Suite (Disney’s Art of Animation Resort)

Now that you have finished researching, it’s time to book the hotel you wish to stay in. 

If you decide to stay at an off-site hotel, reserve from their website.

For Disney Resorts, I recommend booking from their official website or booking a hotel through a Disney-authorized travel agent. 

Reserving from the Official Walt Disney World Website

If you plan on staying at one of the Disney Resorts you’ll either need to make a “room only” reservation or buy a Disney World vacation package, which bundles your hotel room and park tickets.

I recommend reserving for the “room only” if there are no special offers such as discounts or free dining (currently unavailable). Most often times you’ll be able to buy cheaper park tickets from other third-party sites, which I’ll mention later on.

Also note that, room-only reservations allow you to cancel 5 days prior to the arrival date (6 days for online booking) while vacation packages will require you to cancel 30 days prior to your arrival date to receive a full refund. For detailed information make sure to check the refund policy on the official Disney World website!

Reserving through a Travel Agent

Well, why reserve through a travel agent? There are so many benefits, and some of them include:

  • Disney pros
    • Disney-authorized travel agents are pretty much Disney experts! You can directly ask them questions you have when planning.
  • Save Money
    • Travel agents will change your vacation package when better discounts are released for you! You won’t have to do a single thing.
  • No additional cost
    • Travel agents earn commissions from Disney, so you won’t have to pay anything extra! 

Some travel agents I recommend are:

7. Purchase Park Tickets 

Update: Starting December 8th, 2022 Disney is implementing “park-specific pricing” for single-day tickets (1-day, 1-park).

This means that a theme park reservation will automatically be made when you purchase a ticket. So you won’t need to make additional park pass reservations! Here is the approximate pricing breakdown for tickets when this new system comes into effect on December 8, 2022:

  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom $109 – $159
  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios $124 – $179
  • EPCOT $114 – $179
  • Magic Kingdom $124 – $189

For dates before January 9, 2024, Park Pass Reservations are needed if you are purchasing date-based tickets. No reservations are needed for trips on or after January 9, 2024. Click here for more information.

Time to purchase those park tickets!

Make sure to check the Park Pass Reservation system to see if the dates are available.

I recommend buying them from a third-party authorized seller to save some money.

Some recommendations include:

After purchasing park tickets immediately make those park pass reservations! You don’t want to wait until the last minute only to find out that there are no park pass reservations available!

8. Book Transportation

Book Flight/Train tickets

Book for any transportation you will need to get to and from Disney World; plane or train.

Airport Transportation To/From Disney Resort

Disney Resorts no longer offer their Magical Express complimentary airport shuttle, so make sure to figure out how you will get to your resort from the airport if you’re flying to Orlando.

Here are some of the options you have:

Car Rental

If you’re planning on renting a car in Orlando, make sure to make a reservation.

My Car Rental Service Recommendations:

9. Purchase a MagicBand or MagicBand+

I highly recommend purchasing a MagicBand or MagicBand+ if you’re staying at a Disney Resort. MagicBands are waterproof wristbands that can be used as a room key (if staying at Disney Resort), park pass, PhotoPass, and charge food and merchandise purchases to your room (if staying at a Disney Resort). 

Disney Resort guests can buy select MagicBands at a discounted price. If you don’t see a design you like, you could always buy them in the parks, Disney Springs, or on ShopDisney.

MagicMobile is a service where you can use your phone instead of the MagicBands. So if you’re not staying at a Disney Resort, I would definitely check out that service. 

Note: Disney announced that MagicBand+ would be launching on July 27, 2022. MagicBand+ will include all of the features of the MagicBand plus interactive features that guests can enjoy throughout the park.  

10. Make Dining Reservations

Garden Grill- Planning a Trip to Disney World
©Yumeology
Garden Grill (Epcot)

Make your dining reservations!!! I know some friends who didn’t make any reservations thinking that they’d be able to dine without any reservations. Needless to say, they were unable to eat at places they wanted to and had to wait for hours at table service restaurants. 

You can start booking dining reservations 60 days in advance. If you’re staying at a Disney Resort, you’ll be able to book 60 days in advance of your vacation arrival date for the whole stay. 

Plan out which restaurants you want to eat at ahead of time and what day and time you would like to go.

Tips: I would recommend booking only one or two restaurants a day. I remember making three reservations in one day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and was worrying in the attraction standby line if we’d make it on time. My family was pretty much running to all of our reservations. 

11. Genie+ and Individual Attraction Selection

Disney has replaced FastPass with Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane Selections.

Note that these two services are not free

The Genie+ costs from $15 per guest per day at Disney World, similar to FastPass+, which allows you to skip the regular line and instead use the “Lightning Lane” for certain rides. You can only make one reservation at a time and choose the next ride after you tap in and ride the attraction or after 120 minutes. 

Individual Lightning Lane Selections lets you use the “Lightning Lane” for up to 2 popular rides like Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance (Hollywood Studios) and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (Magic Kingdom).

So there are three options available

Option #1: Purchase Genie+

Option #2: Purchase Individual Lightning Lane Selections

Option #3: Purchase both Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane Selections

Purchasing or not depends on your budget, if your must-do rides are on the list for Genie+ or Individual Lightning Lane Selections, and/or how much time you have at the parks. 

Click HERE for more information about Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane.

12. Make a Daily Itinerary

I’m not saying to schedule every hour of your day. Just have a general idea of what you want to do for each day at the parks:

  • Must-do rides (1~3 rides)
  • Must-do shows/fireworks
  • Dining reservations 
  • Characters to See

Tips: Don’t over plan! It’s just impossible to do everything in one day. Ask the whole family or whoever you’re going with your top 3 must-dos for the day at the park, and if you complete that list, great! If not, that can be one of your to-dos for your next future Disney World vacation.

13. Download and Learn How to Use the My Disney Experience App

The My Disney Experience App is going to be your friend, from checking wait times for rides, mobile ordering, making Genie+ ride selections, joining the virtual queue for rides, and more! 

Download the app and familiarize yourself with the app and its features before your vacation.

14. Link your MagicBand to your Disney Account

If you decide to purchase a MagicBand, you’ll need to set up your MagicBand. Sign in to your Disney account and link your MagicBand.

15. Start Packing

Make your own packing list, and start packing for your Disney World vacation!

Be sure to include the following Disney World essentials:

  • MagicBands/Tickets
  • Resort/Dining Confirmation (screenshots/paper)
  • Portable Battery Charger
  • Any of Your Disney Planning Materials

16. Adding Some Extra “Magic” 

Fireworks at Magic Kingdom - Planning a Trip to Disney World
©Yumeology

The following are some extras that can make your vacation more “magical”:

Memory Maker

Disney offers a photo package that allows you to download all of the Disney photos taken by PhotoPass photographers and photos from rides.  

Dessert Parties

This private event allows guests to view fireworks and nighttime shows from a semi-private area and enjoy delicious treats!

Dessert Parties:

  • Magic Kingdom
    • Magic Kingdom 50th Fireworks Dessert Parties: Disney Enchantment Pre-Party or After Party
    • Magic Kingdom 50th Fireworks Dessert Parties: Disney Enchantment Treats & Seats 
  • Hollywood Studios
    • Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular Dessert Party (Look for Updates)
    • Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! Holiday Dessert Party (Look for Updates)
    • Fantasmic! Dessert & VIP Viewing Experience (Look for Updates)

Dining Packages

Dining Packages allow guests to dine at select restaurants and view the nighttime show or event from a reserved area. 

Dining Packages:

  • Hollywood Studios
    • Fantasmic! Dining Package
  • Epcot
    • Rose & Crown Fireworks Dining Package
    • Spice Road Table Fireworks Dining Package
    • EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival – Garden Rocks Dining Packages
    • EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival – Eat to the Beat Dining Packages
    • EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays – Candlelight Processional Dining Packages
    • EPCOT International Festival of the Arts – Disney on Broadway Dining Packages

Fireworks Cruises

Guests can watch those fireworks from the water without the crowd!

Cruises:

  • Specialty Cruises
  • Ferrytale Fireworks: A Sparkling Dessert Cruise

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique

Any princesses or princes between the ages of 3 and 12 in the party? Consider reserving a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique experience for them. Fairy Godmother’s Apprentices will sprinkle magic to transform them into a Disney princess or prince.

The boutique at Magic Kingdom reopened on August 25, 2022, while boutiques in the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and Disney Springs will remain temporarily closed (look for updates).

Star Wars Extras 

Any Star Wars fan in the party? You can create your own droid at Droid Depot and/or lightsaber at Savi’s Workshop in Hollywood Studios. Reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance for both.

VIP Tours

Want an unforgettable Disney World vacation? Book a VIP Tour. With a VIP Tour, you’ll be able to enjoy the perfect Disney World itinerary for your group; ride all the rides without the wait and snag the best seats for rides and shows. You can visit multiple parks during the VIP tour and shorten your stay. 

VIP tours may seem costly at first, but because you can shorten your vacation by visiting multiple parks, you might save a little bit of money because Disney resorts can be expensive. 

Calculate the total cost of your entire trip with and without the VIP tour, and see if you might actually save money. 

Note: Park tickets are not included in the price of the VIP tour.

Magic At Your Door

Want to have unique Disney merchandise sent to your door before heading out on your vacation? Check out Magic At Your Door and order a Disney Magic Box Subscription or a One Time Disney Magic Box to get your family excited for the trip and pack those merchandise with you! 

What Next? 

Hopefully, I have made the planning part for your Disney World vacation a little bit easier by breaking it into steps. Remember to talk with your family or whoever you’re going with and have fun during the process! 

Be sure to check out Disney World Tips before heading out on your vacation. 

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