Disney World Planning 101

Where do you Start?

So you’ve decided you want to go to Disney World! That’s awesome! That’s amazing! That’s…. overwhelming.

There is so much to see, do, and plan when you go to Disney World. And I’m someone who has traveled a LOT. But I’ve never encountered a vacation that requires the level of planning that Disney World does. So where do you start?

Let me walk you through the steps for planning your Disney World vacation.

Build a Budget

The first thing you need to do is to decide what your budget is. I can’t help you with this part. Only you know what’s best for your family, and for your wallet. And really Disney can be done for a variety of budgets.

Maybe you like a more low key vacation. Your resort is just a place to catch some sleep between parks. You aren’t a big foodie and don’t mind bringing your food into the park. You can probably do Disney on a smaller budget!

Maybe you know this is your one and only chance to go to Disney and you want to go big or go home. High-end resorts and plenty of sit down restaurants. Add-ons and extra ticketed events until 1 am sound like your thing. You’ll be setting aside a bigger budget for your Disney blow out!

Maybe you’re somewhere in the middle. Nice accommodations (but you don’t need top of the line) some restaurants and some quick service. Maybe a few fun add-ons for your Disney adventure.

Really only you know how your family vacations and what your budget is. Know that I have seen Disney World vacations for as low as $3000 (for a family of 4), and as much as $10,000 (for a family of 4). I have created samples of various budgetsso you can get an idea of what you might be spending on what.

Decide on a date

Prices, events, and crowds can all vary depending on what time of year you decide to travel.

In general, holidays and school breaks are going to be a more popular time to visit the parks. Knowing this, you can expect rates to be higher during these times. That being said, summer is no longer the crazy busy season it used to be. My June trip was surprisingly easy, and not nearly as crowded as I had expected.

In recent years, the busiest times have changed. June and August aren't nearly as crowded as they used to be, and crowds seem to be growing in the months of October (Food and Wine Festival, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, and Fall breaks at many schools are all factors), November (People celebrating Thanksgiving and time off of work and school), and December (Winter breaks and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party).

Take a look at our month by month breakdown of weather, activities, and events that might impact crowds to decide what dates work best for you.

Reserve a resort

Once you have an idea of dates that work for you, you can price out resort options.

There are 29 resort options available on Disney property. 5 value resorts, 5 moderate resorts, 8 deluxe resorts, and 11 resort villas. There are also campsite options. Not to mention offsite hotels and resorts.

If you shop around for offsite hotels, keep in mind that you miss out on the perks of staying on Disney property. These perks include complimentary transportation from Orlando airport, early access to fastpass+ and dining reservations, and free transportation to the parks.

To check out more information on each Disney resort, look at our individual resort  breakdown.

Time for tickets

Next, you will want to decide what type of tickets you will need for your trip. When buying tickets for your trip, you’ll have 3 different options.

  • Base tickets
  • Park hopper tickets
  • Park hopper plus tickets

Base tickets are going to be your cheapest option. They will allow you into one park per day. Park Hopper tickets let you bounce from one park to another in a single day. If the resort you picked is walking distance to a park this might be a great option. Park Hopper Plus tickets let you hop from park to park, and also give you access to water parks, mini golf, and golf.

You can find more in-depth information regarding your ticket optionshere.

Transportation time

Are you flying or driving?

Are you using magical express or renting a car?

Are you set on a resort on the monorail line or are you ok with Disney buses to get to the park?

Disney Resorts offer free transportation from Orlando International Airport (MCO) directly to your resort. While this can be incredibly convenient, it isn’t the best option for everyone. If you flying into another nearby airport (ORL or SFB) you won't be able to use this service. And if you are planning on venturing outside of the Disney World bubble, you might want the freedom of having your own rental car.

Dining at Disney

There is a seemingly endless list of restaurants and snacks at Disney world. But did you know you also have the option of bringing your own food to the park?

You have the choice of paying for meals as you go or prepurchasing a meal plan. There is no wrong answer here. You can check outmy post on the pros and cons of buying the Disney dining plan. For some families the cost of the dining plan makes a ton of sense, for others, you’ll find yourself at the end of your trip with a ton of unused food credits. Even if you don’t buy the dining plan you can always just pay for meals as you go. Either way, eating at Disney World can EASILY be a huge chunk of your vacation budget. I usually tell people to expect about 1/3 of your budget to go towards food purchases.

If spending this much on food sounds awful, you can always havegroceries delivered to your hotel, and pack your food for the parks. Food, drinks, and even small coolers (think something that will fit under a stroller) can be brought in to the park with you.

Once you know how often you want to be eating at the park you can pick restaurants that appeal to your family and your taste buds. You’ll want to have a general idea of what parks you want to be at on which day. The last thing you want is to be running from park to park to get to your dinner reservation.

180 days out you can book your reservations for sit down dining for your entire stay. If you are on site and your stay is 7 days long, at 180 days from your check-in day you can book dining for your ENTIRE stay. So really you can book 187 days out. It is another perk of staying at a Disney resort. I suggest booking hard to get reservations first (instead of going in order by day). And if you know something is a hard to get reservation (Be Our Guest Restaurant for example) you might want to try and grab a dinner reservation for that spot towards the end of your trip to give you better odds.

Touring plan picks

Once you have your resort reserved, your flights and transportation sorted out, and your restaurants reserved you will want to come up with a game plan for your park days.

If you are staying at a Disney resort you can book your fastpass+ rides 60 days in advance. 30 days for offsite guests. You will want to have a general idea of a touring plan so that you can grab the rides that you want for the times you want.

Take a look at ourride listsif you aren’t familiar with the rides at the parks. You can also check out our list offastpass+ suggestions. Not all rides are created equally. Some you will definitely want a fasts reservations. Other rides you won’t need one. Once you know which rides are top priority for you and your family you can look at oursuggested touring plansand come up with a plan that works for your family.

Extra, extra

Congratulations! You have all of your basics covered for an amazing trip!

But even with all of the amazing things you have planned, there is always room for a little extra magic. While definitely NOT necessary for an amazing trip, there are several fun extra items that you can add to your trip. Dessert parties, holiday parties, before and after hours tickets, tours, and more. While these can vary depending on the season, there are always fun extras available.

I have listed the pros and cons of some of theextra ticketed items if you are considering adding one of these to your vacation.

But Planning is HARD!

I hear you. I have been to Disney World many times. And I love the planning. But I do realize that the planning is not fun for everyone. If you want more guidance I am happy to help! 

Looking for more information?

Check out my article catalog to find the answers you need to plan your best vacation!

Still confused or need help?

I am happy to help! Contact me.

See you at the parks,
-Julie

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