How to Plan a Disney World Vacation

When people ask me what’s the most important thing to know about Disney World, the answer comes easily, “You’ve got to plan!” Orlando’s Walt Disney World is more than an amusement park – it really is a vacation experience. There are four major theme parks, two water parks, and a dining and shopping district. Guests can choose to enjoy unique and wide-ranging special events, recreational activities, dining experiences, top-notch shows, parades, and character meets. Have I convinced you yet that you need to research and plan to take advantage of everything Disney World has to offer? Here are 13 tips on how to plan a Disney World vacation to make your experience magical, memorable, and enjoyable for everyone in your family.

Create Your Own Pixie Dust

Anticipation is an exciting part of a Disney vacation! Get out your craft supplies and create a customized welcome letter from Mickey Mouse and invitations to special events your family will be attending. With stealth and a little luck, you can slip these onto your kids’ pillows for a magical surprise. You could also make a Disney-inspired tear-away calendar for a fun way to count down to D-for-Disney-Day.

Pick Your Tickets

The longer you stay, the less you pay – per day that is. The daily rate for theme park admission tickets decreases the more days you purchase. You can choose a base ticket only or add on a Park Hopper option. With the base ticket, you can visit a single park per day. With the Park Hopper option, you can visit any combination of the four theme parks each day.  

Get Ready to WALK

The Disney World website lets you download customized park maps before you leave home. Prepare for the miles of walking you’ll be doing at the parks and bond with your family at the same time by “training” for Disney World with daily walks.

Create a Must-Do List

Avoid cries of “Why do we always do what he wants?” by creating a list of each family member’s must-dos. You don’t have to see and do everything; if you do, you’ll probably be so exhausted you won’t enjoy the trip.

Consider spending more than one day at a favorite park and leaving other parks for a future visit. Since dining at theme park restaurants requires park admission, knowing which park you’ll be visiting each day will help you make dining reservations.

Make Advanced Dining Reservations

At Disney World, you can eat breakfast with princesses, watch sci-fi flicks in a ‘50s drive-in during lunch, and enjoy an evening at a Polynesian luau. Selecting the Disney dining options that are best for your family will make your trip one to remember. To ensure a table at your preferred restaurants, making Advance Dining Reservations is a must! Book online or call 407-WDW-DINE up to 180 days in advance. Popular meals fill up quickly!

Consider the Disney Dining Plans

Look into the Disney Dining Plans which allow guests to purchase credits for meals at a discounted rate. Whether quick or table service meals are your pleasure, Disney has a dining plan available. Crunch the numbers – a dining plan is not for every family.

Dine In

Consider having groceries, especially beverages, delivered to your Disney hotel room from a local grocery store. You can even ship items to the hotel, which can store items until you arrive from companies such as JetSetBabies and Babies Travel Lite. Refrigerators are available by request in all Walt Disney World lodging.

Use Magic Hours

Disney offers guests staying on-site a perk called Extra Magic Hours. Each day, one of the theme parks either opens an hour early or has extended evening hours. Disney posts a calendar of these hours about six months in advance.

Avoid Ride Overload

Mix things up by taking in an indoor show, visiting a playground, or having a light snack after enjoying a couple of rides to prevent attraction overload. 

Use a FASTPASS

Using Disney’s FASTPASS system is an absolute must. Pick up a FASTPASS and return to the attraction during the designated timeframe to bypass the regular line. Before your trip, research which attractions offer FASTPASS to make the most of your time at the parks.

Make Time for Play Time

Mini golf. Outdoor movies. Sing-a-longs. Princess or pirate makeovers. Boating. Afternoon teas. All of these recreational activities and more are available at Walt Disney World. Though some of these distinctively Disney activities are costly, many are free or low-cost. Don’t overlook the exceptional afternoon parades or the awesome nightly fireworks shows.

Prepare for Special Needs

Disney goes out of its way to make every guest comfortable. If you have little ones, read up on stroller rentals, childcare options, and Disney’s Baby Care Centers. Disney’s policies make sure guests with food allergies or dietary restrictions can dine safely and enjoyably. From Electronic Convenience Vehicle (ECV) rentals and assisted listening or video captioning devices, to attractions that accommodate guests with differing mobility and more, Disney World is accessible to guests with special needs.

Get Your Questions Answered

For answers to specific questions, check out Walt Disney World Moms Panel. Between them, these moms and dads have experienced all aspects of Disney World and enjoy nothing more than passing their extensive knowledge on to others.

Win a Copy of Beyond the Attractions: A Guide to Walt Disney World with Preschoolers

Enter to win one of two copies of Beyond the Attractions: A Guide to Walt Disney World with Preschoolers. Retail value is $15.99. One book will be awarded to an attendee of the 2010 Social Media Moms Celebration at Walt Disney World. A second book will be awarded to any Travel Mamas reader. The winner will be contacted via email. Lisa M. Battista will provide the prizes to the winners. The contest ends on Friday, January 29, 2010. The winner will be randomly selected using RANDOM.org and will be announced on TravelMamas.com the following Monday. THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED.

You can enter twice, using each method of entry below one time:

1) Make any post-related comment below. All generic comments like, “Thanks for the contest” or “I want to win” will not count as entries. Everyone is welcome to enter! If you are a Disney Social Media Mom, be sure to mention that in your comment!

2) Tweet this contest! Copy and paste the following phrase into Twitter. Be sure to post another comment with a link to your tweet!
Win “Beyond the Attractions” – a Disney World guidebook by @DisneyExplorer  http://bit.ly/7DdZA0 on @TravelMamas #DisneySMMoms

Travel Mamas Guest Blogger Lisa M. Battista is the author of Beyond the Attractions: A Guide to Walt Disney World with Preschoolers. As a mom of three and frequent Walt Disney World Resort visitor, Lisa is continually searching for new ways to enhance the magic of Walt Disney World trips with children. You can buy her book at Amazon.com or BeyondTheAttractions.com. Follow Lisa on Twitter at @DisneyExplorer for updates about the Walt Disney World Resort.

A Note from The Travel Mama: I will be attending the Social Media Moms Celebration at Walt Disney World in February 2010 along with other blogging moms and dads. The cost to attend this three-day event is $350, which includes conference attendance, lodging for four, some meals, and Park Hopper tickets.

Additionally, I received a copy of Beyond the Attractions: A Guide to Walt Disney World with Preschoolers from Lisa M. Battista. I found it so useful in planning my upcoming trip that I asked her to write this guest blog post. I will be bringing my highlighted, dog-eared copy with me to Orlando!

Comments

  1. I have never been to Disney World and a guide like this would be a necessity. I love the idea of Magic Hours for those staying on-site. It would be a great way to experience the park for a little bit without all the crowds!

  2. I love the idea of making a Disney-inspired tear-away calendar for a fun way to count down to D-for-Disney-Day! I will have to do that next time we plan a trip! Thanks for the great ideas! We love Disney World!

  3. Do you have to be a mom to enter the contest?? Can dads win too? We’ll be taking our 4 yr old to Disney World Orlando for a couple of days in late February after visiting my folks on the west coast. We’d love to have a guide for families with pre-schoolers. BTW, thanks for the info in your post – it was helpful already!

  4. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

    You do NOT need to be a mom to enter the contest! Everyone is encouraged to enter…daddies, mamas, grandparents, aunts, uncles…anyone who travels with kids! Thanks for your entry, Michael!

  5. Thanks for the tips. It’s been awhile since I’ve been to Disney. But I’ll also be bringing my little one with me to the Disney Social Media Moms Event. The tips about the playgrounds and the refrigerators will be very helpful for this trip. Thanks!

  6. Best tip Rememeber 3 words….Dumbo, Dumbo, Dumbo.

  7. I’ve never been to Disney and feel so overwhelmed. We want to plan a family trip and I think this would be a great resource.

  8. DisneyWorld is overwhelming to me, so this would be great to help plan and avoid mistakes

  9. I am taking my 2 year old to disney in March for 1 day and don’t know where to start!

  10. We are hoping to take my 3 year old to Disney this year and your tips are great. I would deifnitely consider having groceries delivered even for breakfast. I’m sure it is a huge time and cost savings!

  11. My daughters are planning a trip with their children this summer and could use this

  12. Jaclyn Reynolds says:

    We really want to do Disney this year, haven’t been there in years and this book sounds perfect for our family!!

  13. Karen Johnston says:

    I want to take my soon to be 3 year old son to Disney World. This book would be an essential resource. Your “dine in” tip was a great one and I would definitely want to take advantage of having groceries delivered and a refrigerator in the room. Thanks for all the great tips!

  14. Ed Nemmers says:

    I have not been to Walt Disney World since college!

  15. anne - mommy has to work says:

    I wasn’t going to enter, I don’t know if I will get the book in time for DisneySMMoms! But I would love to have it. i have a year old, so it would be great!

  16. anne - mommy has to work says:

    I tweeted!!

    can’t wait to meet you!

  17. I’m going to Disney’s SMM Conference and I’m all about creating my own pixie dust. I’ve already got the souvenirs ready to spring on the kids once we get there. It’s our first time and we’re more than excited!

  18. I wish I knew about this sooner, I’m taking my two little ones there next week. But I am going to check out the website.

  19. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

    anne – mommy – I look forward to meeting you too! We’ll do our best to get the guide out to you before the conference! We could always mail it directly to the Polynesian if you’d prefer!

  20. karen wilson says:

    I agree completely – plan, plan, plan. People who go without a plan are the ones who come back saying how it was too crowded, they couldn’t get anything done, etc. Thank you for the chance to win. It looks like an awesome book.

  21. Birdie S. says:

    we’ve always gone to Disneyland ..now I can get great info for the kids from the website about DisneyWORLD which is our next stop & I know the book has all the lil info we need to go there ….. we MOms can sure use the help …

  22. We’re headed there with preschoolers so this would be really helpful

  23. This looks like a fabulous book. Would love to be able to read it. We are going to the DisneySMMoms. Can not wait to meet you :)

  24. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

    Thanks to all who have entered! I look forward to meeting TheAngelForever and the rest of the blogging moms and dads at the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration! :-)

  25. susan smoaks says:

    we are going to start planning a trip soon to disney, thanks for the giveaway

  26. christa marteny says:

    would love to win this to give to friend planning makes your trip to disney so much better

  27. Thanks for the great info!!!

  28. We have never been to Disney, and hope to make our first trip in the next year or two!

  29. I had always thought I would have to wait until my kids were older to go to Disney with them, but this book sounds like it has so many great tips that we could go when they’re still young! Thanks!

  30. We’ve already started saving to take our daughter to Disney World when she is 4 years old (she’s only about 6 months old now!). This would be a fantastic resource to help us plan!

  31. Nice blog, keep up the good work and thank you for sharing. :)

  32. This book would be an essential resource. Really enjoying your blog a great deal! Thank you!

  33. I stayed at Disney World the first time when DD! was 1 year old and I was pregnant with DD2. Now we live 1.5 hrs away and my girls are teenagers. Believe we, we’ve done everything there is to do but golf or play ice hockey there. My 13 year old is a great Disney tour guide!
    The biggest MISTAKE families with kids make at Disney is they are so concerned about getting every single dollars worth, they forget a daily schedule and eating habits. When your kids are missing naps and eating ice cream and getting dehydrated 4+ days in a row, they will get crabby. And so will YOU. Remember you are there to have fun, and everyone has more fun when they get enough sleep and eat a healthy meal.

  34. Running Betty – So true! Thank you for the reminder to keep our kids (and ourselves!) healthy, hydrated, and well-rested while having fun at WDW!

  35. Ethan Smith says:

    “We are saving for a Disney Vacation this 2012 and I’m glad I found this blog.
    I totally agree about planning. It just makes everything under control. This blog
    makes me more excited to go sooner. I’ll research more about this since we’re all new to
    Disney. Plus, I have to bring my snicker shoes instead of stilletos for the long walk.
    Thanks for the blog Lisa. ”

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