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How to Plan a Walt Disney World Vacation

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When people ask me what’s the most important thing to know about Disney World, the answer comes easily, “You’ve got to plan!” 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 two entertainment districts. Guests can choose to enjoy unique and wide-ranging special events, recreational activities, dining experiences, top-notch shows, parades, and character meet-and-greets. Have I convinced you yet that you need to research and plan to take advantage of everything Disney World has to offer? Discover how to plan a Disney World vacation in Orlando, Florida with these 14 tips expert tips to make your experience magical, memorable, and enjoyable for everyone in your family.

Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom

Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

1. 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.

Disney World MagicBand

Disney World MagicBand (Photo credit: Kent Phillips, Disney)

2. Pick your tickets.

The longer you stay, the less you pay – per day that is. The daily rate for Walt Disney World theme park admission tickets decreases with 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. Since Disney recommends budgeting about 90 minutes of travel time between parks, you might want to save your money and stick to single park admission tickets. Save even more by purchasing your Disney tickets with Undercover Tourist!

Additionally, Disney hotel guests automatically receive MagicBands. These bracelets can be used for entry to theme parks and water parks, opening hotel room doors, making purchases, checking in at FastPass attractions, and tracking PhotoPass pictures. Even if you’re not staying at a Disney property, you can purchase a MagicBand ticket upgrade.

FASTPASS ride, Expedition Everest at Disney's Animal Kingdom

FastPass ride, Expedition Everest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

3. Use a FastPass.

Using Disney’s FastPass system is an absolute must. You can reserve up to three FastPass rides or shows 30 to 60 days in advance. Before your trip, research which attractions offer FastPass to make the most of your time at the parks. Learn more about how to use Disney World’s FastPass system now!

Marionettes in the China Pavilion at Epcot

Marionettes in the China Pavilion at Epcot (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

4. Get ready to walk A LOT.

Magic Kingdom is the smallest of the four Disney parks in Orlando at 105 acres. Meanwhile, Disney’s Animal Kingdom encompasses a whopping 403 acres. No matter which way you measure it, a Disney World vacation means a lot of walking. Train for your upcoming trip with daily family walks. These strolls will help you bond together while preparing for all of the walking you’ll be doing at the parks.

Slinky Dog Dash roller coaster at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Slinky Dog Dash roller coaster at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

5. 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 try to squeeze in too much, you’ll be so exhausted that you won’t enjoy the trip. You might even consider spending more than one day at a favorite park and leaving other parks for a future visit.

1950's themed Prime Time Café at Disney's Hollywood Studios

1950’s themed Prime Time Café at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

6. Make advanced dining reservations.

At Disney World, you can eat breakfast with princesses, dine in a 1950’s themed café for lunch, and enjoy dinner at a Polynesian luau. Selecting the Disney dining options that are best for your family will make your trip one to remember. Since dining at theme park restaurants requires park admission, knowing which park you’ll be visiting each day will help you make dining reservations. To ensure a table at your preferred restaurants, making Advance Dining Reservations is a must! Book via the Disney website, using the My Disney Experience app, or call 407-WDW-DINE up to 180 days in advance. Popular meals fill up quickly!

Quick service meal at Walt Disney World

Quick service meal at Walt Disney World (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

7. Consider the Disney Dining Plans.

Look into Disney Dining Plans. These plans 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. Be sure to crunch the numbers. A dining plan is not for every family.

Kitchen at Magic Village Vacation Homes in Kissimmee, Florida near Walt Disney World

Kitchen at Magic Village Vacation Homes in Kissimmee, Florida near Walt Disney World (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

8. Dine in.

Consider having groceries, especially beverages, delivered to your hotel room or vacation rental from a local grocery store. Refrigerators are available by request in all Walt Disney World lodging.

Storm Troopers in Star Wars Galaxy's Edge at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Storm Troopers in Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

9. 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.

Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort

Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

10. Avoid ride overload.

Mix things up by taking in a show, enjoying walk-through attractions, or having a light snack after enjoying a couple of rides to prevent attraction overload. Don’t overlook the exceptional afternoon parades or the awesome nightly fireworks shows.

Disney's Winter Summerland Miniature Golf Course

Disney’s Winter Summerland Miniature Golf Course (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

11. Make time for play time.

Mini golf, outdoor movies, sing-a-longs, princess or pirate makeovers, boating, and afternoon teas are just some of the recreational activities available at Walt Disney World. Though some of these distinctively Disney activities are costly, many are free or low-cost.

Walt Disney World makes accommodations for wheel chair users and others with particular needs

Walt Disney World is accessible to wheel chair users and others with particular needs (Photo credit: Curb Free with Cory Lee)

12. Prepare for special requirements.

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 also ensure those 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 requirements. Read tips for getting around Disney World as a wheelchair user from our friends at Curb Free with Cory Lee.

Living with the Land ride at Epcot at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida

Living with the Land ride at Epcot (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

13. Get your Walt Disney World questions answered.

For answers to specific questions, check out Disney Parks Moms Panel. This Disney-selected group of experts have experienced all aspects of Walt Disney World and enjoy nothing more than passing along their extensive knowledge to others.

Walt Disney World balloons

Walt Disney World balloons (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

14. Save money on your Orlando vacation.

Do you want to save on your Disney vacation? Of course, you do! Get discounts on everything from theme park tickets and Florida hotel packages to rental cars when you book with Undercover Tourist.

Disney World Discount

Keep this guide to planning a Walt Disney World vacation!

Be sure to save these tips for planning a Disney World vacation for future reference. Just pin the graphic below to Pinterest. Go ahead and follow Travel Mamas on Pinterest while you’re at it!

How to Plan a Disney World Vacation

If you liked this story, then we bet you’ll love these tips for visiting Epcot with kids!

Do you have any additional tips or questions about how to plan a Walt Disney World vacation? Let us know in the comments below!

About Lisa M. Battista, Travel Mamas Guest Blogger

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. 

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. tweet httpss://twitter.com/phxbne/status/8204221518

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

  11. 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!

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

  13. 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!!

  14. 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!

  15. Ed Nemmers says

    I have not been to Walt Disney World since college!

  16. 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!

  17. anne - mommy has to work says

    I tweeted!!

    can’t wait to meet you!

  18. 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!

  19. Here’s my tweet! httpss://twitter.com/anitra/statuses/8348414672

  20. 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.

  21. 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!

  22. 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.

  23. 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 …

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

  25. TheAngelForever says

    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 🙂

  26. 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! 🙂

  27. susan smoaks says

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

  28. christa marteny says

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

  29. Thanks for the great info!!!

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

  31. 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!

  32. Tweet! httpss://twitter.com/thxmailcarrier/status/8398518422

  33. 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!

  34. Jacob Bradley says

    Nice blog, keep up the good work and thank you for sharing. 🙂

  35. snore stop says

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

  36. Running Betty says

    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.

  37. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

    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!

  38. 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. ”

  39. Great article! Although slightly dated. Look forward to reading more.

  40. Bill Sweeney says

    These are excellent tips, even for the experienced Disney traveler. The more people know about planning a trip there, the happier their time will be.

  41. This is amazing! Thanks so much. We’re going to Disney World in a few months and I was overwhelmed. This helps a lot.

  42. These are great tips. You absolutely HAVE to have the band when you go. It was such a game-changer when we started using it.

  43. Kelly Martin says

    These are such great tips for visiting Disney World. There’s so many things to consider when you’re planning a trip there so this was really helpful.

  44. Really helpful tips on planning! A trip to Disney World is definitely something I want to do with my kid when he’s older. It will just take a lot of planning and saving!

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Disney World is so much fun at any age! I hope you both have a wonderful time when you are able to make your Disney vacation dream come true!

  45. Emman Damian says

    I want to visit Walt Disney World. It seems very interesting. Also, it’s one of the best and happiest place on earth. So excited to visit!

  46. Blairvillanueva says

    These are awesome and helpful tips. Getting the vastness in-advance is a smart idea.

  47. Subhashish Roy says

    Thanks for the great tips. I now know how to plan my Disney vacation. Good learning for me.

  48. Annemarie LeBlanc says

    My daughter and her husband are planning to take their son to Disney sometime soon. This would be a really helpful post. I mean, no matter how much I remind my daughter of stuff, she is very visual – she needs to be able to read instructions. This is a great guide for them to read to make their trip a successful one.

  49. Ntensibe Edgar Michael says

    Hihi….that’s alright. I am ready to do all the walking there is, in the world, for a day in Disney World!

    • Colleen Lanin says

      It will definitely feel like you are doing all of the walking in the world during a Walt Disney World visit! 🙂

  50. littlemisadvencha says

    These are all great tips! im gonna save this for future response. I wanna experience it too someday!

  51. You really have taken care of all of the details here, thank you so much, Such a helpful and resourceful post!

  52. WanderlustBeautyDreams says

    Such a great guide. Haven’t been to Disney in a while so this will be so helpful planning my trip.

  53. Nice article. I hope to visit the place one of these days.

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