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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!

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

  2. WanderlustBeautyDreams says

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

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

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