Disney World is a magical place, but it is also one of the most stressful vacations ever. Especially if you are going with a big group, lots of family, or kids, it is often hard to know where to begin when planning your Disney vacation. It is hard if you have family members of different ages, especially if each family member likes different things. No matter who is in your travel party, there are a few important travel planning tips that can help you plan the best Disney vacation.
1. Deciding on a time to go
Any time you choose to go to Disney World will be magical. However, there are things to take into consideration when deciding when to go, like holidays, busy seasons, Epcot festivals, and school breaks. Whenever there are breaks from school, Disney World will be more crowded, but depending on your job or family situation you may only be able to travel during breaks. But, if your family cannot handle melting in the Florida summer heat, this isn’t the best time for you to go.
December through March can get cold when everything is outside. When it is colder out, the water rides and water parks are usually closed for refurbishment. There are events for every holiday, but Halloween and Christmas have the most celebration. Both of these holidays have special ticketed parties that you can pay for, but the parks are decked out in their holiday best all season long. These times are especially magical for a Disney trip, but are often more crowded. New Year’s is the busiest time to go to Disney World, and the parks often reach maximum capacity.
Epcot has festivals with food booths, live performances, special shopping opportunities, and more almost all year long. January through March is the Festival of the Arts, March through July is the Flower and Garden Festival, July/August through November is the Food and Wine Festival, and November through December is the Festival of the Holidays. All of these festivals are amazing so it all depends on what you are looking for.
First, you must decide how you want to get to Disney World. If you decide to drive, note that you will have to park somewhere. If you are staying on Disney property, you have to pay to park at the hotels. If you stay off property and drive to the parks, you will have to pay to park there too. The same goes for if you fly and rent a car. If you only plan to stay at Disney World, I think having or renting a car is a waste of money. If you are planning to do things off property though, then having a car might be a better option.
If you decide you want to fly to Disney, then you will most likely be flying into Orlando International Airport. Once you arrive, there are a few ways to get to your hotel. If you are staying on Disney property you can pay to use a Mears shuttle. No matter where you are going, you can use a ride share service, taxi, rent a car, or use a private car service. Note that all of these options require you to pay. Once you are at your hotel (and are staying on Disney property), transportation to and from the parks is complimentary. If you are staying off-property, you will have to find a way to get to the Disney parks. Some off-property hotels have shuttles that go to and from the parks, but some of them are unreliable or require payment.
3. Deciding where to stay
There are two options: either on or off-property. Off-property hotels are not owned by Disney, meaning they are usually cheaper. You will not get the benefits of staying at a Disney hotel, like complimentary transportation to the parks or first access to booking dining, park reservations, etc. If you choose to stay on the property, there are four options: Deluxe, Deluxe Villas, Moderate, or Value. Each of these tiers have different price ranges and amenities. Deluxe and Deluxe Villas are the most expensive options, but they are closer to the parks, have paid recreational activities at the hotels, and have plenty of restaurant options. Moderate resorts are the next tier. They are a little cheaper but they only have a few dining options, however, they are still relatively close to the parks. The last tier is Value resorts, which are the cheapest. They are the furthest from the parks and only have one dining option. Many families or travelers on a budget chose to stay at Value resorts so they can get the Disney benefits for cheaper. There is always a magic to staying at a Disney resort since the magic stays with you when you leave the parks.
4. Making park reservations
Ever since the parks reopened after Covid, you’ve had to make a park reservation to get in. This reservation system seems like it is here to stay, so when you decide when you will be taking your trip, it is important to figure out which parks you will be going to on which days of your stay. Once you decide, then you can make your reservations on the Disney World website. This step should be done as soon as possible so you can begin planning the rest of your stay. If you decide you want to do a park hopper ticket, a ticket that allows you to go to more than one park per day, then you make your park reservation for the park you want to go to first. Once you check into that park, you can go to any of the other three parks starting at 2 pm.
5. Deciding what you want to do for dining
Disney has 3 different types of dining experiences: snacks, quick service, and sit down. There are many snack stands and locations all over the parks ranging from drinks (alcoholic and nonalcoholic), standard snacks like pretzels, popcorn, and cupcakes, to more adventurous or substantial things like fries topped with pulled pork or real Italian gelato.
Snacks usually range from $5 to $15 with some exceptions, but it is impossible to survive on this alone unless you are bringing your own food. Many people chose to bring their own food from outside to avoid paying the high Disney food prices. People staying off property will also eat meals outside of the parks to save some money. However, if you are staying on the property, this is almost impossible to do unless you have a car. If this is the case, then you can choose from eating quick service or sit down. Quick service restaurants are cheaper and you just go to them whenever you want. You can either go up to the counter and order, or order on the Disney World app and go back when it is ready. Usually these restaurants have more standard options like burgers, chicken fingers, and pizza.
Sit down restaurants require you to make a reservation through Disney 60 days prior to your stay because popular restaurants run out of reservations quickly. At these restaurants, you will be seated at a table and waited on. They often have larger and more varied food options than quick service restaurants. If you have dietary restrictions, every Disney dining location has allergen menus and usually a lot of choices. Chefs and waitstaff are very knowledgeable and do a great job with special diets.
6. Figuring out what is most important for your travel party
Disney World is huge and has a large variety of entertainment. From shopping, to dining, to family rides, to kids’ rides, to thrill rides they have it all. Before traveling, look at your travel party and take note of their ages, interests, and if you have kids, their heights. Many thrill rides have height requirements, so see if your kid can go on it before traveling to avoid any sad meltdowns at the ride. Once you know what your party can and would like to do, look into rides and shows in the parks. Talk to your travel party about what they would find most interesting. Then, prioritize your must dos, the most important things you want to get done. Make sure there is at least one thing for each person in your travel party. A good way to make sure everyone is satisfied is to ask everyone, “What is one thing you would be devastated if we didn’t do?” and add that to the list. Take your priorities and plan your day according to them. Keep a list of everything else you might want to do, and if you get to them, it’s an added bonus. However, try not to push yourself too hard to do everything since that is almost impossible.
These are just a few but important things to take into consideration when planning a Disney vacation. At this time, there are no dining plans, so be prepared to pay for all of your dining. If budgeting for dining and souvenirs is something you are concerned about, then I would suggest buying Disney gift cards prior to your trip with the amount of money you wish to spend. That way, you can plan out how much money you are spending and know how much you have left. Before going, make sure you know what you will have to pay for during your trip. Another important thing to take into consideration is discounts. Disney is always running room and ticket sales on their website, but there are a few things that might help you save money before and during your trip. If you are an annual pass holder, a Disney vacation club member, or a Disney Visa card holder, you can get discounts in the gift shops and on sit-down dining.