If you’re looking to Plan a Trip to Walt Disney World, you’re in the right place. With over 700 posts on this blog about how to plan a Disney Vacation, we cover the gamut. From Walt Disney World festivals and holidays, tips and tricks, transportation, and how to budget. Needless to say, it can be overwhelming for the Disney DIY family. Thankfully, we’re going to keep this simple. In this post we’re going to break down each step, so you can check things off as you go. You can happily skip the steps you’ve already completed and check the rest to see what you missed. Let’s get started.
Disney Vacation trip planning isn’t really as difficult as it seems. In fact, it’s fairly easy to enlist a travel agent and hand over some cash. Planning the perfect Disney vacation, however, takes a little bit more than that. Even if you plan to enlist the help of a travel agent, the framework in this post will give you an idea of where you can make better choices, be kinder to your Disney budget, and add a little extra pixie dust along the way. Take note of which Disney Trip Planning steps you need to figure out. Here’s everything you need to know about how to plan a trip to Disney World.
Is This Your First Disney Vacation?
If this is your first Disney trip, try not to put too much weight on all the decisions you’re about to make. In fact, our BEST recommendation for any first-time visitor to Walt Disney World is don’t try to fit it all in. Speaking from experience, it’s easy to push yourself into breakdown mode if you’re trying to “do all the things”. Especially if you believe that this is your one and only Disney World vacation. This is one of our Top 12 Disney Mistakes to Avoid. Treating this vacation like it will be your only Disney Vacation ( even if you have no idea where any future money, or time, is coming from) will compromise not only your planning efforts but also your mindset throughout your vacation.
Walt Disney World Basics
Walt Disney World consists of 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, over 25 resorts, more than 200 restaurants, and a shopping center.
In addition to those big things, they also include the ESPN Wide World of Sports, 4 Golf Courses, and annual festivals, parties, and runDisney events. A key part of how to plan a Walt Disney World vacation is to decide what things you WANT to do. Why are you going? What are you most interested to see, do, eat, and ride? Will you visit every park? Or just want to see Cinderella’s Castle at Magic Kingdom? Check out our Walt Disney World Checklist so you can pick and choose BEFORE you start figuring out all the rest of your vacation details.
Create Your My Disney Experience Accounts
Once you decide to Plan a Trip to Walt Disney World and even before you’ve figured out anything else, you can create your family’s My Disney Experience Accounts. This is a fun activity, though time-consuming depending on how many travelers you have. And you may even already have a Disney account if you shop on shopDisney.com already. This step involves making an account for each person in your party and connecting them to your account via Friends and Family. This will allow you, your family, children, and friends the option to be included in the planning, like park passes, dining reservations, and resort details. It’s a critical step and can be done even if you’re still just dreaming of a Disney Vacation.
Planning a Disney Vacation Budget
The next thing to tackle when planning a Disney Vacation is figuring out how much it costs. And how to pay for it. But the cost of Disney Vacation is dependent on too many factors for this to be a simple answer. So let us break it down. Here are the elements that affect your vacation cost; transportation, resort stay, tickets, food, special events, souvenirs, and lightning lane passes. The easiest way to get a handle on your biggest cost ( resort and tickets) is to test a few dates you’re considering on the Walt Disney World website. You can find rooms ranging from 140 dollars a night to thousands of dollars a night. Your length of stay will affect your ticket cost if you go with a vacation package. But, know that going with a Walt Disney World vacation package, and staying longer may actually be CHEAPEST! Be sure to check out the Walt Disney World Special Offers Page too if you’re looking for deals and discounts.
Choose Your Vacation Dates
Choosing WHEN to visit Walt Disney World is probably the most important factor in the planning process. When you visit will determine your resort costs, ticket costs, crowd levels, weather, and which festivals, parties, and events you’ll have access to. Of course, if you’re shoving your vacation into a Spring Break, Holiday Break, or Summer Vacation, the odds are not in your favor. But, you can still make it work. Check out our Year of Walt Disney World Events story to get a glimpse of what’s happening in the parks every month.
When is the Best Time to Visit Walt Disney World?
The Best Time to Visit Walt Disney World is different for everyone. We think the best months to visit are September, January, and February due to lower costs, fewer crowds, and slightly better Florida weather. But, not all families can accommodate these months. Check out our Best Times to Visit Walt Disney World post to get a handle on what happens each month and when you can expect the heaviest crowds.
- Disney World in the Spring
- Disney World in the Summer
- Disney World in the Fall
- Disney World in the Winter
How Many Days Do You Need at Walt Disney World?
One of the biggest deciding factors, when you Plan a Trip to Walt Disney World, is considering how long you plan to stay. We recommend a minimum of 6 days, with a goal of 9-12 days to really make the vacation work. Read our post on How Many Days Do You Need at Walt Disney World for all the details. From how many days you should have at each park and a sample itinerary.
Pick a Disney Resort Hotel
There are many arguments for staying on or off property at Walt Disney World. For our money, nothing beats staying on property at Walt Disney World. Just the convenience of the internal transportation, perks for early theme park entry, and the extra magic keep us staying on the property.
At Which Disney Resort Should You Stay?
When you plan a trip to Walt Disney World there are a few factors to consider regarding your resort choice. Are you looking to get away from it all? ( Choose a Moderate or Deluxe Resort). Or want to be in the center of the action? ( Choose a Value Resort). Do you need a shorter bus ride to certain parks? Or would you rather be within walking distance? What about the cost? What about distance? Maybe choosing a Disney Resort within Walking Distance of the Parks is your best bet.
- Disney Value Resorts: Bus transportation. Pop Century and Art of Animation also have Skyliner transportation.
- Disney Moderate Resorts: Bus Transportation. Caribbean Beach Resort also has Skyliner transportation.
- Disney Deluxe Resorts. Bus transportation. Some offer monorail, ferry, and Skyliner transportation.
- Disney Boardwalk Resorts: Within walking distance of EPCOT and Hollywood Studios.
- Disney Monorail Resorts: Within walking distance of Magic Kingdom.
- Disney Ferry Boat Resorts: Ferry boat resorts are located near EPCOT and Magic Kingdom
- Disney Skyliner Resorts: Includes Skyliner access to EPCOT and Hollywood Studios.
Disney Resort Prices and Levels
Walt Disney World has three Resort Pricing Tiers; Value, Moderate, and Deluxe. We share the price range for each in our Disney Resort Levels and Pricing post to help you make the best choice. Are you looking for the best Disney Resort on a Budget? We love Pop Century Resort for families, singles, and everyone in between. With Disney Skyliner access and next-door access to the Art of Animation Resort, you get twice the gift shops, restaurants, and more. Or maybe you’d rather get away from it all? Try Caribbean Beach Resort for an island village experience, easy access to the Skyliner and Disney’s Riviera Resort, and all the walking trails you can find. Perhaps you’d rather have a wilderness experience to really escape? One of our favorite resorts at Walt Disney World is the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground. And if you’re a Disney couple, or taking a grown-up vacation, take a look at Coronado Springs for the amazing restaurants, and beautiful spaces. There are so many options to choose from. After you check your dates and see possible prices, you’ll be ready to choose your resort. Check out all of our Disney Resort Reviews.
If you want a strategy for saving money OR just want to see more of what Walt Disney World has to offer, be sure to add some Disney Resort Hopping to your stay. Sometimes known as a split-stay, consider staying a few nights at one resort, and the rest of your stay at another. If staying longer, you can also add a few resort days to your Disney Vacation. It’s one of our favorite ways to spend Walt Disney World day without a Park Ticket.
Tickets, Genie+ and Lightning Lane
One of the reasons we like purchasing a Disney Vacation package is that it includes your resort and tickets. But there are other things to be sure that you do as part of planning a Disney Vacation. Choosing which park you visit each day, booking park passes, and deciding if lightning lane passes become part of your ride strategy are decisions you can make now.
One Park Per Day
Aim to Plan a Trip to Walt Disney World that includes only One Park Per Day. This not only saves you money on a Park Hopper Ticket but also helps you maximize your time in each park. We also love the one-park-per-day model because it simplifies your planning. Grab a calendar, and block off your vacation days. Which park do you want to be in each day? Some parks are busier than others depending on the day, and even time, you go. Check out our What is the Best Day to Visit Each Disney Park.
Lightning Lane and Genie+ Passes
New to the Disney Vacation planning lineup is the option to use Lightning Lane passes as part of your Disney ride strategy. As Walt Disney World no longer has a free way to upgrade your Disney ride experience by skipping the line, using the Lightning Lane option may be your only way to experience certain rides without waiting. That said you have a couple of options here.
- Disney Genie is a free service that can help you craft each day’s rides, dining, and shows. Simply log in to your My Disney Experience App each day of your vacation to check ride times and shows.
- Disney Genie+ ( Plus) is a variable rate per person, per day ( Typically between $15-$30 dollars based on time of year, crowds, etc.). You can book this service for each day of your vacation, and you get two Lightning Lane passes as part of this service. Check the rides included in our Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lane post.
- Individual Lightning Lane Passes are also available for a Fee depending on the ride, time of day, crowd levels, etc.
You can be strategic about which rides are on your Disney bucket list, and how you plan to experience them. Check out our Disney Ride Strategies post if you’re hoping for a way NOT to wait in line for rides.
Pick Disney Restaurants to Try
Walt Disney World offers loads of food options for you to try throughout your stay. They have snacks, quick-service meals, and table-service meals at a variety of restaurants and at a variety of prices. When planning your Disney Dining Budget we recommend planning between $70-$100 dollars per person per day in food costs. Check out our Disney Dining Budget post for all the options to manage food costs at Walt Disney World.
- Animal Kingdom Restaurants
- EPCOT Park Restaurants
- Hollywood Studios Restaurants
- Magic Kingdom Restaurants
- Disney BoardWalk Restaurants
- Disney Resort Restaurants
- Disney Springs Restaurants
Make Dining Reservations
Do Disney Restaurants Need Reservations? Yes, some do! Table Service Restaurants mostly always require a dining reservation. Quick Service Restaurants, however, never require a reservation, as they are walk-up counter service restaurants. As a result for planning purposes, you only need to worry about making a Dining Reservation for days when you are planning to have a sit-down table service meal. Check out the Disney Restaurants in each park, and resort, so that you can begin choosing which ones you want to include in this Disney Vacation.
If for no other reason, than it’s convenient, we also like adding in the Disney Dining Plan when it’s available. While this may not always be the most budget-friendly decision, we think it’s one of the best ways to keep things simple. Hear us out. By adding a Disney Dining Plan to your vacation package, you pre-pay for your meals and are given meal credits to use throughout your vacation. And depending on which Dining Plan you buy you get snacks, quick-service, and table-service credits to use. For example, you can choose the 40-dollar steak or the 17-dollar salad at dinner and pay the same thing- 1 table-service credit ( that you already paid for). We love this as a way to flex our dining experiences without spending more money.
Planning Disney Transportation
Should You Fly or Drive to Walt Disney World?
We’ve talked about the benefits of driving to Walt Disney World if you’re within a certain distance. But it’s important to remember that taking a car to Walt Disney World means you will also pay parking fees. If you choose to stay off-property you will have to pay a parking fee at the Disney theme parks. If you stay at a Disney Resort then you can enjoy complimentary self-parking at the resort throughout the length of your stay. Read up on the Perks of Staying On Property at Walt Disney World.
- Driving to Disney 5 Reasons to Bring a Car to Walt Disney World
- How to Avoid Parking Fees at Walt Disney World
How do you Get to Walt Disney World from the Orlando International Airport?
Getting to Walt Disney World without the Magical Express doesn’t have to be a struggle. None of these new transportation options are FREE, and you will have to arrange for them on your own. You can use Uber, Lyft, a traditional taxi service, Mears Connect Driven By Sunshine airport shuttle, or just rent a car. All options have costs, but figuring this out ahead of time is part of how to plan a trip to Walt Disney World. And whether it’s booking transportation ahead of time, downloading the Uber app, or searching deals on carrentals.com, having this box checked on your planning checklist will prevent last-minute decision trauma.
Do You Need a Car at Walt Disney World?
No. Walt Disney World has an internal transportation system that consists of buses, a monorail system, a skyliner gondola system, and walking paths across the resort. Disney Transportation is available at all resorts that transport guests to and from each park, and Disney Springs. That said, not having a car at Walt Disney World is a great way to streamline your vacation and cut parking costs.
Disney Special Events, Parties, and Activities
Once you’ve gotten through the bones of your Disney Vacation you can take a look at extras. Festivals at EPCOT Park happen throughout the year and are included with your park ticket. Parties at Walt Disney World are typically reserved for the seasonal months and do require an extra ticket. If you’re a runner, runDisney events can also be a fun addition to your trip but also cost extra.
- Festival of the Arts
- Flower and Garden Festival
- Food and Wine Festival
- Festival of Holidays
- Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party
- Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
- Disney After Hours Parties
- runDisney Events
A Walt Disney World Vacation
Check out our Disney Vacation Planning Guide for everything happening this year. And no matter what your planning style, know that you don’t have to fit it all in. Going on this Disney Vacation with the belief that this won’t be your only, or last, vacation takes the pressure off. Because let’s face it, if you’re lucky enough to have a Walt Disney World vacation in your future, you’re lucky enough. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Enjoy it!
Rochelle Mariah is a writer, designer and photographer with an MLIS in Information Science and a B.S. in Arch and Design. Determined to make Planning a DIY Disney Vacation easier she makes lots of lists and drinks lots of coffee. When not designing apparel at Polka Dot Pixie Shop, she's watching old movies and planning the holidays. She has been traveling to Disney destinations since 2010.