Many Disney novices are overwhelmed by the thought of planning a Disney vacation. There is so much to think about, and so many things to consider. Here is a step-by-step guide designed to help make the planning process a bit easier! We hope it helps to make your Disney vacation a truly magical experience!
Step 1: Decide on a Budget (At least one year in advance of travel dates)
Many details of your trip will be dependent on how much money you plan to spend. For people within driving distance, and family of four should expect to spend a minimum of $2,000 for a 5 day trip. This would include lodging at a value resort, 2 or 3 days in the theme parks, and dining at quick-service locations as well as bringing some food into the parks. The WaltDisneyWorld.com website is an excellent resource for formulating a preliminary budget. Just enter in your possible dates of travel, lodging choices, ticket types and select a dining plan if you so desire. The website will calculate the total for your vacation plan (not including travel to and from the resort).
Step 2: Decide on Dates of Travel (At least one year in advance of travel dates)
There are several things that should factor into your decision about when to travel to Disney. Certain times of the year are less busy and also less costly than others. Summer and major school holidays are all high-crowd times and will be the most expensive times to travel. September, mid-January, and early March tend to be less busy and less expensive. The Florida weather can also fluctuate from one season to the next. “Summer” months (from late May through September) can be extremely hot and humid. January and February are cooler, but sometimes borderline too cool for swimming. If you don’t mind the heat, crowd, or premium prices, summer may work for you. If you’re looking for a little more elbow room and cooler weather, January or February may be a better and more economical choice. Here Are “The 4 Best Times A Year To Visit Disney World”.
Step 3: Reserve Accommodations (9-12 months in advance)
Using your budget as a guide, resort hotel reservations should be reserved. If you have a generous budget, you may opt to stay at one of Disney’s “Deluxe” resort hotels. Deluxe resorts include more spacious rooms, more dining options, and pools with more “entertainment” value (like slides, spray ground areas, etc). If you’re trying to save money, you may opt for one of the “moderate” or “value” level resorts. There are also many resorts in the Orlando area that aren’t “official” Disney resorts on property, but may offer more spacious accommodations at a better value. It would be worth doing a little research to see if one of these options would be right with for your traveling party. Read our article “Disney Resorts – 9 Factors to Help You Decide Which One’s Right for You” for more information.
Step 4: Decide on Park Tickets (9-12 months in advance)
Walt Disney World Park tickets can be purchased in a variety of lengths and types. You must decide how many days you want to spend in the theme parks, and if you want to add the “park hopper” option, allowing you to go between the four different theme parks on each day of your visit. There is also a ticket option called “Water Park Fun & More”, allowing guests to visit the two Disney water parks, miniature golf courses, ESPN and DisneyQuest. It’s important to research these different options and decide on ticket types before further planning can be completed (although the tickets don’t necessarily need to be purchased this far in advance).
Step 5: Reserve Travel Tickets (7-8 months in advance)
If you will be traveling to the Walt Disney World Resort via train or plane, you may want to consider securing those tickets. You could always wait for a last minute deal, but some popular dates and times may book up well in advance. Sometimes tickets will become more expensive as the travel date approaches.
Step 6: Make a Plan (7-8 months in advance)
Once you have definitive travel dates established, it will be helpful to make a basic itinerary of your visit. This would include which parks you plan to visit on which days of your vacation, and any other activities that are “must do” for you and your party such as golfing, visiting Disney Springs (formerly known as Downtown Disney), or any resort hopping. You should also make a list of any restaurants that are dining priorities for your party.
Step 7: Secure Dining Reservations! (EXACTLY 180 days in advance of your check-in date)
Disney insiders are familiar with this t-minus 180 days ritual. Using the preliminary itinerary you designed in Step 6, man your keyboards or telephones at 7am on this day to secure your ADRs (Advanced Dining Reservations). Without these, it may be difficult or impossible to eat at certain highly demanded Disney restaurants during your vacation. For more information on ADR’s, please read “Disney Dining Reservations 101: 8 Things You Need to Know!” Use your secured dining reservations to update your preliminary itinerary.
Step 8: Secure Your Fastpasses! (EXACTLY 60 days in advance of your check-in date)
Using the updated itinerary from Step 7, secure Fastpasses using your My Disney Experience account. Be certain that you choose Fastpasses in the appropriate parks for each day of your visit and avoid Fastpass times that conflict with your ADRs. For more information on Fastpasses, please read “Disney’s FastPass+ 101 – Everything You Need To Know”. (Keep in mind that in order to secure Fastpasses, you must have valid party tickets associated with you’re my Disney Experience account. If you didn’t make your purchase during Step 4, do so prior to attempting Step 8)
Step 9: Get Packin’ (7-10 days in advance of your check-in date)
With your trip fast approaching, it’s time to get out those suitcases and begin your travel preparations. Are there things you just can’t (literally or figuratively) live without? Make sure you pack them for your trip. A quick list of the most needed but commonly forgotten things include: medications, underwear, bathing suits, makeup, special food or drinks, diapers, formula, sunglasses, gadget chargers, glasses or contact lenses, toothbrushes, feminine hygiene products, park tickets/MagicBands, plane/train tickets, security items (pacifiers, blankies, etc) A quick list of things I think you can’t live without at Disney: liquid hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes, Neosporin (or similar type product) and bandages, sunscreen, a good camera
Step 10: Prepare for the Magic!
You’ve done all of the hard work! Now it’s time to enjoy! Watch lots of Disney-related content on YouTube, and do Google searches for “fun things to do at Disney”. You’re magical arrival is just days away! Immerse yourself in all things Disney!
Photo courtesy of Disney Photo Snapper