Are you planning a Disney trip but getting overwhelmed with how involved it can be? Here is an easy step-by-step planning guide to take some of the stress off!
1. What time of year is best?
Walt Disney World uses date-based park ticket pricing, meaning the prices change depending on the day of the year. Ticket prices are going to be cheapest during the “off-season” when the parks tend to be slower. Traditionally, we have found the following times to be the cheapest (and least crowded!)
- Last week of November – first two weeks of December
My best experience is during the second week of January. People travel less right after the holidays so the parks are dead, the Central Florida weather is GORGEOUS, and the holiday decorations are usually still up!
2. How many days is enough?
There is SO MUCH to do at Walt Disney World – 42 square miles of property is a lot to cover. Ideally, a successful trip is no less than four days. Five if you can swing it.
It is cheapest to fly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. That also lines up well with the slowest days in the parks!
3. Decide on lodging
It is tempting to stay at a non-Disney hotel, but DO NOT give in to this temptation. It may seem cheaper on paper, but the amount of extra planning and hassle isn’t worth it.
Pick a Disney resort. The hotels in least expensive tier, the Value Resorts, are AMAZING. Pop Century and the All Star Resorts are so much fun, and well-themed, and make it so convenient to get to and from the Disney parks. You are provided with first-class and trustworthy Disney service, plus extra hours in the park are included for resort Guests. Why stay anywhere else?
Check here for our guide to the Top Disney Hotels For Your 2023 Vacation for some more guidance! You can book your room up to 499 days in advance of your trip.
4. Make Park Reservations ASAP
In addition to purchasing park tickets, park reservations are necessary for your days. The first place to start is park hours. Look at Disney’s calendar here. Plan around park closing times, parades, and fireworks shows. Prioritize what you want to see and go from there.
It is important to know that there are special events during different seasons, and park hours can change even the day of. Do yourself a favor and keep an eye on the updated park hours. The best place to find them is on the My Disney Experience app!
For your first trip, stick to doing one park per day. Don’t mess around with the park hopper option just yet! Give your family time to soak in the details and stories of each park. You’ll miss a lot if you try to rush it.
5. Make dining reservations
There are a few different dining options at Walt Disney World
- Table Service: sit down meals where you need a reservation
- Quick Service: over-the-counter food that a lot of times can be mobile ordered through My Disney Experience on your phone
- Lounges: first-come, first served. Most of these will be found at resorts, but there are a few decent ones in the parks (shout out to Nomad Lounge at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park)
Dining decisions are big do-as-you-see-fit portion of the planning. Ask yourself if it would benefit your family to sit down at a meal for 60+ minutes during the day, or if it will be better for you to eat on the go.
Most of the time, I do not do sit down meals in the parks. The only time we book something ahead of time is for day we go to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park. We make a table service reservation at a hotel restaurant (like Steakhouse 71 or ‘Ohana). Animal Kingdom closes earlier than the other parks, so we know we have the evening open.
Table Service reservations can be made 60 days in advance. Many of the most popular restaurants book quickly, so set a reminder in your calendar!
6. Plan out your days in the parks
There are four theme parks at Walt Disney World:
- Magic Kingdom
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park
Each park is jam packed with rides and entertainment. As you are planning, spend some time looking at the map of each park and doing some research about what each has to offer.
Make a list of the things that sound interesting to you and your family. Once that is complete for each park, cut the list down to bare minimum. Choose the absolute must dos for each person, and add one or two more things onto it.
The last thing you want to do is have every moment planned. That just makes it stressful for you, and takes away the possible spontaneity and magical moments.
7. Lower Your Expectations
Patience is your greatest friend. This might seem odd, but Disney trips can be overwhelming and overstimulating. Leave space for temper-tantrums and things to go wrong. Yes Disney is magical, but real life still exists. Central Florida is HOT and HUMID during parts of the year. You are eating theme park food and sleeping on not your mattress, plus all of the walking done at Disney… it can all be EXHAUSTING.
The best way to not let any of that ruin your time is to manage your expectations. And drink water. Don’t forget to drink water.
We hope this was helpful in your planning! Once you get closer to your trip, take a look at this guide to packing to help make your first Disney vacation even easier.