There are low, moderate, and high crowd times in Disney World, so you need to plan accordingly. If you are willing to have your kids miss a few school days, or don’t have school aged kids, you’ll be able to take advantage of some of the lowest crowds in the parks if you’d like to. These are also lower cost times to visit. If you have school aged kids who can’t miss school, be prepared for higher crowds and higher costs. If possible, avoid Christmas break at all costs – absolutely the busiest and most expensive time of year. Also keep an eye out for special events that can draw bigger crowds. For example, Star Wars weekends have historically brought large crowds to Hollywood Studios in May and June. Run Disney events also bump up park attendance on the weekends they run.
How long should you visit Disney World for? Is this your first visit? Do you plan to come back after this? For most people visiting for a first time, I recommend no less than 5 full park days, not including a day for travel on either side. If you have the time and the means, add extra days from there, which gives you more time to work your way through attractions, plus time to visit areas like Disney Springs, Disney’s Boardwalk, the water parks and more.
One size does not fit all here. Let me start by assuming that you know that staying on property is the best bet. Once that’s true, you have a vast amount of choices ranging from value resorts to deluxe resorts and even villas. Each resort has a very different feel and different pros and cons. Don’t choose one blindly – take the time to study each resort, or find a resource that can guide you in choosing the best match for your family. For example, if you have a larger family of 6, you’ll have the option to choose between a family suite at the value resorts, two connecting rooms at moderate or deluxe, Fort Wilderness Cabins or a villa. These are not all equal and it’s not only because the pricing is different! Picking a resort that is a good match for your family is the start of a well planned trip.
Start by figuring out how many park days you want. Will you want to visit the parks on the day you fly in and fly out? Each additional park day costs less than the day before, so this may be a good value for you, but consider whether you will actually use them or if you’d rather have a little down time.
Park Hoppers are a good value for those who plan ahead for how to use them. If you think you just want to add them on “in case” you might decide to hop parks later in the day, you might not get as much use out of them as you think. But if you plot out a plan for what you want to see when you can get a good idea of a Park Hopper makes sense for your family. You can also add the water parks as an option to the tickets. Be sure to build in at least full day for water park fun if you want to make good use of this.
There are several dining plan options. Realistically, for most families, if you are going to get one, the Plus Dining is your best bet. Most families don’t want to eat enough fast food to make the Quick Service plan worth it, and many don’t want to devote enough time to sit down meals to make the Deluxe Plan worth it. If, however, you plan to eat at several Signature Restaurants, the Deluxe Plan can be a good way to go.
The dining plans can be a savings over paying out of pocket if you plan your restaurants in advance. But more than that, they tend to be an excellent stress reliever when you know your dining is paid for and no one has to grimace at the prices on the menu at every meal!
Not all days are equal. There are in fact very distinct crowd patterns. Often, a park with Extra Magic Hours tends to be busier than other parks. When the Magic Kingdom has special parties going on, party days are far less crowded than non-party days. Enjoy a little digging to find how it works, or have a Disney planner do it for you.
The parks are a blast but a LOT of work. If you want a little more balance in your vacation, consider a rest day during your trip with no park planned. Enjoy your resort, play in the pool, do a little shopping and some nice dining. Your feet and body will thank you for it!
Under NO circumstance should you wait until you arrive to see where you’d like to eat! Many restaurants book out completely far in advance and others have very limited availability at odd times if you wait until the day of. Look over the many dining choices and plot out where you’d like to eat when.
A credit is a credit no matter how much your meal costs. If you want to get the most out of your meal plan, maximize the amount your credits can be worth. Buffets and character meals for dinner tend to be excellent values with credits. Breakfasts tend to be worthless. Plan accordingly.
Remember when I said that dining books up in advance? Yeah, like waaaayyyyy in advance. The reservation window opens at 6am EST online, 60 days before your arrival date. Have your list ready and hop to it!
Several factors go into selecting your flights. If you plan to use Magical Express for free transportation to you resort, know that after 10pm arrivals, they don’t offer luggage service. Also consider your departure flight. While the 8am flight might be a good deal, that is a VERY early Magical Express ride before your flight, as they generally pick up three hours before your departure time!
Before you get into the next phase of planning, you’ll want to review the rides and attractions to see what your kids are tall enough for, which thrill levels are acceptable, and what’s most important to you. Knowing this will help you when it comes time to make Fast Pass+ reservations.
Once you know what you want to ride and see, try organizing it into your days. If you have two days to spend in one park, see how you might split up the rides and shows in a way that makes it easy to get around and not feel too rushed. With this, you are creating a basic touring plan. (You can get even more advanced, strategically avoiding lines, with a professional plan).
Fast Pass+ opens up at midnight EST on the 60th day before your trip. If you are hoping for some of the harder to get attractions, like meeting Anna and Elsa or the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, do not wait until the next morning when it feels more convenient – these may well be completely gone. Choose your Fast Pass+ options carefully by looking over your plan of attack so that you can make your choices work most to your advantage.
Little feet get tired long before adult feet. And I promise, adult feet get tired often in Disney World. If you have kids 6 or younger, consider a stroller for your vacation. You can bring one from home, or, if you’d rather not haul it along, you can rent one there. I very much prefer off site stroller rentals to in park stroller rentals, partially for cost reasons but also for convenience and comfort. Offsite rentals offer much more comfortable options and you can take them outside the park to stroll napping kids back to their resort or to have when visiting non-park places in Disney World.
If you could follow only one piece of advice in this list, this one should be it. Please just trust me on this. This will make the most difference in your days. DO NOT arrive right when the parks open and definitely don’t arrive after the parks open!
When you get going bright and early in the morning, it’s nice to have a mid-day break. The middle of the day is the most crowded anyway, and the hottest, and it’s a great time for a nap and to enjoy your resort pool. This takes a little more strategic planning, as mentioned in #13, to do well, such that you can really make it through a good portion of rides in the morning hours. When you do so, you’re able to feel great leaving the parks after lunch for a little while. Your resort is awesome – why not actually enjoy it a little each day?
Plus, when kids get a chance to rest in the afternoon, they can make it much farther into the evening. Rested kids are the happy kids at firework time… un-rested kids tend to be the ones having meltdowns right about then.
Speaking of fireworks… Know when the show times are so you can plan for them. The shows and parades are great, but you need to know when to go find a place to stand to view them. You’ll miss out on the shows if you aren’t paying attention to the times in advance and just happen to be in line for a ride when they start!
No, really, I’m serious. Park days add up to miles of walking, and a lot of us aren’t used to that. Before your trip, go on some longer walks to get your body ready for the trip. It’ll thank you! Take your kids along, too, if they’re not stroller aged, to build up their endurance. I started doing this way back as a little girl, when my dad would take me on long walks to prep me for Disney World! It works!
This trip is NOT a time to wear those cute new sandals for the first time ever. By now you get the point that there is a lot of walking…so break your shoes in to be ready for that. Choose comfort over fashion. If you’re like me and still want cute shoes, just be sure you choose a type that has good support and cushion. There are several brands of sandals out there for women that look cute and feel good – Clarks is just one of them. Think of this for your kids, too – nothing worse than a kid who wants to be carried all day because their shoes hurt!
If you want colorful magic bands, you have to customize them yourself inside of My Disney Experience. These bands are available at a discount when ordered through your account if you have a stay booked at a Disney resort. Be sure to order yours right after you book your trip so that you don’t forget to do this. You can also purchase fancier Magic Bands in advance at www.DisneyStore.com, if you prefer.
Nobody wants to think about something negative happening on their trip, but being prepared with a few things makes it easier. Pack some bandaids, blister remedies, pain medication/fever reducer for adults and children, and maybe some itch relief cream in case of bug bites. Simple things on hand make quick treatment easy so you can get on your with your day – and it saves you money because these items cost more in the gift shops.
For most people, dining in a restaurant each morning before the parks is just plain hard to do if they want to make it to opening. Plan accordingly. One of the easiest ways to have a smooth morning for my family is to bring along really easy breakfast options to have in room. Breakfast bars, instant oatmeal, uncrustables, granola bars and juice boxes – lots of options that save lots of time. If you are staying in a resort with a mini-mart in the gift shop area, you can also get milk and cereal. Or, consider grocery delivery if you think you will want enough to make the delivery worth it. (Keep in mind in most resorts you only have a mini fridge, though!)
Be sure you put some thought into what should be in your suitcase vs your carry on. Your carry on should have your Magic Bands, which are needed to board the Magical Express, plus your bathing suits if you plan to arrive at your resort before check in time OR if you have Magical Express handle your luggage. If you are arriving before check in time and want to swim, you’ll hand off your luggage to bell services, and having your bathing suit easy to grab in your carry on makes it a lot easier than digging through suitcases on the floor. Likewise, Magical Express can take up to 3 hours to get your suitcases to you, so if you want to swim, you’ll need to have those swimsuits in your carryon with you.
With the planning behind you, the countdown begins – why not help build the excitement with a fun countdown? Mark your days off on a calendar or make this cute paper chain to countdown your days. Or try one of these fun chalk board options. A visual like this helps kids, too, and saves a little bit of your sanity when they don’t have to ask daily, “How many more days until Disney World!”
There you are! 25 Disney World planning tips to make your Disney World vacation better! Cross the items off the list as you go to have a much better Disney vacation experienceSubscribe to our newsletter for more great tips!
Customized Travel Planning
Since 2012, the Enchanted Traveler has become the go-to travel agency for moms and dads who want to save time and relieve the stress of planning a family vacation to Disney destinations and beyond.