Planning a Disney World vacation can be overwhelming and confusing, because it is so different to any other holiday you will go on. In order to get the most from your Disney holiday you will need to plan some things in advance. But it’s up to you whether you plan out every day or just have a basic itinerary.
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How To Plan A Disney World Vacation
The Best Time To Go
This is probably one of the most frequently asked questions about planning a Disney World vacation. In my opinion there is no wrong or right time to go, but there are a couple of things that you should take into consideration before booking.
Florida has a tropical climate, which means the weather can be unpredictable. Florida weather can change very quickly and it is also often isolated to one area. So long as you are prepared for the fact that a thunderstorm and downpour might arrive at any point during the day then you’ll be fine.
Hurricane season typically runs from 1 June to 30 November, with the peak times being mid August to the end of October. I have visited Florida many times during hurricane season and had nothing but glorious weather, but it’s all down to luck.
It used to be that if you visited in certain months you were less likely to encounter crowds at Disney. This doesn’t seem to be the case any more, with crowd levels staying high for the majority of the year. Typically September is less crowded as most families have children in school, but there’s no guarantee.
If you want to avoid the crowds as best as you can, then you need to take into account a few things. Firstly, American holidays such as Thanksgiving and Spring Break will bring higher crowds to the parks. Secondly, big events such as Run Disney, the Halloween parties and the Flower and Garden Festival. Lastly, UK school holidays especially the Easter and summer breaks.
I’ve visited during Spring Break, the summer months, October half term and at Christmas. It was busy at all times but never unbearable, we just had to be prepared for longer queues everywhere.
I would suggest that you use a crowd calendar when you start planning a Disney World vacation. This will give you a better idea of crowd levels for when you are thinking of visiting. The Dibb has a great busy day guide hat you can use for free.
Flights, Accommodation and Transportation
Once you have decided which month you want to visit Orlando, you can really start planning a Disney World vacation.
The main airport for Orlando is Orlando International (MCO is the airport code). There will be numerous flights available to this airport, but expect them to be more expensive than flying to one of the nearby airports.
To save money you could fly into Sanford International Airport (SFB), which is still close to Orlando. If you don’t mind a longer drive then Tampa is a great option.
One final option is to fly indirect. This means you land first at another airport, such as Miami or New York, and then fly on to Orlando a few hours later. We have saved hundreds of pounds by doing this in the past.
If you are planning a Disney World vacation on a budget then this post with money saving tips is worth a read.
Next you need to choose your accommodation.
There are over 25 hotels to choose from at Walt Disney World and there is something for all budgets. All of the Disney hotels have something special about them, so don’t feel like you’ll be missing out by opting for a cheaper one. They all have at least one swimming pool and they are all close to at least one of the parks.
If you prefer not to stay in a hotel then Orlando has an abundance of other accommodation options. This post will help you make a decision between a Disney World hotel or a villa.
If you are looking to book a villa I highly recommend Emerald Island. We loved our stay there and found it really convenient for getting to everything. Have a look at the range of villas offered by Top Villas, their properties are beautiful!
Once you’ve got your flights and accommodation sorted, the last big thing to organise is your transportation around Orlando.
You may have booked a fly-drive package, in which case a hire car will be included in your booking and you don’t need to do anything further. Simply visit the correct car hire desk once you arrive at the airport and the staff will direct you to your car.
If you haven’t booked a fly-drive package then you need to think about how you will get around.
For those of you staying at a Disney hotel the free Disney buses will take you to and from the parks and Disney Springs. But they won’t take you off of Disney property. So if you want to visit Universal Orlando, SeaWorld, Legoland, Busch Gardens or the Outlets for example, then you will need another mode of transport.
The easiest way to get around is to hire a car. You can collect this from the airport, or you can pick it up at the Disney Car Hire Centre during your holiday.
If you really don’t fancy driving then you can use taxis or Uber, but remember to factor the cost of these into your budget. Some hotels may offer free shuttles to and from some of the parks too and there is the iTrolley for going up and down International Drive.
Disney’s Magical Express
Guests staying at a Disney hotel can take advantage of the Magical Express. This is a free bus service that runs from Orlando International Airport to all of the Disney World hotels.
To use this service you must book in advance via the Walt Disney World website. When you arrive at MCO follow the signs for the Magical Express, show the Cast Member your booking number and they will direct you to the correct bus.
Most of the buses will visit more than one resort, so expect your journey to involve a couple of stops.
UK visitors must collect their baggage before heading for the Magical Express. The Cast Members will not collect it for you, that is only available to American guests at this time.
What To Plan After Flights & Accommodation
You might feel like you’ve planned everything once your flights, accommodation and transport are booked, but you’re only just getting started!
This next part of planning a Disney World vacation is where it gets fun. Now you need to think about making reservations and booking FastPasses. It might sound daunting but follow these steps and you’ll have no trouble getting it all sorted.
Purchase Theme Park Tickets
Before you can book any FastPasses you will need to have purchased your theme park tickets. Theme park entrance is not included with your Disney hotel booking.
There are lots of companies that you can buy your tickets through. One company that offers competitive rates is FloridaTix. A combo ticket may be more cost effective, depending on which theme parks you are visiting whilst you are in Orlando.
Once you have bought your Disney World theme park tickets you will need to link them to your Disney account. When you log in to My Disney Experience you will see step by step instructions for how to do this. It’s essential that you do this in order to be able to continue planning a Disney World vacation.
The Key Dates You Must Not Forget!
There are 2 or 3 important dates that you need to remember when planning a Disney World vacation. Mark them in your calendar so that you don’t forget them when the time comes.
180 days before your Disney vacation starts you will be able to book dining reservations. Guests staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel will be able to book reservations for the first 10 days of their holiday on this first day. Guests staying off-site will need to book each day separately.
If you want to dine at any of the Disney World restaurants it is highly recommended that you make reservations. This is especially true if you want a Character Meal or you want to eat at one of the most popular restaurants.
In high season it is very unlikely that you will be able to turn up at a restaurant and get a table without a reservation.
Reservations can be made via the Walt Disney World website or by calling 001-407-939-3463. You will need a credit card to make a booking.
60 days before your Disney holiday starts is FastPass+ day!
FastPasses allow you to book a 1 hour time slot for you to arrive at your chosen ride or attraction and be placed in a shorter queue.
If you are staying at Disney hotel you will be able to make FastPass+ for the whole of your trip on this day.
If you are not staying at a Disney hotel then you will be able to book your FastPasses 30 days before your trip starts. You will not be able to book FastPasses for the whole of your trip in one go. Instead you will need to log on to the My Disney Experience app each day for the length of your trip. For example, at 29 days you’ll be able to book FastPasses for day 2.
The booking window for FastPass+ opens at midday UK time. It is included with all Disney theme park tickets.
Before your 60 or 30 day countdown arrives have an idea of which park you want to visit on each day. Then make a list of which rides or attractions you really want to do. This will save you time when you go to book your FastPasses as you can go straight to the correct park option and straight to the rides you want.
You can book 3 FastPasses for each day of your trip. (If you only choose 2 the system will automatically add a 3rd choice). Once you have used all 3 (or the time has passed for the final one) you may be able to add another one via the app. This all depends on availability.
Booking FastPasses for the most popular rides is essential if you are planning a Disney World vacation in high season. Without a FastPass+ you can expect to spend a fair bit of time standing in queues.
What Not To Miss
Everyone has a different opinion on what their favourite things at Disney world are, whether it’s rides, restaurants or resorts. I suggest that you spend some time doing some research into what each park offers.
To help you with planning a Disney World vacation I have put together a list of our favourites. Use this as a guide for starting to plan your itinerary and then add or take out things as you research them.
This list is based on a family of 4 with teenagers, so it may not suit your needs and it is by no means exhaustive.
- Flight of Passage in Animal Kingdom. I’m not an Avatar fan but this ride is amazing!
- Everest in Animal Kingdom.
- Kilimanjaro Safaris in Animal Kingdom. Book for earlier in the day as there is more chance of seeing the animals.
- Test Track in Epcot. Great fun, with no drops or upside down moments.
- Soarin’ in Epcot.
- Slinky Dog in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This one is very fast and goes upside down, but is great fun!
- Tower of Terror in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Do not ride this if you don’t like sudden drops in the dark.
- Toy Story Mania in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Great fun for everyone.
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in Magic Kingdom.
- Pirates of The Caribbean in Magic Kingdom.
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Magic Kingdom
*It is important to note that Disney puts its rides into Tiers and you can only book one FastPass+ at a time for the rides in Tier 1. For example, Test Track and Soarin’ are both in Tier 1. This means you will be able to book a FastPass+ for one of them and will have to join the standby queue for the other. Alternatively, you could visit Epcot on two separate days and therefore book FastPasses for each of the rides, one on each day.
Shows and Parades
- Festival of Fantasy Parade in Magic Kingdom
- Beauty and The Beast in Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- The Lion King in Animal Kingdom
- Finding Nemo in Animal Kingdom
There are numerous shows in the various countries around Epcot’s World Showcase. They are all worth seeing and and run at different times throughout the day, so check the daily guide to see what’s on and when.
- Happily Ever After in Magic Kingdom. This is our number one Must Do!
- Disney Movie Magic in Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular in Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Fantasmic in Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Illuminations in Epcot (ending in 2019)
Special Events and Tours
Throughout the year Disney puts on special events. There may be an additional cost to attend these events so make sure you check in advance. You can find more information about these events on the Disney World website.
We have enjoyed Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party several times. We have also attended the International Food and Wine Festival at Epcot. This was good, but the crowds were huge.
In addition to the special events there are many tours that you can take. Mark and I took part in the Behind The Seeds Tour in Epcot and really enjoyed it. There are tours available in all of the parks at an additional cost.
One of my favourite parts of planning a Disney World vacation is choosing restaurants. There are more than 200 places to eat at Disney and I love perusing the menus and choosing where to book.
You can find the menus for all of the Disney eateries on the Disney World website. I suggest that you spend some time researching where you and your travelling party may enjoy eating before your 180 day booking window opens.
Our Favourite Places To Eat
- Tusker House in Animal Kingdom for breakfast
- Sanaa in Animal Kingdom Lodge, Kidani Village
- Garden Grill Restaurant in Epcot
- Whispering Canyon Cafe´ in Wilderness Lodge
- 50’s Prime Time Cafe´ in Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Columbia Harbour House in Magic Kingdom for lunch (no reservation required)
- Beaches and Cream Soda Shop in Disney’s Beach Club Resort (order the Kitchen Sink (google it) you won’t be disappointed!)
- Planet Hollywood in Disney Springs
Disney is able to cater for a lot of dietary requirements. Make sure you tell your server and they will ask the chef to come out and talk to you.
When planning a Disney World vacation an important thing to add into your itinerary is rest days. The Florida heat makes visiting the parks even more exhausting and you will need some downtime.
This doesn’t mean sitting in your hotel room. There are plenty of ways to have a slower day whilst still having fun. Here’s a few ideas for you:
- Spend a day at the waterparks
- Play mini-golf at Winter Summerland or Fantasia Gardens
- Visit Disney Springs and do some shopping
- Take a look around some of the Disney World hotels. They are all beautiful. At Animal Kingdom Lodge you can view animals on the savannah. The Art of Animation offers some great photo opportunities.
- Stroll around the Boardwalk. Visit the bakery for a delicious treat.
- Spend time at your hotel pool. Most of them have activities going on during the day.
Final Thoughts On Planning A Disney World Vacation
Although it can look daunting to start with, planning a Disney World vacation is usually lots of fun. In addition to using this guide, I suggest that you join some of the Disney Facebook groups. These are full of excited people planning their Disney holidays and they always welcome new people.
Remember – you’re holiday will be different to everyone else’s because it’s yours. What you might enjoy others won’t, so make sure your plans suit you and your travelling party. Don’t get caught up in trying to do everything because you really won’t be able to fit it all in.
If you have any questions about planning your trip please get in touch and I will do my best to help.
I hope that you have a magical time at Walt Disney World!