June 24, 2024

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How to Plan a Magical Disney World Vacation

How to Plan a Magical Disney World Vacation

You’re going to Walt Disney World! The excitement of visiting the central Florida destination starts long before your arrival. From deciding which imaginatively themed hotel to stay at to making dining reservations, there are many factors that go into planning an epic Disney World vacation. We’ve been there and have done it all so that we could help you make the most out of your precious time.

Disney World offers plenty of options when it comes to theme park tickets and resort accommodations — so there is something for every style of traveler and every budget. Here’s what you need to know to plan a Disney vacation packed with magic.

Related: 42 Disney World and Disneyland Tips for a Magical Vacation 

When to Start Planning a Disney World Vacation

You’re going to have to throw everything you know about vacation planning out the window when preparing for a Walt Disney World vacation. On top of actual travel logistics like airfare, a vacation to the “Most Magical Place on Earth” involves securing accommodations, theme park tickets, dining reservations, and park reservations.

To have the most magical (and well-planned) vacation, it’s best to begin planning at least three months in advance, with six months being ideal. This will allow you time to take advantage of any upcoming Disney resort deals and purchase theme park tickets. 

If you’re hoping to be enchanted at coveted dining spots, like the “Beauty and the Beast”-inspired Be Our Guest, Disney World dining reservations open 60 days ahead of your arrival. Theme park reservations must also be made in advance for each desired day of your visit, and these are limited and known to sell out completely during high-demand times, like holidays and spring break.

When to Go to Disney World

Thanks to Florida’s moderate climate, Walt Disney World is open all year round, offering 365 days of fun. Deciding when to visit can be narrowed down to a few factors. If you’re hoping to avoid crowds, it is best to avoid the holiday rush. January offers cooler temperatures and typically fewer crowds. While the temperature soars to over 100 degrees in August, the back-to-school season is also a great time to visit.

Adults won’t want to miss Epcot’s award-winning food festivals that take place several times throughout the year. Halloween and the holidays are perfect times for families to visit and take advantage of limited-time offerings and whimsical transformations of the theme parks.  If you’re searching for a deal, Disney World typically offers discounted packages several times throughout the year.

Courtesy of Disney

Disney World Vacation Budget

There are quite a few factors to consider when planning a Disney World vacation budget with theme park tickets and hotel accommodations being two of the biggest expenses. Disney operates on a variable pricing scale based on demand. One-day, one-park tickets begin at $109 but can go up as high as $189 around peak times, like during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

The theme park destination is home to dozens of on-site hotel properties with every budget in mind. Value Resorts, like Disney’s All-Star Music, are the most wallet-friendly with prices typically between $150-$200 a night. If you’re looking to splurge, you can enjoy posh accommodations and a slew of enticing on-site amenities at one of its Deluxe Resorts, like Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, with rates around $800 a night.

Budgeting for food is also important. Disney offers hundreds of dining options to choose from, from casual quick-service dining to high-end table-service meals. At quick-service locations, like Woody’s Lunch Box at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, most entrees are priced between $10-$15. Coveting dining spots, like Cinderella’s Royal Table, will require a greater budget with dinner priced at $67 per adult. Disney World will occasionally offer dining promotions, like the Disney Dining Promo Card.

How to Get to Disney World

Guests arriving at Orlando International Airport will have a few options for transportation to Walt Disney World. Ride shares are widely available in the area and can be one of the most cost-effective options. Disney has an exclusive partnership with Lyft to offer the Minnie Van service, available to take guests staying in club-level accommodations between the airport and their resort.

Another option is a shared shuttle bus service that exclusively travels between the Orlando International Airport and Walt Disney World Resort. The Sunshine Flyer is one such service with tickets priced at $19.50 per adult, one way. Booking in advance is highly recommended.

Once you arrive at Walt Disney World, the resort offers complimentary transportation (including monorails, the Skyliner gondola system, buses, and boats) between resorts, theme parks, water parks, and Disney Springs, removing the headache of having to deal with a pricey rental car.

Courtesy of Disney

Where to Stay at Disney World

Disney World is home to over two dozen highly themed resort properties that are categorized into tiers: Value, Value Plus, Moderate, and Deluxe. Value Resorts, like Disney’s All-Star Sports, are the most budget-friendly, and they’re ideal if you don’t plan on spending much time at the hotel. Basic amenities, like a pool and quick-service dining, are found on site, but resorts in this tier lack sit-down restaurants. 

Moderate Resorts, like Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, may not offer as many amenities as Deluxe Resorts, but they do offer impeccable theming, relaxing amenities,  pool complexes, and varying transportation options, including buses and in some cases, the Disney Skyliner.

For the ultimate splurge, Disney’s Deluxe Resorts offer an elevated theme park vacation experience in luxurious accommodations. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is a unique resort home to over 200 animals, offering Savannah rooms with breathtaking views of giraffes and other animals freely roaming on the resort’s reserve. Disney’s Contemporary Resort received a recent refurbishment and invites guests to enjoy its modern amenities with the added perk of easy walking access to Magic Kingdom Park.

Disney World Ticket Types

There is a range of ticket options available, from one-day tickets up to ten days, with tickets starting at $109 per day. Guests can choose one-park tickets or add the Park Hopper feature for an additional fee. Park Hopper allows guests to visit multiple theme parks on the same day. This may be ideal for shorter vacations as it will allow guests to take full advantage of their time in the parks. A water park and sports option is also available that includes admission to Disney World’s two water parks and various sporting options, like ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

Any ticket can add Disney Genie+, a paid service that acts similarly to the former FastPass+ allowing for expedited access to most attractions. Access to Disney’s mobile app, My Disney Experience, is free and critical to set up prior to arrival. This allows all members of your party to be linked in order to book dining reservations and other experiences.

If you are planning to visit more than once a year, an annual pass may be better suited for you. The limited-availability program allows for multiple visits in a year for one price, with varying levels based on blackout dates.

Courtesy of Disney

Disney World Theme Parks and More

Disney’s Magic Kingdom Park, home to the iconic Cinderella Castle, was Disney World’s first theme park. It features beloved attractions, like Pirates of the Caribbean and Space Mountain, as well as newer rides, like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and TRON Lightcycle / Run.

EPCOT is a celebration of the past and future, with the World Showcase serving as the park’s main attraction. The World’s Fair-style park transports guests to 11 countries from around the world with authentic cuisine and entertainment. It also serves as host to Disney’s four award-winning annual food festivals. Take a journey to the Marvel Cinematic Universe on Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, a thrilling roller coaster in the park’s World Discovery area.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios is where you can live out the golden age of tinsel town through your favorite film and television franchises. It’s home to the groundbreaking Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Toy Story Land, and the fan-favorite evening spectacular, Fantasmic! Park goers can enjoy a ride on The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror or an elevated dining experience at The Hollywood Brown Derby.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a direct reflection of Walt Disney’s passion for animal conservation. The stunning park is an impressive feat in design, with its creators inspired by their own worldly travels to ensure it’s thematically accurate. The wonders of the world are expressed through global cuisine and thrilling attractions, like Expedition Everest — Legend of the Forbidden Mountain. It’s also home to the only Avatar-themed land in the world, Pandora — The World of Avatar.

Disney World is also home to two water parks, Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park and Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park. Both are distinctly themed and offer a number of slides, lazy rivers, wave pools, and relaxation areas making for the perfect day away from the larger theme parks.

Disney Springs is the property’s dining and entertainment complex. Serving as the gastronomical hotbed of Disney World, here you can feast from dozens of impressive options, including Wine Bar George and Morimoto Asia. It’s also where you can catch a production of Drawn to Life presented by Cirque du Soleil & Disney.

Disney World Itinerary Recommendations

There’s so much to see and do, it’s likely you’ll only scratch the surface of all Disney World has to offer. To make the most of your vacation, plan at least five days to visit. You’ll need at least one day at each theme park to get a basic overview of what they have to offer. There’s plenty to do at Disney World that doesn’t require a theme park ticket too, so it’s best to add in one day away from the parks to explore the resort pool, other resorts, and Disney Springs. Each theme park visit must be planned in advance and all guests must have a valid ticket and park reservation.