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How To Plan a Disney Vacation

For many people a Walt Disney World vacation can be a bucket list vacation. Kids often look to a Disney vacation as an almost rite of passage, and parents can definitely feel overwhelmed with planning. There’s so much to understand and do, and Disney vacations can definitely be expensive. If you are planning a Disney Vacation, you’ll want to make sure that you get things right. Here’s how to plan a Disney vacation in eight steps.

Disclosure: I am a former member of the Disney Parks Moms Panel and have been on some complimentary press trips at Walt Disney World, but all opinions are my own.

Eight steps to plan a Walt Disney World vacation, including deciding when to go on vacation, what tickets to buy, and when to book reservations and FastPasses.

How To Plan a Disney Vacation

Decide What the Best Age is For a Visit

You’ll want to do this as the first step in your plan. What age do you want your kids to be when you visit? We traveled to Walt Disney World as a family for the first time when my son was a baby and my daughter was 2 years old. We knew that we wanted to go on vacation, and felt that Walt Disney World was one of the easiest places to travel with a baby.

However, if you aren’t planning on taking multiple Disney vacations, you’ll want to make sure you get the age right. This post can help you figure out the right age for a Walt Disney World vacation. In general, the early elementary ages can be a great time, because the kids are old enough to ride many of the attractions, but still love seeing the various Disney World characters.

Epcot food and wine food

Determine What Month You’ll Be Visiting

After deciding the year that you’ll be visiting, you’ll want to determine which month you want to travel in. If your kids are in school, your options will likely be a little more limited. Before my kids were in elementary school, we liked to visit Walt Disney World in May. Now that they are in middle school, we prefer February vacation or Thanksgiving break.

Walt Disney World is home to a number of special events throughout the year that you may want to attend during your vacation, including the Epcot Festival of the ArtsFood and Wine Festival, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. Keep those events in mind when choosing your vacation dates.

On Property or Off Property

Walt Disney World has a variety of hotels, with different themes and price ranges. If you’re on a budget, look at the value or moderate resorts. There are many different benefits to staying on property, including Extra Magic Hours, access to the Disney Dining Plan, and complimentary MagicBands (note that these things have changed in 2022). Take a look at this post to help decide whether or not you should stay on property.

The Boardwalk during the day

Book Your Disney Vacation

Once you’ve chosen your travel dates and preferred hotel, it’s time to book your Walt Disney World vacation. You can reserve your vacation as a Disney vacation package, or book items individually.

When choosing your Walt Disney World park tickets, you’ll find a variety of options. You can see everything you need to know about Walt Disney World park tickets here. When choosing your tickets, you’ll want to have an idea of how many days you’ll want to visit and whether or not you’ll want to include the water parks in your tickets. If you plan to visit Disney Springs, you won’t need a ticket for that visit.

Guests staying on property also have the option to add on the Disney Dining Plan. The dining plan can help you save money, but make sure that you’ll use everything included to maximize the value for the price.

When you make your vacation reservations, you’ll also want to set up your account on My Disney Experience. Link your plans there, and you’ll be able to make all of your reservations on the website or app.

Dessert at Pandora

Make Your Disney Dining Reservations

Guests can make Disney dining reservations 180 days in advance. The most popular restaurants, including the character dining locations, usually book up right at that point. If you don’t have the park hopper option on your ticket, you’ll want to make sure that you book a reservation at the park you plan to visit that day. So, you’ll need to sit down with your schedule before that 180 day point to make sure you’ve figured out your strategy.

We usually get the park hopper, but still try to plan out our days before making dining reservations. You won’t need reservations for the quick serve locations, but these don’t offer character experiences.

Magic Bands

Reserve Your FastPasses

Depending on whether you stay on or off property, you can make your FastPass+ reservations 60 or 30 days in advance. While it can be relatively easy to get some FastPasses, others, like the attractions in the new Pandora at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, are extremely popular. Look at your daily resort plan, and make those reservations as soon as possible.

Do your research in advance. Not all rides require FastPass+, and you can also get a reservation for some parades and shows. If you are traveling with younger kids, look at the height requirements ahead of time, so you don’t end up with disappointed kids and a wasted FastPass.

Now that my kids are older, we discuss restaurants and FastPasses together, before it’s time for me to make the reservations. That way, my kids aren’t surprised with our plans when we are on vacation.

A Disney Magical Express bus

Make Final Preparations

Once all of your dining and FastPass+ reservations are done, you are almost all set. There are just a few final things you’ll want to do before it’s time to leave. If you are flying in and are staying on property, you’ll want to look at reserving Disney’s Magical Express for your transportation to and from Orlando International Airport.

You may also want to add Memory Maker to your reservation. With Memory Maker, you’ll be able to get photos that are taken by PhotoPass photographers located throughout the park. You’ll also be able to get ride pictures on the attractions that offer them. If you don’t select Memory Maker, you can still take the pictures, and choose to purchase them later.

Enjoy Your Vacation

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