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The Complete Guide to Disney World Vacation Planning

My family loves visiting Walt Disney World, and we’ve been visiting the theme parks as a family since my kids were toddlers. I find that it’s so convenient to visit Walt Disney World with kids because the parks are made for families. But Walt Disney World vacation planning can be challenging.

There’s so much to do before your trip, and you want to plan in advance so that you don’t miss out on anything important. While it is possible to plan a last-minute vacation, I generally recommend that you plan your Disney World vacation well in advance – at least six months.

Here’s everything you need to know about Disney World vacation planning – from booking your resort reservation to getting FastPasses.

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. This post contains affiliate links. A purchase through one of these links may result in a commission paid to us at no additional cost to you.

Here's everything you need to know about Disney World vacation planning - from booking your resort reservation to getting FastPasses

Disney World Planning Guide

Decide When to Go to Walt Disney World Resort

There are so many reasons to go to Walt Disney World, and once you’ve arrived on this post, you’ve probably already decided to take the trip. Now, you need to decide when to go to the Walt Disney World resort.

For most families, this has two meanings. You’ll want to decide what age you’d like your kids to be for your first trip. We visited the parks yearly from when my son was 11 months and my daughter was 2 1/2. However, if you aren’t planning on going annually, you may want to wait until your kids are a bit older.

This post can help you decide what age you’ll want your kids to be before visiting Walt Disney World.

In addition to that, you’ll also want to know what time of year to visit. This will really depend on your kids’ schedules as well as what you’d like to experience while you are at the parks. Some events, like the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, are held during specific times of the year.

You’ll also want to consider the weather. Florida, as you’d expect, is very hot in the summer. The parks can also be very busy during school vacations. If your kids are younger, and you don’t have to work around school vacations, you’ll have better options.

Read this post for more information about choosing the time of year for your Disney vacation.

Entrance sign at Walt Disney World

Consider the Length of Time for Your Vacation

I generally recommend that families visit Walt Disney World for about five days to a week. It’s almost impossible to see everything in one visit, so instead, think about how much time you’ll want to spend.

In addition to the four theme parks, Walt Disney World also has two water parks, Disney Springs, miniature golf courses, and regular golf courses. Have a rough idea of how many days you want to visit each park. Depending on where you stay, you may also want to have at least one afternoon or full day reserved for spending time at the pool.

Giraffes at the Animal Kingdom Lodge

Choose Your Disney Hotel

Once you select the dates for your vacation, it’s time to select the hotel that you want to stay in. Your first decision here will be whether or not you want to stay on or off property.

There are pros and cons to both. My family prefers to stay at a Disney resort hotel, because we love the benefits. These include earlier access to book FastPass+ reservations, access to Extra Magic Hours during your vacation, complimentary MagicBands, free transportation to and from Walt Disney World and Orlando International Airport on Disney’s Magical Express, and the option to purchase the Disney Dining Plan.

We love the Disney resort hotels for their themes and convenience too. Once we arrive at the airport, we don’t have to worry about driving – we just take Disney’s free transportation everywhere. It’s also easy to charge things to our room, and use our MagicBands to open our hotel room doors.

There are so many different hotel options within Walt Disney World, so you’ll want to know your budget. Disney World value hotels can be a great option if you’d like to save money, while deluxe resorts have great locations, special theming, and wonderful family-friendly amenities.

There’s also another option – Disney moderate hotels which are a bit cheaper than deluxe resorts but have nicer amenities than the value resorts.

Staying off property is another option, and one that many families choose. In addition to dozens of Orlando hotels, there are also numerous vacation homes. Some of the resorts offer complimentary transportation to the parks.

If you stay off property, you’ll still be able to book FastPass+ reservations, but your window will open later than the window for those staying on property.

The Magic Kingdom train station

Purchase Park Tickets

Theme park tickets can be purchased at any point in your Disney World planning, however, it is best to buy them in advance. You’ll need to have them before you book your FastPass+ selections.

You’ll have several options for where you purchase your Walt Disney world theme park tickets. They can be bought as part of a Disney vacation package that includes lodging and tickets. Or, they can be purchased individually.

You can also purchase your tickets from Get Away Today, an online site that offers discount tickets. Tickets can also be purchased individually from the Disney site.

There are many different ticket types, so you’ll need to have a good idea of your plans before buying the tickets. When purchasing, you’ll want to know how many days you’ll be spending in the theme parks. You won’t need to specify the exact parks you’ll be visiting, however.

If you plan to visit more than one park per day, you’ll want to add on the park hopper option. The park hopper option needs to be added to your entire ticket purchase – you can’t just have it for one day.

There’s also the opportunity to add on tickets to the two water parks. If you plan to visit the water parks during your trip, be sure to include that in your ticket purchase.

The Haunted Mansion

Set up a My Disney Experience Account

Depending on how you purchase your tickets and book your hotel, you may already have a Disney account set up. If not, you’ll want to create one so that you can take advantage of everything offered with My Disney Experience.

My Disney Experience is an app and website where you can add all of your reservations in one place. Once everything is added to your account, this is where you can make modifications, as well as your dining reservations and your FastPass+ selections.

While all of this can be done on the website, you should also add the app to your smartphone. It includes many features that will help out during your trip, including live wait time updates.

Skipper Canteen

Making Walt Disney World Dining Reservations

The window for booking your Walt Disney World dining reservations is 180 days in advance. If you’re staying on property, you can book dining for your whole vacation (up to 10 days) 180 days from when you check in.

Otherwise, it’s 180 days from the dining date. That can be another benefit of staying on property, especially if planning to eat at one of the more popular restaurants.

When the dining reservation window opens, it really will start to feel like your vacation is real. You will, at this point, want to have an idea of which park you’ll want to visit each day. You will need valid park admission to dine at a park.

Plan your days before your booking window opens, and you’ll be ready when the time comes.

The Tower of Terror

Choose your FastPass Reservations

When the FastPass+ reservation window opens, you should already have your park days planned out. I recommend writing everything out, with the dining reservations that you already have. That way, you’ll know when you’re available to ride the attractions.

The FastPass+ window opens 60 days in advance for those guests staying on property, and 30 days in advance for those guests staying off property. Guests can book 3 FastPasses per day, and can get more on site after using the first three.

You’ll have a lot of options for FastPasses, including rides and shows. It’s a good idea to know what you’d like to do before the window opens.

A Disney's Magical Express Motor Coach

Book Transportation

If you aren’t renting a car, you’ll need to figure out transportation for your trip. Guests staying on property can take advantage of Disney’s Magical Express. This free service travels between your resort hotel and Orlando International Airport.

Off property hotels may also offer transportation to the parks, but you’ll need to contact them directly to figure that out. When we stayed at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, we took a ride sharing service to the resort from the hotel, but had access to a free shuttle once we were there.

Purchase Special Event Tickets

Are you visiting during one of the special events, like Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party? It’s a good idea to purchase tickets to these events in advance, because they do sell out.

There are other events you may also consider, including seminars that are held during the Epcot events like the International Food and Wine Festival and the Flower and Garden Festival.

Disney Springs water feature surrounded by buildings

Shop For Your Disney Trip

As you get closer to your trip, you’ll want to do some shopping for your Disney trip. This post can help you figure out what to bring to Walt Disney World.

While there are plenty of gift shops selling sundries on property, I try to bring along everything I will need. The options are fairly limited, and the prices reflect the convenience of shopping on property.

Some things you should consider bringing includes the following:

Frequently Asked Questions About Planning for Walt Disney World

Is there a charge for using a Disney vacation planner?

If you choose to book through a certified Disney vacation planner, you won’t pay an extra fee. This can be a good way to save time.

Can you bring a backpack into Walt Disney World?

You can bring a backpack, but I definitely recommend something lightweight because you’ll need to carry it with you all day.

Are lockers available at Walt Disney World?

Lockers are available, but they aren’t necessarily in the most convenient locations. I really recommend carrying whatever you plan to bring.

Can you bring outside food into Walt Disney World?

Yes, with a few restrictions. Alcohol and glass containers aren’t permitted.

What things aren’t allowed at Walt Disney World?

There are some restrictions to what you can bring in to the parks. These include strollers of a certain size, wagons, selfie sticks, glass containers, and alcohol. There are lots of other restrictions. See more information here.

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