Complete Guide To Planning A Disney World Vacation

So, you have been thinking about planning a Disney World vacation, have you? Well, you’ve found the ultimate guide to planning the trip of your dreams! Read on for all the best tips that I have learned over the years about how to plan the best Disney World vacation.

From paying for your trip to Disney World, to what time of year you should go, to fast passes and of course resorts, we cover it all.Complete Guide To Planning A Disney World Vacation 1

How Do I Pay For A Disney World Vacation?

There are several ways to pay for a Disney vacation. You could save money from your paychecks each week until you have enough as many do, or you could use credit cards.

If you are going the credit card route I would suggest getting a Disney Visa. You get 0% APR for 6 months on all Disney Vacations, every time you book one, not just your first time. That helped us book ours further in advance knowing we were not going to pay interest.

You also earn Disney Reward Dollars on all purchases. They get added to a redemption card and you can use it anywhere in the parks like a gift card.Complete Guide To Planning A Disney World Vacation 2

What Is The Best Time Of Year To Go To Disney World?

We have gone to Disney in the Winter,  Spring, and Fall. They all have their pros and cons. Here’s how I break it down

Winter

When we went in late January into February the lines are short, the prices are cheap and the weather is cooler. We are from New England so January temperatures are still really warm for us. It averages in the 70’s during the day and 60’s at night.

We have also gone in Mid February and the lines were the exact same as January. The weather was a bit warmer and the prices were not much higher wither. We also enjoyed the Festival of the Arts this last trip, we hadn’t been there in time for it the trip before so it was great to see all of the beautiful Art!

Spring

We went to Disney World the first week in May and the prices were moderate, not super expensive but not nearly as cheap as in the winter. The weather was much hotter. Temps were in the 80’s with a couple of days reaching 90*. The Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot is always beautiful as well. That’s something you don’t want to miss!

Summer

We don’t care to go to Disney in the Summer. We feel that between the higher prices, higher crowd and higher temps it just doesn’t seem like a lot of fun. There are also no festivals going on for 90% of the summer. This is also their “rainy season” so expect rain just about every afternoon.

Fall

Fall is a beautiful time of year to go. It may be my favorite. Between the Mickey’s not so scary Halloween at the Magic Kingdom and the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot there is so much fun stuff going on. The weather can still be hot, but we feel it is similar to Spring weather. Also, the lines are not as bad as all the kids have gone back to school.Complete Guide To Planning A Disney World Vacation 3

When Is It Cheapest To Go To Disney World?

The “value” season for all of the resorts are January through February. These are the absolute lowest of the entire year. That matched with low crowds makes for a fantastic time of year to go.

Also, you can stay at value resorts, during the value season I have seen room rates as low as $99 a night! Another tip I have is if you have a target near you get a target red card (either credit or debit) and you can buy Disney Gift Cards with the red card and save 5% on everyone! I’ve used these to pay for all of our meals and souvenirs. I have also found that by going in the value season, plane tickets from New England were very cheap as well.

As I mentioned above about the Disney Visa, I was making regular purchases for our groceries each week then paying it off to get the reward dollars so that by the time we went I had about $200 on that redemption card to use. You could do the same thing with an airline card to save on plane tickets as well.

Disney's Coronado Springs moderate resort

Credit: ResortTV1

Should I Stay At A Disney Resort?

This one is something that people are divided on. I have stayed both on and off property and for me and my family, we feel that staying on property is definitely the way to go! Here’s why…

We stayed off property the first time my husband and I went together way back for our 1st wedding anniversary. We didn’t really think about it much and just found a cheap hotel. Then we had to rent a car, pay for gas, pay for parking and wait in traffic… it was o.k…

Then we had our daughter and once she was old enough we knew we wanted to take her to Disney. I had heard some friends say they had stayed on property and loved it. I honestly thought it was out of our price range but wanted to check it out for fun.

What I found was that after figuring in all of the expenses we paid for by staying off-site we didn’t really save any money! The room we chose was at Art of Animation, one of the best value resorts for kids, and we had so many perks by staying onsite I knew we would never stay off-site again!

By staying on property here are just a few great perks that you CAN’T get by staying off property…

  • Getting to book your fast passes at 60 days out from check-in for your whole trip vs 30 days off-site only one day at a time.
  • Getting to book your Advanced Dining Reservations 180 days in advance for your whole trip, vs 180 days, one day at a time off-site.
  • Disney’s Magical Express, the best feature, in my opinion, you drop your bags at your home airport when flying down and you don’t see your bags again until they arrive in your hotel room a few hours after your land. Also, the bus service taking you right from the Orlando Airport Directly to the front door to your resort!
  • Custom color magic bands- you choose the color and name, as well as being able to link a credit or debit card for purchases!
  • Never paying for parking
  • Never waiting in traffic – resort buses have their own lanes to get you into the park faster.
  • Other forms of transportation to the parks- some resorts have boat service to parks.
  • Package delivery- have your park purchases delivered to your resort so you don’t have to carry them all day!
  • Extra Magic Hours- an extra 2 hours at either the beginning or end of the day at select parks!

The benefits are overwhelming!Complete Guide To Planning A Disney World Vacation 4

How To Pick The Right Disney Resort For You

Finding the right resort for your family can be a daunting task if you don’t know much about the resorts. Let’s start with the basics.

There are 3 levels of resorts- Value, Moderate, and Deluxe.

Value Resorts

These resorts are often the most affordable and have the most “cartoony” theming. They often only have quick service eating areas and their pools do not have waterslides. They are great for little kids and anyone who wants to be surrounded by larger than life characters!

The value Resorts are

  • Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort
  • Disney’s All-Star Music Resort
  • Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort
  • Disney’s Art of Animation Resort
  • Disney’s Pop Century Resort

Moderate Resorts

These resorts are a happy medium of still great prices yet added amenities that Value resorts do not have, like waterslides and table service restaurants.  These are the resorts that we stay at most often because we want a little more grown-up feel for a resort.

  • Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort
  • Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort
  • Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter
  • Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside
  • The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort

Deluxe Resorts

The Deluxe resorts also include the villas. All of the resorts at the Deluxe level are the higher priced and have some of the best amenities, like spas and fitness centers. The convenience of having added transportation to the parks via Monorail or boat is also an added feature to staying at a Deluxe Resort.

  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
  • Disney’s Beach Club Resort
  • Disney’s BoardWalk Inn
  • Disney’s Contemporary Resort
  • Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
  • Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
  • Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
  • Disney’s Yacht Club Resort

Villas

  • Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
  • Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
  • Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Jambo House
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani Village
  • Disney’s Beach Club Villas
  • Disney’s BoardWalk Villas
  • Disney’s Old Key West Resort
  • Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows
  • Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
  • The Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

You have to think about your family when choosing the right resort for you. Questions you may need to think about are What age are the kids? How many people are going to be sleeping in the room? How long are we staying?

Younger kids will love the Value resorts, older kids may not. If you are traveling with a larger family the Deluxe or Villas may be right for you because of more spacious rooms.

If you are going only for a couple of days, then room size and resort amenities may not matter if you are not going to be there much. We like to go for 5-8 days so that we have an “off day” so resort amenities matter to us because we use them a lot.Complete Guide To Planning A Disney World Vacation 5

Should I Plan An “Off Day”?

We have learned something new each time we go on a trip to Disney. The absolute #1 thing I have learned is it is an absolute MUST to have an off day. You are going to Disney to have a good time right?

Well for everyone’s sanity you need at least 1 off day, depending on the length of your trip. Our first 2 trips we didn’t take an off day because we were trying to squeeze every last second in the parks. After those two trips, we came home feeling like we needed a vacation from our vacation!

Our most recent trip we didn’t plan a park day on the day we arrived and we also took an “off day” in the middle of our trip. That was the best trip we have ever taken to Disney!

We slept in, did breakfast at Chef Mickey’s, swam in the hotel pool and finished our day at Disney Springs. It was so nice to relax and slow down for a day and it helped us all feel recharged to finish the trip.Complete Guide To Planning A Disney World Vacation 6

How To Book The Fastpasses That You Want

FastPasses are a top stressor for many people planning a trip to Disney World, but they don’t have to be. With a little time and planning, you can get the FastPasses you really want.

I like to sit down and figure out what days we are going to each park first, then I look at the tiers to pick my must-do rides. Being that we always stay on property we can book ours on the 60-day mark for our entire trip!

The system opens up on the 60-day mark at 7 am. I like to set an alarm for about an hour ahead of time to get up get my coffee and my list! Right at 7 am sharp, I am at the Disney Website looking up fast passes.

I start with my first day, being that off-site guests can only do 1 day at a time. Then once that day is filled, if there was a ride I couldn’t get for that day I then start looking for only that ride each additional day of my trip. By doing it this way, our last trip I was able to get 3 fast passes for the Mine Train when others were struggling to get just one!

Another tip, if you don’t get the exact times that you are looking for I would still book the fast pass, it’s easier to modify the time than to find a fast pass for a ride. We cover this more in our FastPass Guide.

toy story land night time

Photo Credit: Disney

Should I Pay For A Disney Dining Plan?

This is a tough one to answer. Everyone has their own opinion on this one. In my opinion, I don’t see the value in the Dining Plan unless you can get it for free.

Each time we go I have kept track of how much we have spent on food while at Disney and each time compared it to what we would have spent on the Dining Plan. Every single time we have spent at least 300 less than the Dining plan.

Now, that being said there are people who save money by using the Dining Plan, but it depends on if you have picky eaters and how many sit down vs quick service meals you want for your trip.

We have done a lot of sit down and character meals in the past that we don’t care to do that as much anymore. We enjoy the quick-service restaurants because there are so many good places to choose from.

How To Get Advanced Dining Reservations (ADR’s)

Like FastPasses, people can get stressed about Advanced Dining Reservations. I don’t because I found a super-easy way to get these done.

You could wait on the website and flip thru day by day of your trip trying to find the restaurant you want, like I have done many times, mostly getting what I want OR you could do what I did on our last trip. I started on the website but I quickly found that I was losing my place and having to scroll through too many restaurants looking for the name I was looking for. So I decided to call Disney and see if they could help.

Well, let me tell you, that was so seamless. I got a fantastic woman on the phone who was super helpful, she went day by day of our trip with me and found each and every reservation that we wanted. They can also make requests for dietary needs when you are on the phone with them as well.

I don’t think that I would ever try to make an entire trip’s worth of reservations on the website again. The customer service really is top notch at Disney!

lounge meals hollywood studios

Photo Credit: Disney

How To Pack For Disney World

Packing for Disney. That can make some people cringe at just the thought. Me? I love it! It gets me super excited when I finally get close enough to the trip that I get to pack.

I make a list of everything I think we may need once we book our trip, then keep going over it every once and a while either adding something I forgot or crossing things off that we don’t really need.

I like to take some non-perishable snacks with us in my suitcase so that we can save a little money by not buying little stuff. Also, bring gum! Disney does NOT sell gum anywhere on the property!

You have to take the time of year into consideration when packing for Disney World. Winter and early spring will still be cool so you will want to pack layers for everyone. Summer is hot and rainy so make sure to pack extra clothes to change if you get too wet or sweaty!

Fall is a lot like Spring where you will still want a layer in the morning or evenings. I always pack ponchos when we go because you never know when you will have some Florida Showers and I don’t want to pay $15 each in the parks. I like to get them from our Dollar Tree and keep them in my park bag.

Speaking of park bags… I see way too many people either overloaded or not bringing enough stuff when coming to the parks. I like a small backpack that I can fit the following:

  • Ponchos for everyone
  • A small first aid kit
  • Battery bank for charging phones
  • Sunscreen
  • Wallet
  • A few small snacks in case we are waiting in line and my daughter gets hungry

That’s all I usually carry with me. I don’t want a bad back from bringing half of the hotel room with me to the parks.Complete Guide To Planning A Disney World Vacation 7

Should I Go To Disney World During The Holidays?

Disney is always beautifully decorated for the holidays so many would wonder if those times would be a good time to visit. This tends to be a personal preference.

One positive about going during holidays is that the kids are out of school so you wouldn’t need to have them miss any school days, also it adds a special memory to be able to celebrate Easter, Halloween or Christmas at the most magical place on earth.

You do have to keep in mind though during these times, everyone else has the same idea. Crowds are usually at their highest during holiday breaks, The Magic Kingdom last year during Christmas even had to close the gates to new guests entering because they reached their crown capacity of 100,000 guests!

We have never gone during the holidays because we didn’t want to deal with the extra people. If you really want to go to Disney World during some of their holiday parties or to see the decorations, you don’t need to be there for the holiday, Disney decorates ahead of time and the parties start ahead of the holidays.

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween starts at the end of August through Halloween and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party Starts in early November through early January, so there are plenty of dates to attend.

Conclusion

Booking a vacation at Disney World should be the best experience and not be stressful. That takes the fun out of it. In the end, does it really matter if you have to wait in a line for your favorite ride? Not get the exact reservation time for dinner?

Not to me. I love Disney so much that any vacation whether staying on or off-site, in any season, crowded or not is the best getaway I could hope for. I hope you found my tips and advice helpful. You don’t have to agree with me, these are just things that work for my family.

FAQ

How much does a trip to Disney World cost?

Depending on how long you are going for and how many people are traveling with you; it can cost you anywhere between $1,000 USD and $10,000 USD.

When should I start planning my Disney trip?

You should start planning a Disney World vacation one year in advance as a general rule of thumb.

What is the cheapest time to go to Disney World?

January is typically the cheapest month to go to Disney World.

What's the cheapest Disney resort?

Typically the Disney World Value resorts are the cheapest. Including... 1. Disney's All-Star Movies Resort. 2. Disney's All-Star Music Resort. 3. Disney's All-Star Sports Resort. 4. Disney's Art of Animation Resort. 5. Disney's Pop Century Resort. 6. The Campsites at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort.

Hi, I’m Heather And I love Disney Vacations

Ever since I was a little girl I've loved traveling to Disney World. As a former Disney Travel Agent I have planned trips for people from all over the world including close friends and family members.

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