Planning A Disney World Vacation (Complete Guide)

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So, you have been thinking about planning a Walt 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 trip possible for your family.

From paying for your trip to Walt Disney World, to what time of year you should go, dining and resorts. I’ve got everything covered here.

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What Theme Parks Can I Visit At Disney World?

There are four theme parks at Walt Disney World: the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Depending on the time of year you go and how long you plan to stay, you may want to visit all four parks or just focus on one or two.

If you only have a day or two, I would recommend just visiting the Magic Kingdom. This is the most classic Disney experience and has the most iconic attractions, like Cinderella’s Castle, It’s a Small World, and Space Mountain.

If you have more time, I would recommend adding Epcot to your itinerary. This park is great for older kids and adults with its unique rides and attractions, like Soarin’ Around the World and Test Track and of course the new additions of Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind.

Hollywood Studios is a must-visit for any movie or TV lovers in your family. This park has some of the most popular rides at Walt Disney World, like the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith. This park is also the home to Star Wars Galaxy Edge and Toy Story Land! Both of these themed lands have great attractions that super fans and part time fans will love!

And finally, Animal Kingdom is perfect for any animal lovers in your family. This park has classic rides like the Kilimanjaro Safaris and Kali River Rapids, as well as unique experiences like the Festival of the Lion King show. And if you are an Avatar fan, this park has Pandora: The World of Avatar with incredible views of the floating mountains and rides like Flight of Passage that everyone will love.

Water Parks

After a hot morning of many, many miles in one of the four main Walt Disney World theme parks on your…, what’s that word?  Oh, feet!! There are two parks for your mermaids and guppies to cool off and still have a fun-filled adventure.  Blizzard Beach & Typhoon Lagoon are the fifth and sixth parks in Walt Disney World.  You will need to have a separate ticket to enter these, specifically themed to their name, water parks.  

The story goes, there was a huge snowstorm one year in Florida.  Yes, Florida.  And what else was there to do but build a ski resort, of course.  Quickly after the ski resort was built, the snow began to melt and Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park was formed as an attraction for everyone.

Typhoon Lagoon sets the stage for a typhoon that hit a tropical island and all around the area is the wreckage.  You will see fishing gear and tackle, boats washed up, cargo, and a mountain that erupts into the air about every half hour.

Both water parks have very similar types of water adventures.  They each have attractions unique to their park. Like Summit Plummet at Blizzard Beach which almost vertically drops riders down 12 stories at 65 mph. The Crush n’ Gusher at Typhoon Lagoon is the only water roller coaster in Walt Disney World.

Walt Disney World keeps the water heated so it can be enjoyed all year round.  On occasion, Disney will close the water parks due to inclement weather but don’t worry it will only be closed until the storm passes.  

You will need to purchase a water park ticket to access the attractions.  Not sure if you want to go, you can wait until you arrive at your resort.  If you are certain you are going to experience the water parks, you can add them to your pre-purchased park tickets before you leave for your vacation.

Each park brings a different experience to the mermaid and guppy in your group.  Whichever water park you choose to cool yourself off at, you’ll have more memories to make.  

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How Many Days Should I Stay At Disney World?

When planning your trip to Walt Disney World, the first thing you need to decide is how long you are going to be staying. Many people go for just a few days, while others plan to spend a week or more at the parks. Depending on your travel budget and the amount of time that you have off work or school, you can choose how long you stay.

For me, I think that the best options are to spend four or five days at Walt Disney World, although some people do much better with six days at the parks. If you have been having trouble deciding, talk it over with your family and choose a length of time that will suit everyone’s needs and budget.

If you are traveling with small children, you may want to consider a shorter trip. This is because young kids have shorter attention spans and can get overwhelmed by long days at the parks. If you have older kids or teens, they can probably handle more days and will want to experience as much of Walt Disney World as possible.

No matter how long you choose to stay at Walt Disney World, be sure to book your reservations well in advance if you can. This will ensure that you get the best hotel or resort and also lock in discounted rates and other perks.

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How To Plan A Disney World Vacation On A Budget

One of the most common questions I am asked is how to plan a Walt Disney World trip on a budget (We have an entire blog post dedicated to this over here). And, while there are no magic bullets when it comes to saving money on your trip, there are definitely some ways that you can save. Here are my top tips for planning a Walt Disney World trip on a budget:

1. Pay for your trip with cash

If you have the cash to pay for your trip upfront, do it! You will save a ton of money by not paying interest on a credit card. And, if you are using a travel agent, they may even give you a discount for paying in cash.

2. Travel during the off-season

The prices for hotels and airfare are significantly cheaper during the off-season. And, while the parks may be more crowded, you can still save money by avoiding peak travel times. Also checking discount airlines like Frontier or Allegiant can save you a bunch!

3. Stay in a Walt Disney World resort hotel

Walt Disney World resort hotels are not only convenient, but they also offer some great discounts. Be sure to check out offers from Walt Disney World and other travel websites like Expedia or Groupon for deals on discounted hotel rooms.

4. Use discounts and coupons

There are many different kinds of discounts and coupons that you can take advantage of when planning a trip to Walt Disney World. These include things like AAA discounts, military discounts, special vacation packages offered by Walt Disney World, and more.

5. Bring your own snacks and meals

If you are on a tight budget, consider bringing your own food to eat in the parks instead of paying for expensive meals or snacks there. You can either pack food ahead of time or pick up groceries once you arrive at Walt Disney World. This will help save money while still allowing you to enjoy the magic of Disney! You can even get groceries delivered to your Disney Resort through Amazon and Instacart!

Also remember that the portions in Disney can be quite large and splitting meals is a great way to save money on food as well!

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How do I plan a Disney vacation by myself?

If you are planning a Walt Disney World vacation by yourself, the best place to start is by considering your budget. Once you have a budget in mind, you can start to look at resorts and hotels that fit into that budget. From there, you can start to look at airfare and other travel expenses. It is also important to consider what time of year you want to travel and plan accordingly.

To further save money on your Walt Disney World vacation, consider using discounts and coupons when booking flights or hotels. You can also look for deals and promotions from Walt Disney World or other travel websites, such as Groupon or Expedia.

Additionally, consider bringing snacks and meals with you to the parks instead of paying for expensive food there, which can help you save money while still enjoying the magic of Disney!

Overall, there are many different ways to plan a Walt Disney World vacation by yourself, but with some research and planning ahead, you can create an amazing trip that fits your budget.

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How Do I Pay For A Walt Disney World Vacation?

There are several ways to pay for a Walt Disney World 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.

Also remember that you can pay for your Disney Vacation over time by making payments online monthly or weekly. You will need to pay a deposit of $250 to reserve and then the trip has to be paid in full 30 days prior to check in. This is a great way to split up the cost of your trip over time.

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

Before moving down to the Orlando area we had gone to Walt Disney World in the Winter, Spring, and Fall. We had friends that visited in the summer and they all said it was too hot and humid for them.

After living here for almost 3 years we have found that late Fall and early Spring are the best times to visit. The weather is perfect, not too hot and not too cold, and the crowds are lower than during peak times like Christmas and summer vacation.

If you are building out a Disney World vacation, the best time to go is during the fall or spring when the weather is mild and the crowds are smaller. However, ultimately, the best time to visit Disney World depends on your personal preferences and priorities.

These days there really isn’t a “low crowd” time at the parks. It seems to stay pretty crowded regardless of the time of year but obviously the major holidays are super busy!

They all have their pros and cons. Here’s how I break it down

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When we went in late January into February the lines are short, the prices are cheap and the weather is cooler. We were from New England so January temperatures were 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. We also enjoyed the Festival of the Arts this time of the year, we hadn’t been there in time for it the trip before so it was great to see all of the beautiful Art!

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We have gone to Walt 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!

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Before we lived here we didn’t care to go to Walt Disney World in the Summer. We felt 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.

In 2021 and 2022 however the Flower and Garden ran a bit later and Food and Wine started just 10 days later. This made Epcot a whole lot more fun this summer! Summer is also our “rainy season” so expect rain just about every afternoon/evening in the theme parks at some point.

These are all things that while we didn’t plan a trip to come from far away, now living here there are a few ways to get around the heat, rain and crowds.

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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.

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When Is It Cheapest To Go To Walt Disney World?

The “value” season for all of the resorts is 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 $118 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! You can also save money on Disney Gift Cards at Sam’s Club and Costco.

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 and 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.

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Should I Stay At A Walt Disney World 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!

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

  • Getting to book your Advanced Dining Reservations 60 days in advance for your whole trip, vs 60 days, one day at a time off-site.
  • Custom color magic bands– you choose the color and name, as well as being able to link a credit or debit card for purchases! Unfortunately these are not free anymore but you do get a small discount on the regular price when your staying in a Disney Resort.
  • Never pay for parking at the parks
  • 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, monorail and Skyliner service to the parks.
  • Extra Magic Hours- extra time at either the beginning or end of the day at select parks!

The benefits are overwhelming!

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How To Pick The Right Walt Disney World 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 4 main types of resorts at Walt Disney World- Value, Moderate, Deluxe, and Villas.

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
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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.

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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.

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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 the 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.

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Should I Plan An “Off Day”?

We have learned something new each time we go on a trip to Walt Disney World. 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 theme 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 Walt Disney World!

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.

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How To Get Advanced Dining Reservations (ADR’s)

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!

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Taking Home Memories With Souvenirs

One of the highlights for anyone making memories at Walt Disney World is the endless amount of merchandise that you and your family, from ages 2 to 102, can purchase and take home as a memorable souvenir.

The decision to choose which souvenir to bring home can certainly be one of the hardest decisions you can make; you’ll want to take them all. Everyone has their own way of getting through this without breaking the bank.

We have one of the best ideas to make the souvenir buying part of your Walt Disney World experience that should stop the stress. Before you go to Walt Disney World or on the first day your check into your resort, inform the family that there will be a souvenir day.

Each day, as you walk around a park, think about a souvenir you would like to bring home. You won’t buy it on that day, you’ll keep it in mind for your souvenir day. On the day which you chose your souvenir day, head into Disney Springs, I will guarantee they will find that item in one of the stores, or they will find something else and forget about the one they saw yesterday.

Another great way we have saved money and curbed the “I Wants” is to give each of our kids a Disney Gift Card. That way they know how much they have to spend on souvenirs and they have a little ownership on what they are spending.

There are certainly some souvenirs that are classic and will be chosen each time your visit. Here are some that we feel stand the test of time:

Mickey & Minnie Mouse Ears

Which character, attraction or food is your favorite character? Is there a special event you experienced or maybe it’s the resort you stayed at? Whatever the reason, you’ll probably find something to wear on your head.

The classic, most iconic is the Iconic mouse ears. It has become a tradition for many to purchase a pair or two during their visit. From the vintage black hat that adorns the ears of our beloved Mickey, to the ever-changing design of his elegant Minnie Mouse, her headbands will certainly meet your fancy. These head gEARS can be found all throughout the resorts, parks, and Disney Springs.

Walt Disney World Pins

Walt Disney World has a bountiful collection of pins that will be a great reminder of your time spent in the most magical place on earth. You can find many with the year you went engraved on a pin or even in the form of a spinner. 

How about one with a park icon like Cinderella’s castle, the Tree of Life, Spaceship Earths’ geosphere, or Hollywood Tower of Tower? Pins are not only a great souvenir to remember your magical stay, but they are also small and won’t take up much room in your suitcase.

Trading Pins With Cast Member

For every character, ride, Disney movie, or attraction that is created, you can find them in any shop or kiosk throughout Walt Disney World. Walt Disney World sells a designed lanyard so you can display your pins around your neck while you are walking through the parks. 

Each pin comes with a rubber Backing shaped like a Mickey Mouse head to secure your pins tight to the lanyard.  Once you are back home you can save them in a book designed for pins or display them on your wall where they can be seen every day. Disney Pin trading is another way of not only collecting a unique pin you might want for your collection, but it is also another activity to make your visit to Walt Disney World fun

Just ask a cast member who has a lanyard around their neck to see their collection of pins; they will be willing to trade for one you have. No matter which pin or pins you choose, you will have a unique souvenir to remember your magical time.

disney memory maker

Walt Disney World Memory Maker Photos

This is a great purchase for any family who cannot decide which photo to choose from the dozen possibly hundreds of photos that are taken by a photo cast member throughout all of Walt Disney World.

By purchasing the Photopass / Memory Maker option before your trip begins, you will receive a discount and peace of mind that all memories captured by a photo cast member will be yours to keep at no extra charge.

Walt Disney World Pressed Coins

Along with Mickey & Minnie Mouse ears, and Walt Disney World trading pins, collected pressed pennies during your visit are a great way to bring home the memories. There are two different methods of making your pressed penny.

The first is the classic hand-cranked machine where you turn the lever until your coin is pressed and it is dropped down the shoot where you can collect your coin. To crank an old-fashioned penny, you will need 2 quarters and 1 penny to begin the cranking process.

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The cost is $1.00 to crank and receive 1 pressed penny. If you’d like to hand-crank and press a quarter, you will pay $1.25. The second type of press is a digital press, and you can’t crank your own coin out.

This you can pay with a dollar bill, a bank, or credit card and now you can use your smartphone to have a penny pressed. You do not have to provide a Penny as the machine is stocked waiting for you to not only press one penny for 1 dollar, but you have the choice of having all the images pressed onto a penny, for a dollar each.

With so many locations with a coin press, the Walt Disney World parks including the water parks, the resorts, and Disney Springs, it may be overwhelming to try and find them all. Walt Disney World has provided a list of all the locations you can find the machines.

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Walt Disney World Character Autographs

Whether you are experiencing character meals or waiting in lines to meet your favorite characters, you can ask them for their autograph. Each one has its unique signature that will be a great memory for you to look back on.

You can create your own signature booklet as part of your Walt Disney World preparation but there are hard-bound autograph books that you can purchase ahead of time or once you arrive at Walt Disney World.

This makes an extra special souvenir because all the signatures will be kept in the specially made book from Walt Disney World. In combination with the Memory Maker, you can add a photo of your family members with Mickey Mouse to his signature page. 

how to pack for disney world

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!

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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 evening. 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 $20 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.

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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.

Christmas At Hollywood Studios Tree Echo Lake

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 has been known during Christmas to close the gates to new guests entering because they reached their crown capacity of 100,000 guests!

We had 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.

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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 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.

If you prefer to take a more hands-off approach and don’t love the spreadsheets and planning as much as me then I suggest reaching out to an authorized Disney vacation planner like our partners over at The Vacationeer! They can help you plan your entire trip from start to finish at no extra cost!

Click Here For More Disney World Tips

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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 Go To Disney World?

There is no wrong time to visit Disney World. All four seasons offer their own unique experiences. Many people enjoy going during the holidays when the parks are decorated and there are special events happening but crowds are also at their highest during these times. If you want to avoid the crowds, try visiting during the off

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When should I start planning my Disney trip?

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

What is the best way to get around Disney World?

There are a variety of transportation options at Disney World, including monorails, buses, boats and personal vehicles. Ultimately the best option will depend on your specific needs and preferences. Some people prefer to take advantage of Disney’s complimentary transportation, while others prefer renting their own car or taking Uber

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What is the cheapest time to go to Disney World?

The cheapest time to go to Disney World is typically during the off-season. This varies depending on the time of year, but typically the months of January, February, September and October offer the cheapest rates.

What’s the cheapest Disney resort?

Typically the Disney World Value Resorts are the cheapest.