Many of you have reached out since our last Disney venture asking a common question, how do you go about planning a trip to Disney World?
The easiest way to plan a trip to Disney for some might be working with a travel agent and simply let them make your plans for you. You do not pay an extra fee this service, so if planning a trip intimidates you, don’t do it. I don’t know how involved they are or if they will book FastPasses for you because I have never used one. I, however, love planning.
In every day life, I am not someone who plans out everything, but when you go to Disney World, you need to plan it well in order to maximize your time there. As I walked past people standing in the THREE HOUR LINE for Avatar- Flight of Passage, I thought to myself, poor people…didn’t plan those FastPasses… Seriously, there is nothing more satisfying than waltzing past a very long line for a ride you and your kids are super excited to ride and basically hopping right on board. Do you pay extra for FastPasses? No. You don’t.
So, for a successful and fun trip to Walt Disney World, you need to start planning about 6 months in advance, and really getting serious 60 days before your trip. Why are these time frames so important?
You can reserve dining 180 days before your trip and you can book FastPasses 60 days before your trip.
These two things will make a huge difference in your experience. So first you will want to choose a time of year to go, a place to stay, and if you will be doing a package (room, tickets, and dining). I highly recommend an all-inclusive package, especially if you enjoy eating a lot as my husband does. I joke he’s like a baby and needs to eat every few hours.
When choosing a room, think about how much time you may spend at your resort, how much space you want, what type of transportation you want to take to the parks, and if you want to be very close to a certain park.
Choosing a Resort
The resorts are in four categories;
- Value: The least expensive, but you will without a doubt, have more crowded buses to the park and the buses are your only transportation option. These resorts have pools, but they are not as expansive as pools in the next categories.
- Moderate: Some moderate resorts have boat and bus options, but even the bus only resorts have easier bus rides. The walk to the bus stations are shorter and the buses are less crowded. The pools are AMAZING. They have water slides and some, if not all, have full water park type sections for younger kids in addition to the large adult pools.
- Deluxe: It’s in the name, these are fabulous. There is no way around it. The rooms are amazing, larger, and in most cases you have really amazing views and may even be within walking distance to your favorite park. In many deluxe options you can take boat, bus, or monorail to get to the parks, making transportation a breeze.
- Villa: These are often the best of the best within the deluxe resorts. You have larger rooms, amazing views, and any amenity you can think of.
There are also campgrounds if you have an RV, they have full hook-ups and they will transport you to the Disney parks from your camp spot.
So, how do you choose? If you are trying to do Disney on a budget, choose a value resort. If you do this though, get a preferred room! Our most recent trip, we stayed at Art of Animation (the most popular value resort) and I regretted it. The pictures looked like it would be super fun for the kids, which was the only reason we stayed there. The price difference between this particular value resort and a moderate resort is not significant. The resort was really full of life and imaginative, but I didn’t pay attention to where our room was in relation to the buses. We had to walk for what felt like a mile just to get to the bus pick-up and drop-off. The time prior to this, we stayed at Caribbean Beach Resort and I LOVED it. The pools were so awesome, the restaurant in our resort served one of my favorite desserts that I had on that whole trip, and we could see the bus station from our window. We visited a few other resorts on this past trip just to compare and we will definitely be staying at a moderate or above on future trips. I’ll be honest, I am not the best vacation budgeter… I budget at home and save what I want to spend on vacation, then I enjoy said vacation immensely.Dining Options
If you are going to do a package deal, this is where you will choose a dining plan.
There are three categories to the dining plans;
- Quick-Service Dining Plan
- 2 Quick Service meals per person per night
- 2 Snacks per person per night
- Disney Dining Plan
- 1 Table Service per person per night
- 1 Quick Service per person per night
- 2 Snacks per person per night
- Deluxe Dining Plan
- 3 Meals per person per night (Combo of Table and Quick Service meals)
- 2 Snacks per person per night
Table Service meals are locations that require reservations (remember, 180 days in advance if you want to get into certain places) and you often get to have character experiences and dessert with every meal. You have to watch those places though! Certain restaurants require two table services per person per meal, and if you are using a dining plan, that makes a significant difference. You cannot share a table service credit and you do have to tip your waiter/waitress on these table services based on the price you would have paid, which is typically $20+ for a family of four. So even though you’ve paid for a dining plan and your food is paid for, if you have a plan that includes table services, be sure to budget extra for tips.
Snacks are snacks… this is pretty basic. However, I will say the absolute best place to get a snack in all of Walt Disney World in Epcot, and frankly the best food in general. France in Epcot, Les Halles Boulangerie-Patisserie has a delicious selection of desserts that I promise you will not regret eating.
Oh how I adore FastPasses and if you use them correctly, you will not be waiting in long lines at Disney World.
60 (SIXTY) Days before your trip, book your FastPasses. Seriously. This is why people were waiting in an absurd line while we passed them by to ride one of the most popular rides at Disney World. You can book your whole trips passes 60 days (at 8:00am) prior to the first day of your trip, so set an alarm and do it. I know that sounds nuts, but I did that and barely got a FastPass for one day of the two we were at Animal Kingdom for Flight of Passage. You should write down the rides you want to ride, make sure your kid is tall enough, and be sure that you have dining reservations at that park on that day, unless you have a park hopper, and focus on the popular rides first. Some rides have FastPass options but you really don’t need them because the lines move super fast and once you’ve used your other FastPasses, you’ll be able to select more and can probably add those while in the park from your Disney App. Go ahead and download that, you can reserve dining, change plans, select FastPasses, see wait times for various attractions, find bathrooms, and more! You can choose 3 FastPasses per person per day in the parks and if you all want to ride a ride, you all need a FastPass for it. They are more lenient on rides that aren’t crazy popular, but the popular ones, they will kick you out of the fast lane before you can even plead your case.
Rides you really want a FastPass for:
- Animal Kingdom
- Avatar-Flight of Passage
- Na’vi River Journey
- Kilimanjaro Safaris
- Test Track
- Frozen Ever After
- Magic Kingdom
- Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train
- Space Mountain
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- HollyWood Studios
- Slinky Dog Dash
- Rockin’ Roller Coaster
- Toy Story Mania
These are the most popular rides with the longest wait lines, but some of them will not let you book them on the same day for the same guests, such as Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey, so I booked them on separate days, thus why we usually like to do more than one day in each park.
Aside from rides, there are characters everywhere, little sections to just chill and play, various parades and shows to enjoy. Another thing I highly recommend, especially for younger kids is to take a break and just play. There are some neat drums at Animal Kingdom, a Wreck-It Ralph play area at Epcot, and a Circus Water Fun place at Magic Kingdom that are fun! You can also get involved in the pin trading fun, which is great for shy kids because it encourages them to talk to cast members to ask if they can trade pins with them, plus it’s just fun.
I love us in this, except you can’t see Fiona, but the person in the front, priceless.
You can get park hopper tickets so that you can visit multiple parks in one day, we never have and we probably won’t unless the kids want to as they get older. There is so much to do in each park, it seems like an unnecessary expense to me. Also, as you are selecting your tickets, it might not be a bad idea to plan a day to just chill at your resort and decompress a bit. A day at the pool is always fun and my kids enjoy the arcade a lot, which I think most resorts have. It is very easy to get caught up in trying to do everything at Disney that you will make your kids miserable. Just take it easy, book your FastPasses so you aren’t draining yourselves and your time in lines and then meander about doing whatever you want. Epcot is my favorite because it’s so relaxed and enjoyable. Also, did I mention the French section with the amazing food? Oh I did? Good.
I love adding the Memory Maker to our package because then you can download all the photos taken by cast members and on the rides and have to do whatever you want with! There are photographers everywhere and you just walk up, ask them to take your picture, they scan your magic band (or your kids’ bands because that is fun) and poof, they are available on your photo pass. They will also do “magic photos” which are super cute and fun too.
If your kids are even remotely small enough to fit in a stroller, take one! They are little and they get overstimulated at Disney anyway, all the walking gets old fast on little legs, even the most energetic of kids will tire out at Disney. Those of you who know my kids know they are full of energy, but in one day (because my watch keeps track) I walked 10 miles. That’s A LOT for little legs or for anyone who may have a hard time walking, so bring a scooter for those with walking difficulties and strollers for little people. Renting scooters or strollers once you’re there can be done, but it’s more pricey than just bringing your own.
A Few Extras
If you fly to Disney World, the Magical Express will pick up you and your luggage and your luggage will be waiting for you in your room after you’ve checked in. This is another service Disney offers at no extra charge. Your Magic Bands are your ticket into the parks, photo pass, your payment, and your key to your room. When you check-in you get free refillable at your resort drink mugs. That’s another benefit to moderate or newer resorts, there are more refill stations throughout your resort than at a value resort. Buy a bulk bag of Disney Trading Pins for cheap on eBay before your trip so you have some inexpensive trading options for your kiddos. It’s like getting a new souvenir every time they trade them, but you’re not paying anything…win. Last, but not least, buy some rain ponchos. It will likely rain at some point during your trip and the ponchos in the parks are super expensive. So if you pick up a cheap set on Amazon, it won’t hurt too bad if you don’t use them.