I've had the privilege of going to Walt Disney World five times in my lifetime. I love going to WDW, riding the new attractions, and experiencing the Disney magic. I had a project in middle school where I had to "spend" one million dollars and decided to "spend" mine by planning elaborate, worldwide Disney vacations for my family and extended families. My "light reading" as a child included posts on InterCot and Birnbaum's books. My love of going to Walt Disney World got to a point where I began planning family members' vacations at the park. I guess you could say that I love Walt Disney World.
Planning a Walt Disney World vacation takes a lot of time, patience, and a knack for staying organized. Due to its worldwide popularity, planning the exact vacation you want will require you to book various aspects of your stay quite some time in advance, meet specific deadlines, and be ready to click, tap, and crunch numbers on the fly. Looking for tips and tricks? Come along for the ride!
Step one: Establish your budget
This should be a no-brainer with any vacation, but Walt Disney World vacations--depending on a variety of factors--could cost you a few pennies. How much are you willing to spend on your experience? It's best to figure out your financial comfort zone before you begin planning so that you don't overspend.
Some things to consider when establishing your budget: is food each day included in this budget? Souvenirs? Are you going to purchase a Disney Dining Plan? What time of year are you considering for your vacation? For the sake of this blog post, those expenses are NOT included in my number-crunching scenarios.
I'm thinking of writing a blog post on ways to save money on Walt Disney World vacations. Would you come along for the ride? Let me know in the comments below!
Step two: Determine your length of stay.
Now that you've determined your budget, it's time to determine how long you will be at the Mouse's House. Based on personal experience, unless you are a Florida resident, I would recommend staying for at least four days and three nights. Why? Well, consider all the rides, attractions, and parks to explore; anything less might cause you to miss out on some of your to-do lists in each park, especially if you don't have Park Hopper tickets (more on those later). However, if you're only interested in a couple of the parks, a shorter trip might suffice. It all depends on what you and your party want to do.
Need help deciding how long to stay? If this is your first Disney trip, my first piece of advice is to set aside at least one day for each of the four main parks: one day for Magic Kingdom, one day for EPCOT, one day for Hollywood Studios, and one day for Animal Kingdom. Then, read blog posts or other literature about the different attractions and food options at each park. Is there a park you think you'd like to spend an extra day at? Write it down. When I've gone with my family, we've typically gone for a week, always setting aside one day to relax by the pool, enjoy the hotel, and take a trip to Disney Springs. Magic Kingdom and EPCOT tend to take a couple of days each solely because there's SO much to do that piques our interests, including our favorite attractions. We've gotten Park Hopper tickets in the past, but have opted for standards tickets as of late due to how efficient we've gotten at planning.
By determining how you want to spend your days at Walt Disney World, you will narrow down your choices to...
Step three: Determine your hotel accommodations.
The reason why I prioritize time at the park over hotel stay is because I truly believe your budget should prioritize how you spend your days, not where you sleep. While it might be amazing to want to stay at one of the best hotels on the property... a bed is a bed, and as long as it's clean (don't even get me started on how IMMACULATE Disney hotels are), you will be okay.
Let's say you've determined that you want to spend a week at Walt Disney World. You've decided you want one day per main park and one day per water park. You're thinking of going to Disney Springs on your last day before your flight home. Awesome! (I'm jealous already!) You've done a little bit of research on the parks and you feel that this is the best daytime itinerary for you. Well, now's the time where we continue to crunch numbers.
You'll need to add up the prices of the park tickets and multiply it by the number of people in your party. You have your vacation total thus far. Subtract that from your budget. If you have a "price range" budget where you'd feel comfortable spending within a certain range of money, subtract the price of your park tickets by the lowest number in your range. What you have left is money for you to spend on hotel accommodations.
WDW has three hotel "tiers" for different budgets: Value, Moderate, and Deluxe. (For reference, I am going to put an * next to the hotels I've personally stayed at throughout the years.)
Value hotels are the least expensive hotels to stay at on property, but do not lack in quality. They are often decorated with beautiful bright colors and scream "you're at Walt Disney World!" from ten miles away. Characters adorn the wallpaper, the bedding, even the outside pool areas! I've stayed at All-Star Music and All-Star Movies, both great value resorts with fun pools. Value hotels are very kid-friendly, so if you're a family with young kids, I would consider staying at a value resort simply for the decor. (Saving money helps, too!) Value resorts include:
Pop Century Resort
Art of Animation Resort
Moderate resorts are mid-range in terms of expense. These hotels tend to use more subdued colors and themes when it comes to decor. While there is certainly that Disney touch, these resorts decor-wise might be more suitable for older kids, teenagers, and adults. All hotels are kid-friendly, but these hotels tend to have more of a mature feel to them... although, Caribbean Beach Resort DOES have some awesome pirate-themed rooms. ;) Moderate resorts include:
Coronado Springs Resort*
Port Orleans Resort - Riverside
Port Orleans Resort - French Quarter
Caribbean Beach Resort
The Cabins at Fort Wilderness Resort
Deluxe resorts are the most expensive resorts on Disney property. These hotels are typically the "bucket list" hotels on Disney fans' resort wishlists. There are hints of Disney here and there, but these hotels are going to be the most mature in terms of decor. Deluxe hotels include:
Grand Floridian Resort and Spa
Polynesian Village Resort
Yacht Club Resort
Beach Club Resort*
Animal Kingdom Lodge
Perhaps you're not looking for a resort to stay in at Walt Disney World? If you own an RV and want to forego flights and hotel stay, you might want to consider staying at The Campsites at Fort Wilderness Resort. There are different campsite sizes to accommodate your needs and the size of your RV.
Maybe you're a large party traveling together and would like to stay in the same room, perhaps with a kitchen area to cook some meals together? You might want to consider Disney's Deluxe Villas. The Villas are perfect for large travel parties who want to stick together during the entire duration of the trip. Many have at least a small kitchenette area with a small refrigerator, perfect for storing water bottles to bring into the park with cold water to stay hydrated or even leftover food.
Don't want to stay on property? That's okay, too. There are many well-rated hotels in the Orlando area with transportation to the parks. However, there are a few perks to staying on property.
Don't know what the perks are? Want to find out? Let me know if you'd come along for the ride on another blog post!
Step four: Shop around.
Nicole, what do you mean?
You're probably looking at prices on Disney's own websites, right? That's a great starting point to go to for pictures of the hotel rooms, descriptions of the parks, and an idea of what it might cost you to book your Walt Disney World vacation. Whatever you do, as tempting as it is... do NOT immediately book your vacation. Disney's websites are a great resource, but I encourage you to shop around.
How does one "shop around" for a Disney vacation, you ask? In a future blog post, I'll take you along for the ride and teach you my tips and tricks!
Step five: FastPass+ and Restaurant Reservations.
This is the part of the WDW vacation planning process that many people are turned off by because of how frustrating it can be sometimes. To help you navigate this part of the process, here is some helpful information you'll need to know in order to ensure that you're getting onto the attractions you want and eating at restaurants you think your travel party will enjoy.
FastPass+ is essentially a free system Disney designed to help you reserve tickets to attractions, meet-and-greets with characters, plays/other shows, etc. to help ensure that you get to do your favorite things during your stay. You get to pick three FastPass+ reservations in advance per day, meaning you can still spontaneously hop on rides with low wait times the day of if you want! If you're staying on Disney property (that is, at a WDW resort), you can book your FastPass+ reservations 60 days before you're set to check into your hotel. If you're staying off property, your booking window opens 30 days before check-in. While some people think it's odd that you're planning what rides to go on and when a full one to two months before you even ride them, consider again how busy Disney is and how far out you even have to book the hotel and park tickets. Also, consider how relieved you'll be to know that parts of your day are already planned out for you so there's no second-guessing, no fighting, and shorter wait times for the rides you want to go on the most. Trust me, you're doing yourself a favor by booking your FastPass+ reservations on time! I'd recommend setting an alarm on your phone that will go off to remind you to hop onto your computer or phone to book those reservations.
Based on my own experiences in the park, rides you'll want to consider making FastPass+ reservations for are rides like:
Seven Dwarves Mine Train - Magic Kingdom
Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin
Soarin' - EPCOT
Test Track - EPCOT
Rockin' Roller Coaster feat. Aerosmith - Hollywood Studios
Kilimanjaro Safari - Animal Kingdom
If any of those rides sound at all interesting to anyone in your travel party, please consider making those FastPass+ reservations! The good news? Not everyone in your party needs to have the exact same FP+ reservations. If you're traveling in a larger group with a few different interests in the mix, you can definitely split up your day using the FP+ system to ensure that everyone goes on the attractions that they want to experience.
To help relieve some stress when it comes to booking FP+ reservations, make a list of rides you want to go on and list them in order of interest. By doing this, you'll be making a list that is also comprised of second, third, even fourth choice options. Say goodbye to panic mode and hello to easy, breezy booking!
Much like FastPass+ reservations, booking tables at your wishlist restaurants needs to be done in advance. If you're staying on WDW property, you're able to book up to ten days of dining reservations 180 days before your check-in date. Yes, you read that correctly: your reservations are being made six months in advance. Why? Think about it: the time people spend at a restaurant often exceeds the amount of people on a ride, and depending on the restaurant or ride (especially now in a world impacted by a global pandemic), capacity has a lot to do with it, too. After doing my research, I couldn't find a specific length of time to book dining reservations if you're not staying on Disney property. I will update this blog post with that info as soon as I get it. :)
The hardest dining reservation to get, according to Touring Plans blog, is dinner at The Plaza in the Magic Kingdom.
Step six: Wait, wait, wait...
You've shopped around, found the cheapest park tickets and hotel accommodations, and you've made your FP+ and dining reservations. What to do now? Daydream about your vacation, of course! Unfortunately, the only thing left to do is wait. However, you can go the extra mile in terms of organization by downloading and playing around with the My Disney Experience app! This app is great for booking additional FP+ reservations, finding characters in the parks, and checking wait times at your favorite rides. (Trust me, you won't want to walk from France in EPCOT's World Showcase all the way to Mission Space without knowing how long the wait times are.)
Want some tips on how to effectively organize and prepare for your Walt Disney World vacation in another blog post? Let me know if you'd come along for the ride in the comments!
See? Planning a vacation at Walt Disney World does not have to be difficult, stressful, or intimidating. With careful prep time and organization, you'll be smooth sailing--uh, flying--to your best WDW vacation yet. Thanks for coming along for the ride! xx
FTC: This is not a sponsored post. All opinions are my own.