Planning a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida but feeling overwhelmed? Not sure where to start? I know it can be so much to think about, but this is my guide to how I plan our trips to Disney World!
This post is NOT sponsored, we just love Disney and I love to plan our trips. 🙂
This is a part of a Disney Vacation Planning Series here on BigBearsWife.com – This series is a work in progress and I’m going to be constantly adding to it. To see all of the parts, visit the Disney Section of my blog!
It’s no secret that Thomas and I love Disney. I’ve been in love with Disney since I was a little girl and I introduced Thomas to the magical world of Disney a few years ago.
However, Disney world is overwhelming! It’s overwhelming for me sometimes and I’ve been a lot. Planning is what helps me not feel as panicked when we get ready to go to Disney!
Now why would someone that loves Disney panic?
It’s a HUGE park….actually it’s 4 (6 if you count the water parks) huge parks. It’s expensive and I don’t want to waste money or time on things that I don’t really want to do while missing out on other things. It’s not a every month (or even every year) kind of trip. If I miss out on something awesome it’s not like I can just swing back by Disney next week.
We plan, we save and we enjoy our vacation but I plan….Thomas does not…haha
I think my first trip to Disney World happened around the age of 3 and Thomas’ first trip to Disney was more like the age of 30.
However I actually had to get Thomas to Disney World before he was interested in it or even willing to say Disney was an ok place! Yep! While I’ve always loved my family trips to Disney World, Thomas wasn’t very excited when the two of us started to plan our first Disney trip together back a few years ago. It wasn’t until we had been there for a day or two before he fell in love with the idea of Disney World.
Our first trip together to Disney actually came about because of a food blogger conference. So for the first few days of the trip he was on his own for a few hours, and on the second day when I met up with him for dinner I found him walking around the Grand Floridian, wearing a new Mickey Mouse shirt. That’s when he let me know that he understood why I loved this place so much! Ever since we’ve been in love with Disney. We announced that we were going to be parents with a little Disney themed photo shoot and my sister in law had us Mom and Dad Disney shirts made for us to wear to our gender reveal party. Yes, I also decorated our son’s nursery in Dumbo and had a Dumbo themed baby shower. 🙂 (My sister in law’s co-workers call Jackson, “The Disney Baby” haha)
To be honest, I think that we just love Disney because it’s pretty much it’s own little world. You arrive, let go of everything that’s going on your every day life, spend time with the ones you love, relax and just melt into the “magic” until it’s time to go home. I also personally love Disney because of the attention to detail in EVERYTHING but I’ll talk about that in another post.
Because we love Disney and try to go as much as we can, I get asked these question A LOT:
- “What should I do while I’m at Disney?”
- “What are your suggestions for Disney World?”
- “How do I plan this trip?”
- “Where should we stay at Disney?”
So, after years of typing up long answers to everyone’s question each time, I though it might be time to write a blog post….or a few blog posts about “How to Plan a Trip to Walk Disney World!”
I’m a planner!
It’s true. Anyone that’s traveled with me can tell you that I plan everything. I’m pretty sure that I get this quality from my dad.
Also, I like to plan because vacations are expensive, y’all! Unless you’re one of those super lucky people that never has to think about money you’ve probably been saving your money for your vacation to Disney. Disney is overwhelming! Even for someone that’s been quite a few times, it’s a huge place and I want to make sure I see, eat and do everything I want to do while I’m there if I’ve spent that kind of money on a vacation.
The first time Thomas and I went to Disney World together he couldn’t understand why I was planning so much. He said, “It’s just an amusement park, we’ll just figure it out when we get there.”
“No Sir, no we wont”! After our trip, he said that he now understood why I planned so much for the trip because even with my plans we still didn’t get to do some of the things we wanted to do just because Disney World is so huge and there is so much to do.
What is in this post:
So this post is going to be the first of many that I’m going to post to tell y’all exactly how I plan our trips to Disney World. Of course there are tons of sites out there with information on Disney World and Disney trips, so this might not be the way for you, but this is what works for me. 🙂
I’m going to give y’all be bullet points in this post along with some basic information and then I’m going to link to more detailed posts as far as resorts, tickets, food etc. I didn’t want this post to be super, super long so that’s why I’m going to break it down into a few different posts.
Also, before I get started, YES you can use a travel agent. There are TONS and TONS of Disney travel agents out there. I just don’t personally use them because most of the time it doesn’t save me any money and I like to be in control of everything haha. 🙂
Where I start:
Get a notebook!
I don’t know about you but I always seem to keep my head on straight when I write things down. I keep a notebook and a folder for each trip and that way I can keep all of my notes and printed papers together. You don’t need an expensive notebook, a 98 cents notebook or a dollar store notebook works just fine. I love getting a small cheap 3 ring binder to put my notebook and folder into to keep it all organized too.
Why a folder? I print out reservations, confirmation numbers, direction to resorts and emergency numbers and keep them all together. It’s easier to just flip through it if I have a question or if someone wants to know what the schedule looks like for a certain day, than to have to search back through all of my e-mails and notes on my computer.
I like the notebook because I can jot down ideas of what I want to do while we’re there, where I want to eat and what I like and don’t like about some of the resorts while I’m planning the our trip.
Sign up for a Disney World account
Sign up here: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/
Let’s plan a trip to Walt Disney World:
#1. Pick Your Vacation Dates
We normally like to go to Disney World in late February, March, May or October (for Halloween!) I like those time because it’s cooler and the Florida heat is not beating you to the ground. We’ve also been in October but it was still hot as heck.
The Disney crowd calendars like this year one at UnderCoverTourist.com are pretty helpful. I like them because I have no interest in going when the parks are going to be packed. Calendars like this predict when the parks will be busy based on years past, holidays and Disney events/festivals.
Festivals and Events can be fun but make sure you’re willing to battle some of the crowds for them or you might want to pick different dates. Also, remember summer months are going to be the busiest (other than major Holidays) because everyone is vacationing during the summer.
When I’m picking our dates, I look at the calendars, the Holidays, festivals and the amount of days we want to stay. We can afford to stay longer if we go during no peak times, but if we want to go during a high traffic festival we might need to be ok with a 3 day – 4 day trip instead of a week.
#2. Pick Your Resort
There are over 30 different ways/places to stay on property at Disney World while you’re on vacation. Picking a resort at Disney can be overwhelming.
Each resort is different and depending on your budget, wants and needs you’re going to want to take a look at a few of them before you pick a place to stay.
Disney resorts are great and we always stay on property when we go. There are sweet little Disney details in the rooms and all around the resorts that I just love. Plus, you get some nice perks for staying on property.
Resort prices range anywhere from $100 a night all the way up to $800 (or more) a night depending on when you go and where you want to stay.
We’ve stayed at all types of Disney resorts and while it’s easy to look at the price tag to decide on where you want to stay, you really need to take a good look at the resorts.
Are you willing to spend less and stay at a resort with lots of noise, kids and small beds or do you want a more adult experience and stay somewhere for a little bit more money that has nicer beds, better restaurants and evening entertainment? Of course you’ll want to think about it in the opposite view too, do you want to pay a lot of money for a resort that may be nicer for mom and dad but doesn’t offer as many kid activities are another might?
Use this tool here on the Disney site to take a look at all of the resorts. This tool lets you look at each resort, the amenities of each resort, the price, photos of the rooms and it even let’s you compare 3 at a time.
I also base our resort pick on transportation available, who all is going on the trip with us, food courts and restaurants, pools and activities.
Here are a few of the resorts that we’ve stayed at (the highlighted ones are ones that I’ve written about on the blog)
- Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort (will be updating soon)
- Disney’s Pop Century Resort
- Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter
- Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside
- Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
- Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
- Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
#3. Parks and Tickets
You’ve picked your vacation dates and you’ve decided on which resort your going to stay at. Now it’s time to choose which parks you want to visit while you’re there and what types of tickets to buy.
Park and Ticket preferences are going to vary from person to person. They’ll also depend on who’s in your group and what everyone is interested in.
There are 4 major theme parks at Walt Disney World and 2 water parks.
- Magic Kingdom
- Animal Kingdom
- Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM Studios)
- Typhoon Lagoon Water Park
- Blizzard Beach Water Park
Plus don’t forget:
- Disney Springs! This use to be Downtown Disney (It’s free to get in and full of Disney shops and restaurants!)
I’ve never been to the water parks. Even though I love water parks, I can go to water parks in Virginia so we don’t work those into our plans. Plus, I’m a red headed, freckled, pale skinned person….water parks = painful sunburns for me so I normally stay away. 😉
Magic Kingdom – Full of Disney characters, fun for little ones, Disney fantasy comes to life, parades, restaurants, Disney movie themed restaurants, Cinderella’s Castle, merchandise with traditional Disney characters, classic Disney rides, fireworks.
- Super Popular Rides – Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, Seven Dwarfs Mind Train, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbeans, Space Mountain
- Decorates A LOT for – Halloween & Christmas
Epcot – a few rides, shows, festivals, restaurants, World Showcase (sections of the park built to look like and seem like different countries with restaurants and shops), fireworks. I always feel like this park is geared more towards adults but some kids might love it. I hated it as a kid and love it as an adult.
- Popular Rides – Soarin’ & Test Track
- Festivals – International Festival of the Arts, International Flower & Garden Festival, International Food & Wine Festival
- Decorates A LOT for – SPRING & International Flower & Garden Festival
Animal Kingdom – few rides, awesome real life safari adventure, lots and lots of animals, shows, Rivers of Lights night time show.
- Popular Rides -Mt. Everest, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Dinosaur
- POPULAR – NEW Pandora – The World of Avatar
Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM Studios) – rides, shows, lots of Star Wars stuff, restaurants, shops, Fantasmic Show.
- Popular Rides – Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster
- NEW TOY STORY LAND – OPENING JUNE 30, 2018
I’m going to go into more details on the parks in future posts, but I wanted to give you a quick idea about picking parks.For instance, if you’re going for a short trip, you might want to go to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot and save the others for another time. If you’ve got kids you might want to shoot for Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom with some rest/resort days thrown into the vacation.
For Thomas and I, we spend all day at Magic Kingdom, we spend a day at Epcot and then we split a day for Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios.
Hollywood Studios isn’t my favorite and normally by lunch time I’ve had enough of the humidity of Animal Kingdom. 😉
However, now that we have Jackson, we’ll probably do more time at Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom and less time at Epcot because of him.
It’s just going to depend on what you want to see and who is in your group.
When to go to each park?
We ALWAYS go to Disney Springs on our first evening at Disney. It’s free, there awesome restaurants, great shops along with live music and performances! It’s a great way to get into the Disney mood!
I base our park days by which days we’re traveling and which days have Extra Magic hours! YES! Extra magic hours are awesome and I’ll go more into detail on how I plan our days and park days here.
There are four types of tickets. (Actually probably more but these are the 4 I’m talking about)
- 1 day Magic Kingdom Ticket – This ticket is valid 1 day at Magic Kingdom park. You CAN NOT use this ticket to get into Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios or Disney’s Animal Kingdom park.
- 1 day Epcot,Disney’s Hollywood Studios OR Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park Ticket – This ticket is valid for one admission to any ONE of these 3 parks. You CAN NOT use this ticket to get into the Magic Kingdom.
Park Hopper Tickets:
This tickets get you into all four parks in the same day so you can hop from park to park during the day.
These tickets are special event tickets! During Halloween and Christmas, Disney hosts special holiday park parties for guests! You have to buy separate tickets for these parties. Prices range from around $70-$100 per ticket depending on date and holiday.
Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party happens on select nights August to October
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party happens on select nights November – December
Disney’s water parks are open year round, except each of them close for a couple of months at different times for refurbishments. So make sure to check your vacation dates to make sure they’re both open or the one you want to visit is open!
#4. Restaurants at Disney
It’s no questioning that this section is going to be my favorite part of Disney to tell you about! I mean it’s FOOD! haha
Like most of my trips, I like to look up restaurants and menus at Disney and plan where we are going to eat while we’re there.
Of course I am going to post A LOT more about food and restaurants HERE in this Disney Restaurants post but here are some general points for planning your Disney trip as far as foods and restaurants go.
If you’re staying at a Disney resort for your vacation you can start making your dinning reservations 180 in advance. YOU WANT TO DO THIS — for some restaurants.
Some of the super awesome restaurants are going to fill up fast and you’re going to want reservations. Don’t panic though! If you don’t get reservations it doesn’t mean that you’re not going to get to eat while you’re there. It just means you might not get to eat at exactly every restaurant you want to eat at.
Food is a big part of my vacations, being a food blogger and all haha, so restaurants are super important to me. Plus, Disney food…like everything else… is expensive. I don’t want to pay a bunch of money for food I’m not crazy about.
Disney has ALL of their restaurants on their site and each restaurant on the site has a link to their menus with prices. This is super helpful to make sure you’re going somewhere that you (and your group) is going to love!
There are over 115 places to eat in Disney World!
Restaurants are all over the place:
- Disney Springs
- Magic Kingdom (must have a valid park ticket to eat at these restaurants)
- Epcot (must have a valid park ticket to eat at these restaurants)
- Hollywood Studios (must have a valid park ticket to eat at these restaurants)
- Animal Kingdom (must have a valid park ticket to eat at these restaurants)
- Resorts (any guest can eat at ANY resort restaurant, even if you’re not staying there)
There are sit down reservation type restaurants, quick service restaurants, food courts, food trucks and dessert carts all over the place.
Quick Tip – We LOVE to eat breakfast at our resort so I try to stay at a resort that has a food court or a small quick service restaurant that serves breakfast items)
We budget for about $25-$30 per person per meal (sometimes we go under and sometimes we go over depending on the restaurant. )
I go into more detail on picking your Disney World meals, snacks and dinning reservations in this post.(COMING SOON)
#5. What to wear at Disney
Y’all, Disney is in Florida.
It’s HOT. Well not every month, but most months it’s HOT. It’s hot and you’re going to be in an amusement park packed with lots of other hot people. Dress for it.
Now when we’ve gone in February and Early March, I have needed a light jacket in the mornings and long pants at night but normally then it can get pretty warm in the middle of the day.
A few years ago, we left VA in a snow storm and ended up at Disney 12 hours later and had to change into shorts and tank tops. So make sure you check the weather.
Also make sure you have good walking shoes! You’re going to walk MILES a day!
Ps. here is some advice if you don’t normally walk a lot or if you’re not on your feet a lot, start walking now. You will be walking so much at Disney, that place is HUGE and if you don’t get into the habit of walking (even if it’s just a little bit more than you do now) you’re going to be HURTING BAD during your trip.
Last time we went, my feet hurt so bad after the 3rd day that I literally had to sit in the tub and soak them because I couldn’t stand to take my shower. YES, they hurt that bad. It’s A LOT of walking and standing on hard cement for hours and hours. Just be prepared.
I go into more detail on packing for your Disney World trip in this post. (COMING SOON!)
#6. Budget your spending money
Everything at Disney is expensive. EVERYTHING haha.
Give yourself a budget for random stuff and stick to it, or at least try to stick to it. We normally give ourselves a budget of $100 each per day for souvenirs and treats. Now we don’t spend $100 a day on souvenirs because we’ve been to Disney enough now that we don’t go crazy with buying stuff anymore but it’s super easy to drop $100 on Disney stuff.
I go more into a Disney Budget and some ideas on what things cost at Disney in this post(COMING SOON)
So there you go! It’s a lot of information, I know. However, now it’s all in one place and when someone sends me a messages about Disney and how to plan their trip I’ll have it all together.
I hope this Disney Vacation Planning series helps you or at least gives y’all some ideas for your next Disney World Vacation! I’m not a paid expert, I just happen to love Disney and I love planning our trips in detail. If you have any questions, just let me know and I’ll try to answer them the best I can!
See Ya Real Soon!
Start the series………
To read more about how I pick our dates for our Disney vacation, check out this post, “Disney Vacation Planning Series: Picking Your Dates For Your Disney Vacation”.