10 Important Steps in Planning Your Walt Disney World Vacation

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wdw mickey luggage

Parks Bag

For those of you new to Disney vacations, figuring out where to start can be a really daunting process.  To get you going here’s our list of 10 important planning steps to make organizing your first Disney getaway as stress free as possible.  Happy planning!

1. Decide When To Go –  If you’ve set your sights on a Disney,  a crucial first step is decided what time of year you’d like to go.  If you have the freedom and flexibility to go any time of year- then aim to plan your trip during one of Disney’s off-peak periods.  Not only will you find that prices will be lower and discounts more plentiful but when the time comes to hit the parks you’ll also notice that crowds will be considerably lower.  The key off-peak times to book are usually late August- September, November- Early December, Late January- Early February, and May.

 Planning a trip for 2017? Then check out our list of best times to go.

And if you, like a large majority of people, need to go during peak periods like Summer vacation or public holidays, don’t worry! You’ll still have an amazing time, however you just need a little bit more of a strategy when it comes to planning out your days at the parks!

2.  Choose Between Onsite or Offsite Accommodation– There will always be a heated debate about whether it pays to stay onsite or offsite at Walt Disney World.  If you want convenience, extra perks while at the parks or want to avoid having to drive, then onsite is hands down your best option.  If you’re a bargain hunter and willing to drive to and from the parks each day then you may manage to bag yourself an offsite bargain.  However do the math, if your offsite resort is only saving you $40.00 a night then you may be better migrating to a Disney Resort, especially when you add in the cost of parking, gas, taxis or car rentals, all of which can be avoided by staying onsite.

For further help on accommodation check out our article on where to stay when visiting Disney World

3. To Book With a Travel Agent or Not To Book With a Travel Agent –  There can be a lot of benefits to booking with a Travel Agent. Firstly you have someone on hand that knows an awful lot about Disney from the best rooms to ask for at a resort to the best days to visit the parks as well as a myriad of other tips and tricks that may have a real added value to first time visitors.  A good TA will also provide services like discount-monitoring to make sure your always getting the best deals Disney is offering as well as dining reservation and Fastpass booking.  However the biggest benefit of working with a TA is that often times their services are absolutely FREE.

Working with a travel professional may not be for everyone but they can be an invaluable resource for those a bit lost in the minutia of planning a Disney vacation and are great to bounce ideas off of.

Quick Tip: If you’re thinking about working with an Agent, choose one with a Disney focus! I get several emails a month from those heading to Disney that booked with a travel agent without specialist Disney knowledge asking questions that their TA just wasn’t able to answer.

4. Decide How Many Days To Visit the Parks – There are no hard and fast rules on how many day you should stay at Walt Disney World. However, if this is your once-in-a-lifetime Disney trip, I typically recommend stays between 5-7 nights.  With four Walt Disney World theme parks, this gives you at least one day to spend at each of them.  For a more relaxed approach,  a seven day stay means that you can pay a second visit to the larger parks (Magic Kingdom or Epcot) or devote at least a day to enjoying all that your resort has to offer.

5. To Park Hop or Not To Park Hop – As you start to solidify plans for your Disney vacation you’ll need to decide whether or not you want to pay the extra money for Park Hopper tickets.   Paying for the Park Hopper option allows you to visit more than one theme park per day.  Though its a nice upgrade for those with longer stays or for frequent visitors, I don’t always recommend it for new travelers.  To help you decide whether to hop or not check out this article on Park Hopper. 

6. Decide Whether or Not You Want A Dining Plan – If you want to make your holiday all-inclusive, are going to be doing lots of character dining experiences or will be having most of your meals at the parks then going with a Dining Plan would be a sensible option.  A lot of families underestimate the cost of eating on property.  It can quickly add up.  For instance, I did a character meal earlier this year with my family of 4 and it set us back $184.00 (before tips) for one meal.  Imagine doing this every day.  In this scenario, going with a dining plan is a good option.   However, if you’re the type of family that plans on eating breakfast in your room each morning or packing lunches for the parks each day then the dining plan isn’t as essential.

For further information on Disney’s Dining Plans  give this article a read. 

7. Be Discount Savvy- If you book with a TA they’ll be able to keep you in the know when it comes to discounts. But regardless it pays to know whether or not discounts will be released during the dates you’ll be traveling.  There’s no guarantee that Disney will offer discounts next year that were offered this year however there are distinct patterns when it comes to Disney discounts over the course of a year.  For instance, if it’s the FREE dining promotion that you’ve heard about and want to nab then traveling in the Fall will typically be your best bet.  If you’re traveling int the Spring you may be looking at a Play, Stay and Dine Package or a room discount.  It’s typically best to book your packages as early as possible but to pay attention to any discounts that can be applied later on.

Check out our article on discounts that might be available for 2017 to help you with your planning.

8. Plot Out Your Days At The Parks – By this point you’ve probably already booked in your Walt Disney World vacation.  So what’s next? I generally tell clients to set up their My Disney Experience account and start to plan out their days at the parks.  It will pay (for the steps ahead) to have a general idea of what parks you would like to visit each day and what days you would like for free time. There are websites devoted to determining which parks will statistically be the least busy.  However for a very basic strategy, I would recommend staying away from the Magic Kingdom on Mondays (as they tend to be the most busy) and stay away from the park doing the Early Morning Magic Hours as this is a sure sign that it will the busiest park on that day.  You can find park times on My Disney Experience.

9. Co-ordinate Your Dining – At the 180 day mark, you will be able to make your dining reservations and whether you’re on a dining plan or just having the odd meal on property, it really pays to book these meals in as early as possible.  A week or two before you hit the 180 day mark, start to look at options that will match up with the dates that you’ve selected to visit the parks.

This article is helpful for a rundown of character dining experiences. 

This piece highlights some amazing resort breakfast options.

And if you missed the 180 day window here’s some suggestions on easy-to-get last minute dining reservations. 

Dining reservations can be made online using My Disney Experience or by calling 407.WDW.DINE.

10. Plan Out Your Fastpasses – At the 60 day window you’ll be able to pre-select your Fastpasses using My Disney Experience for each of the days that you are at the parks.  Again refer to steps 8 and 9 to determine what parks you’ll be at each day. With the Fastpass system you can select 3 Fastpasses that will allow you to bypass the lines on some of your favorite attractions.  Fastpasses can be booked at 7am 60 days out using My Disney Experience. The best strategy when booking your FP’s is to choose the rides that will boast the longest wait times.

Here’s an article on the best uses of Fastpasses to get you started. 

Once your Fastpasses are booked it should be relatively smooth sailing in the lead in to your arrival at Walt Disney World! Although there is a lot to plot out, organize and plan when it comes to your Disney vacation.  Hopefully this article has served as a nice starting point to help you come to grips with what lies ahead!

If you’re planning on heading to the parks and still don’t know where to start- fill out our form below for your FREE quote.


Find articles like this helpful? Then why not consider booking with an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner? As an agent with MickeyTravels, I’ll be on hand to help you with everything from finding your perfect package to nabbing those hard-to-get dining and Fastness reservations.  Best of all, my services are absolutely FREE. Get in touch at 1.800.801.4025 via email at mroden@mickeytravels.com or via Facebook. 


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