At one time or another in your life you may want to visit the world’s greatest theme park Walt Disney World. Just how do you do that? Is it as simple as driving to the city nearest you or is it a little more involved?
There are many moving parts to consider when planning and booking a Disney Vacation. Some seem simple on the surface like which dates to go. Others can be a little more complicated like to stay on property or off property. Trust me each part of planning a Disney vacation is time consuming but also very fun and enjoyable.
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While you can get a Disney travel agent. I found that getting a TA takes all the fun out of it. The Disney website makes it easy for ANYONE to book the vacation of their dreams. You just need to know and understand each part that you are booking.
Here’s the one and only guide you will need to refer to when booking your first or hundredth and first Walt Disney World vacation.
Probably the most important thing to think about and most overlooked is your budget. If you didn’t know a Disney Vacation is one of the most expensive family vacations you can take. That’s not even counting airfare. We are just talking about your hotel room, theme park tickets and food.
On the low end of things it is a good idea to plan on $1,000 per person for a 7 day 6 night vacation staying at one of the value resorts WITHOUT a meal plan. Add even more if you want one of the 3 dining packages (but we will get more into that later).
On Disney’s website they have a sample 7 day/ 6 night vacation package staying in a standard room at one of the All Star Resorts for select dates. This first plan is without a dining plan and is for 2 adults and 1 junior and one child comes out to $2,967 or $106 per person, per day. The second sample package is the same length of stay but with the quick service dining plan added and will cost $4,114 or $147 per person, per day. Both packages include base tickets which do not include park hopper tickets.
The table below will look at the cost at a value hotel (Pop Century), Moderate Hotel (Caribbean Beach), and Deluxe Hotel(Contemporary). Each will so you the difference between the base ticket and park hopper as well as no dining plan, Quick Service Dining Plan and Disney Dining Plan. We looked at the date of July 18-24 for two Adults one Junior (11) and child (8) with a 6 day park ticket. One thing to remember once your child turns 10 they are now considered a “Disney” Adult and pay adult prices for tickets and meal plans.
|Base Ticket||Park Hopper||No meal Plan||QS Meal Plan||Disney Dining Plan|
As you can see from the table above a Disney Vacation is not cheap at all. Remember that this also doesn’t cover airfare if you are flying. Gas if you are driving or the parking fees for the resorts. This also doesn’t cover the memory maker (more on that below). Once you started saving a little money and have an idea of how much you are willing to spend you need to consider the dates you want to visit.
One of the first things to consider when booking a Disney Vacation is when do you want to go. Don’t let people fool you. Walt Disney World is always crowded. Just some times of year it is less crowded than others. You can view crowd calendars but they are just giving you their best guest based on past years.
The busy season (most crowded) is generally as follows: Jan 1st thru to that Sunday, MLK weekend. Spring Break, Easter week, Memorial Day thru mid August, Labor Day weekend, Jersey Week, Thanksgiving, week before Christmas all the way thru New Years.
Light crowds are fewer and far between when they used to be. The last week in January is typically light so are the weeks leading up to spring break. The end of April usually has lighter crowds as well. September, October and the beginning of November have lighter crowds as well with the exception of long holiday weekends (Columbus Day, ect).
The rest of the year you will find moderate crowds. Depending on which time of year you go will depend on how much or little planning you will need to do. Weather also has a big impact on the crowds. June thru September is very hot, humid and rainy. October and November can be warmer as well but not as much rain as the summer. It will still rain and you will still get days in the upper 80s.
December thru February offers nicer temperatures and not much rain. To me it is still short weather in Florida during this time of year. After all, I live in the Northeast where we get temps in the 20s and 30s throughout this time. March thru May the temps start to rise and the rain returns. Very basic look at the weather in Orlando but gives you a very basic idea if that is a factor for you.
|Late January till Spring Break*||Early May||January 1st- 7th|
|Late April||Mid August||Spring Break|
|Early November||Early December||Memorial Day thru Mid August|
*- With the exception of cheer and run weekends.
No matter when you go it will be busy. It will probably be busier than anywhere you have visited before. I feel like even visiting New York City in December seems less crowded and easier to move around than Walt Disney World is any time of year. But hey that’s just me and it also doesn’t mean you won’t have fun and will just be waiting all day long.
After all, you are reading this guide to help figure some of that stuff out. Just remember the best time to visit WDW is WHEN you can. Just because January usually has lighter crowds doesn’t mean you should take the kids out of school or call out sick from work. If you can only go during summer. Just do it. Summer the past few years hasn’t been too bad anyway. Once you have a date in mind it’s time to look at the hotels. For a more in depth look at each month click here.
One thing that is not lacking at Walt Disney World are hotels. There are over 25 different resort options to choose from. Everything from value rooms up to villas and even campsites.
Not only can you stay at a Disney owned hotel you can also stay at Hilton and Wyndam hotels on Disney property. While not owned by Disney, some of these hotels offer the same benefits as if you were staying at a Disney owned resort. These good neighbor hotels let you get Extra Magic Hours and the 60 day FastPass window. Two of the biggest draws of staying on property. For more information on the pros and cons of staying on site vs staying off site visit our post all about that topic. If you think it will take you a while to save up enough money to go to Disney World keep in mind that you can make a ROOM ONLY reservation up to 499 days away. All you have to do is put down a $200 down payment like when you are booking any Disney Vacation.
Like we stated before, Disney Resorts are broken up into a few different categories.
There are five different resorts that Disney considers in it’s value category. Those hotels are All-Star Movies, All-Star Sports, All-Star Music, Pop Century and Art of Animation. All of these resorts offer Disney Bus transportation to and from the theme parks, water parks and Disney Springs.
You can also grab the skyliner from Pop Century and Art of Animation. I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years they categorize both of these resorts. The price is already much higher than the three All-Star resorts already.
At All-Star Music and Art of Animation are the only two Value, Moderate, or Deluxe Resort that can sleep a family of 6. All other rooms only sleep 4 unless you stay in one of the Villas. Both of these resorts have family suites. While they are more than the standard room. It is still usually cheaper to book one family suite than 2 standard rooms.
None of these resorts have any Table Service restaurants. Each resort does have a food court with many different options to pick from. Art of Animation has arguably one of the best food courts in all of Walt Disney World (check this article out for the 13 most popular quick service locations). While All-Star Movies food court you can order off the secret menu.
Each of these 5 resorts are massive. If you don’t pay for a preferred room….. You will be walking a lot to the food court and to the buses. Just be mindful of that when you plan on staying all day in the park from rope drop to fireworks. Those rooms in the back buildings can seem very far at the end of an already long day.
Each of the All-Star resorts have 2 pools. You will find the surfboard and grand slam pool at All-Star Sports. Piano and Guitar pool at All-Star Music and Fantasia and Duck Pond Pool over at All-Star Movies. Art of Animation and Pop Century each have 3 pools. One main pool is located right outside the main building and two smaller ones on either end of the resort.
Art of Animation’s Big Blue Pool is the largest pool of any Disney Resort. It is also one of the coolest. When swimming under water you will hear music playing from the underwater speakers. As far as I know, no other Disney Resort pool has this yet.
One thing to note. Value Resort Pools DO NOT have slides at the pools. If you were looking for a slide at the pool you need to stay at one of the other levels.
Disney World is home to five moderate resorts. These include Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs, Port Orleans Riverside, Port Orleans French Quarter and Cabins at Fort Wilderness. Coronado Springs is the cheapest of the 5 moderate resorts with an average cost of $237 a night and the Cabins at Fort Wilderness are the most expensive at $392 a night on average.
Many of the resorts off different forms of transport other than just buses. Both Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter offer boat service to Disney Springs. The Cabins at Fort Wilderness offer boat service to the Magic Kingdom. Caribbean Beach offers the Skyliner to both Hollywood Studios and EPCOT.
When it comes to the different food choices, each moderate resort has at least one table service location. Port Orleans French Quarter does not have their own but they are within walking distance or a short boat ride to Riverside. For this reason the two resorts share.
Each of the Moderate resorts also have food courts. Some are better than others and as with many of the food courts in Disney, it depends on the day and who is working.
Another thing to keep in mind when considering Caribbean Beach. This resort is also very large. They have their own internal bus service. So you would need to hop on a bus to get dropped off to the main building than hop on the bus to the park.
The pools at the moderate resorts are amazing. Maybe it’s because of the water slides at the main pool at each resort.
Who are we kidding. Of course it is because of the slides. You and your kids could spend a couple hours in the heat of the day sliding down the slide and swimming in the pool. Having a slide at the pool might just be worth it when considering a stay at a Moderate Resort.
Eight different resorts fall into the Deluxe Resort category. Those hotels are Boardwalk Inn, Beach Club, Polynesian Village, Yacht Club, Contemporary, Grand Floridian, Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge. The cheapest Deluxe Resort for an average night will cost you $389 and that is at Wilderness Lodge. The most expensive at $661 is Grand Floridian. As you can see there is a big price difference between these 8 resorts.
Most of these resorts are within walking distance to either Magic Kingdom or EPCOT. If you cannot walk there, easy transportation is provided like Monorail or boat.
Animal Kingdom lodge is the exception. You cannot walk, monorail or boat over to Animal Kingdom or any other Disney Theme Park. However, you have great views of the savannas and animals roaming around the resort.
Some very popular restaurants call these resorts home. You will find WAVE and Chef Mickey’s at Contemporary. Sanaa at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Cape May Cafe at Beach Club. Ohana at the Polynesian and so many other great character meals, table service and quick service locations.
Deluxe resorts are great for the many options you have for food and the closeness to the theme parks. Many also have Spas and fitness centers. While you don’t have to be staying at a Deluxe Resort to book a session at the spa. It does make it a lot easier when you are heading back to your room.
The pools at the deluxe resorts are just slightly better than those at the moderate resorts. However, Stormalong Bay over at Beach and Yacht Club is by far the best pool on Disney Property.
I won’t go into too much detail about villas. Up until now most of these categories only had room for 4 people. Some of these villas can sleep up to 12 adults. If you are planning on visiting Disney World with a large group of people it might be a good idea to look into renting DVC points. DVC (Disney Vacation Club) is Disney version of a timeshare.
Each of the different villas are part of one of the Deluxe resorts. This means they share many, if not all of the same amenities as their deluxe counterpart. There are 12 different Villas to choose from with cheapest being Jumbo House at Animal Kingdom Lodge at $402 on average per night for a studio. To upper end running you $664 at the Villas at Grand Floridian.
There are quite a few hotels located near Disney Springs that give you most of the same benefits as staying at a Disney hotel just without the cost. Sure the transportation to and from the parks isn’t as great but you get EMH and 60 Day FastPass. Some of these hotels include Holiday Inn Orlando, Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista, Doubletree Suites and many more.
Many of the Disney Springs hotels offer better room rates than the Disney Hotels. Just keep in mind that these hotels won’t be picking you up at the airport for free. Most have a resort fee you have to pay on top of the room rate and parking fees. For example a stay at the DoubleTree by Hilton at Disney Springs for the same dates as used above with a 6 day park hopper ticket will cost $3,578. You are saving a little less than $100 from a Value Resort and $500 from a Moderate Resort.
You can not get the Dining Plan but you can get a Dining Card. You also have a $13.50 per night resort fee and $20 per day parking fee if you bring your own car. So for a 7 day 6 night stay, you would be adding another $201 on top of your total cost. Now the value hotel is a little cheaper even with the parking fee Disney Charges and the Moderate is only a few hundred dollars more.
You can find hundreds of hotels in and around Orlando that will suit your needs. You just need to know what you are looking for and read reviews. It is save to save that you will have better luck with any of the Disney Owned Resorts or Universal owned Resorts. That’s not to say that other hotels in the area are not great.
I’ve stayed in a 3 bedroom condo one year and it cost us a little over $200 per person for the entire week. Most hotels are more expensive than that per night. I’ve also stayed at Westgate Lakes Resort and Spa and Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld.
It’s important to do your homework when booking a hotel. Don’t just go for the cheapest one you can find. Chances are they have some pretty nasty hidden fees that will quickly add up.
Once you decide on your budget, dates and hotel. The next thing you have to decide is how many tickets you want to get and whether you will get the Park Hopper Option. Personally for me, my rule is this. If I am flying in early (landing before 11am) or driving I will get a ticket for my arrival day. If my flight lands later than 11am I will not get a ticket for my arrival day. Plus I don’t get a ticket for the day I leave. So for that example if I am driving or flying (arriving before 11am) and staying a Saturday to Friday (7 days/6 nights) I will get a six day park ticket. A ticket for Saturday thru Thursday. The Disney website tries giving you that 7th day ticket as well. You don’t need it unless you are leaving really late in the evening.
Also remember the longer you stay the cheaper per day the tickets cost. The difference for our family of four to get a six day ticket to a 7 day ticket is only $30. Not $30 per person. $30 more for the entire day. Now the difference from a 6 day ticket to only a 2 day ticket…… almost $1,000.
As you can see the ticket prices really go down the longer you plan to visit. A one day ticket on average costs $109 and goes down each additional day. The Park Hopper ticket works a little differently. The cost of the park hopper option is $85.20 per ticket. That’s not per day that is per ticket. So if you only got a 2 day park hopper ticket it would have cost you $42.60. However, if you got a 10 day ticket with the park hopper option it would only be an additional $8.52 per day per ticket. Even for our example family, it is only costing an additional $14.20 per day per ticket to be able to park hop. One of the best things about Disney. To learn more on the pros and cons of the park hopper click here.
Many people love the Disney Dining Plans with me included in that group. While it may not always save me money I like that I don’t have to budget any money while I am at Disney for food. For me that is worth the cost alone. Of course I do always try to go when “free” dining is offered. I just don’t let that make or break me.
WHAT IS IT?
What is the Disney Dining Plan? It is a prepaid meal plan that covers your snacks, quick service, and table service meals during your vacation. There are 3 different plans to choose from: Quick Service Dining Plan, Dining Plan, and Deluxe Dining Plan. Each plan offers a refillable resort mug, and 2 snacks per day.
The Quick Service plan offers 2 quick service meals per night of your stay. The Dining Plan offers 1 quick service meal and 1 table service meal per night of your stay. The Deluxe Plan offers 3 meals (quick or table service) per night of your stay.
As you would guess, the quick service plan is the cheapest option and the Deluxe Plan is the most expensive option. See the table below.
|Adult Price (10+)||Child Price (3-9)|
|Quick Service Plan-2 Snacks 2 Quick Service meals 1 refillable Mug|
|Dining Plan-2 Snacks 1 Quick Service 1 Table Service 1 Refillable Mug|
|Deluxe Plan-2 Snacks 3 Meals 1 Refillable Mug|
A couple of things for you to consider when looking at the dining plans. Do you and your family eat a lot? The meals here are pretty big.
Do you plan on doing a lot of character meals? Character meals are pretty expensive costing around $40 or more on average.
Will you order the steak at each table service location or you going to get the pasta or burger?
Check out our post all about the Disney Dining Plan for a lot more answers to all of your questions.
FLY OR DRIVE
Once you have figured out all of the above you will want to figure out if you will fly into Orlando or Drive to Walt Disney World. I like to drive down to Orlando. I will usually spend 7 to 10 days at Disney than do a few days at Universal Studios or SeaWorld or visit some of the other cities in Florida like Tampa.
Besides my daughter and I don’t mind the 17 hour drive to and from Orlando from Pennsylvania. Driving also saves me a little bit of money than flying down. I am not a fan of Spirit or Frontier Airlines and really only like to fly with American.
For the round trip down to Florida and back I stop for gas between 8 and 10 times. This includes for all the driving I would be doing when on vacation in Florida as well. We also usually get a hotel in or around Orlando the day before we check into Disney so we are close and get head to the parks first thing in the morning. With all the gas and one extra night at a hotel is still cheaper than getting two tickets. Sure it takes up more time sitting in the car than flying in the plane. But who wouldn’t want to spend good quality time with their kids?
If you are planning on that road trip down to Disney World make sure you have these Road Trip Essentials.
Just remember if you do drive you will have to pay a parking fee at the Disney resorts. Value resorts cost $15 per day, Moderate $20 per day and Deluxe $25 per day. Local Orlando resorts also charge parking fees. They can be anywhere from $10 to $30 or more.
Now if you drive to a Disney Resort and are paying the parking fee you will NOT have to pay to park at the theme parks. Parking at the theme parks is included. If you decided to book a non Disney Hotel you WILL have to pay the parking fee. That will cost you $25 per day. You can however drive to the other theme parks and not have to pay an additional $25. Just remember to keep your receipt to so proof.
Hopefully you started budgeting for your Disney Vacation around a year out. Once the calendar hits 180 Days from the start of your vacation you can make your advance dining reservations. If you booked at Disney Vacation Package you will be able to book advance dining reservations for your whole trip. So if you are doing a 7 day/ 6 night package you can book up to 187 days out.
Now most restaurants do not need to be booked this far out. Cinderella’s Royal Table,Chef Mickey’s, and Be Our Guest Breakfast and Lunch need to be booked as close to this window as possible. If not there is a good chance you will not get a reservation for one of those locations.
Other things to book at the 180 day mark is Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (Princess makeover). As well as building a Droid and/or Lightsaber at Black Spire Outpost in Galaxy’s Edge at Hollywood Studios.
There is still a chance to get these reservations when you have less than 180 days to go but you are better safe than sorry. The 180 day window opens up at 07:00am Eastern Standard Time on the phone lines and at 06:00 am EST on Disney’s website.
Sixty Days out is your FastPass day if you are staying on Disney Property or booked a good neighborhood hotel. Like the dining reservations you can book your FastPasses for your whole trip.
FOLLOW THIS GUIDE if you have never used the app or website for booking your FastPass. We broke it down with pictures to make it easy to follow and understand. It can be a little confusing if you never done it or it’s been a while.
Below you will find a table with some of our favorite rides and rides we find that are the best use of a FastPass+. At Magic Kingdom it won’t be hard picking your first three. At the other parks it can be a little more tricky.
The other three parks all have a tier system which you can only book one tier 1 ride for your first three FastPasses. We have found that the safari, Everest and Festival of the Lion King are good picks for Animal Kingdom because they usually have long stand by lines.
Throughout the day at EPCOT you can find that the tier two rides stand by time is usually less than a half hour. Just grab which ever two rides at EPCOT you think you will enjoy.
Check out this post here for 32 POV ride videos to see what you may want to try. Having an idea of what to expect on the rides can help out nervous adults and kids. Watching ride videos really helped my daughter before her first visit.
|MAGIC KINGDOM||ANIMAL KINGDOM||EPCOT||HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS|
|1||Seven Dwarfs Mine Train||Flight of Passage(1)||Test Track(1)||Slinky Dog Dash(1)|
|2||Peter Pan||Everest||Frozen(1)||Tower of Terror(1)|
|3||Space Mountain||Safari||Soaring(1)||Rock n’ Roller coaster(1)|
|4||Splash Mountain||Na’vi River(1)||Toy Story Mania(1)|
|5||Big Thunder Mountain|
Festival of the Lion King
Like we stated above Animal Kingdom, EPCOT and Hollywood Studios all have a tier system. The most popular rides or newest rides are tier (1) rides. Both Smugglers Run and Rise of the Resistance in Galaxy’s edge do not yet have FastPass available. You are only able to book ONE tier 1 ride and two tier 2 rides for a total of 3 FastPasses per day. Once you use your first three FastPasses you can book another ride one at a time.
IT IS IMPORTANT to pick three FastPasses when you can book on your FastPass Day. Also remember you can only book your initial 3 FP+ in the same park. You can’t pick Flight of Passage for your first one than Star Tours over in Hollywood Studios and then Big Thunder Mountain for your third. ALL THREE have to be in the same park.
Even when booking 60+ days out you still might not be able to get Flight of Passage or Slinky Dog Dash. It is important to go for those first if you want them right at 7am EST on your 60 day mark. It doesn’t matter if you are using the computer and website or the app. The time opens at 7am for both.
If you are staying off site and don’t have the 60 day FastPass window. This is when you can start booking your FP. Note that you will have to wake up by 7am EST EACH day to book your FastPasses. You have to do this in order to book your FP for each day of your trip. Unlike when staying on site where you can book them all at one time. If staying off property you have to do it for each day.
Also around this time is when your package has to be paid off. You should also finish off selecting your magic bands if you are staying on site. The magic bands will be shipped out anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks before your trip begins. The sooner you get your magic band order in, the better. If you were lucky enough to get everyone in your party the upgraded magic bands, chances are you got them months ago. Those ones ship right away.
Around this time you can also start doing the online check in at your Disney Resort so you can skip the front desk when you arrive. Also you can place your order for your breakfast or lunch at Be Our Guest if you have a reservation.
Memory Maker is one of those things you should really get before you go to Disney. While you can still get it when you arrive, it is a little cheaper ($30) if you get it at least 3 days before your trip. But what is it and is it worth it.
Memory Maker is a digital download of all your photos taken in the parks from PhotoPass Photograhers and on rides. While these photos are available to purchase without the memory maker, they cost around $15-$20 a piece. The average person usually gets around 100 different photos taken.
My family usually gets at least 200 different photos taken while we are at Walt Disney World.
Rides that offer photos are:
- Magic Kingdom – Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Buzz Lightyear
- Animal Kingdom – Dinosaur, Expedition Everest
- Epcot – Test Track, Frozen Ever After
- Hollywood Studios – Rock ‘n Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, Slinky Dog Dash
Currently only two rides offer a video and they are Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Tower of Terror. You need to have a magic band and the memory maker in order to get the ride videos.
If you are traveling with a big group only one person needs to purchase the memory maker in order for everyone to have it. You all just need to be linked to the same account. You can get some pretty amazing photos from photopass photographers. One of my favorite photos of my daughter and I was taken by a PhotoPass Photographer.
To me that one photo was worth the price of the Memory Maker. If you are going for 5 or more days and planning on doing some character meet and greets and rides. The Memory maker is well worth the money to get all those added memories. Plus you are able to download all your photos and use them in which ever way you want.
I hope you found some if not all of this information helpful. We covered a wide range of topics throughout this whole article. Did we forget anything? Let us know in the comments so we can add to this list.
Make sure you are following us on social media. Very soon we will be coming out with a PDF of this list and it will be packed with more tips, tricks, hacks and pointers. You don’t want to miss out.
Do you have any helpful advice to give our readers? Share them below.
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