Disney World Orlando is one of the best places to be whether you’re a kid or an adult, but nothing can ruin your vacation faster than poor planning. In this article, we will help you plan your magical Disney World vacation with ease.
The moment you step into Disney World in Orlando, you’ll be treated with some of the most memorable experiences you will ever have from a theme park. It features everything you can expect from a theme park as old and as popular like Disney World Orlando, from thrilling rides such as roller coasters to establishments where you can rest in-between rides like restaurants and entertainment theaters.
But for many newbies who have never experienced a Disney theme park, the sheer size would often overwhelm anyone. But where to start when it comes to understanding a Disney theme park, Disney Orlando in particular?
When you’re planning your Disney World trip, it’s gonna take more than just a simple buying of tickets and packing of bags. You’re going to need even basic knowledge about Disney Orlando itself in order to better enjoy the many things that the park can offer you. Now, like many first-timers who are eager to visit Disney Orlando would often end up asking themselves, “What am I supposed to do? How can I get everything ready so that my trip to Disney World goes smoothly?”
Just like with any other large theme parks, traveling to Walt Disney World Orlando is filled with a lot of planning and preparations. The very thing you need to do first is research. There’s a lot to research about Disney World Orlando, from the rides to the restaurants, and the ticket purchasing process.
But the most important piece of research is to learn about how Disney World Orlando came to be, what developments were made in the years of its first days or operation up to the present. This day and age, it is a very good time to start making preparations for the trip because with the Disney making full use of the internet, booking that trip has become so much easier. But the question is, where to start first?
First things first, schedule a trip
When booking a trip, there’s a lot you need to take into consideration, which means more than just remembering the date and time of your flight. When booking for an overseas trip, or even a local trip to a theme park, especially theme parks like Disney World Orlando, it’s all the better if the trip takes place at a very good time of the year. It’s not just the weather, what holiday is best to spend time in, and how much you’re willing to spend, but mainly the crowd size, especially during peak seasons.
Using the Crowd Calendar provided on Disney World Orlando Tourist Plans page is a great tool. With it, you can see the yearly, monthly, and daily crowd levels, with individual park recommendations and park hours. This is very important because the number of people walking around can affect how you can enjoy the park to the fullest. A poorly planned trip would see you getting into very long lines and walking through large crowds.
But to be very specific on which time of the month is best for the year 2017, it is as follows:
- January 9-13, January 18-26
- February 1-16, February 27-March 2
- The second half of August
- Most days in September
- Most weekdays in October
- Weekdays in November (minus the week of Thanksgiving)
- Weekdays in December (minus the week of Christmas and New Year’s Eve)
And for the year 2018, the best months to be at Disney World Orlando are the following:
- January 8-12, January 17-25
- January 29 to February 15, February 26 to March 1
- The second half of August
- Most of September
- Most weekdays in October
- Weekdays in November (minus the week of Thanksgiving)
- Weekdays in December (minus the week of Christmas and New Year’s Eve
Generally, most would agree that September is the ideal month to visit the park because it is the time when classes begin, thus you’ll be seeing fewer children walking around.
On the flip side, there are the date ranges in which you should NEVER go to Disney World:
- January 1 to 8, January 13 to 16
- February 17 to 26
- March 5 to April 23
- Weekends in May
- August 1st until the 13th
- The week of Thanksgiving
- The week of Christmas through the week of New Year
And for 2018…
- January 1 to 7, 12 to 15
- February 16 to 25
- March 12 to April 6
- Weekends in May
- August 1st until the 12th
- The week of Thanksgiving
- The week of Christmas through the week of New Year
If you still insist on going during the holidays, please be advised that the following holidays are definitely the peak seasons.
- New Year’s Day
- Easter – April 1, 2018
- Independence Day on July 4th
- Thanksgiving from November 23, 2017, and November 22, 2018
- New Year’s Eve
Booking airfare and transportation for your Disney World Orlando Trip
Once you have planned out the schedule of the trip, the next step is to book your flight. If you’re living in the United States, it’s not much of a problem since it’s just a local flight, but if you’re living in a distant country like the United Kingdom, it’ll put some additional hurdles along the way, mainly with the pricing of an international ticket. So, here are some tips on how to find the best and affordable flight.
The first and most important tip is to make sure your flight lands either at Orlando International Airport or the Orlando Sanford Airport because they’re closer to the park by 20 and 35 miles respectively.
Now, the next step is to check all available options. Check which flight leaves at what time, and what time it arrives at the destination early enough for you to catch a cab to the park or your hotel.
When traveling with children, make sure they’re all educated about flying on an airplane, and what they should do and expect during the flight. As for the parents, it always pays to bring along some extra clothes.
Lastly, you should consider what land transportation options you will take once you arrive. Will you be taking the taxi or will you be renting a vehicle, or just have a relative take you there?
The next step, getting a ticket…
Now that you have at least understood the basics what to prepare for as you plan your trip, the next logical step is to get a ticket for admission into the park. The process is relatively simple, just visit their website and click Parks & Tickets. Then, select how many days you’ll be staying. With a minimum of one and a maximum of ten days.
Deciding which ticket to buy is complicated since it really depends on your choice of theme parks to visit. Remember, there is a total of four theme parks and two water parks within Disney World Orlando resort. It is better to spend some time creating an itinerary before you buy your tickets because the right passes for you really depend on how you plan to spend your days. Some guests will spend one day in only one theme park while others like to “hop” between parks and water parks in one day. And so on…
“Get your calculator, take a look at the prices and figure out which tickets make sense for your situation.”
With Magic Your Way Tickets, you first choose the number of days you want on a Base Ticket that allows you to enter one major theme park (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom) each day. Please take note that you can leave and enter that same park multiple times on the same day. You can also add optional features at extra cost if you like, specifically Park Hopper (the ability to visit more than one park per day) or Park Hopper Plus (extra admissions to water parks and other activities other than the four main parks).
– subject to price tiers.
– you have to pay a different price depending on the day of the year you are going, and whether it falls in Value, Regular or Peak season.
– expires on December 31 of the year after they are purchased.
Multi-Day (2-day and longer) Tickets
– not subject to price tiers.
– days on a multi-day ticket can be used on any day of the year.
– expire 14 days after the first day is used, and the first use must be by December 31 of the year after they are purchased.
The wonders of an Annual Pass
Tickets are one thing, but what about annual passes? If you don’t know what they are, while tickets are single-use, passes can be used all year round, making them even better alternatives for frequent visitors. With it, you can be a Walt Disney World Passholder and enjoy a year of discounts on rides and dining, discounts on merchandise, recreation, and even tours. You can also get additional benefits at Disney’s resorts. You can get different passes and they are as follows:
If you’re worried about the pass expirations, you can renew them up to 30 days past the pass’ expiration date, in addition to a discount applied for the renewal fee!
Where to stay?
Now, the next step is to research about the place you’re staying at. You can do some pretty deep research on Disney World, but a common traveler and vacationer would always look for the three most important things – a place to stay, a place to eat, and places to spend the day at. While Disney World Orlando has PLENTY of places for you to spend the night in, you should also take into consideration the kind of food they’re serving, not just how good they’ll be, but also how much they cost and how it’ll affect your overall spending for the trip.
Below are a few examples of resorts at Disney World Orlando that you can check into. Because once your ticket’s all prepped and ready, you’ll need to book for a hotel to stay for the duration, and while there’s a lot to choose from, you need not worry as we have come up with our top 5 recommended hotels:
Disney’s Pop Century Resort
Ever wanted to re-experience the good old days from the classic 50s to the rad 90s? Ever wanted to check out all the toys and other neat objects that you were never able to get in your childhood but want to experience it all over again, from the Play-Doh to the Rubik’s Cube?
This hotel will help you relive those childhood memories again, and it will indeed make you feel like a kid again! What you’ll find in this hotel pool with water jets shaped to look like flowers, these jets can help further. And lastly, while you stay for the night, why not shop for some Disney merchandise at the hotel’s store? The standard fare is $122 per night.
Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort
Enhance your stay at Disney with by enjoying a tropical paradise-esque hotel at Barefoot Bay. Enjoy the palm trees swaying in the wind as you enjoy the colonial-era architecture, taking a dip in the pool complete with two water slides and water cannons.
This hotel features six “villages” that host its many colorful guest rooms, some of which are even pirate-themed for you lovers of all things pirate. These villages are – Trinidad North, Trinidad South, Martinique, Barbados, Aruba, and Jamaica. The standard fare is $166 per night.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
Share the experience with family and friends with a more safari-esque hotel sprinkled with some of that Disney flavor. See some exotic animals up close and enjoy some bird watching with its lush savannas. Or if you’re up for a little swim, go and dive into their large swimming pools, game on at the arcade, or even interact with the animals!
For the kids, they can hang out at Simba’s Clubhouse or give yourself some extra free time with some in-room babysitting, after which you can end the day by getting a nice massage and/or some find food with their award-winning African cuisine. The standard fare is $319 per night.
Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa
If you’re familiar or at least heard of the famous Saratoga Springs, a city in New York that is famous back in the 1800s for their mineral springs and a booming horse racing scene. If you are, then you can enjoy that very same feeling of that famous city and spa Disney style!
Enjoy its two feature pools, complete with waterslides, a whirlpool spa, aqua-play areas and much more! For golf lovers, you can feel at home right here with the Lake Buena Vista Golf Course, where golfers both new and old can hone their skills on their award-winning country-club style golf course, which also serves as a sanctuary for the local wildlife. Or go relax at their spa, where you can relax with an assortment of massage.
At the end of the day where you can stay the night at their famous tree house villas, rooms that are elevated 10 feet off the ground, placed in treetops, but updated with some modern features like kitchens with charcoal grills, private villas, and even flat screen TVs! And to really seal the deal, Disney Saratoga Springs offer memberships in the form of the Disney Vacation Club, an ownership program. The standard fare is $330 per night.
Disney’s Port Orleans Resort (Riverside)
From the bayou to Disney, a lot of guests would love a good old fashioned New Orleans-styled hotels and resorts. Get some good night’s sleep with their fully-refurbished rooms, giving that very regal flair that you would only see in New Orleans.
Cross the bridge and there you’ll see a 3-plus acre pool area with a sawmill slide, and enjoy a fulfilling meal at the Boatwright’s dining hall for that distinct Southern-style menu and dining experience! The standard fare is $199 per night.
Here is the current list of Disney World Resort Hotels categorized by price range:
- Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort
- Disney’s All-Star Music Resort
- Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort
- Disney’s Art of Animation Resort
- Disney’s Pop Century Resort
- The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort
- Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort
- Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort
- Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter
- Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside
- The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
- Disney’s Beach Club Resort
- Disney’s BoardWalk Inn
- Disney’s Contemporary Resort
- Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
- Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
- Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
- Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel
- Star Wars Themed Hotel (Coming Soon)
- Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
- Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Jambo House
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani Village
- Disney’s Beach Club Villas
- Disney’s BoardWalk Villas
- Disney’s Old Key West Resort
- Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows
- Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
- The Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
- Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground
- Treehouse Villas
- Disney Riviera Resort (Coming Soon)
- Best Western Lake Buena Vista
- Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace
- DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Orlando – Disney Springs® Area
- Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista
- Holiday Inn Orlando – Disney Springs® Area
- B Resort & Spa – Disney Springs® Resort Area
- Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Resort – Disney Springs® Area
Disney Dining Plans and Tips
So, once you arrived and begin spending the day at Disney World Orlando, you may end up feeling a little famished from all that walking, running, and generally having a good time. But now you’re left with another question: What’s to eat at Disney Orlando?
Dining at Walt Disney World restaurants also requires planning and some knowledge. You can make reservations at certain restaurants simply either by calling the restaurant or by booking a reservation online. And as stated earlier, Disney World Orlando is a park that continues to grow each year, and with it comes more and more restaurants to give your taste buds more to experience!
To help save you money, time and make your meals more enjoyable, here are a few tips:
1.) Make reservations – This is common knowledge when booking restaurants. But with restaurants in Disney World, they fill up FAST and they get packed with lines very quickly, and this is why some would book reservations as far as several months! And for a mini tip, book that restaurant that you want to go while planning out your vacation.
2.) Eat at less popular restaurants – Now, you may be stunned at the idea of not eating at that restaurant everyone’s been talking about or a hot new restaurant that just opened. Booking a reservation will make it easier, but you’ll no doubt that to deal with a packed restaurant lines of people waiting outside. Besides, eating at less-popular restaurants will help you broaden your horizons, and you might even end up having a new favorite restaurant to eat at!
3.) Snacks – When booking fails or something unexpected pops up, having some food on hand will definitely help. Having something to eat will not only stave off the hunger but also keep your energy up.
4.) Order only what you want – As tempting as it is to go on a food trip and order lots of items on the menu, you’ll end up feeling full very quickly after finishing the first dish. Not to mention that you’ll end up wasting money on food that you’re unable to eat. To avoid this, only order the ones that you want to eat.
5.) Do table service lunch – But only if you’re willing to pay out-of-pocket (ie paying with physical bills) They may be very pricey, but during lunch time, they are of the best value, and you get very little crowds for a better dining ambiance.
6.) Share meals – This is a great method if you’re traveling with friends or family. There are times when individual meals are simply too large and you’re unable to finish it by yourself. So by sharing meals with the rest of your party, you can save a lot of money, too!
7.) Eat early – While you may not be a morning person, eating very early in the morning has its advantages, mainly that few people eat early, which means that restaurants are less crowded.
8.) Check reviews – While optional, reviews can help you understand what other customers feel about the restaurant, what they think of the food, how good the service is, and how fast they serve the food. This can help you which restaurants you can trust and which ones you should avoid.
Special events you should know
Everywhere you look in Disney World Orlando, there are always things to do and more, but for some, they wanted a bit more extra, and special events can further enhance the experience. The special events are as follows:
Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party
Put on your scariest costumes and grab your bags, because Halloween time is here, and at Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, This special event only takes place on select nights from August to October, where each night will be an excellent opportunity to show off your best costumes or spread the spirit of Halloween! The standard price $74 for ages 10 and up, and $69 for ages 3-9.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
Spread the Christmas cheer and enjoy some live entertainment, after which you can kick back and enjoy the fireworks show! This Christmas event can be enjoyed with both family, friends, and close loved ones! This event is available on select days in November and December, from 7:00 PM until midnight! The standard fare price is $89 and $84 for children.
Disney After Hours
After spending the entire day at the park, enjoying all the spectacular rides, and seeing all the breathtaking sights, and eating delicious food, you’d think that that’s the end of the day, right? But with the Disney After Hours Ticket, you can enjoy the park a little more for three extra hours even after the park is closed for the day. So just when you thought your day couldn’t get any better, this ticket can make your day even better!
Disney Night of Joy
Enjoy the sound of music with a wide range of music genres from Christian rock bands to pop, hip-hop, and a lot of other music genres as they electrify audiences at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Bring your family or your friends for a night of music and dance that is definitely unique only at Disney! Please be advised that these events usually begin at 5:00 PM. The standard fare is at $45.
Star Wars Galactic Nights
Ever since Disney acquired Star Wars, the park has seen many new additions from the Star Wars universe. And one of these additions is the awesome premiere party for all Star Wars fans everywhere. Here, you can walk on the red carpet the same way celebrities do and ride Star Wars-themed rides and attractions, and so much more! And lastly, with a ticket, you can attend future Star Wars events earlier!
What to prepare?
Now, you’re excited and are looking forward to heading to Disney World Orlando for that trip of a lifetime, but just like travelling to a different country or just even staying a few nights at a resort, one must always be ready in preparing the most basic and essential items so that everything will go smoothly as you spend your time there.
So, once you have determined the schedule for your planned trip to Disney World Orlando, here’s a few pointers and other important things to note:
- Make sure you have packed all the necessary clothes.
Packing just your standard comfy clothes won’t be enough, especially due to Florida’s unpredictable weather. After all, would you want to walk around in extremely cold weather in just your summer clothes or sweating through the intense heat while wearing thick winter clothes? It’s always handy to pack different types of clothes. Even bringing along some swimwear would definitely help because you’ll never know when you get the urge to go for a swim! But just because you’re bringing along different types, that doesn’t mean that you should bring several of each type. Remember the saying, “less is more” which means that by packing the items that you feel you will definitely need, you’re gonna end up a lighter bag with a few very essential items, rather than ending up with a VERY heavy bag (and that would cause some problems not just weight-wise, but even some additional charges when checking in your bag at the airport).
- Ready your passport and ticket.
For those living outside of the country, sometimes you gotta plan things WAY ahead. It’s not just for making reservations, but it also involves dealing with any issues regarding your passport and the associated paperwork way ahead. The last thing you want to happen is for your passport to get denied because of issues like a failure of renewal, thus making all that packing for that trip rendered moot.
- Put smaller items in your hand-carry bag or in your pockets.
Items like phones, wallets, money, earphones, etc., should be kept in either a bag that you can carry on put it inside your pocket, just as an extra precaution.
- Be considerate to other people in your travels.
Disney is a place of fun and happiness, where everyone can just freely ignore their daily worries while having fun. This will also mean that it’ll all go smoothly not just for you, but for everyone else that you may meet along the way.
Important services for guests
Even as you spend the time at Disney World Orlando, not everything can go smoothly. And no matter how much you spend time planning your Disney World trip, a lot can happen unexpectedly, and you’re gonna need something to address those problems ASAP. Fortunately, the park has many different services that can address your every need.
Front desk services
The first thing you should do when you arrive at Disney World Orlando Resort, especially when you stay at a hotel for a time, is to approach the front desk. You can approach the front desk Cast Members, who are delighted to assist you with room inquiries such as:
- Check-in and check out, plus late checkout requests
- Room charges and billing inquiries
- Room amenity requests
- Reservation extensions
- Key requests and replacement
And even when the Lobby Concierge is closed, the Front Desk can still offer additional services such as:
- Traveler’s check cashing
- Foreign currency exchange
- Complimentary lock boxes
- Express shipping
- Mail pickup
- Dining reservations
- Ticket sales
- Transportation arrangements
Automated External Defibrillators (AED)
In the event of someone suffering a cardiac arrest (especially with elderly or individuals who have a history of heart diseases) in Disney World Orlando, an AED can greatly help a lot in these situations. AEDs can be used by any of the staff members or guests in response to a cardiac emergency.
No training is required to use these because the device will instruct the user via verbal instructions. In order to find one, please consult the guest guide map provided by the website or visit the nearest guest services for more information.
Running out of money during what is basically a vacation at a theme park can be a bad thing for a lot of reasons. Fortunately, you can just withdraw some money at the nearest ATM. Be advised that the following services are accepted at these ATMs:
- American Express
Also, be advised that the maximum amount you can withdraw from an ATM depends on your card’s issuing bank. So, it’s best to take note of the limit when you inquire at your bank. In addition, these ATMs have the maximum amount of times that you can use, so plan ahead when withdrawing. A fee will also be charged for cash withdrawals not issued by Chase. This fee will be added to the withdrawal amount, in addition to any fees that may be assessed by the cardholder’s bank.
Baby Care Centers
If you’re bringing along an infant or a young child, there are times when you simply want to find a good place to either feed them, change their clothes and/or diapers, etc. In Disney World Orlando, you can look for baby care centers around the park where you can find staff who will be more than happy to assist you with anything you need, in addition to the amenities that will also provide further aid.
These are open during regular park hours, each full-service facility is complimentary to use and includes the following:
- Private nursing room with rocking chairs
- Changing room with tables and a unisex bathroom
- Feeding area with high chairs
- Kitchen with microwave, oven, and sink
- Main room with television, table, chairs, and sofa
- On-site shops that sell formulas, baby food, juice, diapers, wipes, sunscreen, over-the-counter medications, and clothing
Car Care Center
If you own a car and you used that to travel all the way to Disney World Orlando, you can drop it off here and basically give your vehicle that well-deserved rest with their repair services, roadside assistance, and more! But just because your car is getting serviced it doesn’t mean that you’re getting a free service. Depending on the services, additional fees will be charged.
- Complimentary Towing Service to Car Care Center or, if the center is closed, to a destination within 3 miles of Walt Disney World Resort
- Fuel Assistance
- Battery Jump Start
- Flat Tire Assistance, including inflation of flat tire
- Winch Out (vehicle stuck in mud)
Also, take note that the car center is only open during the following hours:
- Monday through Friday: 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM
- Saturday: 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM
- Sunday: 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM
Additionally, you can call them at 407-824-0976 for more information.
And while your car is getting serviced, you can opt for a complimentary shuttle to drive you around the park and to the resort hotels and back. But depending on the availability of these services, you would need to have arranged for one first.
Disney is filled with great things that would make you want to capture them on film, but when you’re traveling by yourself or you want to be in the picture yourself, it can be pretty hard to do so. Fortunately, Disney’s PhotoPass staff will be more than happy to help you on that by taking the photos for you.
Once they take the photos, you can then view them all online or using the My Disney Experience app that you can download onto your smartphone, which then you can use the Memory Maker app to download and share photos online. In addition, PhotoPass can also enable you to customize these photos, further making them into unique memories that you will cherish forever.
My Disney Experience App
Speaking of the app, you can download the app onto your phone. This unique little tool can not only be of great help when you’re thinking about how to plan a Disney World Orlando Trip, this is definitely the one for you because it offers the following:
- Explore a lot easier with the interactive, GPS-enabled map.
- Find your way around with easy to read step-by-step directions to locations across the resort.
- Get wait times for attractions and showtimes for fireworks and parades.
- Find Character greeting locations and times.
- Browse restaurants and menus, and make dining reservations.
- Navigate the parks with turn-by-turn ease using the new Get Directions function.
- Buy theme park tickets via the app.
- Keep reservations and activities organized in My Plans.
- Select and modify your party’s FastPass+
- Share your itinerary with others through Family & Friends.
- Manage your Disney Resort reservations, tickets, MagicBands, and cards.
- Preview your Disney PhotoPass photos on your mobile device throughout your vacation.
- Download, edit and share your PhotoPass media by purchasing Memory Maker, which includes unlimited photos taken by our photographers at select locations.
- Sign in using your fingerprint instead of entering a password with Touch ID (available on iOS only).
- Shop for authentic Disney Parks merchandise with quick links to the new Shop Disney Parks app.
And that just about covers the basics of this Disney World Orlando planning guide. And while there’s a lot more to talk about, what matters is that you have understood the basic gist of what to prepare and what to expect when traveling to Disney World. And even though things can and will not go as planned, as long as you have understood everything, you’ll be able to at least plan better on the fly! And one last thing to consider, make travel and resort hotel reservations at least 6 months in advance, if possible.