Disney World is one of the most magical vacations anyone can take. Unfortunately, there is no denying that it can be overwhelming to plan, especially for someone who’s never gone before. A lot goes into a trip to Disney World, from making dining reservations to guaranteeing you get on all of your favorite rides. To help make your first trip to Disney World the best possible, I put together a guide on everything you need to know before booking your vacation.
How Long Should a Disney World Vacation Be?
Disney World has 4 major theme parks to visit, along with 2 water parks. It’s nearly impossible to do everything Disney World has to offer in just one vacation. An ideal Disney vacation is anywhere between 4-7 days. When I go, I like to plan for an arrival day, 5 full days, and a check-out day. This allows for one full day per theme park, as well as a rest day in between to spend swimming and hanging out at the hotel and Disney Springs.
It is not recommended to have a theme park ticket on your day of arrival or departure. There is simply too much to do in the parks, and it’s best if you know you can spend as much time as possible making the most of your time experiencing all of the various attractions. Save your money by dedicating your arrival and departure days to hanging out at the resort pool or enjoying Disney Springs.
What Theme Parks Should I Visit?
Every Disney fan has their own reasoning in regards to which theme park is the best. For your first trip, it may be worth it to check out all four of the major theme parks, but I’ve put together a brief description of each to help you decide which may work best for your family.
Magic Kingdom – The most magical of all the Disney World theme parks. If your goal is to see the iconic Cinderella castle, you do not want to miss this park. Magic Kingdom is home to some of the most famous Disney rides such as the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Peter Pan’s Flight, and many more! This is also where you can enjoy some of the most magical entertainment, such as the nighttime fireworks show and the daytime parades.
Animal Kingdom – This park is the perfect combination of animals, entertainment, and thrill rides. In order to accommodate all of the animals of this park in the most natural and comfortable way possible, this is the largest of the theme parks. Some of its highlights include the Festival of the Lion King show, Avatar’s Flight of Passage, and the Kilimanjaro Safaris.
EPCOT – If someone in your group wants to be a world traveler, EPCOT is the perfect park for your vacation. You can explore the World Showcase to learn more about various cultures from around the world as you walk through architecture inspired by 11 different countries. For foodies, this park is also excellent because it often hosts various food festivals throughout the year.
Hollywood Studios – For fans of the Star Wars franchise, this park is not to be missed. This park is a celebration of film and Hollywood. Whether you’re enjoying the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular or traveling to a Galaxy Far Far Away over in Galaxy’s Edge, there is truly something for everybody in this park.
Typhoon Lagoon – This tropical waterpark features the largest wave pool in North America. There are water attractions for all ages to enjoy, from the Castaway Creek lazy river to the Crush ‘n’ Gusher water slides.
Blizzard Beach – This waterpark is currently closed for refurbishment, but has exciting drop slides, a lazy river, and more, with all attractions themed after a Florida ski resort.
Where to Stay
When you’re not enjoying a day in the theme parks, you’ll need a place to sleep and take breaks from the hot Florida sun. Luckily, Disney has plenty of options when it comes to hotels. If you want to stay on property, Disney World hotels are divided into three categories: value, moderate, and deluxe.
If you’re just looking for a place to sleep at night, a value resort may be the best option. Any of the value resorts will have rooms with queen-size beds, one or more swimming pools, and a food court.
For those who are interested in on-site dining and slightly larger rooms, a moderate or deluxe may be worth the money. These resorts typically have more detailed theming and various options for dining without leaving your hotel but will cost more money than a value resort.
Staying off-property is another option that can often be more affordable. Good Neighbor Hotels are hotels located near the Disney World Resort. They also provide transportation to the parks, though a fee may be included, unlike at official Disney World resorts.
Ever since the Covid pandemic, Disney parks have switched to a reservation system. This means that you can no longer just show up with a park ticket and be allowed entry into the theme parks.
Once you buy park tickets for everyone in your traveling group, you can begin making reservations for all of the parks you want to visit. Park reservations can be made up to 2 years in advance. I recommend making yours as early as possible to avoid parks becoming unavailable as they hit capacity.
*On January 9th, 2024, Disney plans to end the reservation system as long as you have a date-based ticket. Until then, you must have a park reservation.
My Disney Experience Mobile App
After your reservations are booked the next thing you will want to do is download the My Disney Experience Mobile App. The app will be essential while you are at Walt Disney World but there are many things that you can do before your visit such as reserve dining reservations and check out park maps.
Dining in Disney
If you’re staying on Disney property, you can make dining reservations 60 days before the start of your vacation. It is recommended you are up by 6:00 am Orlando time if you are looking forward to some of the more popular offerings such as character dining.
Between the 4 theme parks, the Disney hotels, and Disney Springs, there are plenty of sit-down dining options to choose from including highly themed and character dining where Disney favorites such as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and the princesses will come right to your table.
The parks also offer a variety of quick-service dining that do not require reservations. You can order in person at the counter of these establishments or you can use your phone and the Disney app to place a mobile order.
Genie + and Lightning Lane
If your Disney World bucket list involves all of the most popular rides, it may be worth it to invest in Genie+.
This is a paid add-on to your theme park ticket that can help you bypass some of the attractions with longer lines. The price varies based on the time of year you’re visiting; more popular days will equal a more popular price.
Throughout the day, you can make “Lighting Lane” reservations. You’ll be told a time to show up at the attraction where you’ll scan your Magic Band or ticket before getting into a shorter line rather than the standby line.
For the most popular attractions, you can purchase an Individual Lightning Lane. As of right now, Individual Lighting Lanes are available for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, TRON Lightcycle/Run, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, and Avatar Flight of Passage.
When to Visit
It has become rare to visit Disney World without having to deal with large crowds. Your best bet at beating longer-than-average lines is to plan your trip around when kids are still in school: September, November (not the week of Thanksgiving), January, and February. These times of year will also help you avoid the brutal heat and humidity of Florida. However, you know what they say: a day at Disney is better than a day at home!
When to Book
It is best to book your Disney vacation as soon as possible. This will allow you time to put together a bucket list of things everyone in your group wants to do. You’ll also have time to prepare for making reservations for dining and special experiences that require a reservation. Keep in mind that popular time such as Christmas, Spring Break, Fall Break and Thanksgiving will book up quickly.
As with any trip, you can rent a car to help you travel from one place to another. However, it may save you some money to just use the transportation provided by Disney Resorts.
Every Disney resort offers buses to and from the parks, while some other resorts offer other modes of transportation such as gondolas, water taxis, and monorails. You can also pay to have a Minnie Van come and pick up you and your family. This may be a good choice for those with younger children who still need a car seat.
In order to get from the airport to your resort, you have a few options. You can take a Lyft, Uber, or taxi. You may also want to look into a shuttle service such as Mears Connect and Sunshine Flyer.
Who doesn’t want to capture those magical memories in front of Cinderella’s Castle or the Spaceship Earth. PhotoPass photographers are located throughout the all theme parks and are ready to take that perfect photo of you and your loved ones. The photos can be viewed in the My Disney Experience app where you can purchase and download. If you purchased a Disney package, you also have the option of adding on Memory Maker which includes unlimited photo downloads. I definitely recommend adding on Memory Maker if you are visiting Disney for the first time. The price is relatively low considering the number of photo opportunities you will receive.
What to Pack
Just like with any vacation, you want to make sure you’re prepared while packing your suitcase. I recommend bringing at least the following:
- An outfit for every day of your trip.
- A poncho or umbrella – it tends to rain year-round in Orlando!
- A small bag or backpack to bring into the parks.
- Two pairs of comfortable walking shoes.
- A portable phone charger for the parks.
- A swimsuit for hanging out in the resort pools.
- A portable fan for the summer months
Something that can also be helpful in taking advantage of services such as Amazon Fresh or Instacart. You can order a case of water bottles, snacks, sunblock, and anything else that you may need but don’t want to bring on your flight or road trip.
Disney resorts also offer self-service laundry facilities. You can do a load of laundry while enjoying some time by the pool or in your hotel room. This can be especially helpful for those on longer trips who don’t want to pack too many outfits.
What is Disney Springs?
While there may not be any rides or characters walking around, you’ll want to be sure to check out Disney Springs! This is a perfect stop to make on the evening of your arrival day or the morning before you leave Orlando. It’s one of my favorite parks of Disney World and doesn’t even require an additional theme park ticket.
Disney Springs is a shopping and dining area of Disney World Resort that features 99 shops and 68 dining options. You can enjoy a relaxing dinner on the water or buy some Disney souvenirs before you head home from your trip.
Disney Springs even has a bowling alley and an AMC movie theater!
The idea of booking a Walt Disney World vacation may be daunting, but hopefully, this guide helped provide you with an idea of what to expect as you prepare for your most magical vacation yet!
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