I am in the midst of planning for a trip to Walt Disney World and wanted to share some of my tips and tricks with you all while they’re fresh in my brain. (Disclaimer, this is probably going to be a long post.)
As a kid from Wisconsin, getting to go to WDW was the holy grail of trips. We’d beg and beg and beg to go each year. About every four years the time would come when my family would pile into our mini van and make the drive down to Orlando from Milwaukee. In 2001 we had our very last family vacation to WDW and that was it.
In 2015 the time finally came for me to venture back to Florida! A lot had obviously changed from the good ‘ole days and I was a bit overwhelmed as to where to begin. Luckily there are some incredible resources out there for us first-timers (‘cause let’s be honest, after a 20 year break, it really did feel like the first time all over again).
Since 2015, I’ve been back every year and have started to hone in on my planning process. That’s what I’m going to share today.
Decision 1: When to Go
I’ve gone in November and April – both of which were AMAZING times to go.
November: The weeks before and after Thanksgiving are a great time to go because most people need to save up their travel time for Thanksgiving itself. This is also a great time to go because it is during Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival, which is a ton of fun, AND you can see all of the Christmas decorations and fun Christmas entertainment.
April/May: The weeks right after spring break are a prime time to go because kids are back in school and parents don’t want to take them out again so near to when they were just out. The weather in Orlando around this time is also ideal. It’s not too hot and humid yet. Also, this is right during Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival. (I’m a big fan of Epcot, as you can tell).
Decision 2: Where to Stay
I’ve stayed both on and off Disney property and I have to say that staying on Disney property is worth every extra penny. Disney really has figured everything out to ensure that their guests have the most enjoyable stay possible.
The first perk to staying “on property” is that you have access to Disney’s Magical Express. This is a bus service that takes you from Orlando International Airport and drops you off at the resort you are staying at. Not only does the Magical Express have it’s own terminal at the airport but you also receive a special luggage tag for your bags that allows Disney to pick them up at baggage claim for you and drop them off in your room! It’s incredible. You can also check in for your return flight from your hotel for an added benefit!
In addition to the Magical Express, Disney’s shuttle service is far superior to every other hotel in Orlando. Buses run about every 15 minutes and go to each theme park as well as Disney Springs. It is the most efficient and easy way to get around the vast Walt Disney World properties.
There are 3 tiers of resorts at Walt Disney World: Value, Moderate, and Deluxe. Value are the most inexpensive and come in around $100-200/night, Moderate are the next step up and usually come in around $150-$300/night, and Deluxe are the primo accommodations coming in at $350+/night. I’ve only stayed at a Moderate before (Caribbean Beach Resort) and it was INCREDIBLE. It’s been hard for me to book anywhere else. For our trip in May, we’ll be staying at a Value (Pop Century) so I’ll be able to report back after that trip.
Decision 3: How long to Stay
This has been a hard one for me. On my first trip I stayed for 6 days and my second trip I stayed for 7. In both instances I did not feel like I had enough time. There is SO much to do at Walt Disney World that you can come again and again and barely scratch the surface.
I would recommend at least 7 days for first timers since there are 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, and 20 themed resorts to explore.
Decision 4: Tickets
Unfortunately there aren’t really discounts to be had on tickets. Sometimes Disney will have a special going on, so definitely check back on the website often but there aren’t many discounts beyond that. I have been told that there is a slight discount for AAA members (I am not one) and I have been able to get some discounted park hopper tickets through Plum Benefits. But even then the discounts aren't that deep.
A multi-day ticket purchased in advance is definitely the way to go because there are savings to be had with those (versus buying a single day ticket at the window when you arrive at the park each day). Whether or not to invest in park hopper tickets is really dependent on your goals for the trip, however. I’ve done it with and without park hoppers. I personally feel it’s quite hard to jump around from park to park in a single day if you only have one day at each park. There is so much to do at each park that the travel time alone is pretty inefficient. That said, if you have more time, it’s nice to be able to take advantage of Magic Hours at one park and then head to another when those are over.
Magic Hours are special hours either before or after standard operating hours for a park that are given to guests staying at a Walt Disney World Resort (just another reason to stay “on property”).
Decision 5: Dining
I’m going to do a separate blog post dedicated to Disney World Dining because I have A LOT to say about it but I think it’s important to mention here that:
Decision 6: Fast Pass Selections
If you’re staying at a Disney Resort you can make your Fast Pass selections 60 days in advance of your stay. Fast Pass allows you to “skip” the line for the ride you’ve chosen. Each park allows for 3 pre-selected Fast Passes per day. Once you’ve used all 3 of your Fast Passes in the park on that day, you can go to designated kiosks around the park and get additional ones.
This is a GAME CHANGER. If you do this right, gone are the days of waiting 2 hours to get on the most popular rides. That said, using the Fast Pass system correctly requires a great deal of advance planning. Essentially, you need to know your itinerary each day in order to be able to get the rides you want at the times most convenient for your family.
As mentioned at the top of this post, there are some really wonderful resources available to first-timers. I used these blogs religiously when I was planning for my trips (and still do). Their helpful hints are invaluable and almost always correct.
My all time favorite Disney blog is: The Disney Tourist Blog
Tom and Sarah have done their research and they know EVERYTHING there is to know about the parks. They have reviews on just about every resort and restaurant on property and have a million helpful tips for planning.
The next blog I use is: WDW Prep School
Shannon has a great crowd predictor calendar for the entire year as well as month-by-month specific planning guides.
I hope you found this introduction to Walt Disney World useful. If you have any planning questions as you gear up for your own trip, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m always happy to help other Disney friends. <3 <3 <3