I get it:
You're planning a Walt Disney World vacation and feeling totally overwhelmed.
Where do you even start?
How long should you go for?
Should you stay on Disney property?
What's the best time of year to go?
If any of these questions are spinning around in your head, you're in the right place.
I'm going to answer all of those questions and more!
This guide will walk you through how to plan a trip to Disney World.
It helps make the tough decisions easier by giving you all the information you need to make a choice.
(If you're looking for the answer to a specific question, use the navigation menu about to quickly find an answer.)
You read to get started?
How to Avoid the Crowds
Buying tickets is tough because you need to know a lot of things about your trip before you can do it.
To help, I'm going to walk you through a step-by-step process that should make purchasing tickets much less overwhelming.
Choosing the Best Time of Year to Visit
There are two things you want to consider when trying to identify the best time of year to visit Disney World: crowds and heat.
Avoiding the Crowds
Disney World has gotten to the point where it's always busy.
It used to be there were times you could visit Disney and hardly wait in lines. While those days are long gone (sorry), there are definitely less busy times of year to visit.
To avoid crowds, you'll want to skip visiting the parks during holidays, summer break, spring break, and winter break.
If you can, it's best to visit during the week as well. Although, a weekend at the end of January would be less crowded than a weekend during the summer.
Additionally, it's best to skip the special events that Disney puts together for Halloween and Christmas. While they are fun, if you want to avoid crowds as much as possible, those events aren't the place for you.
Avoiding the Heat
Florida is a hot and humid place. Orlando's weather can be especially stifling because it's landlocked. The closest ocean is a couple of hours away. The fact that it lacks a nice ocean breeze can make it feel even hotter.
So, I recommend avoiding visiting in the summer. It's just too hot.
The spring, fall, and winter are much better times to visit.
The spring does come with afternoon showers, so if you choose to visit then, make sure to bring a your own poncho. The rain never lasts for too long though, so don't feel as though you need to leave the park.
Visiting in the fall can be difficult because there are a lot of holidays sprinkled throughout, so if you're trying to also avoid the crowds, consider skipping that period of time.
Overall Best Time to Visit
I think that the best time to visit Disney World to avoid the crowds AND the heat is mid-late January and early February.
How to Choose the Perfect Length of Time to Visit
How Many Days Should You Spend at Disney?
Disney World has four theme parks, so you could easily spend an entire week exploring every one, especially considering the length of the lines you'll likely have to wait in.
Now, buying 7 day tickets is EXPENSIVE. And, you may not have an entire week to devote to the parks. More than that, spending every day at the parks can be EXHAUSTING.
If you can, I recommend devoting an entire day to each park. This will give you enough time to enjoy most everything in the park that you want to.
So, if you're only interested in visiting two parks, you only need two day tickets.
If you're not sure which parks you want to visit or how much time you want to devote to each, keep reading because I'm going to break down each of the parks for you so that you can make an informed decision.
How to Choose Which Parks to Visit?
Disney World has 4 amazing parks: Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom.
Each of the parks is great for different reasons, which can help you decide how to divide your time.
To help, I've created an overview of each of the parks so that you can more easily choose which ones you want to visit and how much time you'd like to devote to each.
While all of the Disney parks are magical, there is a little bit of extra pixie dust sprinkled on this one.
Seeing Cinderella's Castle is an unforgettable experience.
Make sure you take a photo in front of the castle. You can have a cast member take the photo, which you can then purchase. Or, you can bring a selfie stick and do it yourself.
Either way, you'll want that iconic photo.
Magic Kingdom has a ton of rides and character meet and greets, which makes this the more popular park.
Of course, the other parks have rides and meet and greets, but Magic Kingdom is on a different level.
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad - This is a wooden rollercoaster and is so much fun!
- Space Mountain - This rollarcoaster is a little intense because it takes place in the dark, but it's a blast!
- Seven Drawfs Mine Train - This rollercoaster is new and incredibly smooth. It's definitely a fun time, especially if you love Snow White!
- Pirates of the Caribbean - This is a mostly gentle boat ride that takes you through one of Jack Sparrow's adventures.
- Haunted Mansion - This ride is a slow-paced ride, but it's a bit spooky.
All of the other rides are fun, too. The ones above just happen to be my personal favorites.
- Be Our Guest - If you love Beauty and the Beast, you cannot miss this restaurant. You get to enjoy French cuisine and dine in Belle's castle! It's worth the wait.
- Cinderella's Royal Table - This is an expensive restaurant, but it could be worth the price if you're interested in eating INSIDE Cinderella's Castle. And yes, Cinderella and Prince Charming will make an appearance.
Hollywood Studios focuses a lot on movies and the making of movies.
The park offers a lot of great rides and shows.
Throughout the years, the attractions at this park have changed quite a bit. Now, it is home to Toy Story Land, which is brand new. I haven't seen it yet, but it looks pretty amazing. It's supposed to make you feel as small as a toy!
- Rock 'n' Rollercoaster - This is a high speed ride that will flip you every which way. (This was the first rollercoaster I rode that turned me upside down.)
- Star Tours - If you're a Star Wars fan, you'll love this simulation ride. You get to go on a galactic adventure with your favorite robots (C-3PO and R2-D2).
- Toy Story Mania - On this ride, you get to shoot things with foam balls. Yep. It's just as fun as it sounds.
There are a good number of shows at this park, but my favorite by far is the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.
It's so incredibly entertaining! I've seen this show countless times, and I still love going to see it.
As a kid, I did not particularly enjoy Epcot. It doesn't have quite as many rides, and there's a lot more walking and looking.
As an adult, I have grown to appreciate it a lot more. And, I actually love visiting Epcot now!
I enjoy walking around the "world" and trying different food and drinks.
Plus, there are some sweet attractions that offer unique experiences.
- Test Track - You can design your car, and then go take it for a test drive. You'll put the car through a series of tests that are a blast!
- Relaunched! Mission: SPACE - This ride simulates being launched into space and a feeling of weightlessness. There is an intense version and a less intense version. Having done both, I now stick to the less intense version as the intense one nearly made me pass out. Hey, don't judge. You try being spun around at high speeds. No seriously, try it! (Just make sure you read the warnings first.)
- Frozen Ever After - This used to be a Norse ride, and I'm honestly upset that it's now a Frozen ride, but it still has the same track, so it made the list of favorites anyway.
- Soarin' - This is an amazing ride that takes you on a smooth journey, but it still offers that crazy experience that you likely won't get anywhere else.
The thing about Epcot is that there is so much good food! Epcot is a great place to try something new. So, while you can get some great Mexican food, I would recommend trying something a little more exotic.
- Chefs de France - This, if you couldn't guess, is a French restaurant. When I was there, the waitress (who was from France) said that the food was actually pretty authentic.
- Rose & Crown - This restaurant serves British cuisine. While perhaps this food isn't particularly exotic, I bet you eat it less often than Mexican food. 😉
- Sommerfest - This is a quick-service restaurant that serves German cuisine (yum)!
Animal Kingdom is the biggest Disney World park by landmass. It has a ton of animal exhibits and fun activities.
This park is highly focused on educating people on animals, environments, and how to protect both, which is a noble task.
- Expedition Everest - This is a high speed rollercoaster that is a ton of fun. You won't be going upside-down, but you might go backwards...
- Kilimanjaro Safaris - This is a personal favorite. While they have changed the ride (there's no more fun story about chasing poachers), it's still a super fun way to see the animals up close!
- DINOSAUR - This ride is always a blast. Go back in time to retrieve something, but be careful because time is running out!
- Primeval Whirl - This is a short ride, but so much fun! This outdoor coaster will whip you around and have you dying to go again.
- Avatar Flight of Passage - This ride offers quite the unique experience whether you enjoyed the Avatar movie or not. It's a simulation ride that's incredible.
- Yak and Yeti - This uniquely styled restaurant serves Asian cuisine. I haven't actually eaten there, but it's one of Animal Kingdom's more unique restaurants that serves more than burgers and chicken nuggets.
- Rainforest Cafe - This restaurant does a great job at immersing you in the Rainforest. If you've never been to one before, it's a fun experience.
Deciding If You Should Pay for a Park Hopping Pass
You can easily spend an entire day at each of the parks.
However, if you're short on time but want to see all four parks, you might want to consider purchasing the park hopping add-on to your ticket.
This allows you to go to multiple parks each day.
Park hopping is really only worth it if you're trying to see a lot in a short amount of time.
If you're only there for 3 days or less, you may want to consider purchasing the park hopper add-on. However, if you're there for 4+ days, you likely won't need it.
Where to Purchase the Tickets
I always recommend purchasing your Disney World tickets directly from Disney.
I think that there's is always a risk of getting invalid tickets when purchasing from a third-party.
However, many third-party sellers offer discounted tickets, which is an offer that's tough to resist.
If you're a Florida Resident, you can get discounted tickets directly from Disney, and that's likely the best price available.
But, if you're not a Florida resident and would like to save some money on your Disney World tickets, here are some trustworthy sources:
- Undercover Tourist offers discounted Disney World tickets. While the savings are phenomenal, it's certainly better than saving nothing!
- Visit Orlando also offers discounted Disney World Tickets. They offer flex tickets, so you don't need to know your travel dates, but keep in mind these likely cost more than regular tickets.
I would recommend comparing these prices to the prices on Disney's own website. Just because they say it's a good deal doesn't make it one!
There are plenty of other websites that offer discounted Disney World tickets, but I know Undercover Tourist and Visit Orlando to have a good reputation, which is why I suggest purchasing through their sites vs. others.
How to Find and Book the Best Hotel
View of the Fireworks from Boardwalk Resort
When visiting Disney, you're faced with a tough choice: should you stay on or off Disney property?
To help, I've put together a list of pros and cons, so that you can make in informed decision.
After all, the most important part is making sure that you pick the hotel that best suits your needs and fits your budget.
Benefits of Staying on Disney Property
There are quite of few unique benefits to staying at a Disney World Resort.
- Complimentary bus rides to and from the parks, Disney Springs, and Disney’s waterparks.
- Access to Extra Magic Hours (either an hour earlier or later than the parks are normally open)
- Character breakfasts (offered at some hotels)
- Excellent guest services
- Fantastic facilities (pools, etc.)
- On-site restaurants
- MagicBands included
- Priority Fastpass selection
- Souvenirs sent back to your room
Of course, all of the benefits do come at a cost. While Disney does offer budget-friendly accommodations, these are certainly basic at best, and you can certainly get more for your money elsewhere.
Although, staying at a Disney Resort Hotel is more about the experience than the bang you get for your buck.
Comparison of Disney Hotels
I did some research and compared the most important aspects of each Disney hotel so that you could pick the perfect one.
To view the comparison, all you have to do is click the button below and a new window will open and the file will begin downloading.
Or, if you'd prefer you can check out the quick guide right below the button. It's not as detailed but should give you a good idea of your options!
Quick Guide to Disney Hotels
This is the quick guide to Disney World hotels.
If it's too difficult to read, click on the image to enlarge it.
If you're interested in more information, download the Disney Hotel comparison by clicking the button above!
Benefits of Staying Off Disney Property
Orlando has a gross number of hotels. Seriously.
So, there are plenty of places to choose from.
Plus, you can stay at a pretty nice hotel for a reasonable price.
Generally speaking, I think that for the same price as one of Disney's budget hotels, you can stay at a nicer hotel; it's just not on Disney property.
Now, if you choose to stay off Disney property, you might end up driving to the parks, which can cost you about $20 per day.
Many hotels have shuttles that run to and from the parks, but the time schedules are much more limited that the ones Disney runs, which may dissuade you from using them.
While staying of Disney property doesn't have similar benefits that staying on Disney property does, there are definitely still some good ones you might want to consider.
- Complimentary breakfast (many hotels offer this; you'll just want to make sure the hotel you're looking at does, in fact, offer it.)
- Easy access to a variety of restaurants (while Disney might have on-site restaurants, if you stay off property, you can pick a hotel close to many great restaurants to add some variety.)
- Access to a Kitchen for Less - You can get Disney hotel rooms with a kitchen/kitchenette, but they're going to be way more expensive than a normal hotel with the same features. And, having a kitchen/kitchenette could save you a ton of money.
I recommend looking for hotels that are near International Drive, Lake Buena Vista, and Hotel Plaza Blvd. These are very close to the parks.
How to Plan a Relaxing Day at the Parks
Despite being the Happiest Place on Earth, visiting Disney World has the tendency to be a little bit stressful.
However, if you plan your day well, you'll find that you're able to see and do everything that you want with minimal stress.
How to Make Fast Passes Work For You
At Disney, you get free fast passes.
This is both great and terrible.
Free fast passes means that everyone gets free fast passes, which means that you can only get so many free fast passes.
You only get three fast passes per day to start. Once you use them, you can reserve one more at a time, but often there are only fast passes left for less popular rides anyway.
In order to get fast passes for the popular rides, you need to make sure that you reserve them as soon as possible.
If you're staying on Disney property, you can reserve them up to 60 days before your visit.
And, if you're not staying on Disney property, you can reserve them up to 30 days prior to your visit.
I highly recommend setting a reminder on your phone so that you don't forget to reserve your fast passes as soon as possible.
Here are some little known fastpass secrets to help you get the most out of them.
Which Rides Should You Get Fast Passes For?
Since you can only get 3 fast passes at a time, it's important that you choose them wisely.
Identify the 3 rides that you'd like to ride the most and try to get fast passes for those.
Now, keep in the mind that the newest and most popular rides are going to be the most difficult to get fast passes for.
For example, getting fast passes for Space Mountain and Avatar Flight of Passage might be extremely difficult.
In fact, all of the fast passes for the day you're planning on going may already be gone for the some of the rides you want.
Don't despair. Just pick another ride you'd really like to ride.
Prioritize the Rides, Shows, and Meet and Greets before Entering the Park
This takes a bit of planning, but it's well-worth the time.
If you can prioritize which rides, shows, and meet and greets you want to get to the most, you'll easily be able to manage your time throughout each day.
Plus, you'll get around to doing more of the stuff that's important to you.
I recommend making a list on your phone and listing the things you want to do in order of importance. Then, if at any point, you're not sure if you should get in line for something, you can check your list and see if getting in line for that aligns with your goals for the day.
Now, you don't have to live and die by the list. You should feel free to be spontaneous.
The list is just supposed to be a helpful road map for your day at the park.
If you're interested in looking at an example, you can find one below! (If you want to enlarge it, just click on it!)
Always Plan Your Meals Ahead
Disney has some great restaurants, but if you're not careful, you'll end up missing out on them.
Some restaurants require reservations. If you don't have one, it'll be so busy that they stop accepting walk ins. And, for restaurants like Cinderella's Royal Table, I'm pretty sure there's no way you can eat there without one.
If it's not a quick service restaurant, you'll want to check and see if it takes reservations. Here's a list of restaurants that take reservations.
Make your reservations well in advanced.
If making reservations sounds like a huge headache, you can always take advantage of quick-service dining options. I find that a mix of the two makes for a great vacation.
It's also important to know if you even plan on eating at the park. If you have a hotel room with a kitchen, you might intend on going back and throwing some sort of frozen dinner in the microwave. You just need to know this ahead of time.
Otherwise, you'll be wandering around not knowing what you're doing.
And, like always, feel free to change the plan as needed.
The Perfect Packing List
What to Do When You're Not at the Parks
Disney World is great, but hopefully you'll schedule yourself some down time, during which you can see some of the other awesome sites in Orlando.
Here are some of my favorites.
Just because you're not at the parks doesn't mean you can't enjoy some more Disney magic.
Disney Springs has gotten a makeover and, damn, does it look good!
Disney Springs has a ton of great restaurants and shops, many of which you won't find in too many other places.
For example, you can visit an entire store devoted to Legos. Plus, they have some very impressive Lego statues that make great photo ops.
If you're not great at taking down time (like me), you might want to consider check out Universal Studios.
While it's a theme park, it's incredibly different from Disney, and many of the rides are geared towards an older audience.
If you love Harry Potter, this is a must visit! You'll have a blast exploring the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. (They did an incredible job with it.)
Universal City Walk
If you're not interested in spending more money on theme park tickets, which I totally get, you can still get a small taste of Universal and enjoy their City Walk.
This is similar to Disney Springs but much smaller.
Still, it has some great restaurants that there are only a few of across the world.
For example, you can enjoy a Hurricane and beignets at Pat O'Briens, which is a famous restaurant in New Orleans.
Universal Studios has quite a few clubs, so it's a great place to enjoy some nightlife.
Just make sure you have a safe ride back to your hotel set up. If you plan on drinking, perhaps you should Uber there and back.
This is a totally wacky museum of sorts.
Wonderworks is geared towards children; it's essentially a hands on science museum.
While science might not be particularly interesting to you, they make it fun by letting you lie on a bed of nails, which is pretty freakin' cool.
Didn't see anything that strikes your fancy?
A Brit and a Southerner (a travel blog) put together a great list of things to do in Orlando.
I know that was a ton of information, but at this point, you should know exactly what how to plan your Disney World vacation!
Just remember that you need to plan, plan, plan.
Disney is a busy place, so you need to be one step ahead of everyone else.
If you're one step behind, you'll be behind a crap-ton of people.