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Steps to Plan a Disney World Vacation

April 19, 2017


6 Steps to Planning a Disney World Vacation

1.  Pick a Date

2.  Choose a Resort or Off-site Location

3.  Make a Daily Itinerary

4.  Choose Dining Options

5.  Create a Park Touring plan

6.  Finalize the Details



1. Pick a Date


Good news! You are going to Disney World, now all you have to do is decide when you will visit.


Things to consider:

  • Weather -Rain, humidity, and the temperature can have an impact on your vacation.  For instance, the rainy season means that there could be ride closures or parade cancellations.


*​ Use sites like weather.com to find out what the average temperature and precipitation is each month- https://weather.com/weather/monthly/l/USFL0615



  • Special Events/Festivals/Run Disney Events -Do you plan to participate in any of these events or avoid any of these events?​


  • School Schedules -Do you want to take your children out of school or wait until they are on break?


*​ If you go when most children are in school, the crowds will be lower.

* Check with your child’s school to see if they have a vacation policy.

* It is a good idea to talk with your children’s teacher(s) to see if they can get school work or take test they will miss before you leave for your  trip.  The airport or on the plane is a great place to complete some school work.

  • Holiday Schedules -Look at the calendar to find out when the holidays take place.  Holidays impact crowd levels and prices especially major holidays like Christmas & Easter.


  • Peak/Off Peak prices -Disney has different pricing for different “seasons."


*Mousesavers.com has a page that shows the full rate or rack room pricing for each season https://www.mousesavers.com/2017-disney-world-room-rates-season-dates/​


  • Discounts -Who doesn’t want a discount?  Disney historically has offered different promotions or special pricing throughout the year.


Don’t depend on a discount being available.  Make sure you are comfortable paying for the price you are quoted and think of discounts as a     bonus.

If a discount is released after you book your vacation, you can apply any promotions that become available.  Just keep in mind there is only     a limited amount of rooms allotted to these discounts.

Use an authorized Disney travel agent- A good travel agent will stay on top of the discounts that become available and will do what they      can to get those discounts for their clients (just remember this isn’t always possible).

If a discount is released your hotel may not be part of the promotion, so being flexible & moving to another hotel may save you money.

2.  Choose a Resort or Off-site Location




You know when you are going, so now you have to decide where you will stay.











Things to consider:


  •  Budget -How much are you planning to spend on your vacation?


Disney World is expensive, but if you are staying on property there are a lot of benefits of value that can help make vacationing there            reasonable.  For instance, free transportation eliminates the need to rent a car & Disney allows you to bring your own food into the parks so    you can save money there as well.


  • Onsite or Off-site -Do you want to be on property or off property?  Looking at the pros & cons of each will help you decide which option is best for you.  (Check out our blog post Choosing to Stay Onsite vs. Off-site for more details)


  • Transportation -Will you rent a car or depend on Disney Transportation? Does your off-site hotel provide transportation?


*Disney provides free transportation to all parks, resorts, Disney Springs as well as to and from the airport to all guest staying at a Walt Disney Resort.



  • Length of your stay -How many days will you need lodging?


*If you are a First Timer, I would recommend a stay of 6 days or more

* ​Park tickets are cheaper per day the longer you stay


  • Time spent in the room/resort -Do you plan to spend time in your resort?  Do you plan to take a mid-day break?


  • Size of your family -Most rooms have a maximum capacity of 4 people, so if you have a larger family you may need to get two rooms, a larger capacity room, or a suite.


* ​If you have a child under the age of 3, Disney doesn’t count that child in the maximum capacity count.

* There are rooms for 5 people available at moderate and deluxe resorts

* There are suites available at value resorts, but may cost more than 2 standard rooms or a standard room with 5-person capacity at a   moderate resort


  • Amenities -Are there certain amenities you require or are used to when you travel?


Other TIps:

Use an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner! Using a knowledgeable travel agent can help you find the onsite resort that is right for your family’s size, & budget while keeping in mind your family’s vacation style & touring plans. 

3.  Make a Daily Itinerary


You have your dates & a place to stay! Now it is time to make your daily plan.


Things to consider:

  • Number of  Park Days -How many days do want to spend in each park?


  • Park Hopping -Are you going to park hop? – Do you want to go to one park per day or more than one park per day?


For longer stays, to save money you may not want to purchase the park hopper. 

* ​For shorter stays, purchasing the park hopper may be a good value.


  • Time away from the parks -Are you going to spend time away from the parks to swim at the resort, go to Disney Springs, explore, etc?



*If your schedule permits, taking a day or half day mid-vacation to rest is a good idea.  This is a great time to re-energize, sleep in, & swim.

*Travel days with late arrivals or later departures are good days to visit Disney Springs or explore other resorts.

*If you spend time a day outside of the parks, you do not need to purchase a park ticket for that day which can save you money.


  • Crowd Levels -Use Crowd Calendars to determine the crowd level of each park, park hours, Extra Magic hours, entertainment schedule, & special events.


* There are several crowd calendars available but I like the ones found at Touring plans.com - https://touringplans.com/walt-disney-world/crowd- calendar  &  at the Undercover Tourist - https://www.undercovertourist.com/orlando/crowd-calendar/ 

Touringplans.com has an option to subscribe, but there are many things on this site that are free to everyone.

If the official park hours haven’t been released yet, which is often the case during the planning process for early birds like me    Touringplans.com will have estimated park hours based on historical data.  Just keep in mind these park hours can change.  However, park      hours never seem to be guaranteed.  Disney often has last minute changes to the schedule. 


  • Extra Magic Hours -Look at Extra Magic Hours schedule & determine if you are going to utilize them.


* Generally, it isn’t recommended to visit the park with Extra Magic Hours unless you are going to use morning magic hours and then park hop to another park by midday.


  • Special Events -Are there any special events that you would like to attend or avoid? Check the schedules/crowd calendars to see which days have special events


* Oftentimes parks close early on special event nights for example the park will close around 7 pm for the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party.

* If you are attending a “hard” ticket event like the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party then you can get into the park at 4PM on that day so you may want to use the first part of this day to relax by the pool or go to Disney Springs.  If that’s the case, you will not have to buy a park ticket for this day of your trip.



** Click Here to see an example of an Itinerary I have created. **  


**Making your own crowd calendar/park hour spreadsheet may also be helpful although not necessary because you can print crowd calendars from the websites.

Click Here to see an example of a crowd calendar/ park hour spreadsheet I have created. **

4.  Choose Dining Options


You know where you are going to be each day, now where are you going to eat?


You might think why do I need to decide where and when I am going to eat now when my vacation is months away. The truth is, if you want to eat in a table service restaurant (Disney's term for a full service sit down meal) then you have to make an advanced dining reservation (ADR).  ADRs can be made 180 days in advance.


Things to consider:


  • Budget -It is expensive to eat in Disney World.  How much are you willing to spend on each meal?


  • Dietary Restrictions -Do you have any allergies or other restrictions?


  • Location -Where is the restaurant located? Do you need a park ticket?


  • Transportation -How are you going to get there and how long does it take to get there from your location?


  • Time -Do you want to sit down at a full-service restaurant or have a quick meal?


  • Research restaurant options -Look at menus, reviews, and dining locations


*Menus, Prices, & Locations can be found on many different sites. I typically search http://allears.net/dining/menu/

* Restaurant reviews can be found on disneyfoodblog.com or take a look at the review videos posted by EarsFirst on YouTube.

* It’s a good idea to choose a dining option at or near the park/location you plan to be that day.

* There isn’t any direct transportation from resort to resort if you are utilizing Disney transportation.

* It can take anywhere from 1 to 1.5 hours of travel time if you are utilizing Disney transportation.

* Have alternative times and/or places in mind



Adding  dining options & desired dining times to your Itinerary Spreadsheet is useful when making your dining reservations.  It's a good idea to have alternative restaurants & times in case you don't get your first choices when making your reservations.

5.  Create a Park Touring Plan


You selected which parks you will visit each day, now you need to make a plan to tour each park.


Having a touring plan isn't necessary (although I highly recommend it).  You can just wing it. However, people who plan will wait in fewer lines and will experience more.  No one likes waiting in line, but when you have young children waiting is much worse and often impossible. Have a plan and everyone will be so much happier.


Things to consider:


  • Park arrival time -Will you be at the park at rope drop?  Are you park hopping to the park mid-day or in the evening?


* Get to the park early.  If possible, get there before rope drop. No one likes to get up early on vacation, but you will accomplish so much in    the first couple of hours the park is open.  The Early Bird gets the Worm!


  • Fastpass+ times -Keep in mind you have an hour window to use your fastpass+ .


* Make your fastpass+ selections as soon as your window opens (60 days before your trip if you are staying at a Disney Resort, 30 days for offsite guests).

* After you use your 3rd fast pass, you can make an additional selection.



Other TIps:

Having an itinerary until at least lunch time is ideal. 

Look at park maps to know which rides you want to ride & where they are located.  Your feet will thank you later if you pay attention to ride     locations.

* Pay attention to height requirements.

Use Rider Switch if you have smaller children.  

Take an afternoon break.

* You will not have time for it all so having a realistic must do list is a good idea. 

* Look up show times & parade schedules.​

6.  Finalize the Details


You have done all the research and made all the plans, so now it's time for the finishing touches.



If there are any dining reservations that you wanted but didn’t get, keep checking.  The closer you get to your vacation the likelihood of      cancellations increase.

* Last minute park hour & show time changes may affect your plans, so pay attention to any changes Disney World makes to their schedule.    Make any necessary adjustments to your plans.

* Make sure there aren’t any changes to your flight.  If so, you will need to notify the magical express.

* Update your Itinerary spreadsheet


If you have any tips please share by leaving a comment below.












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