Although we travel all over the country and love every experience, we are always a Disney family.
When planning a Disney World vacation, preparation is key to getting the most of out of your time (and money!) there. If you have never been or have not been recently, a lot has changed-not only in the parks, but in planning.
One key is not to get overwhelmed. If you follow the timeline below, the planning will be spread out and each task will be done in time.
We have a ton of tips on how to optimize your time while at Disney, including some down time, to be included in a future post.
We also created the video below, on the same topic.
Choosing when you are going
For most of us with kids, the times we can vacation all are dependent on the school calendar. Because of this, most of the times families can attend are the busiest times.
The busiest times of the year at Disney are during July, President’s Day weekend, mid-March through mid-April because of spring break, Thanksgiving weekend, and the week before Christmas through New Year’s. Most of these times are because of schools being on break. However, there also can be other events held at Disney during these times that may draw crowds, such a Run Disney weekends, cheer weekend, pop warner, etc.
The least busy times at Disney are late January, late August, and mid-September AKA the times any families with kids in school can go. 😦
There are various sites out there with crowd calendars that make this part of planning easier. There’s a little bit of a debate about these with Disney aficionados; some people do not think they’re accurate, as they use data from the previous year. We understand this and use to get an estimate, understanding it may not be exact. One we like to use can be found at UndercoverTourist.com , you can filter by Disney park and also check other non-Disney Orlando parks.
Picking a hotel
There are SO many hotels in the Disney area. There literally is something for everyone’s budget, hotel preference, amenities, etc. We have stayed both on and off property while at Disney. We will have a post down the road listing the pros and cons of both.
Researching rates for hotels on and off property are a great idea, as there are certain discounts offered throughout the year.
If you decide on a Disney resort, once you have booked, either through Disney directly or a third party like Expedia, you will have a confirmation number. At this point, you should download the My Disney Experience app (more info on this in the section below and complete tutorial on our YouTube channel). One of the beauties of the app is all of your travel details are in one place. To have your hotel details included on this, click on “Link Hotel” and enter the confirmation number.
Some Disney resorts can be booked through other sites such as Expedia and Undercover Tourist. The confirmation number they provide will work on the app. These websites may have better deals than Disney direct, so always good to check their sites too.
As mentioned, there are a TON of off property options. Many of which are more cost-effective than a Disney hotel. However, there are some benefits to a Disney resort. We will do a post specifically on the pros and cons of staying on and off of Disney property. I think it all boils down to how you vacation and personal preference.
My Disney Experience App
Regardless if you’ve decided to stay at an on-property Disney resort or not, downloading the My Disney Experience app will make everything so much easier, to book things that need to be done in advance. More information on the app below.
Once you’ve downloaded the app, you will have to create a login. They are constantly updating the app to make it “easier” to navigate. Sometimes that the case, other times it’s not exactly easier. But, with everything, in time you get accustom to it. We have a full tutorial on how to use this app on our YouTube channel, My Disney Experience App Tutorial. Screenshots below are from this app and are focused on booking things prior to your trip.
Booking Dining Experiences
Once you have decided when you’re going to Disney and download the app, you can book your dining reservations 180 days prior to your trip. Yes, you read correctly ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY day. It’s crazy to think this far away what you’ll want to eat months down the road. However, for the popular Disney restaurants, they will book up that early. I know, it’s insane.
Food is a fun part of a Disney vacation. Everyone has their favorite snacks or places to eat. In time, we will add some posts with ours.
You know your family best and what your food preferences are. The app gives a good amount of detail on each restaurant, price, atmosphere and menus. One thing that is great about Disney restaurants, is that that are always kid options…even at the fanciest restaurants.
Booking on the app is fairly easy for anyone that is tech-savvy.
First, you will select Reserve Dining
Then, you will have enter you party size and date. To scroll from month to month, swipe right. After selecting the date, you select the time. You can search a proud time frame like breakfast or lunch or a specific time.
Once you choose the specific time, a list of restaurants with availability will show up. If you’d like to look for a specific park, cuisine, service, price range, etc., you can use the filter at the bottom right (circled in red below).
When you find what you want, click on the time frame. This will bring you to the review and confirm page. You will have to provide a main point of contact, name, phone number, and credit card.
A credit card is required to guarantee your reservation. You will only be charged if you do not cancel your reservation in the specific amount of time allowed or are a no-show. For any questions on this, click on the “View the Guest Policies” for all of their rules.
After confirming, the reservation will now show up under the My Plans section of the app. Now, if anything changes from when you book until your trip, you can easily cancel and make new reservations on the app.
We will eventually have some posts regarding certain restaurants and quick service places in Disney we’ve been to…which is most!
This isn’t something that absolutely has to be booked 180 days out, just to very popular places. This includes Chef Mickey’s, Ohana, and Be Our Guest. Additionally, if you’re booking for a large group, the earlier the better for all restaurants. Some restaurants are better for large groups, post to follow about Disney with large groups.
So, if you’re much closer to your trip, no need to panic, there will be many other options available. If something you want is booked, continue to check the app, as a reservation can open up.
There’s also the option of the Disney dining plan. This is usually an additional cost, although Disney does offer free dining plan promotions throughout the year. There will be another post regarding the pros and cons of this.
Buying Park Tickets
This is something that is totally dependent on your family needs and preferences. There are many different ticket options. Don’t get stressed, step by step it’s simple. You got this!
First, you’ll need to figure out how many days you plan on going to a Disney park during your stay. Personally, we prefer to work in a day or two to spend at our resort, depending on the length of our stay. The resorts have so many fun amenities, it’s worth it to take some time to enjoy those. There’s also Disney Springs that has a ton of things to do, and no part ticket is necessary.
Once you know how many days, you’ll need to decide if you want to do a regular ticket or park hopper. Here are the differences:
- Regular (one park per day) park ticket: This type of ticket allows you to go to one park a day. You can come and go as many times as you like to that one park that day.
- Park hopper ticket: This type of ticket is more expensive than the regular park ticket. It allows you to go to more than one park a day. You can split your time however you choose, coming and going however you please between the four parks.
Traditionally, the more days you book, the cheaper net daily cost. You can price this out on the Disney website or app. Prices do vary based on time of the year, so be sure to keep an eye on that. Additionally, there are offers throughout the year that may lower ticket prices.
If you’re planning on going to Disney more than once in a calendar year, an annual pass may be a cost-effective option. We made the mistake once of going twice in one year and then, after the fact, crunched the numbers to realize we could’ve saved money with an annual pass! There are different options when it comes to annual passes, this information is all available on Disney’s website. Additionally, if you’re a Florida resident, there are many annual pass options, many of which are quite cost effective. We have purchased non-Florida resident annual passes multiple times and will share our opinion on this in a future post.
Booking Fast Passes
If you’re not familiar with Disney, you may have no idea what I’m talking about. Basically, when you book a fast pass, it saves your spot in line and you do not have to wait in the stand-by line.
If you’re staying on Disney property and a few other off-property hotels that offer this service too, you can book your fast passes 60 days out. You will receive an email reminder of this from Disney.
If you’re staying at all other off property hotels, you can book 30 days out. However, nothing can be booked until tickets have been purchased.
To book your fast pass, on your My Disney Experience app, select “Get FastPass+”
Then, you will have to select who in your party will be included on the fast pass. All or certain guests can be picked. Once they are picked, click Continue.
The next screen will have you choose the day, then park (If you have dining booked at a certain park, be sure you’re booking a fast pass at the same park. Unless you aren’t set to your dining reservations and plan on changing, depending on your fast passes. So many steps, I know!).
The format of booking a fast pass on the app is similar to booking dining. You can search by time of day or by a specific time. Fast passes for the popular rides WILL book up for all time frames, especially during peak crowd times. Below is an example of what the screen will look like.
After you select, you will have to confirm on the next screen you’re all set!
Fast passes are scheduled in one hour time frames. You can go on the ride anytime within that hour. You can book three fast passes, max.
Fast Passes can be a little tricky when booking for Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom. Magic Kingdom is the only park, as of now, that does not have tiered fast passes. The other parks allow you to book one in their top tier and two in the other, meaning you can book fast passes for any three experiences/rides. Here’s an example of what that looks like when booking the tiered fast passes at the three other parks. (Tons of detail on this on our YouTube video)
The top two that you can choose one of are what we are calling ‘tier one’.
Below, the others are that you can book two of.
While at the park, once you have used your three fast passes, you can book more on the My Disney Experience app. We suggest booking fast passes in the morning (if you’re doing the park in the morning) so you can get more later in the day. The exception to this would be if there’s a ride you’re set on going on and is only available later in the day, then try to book your others prior, so as soon as you finish the high demand right, you can book more.
When you’re at the park and using your fast pass, you will go to the entrance labeled Fast Pass, scan your Magic Band (more on those below), and skip through the queue and hop on the ride.
A few years ago, Disney World implemented the magic band system. These things are great. They are bracelets that you wear that are tied to everything…your park ticket, fast passes, room key and room charges. They are linked with the app.
If you book an on property resort, you will receive an email when it’s time to order your magic bands. Follow the link and you will be able to customize the color for each person in your party.
A few weeks before your trip, you’ll get some magical mail with the magic bands enclosed. It’s always so exciting when they arrive! Be sure to put them in a safe spot so you do not forget them when you’re packing.
There are two sizes to the magic band. The first is the large size that it comes in. The second option is to peel the dark gray portion off, leaving you with a smaller band that will fit kids much better or any adult that’s like me with small wrists.
Of course there’s an option to spend some money on these “free” Disney items. Band-it, charms and sliders, are sold online and in the parks to accessorize your magic band. The charms are super cute, but we’ve lost a lot over the years, as they tend to pop off without you know. The sliders are a better option for the long run, but aren’t usually are cute or festive.
Here are the bandits we got when we went during Halloween. By the end of our trip, we only had Minnie left. The sliders below were purchased years ago. We still have all of them. As you can see, the bandits are cuter, but, until they develop a new way for them to click on, not worth it, in my opinion.
There are magic bands for sale in the parks. They have a ton of different designs. Some have characters, themed after certain movies, holidays, etc. Limited edition magic bands are also available. Just be prepared to spend at least $15 on the plain colors and up to $50 for some of the special limited edition ones.
The magic band is used by scanning the little Mickey head. At the parks, there are stands that you scan then to get into the parks and use your Fast Passes. At your hotel, you use this as your room key. While anywhere on Disney property, including Disney Springs, you can use your Magic Band for purchases, by scanning at checkout. You will establish a pin to use this option. If you have teens that may be on their own at the parks and you’re nervous about them charging a ton, you can block their bands for all purchases or set a limit. We’ve been offered this option when checking into our hotel.
Start your vacation countdown!
Okay, maybe you’ve been counting down already, but once these main aspects of your Disney trip are set, you can relax until it’s time to go! Or, if you’re like me, start planning coordinating family outfits. 😉
One way our family gets excited for vacation, is watching videos on the places we are heading. After watching these videos for years, we decided to start making our own! Check out our Disney playlist, with our vlogs from our Disney travels. We hope you enjoy them. Don’t forget to subscribe to our channel, Destination DeRo, to keep following our adventures!
As mentioned, this is a very broad overview and later posts will delve into specifics with hotels, dining, rides, planning your day at the park. Stay tuned. 🙂