Preparing for Your First Disney World Trip
Disney planning is overwhelming, especially if this is your first Disney trip. Luckily, all the research and preparations are worth it when the magical vacation finally comes around. So, here are some tips for planning a trip to Disney World to help you make the most of your adventure.
1 – Choosing When To Visit
When to plan a Disney vacation is always tricky. Of course, it’s most convenient to go when your kids are out of school, such as winter break, spring break, or summer break, but unfortunately, those are the times everyone plans to visit. So, if possible, it’s best to take off work and school for a few days.
Here are the least busy Disney World dates:
- September after Labor Day
- January after New Year’s
- Beginning of February
If you’re hoping to visit during an event, such as Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween, these dates might not work for you. If you have to book it closer to a holiday, try to go during weekdays instead of weekends.
Also, temperature is an important thing to consider. Summer seems convenient since the kids are off of school, but it’s also the hottest time of the year, reaching over 90 degrees Fahrenheit on many days. While it might be a good temperature for a pool day, it’s not fun to stand in line or walk around all day in that heat. Winter is much more tolerable, staying around 70 degrees.
2 – Deciding Which Parks
Before you book your trip and buy your tickets, you’ll need to choose how you want to spend your time. You could spend all day at a single park if you wanted, but many people prefer to visit several parks over the course of multiple days. So, here’s what you can expect at the different parks.
If you’ve never been to Disney World and you’re traveling with kids, planning to visit Magic Kingdom is your best bet. It’s the most well-known park, and it has the most rides. Most of the rides are dark rides, meaning a ride with a vehicle on a guided track. Dark rides usually don’t have heigh restrictions, so they’re great for all ages. Even the roller coasters at this park are tamer than most amusement park coasters.
Magic Kingdom is also known for its parades and fireworks displays. Plus, there’s no shortage of dining options, souvenir shops, and character meet-and-greets. You could spend an entire day in Magic Kingdom and still not run out of activities.
Most Popular Magic Kingdom Rides:
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
- Haunted Mansion
- Space Mountain
- Splash Mountain
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Jungle Cruise
EPCOT stands for “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.” It’s best for older kids and adults because it has a lot of intense rides, specialty dining, and educational attractions. EPCOT is best known for the World Showcase, which has themed pavilions for 11 different countries, and it’s a great way to try food from around the world.
The International Festival of the Arts, the International Flower & Garden Festival, the International Food & Wine Festival, and the International Festival of the Holidays are the four main celebrations at EPCOT, which are some of the most exciting times to visit.
Most Popular EPCOT Rides:
- Test Track
- Frozen Ever After
- Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind
- Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure
- Soarin’ Around the World
- Spaceship Earth
Hollywood Studios, which used to be called MGM, is all about movies. In its early days, this park used to be primarily shows, so you’d have to plan your day ahead to catch them all. Now, it has lots of new additions, including Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
It’s seen as a great park for older kids because some of its main attractions are thrill rides, but there are attractions that all ages can appreciate.
Most Popular Hollywood Studios Rides:
- The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
- Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster
- Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway
- Toy Story Mania
- Slink Dog Dash
- Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
Animal Kingdom is like an amusement park mixed with a zoo, so it’s perfect for animal-loving visitors. It doesn’t have as many rides, but as you walk around the park, you’ll see lots of animal exhibits. Of course, most of the rides and shows are animal-themed too.
A popular activity for young visitors is Wilderness Explorers, which is an interactive adventure where kids can earn badges throughout the park.
Most Popular Animal Kingdom Rides:
- Avatar: Flight of Passage
- Kilimanjaro Safaris
- Expedition Everest
- Kali River Rapids
- Na’vi River Journey
Disney also has two water parks: Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. Typhoon Lagoon is geared toward older kids while Blizzard Beach is a snow-themed park that’s great for young kids. They’re both open year-round, but they will sometimes close for refurbishment in the winter months. Keep in mind that it’s not always hot during Florida winters, so warmer months are usually more comfortable for these parks.
3 – Buying Park Tickets
It’s always a good idea to buy Disney tickets in advance. You can purchase them on the Disney World website. While you can buy tickets at the gate, the parks can sell out, so it’s easier to reserve a spot in advance. There are many places claiming to sell Disney discount tickets, but they’re often scams, so it’s safest to buy them directly from Disney.
The tickets usually cost between $104 and $160 per person per day. These prices will vary based on when you visit, and you can get a discounted daily price by purchasing multiple days. It could be an additional $65 to $85 per ticket with park hopper options.
4 – Booking a Hotel
If you want to plan a trip to Disney World, you’ll need a place to stay. There are lots of hotels, and some are on Disney’s property while others are in Orlando nearby. Consider both on-site and off-site hotels when planning a Disney vacation.
Most travelers prefer Disney hotels because they’re Disney-themed and have transportation to the parks. Guests staying at Disney hotels also get special perks, such as extra park hours in the morning.
Booking at a Disney hotel also provides more package options. You can book your tickets, hotel, and dining options all at once and potentially get discounts while doing so.
That being said, Disney hotels aren’t cheap, especially the most convenient and the most beautiful ones. These hotels are great if you want the ultimate Disney experience and you don’t have your own transportation, but you can expect the cost to add up quickly.
Hotels Near Disney
If you have your own transportation, there are lots of hotel options outside of Disney World that are simpler and more affordable. A few have free shuttles to the parks. If you’re part of a loyalty rewards program for a certain hotel, that could also help you save some cash.
Staying at other hotels is also beneficial if you want to do other things in Orlando besides Disney. The Orlando area has lots of big attractions that you may want to check out while you’re in the area. Even if you stay at a regular hotel, your Disney trip will still be magical.
5 – Considering Transportation
When choosing a hotel, you’ll also want to consider what transportation you’ll use. If you made the vacation a road trip, then you may have your own car and not need to worry about this section, but if you’re flying into Orlando, you’ll need to figure out how you’re going to get places.
Rental cars are a great way to ensure you always have transportation. If you’re visiting other areas of Orlando during your trip, it makes the most sense. The only downside to using your own car or a rental car is that you’ll have to pay for parking at the parks and resorts.
Standard theme park parking is $25 per day, but you can travel between parks without additional fees. Most Disney resorts charge $15 to $25 per night for overnight parking. It’s free to park at some resorts during the day if you’re just visiting.
If you don’t feel like driving during your vacation, you can use rideshare services like Uber and Lyft to get you around Orlando. They can only stop at designated pick up and drop off spots.
Most drivers who live in the area are used to tourists, so they will likely know where the pick up and drop off spots are. Newer drivers may be inexperienced driving in Disney, which could make the commute longer. Not every rideshare experience will be the same.
Some Disney World hotels take advantage of bus services that transport guests between the resorts and parks. Guests can also use them to travel between parks by waiting at one of the designated pickup points. Animal Kingdom doesn’t link to any of the below transportation options, so you’ll need to use a bus, rideshare, or personal vehicle.
The Monorail not only takes you from ticketing to Magic Kingdom, but it can also send you between Magic Kingdom and EPCOT. A different Monorail can take guests to the Contemporary, Grand Floridian, and Polynesian Resorts.
The Skyliner is a newer transportation option that links EPCOT and Hollywood Studios. It also has stops at the Art of Animation, Caribbean Beach, Pop Century, and Riviera Resorts.
Some resorts have access to boat transportation, such as a ferry boat or water taxi. There are boats that travel to Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, and Hollywood Studios.
6 – Packing
Don’t put packing off until the last minute. Since you’ll be spending a lot of time in the parks, you’ll want to come prepared. You can bring bags into the park with food and water, but they will be checked before you enter.
Here are some essential items to pack:
- Travel documents
- Park passes
- Clothing for each day – consider the weather! You may need sweatshirts in the winter or rain jackets during rainy seasons.
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Phone and/or camera
- Phone charger
- Comfortable backpack
- Water bottles
- Swimsuit and towel (if you plan to swim at your hotel or visit the water parks)
These are just the essentials, so you will likely need to add lots to this list to cater to your family’s needs. When packing, remember to leave some spare room in your suitcase since it’s likely that you’ll come home with souvenirs.
7 – Planning Your Park Itinerary
If planning ahead isn’t your thing, you may be tempted to wing it at Disney. You can certainly have a great Disney trip without planning your itinerary, but you may not get to experience all your favorite rides.
At the very least, you’ll need to decide which parks you’re going to be at each day. If you only booked one park, that decision should be easy. Yet, if you have a park hopper or multiple days, you’ll need to think about how much time you’ll spend at each park and how you’ll travel to the next one.
How Much Can You Handle Per Day?
Some of the parks are open for as long as 14 hours, but the hours vary on different days. It may be tempting to spend that entire time at Disney, but the truth is that most people will get burnt out before the day is done. If you’re traveling with kids, it will be even harder to keep them energized throughout the whole experience.
Many guests sleep in a little or leave the parks early at night. Others take a nap halfway through the day or spend more time sitting down to eat. Don’t feel bad if you choose to do some of these options because it’s normal to need relaxing time during a hectic vacation.
If you don’t want to leave early or take breaks, you should schedule some down time in the parks by visiting more relaxing attractions and catching shows, especially ones with air conditioning.
How Tall Are Your Kids?
Consider how tall your kids are before entering the park. Some rides will require guests to be 32, 38, 40, or 44 inches to ride. These height restrictions are for the child’s safety.
Luckily, there are lots of rides without height restrictions, especially in Magic Kingdom. So, even young children can have a great experience.
What are Your Must-See Attractions?
Before you arrive at the parks, make a list of the attractions you want to make time for. Many of the most popular rides have long waits, so you’ll need to strategically decide when to go on them. Planning when to visit your favorite Disney attractions can help you map out the rest of your day.
If your party can’t agree on must-see attractions, you may want to split up during the day. For example, if your favorite is Tower of Terror, you might want to find a kid-friendly activity for the rest of your family to do at that time if they’re too scared to join you. Some rides have single rider lines, which make the wait go faster if you’re riding alone.
Best Times to Catch Popular Rides
Currently, the rides at Disney World with consistently long wait times are:
- Avatar: Flight of Passage
- Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
- Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
- Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure
Of course, the wait times will vary based on the day, but the newer rides almost always have the longest wait times. Yet, there are a few classics that always have surprisingly long waits, such as Peter Pan’s Flight.
If you have extra park hours because of your hotel, then those are the best times to catch busy rides since less people are in the park. Even if you don’t, hopping in line right as the park opens for everyone can also get you a shorter wait time. If you know you’re going to end the night at a park, you can hop in line a minute before close. You’ll get to wait in line and get on the ride even though the park is closed so you don’t have to waste park hours waiting.
Big events like fireworks and parades can also make lines shorter. Most people don’t want to miss the iconic Magic Kingdom fireworks, but they can make wait times go from an hour to ten minutes sometimes.
Should You Buy the Disney Genie Service?
The Disney Genie Service is the current “fast pass” for Disney World. If you pay $15 per person per day, you can get access to the Lightning Lane for one ride at a time. Some of the busiest rides will only let you buy the Lightning Lane separately. If you don’t mind spending a little extra cash, it can help you get on more rides during your trip.
8 – Eating Meals
At some point during the day, you’re going to get hungry. So, you’ll want to have some idea of what your meal options are. If you know you’re going to eat a certain number of meals in the parks, you can purchase a Disney dining plan.
Quick service dining is the most common option at Disney World. It’s the equivalent of fast food, where you order at the counter and pick up your food. Some of these restaurants allow you to order food on your phone to make the process easier. These dining options are the fastest if you don’t want to waste too much time eating, and they have plenty of menu items that cater to picky kids.
Table service means sit-down options where you order at your table and spend more time at the restaurant. Some of these require reservations and some may have a long wait time. Disney World recommends reservations for table service restaurants because it will guarantee that you get a table in a timely manner.
Packing Your Own Lunch
Like all theme park food, Disney restaurants aren’t cheap. So, if you want to save some time and money on food, you can pack some sandwiches in your bag and eat them while you’re waiting in line.
9 – Visiting Other Orlando Attractions
A lot of families spend all their time at Disney during their trip, but Orlando has lots of exciting attractions. Within Disney, there’s Disney Springs, the Disney Boardwalk, and miniature golf.
Here are some Orlando attractions outside of Disney:
- Universal Orlando
- SeaWorld Orlando
- ICON Park
- Discovery Cove
- The Florida Mall
- Lake Eola Park
- WonderWorks Orlando
- Orlando Science Center
Frequently Asked Questions
Before you begin Disney World trip planning, here are some questions you might be wondering.
When Should You Start Disney World Planning?
As soon as you know you’re going to Disney World, you should start some planning. Most guests start planning their trip six months in advance.
What is the Cheapest Disney World Resort?
The Disney All-Star Movies Resort is the cheapest, starting at $117 per night.
What is the Most Common Disney World Trip Length?
For guests that want to do as much as possible, 4 to 5 days is the most popular. Most out-of-state visitors go for at least two days since it’s hard to do everything you want in a single day.
Disney World is one of the most magical places on Earth, so it’s worth visiting at least once in a lifetime. Yet, planning can be overwhelming, so follow these tips for how to plan a trip to Disney World if you want the trip go smoothly. If you’re still not sure where to start, you could hire a Disney vacation planner.
Many guests agree that adult-only Disney trips are the least stressful to plan. No matter who you’re traveling with, there will be something for everyone to enjoy!