Diswithkids Disney Blog

How To Plan A Vacation To Disney

[fa icon="calendar"] Fri, Jan 08, 2016 @ 06:30 AM / by Sally Black

Sally Black


 You're searching for an affordable and fun vacation that you're family will love.Disney World offers so many different vacation choices that it can quickly become overwhelming.    

To prevent stress and get the MOST out of your Disney World Vacation...You need a plan!  You've come to the right place. We've created a timeline along with answers to the most popular FAQs about Disney Vacations. Let's get started.....

Professional travel agents use a plan to create perfect vacations for their clients time after time.  Most people do not understand how travel agents work. If they did, they could certainly save themselves money, worry, hassles and a huge amount of time. This is especially true with the many "moving parts" to a Walt Disney World Vacation.  Whether you book your Disney Vacation yourself OR use an Experienced Disney travel agent, you'll pay the same price of your trip is the same.  Actually - agents can often help you save some money and time with their advice. They will insure you don't over spend on features that you don't need while maximizing your time in the parks.  That said, many folks really enjoy "Do it yourself" vacation planning when it comes to Disney and that's okay too.   You can have all the planning fun. Just let your travel agent make your reservations and think of them as your partner when it comes to suggestions, advice, final touches and any troubleshooting.

Like the old saying...if you put the cart in front of the horse, you'll go no where very fast.  The same is true with a Disney Vacation.  It's easy to make vacation planning decisions if you make these decisions  step by step and in a logical order.

As you read along here, you'll see there is a method to how everything comes together. There also needs to be a time line for when decisions need to be made. Having a deadline for when specific decisions need to be made will help to keep you focused while avoiding any disappointments.

12 to 9 Months Prior to your Vacation

People often dream of visiting Walt Disney World for years.  That said, you need to start ACTIVELY making your travel plans about 1 year to 9 months prior to your visit.  The way to begin your travel planning is to start by answering these questions....

1. Why are you going to Disney World? - The answer to this question will help you prioritize when it comes to many of your future decisions.  Will you be celebrating a special event for a particular family member?  Is now the time to visit while your kids still believe in magic? Are you planning a Disney Wedding? Maybe you and your teens haven't been to the parks since they were little...Can you see how the focus of each of these types of vacations would be very different?

2. Who is going to Disney World? -  To get accurate pricing you'll need the exact number of adults and children along with the ages of the kids at the time of your vacation.   Kids over the age of 10 must pay adult admission prices to get into the parks so birthdays do have a bearing on prices.  Kids under the age of 17 stay free at Disney hotels but once they turn 18, they count towards the cost of the hotel room.  Many hotels limit the number of adults and kids sharing one hotel room so the number of guests effects your hotel choices too.

3.  Where do you want to stay? - When it comes to choosing a hotel for your Walt Disney World vacation you'll hear terms like "inside the park" or staying "on site". Basically this means staying in one of the 25 themed hotels owned and operated by Disney located within the 50 square mile Walt Disney World Resort area.  Disney Resort prices vary from around $100 per night basic value All Star hotel room to lavish suites and villas that cost thousands per night (and everything in between). There many perks to staying "in the park" at a Disney Resort hotel...

  • Free Round trip airport transportation from Orlando (MCO) airport on board Disney's Magic Express
  • Free baggage handling with Magic Express
  • Free unlimited transportation from your Disney hotel to any of the Disney parks
  • Free Extra Magic hours where Disney Resort guests get into the parks one hour early or stay two hours later than posted park hours.
  • Magic Bands linked to My Disney Experience app for room key, dining, fast passes, payments, etc.
  • FastPass+ access to save your place in line 60 days before your vacation starts
  • Disney dining plans are only for sale to Disney Resort guests.
  • Advanced dining reservations 
  • Free package delivery - so you're not schlepping souvenirs all through the parks
  • Free Parking

That said, many guests prefer to stay "outside the parks" or "off site". This could mean staying couch surfing with local family members or friends, booking a vacation home or booking a room at a nearby Disney "Good Neighbor" hotel.  Expect to pay about 20% more to stay at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel compared to a good neighbor property. Each of these options comes with it's own set of pros and cons. That said, considering the price of admission to Disney parks verses the extra time spent traveling into the parks, parking and time waiting, Disney resorts often work out to be a much better VALUE for the money you're spending.  Also when doing price comparisons, don't just compare the side by side cost of hotel rooms. To get an accurate cost comparison, be sure to factor in airport transportation, park transportation, parking, meal costs etc. That will help you make the right decisions for your family.

4. How Much Do You Want To Spend? -  Having a vacation budget will help you plan, save, buy wisely and help you enjoy a more relaxed vacation.  The problem is that many parents don't understand how much a Disney vacation costs, making it hard to budget.  Plan on spending at least $150 per guest per day on average. Prices of course will vary with high and low seasons but use this number as a basic starting point. This includes a stay at a Disney resort, daily park admission and quick service dining. 

5. When Is the BEST time to Visit Disney World? -  Think school calendar...anytime the kids are out of school prices will rise at Disney.  The most expensive weeks to visit are Thanksgiving, December Holidays and Spring Break weeks. Summer vacation is next in line, especially from Mid June until the end of July. If it works for your family the best time of year to visit is September. This is when you will find the most affordable rates, the least amount of crowds and often other perks like free dining packages. When most kids are back in school the parks are less crowded. In addition, there are really fun special events going on to help bolster attendance like Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party and the Epcot Food and Wine Festival.  Disney usually publishes their hotel rates and park admission prices about 1 year in advance. By making your reservations about 1 year in advance you can take advantage of our free vacation payment plans which can help to make your vacation even more affordable.  Airlines usually publish their schedules and rates about 9 months in advance and usually require payment in full when making your reservations.  To get the best availability, book your Disney hotel, park passes and dining plan as soon as they are available and then add flights as soon as those rates are published.

OK so let's take a break for a reality check with your Disney Vacation Plan.

By now you should....

  • know who is going on this vacation.
  • Have a basic budget or a pretty good idea of your vacation costs.
  • Know your travel dates.
  • Decide on your hotel choice
  • Know your "why" for this vacation

With this information sorted it's time for you to make your reservations.  If you're staying at a Disney World resort, you'll need a $200 deposit to hold your Disney hotel, park tickets and dining plan. if you are staying off site, deposit requirements will vary and be determined by your specific type of accommodations. Payment in full for your Disney Vacation package will be due 30 days prior to travel. If you've made your deposit in advance, Vacationkids also offers Free Vacation Layaway which can help you save too.

If you plan to drive to the park - you're good for now. If you plan to FLY to Walt Disney World you'll need to book your airline tickets.  Most airlines publish their schedules and rates about 330 days in advance. This is when you'll want to book to get the best prices and seat selection.  Airline tickets must be paid in full at the time of purchase.

Travel protection insurance is HIGHLY recommended, especially if you're planning to fly.  Having travel insurance will not only protect your vacation investment and peace of mind.

Now that you have your reservations in place, you have the foundation for your vacation. Think of this like the way a Disney Animator works...you have to have guidelines in place to do a rough sketch of any Disney character before you can add color and bring them to life.  The same things need to happen with your vacation.  You need to have a framework in place before you can start adding all the features that really customize and make your vacation experiences unique and one of a kind.

Now is the time to start adding the color and sparkle to your Disney Vacation by creating your daily park plan...

9 to 6 Months Prior to Departure

6. Which Parks/What Days -   Quick Review here...Walt Disney World consists of 4 theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios) and encompasses over 50 square miles with 46 attractions. There are two types of park admission tickets - Basic admission where you are allowed to visit or re-enter only one park per day or a park hopper pass which allows to to visit any or all of the parks all on the same day.  Guests can spend an entire day in each park and still not see all the attractions and shows so you will need to prioritize in order to see your favorites. 

Disney World Operating Hours will give you park hours, events and show schedules for every day of the year along with which park will offer "extra magic hours" each day. Extra magic hours is one of the perks offered to Disney Resort guests allowed to either enter 1 extra hour early or stay 2 hours later at a specific park each day. Often extra park hours give Disney resort guest shorter wait times to see some of the "must see" attractions.  Depending your your "Why" and specific priorities, you may want to avoid extra magic hours and visit an alternative park.

7. Sign up for My Disney Experience -  My Disney Experience is a digital dashboard and phone app that links to your Magic bands.  Make sure you have an account, know how to access it and have downloaded the app to your phone.  If you're staying in the park at a Walt Disney World Resort, this is how you can view your reservations, keep track of dining reservations, reserve fast passes, Room keys and so much more.  If you are traveling with other family members, friends or as part of a larger group, you'll need to designate a group leader and link everyone's reservations together.

8. Disney Dining Reservations -  180 days prior to arrival

Tip: Use a date calculator to keep you right on time.

Dining experiences are a HUGE part of the fun at Walt Disney World. From fast food to foodie fabulous, from classic to exotic, from iron chefs to dinner with Goofy there is something to please every palate.  Disney dining reservations can be made 180 days prior to arrival. This can make all the difference when it comes to getting a seat at the table for some "must do" character dining experiences.

Now that you know which parks you'll be visiting each day, it will be easier to help you figure out dates and times for some of your preferred Disney Dining experiences.  PLEASE do not underestimate the demand for some of these experiences!!!!  If dinner with a princess is HIGH on your priority list then do make your reservations as soon as possible to avoid disappointments. Have your heart is set on a romantic fireworks dinner at the California Grill atop the Contemporary Resort, then do not leave this to chance.  If you are working with one of our vacationkids Disney travel agents, just give us a list of your preferences and we'll be happy to make your dining reservations for you.  Otherwise, you'll need to visit Disney Dining Reservations online or call call (407) WDW-DINE or (407) 939-3463.  Please know that restaurants will require credit card deposits. 

60 days prior to your vacation

 9. Create a Daily Touring Plan 

You've set up and have access to My Disney Experience - check

You know which parks you'll be visiting each day - check

You have figured out any dining reservations for each day - check

Sure, you can just go to the parks and wing it. Did you know having a daily touring plan in place can save you up to 4 hours of standing around waiting in line?  One great way to do this is by using FastPass+.  FastPass+  allows you to make "reservations" for a specific time to ride up to three attractions per day.  Disney resort guests can make their FastPass+ reservations 60 days before arriving.  Other guests can do so 30 days in advance, so long as their ticket is connected to their My Disney Experience.  You'll log into your My Disney Experience account, make your ride reservations and voila, you're ticket times will be automatically loaded onto your magic bands.  You'll have a 1 hour window to visit that particular ride and basically walk right on with very little or no waiting.

You'll see a choice for MY ITINERARY with My Disney Experience.  All of your Dining Reservations that have been made should already be visible there.  All of your FastPass+ ride reservations should also be listed. At this point you can start filling in events like parades and fireworks along with other attractions that you'll want to visit to round out your day at Walt Disney World. Touring plans Disney World apps are another great resource to help you customize your Disney itinerary.  This one is particularly useful calculating wait times for specific rides.

Do you see how this plan starts to all come together?  In addition, your itinerary is now completely customized to the wants, needs and wish lists of all the people in your family.

10.  Adding that EXTRA bit of Magic -  Order flowers for to your room. Balloons and a cake for a special birthday. Get your personalized, embroidered Mickey Ears ready to go. After dark animal safari. Adding memory maker photo package to remember your fun memories together. Room decorations. Renting a party boat.  Getting the autograph of that beloved character. Nascar driving experience. Tinkerbell gift ideas. countdown calendars...the list here goes on and on. Depending on your imagination, priorities, wish list and budget anything is possible.

Again, think of your travel agent as your own personal fairy god mother.  We can wave our magic wands and take care of everything.  This article touches on some of the basics.  We have plenty more Disney Tips to offer so talk with us today.

I Need Help Planning A Disney Vacation


Topics: Disney Vacation

Sally Black

Written by Sally Black

Sally is the Founder of Vacationkids.com Travel Agency and author of the book "Fearless Family Vacations". She is also the Director of Travel Agent Initiatives and Training at The Family Travel Association.