Planning a Disney World vacation can be very overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be! In fact, it can be fun! When I planned our first family vacation to Florida, I had a lot to learn. And after the fact, I realized a lot of things I would have done differently.
So if you’re ready to plan your Walt Disney World vacation, this guide is for you! It will cover all the basics of planning your visit. Plus, I will be updating it regularly to reflect any new and exciting changes!
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Planning a Disney World vacation in 2023? Be sure to check out our guide to all that the Walt Disney World Resort has to offer this year including the opening of TRON Lightcycle Run Roller Coaster, updated nighttime spectaculars, and more!
1) Choose a Date
Depending on your circumstances, this could either be the easiest step… or the most difficult. Here are some things to consider before deciding on a date:
- Work/School Schedules – My husband and I both have jobs that make certain times of the year more difficult to travel. If you’re traveling with kids, school and/or sports schedules may also be a factor. **Tip: While it may seem smart to plan a Disney vacation during school breaks when your kids are already out of school, keep in mind that everyone else will probably be thinking the same idea. The parks will always be busier during school breaks and major holidays!
- Holidays – Speaking of holidays, Disney is known for going all out! So keep in mind that Disney strives to make the most out of each season. For example, the Halloween season typically begins early-mid September and lasts through October 31st. And Christmas decorations typically arrive early-mid November. So if you’re itching to take part in all of the Christmas festivities at Walt Disney World, your window of opportunity may be wider than you may think!
- Events – In recent years especially, Disney has made an effort to fill each and every season with some amazing events. Is there an event you really want to experience? Or perhaps events you wish to avoid due to higher crowds? When selecting dates for your vacation, be sure to check on possible events occurring throughout your visit.
- Budget/Travel Costs – If you’ve ever purchased airline tickets during peak travel times, you will understand why this is on the list. I often check flight prices as well as hotel costs before settling down on specific dates.
- Weather – On our last vacation to Walt Disney World, we experienced everything from a 50-degree morning to an 80+ degree afternoon… all in the course of the first three days! And while this wasn’t typical weather for the month of January, it’s smart to pay attention to what the weather is typically like during your prospective vacation.
And if you are still having trouble narrowing down a specific date (or even if you already know when you want to go), be sure to visit our monthly guides below! They will give you an idea of what to expect each month in terms of crowds, weather, events, closures, and more!
2) Decide How Long You Want to Stay
This will ultimately depend on three factors:
- How much do you want to see and do? – Are you planning on visiting all four theme parks? Are there any other parks, water parks, or sites you want to see in Florida? Do you want to have a built-in “rest” day from the parks?
- How long can you get away from work/school? – Obviously, some of us will find it easier to get away than others. For example, we homeschool our daughters, so time away from school isn’t as much of a factor as it would be for others.
- How much do you want to spend? – Needless to say, the longer your vacation is, the more it will cost. Your budget may be a huge contributing factor to the length of your vacation.
3) Decide On a Hotel and Book Your Room
This is probably my favorite part! When it comes to Walt Disney World in Florida, you have MANY Disney resort options. And I highly recommend staying in a Disney Resort for your stay in Florida! There are numerous perks, and they have resorts in nearly every price range. While you may be able to find a cheaper option outside of Disney property, in Walt Disney World, the resort perks are typically worth the extra cost.
To help you decide, be sure to check out our guides to the Disney Resorts:
Disney has an excellent relationship with many of the neighboring hotels. So if you do decide to stay off-property, there are many options for all budgets. Just be sure to look into what they have to offer in terms of transportation and other Disney World perks as many do offer free bus service and other special amenities you wouldn’t want to miss out on!
Still can’t decide which hotel is right for you? Consider a split stay! Staying in more than one resort allows you to see more and possibly even save some money in the process. Want to stay at a Deluxe Resort but can’t afford it for the entire duration of the trip? Start off in a Value Resort and switch part-way through your vacation!
Disney even makes this super easy by transferring your luggage for you. On the morning of your resort transfer, take your luggage down to Bell Services and let them know your transferring resorts. Give them the name of your next resort, and head off to the parks for the day. Luggage is usually transferred in mid-afternoon and should be to your new resort around 5:00 PM. (Keep this in mind as you will not have access to your luggage until it’s transferred.)
4) Purchase Your Park Tickets
If you’re staying at a Walt Disney World Resort, it may be wise to add park tickets to your hotel stay when you book your room. Otherwise, this step could technically wait until a bit closer to your vacation. There are many different options when it comes to what type of tickets to purchase. You can add on a park hopper option to switch between theme parks in a single day, add water park days, purchase Genie+, and even add on special event tickets.
**It is worth noting that currently, Disney requires a park reservation for each day you plan to go to the parks. Normally, you can wait to purchase your park tickets until a little closer to your vacation. But currently, you do need to have tickets purchased in order to make a reservation (which you definitely want to do sooner rather than later!) It is my recommendation to get your tickets early and make your reservations as soon as you can… especially if planning to visit during a peak season.
Disney park tickets can be purchased through the Walt Disney World website. Another option that we love is Undercover Tourist. This trusted third-party seller offers wholesale tickets at a discounted price. The tickets can be linked to your My Disney Experience app account and function exactly the same as tickets purchased from Disney.
5) Plan Your Days
With four theme parks, two water parks, and a large shopping district, there is definitely a lot to see and do during your vacation! Now, this doesn’t mean you have to do it all. Part of planning a Disney World vacation is knowing what you want to see and do when you get there! I also highly recommend including a rest day or two to spend at your hotel or visiting Disney Springs… especially if you have little ones.
- Choose which parks you want to visit.
- Decide how many days you want in each park.
- Build in rest days (optional, but highly recommended for longer vacations).
- Be strategic and map out what days you will be in each park.
It used to be that there were specific days that were better than others to visit the parks. This is still the case to some extent. For example, the weekends tend to be busier at Epcot and Hollywood Studios as locals tend to visit these parks more often than the others. (Hollywood Studios is the park with the newest attractions, and Epcot is a favorite spot for locals because of its dining options.)
There were also Early Magic Hours where only certain parks would be open early or late for Disney Resort guests on specific dates. This definitely made that particular park more crowded! With Early Magic Hours now a thing of the past, crowds are a bit more spread out… at least for the time being.
6) Plan Your Dining and Make Reservations
In order to plan your dining, you need to know which days you will be in which parks FIRST. And if you want to dine at a popular table service restaurant, you will definitely want to book your reservations in advance. *Prior to the pandemic, you could make reservations for your trip starting 180 days out. (…which I highly recommended for popular options such as Be Our Guest Restaurant!) Currently, you can make reservations 60 days out.
Planning your quick service meals can also be helpful. I did this on our last family trip to the parks, and it was so nice to have a plan! I was even able to time our FastPass+ reservations to be near our dining choices just before mealtimes. We saved a ton of walking this way!
Check out our guides to Disney World Dining:
7) Map Out Your Days in the Park
While it may seem like a nice idea to visit the parks without a plan, having a plan will alleviate a LOT of stress. It will also decrease your wait times in lines, allow you to eat at your favorite restaurants, and give you more time to experience all that the parks have to offer. And did I mention less walking?
Here are some park attraction guides to get you started:
8) Add Your Final Touches in Planning Your Disney World Vacation!
Remember when I said that planning your Walt Disney World vacation should be fun? This is hands-down the most fun part! Once you’ve booked your hotel, secured your dining reservations, and mapped out your days in the parks, it’s time to put the finishing touches on your vacation.
For my family, this meant planning our daily attire. We purchased much of our Disney attire before we left for the trip (and we saved quite a bit of money in the process.) We also bought new summer shoes, swimsuits, and other miscellaneous travel accessories such as fun things to do on the flight down to Florida.
Bonus: Things to Keep in Mind for Your 2023 Disney World Vacation
- Check out our guide to visiting the Walt Disney World Resort in 2023. New attractions, updated nighttime spectaculars, and more are coming in 2023 along with the Disney100 Celebration!
- Enjoy the 50th Anniversary Celebration! Disney World is celebrating through March 2023, and there are lots of happenings throughout the parks.
- See what’s coming to the parks in 2023! Disney World is constantly adding new attractions and dining options, so be sure to check out what’s opening before your next Disney vacation!
- Check out our guide to Epcot’s Festivals. Throughout the year, Epcot holds four unique festivals featuring international cuisine, entertainment, specialty merchandise, and more!