Step-by-Step Guide to Planning a Disney World Vacation

Planning a Disney World vacation requires some research. Walt Disney World is a huge place (47 square miles — that’s almost twice as large as Manhattan!) with so many things to do and see that even after more than 30 visits, I have not begun to do it all.

Just a quick summary of SOME of what’s available at Disney World:

So it’s not surprising that you’re a little confused about where to begin.

You’ll need to decide the following, in roughly this order:

1. When you’re going.

See the Disney World FAQ for hints on the best and worst times of year for planning a Disney World vacation. Obviously your budget, kids’ school schedules and other factors will influence your decision as well.

If you are interested in learning when discounts for Walt Disney World resorts and vacation packages became available in past years, I maintain a chart listing that historical information.

2. What you’re going to do when you get there.

Seems kind of early in the planning process, doesn’t it? I mean, you haven’t even decided on a hotel yet! Well, trust me, you need to do some research before you go any further. There is so much to do, and everyone does something slightly different. Depending on the parks and attractions you want to visit, you may find certain hotels and resorts are much more convenient.

You’ll need some good basic help with planning, and something that will give you an overview of the attractions, the entertainment, etc. I list the best guidebooks on the Disney Books page.

3. How long you’re staying.

You probably thought that was part of #1 above, didn’t you? But after you learn how much there is to do, you may re-think your plans. Our first visit to Walt Disney World was 4 days. We thought that would be plenty of time. Wrong! We had to skip a lot of things we really wanted to try.

If you want to visit all four theme parks and actually experience the majority of the attractions, parades and shows, you will need at least 5 full days! (Epcot can easily take 2 days all by itself, because in a sense it’s the equivalent of 2 theme parks: Future World and World Showcase).

If you would like to do the major attractions at the theme parks without racing around like a maniac, or you want to try some of the “extras,” like water parks and DisneyQuest, allow more days. In fact, I think a one-week trip is optimum for a first-timer who wants to enjoy the full experience. Tickets are the most expensive part of most people’s Disney World vacations, and Disney has set up its ticket pricing to encourage trips longer than 4 days: 7-day tickets don’t cost that much more than 4-day tickets.

4. How you’re getting there.

For this, consult the Transportation page here on the site. If you will be flying to Florida, it is a good idea to start checking out airfares right away, and keep checking them. The fares fluctuate wildly and if you catch a good one, you’ll need to grab it quickly.

5. What kind of theme park tickets to buy.

Because Walt Disney World tickets are so expensive (you’ll probably spend more on tickets than you will on your hotel room) this is a critical decision. Look over your itinerary, get out your calculator, take a look at the prices and figure out which tickets make sense for your situation.

Once you’ve decided on what tickets to buy, check out the Ticket Discounts page here on MouseSavers.com to find the best deal on them.

6. Where you will be staying.

First you’ll have to decide whether to stay on Disney property, or off-site.

If you’re considering an on-site resort stay, you will want to see some photos and details about Disney’s resorts. Disney’s own disneyworld.com website is a good basic resource. You may also want to read my analysis of the basic differences and best values among the Disney resorts.

If you decide to stay on-site, I have lots of information here on MouseSavers.com about discounts at Disney’s resorts as well as discounts on Disney’s vacation packages. If you will be staying for 5 nights or more at a Disney resort, that’s a big investment and I hope you’ll seriously consider contacting a Disney Specialist travel agent. It costs you nothing to have someone else keep track of all the resort codes and discounts and find you the best deal. They’ll even rebook your resort reservations if a better discount becomes available. I recommend an excellent Disney Specialist travel agent here on MouseSavers.com.

If you’re considering non-Disney / off-site hotels — and it’s worth considering, especially if you are on a tight budget and/or have a family of 5 or more — I have visited dozens around Walt Disney World and picked the very best ones for the MouseSavers “Preferred” Hotels page. You can book them yourself, right here.

7. How you’re getting from the airport to your hotel (if you’re flying).

There are lots of options. Visit the Transportation page to learn how to save on your transportation to and from the airport.

That’s it!

Seriously, everything else is “gravy.” You can make reservations for your meals, book special events and do all kinds of other planning, but these are the basics. Enjoy your planning!

By the way, if you’re just starting to plan your Disney World vacation and wondering how you are going to afford it, be sure to read the page titled Ways to Save for Your Disney Vacation – a collection of tips and tricks to help you sock away the money for your next trip.