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Magical Experiences: How to Plan a Disney World Vacation

So….you’re going to Disney World!! Of course you are because that’s what landed you on this blog post.

Today I’m going to give you the real low down on how to plan a trip to Disney World without the stress, fluff and overwhelm of Google search rabbit holes.

I waited since my kids were born to take them to Disney World and at the end of 2023, we arrived! I’d just had surgery so it wasn’t ideal for me to walk the parks but I’m so glad I didn’t cancel our plans and just rented a scooter. It was fun to ride around instead of walking and Disney took good care of me and my ADA needs 😉 So here are my Top Tips to make sure your trip is memorable, magical and stress-free.

Start Early. This is not a drill-this is Disney World! It took a year of planning with our family friends we traveled with but I must say I didn’t get serious about what we needed to pack and prep beforehand until about 5wks before the vacation. Please please please do NOT wait this long.

Flights. Purchasing your flights can take place when you normally buy plane tickets but it would not hurt to set up a Google Flight alert and monitor ticket prices to determine the best time to purchase. If you set up an alert far enough in advance (6-8months), you’ll find that prices only go down so far and the best day to buy is Wednesday. Once you find that sweet spot of pricing, go ahead and pull the trigger.

Hotel Rooms. There are two expenses you are just not going to get around paying that quite honestly will be the reason Disney can take your whole pay check….and that’s the park tickets and your hotel stay. If it’s your first time going to Disney World, I encourage you to book a vacation that is 5 days long at a minimum. It makes no sense to decide to go to Disney World and only go to one park. Prior to this vacation, I’d only been to Magic Kingdom with my Church Drill team when I was 14 and by only going to that park…I missed out on so much and never knew all these years. So make your trip long enough to attend all of the parks but doing so means it’s going to cost you. The minimum you can expect to spend at the cheapest property is $250/night ++ up to $800/night ++. Now don’t get me wrong, you can stay at a resort, Air B&B or VRBO property offsite but there are some disadvantages to doing so if your goal is to maximize your park time and access to certain reservations. By saving $50-$100/night on an off property reservation, you are STILL going to have to spend on a rental car or Uber to get there and by the time you spend the entire day at the parks, dinner and drive time back to your accomodations – you will be paying only to sleep there without the onsite perks – so take that into consideration.

Park Tickets. Unless you live locally or are traveling with a member of the Armed Forces….there is no getting aroudn how much these tickets are going to cost you. But I do encourage you to book travel during the school year, leaving on a Wednesday afternoon and returning on a Monday. By doing so you increase your chances of avoiding a lot of crowds and actually getting on all of the rides you want to ride. More on that later. As for tickets they range in price depending on how many days you will be at the parks and whether you will attend one park a day or more than one, referred to as a ‘Park Hopper’. You can expect to spend between $109-$160 ++ per day. Friends, that is not a typo, I did say up to $160 a day and if you travel during high season they can get that expensive but this is good info because you will be saving up for this trip and not going on a whip so you will be responsible and save up instead of swiping a credit card last minute.

Wait until your kids are tall enough to ride all of the rides to go to Disney World. This tip may be a bit controversial, because I, too was one of the parents that couldn’t wait to pack my baby in a car seat and check a stroller on the plane to go to Disney but I must say – for the investment you will make in having an amazing experience…the baby plus their care taker will not have a good time and the most they can actually do is sit in a stroller in line to meet a Disney character. Babies can’t ride anything, there is a lot of chaos around them and it’s a huge disruption for them. Think of it this way: they need naps, diaper changes, nursing breaks, snacks, rest and attention but none of those things are ideal at a theme park. Now don’t get me wrong PLENTY of people bring their babies…I saw a baby so small on our trip he had to have been 2 weeks old! But you will be paying all that money for your admission and won’t be able to truly enjoy yourself. This trip should not just be about your kids having fun and experiences, it is a magical place for adults to enjoy too! Now if you wait unil your kids are 44-48inches tall they are garaunteed to be able to enjoy everything the park has to offer (except the grown up drinks). But you get what I’m saying, they won’t have to worry about being turned away from rides and they are old enough to stand on their own two feet in line to meet their favoriate characters. The best part…YOU will get to enjoy yourself and ride all the rides along with them. And even better…when they get home, they can carry on full conversations with their friends and even other adults about their Disney World experiences. I went to Disney Land when I was 2, and I have no memories from that experience. I did also take my kids to Disney Land when they were 3 and 5 and I felt that was a really good, slow pace for them to enjoy the shows, sites, fireworks and rides without FOMO.

Research Experiences. Some people go to meet characters, some to ride rides, some to try out all the snacks, some to see shows. No matter your preference you cannot, and I repeat CANNOT just wing it. It will not be a good use of your investment to decide to go on this trip and not look up ways to maximize your time. Concerning rides there are three ways to garauntee you can get on everything on your hit list. First, stay at a partner hotel for rope drop access. Second, purchase Genie Plus. Third, purchase Individual Lightening Lane. We did stay off propery at a REALLY nice resort that provided shuttles to the parks and because we stayed off site we could not take advantage of rope drop but we did leverage the shuttles and Uber to arrive at the park early enough to complete check in (it’s a whole process) and walk in the park right at opening time. We rode every single ride we planned to ride except Ratatoullie (because it brokedown during our only time slot) and Slinky Dog Dash (because it was down for most of the day of our visit). Riding rides is a science and I encourage you to watch some Youtube videos and READ some blog posts about ride recommendations as well as know your Disney App like the back of your hand before you step foot on that plane so you know what you want to do and when you want to do it. I highly recommend the Undercover Tourist App to plan out what experiences you want to have at each park -you can literally build a custom itenerary and timeline that includes a map in that App and then leverage the Disney App to schedule the time slots for when you will hit the major attractions at each park. Ear Scouts by far was the best educator on using Disney Genie to take advantage of the parks. Their videos are thurough, well-explained and easy to follow along…definately worth the time invested to sit and watch.

Save your money. During my research I found a lot of blog posts about things you MUST bring with you to the park and because I like being prepared I purchased all of that stuff but real talk, its just not needed. I recommend you pack the things you would NORMALLY bring to any theme park and the rest of that sutff you just do not need. By the time you try to pack it in your bag…you will need a bigger bag! And who on earth has time to lug around a suitcase in a theme park? You don’t need a magic band, your iPhone works just fine. You don’t need a back up charging pack (they have vending machines onsite with really good chargers if your charging pack runs out). You don’t need a park blanket. You don’t need to purchase a trip planner on Etsy. You don’t need a bunch of water bottles but maybe one collapsable water bottle – the more you’re drinking the more you’ll need to leave a waiting line to go to the restroom. Just drink water when you stop for a break. What do you need? I personally am a huge fan of the group t-shirts. It makes it easier to identify the group you are traveling with and makes for great pictures. You do need a disposable rain parka – it will likely rain in Florida. We did not allow our kids to have screen time during the trip unless we were in the hotel (which we did not spend a lot of time in). In the wait lines at the parks use that as a bonding time, find some family conversation starter cards that help you get to know your kids and what they love about your family. It was a great experience for us. You do need sunscreen and I highly encourage you to bring your own snacks or pack a sandwich. There was nothing more freeing than pulling over to a park bench, eating some yummy raw fruits, a quick sandwich and bag of pretzels and then getting back up to go to the next adventure. I’d save the meal reservations for dinner only or if your room has a kitchen like ours, you can even have a home cooked meal in your room some nights!

Start Early on Meal Reservations. This was probably our biggest lesson learned on our trip. You can reserve meals up to 60 days out. Please research the resturants 30 days BEFORE that so you know where you want to go and can make your reservations right at the 60 day mark, otherwise there simply won’t be a lot of good choices available. If your group is more than 4 people I recommend you break up into groups of 2-4 and have multiple group members responsible for making the meal reservations. The larger parties have fewer options to choose from. But you can book two groups of 4 for the same time slot and tell the host you want to sit together when you arrive. Also plan ahead to be ON TIME for your reservations -the wait times can get prettly lengthy.

These are things that really helped me plan a family vacation to Disney and I loved the experience so much I’m headed back next week on a Girls Trip and I just cannot wait to take a break from adulting and be a kid…without the kids!

I’ve planned out both a family and adult version of Disney World – if you need some tips on planning your vacation to Disney, just let me know.

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