We’re scheduled for a Walt Disney World vacation in February, bringing the youngest boys for the first time. Yes, I am excited. But honestly (until earlier today) I have been a wreck trying to figure out just how to do this Disney World planning, and how to do it right. Planning Disney World trips and planning for special events can be stressful, but not if it’s done right!
Disney isn’t cheap, and we won’t be going six times a year like many families I know. So, I want to do this correctly – the first time. Luckily, I am friends with “Lindsey,” an amazing Disney resource who is also part of the Disney Moms Park Panel.
With tons of help from her, I have crafted a nine-step plan – I want to share it with you. It is my hope that this helps put your mind at ease, too. I know I feel less anxious with this awesome planning checklist. Time to make some memories!
You can also enlist the help of a travel agent if things get too overwhelming, but we think following these tips will help beginners and even those who have visited before.
PICK YOUR DATE
Pick your date. I know – NOW! Right?? Well, hold your horses, Nelly! Disney recommends you make your arrangements at least 6 months out.
As for the time of year, we love this calendar from Undercover Tourist, using crowd levels to judge the best time for a visit. In summary:
- a few weeks in January
- a few weeks in Febraury
- the second half of August
- most of September
- then weekdays in October, November, and December (except for the holiday weeks)
Do you have to visit during the low-crowd time? Heck no! Just be sure to get there early and have a plan!
SELECT YOUR RESORT
The first thing you need to decide is whether or not to stay “on property.” There are pros and cons to each option, but I can assure you that you’ll NEVER be disappointed about staying on site. Check out some of Sue’s Resort comparisons here.
This planning post isn’t intended to help you make that decision, BUT Disney Tourist Blog has an epic breakdown of the pros and cons of where to stay.
If you decide to stay on a Disney property, keep in mind that each resort offers special perks and activities, so be sure to plan a “resort day” in your agenda.
We are excited to be partnering with Lindsey on TWO great upcoming articles… a breakdown of all the unique things happening at each resort, plus a “style guide” to help you pick the right Disney resort for your family!
If price is your primary concern, then please note that there are four levels of Disney hotels: Value, Moderate, Deluxe, and Villa.
The primary differences are as follows:
- Room Size (in square feet)
- Bathroom Size (you get more sinks and space as you pay more)
- The View (Better views mean more money)
- Amenities (Almost every place offers a pool, playground, and entertainment. Pay more for health clubs, character meet and greets, evening entertainment, spa services, etc)
- Meals (Almost every resort offers a food court and poolside bar. Pay more for full service restaurants, character dining options, or a kitchenette)
- Transportation (All resorts offer transport to the parks. Pay more for monorail or boat options.)
- Water Fun (All resorts have a themed pool. Pay more for a “quiet” pool, waterslides, waterfalls, sandy play areas and hot tubs)
Plus staying in a Disney resort hotel room during your Disney trips places you closer to shopping such as Disney Springs, and more. It really depends on where you’d like to be and what is affordable for you and your family.
BUY YOUR TICKETS
Time to purchase tickets. You can pick any number of days, from 1-10. Of course, the more days you pick, the more of a discount you get on your ticket price.
Thinking of park hopping? After you decide how many days you want to stay, it’s time to determine if you want the Park Hopper pass. It allows you to go between parks on the same day. The price before tax of a 1-Day ticket for July 14, 2021, is $126; adding the Park Hopper Option brings it to $191, for a difference of $65.
Should you spend the extra money? Travel With The Magic has an opinion on that.
What about an annual pass? Lindsey told me that “10 days a year” is a good rule of thumb and may save money. If you plan on being there more than 10 days (maybe 3 for Spring Break, 4 over Summer, 2 for a Fall birthday, and 3 for the holidays…) then invest in the annual pass. Traveling Mom has some additional insight here. It might be worth it for your family to purchase the annual pass and be a part of the Disney vacation club.
Finally, note that Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, the water park passes are extra. And, if you want to visit more than a single date, then look at the water park annual pass…it becomes valuable at about 3 visits.
MAKE A PARK PLAN AND SCHEDULE DISNEY GENIE+ ACCORDINGLY
You want to make sure you get on the Peter Pan ride, right? And meet Mickey? And don’t forget the Na’vi River Journey! Space Mountain? Haunted Mansion? Well, the lines for those rides can be long – and you wouldn’t expect less. They are super popular and the list can be endless!
Enter Disney Genie+, formerly known as the FastPass+. They allow you to reserve access to select WDW attractions and character meet-ups.
- Disney Genie+ service may be purchased for $15 plus tax (USD) per person per day.
- Use the Lightning Lane entrances offered through Disney Genie+ service and save time waiting in line.
- On average, Guests can enter 2 to 3 attractions or experiences per day using Lightning Lane entrances, if the first selection is made early in the day.
Depending on how busy the parks are when you visit, you may not need it for every park every day, but if there is a ride or two you don’t want to miss or wait in line for, it may be worth the extra money. But note, there are some rules that apply. Read on.
- Make sure you have valid admission and a theme park reservation to the same park on the same day.
- Disney Genie+ service Lightning Lane selections can only be made one at a time. You must redeem an existing Disney Genie+ service Lightning Lane selection or wait 2 hours—whichever comes first—before making another Lightning Lane entrance selection through Disney Genie+ service. Please note: the 2-hour wait to make another selection begins when the park opens, even if you made your first booking at 7:00 AM.
- All attractions and experiences are subject to availability.
- Guests may be able to purchase Disney Genie+ service on the day of their park visit and make their first Disney Genie+ selection for Lightning Lane entry starting at 7:00AM.
If you are not interested in the pass, there is an option to purchase individual lightning lanes.
Need a guide to the rides at Epcot? We love this post from Family Travel Magazine!
Here are a few Genie+ tips from Lindsey:
- You will want to ride the Barn Stormer first if your littles are new to roller coasters (like mine.) It’s a beginner coaster and will allow you to test their endurance for bigger rides. Shouldn’t need a Genie+ here.
- The Dumbo line can get long but they’ve added a shaded playground and “buzzers” (like the ones in a restaurant) to let you know when your turn is up. You can skip a Genie + here.
- If you don’t want to use a Genie+ at The Haunted Mansion, you should be ok. There is a lot for the kids to look at while you’re in line.
- Mickey’s PhilharMagic has over 400 seats available, so there is rarely a line. It’s a great place to relax and catch your breath, too.
- It’s a Small World is a classic that seldom needs a Genie+ because of the constantly moving boats.
- Mickey Mouse at Town Square Theatre rarely has a wait over 30 minutes; it’s usually only about 15. Same story for Tinkerbell, also at Town Square.
- Finally, skip using one of your Genie + passes for the popular Pirates of the Caribbean ride if you can head straight there when you arrive in the morning.
BUY YOUR MEMORY MAKER PACKAGE
We have an entire post about the Memory Maker Package, compliments of Sue. She added some great insights about why you want to do it…
My point here…do it NOW. You don’t want to wait until you’re at the park because the price will be significantly higher.
Also, I want to mention this here. Luxury Travel Mom wrote a great post about what to wear at Disney, with special consideration regarding forever-photos! She makes some great points that I hadn’t considered, so be sure to check it out.
You have to eat while you’re there, so let’s talk food.
If you booked a vacation package, then you have the option to purchase the Disney dining plan. In all honesty, my kiddos don’t eat enough to make it worthwhile, and they’d prefer to snack all day. Here’s a calculator to see if it’s worth it for your family.
I am excited about the Mobile Food & Beverage Ordering option. You can now order at select quick-service restaurants using the My Disney Experience app on your phone!
Open the app and select the restaurant you want to order from…pick the meals you and the kiddos want to eat, pay via the app…and then let them know when you arrive. They’ll start preparing your meal, then send you a notification when you can pick it up. No waiting in line!
There are more than 200 places to get food within Walt Disney World, including about 90 full-service restaurants, more than 30 of which are inside the Disney parks.
Now – for your evening meals, special character breakfasts, and more, you will want to book online as soon as possible. According to WDW, these are the top character breakfast experiences.
PURCHASE ANY SPECIAL TOURS AND EVENTS
You know that we don’t post much about Disney (well Sue does…not me.) The boys never really got hooked on Mickey when they were younger…but Star Wars (and Avatar) – well that’s a different story. My guys are nuts about those two! So we had to head to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
I had to do something special for them on this trip, so I decided to sign us up for the Star Wars Guided Tour. In the grand scheme of things, it is SUPER affordable. It gives you 8 hours of Stars Wars VIP action, including guaranteed experiences like Jedi Training, Kylo Ren, and Chewbacca character greetings, lunch at Backlot Express, and VIP seating for the magnificent nighttime fireworks event!
Other incredible tours include going backstage at Magic Kingdom and Epcot, seeing the costume design space, and even walking the hidden tunnels! You can also go behind the scenes with the animal experts, or take the Aqua Tour at Epcot which includes 30 minutes of snorkel time at The Seas With Nemo!
I can’t wait until our youngest is 8yo so we can all take the Safari tour and Wild Africa Trek!
If I never rode a ride at Disney, that would be fine with me….I could live in complete happiness moving from one special tour to the next…and lucky for me, the options are endless!
CHECK IN TO YOUR RESORT ONLINE
Finally, you’ll want to check into your resort online, if your staying at a Disney property.
During this process, you can personalize your Magic Band (picking a color and updating the names, if necessary.) Pro Tip from Lindsey: Grab a bag of BitBelts for a few dollars. They are made for Fitbits, but they will fit your Magic Band, and help prevent them from coming off accidentally.
You’ll also attach a credit card to your account and assign a PIN to the account so that you can easily make purchases with your MagicBand.
Do you have to do this? Nope! And Touring Plans has a great post explaining why you may NOT want to do it. Good food for thought…though it’s the route we’re taking on our journey next month.
Need more help? Head over to the Disney Parks Moms Panel. You can search through nearly 100K previously asked questions…or ask your own. Lindsey tells me that there are panelists with various specialties (WDW, Disneyland Resort, Cruise, runDisney, Canadian panelists, as well as foreign language resources.) she also says that, “If you choose a panelist with a vacation style similar to yours, you may get an answer back faster than asking the general panel.” Don’t overlook this amazing FREE resource!
And if you are planning a trip to Disneyland, be sure to check out this tips for Disneyland first timers from our friends at Trekaroo.
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Want to learn how your family can do it too? Click here to grab 7 Secret Hacks for flying free that the founder of Families Fly Free personally uses to take her family of 4 all over the world!
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