Disney offers a WIDE variety of vacation options to accommodate millions of visitors each year. Here are tips that have helped our family get started planning our Disney dream vacation!
Our family shares tricks to save time and energy at Walt Disney World by learning how to skip the lines and get more done on your vacation!
What You Need to Know First
We believe that you could spend a month at Walt Disney World and still not take in all there is to offer. So we try to understand the options to help us make decisions about what we want to do in the limited time that we spend on our Disney Vacations.
TIME, ENERGY & MONEY are limited resources. Set priorities before you leave for your trip about how to use your Time, Energy & Money. Which of those resources do you have the most of? What do you need to save the most?
How you decide to prioritize saving money, spending time and utilizing energy should drive a lot of your vacation planning decisions as well as how you make decisions on your trip.
Our first trip to Disney was set on a specific budget, so that was our #1 factor when making decisions. We wanted to know how it would affect our budget. Our #2 decision driver was energy because we had a toddler. We knew that she couldn’t spend a full day at every park every day.
Do It ALL or Go Where The Wind Blows?
Are you the type of person that wants to do everything you possibly can while on vacation or do you want to kick back, relax and do what you can when you feel like it?
If you want to experience as much as possible then spend more time learning about all of the parks, rides, shows, restaurants, character experiences and more so that you can create a strategic plan.
Life is busy, so even though I’m pretty Type-A I like to blend those two strategies. We like to plan our Fast Pass + (opportunity to skip the lines for rides) for first thing in the morning, book one or two restaurant reservations and then see how the day unfolds while we are there.
If you just want to go and take in what you can then you’re probably not reading this anyway.
The Early Stages of Planning – Learning About Disney
Time invested upfront will help you plan the cheapest Disney vacation because you’ll understand more of the possibilities and price points. The more you know the better equipped you’ll be to plan the BEST vacation for you and your party. Rember the best vacation is different for everyone!
- Join Facebook groups – There is a search function in the group. You can search to see if others have already asked the question. If not, then you can ask yourself. The people can share first-hand knowledge and some who take themselves very seriously are entertaining to read
- Download the My Disney Experience App – When our mind needs a one minute from the day to day grind we like to open the app and look at a map to one of the parks. We look at how long the lines are at each of the attractions. This helps us learn more about rides and shows AND begin to understand which ones are most popular.
- Watch YouTube Videos – When you see the name of a ride on the app look it up on YouTube & watch a video of the ride with your family. This helps you get a feel for what your party should try to do and which attractions you may want to skip.
- Look on Pinterest – Find some Disney related pins and look for useful articles about topics of interest.
- Sign-up For Disney E-mails – This is how sales and special offers are announced. They typically come in a cycle. For example, we went in September and got a “free” meal plan after upgrading to Park Hopper tickets. This special is typically offered each year and an email is sent in March about 6 months ahead of time.
- Call Customer Service – Even if you only have 1 silly question to ask. I wish I would’ve called customer service (I like to ask questions, some people like to read online and avoid talking) and asked the questions on my mind. Request the vacation planning video. Ask what resources exist to help you plan. They want to help you plan the best trip possible and there are more resources for the job!
- Understand Cancellation Policies – Learn the cancellation and refund policies. What happens if there is a hurricane, someone gets sick, etc. I had preconceived notions that if we started planning a trip and wanted to make changes Disney would stick it to us….well that’s totally wrong. Then when I saw a deal I wouldn’t have hesitated to book it knowing how easy it is to make changes.
- Learn About the Payment Plan – You don’t have to pay for everything up front. Call or read about the current options and rest assured Disney works to give people options. Some people like to buy gift cards to get the fuel points at grocery stores of discounted gift cards at Sams Club. There are lots of options. Do what works best for you and don’t worry about other people saying how they saved more!
Seal the Deal – Steps For Planning a Disney Vacation
You’re ready to quit thinking about it, quit talking about it and actually book that Disney vacation. Here are the basics:
- Decide Where You Want To Sleep – We believed staying off-site would be cheaper…but beliefs aren’t always facts. There are so many perks like earlier access to book FP+, free transportation and avoiding the hassle of parking. And every resort has a theme that is fun, amazing and oh so Disney! We’ve stayed at a couple of the value resorts like All-Star Sports and Pop Century and paid from $120 – $140/night. Then we saved for a over a year to do a split stay and try out Caribbean Beach and the Wilderness Lodge which is a deluxe resort.
- Planners Have More Opportunities – The further ahead you book the trip the more opportunities you will have at Walt Disney World. For example, dining reservations can be booked 6 months prior to your first day of vacation. And some of the most popular restaurants will fill up 180 days (or 6 months) ahead of time. Planning is not as critical for a Disney Cruise. See our notes for cruising here Dos and Don’ts of a Disney Cruise and 3-Day Disney Cruise to the Bahamas.
- Get Current Information – Policies and attractions CONTINUALLY change at Disney. Over the past 5 years, the parks have gotten busier, so strategies and how things work change OFTEN. When reading articles check the date. If it’s more than a couple years old I would get a current source to confirm the information.
- Develop a Fast Pass + Strategy – We ALWAYS get to the park when it opens because you can get more done in the first hour than any other time of the day. If the park opens at 9 a.m., we like to book our first 3 FP+ for 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. & 11:30 a.m.
- Fast Pass + Must Be Scheduled Ahead of Time – Be online at 7 a.m. EST 60 days before your first day at a park if you are staying on Disney property. If staying off-site be online at 7 a.m. EST 30 days before your visit. You must have park tickets to secure FP+. This strategy increases your odds of getting (but doesn’t guarantee) a FP+ for the super popular rides.
- Book LOTS of Dining Reservations – You can book dining reservations 180 days before your trip, but they can be canceled up to 24 hours ahead of time without being charged. So at 180 days out, or 100 days out, or whenever you like reserve a time for any meal that sounds interesting and then cancel them later if they conflict with your FP+ or your plans change. Be Our Guest Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom is one of the SUPER popular experiences! We also enjoy Chef Mickey’s to meet five characters.
- Get Really Good Shoes – And wear them for some long days! Even walking several miles a day can help prepare for a trip. Cute shoes are a terrible idea and can frankly ruin your vacation. Get some, really good shoes that can carry you through several long days in a row. We go to the New Balance store, get measured and pick-up some maximum support shoes. We’ve done other cheaper shoes and our feet hurt well before we’re ready to go home.
The Week Before a Disney Vacation – Last Minute Planning
The excitement is building and you’re probably ready to get the vacation started! Here are a few last minute tips that can help each day go more smoothly.
- Magical Express Tips – Make sure you booked the free service. Bring whatever you need the first 24 hours in a bag that stays with you. The Magical Express (ME) will only take you from the airport to your Disney resort and from your Disney resort to the airport one time each. ME will NOT take you directly to a park from the airport. Your bags will be delivered to your room….but it may take a while. There is a Baggage desk at your resort that will store bags that you bring on the ME in a locked room if you want to get right on a bus to the park without going to your room.
- Plan Your Morning Schedule – Understand when the park opens & when rides open. Gate opening varies with Extra Magic Hours and the season. Confirm those details before arriving at the parks. Plan to be at the park early.
- Give Yourself An Hour to Get Anywhere – If using the Disney buses allow an hour to get from the park gate to your bed in a value resort. There is lots of walking, waiting, riding a bus and walking. Deluxe resorts are closer and more accessible, but you pay more money to save more time. A Minnie Van / Uber / Lyft are more convenient, but cost money. Do you want to save money, time or energy?
- Maximize the Memory Maker – We love getting photos taken on our Memory Maker photo package as soon as the gates open. Lines are virtually non-existent. Hopefully, your hair still looks good and hasn’t been rained on yet.
- Learn To Use the App – You can save so much TIME by ordering food on your app and by-passing the line to pick it up! Have a credit card linked to your account and the app downloaded to maximize time savings! As soon as you scan your magic bands for your third FP+ use your app to schedule your next FREE FP+. You can keep booking FP+ as long as they are available! This is a HUGE way to save time while at Walt Disney World.
- Plan Some Down Time – I live intensely, I’ve been told this many times over. Even my family tells me to sit down and relax. I’ve learned that sleep makes our family more successful, especially the toddler. The parks are very stimulating to the senses and very exciting, which means they are very exhausting. Sleep deprivation accumulates and can sneak up make vacation get ugly in a hurry. And no one dreams of an ugly vacation.
- Re-Cap Your Priorities with Your Vacation Party – How much can you handle at this point? Are you worried about budget, maximizing your time or running out of energy. Level up expectations with everyone on your team and make sure you understand their priorities. Make a plan and then go work that plan whether it’s to experience as much as possibly can or relax and enjoy the vacation
OTHER TIPS & TRICKS FOR PLANNING A DISNEY VACATION
Our family also enjoys going on Disney Cruises. Here is a review of our 3-Day Disney Cruise to the Bahamas and Dos & Don’ts for a Disney Cruise that we hope help you plan a Disney Cruise. Our favorite day is always at Castaway Cay.
Here is an extensive article about our experiences in this Disney Cruise Transportation to Port Canaveral Review, doing the Castaway Cay 5K, here are notes from a non-runner’s perspective, and notes on Pirate Night on a Disney Cruise.
We typically stay at Pop Century Resort the night before our cruise. If our budget allows we try to visit the Magic Kingdom and go to Be Our Guest, here are some notes Do’s & Don’ts for Be Our Guest Restaurant. If it’s raining while you hang around Disney here are some tips.
When looking for a family vacation somewhere warm but outside of Disney we have enjoyed Visiting San Antonio.