So as you probably already know by following my blog and Insta, I'm majorly into Disney. Shocker, right? I've been visiting the park for awhile now and I feel like I've gotten pretty comfortable with the whole planning process. In fact, a lot of people I know message me to ask for tips on booking their own trips to the parks. So, I thought it might be fun and helpful to post a how-to on the planning process. Fair warning: there's a lot to cover, so this post is going to be pretty meaty and lengthy.
So, first things first...
Get familiar with the parks
The first thing you'll want to do before taking any steps in the planning process is become acquainted with all the Walt Disney World has to offer. I'll try my best to keep this short and sweet!
Walt Disney World is comprised of 4 major theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. With a base ticket (more on that later), you can enter any one of these four parks. This is where all the rides, characters, and general excitement is, so you'll definitely want to take time to explore each park!
They also have two on-site water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. These are not accessible with a base ticket, so be wary of that. Both are equipped with water slides (tame and thrilling), pools, and lazy rivers.
Another key feature of WDW is their massive dining and entertainment complex, Disney Springs. Originally Downtown Disney, in the past few years, it's undergone a huge reimagining and has become one of my favourite places in the Walt Disney World resort. It's jam-packed with amazing restaurants, bars, stores, live entertainment, bowling, movie theatres, and so much more. You could never get bored there!
Disney also has a number of other entertainment features, such as mini-golf, golf, boating, horseback riding, water sports, and the ESPN Wide World of Sports.
When to go
As you can probably imagine, Disney World can get hella busy. You've essentially got two options, as there are two "seasons": busy season and off-season.
Busy season has the heavier crowds and primarily consists of the days or weeks that sit around major holidays. Columbus Day, U.S. Thanksgiving, Spring Break, Easter, Christmas, New Years' and July 4th are all extremely busy times to visit the parks. At these times, you can expect wait times from 50 to 100+ minutes, depending on the popularity of a ride. Also, the parks are generally more crowded.
Don't fret! There is also an off-season. Basically, in the off-season, you can expect less of a wait on rides (usually 20 to 50 minutes, sometimes higher) and it's far less crowded around the parks. The best times to go if you're looking for lighter crowds are the end of August to mid-September (as the kids will have gone back to school in Florida and most of the U.S.) and May.
You can easily find crowd charts for the parks in a quick Google search, but I'll link one down below as well!
It's also worth factoring in the weather when making a decision. Summer is the craziest time for weather; it is extremely hot (I'm talking 90-110 degrees F) and also the end of the summer is hurricane season, which makes for lots of rainy days.
A bonus of attending the parks during busy season is that you have the chance to experience some really awesome special events that Disney hosts. There are two types of these events: free festivals and ticketed events.
The three major free festivals for parkgoers are held at Epcot annually. The first is the International Festival of the Arts (January - February), which is a newer festival that showcases the work of Disney artists around the park and also celebrates many famous paintings from different countries. The second is the International Flower and Garden Festival (February - May) which boasts a number of topiaries featuring classic Disney characters and it is utterly beautiful. They also feature many outdoor kitchens which offer delicious food and beverages! And last but not least is the International Food and Wine Festival (August - November) which is a celebration of different cultural dishes from around the world. The food is phenomenal and not to be missed.
There are two major ticketed events held in Walt Disney World. Ticketed events require visitors to purchase an additional ticket outside of the park entrance ticket. These extra tickets allow you into the parks for these events which take place after regular park hours - they close the park early on select nights for the people partaking in the event.
These two major ticketed events are Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. Both are held at the Magic Kingdom on select nights throughout the holiday seasons. They're both really awesome, as they have their own special fireworks, parades, and nighttime shows. And the Not So Scary Halloween Party even has trick-or-treating! How cool is that??
Where to stay
This is a pretty big decision for anyone visiting the parks. I'll just run through some basic things to note when you're deciding on whether to stay on- or off-property.
Staying on-property means staying in any one of the Walt Disney World resort hotels. These hotels are organized into three tiers: value, moderate, and deluxe (with value being the cheapest, and deluxe being the priciest). Staying on-property is inarguably the most convenient option, as the hotels are literally minutes away from the theme parks and they offer free transportation to all the on-property venues. Also, they offer free transportation to and from the Orlando International Airport, which is a huge bonus. You also get some extra magic by staying on-property, like having the option to add a Disney Dining Plan, attend park Extra Magic Hours, and book FastPasses 60 days in advance. Of course, all of that will cost you - it gets pretty pricey, especially adding on top of that the cost of flights and park tickets.
With off-property, you obviously lose the accessibility, but with that you shave off some of the cost as well. There are literally hundreds of hotel options in Central Florida with many different ranges in pricing, especially in the touristy International Drive area. If you're planning on doing a few days at Disney but also spending some time at the other attractions in Orlando, then staying on International Drive would be beneficial as it's right in the middle of it all. You can also stay in a vacation home rental which is great for big families and groups that want to stay together without paying the cost of a Disney suite or villa. However, you do still have to factor in travel time (it's a bit of a jaunt from Disney), car rental prices, and parking fees (at Disney alone, you'll be paying $22 to park per day).
The lowest level of park ticket you can purchase is the Magic Your Way Base ticket. It is literally a basic entrance ticket, meaning that you can enter one of the four theme parks at a time for the set number of days on the ticket. For example, if you visit Magic Kingdom on the first day of your trip, you can come and go as you please, but you cannot travel to another theme park on that same day. Just Magic Kingdom. This is the most inexpensive option, for that reason.
In order to visit another park on the same day, you'll need to purchase a Magic Your Way Park Hopper option. This is an add-on to the base ticket which allows you to go from one park to another in the same day. For instance, if you start your day off at Magic Kingdom and then decide midday to go to Epcot, you can do that. You can even visit all four parks in one day, if you're up for the challenge! But of course, it will cost you more.
Additionally, you can add on the Water Parks Fun and More option, which also allows you to visit Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. This also use to include Disney Quest, but that no longer exists!
Lastly, you can purchase a Walt Disney World annual pass. There are two options, Disney Platinum Plus Pass and Disney Platinum Pass. The main difference is that the Plus allows you entrance to the golf course, the water parks, and the ESPN Wide World of Sports in addition to the four theme parks, whereas the regular pass only allows you to go to the theme parks. Both give you discounts on select dining and merch.
How long to visit
If this is your first visit to WDW and you plan on only visit the Disney parks, I'd suggest staying for anywhere between five to seven days. It sounds like a very long time, but there is so much to see and do at Disney that you'll be grateful for it. Plus, it allows you to see everything at your own speed and eliminate that rushed feeling. It's also good for if you want to see things outside of the WDW resort, like Universal Studios Orlando or Cocoa Beach (which is about an hour out from Disney).
What is a FastPass, you might ask? Well, lemme tell you. (That was so cheesy haha). FastPasses are free tickets that you can get that essentially allow you to virtually reserve a place in line for rides. You just pick a ride and a time (they work in hour-long increments), then schedule it. When your time comes, you just pop over to the ride and jump into the FastPass line. For example, if you've booked a 5 o'clock FastPass for Jungle Cruise, you can get in the FastPass line for Jungle Cruise at any point between 5 and 6 o'clock. The FastPass lines are generally shorter and quicker than the standby lines. You're given three FastPass selections for the day BUT once you've used them up, or your last FastPass for the day has expired, you can book one at a time in that same day. Pretty cool, right? It makes getting on more popular rides like Flight of Passage so much easier. You can book these online or on the My Disney Experience app 30 or 60 days in advance (depending on whether you're staying on-property) or at the in-park kiosks. But FastPasses go quick, so make sure to do this asap!
My Disney Experience app + MagicBands
These are two fairly new additions to the parks in the last few years and they've become pretty much integral to the WDW experience, so I'll quickly explain them both.
MagicBands have become the new way of entering and getting around the Disney parks. Your pass is linked to this rubber wristband, which means you can enter the park by tapping your band to a reader and placing your finger on a fingerprint scanner. It's so much easier than fumbling with your wallet to get a card out. They also can be used to present your FastPass by tapping a reader at the rides, as it's linked to your My Disney Experience app. For on-property guests, you can also link your credit card to the MagicBand to make paying for dining and merch a breeze.
My Disney Experience app
This is an app that you can download onto your phone and use in the parks with the free Disney World wifi connection. It has everything you could ever imagine on it - park maps, ride wait times, FastPasses, dining reservations, room check-ins, park passes, and more. It's like a tool kit for your stay in the parks. Personally, I'd highly recommend getting it before you travel to the parks as it'll make your life so much simpler.
Well, that's all for now! If you're still a bit lost or looking for more info, you can follow these useful links for more explanations.
I hope you guys found this post helpful. Thanks for reading!