Complete Disney World Vacation Guide

Disney World Vacation Guide

Are you ready to start planning a Disney World vacation? We’re here to help! 

Below you’ll find resources to help you select FastPass+ reservations at the theme parks, make dining decisions and decide whether or not you should stay at a Walt Disney World resort.

We’ve broken this guide down into the following sections: Planning, Resorts, Tickets, FastPass+, Food and Transportation. Contact us if you think we missed something!

Planning & General FAQ

Planning a Disney World vacation does take some time and effort, but it is designed so that you get all of the work out of the way before you leave on vacation. This way you can enjoy all Disney World has to offer without having to worry about making reservations or scheduling.

You’ll need to make dining reservations, FastPass+ reservations (which rides do you want to skip the line) and make other decisions before you leave on your trip.

Making an account at My Disney Experience, Disney World’s official planning website, allows you to buy tickets, make reservations and organize all of your plans.

Disney World vacations require some advanced planning. Here are the dates you’ll need to remember after you’ve decided to go to Disney World.

Some dates may vary depending on whether or not you’re staying at a Disney hotel. 

180 Days Out – Make Dining Reservations

When it’s 180 days before the first day of your trip, you can start booking your dining reservations.

60 Days Out – Make FastPass+ Selections (Staying on property)

This is only applicable if you have valid theme park tickets and you’re staying at a Disney resort. One of the perks of staying on property is a larger window to make your FastPass+ selections.

30 Days Out – Make FastPass+ Selections (Staying off property)

This is when you can make FastPass+ selections when you’re staying at a non-Disney resort.

30 Days Out – Book Magical Express (Staying on property)

If you’re staying on property, Disney offers complimentary transportation between Orlando International Airport and your Disney resort. All you’ll need is your flight reservation and hotel reservation and you can book this free service.

30 Days Out – Make Photopass Decisions

Decide if Disney’s Memory Maker makes sense for your vacation. Memory Maker allows you to download all of your Photopass photos from your trip for one combined cost. This cost is more affordable if you book it prior to your vacation. 

You can spend weeks at Disney World and still not experience all it has to offer. That being said, below is how many days we’d recommend at each theme park to have the best experience possible.

Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom each require at least one full day to fully experience. Personally, we’ve spent multiple days at each park and still found things to do. It all depends what interests you.

The Magic Kindgom is a two-day theme park. By this, we mean you need at least two full days to explore the Magic Kingdom due to its size and number of attractions.

In a five-day trip, we have bought Park Hopper tickets and visited each park multiple times. Again, it all depends on your group and your interests.

The best time of year to visit Disney World will vary depending on your objectives. The smallest crowds are found while schools are in session while the holidays provide unique events, but much larger crowds.

Click here to learn more about the best time to visit Disney World.

Florida weather varies depending on what time of year you visit. The summer months are extremely hot and feature rain showers almost every day. The winter months are cooler and may feature more mild weather. However, the Orlando area will occasionally see temperatures that drop into the 40s or lower during the winter months.

Rain protection is an absolute must no matter when you visit. Showers and storms are a feature of most Disney World vacations. Ponchos are a safe choice, but rain jackets may be easier for kids. Click here to see some of our favorite Disney rain jackets. We recommend bringing large Ziploc bags to store your wet ponchos/jackets after the rain has stopped.

Check out the forecast for your trip regularly before packing. Temperatures and forecasts can change in a hurry and you don’t want to be stuck without a jacket or pants on a chilly night.

Walt Disney World theme parks and water parks have rides and attractions for the whole family. However, some attractions have a height requirement guests must meet before riding. These are safety regulations that every guest must follow.

View the full list of Disney World height requirements.

Walt Disney World is enormous! The full property that Walt Disney World sits on is about 40 square miles, or twice the size of Manhattan in New York.

Click here to learn more.

Visiting a Walt Disney World theme park at rope drop means that you are arriving at the park right as it opens. Visiting at rope drop usually means shorter initial lines before larger crowds arrive for the day.

Click here to learn more about visiting at rope drop.

Resorts

Should you stay at Disney World during your vacation, or does it make more sense to stay at a nearby hotel? That’s a difficult decision. Ultimately, it’s an argument of convenience versus price. 

Click here to see whether or not it’s worth it to stay at a Disney World hotel.

Currently, there are three main resort categories at Disney World – Deluxe, Moderate and Value. The distinction of the different resort categories is starting to blur some, but this is where things stand as of 2018.

All Disney resorts include complimentary transportation to the theme parks, water parks and Disney Springs.

Note that Disney resorts do not offer a free continental breakfast at this time.

Deluxe Resorts

The Deluxe Resorts are the most expensive at Disney, and include Wilderness Lodge, Animal Kingdom Lodge and several others. They offer the most amenities for guests and may include unique transportation options (Monorail or boat service) to the theme parks.

Click here for a list of Deluxe Resorts.

Moderate Resorts

The Moderate Resorts are more affordable than the deluxe options, but more expensive than the value options. They offer more amenities than the Values, but fewer than the Deluxe category. These include Port Orleans: Riverside, Caribbean Beach and several others.

Click here for a list of Moderate Resorts.

Value Resorts

The Value Resorts are the most affordable hotel options at Disney (not including the campsites), and offer the fewest amenities.

Click here for a list of Value Resorts.

Tickets

Ticket for Disney World theme parks may be purchased online by clicking here.

Theme park tickets use date-based pricing, meaning you’ll pay a different amount depending on the date of your visit.

Park Hopper tickets allow you to visit multiple theme parks in the same day.

For example, you could visit Hollywood Studios during the day before heading to Epcot for their nighttime fireworks show.

Park Hoppers come at an additional cost and only make sense for groups who want a flexible schedule and who can spend longer amounts of time in the parks. These aren’t typically recommended for groups with young children. 

FastPass+

The FastPass+ service at Disney World allows guests to bypass long standby lines for a select number of attractions. Each guest receives three FastPass+ selections for each day they have a valid theme park ticket.

When you book a FastPass for a specific ride or attraction, you are given a one-hour window to visit the ride and use the shorter FastPass line.

Summarized, a FastPass for a ride reduces the wait drastically, and essentially guarantees you’ll be able to experience the attraction.

Click here to learn more about the FastPass+ service.

No, you do not have to pay for FastPass+ selections as long as you have a valid theme park ticket.

Click here to learn more about the FastPass+ service.

Three FastPass selections are included for every guest who has a valid theme park ticket. Is it possible to get more than three FastPass reservations on a given day?

Yes! Guests can secure four, five or even more FastPass selections in a single day at a Walt Disney World theme park. Click here to learn more.

What should you use a FastPass on at Disney World? With lots of options, it’s difficult to decide what the best fit is for your group.

Below are FastPass Guides for each theme park. Note that these are the plans that work the best for us. Your individual interests may vary and alter these plans. We’ll do our best to keep these updates as new rides open at Disney World

Epcot FastPass Guide

Animal Kingdom FastPass Guide

Magic Kingdom FastPass Guide

Hollywood Studios FastPass Guide

Food

Disney World offers Dining Plans for guests who want to pre-pay for their meals while on vacation. The different plans offer a variety of options for guests, but they also require additional planning.

Click here to learn more.

Ultimately, the answer to this question is subjective and varies depending on your group’s interests.

The Dining Plan requires guests to make selections that fit within the plan, forcing them to closely study menus. The more expensive plans may require reservations or for guests to spend large chunks of time at a table-service restaurant. That’s not necessarily bad, but it’s something to be aware of when budgeting your time.

Some items may not be covered under the plan, or come at an additional cost. Guests may not fully use all that’s included in their plan before their vacation is over, leaving money on the table.

Personally, we have done the math and found that we prefer to skip the Dining Plan in favor of paying as we go.

Resorts at Disney World include a variety of amenities for their guests. Unfortunately, a continental breakfast is not included at any Disney World resort.

Click here to learn more.

Prices for meals will vary depending on your group and where you eat. Disney World offers quick-service meals that are less than $15, but also offers table-service meals that are well over $100 per person. How much you spend is really up to you.

Overall, food at Disney World isn’t cheap, but it also isn’t in the same inflated category as stadium concessions.

We mostly eat at quick-service locations with a couple table-service locations mixed in over the course of our vacation. We don’t recommend making too many table-service reservations at Disney World as they consume large amounts of time and money. When time is your most valuable asset on vacation, dedicating hours to a meal may make you miss something.

Yes! Walt Disney World allows guests to bring their own food and drinks into the parks. 

However, there are a few stipulations and rules in place that guests must follow.

Transportation

Disney provides complimentary transportation for guests arriving at Orlando International Airport. The Disney Magical Express must be booked in advance (at no cost) and takes care of both you and your luggage.

After booking, Disney will send your group luggage tags that should go on all of your checked bags. Then, when you land in Orlando, head straight for the Magical Express on the lower level of the airport. As you board the bus, your luggage will be delivered directly to your room at the resort. This process is similar to that of a cruise. Note that your luggage may take a few hours to arrive, so we recommend packing your essentials in a carry-on bag.

It takes roughly 45 minutes to travel from the airport to your resort, depending on which stop you are on the shuttle.

This service is also provided at the end of your vacation. Stop by airline check-in at your resort where you’ll be given your boarding pass and they’ll take care of your luggage. You’ll once again board the shuttle (roughly 3 hours before your flight) and head to the airport. You won’t see your checked bags until you land in your next destination.

If you’re staying at a Disney World resort, you’ll have complimentary transporation to the four theme parks, both water parks and Disney Springs.

Most resorts primarily use bus transportation, but select resorts have alternative modes of transportation such as the Monorail, watercraft and the upcoming Disney Skyliner gondola system.

Note that the bus service doesn’t travel between resorts. You’ll need to connect at a stop in order to travel from one resort to another. 

Disney also provides the Minnie Van service, which is a paid option through the Lyft app that charges a flat rate and by the mile.

There is a fee to park your vehicle at a Disney World resort or a Disney World theme park. However, guests staying at a resort on-property receive complimentary parking at the theme parks.

Pricing for parking varies. Click here to learn more.

Make sure you do the math to determine whether driving or flying makes the most sense for your vacation with the charges for parking factored in.