10 Steps to Help You Plan the Trip of Your Dreams!

Disney Checklist
Disney Checklist

When I asked some of my friends, “What’s the one thing you wish you knew about going to Disney World?” they overwhelmingly answered, “I wouldn’t even know where to begin to plan a trip.” This guide is meant to break down what appears to be a very overwhelming process. One way to wrangle all the answers you need to help plan your trip is to use a Disney Authorized Vacation Planner like MickeyTravels. The best part is they’re totally FREE and can guarantee the lowest prices possible for all aspects of your trip. To get started planning your trip, read below and just take it one step at a time.

#1 Decide How Much You Can Spend

Come up with a ballpark figure of how much you can afford to spend on your trip. Factor in the cost of the following: transportation (plane, train, or automobile, including gas, tolls, fees, etc.), hotel, park tickets, meals, souvenirs, etc. You can use your budget to help you determine 1) whether you can afford to go at all, and 2) when the best time to go will be.

#2 Pinpoint Times of the Year You Can Go

Look at your family’s schedule and see when you are available. Some times are better than others. Crowds vary. Promotions vary (30% select resorts, free dining, etc). Personally, I’ve only ever gone in the Summer or on Spring Break- two times that are quite pricey and crowded. You can have a successful trip whenever you go, but if you can go during an “off” season, that would be a better choice. Check out our “4 Best and 4 Worst Times to Visit Disney” article for more details. Once you’ve figured out what weeks you are available for the trip, play around with the numbers. Look at the cost of flights at different times, and investigate the hotel rates. This should give you a general sense of what your trip will cost and will help you decide when you should go.

#3 Decide How Long to Stay

Here’s a critical point in your planning where the balance between how much you spend and how much you can experience starts to tip in your favor. The cost of getting to and from Disney is fixed- it’s going to cost you about the same amount at your chosen time of year, regardless of whether you stay for 4 days or 10. Obviously, the longer you stay, the more you are spending on accommodations and meals. However, your park tickets become exponentially more reasonable the longer you stay. For example, it costs about $100 to enter a park for one day. A 4-Day Adult Park Hopper pass costs $366 on Undercover Tourist’s website (a safe, legitimate site for buying slightly discounted park tickets). A 5-day hopper costs no additional money. To upgrade to a 6-day, it’s only about $15 more. Then it’s about $10 more to get a 7- day pass. Suddenly the $200 a night you are spending on that resort room seems to be a better value when you figure that your park admission for the day is negligible. If you can afford to pay for a few more nights of accommodations, it’s much more sensible to spend more time in Disney experiencing everything you want than it is to take a short trip and then plan to return again later.

Have you determined that you have enough money budgeted to cover a trip? Great! Now let’s get into the particulars.

#4 Decide where to stay

I am very partial to staying on-site. I love taking advantage of Extra Magic Hours, which are special morning or evening park hours for guests staying on-site. Staying on-site also allows you to use the Magical Express shuttle from the airport for free, as well as Disney bus, boat, and monorail transportation to all of the parks. Note that two of my favorites, the Swan and Dolphin, benefit from all of these perks with the exception of the airport shuttle.

You can also save some money staying off-site. It’s certainly a good consideration if you are traveling on a budget. Just don’t forget to factor in the cost of your rental car, gas, and parking at the parks each day.

If you’ve decided to stay on-site, you have a lot of choices. Do you want to try the campgrounds to save some money? Or be kind to your budget and try a Value resort? Moderate? Deluxe? Villa? The best way to make this decision is to figure out how much you can spend on the accommodations and then see what level you fall in. Make sure you compare prices before making a final decision here. I went on a trip in 2011 and was surprised to find that The Swan (a moderate-deluxe level resort, considered on-property but not actually owned by Disney) was barely any more money than staying at the All-Stars resorts, which are value level.

Once you’ve decided, book your room! Using a travel agent is fine, but I recommend calling the resort directly to see what they can do for you. Sometimes you will receive your best deal this way.

#5 Book your travel arrangements

You’ve made your decisions, so it’s time to finalize them. Secure your plane tickets (if flying) and your resort reservations. Make plans for any rental car you may need. You should consider booking your trip with anAuthorized Disney Vacation Planner. They’ll help you get the best price for your vacation, share expert advice and their services are totally FREE!

#6 Make an Itinerary

Ok, the trip is booked. Now it’s time to make an itinerary for your trip. Don’t get scared about the word “itinerary.” It can be basic, but you really should decide in advance which park you will visit each day so that you can figure out your dining and FastPass+ reservations.

Sit down with your travelling party and find out what everyone wants to see. Create a plan that includes everyone’s “must do’s”. Yes, you’re going to need a plan. Before you get too mad at me for telling you that you should make a “plan” for your “vacation”, let me assure you that there is good reason for this. Having a plan will help you spend less time waiting and more time having fun. I promise.

Does anyone in your family love water parks? If so, you need to plan some time to visit Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach. Do you have some serious foodies in your group? Certain restaurants might be on their lists of “must do’s.” Thrill seekers? Surely they’ll have Rockin’ Rollercoaster and Tower of Terror on their lists. Knowing these things will help you prioritize. There’s too much to do in Disney to assume you’ll be able to do it ALL in one trip.

See “How NOT To Wait In Lines On Your Disney Vacation: 7 Time Saving Tips” for a primer on how to maximize your park time!

#7. Make your dining reservations in advance

Make advance dining reservations (ADR’s) as early as 180 days prior to your trip. This is especially important if you are travelling during peak season, or for highly coveted reservations. Some of the most difficult reservations to get include Cinderella’s Royal Table, Le Cellier Steakhouse, Coral Reef, and Chef Mickey’s.

#8. Decide what type of park tickets to buy

By now you should have a reasonable idea of what you want to see in each park and where you’d like to dine. If you’re looking to save money on your tickets, consider not getting a park-hopper option. Currently, FastPass+ reservations can only be made in one park per day, so staying in one park for the day isn’t a bad idea anyway. If you are not buying the hopper option, you will want to carefully plan your itinerary and make sure you have time to see what you want on the day you are in a specific park. Personally, I like the park-hopper option because there always seems to be something I want to go back and see again, or something we missed. I enjoy the flexibility of being able to go to one park, take a break, and then go to a different park in the evening.

Other ticket options include the “water park fun and more” addition, which grants you access to the water parks, miniature golf, Disney Quest, ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex , and a round of golf at Disney’s nine-hole Oak Trail golf course. If you add this option to a 5-day ticket, for example, you get 5 entries into any one of the aforementioned “fun” options.

Be wary of anyone trying to sell you “cheap” Disney tickets. If you want to buy at a slight discount, look for authorized sellers. Don’t buy them from a roadside stand outside the parks!

Bonus Tip!

BONUS TIP: Consider planning and booking your next Disney trip with an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner you can trust like Mickey Travels. They’ll help you get the best Disney travel deal, share expert advice and their services are totally FREE! It’s genius! Discover More >

#9. Reserve your FastPasses using the My Disney Experience app or website (up to 60 days in advance for on-site guests, 30 days for off-site guests)

Now that you have your tickets, you’ll be able to manage all of your reservations on My Disney Experience (website or app). Currently, you can only book FastPasses in one park per day. You can select 3 FastPass+ experiences for each day; once you have used all 3, you can schedule another one from inside the park. Once you use that one, you can schedule a fifth, and so on. It is in your best interest to use FastPasses only on headliner attractions that accumulate long lines, or on special experiences such as premium parade viewing locations or character greets. Schedule your FastPasses for later in the day- you don’t need them early in the morning.

#10. Read up on all things Disney as you count down the days until your trip!

The better you understand how the parks work, the better equipped you are to spend all of your time wisely. Understand the FastPass system, transportation, and general offerings at each park before you go so you don’t spend a lot of time standing around looking things up. Check the historical weather, too, so you know what to pack. Pack your bags and enjoy your trip!

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About Meredith Smisek

Meredith Smisek is a kid at heart who works as an elementary school counselor. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, son, and corgi. Meredith is a DVC member who loves music, podcasts, crafting, and "talking Disney" with anyone and everyone.

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