Once you’ve got your lodging squared away, it’s time to really get down to the details of your vacation planning.
*** If you are now less than 180 days away from your Disney World vacation, you may want to skip to Step Four on dining. Popular Disney dining reservations get snatched up quickly, and availability may be limited. You may want to plan your park days around the dining reservations that you are able to make, if restaurant experiences are important to you. ***
My Disney Experience (MDE)
Download the My Disney Experience app on your smartphone or tablet. This app provides numerous helpful tools including: park maps, wait times, reservation links, character availability, and much more. We’ll refer to it often from here on out as MDE.
Walt Disney World Overview
Walt Disney World is comprised of four theme parks, two waterparks and lots of extra activities. See the list below for a brief description of the major areas to help you decide how you’ll spend your time. At this point, figure out which parks (or non-parks) top your list.
Magic Kingdom – The classic park that everyone thinks of when they think of Disney. You’ll find Cinderella’s Castle and iconic rides like Dumbo and Peter Pan here, plus more characters than any other park.
Epcot – This theme park is divided into two distinct areas: Future World, a celebration of innovation, and World Showcase, a celebration of diverse cultures.
Hollywood Studios – This park contains tributes to movie making’s greatest moments and a significant number of Star Wars Experiences including rides and character interactions. You’ll find lots of shows here, memorabilia displays, and some thrill rides.
Animal Kingdom – Animals and conservation take center stage in this theme park, with all rides, shows, and characters fitting into some sort of nature theme including the newly opened Pandora – the Land of Avatar.
Blizzard Beach – A water park themed to look like a heat wave hit a ski slope and is melting the snow away.
Typhoon Lagoon – A water park that tells the story of a major storm that swept through a tropical locale and left a bunch of fun mayhem in its wake.
Disney Springs – Disney’s no-ticket-needed shopping, dining, and entertainment district. The place for concerts, movies, bowling, and evenings “out-on-the-town” while on vacation.
Boardwalk – A fun place to spend the afternoon/evening with street performers, eateries, shops, dancing, and lounges.
Other Entertainment – If you can dream it, you can probably do it at Disney World. Golfing, mini-golfing, boating, fishing, parasailing, biking, tours, and resort amenities are just a few of the things you’ll want to consider as you plan.
Broadly speaking, you’ll want to work inside some of these proven best practices for your Disney World days. However, remember there are always exceptions that will apply to your personal situation. Here are some things to think about…
1. Check Extra Magic Hours
If you’re staying at a Disney resort, you will have access to a certain park for an extra hour each day. That’s a pretty big perk that will probably guide you to which park you should visit on which day. On the flip side, if you’re not staying at a Disney resort, you may want to choose any park except the one with Extra Magic Hours (EMH’s). Consult MDE app and click on Park Hours.
2. Park Pacing
Magic Kingdomis the the busiest park and has the most attractions. To hit all your must-do’s at Magic Kingdom and not be rushing around like crazy, you may want to consider devoting two days.
Epcot is bigger, and should actually be taken at a slower pace to be properly enjoyed. (I always tell people to think of it as the largest, coolest science museum in the world.) Leaving time to linger at the exhibits makes Epcot better. You may want to consider two days here too, especially during festivals.
Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom are the smallest parks at the moment and, it’s reasonable to assume they can be seen in one day. However, both are undergoing expansions, most recently Pandora – Land of Avatar opened at Animal Kingdom with great success and larger than usual crowds—we’ll update as we know more about expectations with scheduling.
If you’re visiting during a holiday party season or special event, be sure to plan around the party nights. If you don’t have a party ticket, your hours in the hosting park will be seriously limited. Again, clicking on Park Hours in MDE app will give you this information.
2. Weekday Tips
Your best bet for Magic Kingdom is Tuesday through Thursday. Most people do Magic Kingdom first, so mid week will see a slightly smaller crowd. For Animal Kingdom, you’ll want to go when Rivers of Light is showing. Check the schedule on MDE because the show happens only on select nights during non-peak periods.
3. Weekend Tips
All the parks are busier on weekends, period. Specifically, you may want to avoid Epcot on the weekends (many Orlando locals go to World Showcase to unwind with food and cocktails) and Magic Kingdom on weekends (more locals with no school, and just more people in general).
4. Non-Park Days
Theme park days have a way of wearing everyone out. Late nights, lots of walking, heat and excitement…it can add up to exhaustion. Consider a restful non-park day or two in your schedule. Two park days then one rest day is a good formula for most. Use the day at your resort or check out some of the other entertainment on WDW property.
Personal Opinion – If your time is limited, don’t worry about “doing it all”. Too many people leave Disney drained and frazzled—which is anything but magical! Pace yourself properly and remember you’re on vacation.
At this point, grab a piece of paper and a pencil and write out a tentative schedule of which parks you plan to visit on which days of your trip. I say ‘tentative’ because our next step regarding dining may leave you pulling out your eraser. When you’ve got your basic ideas down, you’re ready to move on to Step 4: Where to Dine?