Whether you're going for the first time or you've been before, I hope these tips will help you plan a magical trip to Disney World!
When to go?
Typically, the best time to go is the same for Disney World and Disneyland. September usually has less crowds. October, November, and December are great with the exception of Thanksgiving week and right before and after Christmas. January and February are usually less busy but a lot of rides are closed for refurbishment (check the Disney website to see which rides are closed). We went the end of April to the beginning of May and it was a great time to go.
There are a few different websites that have crowd calendars that tell you how busy the parks will be on specific days. They use years of statistics to come up with these calendars so they're pretty accurate.
The first crowd calendar I looked at was at Your First Visit. This website has a calendar for the whole year and tells you what the crowd levels will be for each week. They even have the weeks ranked in order from best week to worst week.
Touring Plans is a great website with a very accurate crowd calendar. If you want full access to the crowd calendar, you can subscribe for 1 year for $12.95. They will also create a touring plan for you to do everything you want to do in the most efficient way possible. If you want to view the crowd calendar for free, make sure you look 30-60 days before your trip. They only show 30-60 days from the current date for free. To see more than that, you have to subscribe.
Some other crowd calendars that I also like are Easy WDW, Dad's Guide to Walt Disney World, and Undercover Tourist.
I checked all of these calendars and compared each one to decide which days we would go to each park.
There are a lot of lodging options in Orlando so it kind of depends on your preference. Do you want to stay in a Disney hotel or stay off-site? The advantage of staying in a Disney hotel is you're very close and you have easier access to the parks. But they're a little more expensive than staying in some of the off-site hotels.
We booked an extra vacation through RCI and it only cost $349 for a week. Our condo also had a shuttle that took us to the parks. The downside was that the shuttle only came at certain times and we couldn't get to the park as early as I would've liked to. But it was a sacrifice we were willing to make since our lodging was so much cheaper. Plus we didn't have to pay for parking at the parks.
How many days to go/which parks to go to?
If you've never been before I would recommend going to each park at least once. So you would need at least a 4 day pass. There are 4 parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. They also have a few water parks which we have never been to. I did a post for each park so I could talk about each park in detail:
Park hoppers are more expensive than one park per day tickets. In my opinion, I think the one park per day tickets are better options because a) it's cheaper, and b) Disney World is so big that it would take a lot of time park hopping.
The advantage of park hopping is you can go to another park if the park you're at closes early. Or maybe you're planning on going to each park once and you want to park hop on your last day.
We bought 5 day one park per day tickets and I thought it was perfect. We went to Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom once and we went to Magic Kingdom twice.
Disney World has a fairly new fast pass system. It was implemented in the park about a year ago and all guests can have access to it. It is different than the paper fast pass system at Disneyland. The Fast Pass+ is used electronically. You can book your fast passes 30 days in advance if you're staying off-site and have park tickets and 60 days in advance if you're staying at a Disney hotel. You book them through the My Disney Experience page or on the app. You can pick 3 fast passes in a day and you can choose from most rides, shows, and character experiences. After you've used your 3rd fast pass+ you can go to any kiosk in the park and book another fast pass+. Once you've completed that one, you can choose another, and so on.
I really liked this new system. It was so nice to know that all of my fast passes were already booked when I got to the park and I didn't have to run around getting paper fast passes and then returning when it was time to ride. We were able to walk onto so many rides using the fast pass+.
If you stay in a Disney hotel, your Magic Band is included with your tickets. If you're staying off-site, you have to pay extra if you want a Magic Band. You can use a Magic Band as your park tickets, fast passes, room key, and you can also link it to your credit card for purchases at the park. We stayed off-site and did not purchase Magic Bands. I didn't feel like they are totally necessary. Our tickets were also used as our fast passes so I felt like we had everything we needed. But a lot of people really like them so it's all about your preferences.
How old should your kids be?
If your child is smaller than 40" they can still have a great time. Just plan on splitting up and using the child swap pass so you're whole family can ride. I've taken my kids to Disneyland at 10 months, 20 months, and almost 3 and it was always so much fun for the kids even though they don't remember it. I remember seeing the look on their faces and to me it was priceless!
Disney World vs Disneyland
A lot of people have asked me which I like better, Disney World or Disneyland. After going to both parks, I feel like it is totally even. I love them both! There were things that I like better about Disney World but there are also things I like better about Disneyland. Disney World is huge! It's like its own city. A lot of people like that it is so big and you feel so removed from real life. Disneyland is all close together. You can easily walk from Disneyland to California Adventure. I like that about Disneyland but it all just depends on your preference.
*Prepare for rain: Florida weather is unpredictable. I had read many things about being prepared for rain before our trip and unfortunately I didn't follow through. It ended up raining 3 of the 5 days at Disney World. Not just a little rain. It rained all day! We only had two rain ponchos and we had to share, holding them above our heads as we ran through the park. I'm sure it was quite the sight! We ended up buying rain ponchos before our last day but I wish we would've had them the whole time. The good thing about the rain was the lines were super short. We were able to ride everything multiple times.
*Plan some down time: Disney World can be exhausting and you definitely need some time to recover in between days at the park. We were there for a total of ten days so we planned a swimming or beach day in between each day at the park. We also spent some time at Downtown Disney and Disney's Boardwalk. Both of these places were really fun! If your schedule allows, you definitely need to plan some time to relax.
*Wear good shoes: You're going to be walking A LOT so it's good to wear shoes that you can walk in. I'm actually more comfortable in flip flops so that's what I wore the whole time and that worked out perfect, especially since it rained the whole time!
*Bring lunch and snacks: Disney food can be really expensive so it's a good idea to bring your own. It's fun to buy a few snacks here and there but if you buy every meal and snack at the park, you'll go broke!
*Hit the beach: I love the ocean so I take advantage of every opportunity I can to see it. Daytona Beach is about an hour to the east and we love that beach! If you want to go to the west coast of Florida and see the Gulf of Mexico, Clearwater is also a great area. There are a lot of really cool beaches there and it's about 1 1/2 hours from Orlando.
*Buy Disney gift cards: Before our trip I bought some Disney gift cards from Smith's to pay for our food while we were there. I bought the gift cards while they were doing 4x fuel rewards points so I saved some extra money on gas. See my post How I Save Money on Gas.
*Have a plan but be flexible: It's a great idea to go in with a plan. Know which rides you want to ride first and which attractions are a priority. But things don't always go as planned so you need to be flexible. Maybe you don't get there as early as you'd like to, or maybe it rains all day. (Both of these things happened to us!) Don't get upset when things don't go as planned. You gotta just go with it. You're in the happiest place on earth and you need to enjoy just being there!
If you're interested in planning a Disney World vacation, contact Mandy at firstname.lastname@example.org.