Bibbidy Bobbidy Boo! This vacation planning guide to the most magical place on Earth, I write for you!
I’m a Disney travel expert—the one you’d text to help plan your trip, find out which rides your kids would like, ask for hotel recommendations, ask which restaurants are worth your time, etc. I know the Orlando airport better than metro Detroit’s at this point, and can tell you off the top of my head where the nearest bathroom and Starbucks are in any Walt Disney World park.
I’m also aware that it can be a difficult trip to plan—especially the first time. So I’m happy to share some of my best tips and recommendations that I’ve been using with my own family for years. So whether you’re planning your upcoming holiday travel or beginning on your Spring Break plans, read on for all the magical details!
My ideal Walt Disney World itinerary consists of park days with rest days in between to recuperate. Trekking around a Disney park (especially with kids) can leave you spent by the end of the day with aching feet and sore muscles—albeit a full heart.
If you were to plan another park day for the very next day, you’d most likely dread going from all the exhaustion, and this is not the way to scan your Magic Band at any of those magical kiosks. This also allows you the chance to rest, relax, and enjoy the gorgeous pools that Orlando offers.
To stay on or off Walt Disney World property? That is the question.
To stay “on property” means you’re staying at a hotel owned by the Walt Disney World company. There are a plethora of hotels owned both by the Walt Disney World company, and partnering with them, on property in all different price ranges which offers plenty of options. There are also a plethora of hotels outside of the Walt Disney World gates, so this broadens your decision making greatly.
My recommendation for the two factors that should weigh this decision are:
- Do you plan to rent a car?
- How immersed in the Disney experience do you want to be?
One of the things that makes the Walt Disney World resort unique is that they provide free transportation around their entire property in the form of bus, water taxi, and skyliner—except to and from the airport, as this is now a paid service. This means technically, you don’t need to rent a car if you only plan to stay on their property.
Some other perks of staying on property include free parking at the parks if you’re driving, and the completely immersive Disney experience as most hotels are Disney-themed. You’ll also have easy access to character dining options and can make all reservations before anyone else—60 days in advance of your chosen date. You also can make Lightning Lane reservations sooner—the system that allows you to bypass the attraction lines (more on this below).
The greatest perk of staying off property is most resorts of the same caliber cost less money. By renting a car you have more transportation freedom—though it does mean more parking fees. And sometimes after being in the theme park all day, you want a break from the complete Disney experience.
You can make hotel reservations at the Walt Disney World Resort here.
RESTAURANTS YOU'LL LOVE
My top pick for restaurant recommendations is CHARACTER DINING! You can imagine since everyone is also trying to meet characters, they book up fast! I recommend making your reservation as soon as you can—up to 60 days prior if you’re staying on property, and 30 days prior if you’re staying off. Below are some of my favorites and top recommendations.
- Topolino’s Terrace (Riviera Resort): Mickey and Friends
- Ravello (Four Seasons): Mickey and Friends
- Cinderella’s Royal Table (Magic Kingdom): Princesses
- Akershus Royal Banquet (Epcot): Princesses
- Hollywood & Vine (Hollywood Studios): Disney Junior
- O’Hana (Polynesian Resort): Lilo and Stitch
- Story Book Dining at Artist Point (Wilderness Lodge): Snow White and Friends
- Chef Mickey’s (Contemporary Resort): Mickey and Friends
You can make your restaurant reservations here.
Here’s a quick guide for each park based on interest:
- Classic Disney characters, rides for all ages, and Princesses: Magic Kingdom
- Star Wars and Toy Story: Hollywood Studios
- The most Princesses, unique and best park for all ages: Epcot
- Pandora, animal and unique characters: Animal Kingdom
All of these character locations and attractions are located in the My Disney Experience app.
In my family each person is allowed to pick three attractions we tackle that day, whether it’s a favorite ride, specific character, etc. Some absolute must-do’s, however, are Character Parades, which happen in the afternoon, as well as the nighttime spectacular show in each park.
The My Disney Experience App is your best friend on your Walt Disney World trip. It contains the map, listings for the shows in each park, rides with locations and height requirements, parades, character experiences, Genie +, and much more!
In a nutshell, Genie + is a paid service on the app that allows you to skip the lines at certain rides. The cost does vary by day. Some rides are paid for separately based on their popularity (called Lightning Lanes). My recommendation is to absolutely book Genie + on popular days such as during holidays, breaks, and weekends. You may be able to get by with shorter wait times during non-peak times (the app will tell you what the general wait-times for that week are).
For an attraction you really want to visit—such as your child really wanting to meet Mickey Mouse and Cinderella, or making sure to ride Rise of Resistance—I’d say paying extra for Genie + and/or Lightening Lanes for those specific attractions is well worth it.
You can view and download My Disney Experience here.
UPCOMING HOLIDAY EVENTS
If you thought the holiday season was already magical, just wait until you see it celebrated Disney style! You’re sure to want to attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party on select nights at Magic Kingdom. There are parades, special characters, a new fireworks show, and castle projections that look like actual snow falling atop of what’s already a breathtaking view of Cinderella’s Castle at night. This is an extra ticketed event, so book early if you plan to attend.
Another special celebration is International Festival of the Holidays at Epcot. You can walk around the World Showcase and sample all kinds of delicious holiday recipes from around the world. This is part of your ticket to Epcot and no advanced reservation is needed!
A completely FREE holiday activity is to walk around Disney Springs and the other resorts taking in all the magical decor, sights, sounds, and tastes. Make sure to check out the life-size Gingerbread House at the Grand Floridian and have a Mickey Gingerbread cookie!
You can purchase tickets to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party here.
BONUS TIPS TO WALT DISNEY WORLD
- Make sure to download My Disney Experience and familiarize yourself with it.
- Take breaks on your park day. You don’t have to get there super early or stay super late “to get your money’s worth.” A tired family isn’t one who’s having fun, so work around your family’s schedule and preferences.
- Watch the parades and shows! It’s the best way for your kids to see all their favorite characters!
- Don’t make too many dining reservations in one day. It’ll take up too much time, and the cost will add up. Instead, I like to make only one reservation for us—usually dinner. I’ll pack us a lunch to bring into the parks.
- Another idea–bring your own snacks and water bottles to save some money. You can also request a cup of ice water at any quick-service kiosk!
- Purchase the photo package—it’s worth it! Disney photographers are amazing and they take so many fun, magical photos you’ll treasure forever!
- Lastly, take in all the magic and have fun!!