Planning a Disney Vacation

 

Planning a Disney vacation can be very exciting. Many people consider the anticipation of the adventure to be part of the vacation itself. However making sure that you spend enough time on the details can make the difference between another average vacation and the most exciting adventure of your life. Whether it’s your first time ever or you’re considering trying again with the next generation, be sure to know the answers to the following questions to make your planning most rewarding.

How long should I stay?

Where should I stay?

What are the best parks?

What should I pack to the parks?


How long should I stay?

This is easily one of the most important and sensitive aspects. You probably don’t have a fortune at your disposal. Yet you don’t want to walk away feeling like you barely accomplished anything. There are certainly many ways to save money and properly schedule a vacation to Walt Disney World, but all of that advice doesn’t stand as the only deciding factor. Before thinking about any of this, you should check out the page, “What is a Disney Vacation?”

I’ll be honest: If this is your first time, and you want to see everything one day per park is not enough

Not even close, in fact. Considering the vast size of the parks, and the million other things to do, it just isn’t realistic. And now I have to be honest about something else: You won’t see everything.

But with the proper planning, you can still see a lot. The best way to get the most out of your Disney Vacation experience is to plan to stay at least 6 full days. Why?

There’s a method to my madness: To see the entirety of the four main parks, that will probably take about 5 days. That is – five full days of diligence and effort to try and see everything. Now add another half-day if you want to see one of the water parks, and then add another half-day for other activities, relaxation, or Disney Springs. That’s six days right there.

Now I say this if you’re the type of person, such as myself, who wants to move around and get things done on their vacation. Not that type of person? I don’t blame you, not many people are. I strongly suggest you check out my article, “What is a Disney Vacation?” A good rule of thumb to ensure a more relaxing experience is to add another day for buffer.

Here’s an aspect that a lot of other advice-givers tend to forget: Leaving Walt Disney World property to see other attractions. Many will tell you to not do it. I find that to be bad advice since most people do it anyway. Needless to say, doing so mandates the need for at least another day.

Some of you probably think that my 6 full day estimate is absurd. Did I come up with this completely arbitrarily? No, I believe this to be a pretty good estimate. Is it the only answer? Absolutely not. There’s no way I can give make up one cookie-cutter formula and claim that it applies to everyone in practice. People are different, and they travel to Disney World for different reasons.

For example, maybe you have absolutely no interest in seeing a water park: knock off half a day. Or maybe you’re not interested in seeing every last thing if you can save some money. My mother has vacationed to Walt Disney World an innumerable amount of times. She has a familiarity with what she wants and doesn’t want to do. A vacation for her is typically just two days at the park and some hot-tub time. That’s perfectly fine, but I put it to you this way so you have a starting point. A driving instructor tells you to go exactly 65 miles on the highway. They leave it up to you to figure out that you don’t always have to do that.

Let’s jump ahead now. You’ve done your research, you know what you want to see and based off of my little formula, you’ve figured out how long you would like this adventure to be. When I advise to include “five days for the parks” I do NOT mean that that’s how you should divide your time. You should split up your time utilizing park hoppers so an average day might be a morning at one park, the afternoon by the pool, and an evening dinner and shopping somewhere else.

Knowing how much time to spend at Walt Disney World is the crucial first step in the planning process. From here, everything starts to take shape. Giving yourself plenty of leeway and dividing your days into multiple activities will assure the well-paced and dynamic experience you are looking for.

Where should I stay?

That depends on a few things, but let me narrow it down with these statements:

  1. Always stay on Disney property when on a Walt Disney World
    vacation.
  2. Never stay off-property when on a Walt Disney World
    Vacation.

By staying off property, you will immediately be deducting a lot of happiness from your future vacation’s potential. Allow me to pitch it to you this way:

By staying on property, you will get free transportation to and from the parks. Not only is it free, but it’s essentially nonstop. This includes buses that shuttle to and from all of the hotels, and certain hotels will offer direct monorail or boat access. If you play your cards right, it might even be easiest to just walk to some of the parks.

By staying on property, you will have the opportunity to use Disney’s fastpass+ system and reserve experiences over 60 days in advance. This is a digital ride reservation that allows guests to “skip the line” and walk right on during a reserved period for select attractions. A very convenient and essential way to experience a Disney World vacation.

By staying on property, you will have the opportunity to attend Extra Magic Hours, a period of time usually an hour before or a few hours after the park’s scheduled hours when only Disney resort guests are allowed in the parks. If you want to get as much done as possible, waking up the extra hour will save eons of time.

By staying on property, you will also have the opportunity to experience other benefits like direct-to-room deliveries of theme park souvenirs, Magic Band room charging, the Disney Dining Plan, more advanced fastpass/ dining reservations, and so much more.

By staying off property, you will have the opportunity for none of these. You will be forced to rely on non-Disney transportation which can be inconvenient and costly. Imagine having to leave the Magic Kingdom at 9 because that’s your last opportunity to take a shuttle back to the hotel? Meanwhile, the resort guests have until 11, and the next bus to their resort is always just a few minutes away.

The bottom line is that if you really want to get the “Disney” experience the way it was intended, you will stay on property. Whether you’re looking at the giant tennis courts at All Star Sports, or the majestic grand concourse in the Contemporary, you will be  immersing yourself in the Disney experience, away from the nuisance, problems, and evils of the outside world.

Resort Overview

WDW resorts are divided into three man categories: value,
moderate, and deluxe.

All Star Music ExteriorValue resorts are the cheapest, ranging from 85 to 170 dollars, depending on the time of year. Value resorts are very large (that is, regarding the walk to the nearest pool or lobby); a standard room will typically have two double beds, there is one central food court, and a large family pool. These resorts are also farther away from most of the theme parks, requiring travel by car or bus. Value resorts include:

 

Moderate resorts are a little pricier, a standard room can range from $160 to $230. These resorts are also very large, and standard rooms vary depending on the resort. In addition to a food court, the resorts also feature more elaborate swimming facilities including a hot tub, a small restaurant, and other recreational activities like bike rentals. These resorts are closer to the main theme parks and Disney Springs. This category includes:

  • Caribbean Beach
  • Coronado Springs
  • Port Orleans French Quarter
  • Port Orleans Riverside

 

Deluxe ResortWilderness Lodge Exterior prices vary heavily, but they typically start in the $250 range. In addition to all the features of the previous resorts, these are a lot less spread out, mostly within one main building as opposed to several. They also have convenient access to the parks, many of them within walking distance. The Deluxe resorts are:

  • The Yacht Club
  • The Beach Club
  • The Boardwalk
  • The Contemporary
  • The Polynesian
  • The Grand Floridian
  • Wilderness Lodge
  • Animal Kingdom Lodge

 

There are several other resorts that don’t categorize as any of these, including The Shades of Green, The Swan, the Dolphin, Fort Wilderness Campgrounds, and any of the DVC timeshare villas.
Swan and Dolphin Exterior

Park Overview

Disney World has four main theme parks and two water parks.

Magic Kingdom

WDW Magic Kingdom Main Street

Magic Kingdom is the original park that opened in 1971. The park is divided into six main lands: Main Street USA, Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland.In the center is Cinderella castle, which is also the gateway to Fantasyland. Magic Kingdom is home to famous attractions such as Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, and Peter Pan’s Flight. It’s also the home of the main events and festivities during the holiday seasons.

Epcot

WDW Epcot Spaceship Earth

Walt Disney World’s second park opened in 1982. It’s divided into two sections: Futureworld and the World Showcase. Futureworld is home to coveted Disney attractions like Mission: Space, Test Track, and Soarin’. The World Showcase is a collection of Pavilions themed to various countries around the world, each complete with shops, food, and a few cultural exhibits or vendors. Epcot is also known for its special events, The Flower and Garden Festival and the Food and Wine Festival.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

WDW Hollywood Studios Tower of Terror

Hollywood Studios is the third main park to be built, opening in 1989 (you may remember this as “MGM Studios” back in the day). This park is basically Disney’s “behind the scenes” tribute to the movie making process. You’ll often hear people call it a half-day park, and I agree with them, especially now. Hollywood studios is seeing a big overhaul in an attempt to change the identity and slant of the park from a real behind the scenes look at sound stages, stunts, and special effects to a park that houses famous movie environments.

As of right now you can experience rides like the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Rock’n’Rollercoaster Starring Aerosmith, Toy Story Mania, and Star Tours: The Adventure Continues.

By around 2018, the park will see the major additions of Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land, both featuring major attractions.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

WDW Animal Kingdom Tree of Life

This is the latest theme park, which opened in 1998. It’s also the largest of the parks by a considerable amount. It’s very big, very dense on theming, and there are lots of animals. However it does lack the amount of rides – Expedition Everest, Dinosaur, and Kilimanjaro Safaris are all fantastic. But that’s really it.

The Water Parks

Disney’s Typhoon lagoon is the older of the two water parks. It is themed as a tropical surfing cove. Blizzard Beach has an interesting theme as a Florida resort that froze over, was converted to a ski resort, and then melted. This park is home to the infamous Summit Plummet.

It’s worth mentioning that if you’re not visiting during the peak season, one of these parks will most likely be closed for refurbishments due to the lesser need for capacity, however both will never be closed simultaneously.

Of course we’re only hitting the tip of the iceberg regarding everything there is to do in Walt Disney World. No pun intended.

 

What to pack to the parks?

Depending on your status in life and just what type of person you are, there are a lot of different ways to answer the question. Let’s start with things that you cannot bring into a Walt Disney World theme park:

    1. Alcohol
    2. Glass bottles
    3. Large tripods, monopods, and professional recording
      equipment
    4. Selfie sticks
    5. Large strollers, wheelchairs, or other mobility devices.

For more information on that I advise you to check Disney’s website. Here’s a list I feel would be applicable to most people:

  1. A bag – I’m not usually a big bag person but I find it necessary for a trip to the parks. The great thing about Disney as opposed to other companies in the industry is that they generally allow bags and other loose articles on their rides. I still exercise caution when bringing bags on the more intense rides but you probably won’t ever have to put it in a locker if you don’t want to.
  2. A water bottle – You will need to stay hydrated. To save money I recommend packing an empty bottle and refilling it at water fountains
  3. Ponchos and spare flip-flops – Particularly on a day where it is supposed to rain, I recommend keeping them in your bag until the time is right to switch them. Walking around all day in soggy sneakers and clothes can easily ruin your vacation.
  4. Snacks – Sometimes you’re stuck in line somewhere and you just need something to keep the blood sugar up. Lots of people recommend trail-mix types of food that are heavy with nuts. That’s a great idea since nuts are very filling unless you’re like my partner who happens to be allergic to them.
  5. Phone card holder – I find this one to be handy because I don’t like having to dig around for things. If you’re utilizing the Magic Band system and you’re staying on property, you can charge purchases right to your room. This generally eliminates the need for a wallet although it may not hurt to carry around a few extra bucks in your bag. I typically keep an ID and a credit card, but that’s it.Phone Card Holder
  6. Sunglasses, sunscreen, Chap Stick, hats, etc. – If you’re like me, you’ll be reapplying every 5 minutes. Also there’s nothing worse than having to squint or cover your eyes like a sailor on a boat, make sure you bring either sunglasses.

Other items you could bring:

    1. Expandable Running Waist pack – These things are designed for runners but they are perfect for theme park use. If you don’t know what they are, its essentially a slim fanny pack that buckles around your waste that can expand a little. If you’re carrying around a bag, it may not be necessary. But let’s say you just finished an evening swim and you’re about to go to Epcot for the night. The sun’s going down and it’s not going to rain so there might not be a reason to lug around the backpack for just a few hours. That’s where this thing comes in. I personally love it because unlike a fanny pack, its small and can be worndiscreetly tucked under your shirt.

      Expandable Waist Pack
      Here’s one from Nike, however there’s plenty of other good ones out there for even less.
    1. Camera – If you’re into photography and video, you probably don’t need to be told this. Don’t forget spare batteries and memory cards too!
    2. Mini tripods – I personally recommend the gorilla pod because it can adapt to any different terrain. But anything similar works well too. Just no selfie sticks, security will find it during bag check.Gorilla Pod
  1. Portable phone charger – For that one guy that starts his day at 23%.
  2. Band-aids – If your younger companions are accident-prone, you won’t regret this decision. I tend to pack lightly and avoid this. I also don’t have kids.
  3. Stroller – If you have kids, your reimbursement is that packing for the parks is a thousand times easier. Yes, first of all you can bring strollers into the parks. In addition to that, you can leave strollers just outside almost every attraction. Use it to store your belongings throughout the day and don’t worry about fitting everything on the ride with you. If you plan on returning with your kids in the years to come, milk this opportunity for as long as you can!
  4. Spare clothes – For rain in the summer I would only recommend ponchos. During the off season it may be necessary to bring a rain jacket. If you’re going in the January-early March range, I would recommend bringing layers because the weather can be inconsistent.

And this brings me to my final point, worthy of its own subheading…

What to Wear?

Dress comfortably. Disney consists of theme parks first and foremost. You’ll be doing a huge amount of walking. What does this mean?

Sneakers!

Don’t wear heals. Don’t wear sandals (unless it’s down pouring). You will get blisters and you will regret it. You may also want to pack several types of footwear depending on how long and what you will be doing. Sneakers for the parks, flip flops for the pool, and maybe some nicer footwear for a dinner. Fancy.

Dress for the weather. It’s Florida. In the summer, it rains almost every day. It’s often very hot. But don’t be fooled, in January it can be unpleasantly cold in the evening. Check the weather before you pack for the vacation and be prepared to have various clothing ready with you in the parks.


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