Planning a Disney World Vacation: The Ultimate Guide

Main Street Train Station at Disney World

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Okay guys, buckle up and put those lap bars down, because this is going to be long one! We’re talking about planning a Disney World vacation!

Planning a trip to Disney World can almost feel more intimidating than planning a European vacation (and I’m really not even kidding). Beyond the hotel and dining and transportation, you also have to think about the parks and rides and crowds and fireworks shows and parades and all kinds of reservations.

And I just want to say at the beginning…there is A LOT you can do at Disney World. More than you can possibly do even if you were staying there for a whole month. So take a deep breath, prioritize the things that are important to you, and make your trip the vacation YOU want…not the Disney vacation you think you should have.

So…let’s get going and plan the best Disney vacation for your family!

Walt Disney World Basics

Walt Disney World is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. It is located in Orlando, Florida.

Disney World consists of four major theme parks:

They also have countless restaurants, over 25 resort hotels, 2 water parks, 4 golf courses, mini golf, and a shopping and entertainment district called Disney Springs.

Planning your very first trip to Disney World? Check out our Disney World Tips & Tricks for Beginners.

Plan the Perfect Disney Trip!

Where To Stay:

Tickets & Reservations:

  • Use Undercover Tourist (an authorized ticket seller) to save money on Disney tickets. You can save up to $80 per ticket!
  • Need a stroller? We loved using Kingdom Strollers for on-site stroller delivery!

Need Help Planning?

  • Aren’t sure where to start? Sign up here for a free 7-day email course that will walk you through each step of planning your Disney World trip!
  • Download our Disney Planning Spreadsheet, a Google sheet you can take with you on the go, to organize all your Disney World plans! (And use some of our tried and true itineraries!)

Planning a Disney World Vacation in 2024

Planning a Disney World vacation seems to changed just about every year!

Here are some of the changes you can expect when planning your trip for 2024:

  • The Disney Dining Plan returned on January 9, 2024.
  • Beginning January 9, 2024, Park Pass Reservations are no longer necessary for date-based tickets. Other tickets, including Annual Passes, will still require a reservation.
Cinderella Castle with partner statue

Steps for Planning a Disney World Vacation

We’re going to break these steps down into A LOT more detail below. But he’s a general overview of the steps you’ll want to take when planning your Disney vacation:

  1. Set a Disney World Budget
  2. Pick Your Dates
  3. Choose Your Hotel
  4. Buy Tickets and Deciding on a Dining Plan
  5. Plan Your Transportation
  6. Book Your Dining and Advanced Reservations
  7. Plan Your Itinerary
  8. Prepare for Your Trip
  9. Have a Magical Time!

Budgeting for Your Disney World Trip

Setting a budget might be one of the most stressful parts in how to plan a trip to Disney World. I’ll just say this right now: whatever you budget to spend at Disney World, expect to spend more.

BUT Disney World can be done on almost any budget! Here are our tips for saving money at Disney World.

To decide on a budget, factor in the costs of lodging, transportation, park tickets, and dining, plus extras like souvenirs and snacks. You’ll also have to consider whether you’ll want to pay for Genie Plus, a skip-the-line upgrade (we definitely recommend this if this is the one and only trip you may make to Disney!).

Determining your budget though will help you decide on a couple of things:

  1. How many days you can spend at Disney World.
  2. What hotel you will choose.
  3. If you want to drive or fly to Orlando (of course, this also depends on where you live!).

So let’s talk about what different budget categories might look like at Disney World

Polynesian Resort Lobby
Polynesian Resort Lobby, a place for high budget trips

High Budget

For a high-budget trip to Disney World, you spend 5+ days in the parks, stay at a Deluxe Disney Resort, and opt for add-ons like Genie+, special events, and fancy Table Service dining.

You can expect a trip like this to run upwards of $10,000 or more.

Medium Budget

For a medium-budget Disney World trip, plan to stay at a Moderate Disney World resort, have less sit-down meals, and be choosy about which days you use Genie+ on. You might also consider opting out of Park Hopper tickets and visiting just one park per day.

You can expect a medium budget for Disney World to be in the $5,000 to $7,000 price range.

Low Budget

For a low-budget Disney World trip, you’ll want to stay either at a Value Resort or off Disney property (don’t worry! there are still lots of great hotels nearby!). You’ll eat Quick Service meals, and you may even choose to bring your own food into the park for some meals.

A low-budge Disney World trip should be in the $4,000 to $6,000 price range. So yes! It’s still pricey!

Picking Your Disney World Dates

There are a lot of things to consider when choosing a time frame for your trip: school vacations, weather, festivals (like Flower and Garden or Food and Wine at Epcot), crowd calendars, and special events.

Decide what the most important factor is for you. Do you want to make sure you go during a school break? Do want to be there for a certain party or festival? Then use your priorities to make your decision.

How long do you need for a Disney World vacation?

Generally, a week is a good amount of time to visit Disney World. If you arrive on a Saturday, you can spend Monday and Tuesday in the parks, take a rest day on Wednesday, spend Thursday and Friday in the parks, and then fly home on Saturday.

If you have more time, then great! We recommend doubling up on your days at Magic Kingdom and Epcot, as these are the parks with the most to see and do.

If you have less time, don’t worry! You can still have a successful trip! Try three days: 1 full day in Magic Kingdom, 1 full day in Epcot, and then a half day in Hollywood Studios with a half day in Animal Kingdom.

Date Considerations: Ticket Prices

Walt Disney World has variable ticket pricing based on dates. More crowded/popular times are going to be more expensive. Less crowded/popular times will be less expensive.

On the Disney ticket page, you can see which dates tend to offer the lowest per day price. But we actually don’t recommend getting your tickets from Disney World directly unless you get a great deal on a vacation package!

Instead, buy your tickets from Undercover Tourist, a licensed Disney ticket seller that offers discounted rates. We use them all the time!

Date Considerations: Crowd Calendars

It used to be that there were certain times of the year that were less crowded at Disney World, but in recent years this has become less and less the case. Early winter (January and February), early summer (May and June) and early fall (September and October) still tend to be pretty good time to visit. But gone are the days of parks that feel empty.

We recommend looking at a crowd calendar. The paid option at Touring Plans is probably the best. But there are also lots of sites with free crowd calendars:

But don’t let the crowd calendar dictate your plans for a couple of reasons.

  • Sometimes parks with low crowd predictions actually get crowded because everyone sees that low crowd number and flocks that direction!
  • It is still possible to have a great time at Disney even when it’s crowded. It’s all about planning ahead and managing expectations (no, when Magic Kingdom is at a 10/10 crowd level you will not be able to ride Big Thunder Mountain 10 times in a row).

So all that to say, go to Disney World when it works out best for you to go! We don’t necessarily recommend going between Christmas and New Year’s unless you like standing in a wall of people. But other than that, most times will be manageable. If you can visit during the week it will generally be less crowded than weekends. But you can make the most of your time no matter when you visit!

Date Considerations: Festivals and Events

You might also be particularly tied to going to Disney World during a particular festival or event.

Epcot hosts yearly Festivals, and many people enjoy visiting during these.

  • Festival of the Arts — January and February
  • Flower and Garden Festival — March to July
  • Food and Wine Festival — July through October
  • Festival of the Holiday — November and December

You might also want to visit when you can attend a special event at Magic Kingdom. From August to October, Magic Kingdom hosts Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party on select nights while in November and December you can attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party on select nights. These events are separately ticketed and take place after the park closes in the evenings.

Goofy Topiary at Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival
Goofy Topiary at Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival

Choosing Your Disney Hotel

Next, it’s time to choose your Disney hotel. You can choose to stay either on-property or off-property. Staying on-property gives you access to Disney transportation to and from the parks and perks like Early Park Entry or Extended Evening Hours. Honestly, staying on-property is my favorite because you are completely immersed in Disney magic. But there are several great off-property options too that are more budget friendly!

Staying On Property

Staying “on property” means that you are staying in a Disney-run hotel on Disney World property. There are lots of reasons to do this, but keep in mind that these will generally cost you more money than an “off property” hotel.

Benefits of Staying on Disney World Property

While you can definitely choose to stay off property, being on Disney World property comes with benefits that may make the extra expense worth it:

  • Access to free Disney World transportation
  • Early Theme Park Entry (30 minute prior to official park opening)
  • Extended Evening Hours (Deluxe Resorts only)
  • Earlier Dining Reservation Booking Window (60 days out + 10 days of your stay)
  • Earlier Access to Individual Lightning Lanes (7:00 a.m. instead of park open)

Walt Disney World Resort Hotels

There are three tiers to Disney World hotels that you can choose from based on your budget:

  • Value Resorts (beginning at around $100 per night)
  • Moderate Resorts (beginning at around $200 per night)
  • Deluxe Resorts (beginning at around $400 per night)
Disney World Deluxe Resorts & Deluxe Villas

Disney World Resorts are going to be the nicest on property. They are generally going to have better everything: better rooms, better mattresses, better dining options, better pools, better locations.

There are two different Deluxe Resort options: regular Deluxe Resorts and Deluxe Villa Resorts. The Deluxe Villas are part of the Disney Vacation Club (DVC), which is basically Disney’s time share program. But regular guests can still rent rooms at these resorts. While some of these resorts only offer villas with bedrooms and full kitchens, some of them (like Old Key West) also have regular resort rooms.

Deluxe Resorts
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
  • Disney’s Beach Club Resort
  • Disney’s BoardWalk Inn
  • Disney’s Contemporary Resort
  • Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
  • Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
  • Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
  • Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
Deluxe Villas
Disney World Moderate Resorts

Disney’s Moderate resorts fall between the Deluxe and Value Resorts. You’ll find perks here like sit-down restaurants and slightly bigger rooms, but you’ll also find food courts and doors that open to the outside (like at Value Resorts).

The exception here are the Cabin’s at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort, which technically fall into the “Moderate” category, but are really more of a villa situation.

  • Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort
  • Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort
  • Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter
  • Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside
  • The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort
Disney World Value Resorts

Value Resorts at Disney World are going to the be the most cost effective. Here the rooms are much smaller, food courts are generally the only dining option, beds aren’t as “deluxe,” and walls can be thin. That being said, we’ve stayed at Pop Century and had a great experience minus the room size and the thin walls.

  • Disney’s All-Star Music Resort
  • Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort
  • Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort
  • Disney’s Art of Animation Resort
  • Disney’s Pop Century Resort
Standard Room at Pop Century
Standard Room at Pop Century

Hotel Considerations: Location

In addition to your budget, you’ll also want to consider location. Do you want easy monorail access to Magic Kingdom? Or do you want to be able to walk to Hollywood Studios or Epcot?

There is free transportation from every Walt Disney World Resort to the Disney Parks, so no need to worry about how you will get from place to place. But you might want to consider what parks you plan to spend the most time at and try to stay close by.

Saving Money on a Disney World Hotel

As you choose your hotel, know that there are also great ways to get discounts at Disney resorts. Besides discounts that Disney sometimes runs, you can rent Disney Vacation Club points from vendors like David’s Vacation Club (think of it like renting someone else’s time share).

If you want to rent DVC points, plan to request them 11 months out. Even then you might not find exactly what you are looking for, so be flexible. (Here’s our full guide to renting DVC points!)

Booking through a travel agent often comes with some kind of discount, too. Even if you don’t use the travel agent for anything else, book through one just for the room rates they offer! Plus, if discounts come out between when you book and when your travel dates are, your travel agent will automatically apply them to your reservation.

There is really no reason pay “rack rate” (the price listed on the website) for a Disney hotel room because there are all kinds of ways to get discounts!

Hotel Tip: Split Stays

Aren’t sure which resort to choose? Or maybe you have money in your budget for a few nights at a Deluxe Resort, but not for your whole trip?

Then do a split stay where you stay at different resorts during your trip!

Disney makes split stays SO easy. Check into your first hotel. Then, on the day you are moving hotels, let bell services know you are moving resorts. They will take information about your bags. Then you will just leave them in your room (sometimes you may have to bring them down to bell services), and when you check into your next hotel, they will magically be there waiting for you at bell services!

One thing to note about split stays: take your dining reservations into consideration! You can make dining reservations 60 days before your check-in day for your entire trip (up to 10 days). But your whole trip won’t count your new hotel. So it will be like you have two trips planned, and each hotel will have its own 60 day countdown for dining reservations.

Hotel Tip: Choosing Your Room

Depending on your resort, you may want to make a room request for your room location. Maybe you want to be near the lobby, away from the pool, near an elevator, or on the first floor.

Look into the specifics of your chosen resort before you go, and send in a room request. You can do this via the app for some properties, fax it in (yes, I know, old school), or have your travel agent make the request for you.

You won’t always get what you request, but Disney does do their best to honor requests.

Staying Off Property

There are also great off-property options within an easy car ride to Disney. Not only are these hotels still close to Disney World, but you can often save A LOT of money on a hotel and, in some cases, even use hotel loyalty points.

In fact, some of them are technically “on” Disney property, even if they aren’t a Disney branded hotel. (You can use Uber or Lyft to get to the parks. We don’t recommend renting a car because of parking fees. And some of them also have their own shuttles.) And some of these hotels are partnered with Disney, meaning you might still have access to some perks.

Off-Property Disney Hotels

Here are just a few of the “off-property” options:

But there are TONS of hotel and VRBO options near Disney World, as you can see on the map below.

Making Your Hotel Reservation

Now that you’ve made so many decisions, the next step for planning your Disney World trip is to actually make some reservations!

If you are booking through a Disney travel agent, you may be purchasing a package that includes a hotel room as well as park tickets and maybe even a dining plan. If you are booking your hotel separately, you can book your park tickets in a later step (but don’t wait! do it soon!).

(You can also book your park tickets first. I just like to make my hotel reservations first because it feels like it gives me structure to everything else about the trip.)

Buying Tickets and Deciding on a Dining Plan

Types of Disney World Tickets

Aside from an Annual Pass (which, if you have one of those, you probably don’t need this Disney vacation planning guide), there are 3 types of Disney World tickets:

  • 1 Park Per Day Day — This is exactly what it sounds like. It allows you to visit one theme park per day. You can leave and return to the same park.
  • Park Hopper Option — This ticket allows you to visit more than one park per day.
  • Park Hopper Plus Option — This includes the same benefits as the Park Hopper Option, but also comes with a certain number of days you can use to visit Disney Water Parks or Sports (like mini golf).

Making Park Pass Reservations and Choosing Park Days

Beginning January 9, you will no longer have to make Park Pass Reservations for date based tickets. However, if you don’t have a date-based ticket you will need to choose your park days and make reservations accordingly. Note: Standard tickets are date based. So you will not need to make Park Pass Reservations unless you are visiting with an Annual Pass, group tickets, or military tickets.

There are a few things to consider when booking Park Pass Reservations:

  1. Consider booking one less park day than days you are at Disney. Having a rest day mid-trip can help with your stamina because Disney can take it out of you! (In the best way, of course.) You can spend the day at the pool, shopping at Disney Springs, or finding activities around your resort (they often have events going on during the day).
  2. Think about whether or not you want a park-hopper ticket, which would allow you to go to more than one park per day. If you don’t get a park-hopper ticket at the beginning though, you can easily upgrade it later.

AS SOON as you book your park tickets, get online and make your Disney Park Pass Reservation. Both a park ticket and a Park Pass Reservation for each ticket is required for entrance to the park. You can book your passes in the My Disney Experience app or on the website. If you have bought your tickets so far in advance that Park Pass Reservations aren’t available yet, put a reminder on your calendar to book them once they become available.

You should also look into any tickets you want for special events at this point (like After Hours Events). The tickets might not be available yet, but put reminders on your calendar to check for availability as your trip gets closer.

This is also a great time to make sure your park tickets and reservations are also linked to your hotel reservation if you didn’t book them together.

Discount Disney World Tickets

You don’t have to pay full price for Disney World tickets! There are several third-party ticket sellers that are verified through Disney.

Our favorite is Undercover Tourist. We’ve used them to buy Disney World tickets multiple times, and they always have at least some kind of discount available.

You can buy tickets from them and then link them to your My Disney Experience app.

Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom
Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom

Choosing a Dining Plan

Dining Plans are back at Disney World as of January 9, 2024. And I’ll be honest: I’ve never purchased one because I’ve never found it to be worth it. Unless you are taking advantage of absolutely every meal on the dining plan (and ordering the most expensive items), generally you’ll come out ahead if you pay out of pocket.

If you want to do some calculations based on your plans, here’s a calculator to tell you how much a dining plan would cost. Then roughly sketch out your dining costs if you were to pay out of pocket and compare the two. (I’m still looking for a calculator tool that will do this for you for 2024, but I haven’t seen one yet.)

However, Disney sometimes does offer great deals that include dining plans. In 2024, for non-discounted vacations of 4-nights and 4-days, Disney+ subscribers can get a free dining plan for trips July 1 to September 30.

So let’s break down these dining plans.

Quick Service Dining Plan

This is the cheapest plan. For each person, it includes:

  • 2 Quick Service meals per night of stay
  • 1 snack or non-alcoholic drink per night of stay
  • 1 resort refillable mug

Unused credits roll over to the next day.

Disney Dining Plan

This is the standard plan (note, the Deluxe Dining Plan from previous years has not returned). Per person, it includes:

  • 1 Quick Service meal per night of stay
  • 1 Table Service meal per night of stay
  • 1 snack or non-alcoholic drink per night of stay
  • 1 resort refillable mug

Like the Quick Service plan, unused credits roll over to the next day.

Planning Your Disney World Transportation

Next, figure out how you are going to get to Orlando. Depending on where you live, there are probably several options.

Flying to Disney World

Unless you live within driving distance, most people are going to be flying into Orlando.

MCO is the airport you will want to use, and they have flights 20+ airline carriers including popular options like Delta, United, Southwest, Virgin Atlantic, Spirit, Silver, Frontier, and JetBlue.

Once you arrive at MCO, you will need to arrange transportation to Disney World. While Disney World used to offer free bus transportation to resort guests, they no longer do. So you have a few options:

  • Book a ticket for MEARS Connect bus
  • Take an Uber or Lyft
  • Rent a car

Driving to Disney World

If you are driving to Disney World, then transportation will be pretty easy for you! Also, while you used to have to pay a fee for parking at Disney Resorts, this is no longer the case.

However, if you are driving to Disney World and staying off property and plan to use your own car as transport to the theme parks, you will have to pay $25 for parking (unless you are an Annual Passholder).

Transportation Within Disney World

If you are staying in a Disney World Resort, transportation will be super easy! Every resort has at least one, if not multiple ways to get to each pack.

Walking to Disney Theme Parks

If you are staying at Boardwalk Inn, Beach Club Resort, or Yacht Club Resort, you can walk to Epcot and Hollywood Studios.

If you are staying at the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, or Contemporary, you can walk to Magic Kingdom.

Disney World Monorail Transportation

If you are staying at the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, or Contemporary, you are on one of the hotels on the Monorail line. You can take the Monorail to either Magic Kingdom or Epcot.

If you are at Magic Kingdom or Epcot and want to get to the other park, you can also use the Monorail to go back and forth between the two.

Disney Skyliner

If you are staying at Art of Animation, Caribbean Beach, Pop Century, or the Riviera Resort, you can take the Skyliner to Hollywood Studios and Epcot. This is my favorite mode of Disney transportation because it is so quick and relaxing!

Disney World Skyliner
Disney World Skyliner

Disney Buses

Almost every resort has bus transportation to every theme park, so we won’t list them all here!

The exception is if your resort has Monorail or Skyliner transportation. If that’s the case, you may find that you can only use those options unless bad weather or technical difficulties mean that they need to run a bus.

Disney Water Transportation

You can also take boats to get to several Disney Theme Parks! If you are staying at Wilderness Lodge or in Fort Wilderness, the best way to get to Magic Kingdom is via boat. You can also take a boat to Magic Kingdom from the Polynesian and the Grand Floridian.

If you are staying at the BoardWalk, Beach Club, Yacht Club, or the Swan and Dolphin, you can take a boat to Epcot and Hollywood Studios.

You can also take a boat to Disney Springs from Old Key West, Saratoga Springs, and both sides of Port Orleans.

Transportation for Off Property Hotels

If you are staying at an off property hotel near Disney World, some of them offer complimentary transportation to the resort. Just call your hotel or check their website for the details.

You can also easily take Ubers or Lyfts to Disney theme parks.

Almost in conjunction with booking your hotel, you’ll want to buy your Disney World tickets and make Park Pass Reservations.

Booking Dining Reservations

At 60 days out you can make advanced dining reservations (ADRs) for Table Service Dining for your trip for 10 days. If you are there longer than 10 days (which, uhm, can I join your family?) you’ll have to make the reservations for the last days in the subsequent days following your first dining reservation day.

If you are staying off property, you can still book your dining reservations at 60 days out, but you’ll have to make reservations for each individual day on each day that is 60 days out. (This feels hard to explain. Basically you can’t make reservations for your trip all at once, but rather one day at a time.)

Dining reservations open online at 5:45 a.m. EST and via phone at 7 a.m. EST. Be online early and don’t freak out when the website crashes because it often does. Just have faith it will work out!

When the time comes, make the reservations that are hardest to get (like Cinderella’s Royal Table or Be Our Guest) first, and then go from there.

If you can’t get what you want, book something else and then keep checking back. People are constantly changing their plans/reservations, so that coveted reservation you were looking for may become open! I’ve made dining reservations before because I couldn’t find what I wanted, only to discover the reservation I wanted became available 10 minutes later.

Also, keep checking back for reservations as your trip gets closer, even up to the actual day you are in the park. People change plans all the time, and you never know what will become available.

Quick Service Dining in Disney World

You don’t have to have a dining reservation for every meal–only for table service restaurants!

There are also tons of great Quick Service restaurants in Disney World and you could honestly go to the park with zero dining reservations and still have some great dining experiences. (We did exactly this during our pre-Thanksgiving 2021 trip and still ate some fantastic food.)

Here’s a Quick Service guide for each Disney Park:

Mobile Ordering

If you do plan to dine at Quick Service restaurants, don’t forget about Mobile Ordering!

In the My Disney Experience app, many restaurants have Mobile Ordering enabled. This means you can order your food through the app ahead of time. Then, when you arrive at the restaurant just click “I’m Here! Prepare My Order” and they will get your food out to you.

This is a great way to save time, because it means you won’t have to wait in line to order at the restaurant.

Keep in mind that not all Quick Service restaurants offer Mobile Ordering though.

Gaston's Tavern in Magic Kingdom
Gaston’s Tavern in Magic Kingdom

Other Advanced Reservations for Disney World

At this point, you will also want to make sure other reservations are in order:

  • PhotoPass purchase
  • Stroller rentals (especially if you are using an outside company)
  • Parties and Special Event tickets
  • Any other special experiences you want to add (like Bippity Boppity Boutique)

We’ll cover some of these in just a bit! But while your booking your dining, it’s a good time to get all the other reservation details squared away too!

Planning Your Disney World Itinerary

Now it’s time for the fun part! Planning your Disney World itinerary!

Remember, there’s no wrong way to do Disney here, so do what works for your family. Maybe you want to make a detailed itinerary. Maybe you want to completely wing it. Either way is fine.

But be sure to leave flexibility in your plan (especially if you plan to use Genie+).

You’ll also want to consider the party you are traveling with. Are you traveling with kids? Then you’ll want focus on the best rides for certain age groups.

Details about Genie+

Important Changes Coming July 24, 2024: Genie+ is changing! Genie+ will be called Lightning Lane Multi Pass and Individual Lightning Lanes will be called Lightning Lane Single Pass.

Guests staying at Disney Resorts will able able to make 3 Lightning Lane selections using Multi Pass and up to 2 selections using Single Pass 7 days in advance of their trip (up to 14 days). Other guests will be able to make selections 3 days in advance.

Disney’s Genie+ is a way to wait in shorter lines called “Lightning Lanes.” Not all rides have them, but the ones that do tend to be the popular rides that frequently have long waits.

Genie+ will cost you though! It can cost between $20 and $39 per ticket PER DAY. So definitely decide if it is in your budget or not.

The park I most recommend Genie+ for is Magic Kingdom. There is SO MUCH to do there, so if you only have room in your budget for one Genie+ day, make it that day.

If you do choose to use Genie+, you will buy it beginning after midnight the day of your park visit. Then, beginning at 7:00 a.m., you can make your first Lightning Lane reservation in the My Disney Experience app. After that, you can make more Lightning Lane reservations either when you check into your first one or two hours after park opening (after that it’s two hours after you made your previous reservation).

There are also 1-2 rides in each park that offer a paid Individual Lightning Lane. These are not included in Genie+ but instead are an extra cost to access the Lightning Lane:

  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in Magic Kingdom
  • TRON Lightcycle/Run in Magic Kingdom
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind in Epcot
  • Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance in Hollywood Studios
  • Avatar: Flight of Passage in Animal Kingdom

Have more questions about Genie Plus? Here’s our complete Genie+ Guide.

Virtual Queues

It’s also important to know about Virtual Queues before you go.

Disney World uses Virtual Queues for new rides that have recently opened and are extremely popular. Right now those rides are TRON Lightcycle/Run in Magic Kingdom and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind in Epcot.

Joining the Virtual Queue is free, and you have several opportunities to join them throughout the day:

  • 7:00 a.m. for guests with a Park Pass Reservation for that park
  • 1:00 p.m. for guests inside the park
  • 6:00 p.m. for Deluxe Resort Guests on evenings offering Extended Evening Hours

After you join the Virtual Queue, you will wait for your boarding group to be called and then go to the ride.

Note that rides with Virtual Queues ONLY have Virtual Queues or paid Individual Lightning Lanes. There is no standby line for these rides.

Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind entrance
Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind Entrance

Tips for Creating Your Disney World Itinerary

When you are creating an itinerary/touring plan here are some general guidelines:

  1. At park opening (aka rope drop) go for some of the most popular rides. (If you are close to the front of the rope drop crowd, go for the MOST popular ride. If you are further back, go for a mid-tier popular ride. There are a lot of reasons for this, but mostly you don’t want to waste valuable morning ride time just standing in line for one ride. Unless you absolutely HAVE to do that ride and don’t think you’ll be able to later.)
  2. Want to know what the popular rides and less popular rides are? Check out the wait times in My Disney Experience in the days leading up to your trip!
  3. If you are using Genie+, try to book your first ride as soon as possible in the morning. I do a ride or two at rope drop, and then go to my Lightning Lane reservation. This enables me to book the next Lightning Lane sooner.
  4. Break for lunch either early or late in order to avoid lunch crowds, then use normal lunch time for rides!
  5. In the afternoon consider either going back to your hotel for a break from the heat or going to shows/other indoor entertainment or rides to cool off.
  6. Don’t forget to include nighttime entertainment in your plan! The fireworks shows are worth seeing!
  7. Late evening right before the park closes is usually another great time to jump on a more popular ride with a slightly-shorter wait time.

Ready to buy tickets for your Disney World vacation?
We love using Undercover Tourist! They are an authorized theme park ticket vendor, and will absolutely save you money on the price of your tickets. For example, you could save $68 on a 4-day Park Hopper ticket.

Preparing For Your Disney World Trip

As you get ready for your Disney World trip, here are some additional details you’ll need to know. These are some things you’ll need to know about to make your time at the park a little easier.

My Disney Experience

My Disney Experience (MDE) is the online platform for everything about your Disney trip. MDE will keep track of your tickets, whose in your party, your dining reservations, Lightning Lane reservations, and photos from Photopass.

You can access My Disney Experience on your computer, but you will definitely want the app downloaded onto your phone for your trip.

You’ll also want to make sure all your reservations are linked to your app before you leave for your trip. This includes tickets, hotels, dining, and any special events you may have booked.

Magic Bands

Magic Bands are a watch-like bracelet you can wear in Disney World to make scanning into the places a little easier. While it’s no longer the case that Disney hotel guests get free Magic Bands, you can still purchase them to use for your trip. You may also choose to purchase a Magic Band +, which are newer Magic Bands with interactive technology (for example, they may light up synchronized with fireworks shows).

You will link your Magic Band to your reservation using the number on the back of the band. Then you’ll be able to use it to scan into the park, scan into Lightning Lanes, claim Photopass photos, and unlock your hotel room door.

If you have an old Magic Band from a previous trip, they will still work for several years. If your new reservation is under the same Disney account as your previous trip, it should automatically link. But note that eventually the batteries do run out and at some point it will probably stop working. And even if it is just a year or two old, the long-range sensors have likely run out and it will have trouble automatically linking ride photos.

If you wear an Apple Watch, you can also link this to your My Disney Experience account and use this like a Magic Band. However, it won’t be able to unlock your hotel room.

PhotoPass and Memory Maker

Disney World has photographers scattered throughout the parks and resorts to take your picture. They are called PhotoPass photographers, and they will take your picture with characters or in front of landmarks for free. However, getting the photos won’t actually be free.

There are three ways you can get your PhotoPass photos:

  • Have an Annual Pass that includes photo downloads
  • Purchase Memory Maker, which allows you to download all the PhotoPass pictures you take
  • Purchase the pictures you want individually

One important change in 2023 is that if you purchase Genie+ it now comes with free attraction photo downloads, which are the photos that get taken of you on rides.

Special and Ticketed Events

Disney World has lots of special ticketed events that take place throughout the year! These are events you will need to purchase a ticket for separately from your park tickets. Often these are events that taken place in the evening after the parks close early.

  • Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party
  • Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
  • Disney After Hours

These events can be a fun way to access park attractions with lower waits. And events like the Halloween and Christmas parties also come with special entertainment options you can only see at the events!

Special fireworks at Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party
Special fireworks at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

Strollers at Disney World

Disney World and little kids. They just go together. Which means there are A LOT of strollers around Disney World and it’s likely you might need one for your kids.

There are three options for strollers at Disney:

  • Bring your own stroller
  • Rent a stroller at the park
  • Rent a stroller from an outside company and have it delivered

If you bring your own stroller, make sure you understand the stroller size guidelines for Disney World.

If you choose to rent a stroller, you can rent one at the park. But keep in mind that these are a first-come-first-serve basis. You also won’t be able to take these out of the park with you and back to your hotel.

Our favorite way to get a stroller at Disney World is to rent from a company like Kingdom Strollers or Scooter Bug. They will deliver the stroller to bell services at your hotel before you arrive. Then you can just go pick it up, take it throughout Walt Disney World Resort, and return it to bell services before you leave. You can also use services like this for wheelchairs and ECVs.

Packing for Disney World

Packing for a vacation to Disney World is unlike any other trip. While you’ll definitely need your standard trip items (like your toothbrush), here are some other things to keep in mind and things you may want to pack.

  • Cool clothes. Disney World is HOT most of the year. So bring comfortable cool clothes like shorts and t-shirts.
  • Comfortable shoes. You’ll be walking A LOT. So bring shoes you are comfortable in. It also will likely rain during your trip, so be prepared for your shoes to get wet. I like to wear my Chacos most park days, and then I change to tennis shoes when my feet are tired of Chacos.
  • Cooling Towels and/or Portable Neck Fan. Again, it is HOT at Disney World. So you’ll want some accessories to help you stay cool. We love these cooling towels, and tons of people love neck fans like this.
  • Portable Charger. You’ll likely be on your phone a lot while you are in the parks. Not only will you be taking lots of pictures, but you’ll also need to be keeping track of things in My Disney Experience. Bring a portable charger like this one to make sure you phone stays charged.
  • Autograph Book and pen. You can buy one ahead of time or buy one there, but if your kiddo is into meeting characters, have an autograph book for characters to sign!
  • Rain jacket, ponchos, or umbrellas. It will almost certainly rain during your trip, so be prepared.
  • Sunscreen and hats. The sun can be brutal in Florida, so be sure to protect yourself! This sunscreen and this face stick are our favorites!
  • Bathing suits! Take some time to enjoy your hotel pool!

After your trip you may want to bring Disney home to you with one of these Disney scented candles!

Having a Magical Time at Disney World!

You’ve spent so much time planning a Disney World vacation, and now it’s time to actually go and have an magical time!

One thing to keep in mind: be sure to manage your expectation. People go to Disney World expecting it to be pure magic sometimes. And there really is SO much magic! But there will also be stressful moments too. There will be moments when kids are whiny, or plans don’t work out, or a ride goes down. So be prepared and know that not everything will go perfectly. But LOTS of things will be magical!

More Ways to Make Disney Magical

Get a Celebration Button

Are you visiting Disney World to celebrate a big milestone? Maybe it’s your first visit or you’re there for a birthday or anniversary. If so, get a celebration button!

These are fun pins that you can pick up at guest services at the Disney parks or at your resort. And if you wear them at the parks, cast members may notice them and do something to make your trip a little extra special.

Visit Disney Springs

Disney Springs is a shopping, dining, and entertainment area at Walt Disney World. It’s free to visit, and it’s a great activity for your arrival day or a day you don’t plan to visit the parks. There are some fantastic restaurants here, lots of shops (normal shops you would find at a mall but also special Disney shops).

You can take the bus to Disney Springs from any Disney World resort.

Blue water at Disney Springs with restaurants in the background
Disney Springs

Visit a Disney Water Park

Looking for a fun way to cool down. Visit a Disney World Water Park! There are two: Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach.

Typhoon Lagoon is themed after a shipwreck, while Blizzard Beach is supposed to be a ski resort that has melted into a water park.

Both are water parks you could spend an entire day at, with pools, water slides, lazy rivers, kids splash areas, and more.

You can buy a separate ticket to go to one of the water parks, or buy a Park Hopper Plus ticket for water park access.

Give a Cast Member Compliment

Is there a cast member that made your trip a little extra special or went out of their way to take care of you. Leave a cast member compliment!

Disney has made this super easy to do on the My Disney Experience app. Click the 3 lines in the bottom right of the app and scroll down to find “Cast Compliment.” From there, you can leave information about the cast member who helped you (usually general location, time, and what they did to make your trip so special, and their first name if you remember.)

This is an easy way to brighten someone’s day that has brightened your day.

Ready to buy tickets for your Disney World vacation?
We love using Undercover Tourist! They are an authorized theme park ticket vendor, and will absolutely save you money on the price of your tickets. For example, you could save $68 on a 4-day Park Hopper ticket.

More Disney Planning Resources

Need more planning help? Here are some more resources.

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