While the onset of Disney dreaming might have begun in childhood, you should begin making actual plans up to a year in advance (or more) of your desired travel date. This is especially true if you want to travel during periods with high demand (like Christmas) or if you have a specific resort that you want to stay in (cheaper room options sell out quickly).
Ideally you want to have your daily park plan mapped out before you reach 180-days before your check in date. At 7am on that 180-day mark before you check in, you must know which parks you will be at on each day of your trip so you can make highly popular Disney dining reservations.
You need to know which parks you will be at on each day 60 days in advance (or 30 days if you’re not staying at a Disney resort) to make your FastPass+ reservations to skip lines of 30-180 minutes for the most popular attractions.
For those of you who have never heard of such craziness, we do not exaggerate. For others who disbelieved your friend’s exuberance about advance planning, they did not exaggerate. The best Disney vacation is a well planned vacation, and that means advance planning. But don’t worry — this is what MousePlanner was designed to do!
Here’s what you need to know:
- If you work with a travel agent, only work with someone that specializes in Disney. These are not your regular travel agents. Often moms and dads themselves, their enthusiasm for all things Disney translates into vast stores of detailed information and wisdom coupled with a genuine desire to help make the experience magical for you. They can use their deep and enthusiastic reservoir of Disney knowledge to help you navigate options.
- You will get the lowest rates available. There are often no fees or hidden costs to work with a Disney travel specialist. They earn a small commission on a vacation that you book through them, which helps pay for their time.
- You CAN plan your own vacation. If you haven’t been to Disney World in the last few years, you’ll need some guidance. Begin with our Simple Guide to Disney Planning. Then sign up to try out our itinerary planning tool and build a MousePlan®. You can decide later if you want to work with a travel specialist or not.
- Be sure and visit our Step-by-Step Booking Guide too!
The best time to go, of course, is when heat, crowds, and prices are at their lowest, but these stars rarely align. If you don’t have school-age kids, consider going when everyone else is in school. Personally, if I have the choice between missing a few days of school and experiencing calmer crowds and better weather, we’re missing school — but not everyone feels that way — which is why it’s good to go when everyone else is in school!
Gone are the days of predictably low crowd levels during less popular months. Disney has become increasingly popular year round, with factors such as Latin American travelers during winter, special events that draw Florida locals, and even Cheer and Dance competitions that flood the ESPN center and spillover to the parks.
As Disney invests in innovative ways to equalize crowds — with MagicBands, FastPass+, and even huge park expansions — you should expect feeling a bit like a fish swimming in a fairly dense school of fellow fish. This is why a park touring strategy is essential to planning your perfect Disney vacation.
Factors to consider when planning your trip include:
Crowds — the busiest days are during Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and popular spring break weeks.
Special events — be aware of seasonal events that you may either want to enjoy (because they are super fun) or avoid (because they are crowded). Star Wars days, International Food & Wine Festival, and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party are a few examples.
Special promotions — can offer up to 30% savings off resorts or even free dining. Several are offered throughout the year.
Weather — winter months are the most temperate but parks close earlier, and crowds are not as low as you’d hope. Summer heat can be brutal but if you don’t mind rain ponchos, spontaneous thunder showers (and don’t have small kids), then early mornings and evenings can be good times to go, if you can’t miss school during the year.
There is something for every age at Walt Disney World so every age is the right age. Each trip offers something new and exciting for a variety of ages. While some worry that kids can be too young for a Disney trip because they won’t remember it — they might not realize how amazing it is for us parents to experience Disney through the eyes of a small child.
My son may not remember but my husband and I still cherish those memories of watching wonder and euphoria light up the face of our 2-year old, as he experienced Disney World for the first time.
Here’s the other thing — if they’re younger than 3, then they’re FREE. Free tickets, free dining plan. FREE.
Before they begin school, you have more flexibility with the timing of your trip and you can choose weeks that may be cooler, cheaper, and less crowded.
Plus, Disney World caters to kids more than any other place on earth, which simplifies routine parenting tasks (like finding kid-friendly food and monitoring noise levels when enjoying dining out). This is liberating for parents who want to parent less and play more! Of course, all children — and many parenting styles — are different and this must be taken into account when planning your trip.
Disney caters to every age from babies to seniors, and advance planning is going to help ensure that your vacation fits everyone’s needs and interests in terms and set the right pace so everyone enjoys their time while getting the most from their trip.
Disney provides free transportation aboard the Magical Express airport shuttle bus to resort guests.
Even more magical is the complimentary luggage service, also included, which allows you to say bon voyage to your checked luggage, allowing you to bypass baggage claim and have them magically delivered to your room.
This added luxury allows you to travel light — your MagicBand is all you need to board the Magical Express. Expect about 30-45 minutes from the airport to your resort, as the bus will make up to three stops at other resorts.
Resort pickup for your return to the airport is scheduled 4 hours in advance of your flight to get you to Orlando’s lengthy security lines in plenty of time to make your flight. Resort guests can check into their flight and check baggage at the resort, before even boarding. This added benefit can free you up to spend a few more hours at the parks after checking out of your room.
Disney’s gone digital to help you capture all those magical memories.
You can purchase Memory Maker (for $169–$199) and get unlimited downloads of the photos and videos taken by Disney PhotoPass photographers and videos. You can also purchase photos and downloads separately, but it’s usually more economical to buy the package, if you want to keep 5 or more photos.
The Memory Maker add-on includes:
- Iconic Disney landscape photos taken by professional photographers located throughout the parks
- Photos taken at character dining and meet and greets
- Action shots captured on the most thrilling attractions
- Magic Shots–photos sprinkled with pixie dust, often featuring Disney characters magically appearing in your photos.
How it works:
1. Purchase Memory Maker at a discount by adding it to your vacation package when you book your resort. Or purchase online.
2. Link to your My Disney Experience Account.
3. Scan your magic band every time you’d like to add a photo to look at later.
4. Select the photos you want to keep by downloading them from your My Disney Experience account, using either the app or the Disney website.
To learn more visit Disney’s Memory Maker webpage.