How To Plan A Trip To Disney World
Begin planning early to understand just what Disney World really is
Planning ahead will give you an opportunity to research what Disney World has to offer – and what appeals most to you and your family.
And that may take more work than you realize. Disney World, better understood as Walt Disney World Resort, is a massive vacation area comprising thousands of acres of land and a multitude of visitor options to choose from like these:
- Four theme parks, including Magic Kingdom and Epcot
- Two water parks
- Scores of attractions and entertainment possibilities
- More than two dozen resort hotels
- Hundreds of restaurants and dining options
- Hundreds of wilderness cabins and campsites
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Figure out the four pillars of your Disney World vacation
You can fill in the finer details of your trip after you establish the following:
• When are you going?
• How long will you stay?
• Where will you stay?
• What specific parks and attractions do you want to see for sure?
Create an itinerary for each day
If you’re tempted to buy tickets to a theme park or two and just wing it when you get there, you could be setting yourself up for trouble.
Consider what MagicGuides.com, a site devoted to helping families prepare for a Disney World vacation, has to say: “Disney World can be a confusing and overwhelming place. Informed and organized vacationers are less stressed, save more money, and have more fun!
That’s why it’s a good idea to plan an hour-by-hour itinerary for each day there, including where you’ll be eating (yes, that means making reservations to be extra-thorough).
But will all that structure take away the fun? Just the opposite. By planning ahead, you’re more likely to:
- Enjoy yourself because you’ve researched the fun things you want to do and see.
- Prevent the frustration and wasted time that comes with standing around and trying to figure out what to do next.
- Have control over your budget because you know, for example, the general price ranges of the restaurants you’ll be eating at. (See more on budget considerations below.)
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How To Plan A Budget Trip To Disney World
Buy park tickets way in advance, if possible
Generally speaking, you’ll pay the same price whether you purchase theme park tickets online or at the gate. However, there are definite money-saving advantages to purchasing early:
• Fees typically increase every year. Buying early means you could skirt those price hikes.
• The FastPass system has been replaced by Lightning Lanes, which offers basically the same service for a price, and Genie+, which offers an expanded version of Lightning Lanes plus a few more accouterments for a higher price. With either, it’s good to lock in your time slot as soon as you can.
Plan strategically for how many days you really need
Check out the Disney World tickets guide and also scroll down to see what the Disney Parks Moms Panel has to say about vacation lengths.
Find the sweet spot for days vs. dollars
As Jetsetter.com explains, “It pays – literally – to plan ahead. Every extra day you spend inside a Disney park cuts dollars off park admission as a whole.”
Figure out when and where you’re going to eat
The biggest news to hit Disney World in 2024 is the return of the Disney Dining Plan.
Discontinued during COVID, this prepaid meal plan includes meals, snacks, and drinks at more than 200 locations across the Walt Disney World resort's table service and quick-service restaurants.
The plan is credit-based and offers a quick-service option and an option with table service and quick-service components.
Delish calls the plans “a budgeting tool [rather] than a cost-saving tool, since you won't be surprised by your spending after your visit,” and notes the costs of the plans have increased about 21% since they were last offered, to $78.01 per adult and $30.51 per child.
Is the plan worth it? It depends. It makes the most sense for families with school-age kids and people who like to splurge on Disney World’s higher-end establishments.
But it’s definitely something to consider as you plan.
Stay vigilant for cheaper flights
Disney World is a magical place. Unfortunately, there’s no spell for conjuring cheap flights. A few rules of thumb include the following:
- You could save money by flying into an airport other than Orlando International (MCO), including Sanford International (SFB, also in Orlando) or even Tampa International Airport (TPA) 80 miles away.
- Fly in and out mid-week rather than from weekend to weekend.
- Use sites like Priceline.com to help you find cheaper flights and Kayak.com for suggestions on the best time to purchase tickets.
Visit WDWPrepSchool.com for a comprehensive guide on flying to Disney World.
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Weigh your on-site vs. off-site accommodation options carefully
You can stay right on the Walt Disney World Resort property, at an off-site hotel, or opt for homestays through sites like Airbnb.com. Each option has its pros and cons. Find out what’s best for you and your wallet by doing some serious research – and math.
TravelandLeisure.com provides helpful descriptions of the best places to stay at Disney World and the many perks that come with staying on site. DisneyTouristBlog.com reviews ten off-site hotels and covers why they can be a better value. The site also offers a thorough discussion to help you make the decision to stay on or off site.
For more info on Airbnbing it on your Disney World trip, see MouseHacking.com.
Don’t rent a car if you really don’t need to
If you’re staying on site at Disney World (addressed above), you can take advantage of the buses and monorails that run nearly round the clock.
In fact, if you fly into Orlando International Airport, consider taking a shuttle or rideshare. a complimentary motorcoach that will take you directly to select Disney Resort hotels. (Check out these related Disney FAQs on transportation from the airport.)
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Zig when most other families are zagging
If saving money is an absolute priority, visit during off-peak times. Park tickets and resort hotel prices change throughout the year. When do they go down? Common calendar sense will go a long way here.
For example, the following times of year will be the most expensive (and the most crowded):
- Thanksgiving week
- Winter holiday season (roughly from middle of December to January 1)
- Easter break and typical spring break times
- National three-day weekends (like Memorial Day)
Another way to look at it: Go when most kids are in school.
Make reservations for dining out
Hungry and desperate, you might just resort to the pricier restaurants because you couldn’t get seating anywhere else.
Become a discount detective
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Realize the little things can really add up
Consider these specific tips to save you money here and there. Also, use them as inspiration to get into a money-saving mindset where you spend smarter – without sacrificing fun.
• Buy Mickey ears and other likely souvenir “necessities” ahead of time online.
• Pack picnic lunches and/or snacks in a soft-sided insulated bag (which, yes, you can bring in the parks and even store in a locker).
“Rough it” at Disney World by camping
If you really want to cut accommodation costs, you can actually camp on the property!
Pass on Park Hopper passes
These are ticket upgrades that allow you to visit multiple parks in a day. That might sound like a no-brainer from the comfort of your living room couch. But the reality is that these will cost you more – and you probably won’t have the energy to take full advantage of them in the end.
Note the changes to the reservation system
Starting Jan. 9, 2024, you don’t need theme-park reservations if you have date based tickets – even the standard ticket option, which requires a start date. This is a major modification to the Disney Park Pass system, which was implemented during COVID to manage attendance and promote social distancing.
Consider Disney packages
Purchasing a Disney World vacation package really can save you money. Just be sure to do some comparing. For example, you can build and purchase a package from sites such as OrlandoVacation.com or directly from Disney World.
Which is better? It depends. For a great explainer on Disney World packages, check out MouseSavers.com.
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CONSIDER TRAVEL INSURANCE FOR YOUR DISNEY WORLD VACATION
If you’ve done your Disney World homework in advance and thoroughly planned out your trip, you’ve set the stage to have an amazing vacation. Unfortunately, there’s no way to guarantee things won’t go wrong.
The next best thing to that is travel insurance, a smart move to keep you covered on your trip. Components include:
- Coverage for trip cancellation, trip interruption, and delays
- Coverage for lost, damaged, or stolen luggage
- Emergency medical and medical evacuation insurance
- Emergency travel assistance
Yes, the chances are good you’ll have an amazing time at Disney World. But travel insurance can help you stay extra-protected.
Questions About Travel Insurance?
Check out our online guide, "What Is Travel Insurance All About?" We've provided in-depth answers to all your travel insurance questions, starting with the basics.