If you want to know how to plan a trip to Disney World, you’ve come to the right place. This guide includes tips for choosing the right Disney World hotel for your budget, deciding which ticket type is right for you, determining which extras are worth splurging on and how to plan a trip that’s fun and memorable without too much stress along the way.
With four theme parks, two water parks, more than 25 on-site hotels, over 200 dining locations and more attractions, experiences, shows and shops than we can list here, the best way to build a magical Disney World vacation is with planning, preparation and realistic expectations.
Planning a trip to Disney World should be fun and build excitement for your upcoming trip, and this guide can help.
How to start planning your trip to Disney World
There are a few questions you will want to answer early in the process of planning your Disney World vacation.
- What is your budget? Your budget will determine most other factors of your vacation, including where you stay and how many days you visit. How much it will cost you to go to Disney World really can vary widely based on the choices you make.
- When will you go? You may be at the mercy of work or school schedules, but if you have the flexibility, you can plan your trip when crowds are smaller or the weather is better. The summer can be very hot and rainy, the week between Christmas and New Year’s is one of the busiest and weekdays when most kids are in school are often the least busy days.
- Where will you stay? You will typically pay more to stay in one of Disney’s on-site hotels, especially at the moderate and deluxe tiers, but you’ll also get perks like early theme park entry. Before you choose, you’ll want to consider your budget, whether you want a themed room like the Royal Guest Rooms at Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside and if you want to be located near a certain Disney park. Pro tip: Renting Disney Vacation Club points can help you stay at a deluxe hotel for a moderate price.
- Which parks will you visit on which days? Depending on the length of your vacation, you may need to prioritize which parks you plan to visit. This will also influence whether you purchase one-park-per-day or Park Hopper tickets that allow you to visit multiple parks daily. If you have little kids, be sure your family will have the stamina for multiple parks per day before shelling out the extra cash to hop.
- Where will you dine? Popular Disney dining reservations are snatched up almost as soon as they become available. You’ll want to plan ahead for any character dining or other table service restaurants, so you don’t miss out.
It is important to book your hotel, dining and theme park tickets as early as possible for the best rates and availability. Disney also periodically releases special offers on hotels and vacation packages that you can often apply even if you have already made your reservations.
Related: Are the Disney Visa credit cards worth it?
We will dig deeper into each of these topics in this guide. Once you have a rough outline of your vacation based on the questions above, here are important dates to keep in mind so you can make your Disney dream a reality.
How soon can you book a Disney World hotel?
Disney releases hotel availability periodically, so there is no exact date that Disney hotel reservations become available. You can currently book Disney World hotel stays through Dec. 31, 2024.
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Disney typically opens reservations for the following year around May or June, so you can expect to see 2025 availability around that time. If your plans change, you can cancel your room-only reservation up to five days in advance of arrival for a full refund. Ticket and hotel vacation packages must be canceled 30 days in advance to receive a full refund.
When can you purchase Disney World tickets?
Disney World tickets follow the same availability calendar as Disney hotel reservations. You can purchase tickets (or vacation packages including a hotel and tickets) through Dec. 31, 2024. Disney typically releases tickets for the following year around May or June, so you can expect to see 2025 availability around that time.
All tickets are date-based, and the price of one-day tickets also varies by park. You can purchase your tickets any time before you visit; the price won’t change regardless of how long you wait. Theme park tickets are nonrefundable, but you may be able to change your ticket date if your plans change.
Until Jan. 9, 2024, you must have a Disney ticket and make a theme park reservation to enter a Disney park.
When do Disney World dining reservations become available?
You can begin making dining reservations 60 days prior to your visit. If you are staying in a Disney World hotel, you can make dining reservations 60 days before your check-in day for your entire stay (up to 10 days).
Reservations open on Disney’s website or the My Disney Experience app between 5:45 a.m. and 6 a.m. EST or you can call 407-939-DINE beginning at 7 a.m. EST, but coveted reservations may already be snatched up by that time. You can cancel most Disney World dining reservations up to two hours before your reservation. Exceptions will be noted in the confirmation email you receive at the time of booking.
If you’re not yet sure where to eat, here are our favorite restaurants at Disney World.
FOR NO-COST ASSISTANCE WITH PLANNING AND BOOKING YOUR NEXT DISNEY VACATION, CHECK OUT TPG’S DISNEY BOOKING PARTNER, MOUSE COUNSELORS.
What are the 4 parks at Disney World?
Each of Disney World’s four theme parks is uniquely themed and packed with fun. You can learn more about each park, including attractions, shows, parade times and interactive maps to help you find your way around in the My Disney Experience app.
Here’s a bit more information about each and some tips for choosing the right ticket type to visit them all.
Open since 1971, Magic Kingdom is Disney World’s original theme park. This park is a world of fairy tales and fantasy, where you’ll find five themed lands — Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Frontierland, Adventureland and Liberty Square.
Magic Kingdom is home to some of Disney’s most iconic attractions, including Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Peter Pan’s Flight and the Haunted Mansion, but also exciting new rides like Tron: Lightcycle Run and the soon-to-open Tiana’s Bayou Adventure.
Epcot opened in 1982 and has changed drastically in the four decades since. Epcot’s core message, however, hasn’t changed: sparking visitors’ imaginations through science, technology, nature and the human experience. The park is sectioned into “neighborhoods” — World Celebration, World Nature, World Discovery and World Showcase, where you can visit pavilions that celebrate the arts, culture and customs of 11 countries around the world.
There are a lot of new things to see at Epcot, including Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, Journey of Water, Inspired by Moana and the all-new fireworks spectacular Luminous – The Symphony of Us.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a movie-themed park that has lands and attractions inspired by blockbuster films and beloved Disney characters. In Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, you can pilot the Millennium Falcon and meet familiar (and furry) faces like Kylo Ren, Chewbacca and Rey.
In Toy Story Land, visitors shrink to the size of Woody, Buzz, Jessie (who you can meet here, by the way) and Andy’s other toys. The land’s Slinky Dog Dash coaster is a family-friendly ride that’s perfect for a kid’s first roller coaster.
Outside of the lands themed to specific films, much of the park evokes an old-Hollywood glamour that makes you feel like a bona fide movie star. In these areas, you’ll find some of the park’s most iconic shows and attractions are also some of its longest-running, like The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror drop ride, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
More than 2,000 animals — from about 300 species — call Disney’s Animal Kingdom “home,” but this is not a zoo. However, you can visit many of these animals via walking trails, the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride and even a petting zoo.
In addition to the creatures and landscapes found on Earth, you can visit another planet at Pandora — The World of Avatar or go back in time at DinoLand U.S.A. The animals aren’t the only things that are “wild” at Animal Kingdom — Expedition Everest is a thrilling coaster; Avatar Flight of Passage puts you on the back of a banshee as you fly over Pandora; and Dinosaur sends you careening through the Cretaceous Period in an off-road vehicle.
What type of Disney tickets should I buy?
Disney World base tickets
You can purchase one-day or multi-day Disney World tickets. All tickets are date-based, and the price varies depending on the date of your visit. If you purchase a one-day ticket, the price will also vary based on which park you plan to visit, with Magic Kingdom being the most expensive.
Disney World Park Hopper tickets
A base ticket only gets you into one park per day. If you want to visit multiple parks on the same day, you will need to purchase the Park Hopper option with your ticket (you can also add it on in person after you arrive). You can save money by only visiting one park per day, but it does limit how much you can see and do during your vacation.
A Park Hopper Plus ticket includes two visits to either Disney’s golf courses, miniature golf courses or water parks, but this is only worth it if you know you will use it all.
Disney World special event tickets
Some of Disney’s after-hours events, like Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, require a separate ticket. The park is only open to guests with special event tickets during these events. If you plan on visiting for one of these parties, you may be able to forgo a general admission ticket that day and utilize your special event ticket, as you can usually get into the park a few hours before the party starts.
Disney World ticket add-ons
There are two major ticket add-ons that you should consider. Both can be worth it but will add to the cost of your vacation.
The first add-on you might want to strongly consider is Disney Genie+. This skip-the-line service allows you to skip the standby line and enjoy shorter wait times for rides by utilizing Disney’s Lightning Lanes.
Currently, you can only purchase it on the day of your visit beginning at 7 a.m. and the price ranges between $15 and $35 per person, per day. A handful of attractions at each park require a separate individual Lightning Lane purchase to skip the line, often for the newest rides, but many rides are available with Genie+. You don’t need to purchase Genie+ to buy individual Lightning Lane selections and vice versa. The individual Lightning Lane attraction pricing varies by attraction but typically ranges between $7 and $25 per person per attraction for rides like Tron: Lightcycle Run and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind.
Another popular add-on is Disney’s Memory Maker. Memory Maker gives you unlimited downloads of pictures taken by PhotoPass photographers during your vacation and on-ride photos. You can purchase a one-day Memory Maker for short visits or a multi-day Memory Maker which covers your entire vacation. You can save $25 on a multi-day Memory Maker when you purchase at least three days prior to your visit, so it’s best to purchase it when you buy your tickets.
Until Jan. 9, 2024, you must have a Disney ticket and make a theme park reservation to enter a Disney park.
How to get discounted Disney World tickets
Aside from Disney’s own discounts, you can sometimes save money on Disney tickets by purchasing them from an authorized third-party reseller. There are a few reputable sources out there for Disney World tickets, but our go-to is Undercover Tourist. Depending on your ticket type, you can usually save between $5 and $100. One of the best ways to save money with Undercover Tourist is when Disney World raises ticket prices, which usually happens at least once per year. Undercover Tourist typically has a limited number of existing ticket stock available at the old prices while supplies last.
Related: We saved every receipt — here’s how much it actually costs to go to Disney World
You can also use points to pay for your Disney tickets, and that’s a strategy we strongly recommend to keep costs down. For example, with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, you can earn a welcome bonus of 75,000 points after spending $4,000 within the first three months of having the card. You can use those 75k points as the same as $750 towards travel. And while ticket-only packages from Disney World typically don’t code as a travel charge, buying them from Undercover Tourist — or as part of a larger hotel and ticket package directly from Disney — typically does code as a travel charge, so you could save $750 just like that.
Is booking a Disney vacation package a good idea?
If you are staying in one of Disney World’s on-site hotels or a certified “Disney World Good Neighbor” hotel, you have the option to bundle your hotel stay and theme park tickets into a Disney vacation package. Normally, these packages are not discounted, but they can be a great value if Disney runs any special vacation package promotions.
FOR NO-COST ASSISTANCE WITH PLANNING AND BOOKING YOUR NEXT DISNEY VACATION, CHECK OUT TPG’S DISNEY BOOKING PARTNER, MOUSE COUNSELORS.
Aside from discounts (and the fact that it all likely codes as a travel charge for point-redemption purposes), there’s one major reason to book a vacation package: When you purchase your tickets and hotel together, you only have to pay a $200 deposit at the time of booking. Payment in full is due 30 days prior to arrival. If you purchase your tickets separately from your hotel stay, you will have to pay the full amount at the time of purchase.
This is another great example of why you should book through an authorized Disney travel planner who can compare prices for you and keep an eye out for discounts.
When is the best time to visit Disney World?
Do you want the lowest crowds or the best weather? Do you want to attend a Halloween party or see Magic Kingdom’s 65-foot-tall Christmas tree?
The best time to visit Disney World depends on your reason for visiting.
If you want moderate temperatures and less chance of rain, you may want to plan your visit between October and December. If you want shorter waits, your best bets are late January, early May or just after Thanksgiving before the crowds descend upon the parks for winter break. Of course, weekdays typically see lower crowds than weekends and school breaks.
Or, if you are planning a Disney World vacation on a budget, opt for midweek dates in August and September 2024, when prices start at $109 for a one-day ticket.
Read our full guide on the best times to visit Walt Disney World.
What’s the best way to get to Disney World?
Getting to Orlando and getting to Disney World after arriving are two different topics, so let’s look at each.
What is the closest airport?
The closest airport to Walt Disney World is Orlando International Airport (MCO). Most major airlines fly into MCO, and you can reach Disney World in about 25 to 30 minutes from the airport, depending on traffic. If you are flying Allegiant or Sun Country Airlines, you’ll fly into Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB). SFB is smaller than MCO and farther from Disney World. From SFB, it is about a 45-minute drive to Disney World.
What is the best way to get to Disney World from the airport?
Because of its size and proximity to Disney World, MCO has more and better options to help you get between the airport and Disney World.
From Orlando International Airport or Orlando Sanford International Airport, you can rent a car or use a ride-hailing service like Uber or Lyft. If you do rent a car from MCO, you can forgo paying tolls through the car rental company (which often comes with an additional fee) and pick up a Visitor Toll Pass to save on tolls during your trip.
Disney no longer charges a parking fee for overnight hotel guests, so if you rent a car, you can park at your hotel and drive to Disney’s theme parks without additional fees. Keep in mind that you may not need a car if you don’t plan on leaving Disney property after you arrive. Disney has a robust internal transportation system that operates between its on-site hotels and theme parks, water parks and Disney Springs.
You can also use Disney’s official airport shuttle, Mears Connect, from MCO.
Mears Connect is a shuttle service that picks you up from MCO and will drop you off at official Disney World hotels and a handful of nearby hotels. Pricing starts at $16 one-way for adults and $13 one-way for children. Mears Connect offers shared shuttles, where you will stop at multiple Disney hotels on the way to your own. You can pay an additional fee for an “express shuttle” that takes you direct to your resort. The easiest way to reserve your ride is online through the Mears Connect website.
What is the best way to get around Disney World?
If you are staying on Walt Disney World property, you can utilize Disney’s complimentary transportation for travel between your resort and Disney’s theme parks, water parks and Disney Springs. Disney offers transportation by bus, boat, Monorail and Disney Skyliner gondola system. Which transportation options you have access to will depend on which hotel you are staying in.
All Disney hotels offer regularly scheduled bus transportation around the resort. Transportation begins 45 minutes prior to the theme park opening and up to one hour after the theme park closing.
Guests of Disney’s Magic Kingdom area resorts — Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa — can use boat or Monorail transportation to travel to the Magic Kingdom. There is also a monorail line that will take you to the Transportation and Ticket Center, where you can transfer to a separate Monorail line that goes to Epcot. These hotels also offer a walking path to Magic Kingdom.
Guests of Disney’s Riviera Resort, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort and Disney’s Pop Century Resort can use the Disney Skyliner gondolas to travel to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot. All Disney World visitors can also use Disney Skyliner to travel between these two parks, regardless of where you are staying. It’s a fun and scenic way to get around the resort.
Many Disney World hotels also offer ferry boat transportation to nearby parks. The BoardWalk area hotels, for example, offer boat transportation to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Fort Wilderness, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and others offer boat service to the Magic Kingdom. You can view a full list on Disney’s website. You can also walk to Epcot or Hollywood Studios from any BoardWalk area hotel.
Whichever transportation option you choose, you can view the schedule, routes and stop locations in the My Disney Experience app or on video monitors at each stop location.
You can also utilize Disney’s Minnie Van service for door-to-door (or door-to-front gate, as it were) service between your hotel and Disney’s theme parks. You can book these private rides in red-and-white polka-dot vans directly through the Lyft app. Accessible rides and child safety seats are available.
Though not “official” Disney World hotels, Walt Disney World Swan, Dolphin and Swan Reserve hotel guests have access to Disney’s complimentary ferry boat service to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. A walking path is also available. These resorts also operate their own shuttles to Disney’s theme parks, which pick up approximately every 20 to 25 minutes throughout the day.
Disney Springs hotels operate their own shuttle services, independent of Disney’s transportation. If you are staying at one of these hotels, you can inquire about scheduling and pick-up times at the front desk.
What’s the best place to stay on a Disney vacation?
There are more than two dozen Disney World hotels to choose from, so your main considerations will be your budget and what type of hotel experience you are after. Whether you want over-the-top Disney theming, an upscale cabin in the woods or a luxury villa with access to a club lounge, you can find it at Disney World.
Disney offers three hotel tiers: Value, Moderate and Deluxe.
Value Disney resorts are the most affordable, with prices ranging between $125 and $300 per night. Value resorts offer quick-service, cafeteria-style dining outlets and large pools but don’t have full-service restaurants or pool amenities like waterslides and hot tubs.
On average, Moderate Disney resorts run between $250 and $400 and offer amenities you won’t find at Value Disney resorts. Some have full-service restaurants, and the pools are better-themed and equipped with waterslides. Many of them are more centrally located near Disney’s theme parks, as well.
Deluxe Disney resorts are the most expensive, ranging between $400 to $700 per night and up for a standard room, but they also have the best locations, amenities and dining. You can expect large, well-furnished guest rooms, pool complexes with hot tubs, waterslides and beach areas, multiple full-service restaurants, spas and more.
Regardless of which hotel you choose, Disney’s on-site hotels offer perks to enhance your stay:
- A 30-minute jumpstart on your day with Disney’s Early Theme Park Entry benefit
- The ability to purchase individual Lightning Lanes for eligible rides begins at 7 a.m. on the day of your visit (non-resort guests can’t do this until the park opens)
- Complimentary hotel and theme park parking
- Extended Evening Theme Park Hours for guests staying at Disney Deluxe Resort Hotels on select nights (this benefit is also available to guests of Walt Disney World Swan, Dolphin and Swan Reserve hotels, as well as Shades of Green)
Best hotels at Disney World
The best Disney World hotel for you depends on what you are looking for in a hotel stay. If you don’t plan on spending much time in your room, you can save a lot of money by staying in a Value resort. If you plan on spending part of your vacation enjoying hotel amenities like the pool and restaurants, you may want to choose a Moderate or Deluxe resort. Or, if you have a large family that won’t be comfortable in a standard room, one of Disney’s family suites might be your best bet.
Here are a few of our favorites:
Best Disney World resort if you are on a budget: Disney’s Pop Century Resort may not be the most glamorous hotel at Disney, but the kitschy 1950s through 1990s theming and the starting price of around $200 per night will surely put a smile on your face. This resort has three pools, a playground and an arcade. Guest rooms are furnished with either one king bed or a queen bed and a space-saving table that folds out into a bed. It is also one of two Value resorts with Skyliner gondola access to Epcot and Hollywood Studios.
Best Disney World resort for large families: Disney’s Art of Animation Resort is in Disney’s more affordable Value category and has family suites themed to popular Disney films like “Cars,” “The Lion King” and “Finding Nemo” that sleep up to six guests. The pool here is the largest at any Disney World resort, and you can take the Disney Skyliner gondolas to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Standard rooms are also available.
Best Disney World resort for swimming: Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resorts are sister properties near Epcot. The two resorts have rooms that average around $600 per night and share access to Stormalong Bay, the best pool at Disney World. Stormalong Bay is really more than a pool, it is a water park with sand-bottomed pools, a lazy river, an activities pool with a volleyball net and daily pool games and a shipwreck-themed waterslide.
Best Disney World resort for a luxury stay: If the sky is the limit for your Walt Disney World vacation budget, the Copper Creek Cabins at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge are some of the finest accommodations you can choose. With two bedrooms, a fireplace, a screened-in porch, a hot tub and lakeside views, these cabins are anything but rustic. The privacy offers you a chance to wind down after a long Disney day, but you are still close enough to take a boat ride to Magic Kingdom and enjoy the amenities and dining in the resort’s main lobby.
If you are leaning toward a luxury Disney stay, you may be able to save money by renting Disney Vacation Club (DVC) points. DVC is Disney’s version of a timeshare program. DVC members can rent out their points to non-members through sites like David’s Vacation Club Rentals, helping you to save hundreds of dollars versus booking directly through Disney. The trade-off is that availability is limited and that the cancellation policies are much less flexible than if you make the reservation direct through Disney.
Read our full guide on the best hotels at Walt Disney World.
Best hotels near Disney World
Disney World also partners with a handful of off-site hotels where you can still take advantage of certain benefits like Early Theme Park Entry and complimentary transportation while also paying less than you would for an official Disney World hotel. These hotels also participate in major hotel points programs, so you can earn or redeem points for your stay.
The Walt Disney World Swan, Dolphin and Swan Reserve hotels all participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program. While not technically Disney hotels, they are located on Disney property between Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. If you are a Marriott Bonvoy elite member, these hotels offer benefits like complimentary upgrades, a welcome amenity and more.
Related: This affordable new Disney Springs hotel includes free hot food and 6 nightly drinks
Disney Springs has seven hotels from brands like Wyndham, Hilton, Holiday Inn and others. All of these are adjacent to the Disney Springs shopping and dining district, and some have room rates that start at close to $100 per night. These can be a great option if you want to save money and don’t mind leaving the “Disney bubble” at the end of the day.
Read our full guide to Disney Springs hotels here.
What are the best restaurants at Disney World?
With more than 200 restaurants to choose from, you are going to have to decide which Disney World restaurants you most want to visit. Dining options run the gamut from the predictable burger and fries to an out-of-this-world restaurant in space.
Hardest Disney reservations to get (and how to get them)
Many of these restaurants are quick-service or snack stands that don’t require advance reservations, but there are a few popular restaurants that book up almost as quickly as reservations become available. If you want to dine with Disney royalty at Cinderella’s Royal Table, for example, you’ll want to make your reservation as soon as you can. Remember, that is 60 days prior to your visit — if you are staying at a Disney World hotel, you can make reservations for your entire vacation 60 days prior to your check-in day.
Related: ‘Be our guest’ at these 5 best character dining meals at Walt Disney World
Other reservations that book up quickly include Storybook Dining at Artist Point, Space 220 at Epcot, California Grill, ‘Ohana, Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater at Hollywood Studios and Topolino’s Terrace, especially for the character breakfast. All of these have great food and atmosphere, making them popular for new and returning guests.
Best quick-service restaurants at Disney that don’t require a reservation
Luckily, there are plenty of Disney restaurants with delicious food you can get your hands on without a reservation. Satuli Canteen in Pandora — The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is consistently ranked as one of the best quick-service restaurants anywhere at Disney. The food is fresh, flavorful and surprisingly inexpensive. You can get a build-your-own bowl with beef, chicken or fish for less than $20.
Other must-try quick-service restaurants include Ronto Roasters at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (the Ronto Breakfast Wrap is the best handheld meal at Disney!), Columbia Harbour House at Magic Kingdom for New England-inspired fare and Regal Eagle Smokehouse at Epcot for all things barbecue.
Using the Disney app to improve your dining experience
The My Disney Experience app is a must for your Disney World vacation for checking wait times, finding your way around and more. When it comes to dining, you can use it to find walk-up dining availability, score last-minute reservations, see what restaurants are nearby, and place mobile orders at select quick-service restaurants.
When you place a mobile order via the app, you choose what time you would like to pick up your order (with the option to modify if plans change). When you arrive at the restaurant, you can click “I’m here. Prepare my order,” and you’ll receive a notification on your phone when your food is ready.
Should you buy a Disney Dining Plan?
The cost of dining at Disney can add up quickly, and Disney offers two dining plan options that may help you save money. The Disney Dining Plan lets you prepay for a specified number of meals and snacks for your Disney World vacation. You receive a certain number of meal and snack credits for each night of your stay.
The Disney Dining Plan is both convenient and flexible. By prepaying for your meals and snacks, you won’t have to pull out your wallet for every meal and snack, and you aren’t required to use a set number of credits each day. You can redeem them anytime during your stay in the way that best works for you.
There are two options — the Disney Quick Service Dining Plan and the Disney Dining Plan. The first is a bit less expensive and allows for more flexibility. The second is best if you plan on more sit-down dining and character meals during your vacation.
Whether or not you can save money with a Disney Dining Plan depends on how you utilize the credits. It is possible to break even or come out ahead if you maximize the value of your credits and actually eat all of the food available on the plan. If you don’t use all of your credits, you are essentially leaving money on the table, but our guide can help you out with the math.
Read our full guide to the Disney Dining Plan.
How to save time in line at Disney World
Most Walt Disney World attractions offer a standby line. The only exceptions are new attractions, which will often offer a virtual queue for a limited time after opening. When Disney World is busy, though, standby lines for popular attractions can climb as high as two hours. Luckily, Disney has a service called Disney Genie+ that helps you skip the standby line and get on more attractions with shorter waits.
With Disney Genie+, you can skip the standby line and utilize a much shorter “Lightning Lane” for most attractions. You can only purchase this add-on service on the day of your visit, beginning at midnight (though you will likely be safe waiting until you wake up in the morning except on Disney’s busiest days).
The cost of Disney Genie+ varies per park and per day. The service starts at $15 per person per day and occasionally reaches a per-person price of $35 per day during the busy Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season or in April during spring break. You can purchase Genie+ for one of Disney World’s four theme parks or a “multiple park” option valid at all four parks when you purchase through the My Disney Experience app.
Most attractions are included in the Disney Genie+ service, but one or two attractions at each park require a separate Lightning Lane purchase to skip the line. It’s not necessary to purchase Genie+ to buy individual Lightning Lane selections and vice versa. The individual Lightning Lane attraction pricing varies by attraction but typically ranges between $7 and $25 per person, per attraction.
Read our full guide to Disney Genie+.
If you are staying in one of Disney’s on-site hotels or in select “Good Neighbor” hotels, as mentioned in the section above, you can also save time in line by utilizing Early Theme Park Entry and/or Extended Evening Theme Park Hours. You can get into the parks 30 minutes early with the Early Entry benefit, but you actually want to arrive at the front gates 30-45 minutes before that time. This will give you time to get through security and to the roped-off area where they hold guests, making you one of the first in line to rush to your favorite ride when early entry starts.
Related: Your guide to visiting Disney World with a child on the autism spectrum
If you or someone in your party has a disability that makes it difficult for you to wait in a traditional standby queue, you can also save time by registering for Disney’s Disability Access Service (DAS). You need to start the registration process before your visit, and full instructions are available on Disney’s website.
How to plan a Disney World trip on a budget
While sensational stories about $2,500 meals at Disney make for good headlines, it is totally possible to visit Disney World on a budget.
Related: Yes, you can visit Disney World on a budget: Here’s how I did it
Here are some of the most important things you can do to make your Disney vacation budget manageable:
- Stay at a Disney Value resort like Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort or use Marriott points to stay at the Swan, Dolphin and Swan Reserve. Here are the best cards to get those points.
- Utilize Disney’s complimentary parking and transportation for on-site guests instead of renting a car.
- Purchase groceries for some meals and snacks, and only buy one or two meals in the parks each day.
- Don’t visit the parks every day you are at Disney and stick to one park per day, avoiding park hopping. You can save on tickets by spending a day swimming or visiting Disney Springs.
- Don’t forget to periodically check Disney’s website for discounts. Even after you book, you may be able to apply a hotel or vacation package discount that can save you even more money.
- Be on the lookout for discounted Disney gift cards to help cover the cost of your trip and/or use points for the tickets.
- Visit during less busy times of the year. Ticket prices are cheapest in August and September, with one-day tickets starting at $109.
Disney World pretrip checklist
Now that you’ve determined your budget, purchased your tickets, booked your hotel and made a few dining reservations, your trip is nearly planned. There are some other details you’ll need to consider to make your trip as magical as it should be. Here’s our ultimate Disney World pre-trip checklist:
- Pack accordingly: Depending on when you visit, you could be dealing with heat, humidity, afternoon showers, chilly temperatures or a mix of all of the above. It’s important to pack comfortable shoes and clothing no matter when you visit, but you may also want rain gear, sun protection or a warm jacket, depending on the weather. You can read our full Disney World packing guide here.
- Download the My Disney Experience app: This app is an invaluable tool that you will use daily during your visit. You can use it to check everything from wait times to walk-up dining availability. You can also use it to navigate the parks with turn-by-turn walking directions, purchase Disney Genie+ and individual Lightning Lanes and even open your hotel room door.
- Check the park hours before your visit: You can view the park hours on the Walt Disney World website or the My Disney Experience app. Each park has separate opening and closing times, and parks occasionally close early for special events like Halloween and Christmas parties. When you view the park hours, you’ll also be able to see times for any parades or fireworks shows happening each day of your visit and plan for early entry or extended theme park hours for eligible on-site hotel guests.
- Check the height requirements for attractions: If you are traveling to Disney World with young children, you can check the height requirements for attractions on Disney World’s website or in the My Disney Experience app. There are also measuring stations at all attractions that have a minimum height requirement, but it’s better to know ahead of time to avoid tears if your child isn’t quite tall enough.
- Know where to find your favorite characters: Most Disney characters have designated meeting times and locations, which you can find in the My Disney Experience app. Booking a character meal can be a great way to meet multiple characters at once, but you can also meet many characters in the parks. Popular meet-and-greets also offer Genie+ Lightning Lane access, which can cut down on the time you spend waiting to meet Mickey, Moana or Cinderella.
- Decide if you want to purchase PhotoPass photos: You can save money on Disney Memory Maker by purchasing in advance before you visit. It’s the easiest way to capture your vacation memories and an add-on we highly recommend. You can view and download your photos in the My Disney Experience app.
- Study up on Genie+: As helpful as Genie+ can be, there is a bit of a learning curve. Study up using our Genie+ guide and Disney’s own overview before your visit. It’s good to know which attractions participate in Genie+, how to reserve Lightning Lane access and how to make the most of the service.
- Plan for downtime: One of the biggest mistakes people make at Disney World is overscheduling their trip and leaving no time for rest and relaxation. If you are visiting for more than a few days, try and schedule a day away from the parks where you swim, explore the other resorts or just lounge around the hotel. It’ll help rejuvenate you for the rest of your trip. For shorter trips, you may want to schedule a slow morning or return to your hotel early one day instead of being at the parks from opening to closing every day of your trip.
Read all of our best Disney World tips here.
There you have it — the ultimate guide to visiting Walt Disney World.
In addition to the planning and preparation you’ve now mastered, there are two very important things you must do during your Disney World vacation — don’t overplan and have fun. It’s much better to have a short list of “must-do” rides, restaurants and activities than to have a minute-by-minute itinerary that most certainly will not play out exactly how you planned.
Keeping a loose itinerary leaves room for magic moments like stumbling upon a favorite character, noticing a super-short line for a ride or deciding last-minute to watch a parade you happened upon. You can’t do everything in one trip anyway, so do the things you can and save the rest for next time when you are a certified Disney pro.
FOR NO-COST-TO-YOU ASSISTANCE IN PLANNING AND BOOKING YOUR DISNEY VACATION, CHECK OUT TPG’S DISNEY BOOKING PARTNER, MOUSE COUNSELORS.