Monday, July 2, 2018

5 SIMPLE Steps to Planning a Disney Vacation

The one thing I've gathered from just about everyone who has ever tried to plan a trip to Disney World is that its overwhelming.  It's a huge undertaking and by the time their vacation rolls around, they are just praying they can figure everything out when they get there.

For families who have never been, planning a trip to Disney World is intimidating.  I understand it, because every time they make an update to their system even I get a little concerned I won't "get it" when I get there.

The truth is, while there are thousands of planning articles, websites and books Disney World is not as difficult as it seems.  Even reading through my own posts (which I try to keep simple) I realize there is so much information it gets confusing.  

Here is a step by step breakdown of how to plan a trip.  I have made this as simple as possible, leaving you plenty of room to read other articles and gather more information about specific activities.  

This is not a guide on all the rides, restaurants and parks.  I have plenty of other posts that highlight the best and easiest ways to navigate Disney World.  This post will focus 100% on planning the trip.

Once you have the week you want to vacation, pick it up from here...

1.  Hotels 

Inside Disney World, there are many options as far as park passes and hotels. ALL Disney hotels are clean and kid friendly.  The "value" resorts have less amenities (rooms are smaller, no restaurants on site) but they are still fabulous.  Your hotel will mostly depend on what you want to spend.

An overview:

"Deluxe" resorts are closest to the theme parks, have more transportation options (monorail, boat, bus) and more restaurants.  These resorts are expensive, truly five star and offer the most as far as amenities.

"Moderate" resorts have bus only to major theme parks. There are less restaurants but overall the resorts are still top notch and everything from rooms to pools will please most travelers.  Cost is more affordable but will still be expensive for many families.

"Value" resorts have smaller rooms and the buses may take a little longer to get to the parks. There are no restaurants, only cafeteria style dining (which is fine with most families).  Pools are still impressive and there is plenty for families to enjoy. These resorts are popular for spring break college kids because of the prices and families with young children because of the themed rooms and decor.

"Villa" resorts are the timeshare resorts. You can choose between studio, one, two and even three bedroom villas.  There are full kitchens and these are fabulous for families traveling with grandma and grandpa. They are similar to the deluxe resorts as far as amenities and price.

Once you booked a reservation make an account on My Disney Experience.  This website (and app!) keeps track of all your plans and gives you reminders to book dining and fast passes. More on that later. 

Tip: Look for deals in the summer and fall months with free dining or free passes for families staying in certain resorts.

2. Park Passes

You can buy passes for one park a day or multiple parks a day (park hoppers). If you have young children (5 or younger) I would NOT park hop unless you have a loose budget. Small kids tire quickly and you can always visit the same park morning and night. Park hopping is suitable for older kids or families preferring to experience all four parks in less than four days. 

You will get magic bands in the mail for your trip.  Everyone gets a band. You can customize them on My Disney Experience. These will have your park passes on them as well as your dining plan. You use them to get into your room, the park and eat.  More on dining below. 

3. Dining

*You do NOT have to have a dining plan. You can bring food into the parks. Most everyone has a stroller, and food is easily stored underneath.  If you have a villa or a fridge and microwave in your room you can easily eat cereal and other quick meals in your room. In the parks, buy two meals for four kids and have them share, supplementing with snacks you bring into the parks.**

Dining plans are expensive but extremely convenient. You receive a refillable resort mug for everyone ages 3 and up, which is very handy for the resorts. 

Deluxe Dining - This includes so much food and is so expensive I won't even discuss it. Unless you are traveling with only adults, skip. 

Disney Dining - This is the one snack (think kiosk type food), one quick service (counter like a food court) and one sit down meal (restaurant) a day for everyone in your party. You get your money's worth, but it is still pricey. More on this option here:

Disney Standard Dining Plan

Quick Service Plan - Two quick service meals a day and two snacks a day for everyone in your party. This is more than enough food, just not as fancy.  You won't be dining with Cinderella, but you also will have more time to be at the pool or in the parks. More on this plan below.

Disney Quick Service Plan

For your reference a snack could be a hot pretzel or a milkshake.  It could also be a banana.  Use all your food credits wisely. 

Your dining credits (how many meals you purchase) will be loaded onto your magic bands. 

4. Book Your Meals

If you opted for quick service, you can skip this section.  Unless you want to enjoy one meal in a restaurant (which I do recommend).  You can book dining reservations 180 days before your trip. Book reservations on My Disney Experience and make sure you plan meals accordingly if you are NOT park hopping.

You can change reservations if you desire.  If I don't get the restaurant and time I want I check several times a week to see if a time has opened up.

5.  Set Your Fast Passes

This is also done on the My Disney Experience app. If you are staying inside the Disney resorts, you can make your selections up to 60 days in advance of your trip.  If you are staying outside Disney this can be done 30 days before your stay (with the advance purchase of a park ticket).

My advice is to set Fast Passes starting at 10am or later.  Anything before 10am is usually not worth it because lines are manageable.  You may wait for 45 minutes, but lines in the afternoon and evening can be hours long for popular attractions.

To start, you get three fast passes per person.  Obviously if you want to stay together you set all people with the same selections.  However, when you get older kids that enjoy coasters and haunted mansions, you may want to consider splitting up.  I send dad with the daring kiddos and I choose a ride nearby.

For more information on Fast Passes click here.

For more planning tips, and all my best Disney advice, visit my Disney Tips and Tricks page!


  1. Thanks for all the great info! Can you clarify for me - is it necessary to purchase a dining plan to eat at the park restaurants, whether quick service or otherwise?

    1. It is not necessary! If you have the dining plan you simply use your magic band to "pay" if you do not have a plan you pay cash or credit card. :)


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