Walt Disney World is a sprawling property with even its own ZIP Code! Over the years planning a vacation to this magical rite of passage has become more and more complex, and can be frustrating to say the least. Disney fan or not, let’s be honest- if you have kids chances are it’s not if you’ll take the trip, but when! So if a visit to the Mouse’s house is in your future, we’ve put together a little information to get you started.
Walt Disney World consists 27,000 acres, four distinct theme parks, Disney Springs, two golf courses, 2 mini golf courses, 2 waterparks, and over 25 resorts on property alone. That’s a lot of turf to cover in one visit!
Let’s start with the theme parks. Walt Disney World has four theme parks within the property. They are Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios (not to be confused with Universal Studios), Epcot, and Animal Kingdom. Do you NEED to visit them all, no. Will you want to visit them all? Yes, and here’s why. With new movies and characters come new attractions. Children these days likely won’t be as excited about Peter Pan as they will be to see Elsa or Buzz Lightyear… but you will find all three of these characters within three separate Parks. Thus forcing you to visit multiple!
This is obviously the most iconic of the four, with its own “lands” and of course home to Cinderella’s Castle. You’ll find all of the classics here, and it was the first Park built. Many families think that younger kids will only want to visit Magic Kingdom, but that’s not so true any longer…
This was the second park built at Walt Disney World which consists of two areas, World Showcase and Future World. As this theme Park continues to evolve, more and more current characters have been added within attractions. You can now find Elsa and Anna, Remy from Ratatouille, and just about every princess strolling through World Showcase.
This was the third park built, and it has also gone through a lot of change within the last few years. You’ll find a few thrill rides here, along with Toy Story Land, and the current most popular area in Disney World, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. You can also find plenty for the little’s here like Disney junior characters, a cars show, a frozen sing-along, and more. This park has become VERY popular!
Finally, the largest of Disney World theme parks is Animal Kingdom. This is the largest theme park in the world at 450 acres, and home not only to many animals, but you can find 2 of the best rides at Walt Disney World here- Flight of Passage and Expedition Everest!
As you can imagine, it takes multiple days through multiple visits to explore each of these theme parks along with everything else there is to offer at Walt Disney World!
I always suggest starting with a 4-5 night Resort stay, with 3 days of tickets for a first visit. That said, let’s get into Resorts and Tickets!
There are three categories of Disney World resorts, Value, Moderate, and Deluxe. I actually work with a concierge Disney planning company who specializes in luxury Disney vacations, so that’s what I know best. I believe a shorter trip at a Deluxe Resort is better than a longer visit within a lower category. The grounds, pools, and most importantly Transportation options at the Value and Moderate just don’t compare to the Deluxe Resorts. The more convenient the stay, the more enjoyable it will be (for parents especially).
Value is going to give just that, a very budget friendly way to visit Walt Disney World. I personally don’t recommend this category. The rooms are similar to a motel set up, and are tiny, loud, and not convenient to the theme parks. If budget is a concern, I have other suggestions with the same benefits… See below.
Moderate is a step up, in terms of the pools, and dining, but bus transportation will still be the main mode of transportation, and room size is smaller. If budget is a concern, I always recommend Swan or Dolphin Resort over a Disney Value or Moderate Resort. The location is much easier, dining better, and the recreation options far outweigh the Disney Moderate or Value resorts.
Deluxe Resort rooms are larger in square footage, many times sleep five, there are many dining and recreation options, and most Deluxe Resorts offer a Club Level option. Most importantly, every Deluxe Resort has direct transportation to at least one theme park via walking, Monorail or Boat, if not two options. This is GOLD when visiting with kids especially!
Lastly, The Four Seasons Orlando is an absolutely gorgeous property, and can be booked through Disney because it technically sits within Walt Disney World’s property. Currently guests do not have the same benefits as Disney Resort Guests though so I only recommend this option if booking a VIP tour. It is beautiful with amazing dining and recreation on property and for a long weekend visit with one or two VIP tour days, this is THE way to do it if looking for luxury accommodations.
I always recommend 3 days of Park Hopper Tickets. Once you’ve purchased 2, the 3rd day doesn’t add much more onto your package in the big picture, and I truly think it takes the stress out of trying to do it all each day. There are 4 Theme Parks at Walt Disney World and 3-4 days is ideal to experience the best attractions within each. Even then you won’t be able to do it all!
Park Hopper Tickets allow you to enter a different park then where you started after 2 PM each day. This is THE BEST way to visit the Theme Parks. It’s great if there’s one or two things you’d like to see, but you don’t want to spend your entire day committed to one place. For instance Hollywood Studios is home to Toy Story Land, and Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, but it gets very busy by afternoon and most families are ready for a change of pace by 1pm. This gives the option to “Hop” to a different Park when ready- strait from there or after a break at the Resort.
I also highly recommend adding Genie+ to your tickets ahead of your visit. This new service has taken the place of “FastPass”, and allows you to book reservations for attractions through out the day, one after another, cutting down on wait times.
A few personal tips to make your days more magical!
We’ve been to Disney World + Disneyland far too many times to be considered normal as a family, on top of my trips for work. I know my way around Mickey’s stomping grounds. That said EVERYONE who has visited has their own idea of how to “do Disney”. In full honesty we very much don’t visit in the same way many families do. Very simply, we do things that are enjoyable to us and our kids, rather than popular. So take these tips for what they’re worth, but knowing that what I do might not be what you may like to do! (Which is why using a Disney Planning specialist can be so helpful. They can guide you wit what fits into your likes without bias.)
-Go with the flow and find the funny in the annoyances, because there will be many in a crowded park! Everyone is trying to do the same things, so go against the grain. Look for the cool details that most wouldn’t find a big draw. You’ll have more fun than waiting in lines for the most popular attractions- spoiler, everything within Disney World is magical to kids!
-Dress not to impress, but survive! Wearing the appropriate clothing and shoes will make for a much more enjoyable day. Layers to tie around your waist for cooler indoor attractions, comfortable (worn in) shoes, don’t forget ponchos, and if wearing socks, a change of them!
-GET SOME SLEEP. Disney Days are long. Between the parks, swimming and over-stimulation, kids are beat! This is the one location my kids will sleep until I wake them and take naps (at 8 & 6yrs).
-Dine at off times, on the go, and at the resort pool! If you’re planning to eat at the same time you typically eat breakfast/lunch/dinner, that’s likely the same time that everyone would like to eat. Avoid “peak times”! Have grab and go options in the room, and enjoy an early or late dinner! Club Level is also very helpful for this.
-Start the day early, and be strategic! A big trick to having a great start to your Disney day is to go early, and move away from the crowds. Arrive at your park about 30 minutes prior to when you can enter and maximize that first hour. Yes, that’s easier said than done, but I know a few ways you can make it happen.
-Don’t make a every dining reservation that your neighbor or blogger hypes that you “need” to visit! Chef Mickeys, Be Our Guest and so many more are big no’s for me, but every client has said “My (fill in the blank) said we have to go here!”. Character dining takes a long time, as do any of the themed restaurants, and lets be honest, the food isn’t great at most. One Character meal is more than enough! Kids don’t want to spend their time at Disney dining, not to mention these reservations hold you to a strict schedule, and you’re able to meet characters in different ways.
-The best ages to visit are 2 and up in my opinion. At 2 your little one is such a cute age to experience Disney, and they can experience 75% of the attractions! They may not remember it, but I promise YOU will forever. There’s nothing sweeter than when they believe it’s all real! That said, every trip, through every age is different and so much fun in new ways as a family.
-Use someone to help plan your trip. Most Disney planning agencies don’t even have a planning fee, and the better ones that do are more than worth the small fee. There is simply too much to cover and sift through to do it on your own without it becoming stressful.
I hope that was a helpful start! Keep your eyes peeled for more Disney guidance in the weeks to come!