One thing you don't want to do during your trip to Walt Disney World is wing it. You also don't need a military-style plan. But let's face it, a trip to see Mickey and his friends isn't cheap. Some pre-planning will make sure you get the most for your money, enjoy yourselves, and still allow for some spontaneity. Here are our best tips to prepare for your Disney adventure.
1. Set Your Budget
Tickets and lodging will be your biggest expenses, but tickets are cheaper the more days you book. When picking your room, you can stay on or off property and there are several price points with both options.
Food can also be costly especially if you plan on dining at a sit-down restaurant every day of your stay. You can pay for a dining plan and it may be worth it, depending on your dining style.
And, of course, you must get there. Will you drive or fly? Just one more thing to weigh when deciding your budget.
2. Create a My Disney Experience Account
This is the place on the Walt Disney World website where you will book everything. It's a great place to figure out how much things cost.
You can also see if there are any deals that work for you. Your tickets, lodging, dining and FastPasses all link to your My Disney Experience account. Make sure someone in your party downloads the My Disney Experience app. You can use it during your trip to check wait times, make or change your dining reservations, book additional fast passes, and check your photos if you purchase Memory Maker.
3. Book Your Lodging
This decision comes down to whether you want to stay on or off property. In general, off property is cheaper, especially for larger groups. There are hotels, condos and homes for rent.
On property, some of the value and moderate resorts are more affordable than you might think. They also have great theming and it allows you to be totally immersed in the Disney experience every moment of your vacation. If this is where you decide to splurge, the deluxe resorts offer some great options. Who wouldn't want to wake up to a giraffe outside their window?
One tip: Disney Vacation Club members have access to excellent rooms at the deluxe resorts. There are agencies which rent the time DVC members can book at a much cheaper rate than you can reserve through the resort. Some members also sell specific times they've booked on websites like ebay.com and redweek.com.
4. Create a Plan
Ideally, you're doing this more than six months out. Pick which parks you will visit on which day. My Disney Experience will have the park hours.
Do you plan to attend Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party or Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party? Both mean late nights, so you won't want to plan an early morning the following day.
Another tip: don't plan on being at Epcot on a Saturday night during a festival. It's the time when the locals go, and it's usually crowded. Most importantly, if you're going for a week, give your group a day to rest, recharge and enjoy your resort. Having a basic plan this far out may not seem necessary, but it will help you when making dining and FastPass+ reservations.
5. Make Dining Reservations
You can book dining reservations 180 days before your trip and for some of the most popular spots, you'll need to. Cinderella's table is one of the most difficult reservations to get. Be Our Guest is another. You'll also have the best choice of times if you plan ahead.
One thought here: eat at off times and enjoy shorter lines for the rides during traditional lunch and dinner times. Also, don't forget about the restaurants at the resorts and Disney Springs. There are a lot of great options!
This is also why you want to have a plan. You'll want to book Cinderella's table or Be Our Guest for the day you plan to be at Magic Kingdom. Also, a lunch reservation at Epcot doesn't make sense for the day you spend at Animal Kingdom. You get the idea.
6. Make Fastpass+ Reservations
This one is key. This allows you to skip the line and practically walk onto any ride. It's available to anyone with a ticket.
If you are staying on property, you can make your picks 60 days out. If you are staying off property, you can book 30 days before your arrival. This is the best way to get on the most popular rides without a long wait.
You get three picks for each day you have a ticket. At Magic Kingdom, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Peter Pan's Flight, and Space Mountain are among the most popular. At Epcot, there aren't a lot of rides, but there are three that have the longest waits: Frozen Ever After, Soarin', and Test Track.
The opening of Pandora at Animal Kingdom has changed the FastPass+ landscape there. Avatar Flight of Passage always has the longest wait. Na'vi River Journey is also popular, but the wait usually isn't as long as its neighboring ride. Kilimanjaro Safaris and Everest are other popular choices. At Hollywood Studios, Toy Story Mania! is really popular. Tower of Terror, Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and Star Tours also have longer waits.
Many of these options are called "Tier One" rides and you'll only be able to use one of your FastPasses for them, so decide which one you want to ride the most before your window to book opens. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Peter Pan's Flight, Toy Story, and Soarin' are my favorite rides in all of the parks and are great for all ages! One key tip, try and book your FastPasses earlier in the day because once you've used your three, you can use your app to book more for that day.
7. Check out any Special Events
I mentioned two of the special events earlier. Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween party and Mickey's Very Merry Christmas party are two specially ticketed items. There are also festivals that don't require an extra ticket like the Food & Wine Festival, Festival of Arts, Flower & Garden Festival, and Festival of the Holidays -- all at Epcot. There are events associated with these festivals that cost extra, but there's also a schedule of special performances that are free.
8. Order Memory Maker
Moms and Grandmas, this one is for you! No more pics without you in them. When you look at the cost, it may seem like an unnecessary expense, but the Photo Pass photographers take shots that you simply won't get with your camera. It's what they call "extra magic."
Stitch, Tinker Bell, Kion and other characters, as well as objects like balloons, join you in your photos. All available ride photos are also included and if you have a magic band, pictures and videos from certain rides, like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, will pop up with you in them.
It's fun to end your day looking through your photos on your My Disney Experience app thanks to Memory Maker. If you don't want to purchase this option, the photographers in the parks will take pictures with your camera, so you can still get some great shots.
9. Check the Weather
This one probably doesn't need a lot of explanation. But anyone who thinks Florida is just fun in the sun, is mistaken. Many areas of the country claim the saying, "It's not the heat, it's the humidity", but I'm pretty sure the person who said it first was in Florida. Add in an afternoon shower and just know you need to be prepared for the extreme heat, rain and even cool weather if you're traveling in the winter.
10. Buy Disney Gift Cards
This is an interesting way to save money or simply pre-pay for your vacation. You can use these for dinner or souvenirs. And, for example, if you buy them at Target and you're a Red Card holder, you save 5% on your purchase. It's not a lot, but every little bit helps.
11. Consider Being an Annual Passholder
This may seem like an extravagant or unnecessary purchase, but it may make sense for one person in your party to become an annual passholder. Considering the cost of your tickets and if you plan to buy Memory Maker, you may be close to the price of one adult passholder ticket. If you're off property, factor in the $20 a day you'd save on parking. You also get discounts in the stores on Walt Disney World property and at some restaurants.
In the end, you may come out ahead or break even. Again, the biggest factor is the cost of your multi-day ticket.