Our goal is to help you plan your dream Disney World vacation, and that all starts right here.
This page will walk you through planning a trip in 7 easy steps.
After that, we’ll go through some of the other important information you’ll need to know before you go.
Consider this spot a sort of Cliff Notes version for getting started (or even for getting reacquainted) with Disney vacation planning.
Ready to dive in? Let’s go!
In this article (click to expand)
Important updates for 2021 & 2022
Since the parks have reopened there have been a bunch of changes and updates to the way things work.
And while some of the changes are temporary, there are a few things that aren’t.
Because this is such a unique situation we’ve put together an entire guide to walk you through everything you need to know before you go.
We encourage you to check it out, but meanwhile, here are just some things that are directly impacted:
- FastPass+ service has been suspended
- Extra Magic Hours (EMHs) are being replaced
- No nighttime entertainment (no fireworks or shows)
- Masks are required
- Reservations are required to visit the parks
- Disney Dining Plan is not being sold
- Character Meet & Greets have been temporarily suspended
There are a few more changes, and we go in to much greater detail in our guide linked below.
We encourage you to take a few minutes to check that out before you get too far into planning your trip.
Why you should plan
Did you know that lots (and lots) of people visit Walt Disney World every year without doing any planning at all?
And while that may sound like a relaxing way to travel, it doesn’t work for Disney vacations, and here’s why:
Not planning ahead means standing in long lines for rides and struggling to find places to eat.
And that doesn’t sound like much fun at all.
It is important to understand that even with planning, you will not be able to see and do everything at Disney World in 1 trip. You wouldn’t be able to see and do it all in 10 trips.
Instead, the goal should be to have fun and make memories. And it is a lot easier to do that when you’re prepared.
Just like any vacation, how much your trip will cost depends on many different factors, but in general, these are the costs you’ll need to consider:
- Trip length
- Number and ages of people traveling
- How you’ll get there (drive, fly, train, etc.)
- When you’ll be traveling
- Where you’ll be staying
- Where you’ll be dining
- How many extras you plan to spend money on
Despite all of those variables, we can give you some generic onsite prices to help you get a good idea of what to expect.
Important note: Keep in mind that while these prices are full rack rate prices, Disney frequently offers discounts.
However, if you are planning for a trip a year or more in advance, we recommend using the rack rate prices as a good starting point.
Budget Trip Example
$4000-$5000 plus the cost of getting to Walt Disney World
- 2 adults, 2 children under 10, traveling during the least expensive time, 1 week onsite, most basic park tickets, staying at a Value Resort, eating at the least expensive places.
Moderate Trip Example
$5500-$6500 plus the cost of getting to Walt Disney World
- 2 adults, 2 children under 10, traveling during a moderately busy time, 1 week, park tickets with Park Hopper option, staying at a Moderate Resort, eating at half Table Service and half Quick Service restaurants, 1 special event planned.
Deluxe Trip Example
$9000 and above, plus the cost of getting to Walt Disney World
- 2 adults, 2 children under 10, traveling during a peak busy time (like the holidays), 1 week, park tickets with Park Hopper Plus, staying at a Deluxe Resort, eating at mostly Table Service Restaurants, 2 special events.
As we said above, those dollar amounts assume full-price resort rates, but there are usually discounts available.
How to plan a Disney World vacation in 7 steps
Disney World vacation planning is kind of like building a house – you start with the foundation and work your way up.
And, just like with building a house, you might end up with something you’re not very happy with if you try to do it out of order.
These 7 steps are the basis of everything you’ll find on this site.
If you’re new to planning, this is where you need to start.
Trip Planning Worksheet
To help you get started, we have a free Trip Planning Worksheet that you can fill out as you work through the steps below.
When it comes time to decide when to go, you’ll have a couple of different things to consider.
Even though many of those special events have been temporarily suspended, there are still definitely some times of the year that are busier than others.
Plus, even though Florida is known for having lots of sun, you’ll likely want to consider the weather, too, if you’re trying to avoid the intense heat of the summer or the hurricanes of the fall.
To help you narrow down your options, we have a giant Crowd Calendar post that will show you day-by-day which days we are predicting to be the most (and least!) crowded.
Park Pass Reservation System
And if you are traveling in 2021 or 2022, you’ll have another critical planning piece to consider: the Disney Park Pass Reservation System.
This system was put into place after the reopening and now requires guests to make reservations for each day they plan on visiting a park.
The good news is the reservations are free. The bad news is that at least right now, this is how Disney is controlling each parks’ capacity.
That means there are limited spots available for each day.
Will I be able to get a Park Pass Reservation?
Unless you are traveling during peak times, in most cases, the answer is “yes”.
Disney is continually shifting availability around, and, of course, as park capacity changes, so too will the overall total of daily reservations.
How to check for availability
Disney makes it relatively easy to check park reservation availability.
They have a handy calendar that will show you exactly which parks are (or are not) available for every day between now and January 14, 2023.
Now that you have confirmed that the dates you want have Park Pass availability, you’ll want to book your trip – including purchasing tickets.
And, because availability can change at any time, it is crucial that you book things promptly.
You have lots of options for booking your vacation – including both onsite and offsite resorts and hotels.
Onsite or off?
Things like Advanced Dining Reservations, Park Pass Reservations, and even your transportation options from the airport are tied to whether you choose to stay on Disney property or venture offsite to where you’ll (typically) find less expensive options.
And whether or not it is worth it to stay onsite right now is a personal choice.
While the price is understandably the first factor you’ll need to consider, most guests visiting the Walt Disney World Resort may find that weighing the value of the perks associated with the onsite resorts versus the lower costs connected to the offsite options can sometimes be a bit tricky to navigate.
Important Note: Keep in mind that not every resort may be open, and so you may need to be a bit flexible when it comes to where you’ll be staying.
Our favorite way to save money when staying onsite
We’ve already talked about discounts, but probably our most favorite way to save money when staying onsite is by renting Disney Vacation Club (DVC) points.
This is especially true right now when you can snag some great last-minute deals.
There are some definite pros and cons to this money saving option so make sure you check out the link below for everything you need to know.
Consider using a travel agent
With everything changing so rapidly, it can be very helpful to have somebody you can turn to for assistance with navigating through it all.
That’s why now more than ever if planning a trip feels overwhelming, we highly recommend reaching out to a reliable travel agent.
Not only will they be able to answer all of your questions, but they’ll also keep you in the loop if and when changes happen.
Ready to book a trip for 2021 or 2022?
A good travel agent can help you navigate all the changes. Fill out the info below to get started.
Consider booking a package
Booking a vacation package makes it far easier to get all your money back if you need to cancel.
If you purchase tickets separately, you can’t “return” them. That purchase is final, even if you have to cancel your trip.
Don’t packages cost more money?
The argument against packages is that it costs less if you book things separately. And that is partially true.
You can usually save some money if you purchase your tickets separately from an Authorized Reseller. The amount you save typically isn’t a lot, though, at least not when compared to the other components of your trip.
But – right now, with things the way they are, an easy way to add a layer of financial protection to your trip is to book your trip components as a package so that you have the maximum amount of flexibility if you need to cancel or postpone.
Of course, if Disney cancels or has to close, you’ll likely see that they will work with ticket holders to extend the expiration dates.
But, if you purchased those tickets outside of a package, you likely won’t get your money back.
Of course, if you have an Annual Pass you would want to book a Room-Only reservation.
But, for the maximum amount of security in case things go wrong, if you need tickets, we strongly suggest – at least for this transition period – that you book a package.
And, one final reason to stick with an onsite vacation package:
We are positive that we will see more adjustments to the way things will work in the parks. And often, when changes happen, staying onsite gets you faster access to information and even booking opportunities.
Important note: With everything operating with limited capacity, and the possibility of additional changes in the future (like the return of the Disney Dining Plan), you’ll likely find that you’ll have more flexibility for adapting if you opt to go with a package from the start.
Disney World is home to 4 incredible theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom), 2 world-class water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach), and a giant shopping district (Disney Springs).
And, although you’ll want to see and do it all unless you’ll be moving into Cinderella Castle (which unfortunately you can’t), you are going to have to pick and choose.
The first thing is figuring out exactly how much time you’ll want in each park. To help you get started, here are our thoughts:
Suggested number of days in each park
The chart below just a suggestion. All families vary.
For instance, families with younger children and only 3 days in the parks might want to do 2 days in the Magic Kingdom.
It’s also a great idea to have 1 day out of the parks for every 3 days in the park.
Arrange it however it makes sense for your family.
Once you have nailed down how many days you want for each park, you’ll need to decide where you’ll plug that into your vacation.
Your goal will be to plan each of your days so that you’re visiting the park with the lowest crowds. Step 3 is where you’ll do that.
We have monthly crowd calendars that show you which parks are recommended for each day of your vacation, and those will be the key to picking the best park for each day of your trip.
Find your month in the list below, and choose where you’ll be each day based on our recommendations:
Secure your Park Pass Reservations
As soon as you purchase your tickets, you’ll be able to secure your park dates.
Remember, you can’t make Disney Park Pass reservations without a valid ticket.
This step is entirely new to Disney World planning.
Because it is so brand new, we have written a complete guide to help you with the process.
Step 4: Finalize how you’ll get there
We wanted to make sure we gave special attention to this step because, in the past, lots of people (including us!) would plan our vacations around the days we could get the cheapest flights.
Now, we aren’t saying you’ll only be able to fly on expensive days or that you won’t be able to find dates that have inexpensive flights, but what we are saying is that you should definitely not finalize how you’ll get to Walt Disney World until you have secured your park reservations.
Again, we sound like a broken record here, but flexibility is going to be key – and one area where you won’t be able to be flexible is with your park reservations.
If you typically drive, you’ll have things a little bit easier.
But, if you usually fly, hold off purchasing any non-refundable flights until you have secured those park reservations and you are positive the trip is a “go”.
One final note about getting to Walt Disney World:
Depending on where you are coming from and where you are going to, you may find that there might be some restrictions in place.
To avoid any unnecessary stress (or heartache!), make sure you understand what those are before you book anything.
And with so many fun places to eat, it is common for people to want to decide where they will be dining before they ever pick what park they’ll be at that day.
But please trust us: you do not want to do that.
The reason dining falls at step 5 is that you need to plan your dining after you know where you’ll be each day.
The entire Walt Disney World Resort area is huge (roughly the size of San Francisco), and unless you want to spend hours each day on a bus crisscrossing the property going from meal to meal, you’ll need to be a lot more strategic in how you plan where to eat.
How Dining Works Right Now
Dining is one area where things definitely look a bit different now compared to what we’re used to. Here’s what you need to know:
- All dining reservations for the immediate future will only be available up to 60 days in advance (instead of the old 180 days).
- Many character meals have been temporarily suspended, and the ones that are operating have been modified.
- In order to dine inside of a park, you must have a park reservation.
What about the Disney Dining Plan?
The Disney Dining Plan is a hugely popular component that you can usually add to a Disney Vacation Package.
However, right now, the Disney Dining Plan is currently unavailable. We do, however, expect it to return sometime in the future.
Touring plans don’t have to be rigid minute-by-minute lists.
And ours definitely aren’t.
Important note: park touring is one area right now where things are constantly evolving.
We recommend you re-visit the step in the final weeks before your trip to ensure you have the most up-to-date park touring information.
But our plans will help you maximize your day so that you have lots of time left for all the spontaneous things that make any vacation fun.
Efficient touring of the parks right now means understanding which attractions develop the longest lines so that you can prioritize them over the others.
Step 7: Add extra magic
When planning your vacation, the final thing to do is to figure out ways to add some extra magic to your trip.
This step doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to spend more money (although that is certainly an option); it just means you are intentional about ways to add a little extra **pixie dust** to your trip.
For lots of people, this is the step that ties their entire vacation together (and gets them hooked on planning lots more Disney World trips!).
As you continue down this page, you’ll find resources that can help you add some extra magic to your vacation.
You’ll find info on things like planning your vacation around a theme, putting your crafting skills to work, making invitations, special meals, or even putting together fun travel bags for your journey to Disney World.
If you want to think of planning a Disney World trip like the steps in the construction process, Steps 1-6 above help you build your house, but Step 7 is where you get to decorate it.
What to Pack
You’d be surprised just how many questions we get about this topic.
But it makes sense; when you’re far away from home, things will go a lot more smoothly if you have everything you need with you.
In fact, we feel so strongly about packing lists that we have a H-U-G-E post with everything you’ll need to know about what to pack for a Disney World vacation.
And the best part? You’ll find links to a handy app and free packing list downloads you can use.
And, while you’re busy working on a packing list for your trip, don’t forget to think about what you’ll want to take into the parks with you.
Stay Up To Date
We publish a free weekly newsletter with all the most important news and information you’ll need to know before your next Disney World vacation.
Preparing for your trip
Your trip is booked but now what?
We recommend you spend the months, weeks, and days leading up to your trip learning some of those Disney World basics that will help your trip go smoothly.
We’ve listed just a few topics below but we also invite you to scroll through the hundreds of other posts on the site to find topics that might interest you.
Disney World planning basics
- Disney World planning basics
- Disney World for families
- Navigating Disney World transportation
- Disney World shopping & money-saving tips
- Disney World crafts and free downloads
- Disney World news & updates
Planning by Interest
Important note: some information below has been impacted by the current health and safety measures in place at Walt Disney World.
Whenever possible, we have been updating posts to provide the most up-to-date information. However, some things (like character meet and greets, FastPass+, nighttime entertainment, the NBA Experience, and the Disney Dining Plan) are currently unavailable. Please check back often for updates.
Disney World has something for just about every visitor.
Whether you are heading there to check out one of the popular runDisney races or you’re a huge fan of Star Wars or you simply love all things Disney Princess, lots of people find themselves planning their vacation around their Disney interests (and passions!).
Think that sounds like you? You’ll find some of the most popular themes for trips below.
- How to meet Disney characters
- Star Wars at Disney World (including the new Star Wars land)
- Our best tips for planning a short trip
- Pros and cons of taking a solo trip
- A princess-themed trip plan
- Answers to your runDisney questions
- How to have a lazy trip
- Taking a large group field trip to Disney World
- A Disney World trip plan for 3 generations (Grandparents at Disney World)
- A luxury trip plan
- Disney World for techie geeks
- Visiting Disney World with special needs
Our most popular Disney Planning posts
Important note: some of the information in the links below has been impacted by the health and safety measures currently in place at Walt Disney World.
Whenever possible we have been updating posts to provide the most up-to-date information.
However, at this time there are some things (like character meet and greets, FastPass+, and the Disney Dining Plan) that are unavailable.
Please check back often for updates.
These articles are some of the most popular on the site for a reason: they provide both Disney World newbies and seasoned visitors with additional tools for their virtual Disney planning toolboxes.
We are big fans of being prepared, and, you probably are too (or you wouldn’t be on this site). These articles are all things that can help you be prepared before, during, and after your vacation.
- Prepping for a Disney World trip at Dollar Tree
- 100 of the best Disney World tips
- How to have happy feet at Disney World
- Should you use a Disney travel agent?
- Ideas for celebrating a birthday at Disney World
- Disney World photography tips
- How to handle the weather at Disney World
- Pre-vacation checklist for your Disney World trip
- All about Walt Disney World Lost and Found
- Ideas for how to plan a Disney World surprise
- Tech tips for Disney World trips