Planning your 2017 Walt Disney World trip can be intimidating for first-time visitors. This guide provides free tips & tricks to save money and time, avoid crowds, choose where to eat, which rides to do, and fully plan your Disney itinerary for your Florida vacation. If you’re being sucked into the rabbit hole of vacation planning, our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide is here to help! Think of it as Disney 101, with everything organized into the most important aspects of Walt Disney World vacation planning. The information here is updated regularly (last update: March 25, 2017), so you can be sure that none of the tips are old or inaccurate.
As complicated as planning might seem right now, the ultimate payoff is worth it. After dozens over trips dating back to the 1980s, we’ve learned this. Many first-timers don’t realize Walt Disney World is so complicated until they arrive. The commercials make it look like a carefree world where everyone skips holding hands with Mickey Mouse, walking right onto rides…but that’s definitely not the reality. You need to plan. There is a ton to know before you visit Walt Disney World.
This page is a jumping off point to give you some background information on each aspect of your trip, with a ton of links to other blog posts that offer much more detailed information. Each linked-to post here opens in a new tab, so click away as you read and prepare to waste some time reading all this. We also recommend signing up for our free email newsletter so you can stay updated with all the latest changes, events, and more info on the parks!
One final warning: while we are Disney fans, with this guide, we try to share our objective and unbiased tips, covering the good and the bad, pros & cons of everything you’ll need to know for your Walt Disney World trip. If that’s not for you, there are plenty of other planning sites that offer only positive or only negative spins on Disney.
We promise that the payoff will be worth it, so let’s get started…
Is 2017 A GOOD YEAR TO VISIT?
We’ll help you decide whether 2017 is a good year to visit by going around each park to take a look at what’s new and coming soon. You can also look at our Walt Disney World Park Itineraries to see what there is to do, and what we recommend to do, during a day in each park.
We’ll start with Magic Kingdom. New Fantasyland construction has been done for a couple years, meaning Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Be Our Guest Restaurant are both open. The Festival of Fantasy Parade is running, and Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire stage show debuted is still running.
The newest offering in Magic Kingdom is “Muppets Present…Great Moments in American History” show, which debuted last fall. We saw it twice during our Christmas trip (read our 3-part trip recap here) and absolutely loved it–do not miss it. Once Upon a Time is also now showing at Magic Kingdom! This is a nice upgrade over Celebrate the Magic, and we really enjoyed it, too. Starting May 12, 2017, you’ll be able to enjoy a brand new fireworks show, “Happily Ever After,” at Magic Kingdom.
At Epcot, Soarin’ Around the World and Frozen Ever After both debuted last summer, and are still very popular. Wait times for Frozen Ever After have settled into the ~60-90 minute range, and should remain there for 2017. If you have Frozen fans in your party, you will absolutely want to read our Frozen Ever After Review & Tips post for strategy. Suffice to say, you’re absolutely going to want to score a FastPass+ for Frozen Ever After as far in advance as you can.
You can also expect an expansion of the popular festivals that dot the calendar throughout the year at Epcot. The fan-favorite Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival is now underway, and will run until May 29, 2017 (Epcot International Festival of the Arts has now concluded, but will return in January 2018). The summer will be relatively quiet at Epcot, before the popular Epcot International Food & Wine Festival begins.
Over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, construction for Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land will continue throughout the entirety of the year, which means that there are a lot of construction walls and closures. These lands should be awesome once completed, but that won’t be 2018 in the case of Toy Story Land, and 2019 or 2020 for Star Wars Land. In the interim, there is a Star Wars stage show and fireworks show, and starting Summer 2017, the Music of Pixar Live! will perform 3 times per night.
While the nighttime entertainment lineup is strong at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the park has a slate of a few solid headliners, its ‘supporting lineup’ of attractions is somewhat weak right now. If your time is limited, you might consider skipping Disney’s Hollywood Studios altogether. If you want an alternative, we would encourage visitors to take a look at our Universal Orlando Resort Trip Planning Guide, and consider spending a day there to get your studio/thrill ride fix.
In other parks, 2017 looks very different. Namely, the future looks very bright for Animal Kingdom. This park debuted new nighttime offerings already, which we discuss in our Animal Kingdom at Night Review & Tips post. We also loved Tiffins Restaurant, and we’d highly recommend a late lunch there. You can read ratings for this nighttime entertainment in our updated Animal Kingdom Attraction Ratings & Reviews post. After many delays, the new nighttime show Rivers of Light has now debuted!
The highlight for 2017 at Animal Kingdom–and in all of Walt Disney World–will be Pandora: World of Avatar (or “Avatar Land”). Disney has announced that Pandora: World of Avatar will open officially on May 27, 2017 (we wouldn’t be surprised if it ‘soft opens’ by late April or early May). You don’t need to be an Avatar fan (who is?) to appreciate the epic floating mountains and revolutionary attractions in this beautiful new land. Suffice to say, Pandora will be the most significant and potentially the most incredible addition to Walt Disney World since the late 1990s.
You should absolutely plan your 2017 Walt Disney World vacation around Pandora’s summer opening. We will reiterate: if you’re taking a once-in-a-lifetime trip or only visit once every 5 years or so, wait to go until after Pandora opens. If you want to plan your Walt Disney World visit strategically, visiting after Happily Ever After debuts but the week before Pandora officially opens (it’ll likely be in soft openings for several weeks), is the best option. It’s unlikely crowds will die down for Pandora’s two attractions for the next few years, so there’s really no sense in waiting until things slow down.
Then there’s Disney Springs. This is the entertainment and shopping district previously known as Downtown Disney. Disney Springs will finish construction completely in 2017. It’s almost done now, and it has made fans of both of us big time with solid additions such as The Boathouse, Jock Lindsay’s Hangar Bar, Morimoto Asia, and more. (Read our Best Restaurants in Disney Springs post for more.)
The “Town Center” area of Disney Springs is now open. This new area includes a new UNIQLO store, Frontera Cocina, Homecoming restaurant, and much more. Suffice to say, you’re going to want to devote a half-day to Disney Springs on your trip, as a lot has changed.
Another factor to consider when contemplating a 2017 trip is pricing. Due to myriad factors, we are predicting that 2017 will be the “Year of the Discount” at Walt Disney World
. One of those factors is something you should consider when planning your own trip, and that’s the Zika scare in Florida. While we think fears of Zika have been sensationalized by the media, it’s still something to keep in mind. Here’s what you should know about the potential for Zika in Walt Disney World
Ultimately, in terms of pros versus cons, we see 2017 as a pretty good year to visit unless you can wait until 2019, when Star Wars Land will open. (It’s possible Toy Story Land will open in 2018–but we wouldn’t recommend planning a visit around that.)
Okay, now that we’ve determined 2017 is a good time to visit Walt Disney World, let’s tackle the 10 elements of planning a WDW vacation…
1. When to Visit
If you’ve determined what year you want to head to Walt Disney World, the next, related question is what time of year. The first thing to consider is discounts. We have a post Rating the Walt Disney World Discounts, so you can determine which really might be the best options for you depending upon the time of year you’re thinking about visiting.
The 2017 Free Disney Dining Plan promotion will likely be offered for select dates in August through December. This is the most popular promotion of the year, and one good reason to take a trip later in the year. Other discounts are typically offered throughout the year, during less busy travel dates.
If you’re not able to take advantage of one of those discounts, we have a post that features the 10 Best Tips to Save Money in 2017 at Walt Disney World. It covers ideas like buying discount Disney gift cards to save money!
Beyond saving money, crowds are a huge consideration. This arguably has the biggest impact on the trip, so choosing wisely is key. Walt Disney World can be a crowded place, and the time of year you visit can have a dramatic impact on crowd density and the wait times you encounter for attractions. If you have kids in school and aren’t willing to pull them from school, you’re looking at visiting during school breaks, which is when the parks are busiest due to the vast majority of Walt Disney World guests being in the same circumstances.
Generally, the week (or so) long breaks are absolutely the worst in terms of crowds. Summer is a bad time to visit due to the combination of heavy crowds and hot, humid weather. If you’re traveling with kids, you’ll want to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning with Kids guide in addition to this post. If you’re not traveling with kids or don’t mind pulling them from school, the first thing you want to do when planning is to eliminate any days when school is out of session.
We have more thorough tips regarding when to visit on our When to Visit Walt Disney World page, which takes into account school schedules, crowds, weather, park hours, and special events. We also have a new Best and Worst Months to Visit Walt Disney World that ranks every month of the year, and recommends the 3 very best weeks of the year to visit.
Walt Disney World is great any day of the year, but we absolutely recommend going during seasonal festivities. We have guides for each big seasonal offering that you can read:
The two “best” times of year for seasonal events at Walt Disney World are fall and Christmas. In September and October, you have Food & Wine Festival at Epcot and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party in the Magic Kingdom, plus Halloween decorations. While Food & Wine and the Halloween Party will cost you some money, they are both enjoyable.
Then, during November and December, you have Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Our favorite time to visit is early December, as we love Christmas at Walt Disney World. So much so that we wrote a comprehensive post about the holiday season: read our Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Walt Disney World if you need convincing that this is the best time to visit!
There is so much going on during the holiday season, and the parks are so beautiful that it just can’t be beat. Plus, weather is nicer and if you go at the right time, crowds are relatively light. Since there are seasonal events pretty much every time of year except the very beginning of the calendar year and the middle of summer, pretty much no matter when you visit you’re going to be at Walt Disney World during a seasonal event, so it’s a good idea to consult those guides before picking your vacation dates to see which event is most appealing to you.
2. How Long to Stay
How long you should stay at Walt Disney World depends largely upon the type of trip it is. If you’re not much of a Disney fan but are taking your kids on a “once in a lifetime” rite of passage trip, how long you should stay is dramatically different from how long a Disney fan. For the first time visitor, we recommend a Walt Disney World vacation of 7 or 8 days. The exact length will still vary a bit depending upon how much vacation time you have and if you plan on visiting non-Disney theme parks or destinations.
If you’re on the fence, the good news is that ParkSavers (an authorized ticket seller) has a limited-time special on a 7-day Park Hopper that includes 3 free days, so this ticket is currently our top recommendation. Normally, we’d recommend a 5-6 day ticket, but when you compare prices of all multi-day Walt Disney World park tickets, you’ll notice that the 7-day ticket is actually cheaper than 6-day tickets, so you might as well upgrade to the 7-day ticket!
This is such a good deal (for now) that we recommend going with the 7-day ticket and doing 5 full days in the parks, plus maybe a couple half-days with more relaxation time at your hotel. As an added bonus, readers of this blog can save an extra $2 per ticket with discount code DISNEYTOURISTBLOG at check-out.
You’ll also probably want to build in a day for relaxation, and this is good to plug into the middle of your trip so you don’t get worn out by the theme parks. The other consideration for planning trips to Walt Disney World might be how much time to spend doing other things. You might want to do Orlando-area theme parks like Universal Studios Florida (including the Wizarding World of Harry Potter), SeaWorld, Busch Gardens might be places you want to visit. Or maybe you want to visit the beach, or visit local outlet malls…or go manatee watching…I have no clue what people enjoy doing.
Of all these things, the one place we think you should give serious consideration is Universal Orlando Resort. We have a post titled Walt Disney World v. Universal Orlando that covers a lot of the pros and cons of visiting Universal. I am not a Harry Potter fan, but I was absolutely blown away by the new Diagon Alley area in Universal Studios Florida and Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure.
There’s also other stuff at Walt Disney World besides the theme parks to consider when planning how many days you spend there. This “other stuff” at Walt Disney World consists of Disney Springs, golf, restaurants, water parks, and more. We recommend at least 1-2 partial or full days of this entertainment outside the parks.
3. Park Tickets
If you book a package, you may not have a ton of say over which park tickets you purchase. However, we recommend buying your tickets separately from an authorized third party ticket seller to save money if you can. Read our Tips for Buying Discount Walt Disney World Tickets post for everything you need to know about choosing the right tickets and saving money on them.
If all you want to know is where to safely buy the cheapest, legitimate Walt Disney World multi-day tickets from an authorized reseller click here to buy via ParkSavers, our recommended & Disney-authorized ticket seller. (As mentioned above, their discounted 7-day ticket is what we recommend.) If you’re visiting in 2017, you should buy your park tickets as soon as possible to lock-in lower pricing as ticket prices will increase come mid-February 2017. Completely unused tickets don’t expire, so there’s no downside to buying now–you simply save even more money if Disney increases park ticket prices again between now and your trip.
Currently, Walt Disney World uses Flex Pricing for 1-day tickets with three pricing season tiers: Value, Regular, and Peak. This probably doesn’t affect most readers of this guide, but if you’re only visiting for 1 day, you should really try to avoid national holidays, school breaks, or weekends, as those are now the most expensive days. We expect the 2017 ticket price increase to add Flex Pricing to all tickets.
The longer the duration of your park tickets, the less they cost per day. (Disney’s mantra is “the longer you play, the less you pay per day.” As corny as it sounds, it’s true.) Single-day Walt Disney World tickets are quite pricey, but multi-day tickets are much cheaper per day. The cost of additional days on a ticket substantially decreases with each day you add after 3 days. In other words, longer trips are not proportionately more expensive than shorter ones. (Too bad the same doesn’t apply to hotel rooms!)
This is just one of the many tips we cover in our post about saving money on Walt Disney World park tickets. For the biggest savings, we recommend comparing multi-day ticket options sold by ParkSavers, which is a Disney-authorized discount ticket seller. Buying there allows you to book FastPass+ selections up to 60 days before your trip (if you’re staying on-site). Whatever you do, don’t wait to buy your tickets at the front gates of the parks (or on eBay…they won’t work!), because then you can’t book your FastPass+ attractions in advance. You’ll understand why this is a huge deal in the sections below…
4. Where to Stay
One of the very best posts on this blog (we think) is our Walt Disney World Hotel Reviews page. We have stayed at every single on-property Walt Disney World hotel, and that page offers links to each of our hotel reviews. Those reviews feature room photos that we took (among other things), and those are really helpful in deciding which hotel will appeal most to your family. We updated almost every single one of our hotel reviews with new photos last year, so what you see in those is how the room actually looks now, not how it looked a decade ago.
If you’re trying to determine where to stay, the threshold question is “on-site or off-site?” This means, should you stay on Walt Disney World property in a Disney-owned hotel, or stay in a non-Disney owned hotel within driving distance of Walt Disney World.
In general, you get more bang for your buck when staying in an off-site hotel, as there are a lot of non-Disney hotels competing with one another, and they can’t charge the premium Disney charges for its name recognition or location. Conversely, non-Disney hotels are typically farther away from the parks, and don’t provide the same immersive vacation experience that many people describe as being in the “Disney bubble.” We have an Off-Site v. On-Site Walt Disney World Hotels article that goes into greater depth about the pros and cons of both options.
If you’re going to stay on-site at Walt Disney World, the three main tiers are Value, Moderate, and Deluxe, which are exactly what their names sound like they are. There’s also a Deluxe Villa tier, which is basically Disney-speak for “timeshare room.” Looking for the best hotel in each tier? Check out the following posts ranking the various Disney hotels:
Speaking of the Deluxe Villas/Disney Vacation Club Resorts, if your budget is tight and one of these resorts looks appealing, you might want to read our Guide to Renting Disney Vacation Club Points, as this is a great way to save money on nicer accommodations than you otherwise might be able to afford.
One of the first things to know before you go is the MyMagic+ program that includes FastPass+, Magic Bands, Memory Maker, and more. You can read more about each of these components in this system work in our MyMagic+ FAQ article. FastPass+ is now live in every park, and paper FastPasses are no more. Read our Guide to FastPass+ at Walt Disney World to fully understand the new system, and how to best take advantage of it.
The big thing to know about this system as it pertains to staying on-site or off-site is in terms of FastPass+. Guests staying at a Walt Disney World hotel can make FastPass+ reservations up to 60 days before their trips; those staying off-site can only book FastPass+ reservations up to 30 days in advance.
If you want FastPass+ for popular experiences like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Frozen Ever After, Toy Story Mania, or other popular attractions, having the full 60 day window might be the only way to get them. Many of these FastPass+ experiences “sell out” within hours or days of their 60-day windows opening.
This is a big deal because each of these attractions can have 2+ hour waits depending upon the time of year, so by being able to make these FastPass+ ride reservations with that 60-day window can be the difference between waiting an extra 4-6 hours in line per day, or not. This is also why we highly recommend buying park tickets in advance of your visit. You can still make FastPass+ reservations on the day you arrive at Walt Disney World, but you’ll be picking from leftovers that no one else really wants, so to speak.
5. Booking Vacation Packages
The most popular direct-from Disney vacations booked via DisneyWorld.com cover some combination of hotel, park tickets, and dining. Sometimes these packages offer excellent savings off rack rates, sometimes they’re merely full price elements of the trip bundled together.
Even though you can save a lot with vacation packages, you’re saving that off Walt Disney World’s on-site pricing. We believe it’s worth it to pay a premium for the “Disney Difference” and location, but that may not matter as much to you. If your main criteria is to save money, read our Tips for Doing Walt Disney World on a Dime post.
The best way to find the right vacation package for you is by using a travel agent. If you go this route, look for one who primarily or exclusively does Disney-related bookings. As you can probably gather already, Walt Disney World is fairly complex, and if a travel agent doesn’t specialize in Disney, they probably won’t know the many nuances of Walt Disney World vacations (for this reason, we don’t recommend AAA, even though many of their agents are knowledgeable about Disney).
Most travel agents specializing in Disney are “no fee” agencies, meaning that it costs you no more to book through them than it does to book through Disney (they get their cut from Disney). If you are unsure of which package might be best for you–or need personalized help with any aspect of your trip–we recommend contacting a no fee “Authorized Disney Vacation Planner” (here’s why we recommend using a no-fee vacation planner) to get a quote and to help you plan. Here’s one such recommended Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. If you’re not convinced using a free Authorized Disney Vacation Planner is right for you, read our post discussing the benefits they offer.
6. Booking Airfare & Transportation
For finding cheap airfare, we recommend ITA Software by Google. You can’t book through ITA, but it’s the most robust airfare search engine out there. It gives you latitude in choosing multiple airports to see if nearby airports might offer better pricing, and allows you to check out a calendar of dates for travel, among other things.
If you’re not booking a trip for set dates but are willing to travel whenever a deal pops up, another great option is Airfarewatchdog. You can signup for their deal alerts for trips between two cities. We opt for their daily email, which provides listings for the cheapest future airfare to numerous destinations departing out of our home airport. We use Airefarewatchdog a lot when Planning Last Minute Walt Disney World Trips.
You’ll also need to determine whether to rent a car. If you’re not visiting other destinations outside of Walt Disney World, you might not need to waste the money on one. Check out our Tips for Renting a Car at Walt Disney World post for pros & cons, money-saving tips, and more. Walt Disney World provides complimentary transportation to the parks and even to and from the airport. We cover how to use this free service in our Disney’s Magical Express post.
An alternative to a rental car is Uber, for the basics on using it, read our Tips for Using Uber at Walt Disney World post. We cover the pros and cons of each option in our Uber v. Rental Cars at Walt Disney World post. This post also shares the easiest way to get to Universal Orlando Resort (in case you want to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, too).
Disney transportation can be hit or miss, and can take a lot of time. For the most efficient transit options, read our Time-Saving Walt Disney World Transportation Tips post. This covers shortcuts, when to use buses v. monorail v. boats v. your feet, and more!
7. What to Pack
It might sound hard to believe, but packing for Walt Disney World offers ways to save money and improve your experience. There are some wrinkles to Walt Disney World that make packing a bit different, and by bringing certain “clever” (we think) items in your luggage, you will improve your experience.
We have spent a lot of time scouring the internet and magazines searching for various gadgets that might help with Disney trips, and have tested them. Some have been gimmicky duds, but others have been brilliant “we can’t believe we didn’t use this before!” revelations. We go over the good stuff in our Walt Disney World Unique Packing List.
Two of our favorite examples from that list are Frogg Toggs Chilly Pads and this Compact External Charger. Seriously, you’ll wonder how you ever travelled without these (and many other) items on our list! Additionally, if you’re going in the colder months, check out our Packing for Disney in Winter post. For summer months, read Tips for Beating the Summer Heat at Disney.
In addition to those things, you might also want to bring some pins for Disney Pin Trading. Read this article to find out how to buy Disney Pin Trading pins in advance for less than $1/pin (versus $10+/pin at Walt Disney World). If you’re a female looking for cute outfits to wear to Walt Disney World, my wife has a post covering What to Wear to Disney.
Since a Walt Disney World trip will be (for many of you) a memorable experience for your kids that you’ll want to cherish, getting good photos is also important. To read about the equipment I used to capture the photos on this page and for how you can take better photos at Walt Disney World, read our Ultimate Guide to Disney Parks Photography. In that post, there’s one point & shoot camera and a book that I recommend to 90% of readers interested in taking better photos at Walt Disney World. If you are contemplating letting Disney’s roaming photographers around the parks take photos for you, read our Memory Maker & PhotoPass Review.
8. Which Attractions To Do
Planning an itinerary is a big deal, even for some frequent Walt Disney World guests. Some people create binders, spreadsheets, and schedule every step of their day. People get serious and obsessive about this. We are not those people. We like to pre-plan to a degree, but going to those lengths just seems unnecessarily stressful, especially since the best laid plans often go awry.
As mentioned above, Walt Disney World can be a crowded place with some really long lines. Having an itinerary, even a loose one, is important for first-time visitors. Doing things inefficiently can mean a lot more time spent in lines or having to skip attractions completely if lines are too long. All you need to develop a basic itinerary are our attraction guides for each park. We highly recommend reading our Disney Parks Ride Guides and getting a rough idea of which attractions you want to do, and where you want to book your FastPass+:
We also have guides for the Walt Disney World water parks and Disney Springs:
These are enough for a loose and helpful plan that will still allow for plenty of spontaneity. Aside from having a good itinerary, the most important things to know are: 1) which attractions have height restrictions (if you have children); 2) how to use FastPass+, which is a free ride-reservation system allowing you to “reserve” a slot in advance for three attractions per day to skip most of the line at select attractions; 3) arrive at the parks just before they open. Optional step 4 if you’re the parent of a Frozen-obsessed kid: make sure to know when and where all the Frozen “stuff” is happening, and make sure to do it. 😉
Forming your own strategy and using FastPass+ to its fullest is difficult and confusing. Since you can book your FastPass+ reservations 60 days before your trip (if you already have your tickets and are staying on-site), we highly recommend buying your tickets before you get to Walt Disney World. You don’t want to waste time at kiosks when you arrive, only to find out popular attractions like Toy Story Mania and Soarin’ are fully booked.
With all of the rest of the planning that you’re doing, we strongly recommend first-time visitors do not “wing it” for your daily itinerary. You don’t need to plan every movement so that there’s no spontaneity in your trip, just make sure you have at least a loose plan of what you’re going to do.
We have the following plans for each park that cover our perfect days:
For other parks and itineraries, check out our Disney Parks Daily Itineraries page. You can use these to have what we would consider a perfect day in each of the Walt Disney World parks. We think these are good, flexible itineraries that offers attractions, dining, and other things to enjoy without going crazy with mapping out every bathroom stop of your day.
If you want to get more in-depth and really map out your entire day in advance, we recommend The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2017 to plan your itinerary. Another great planning book is The Easy Guide to Walt Disney World 2017.
9. Where to Eat
A lot of the posts on this blog detail dining at Walt Disney World, which is a surprisingly complex (and fun!) topic. The most important thing for first-timers to know is that the tired stereotype that Disney dining is all burgers, hot dogs, and other fast food is not even remotely true. Disney has a lot of wonderful dining options that can be an experience in themselves. Once you get past that stereotype, you open a world of possibilities for your meals at Walt Disney World.
To figure out where to eat, you should definitely check out our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews page. Seriously–good dining can totally make a trip (and bad dining can break a trip), so if you only read more on one topic in this guide, make it dining. There’s a lot to cover, but it’s well worth it. We know a number of people who have had their opinions of Walt Disney World changed for the better simply because they “discovered” the right places to eat. That page has reviews of 50+ restaurants at Walt Disney World, plus other resources like our Magic Kingdom Counter Service Restaurant Rankings, and lots of other specific topics. Another great post with random quick-tips is our 101 Walt Disney World Dining Tips post.
Once you start salivating over all of the places to eat, you need to consider whether you should add-on the 2017 Disney Dining Plan. Whether to buy the Disney Dining Plan is one of the biggest questions most first-time guests face, so you really should read our Disney Dining Plan Pros & Cons post to determine if it’s right for you. It’s definitely not right for everyone, so don’t just assume it’s going to save you money–do the math.
From time to time, the Disney Dining Plan is included for “free” as a promotion in vacation packages, and this promotion is by far the most popular with Disney visitors. Click here to check the current Free Dining dates, and more terms of the promo. Before you book Free Dining, take a look at our Best Walt Disney World Hotels for Free Dining post. If you do book the Disney Dining Plan, make sure to make Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs). Some popular restaurants fill up in advance, and without ADRs, you might not be able to utilize the Dining Plan to its fullest.
If you’re starting the planning process far in advance, you might want to subscribe to our free newsletter for updates. We provide subscribers with news from the parks, and have given a heads up on Free Dining and ticket price increases before they have been officially announced. This makes the newsletter especially handy for scoring discounts and being in the know as to what’s going on before your trip.
It’s also worth noting that if you’re trying to do “Disney on a Dime,” one of the easiest ways to save money is to not eat at Walt Disney World restaurants. Dining at Disney is expensive, and unlike park tickets, it’s not mandatory. You can save a lot of money by eating off-site, or better yet, getting groceries and preparing your own meals. We have a comprehensive Tips for Buying Groceries at Walt Disney World post that covers grocery delivery, local stores, and much more.
Even if you don’t want to make your own meals, grocery delivery is great for getting fruit and other small grab and go snacks, both of which are really over-priced at Walt Disney World. It’s also excellent for beer–for less than the cost of a single beer in the parks, you can have a 6-pack delivered to your hotel room! We recommend Garden Grocer for delivery–they can deliver to every Walt Disney World resort hotel.
10. What Else to Do
Your imagination is really the limit here. Most first-time visitors only know about the theme parks, Disney Springs, and the water parks. That’s just the surface of what Walt Disney World has to offer. There are tours, golf, fishing, nightlife, shopping, fireworks cruises, babysitting, spas, and much more. An exhaustive list would ultimately be longer than the rest of this already long blog post!
Most of our favorite things are couples or adult-oriented, which you can read about on our Walt Disney World for Adults page. Honeymooners (aka “Disneymooners”) should read our Walt Disney World Honeymoon Tips article. Those who like to imbibe in an adult beverage…or 10…should read our Top 10 Disney Bars post.
Here are some other posts that cover “other stuff” at Walt Disney World, and other ways to improve your vacation, that don’t really fit the categories above:
There are lots of other random posts scattered around the blog, so you might want to read our Tour of Disney Tourist Blog post for an archive of some of the best & most popular posts on the blog. We update posts as frequently as possible, so if there’s a hot topic, you can be sure it has been updated within the last 90 days. Most popular posts are updated even more frequently than that. If you want to add on something in addition to the “normal” experiences, we recommend contacting an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner (as mentioned above in the “Booking a Package” section) and seeing what they recommend. Or, you can post a question in the comments here and we’ll recommend something!
Another way to get help (and build anticipation for!) your Walt Disney World vacation is to join the Disney Tourist Blog Discussion Forums. There are a lot of friendly folks who post in the forums, and they can offer their opinions and ideas on all things Disney!
Remember, what’s in this post is just a starting point. You’ll also want to read our When to Visit Walt Disney World post for the best time of year to plan your trip. If saving money is important, read Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post to buy the cheapest tickets from legitimate sources. To figure out where to stay, our Walt Disney World Hotel Reviews page is a great resource. Want to know where to eat or if the Disney Dining Plan is right for you? Our Walt Disney World Dining Resources will help! These are just a few of many posts mentioned in this article that will provide the foundation for your planning…but these 4 other posts are probably the most important of the bunch!
If all of this is still overwhelming or you want personalized recommendations for Walt Disney World, click here to get a vacation quote from a no fee Authorized Disney Vacation Planner.
If you enjoyed this Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide, please help us out by sharing it with your friends via social media. We put a lot of ongoing work into this, and hope it’s as helpful as possible to as many trip planners as possible. Thank you so much for your support–we really appreciate it!
Are you visiting Walt Disney World in 2017? If you are a Walt Disney World veteran, what tips would you add to this? If you’re a first-timer, is there anything else you’d like to know? Chances are if you have questions still, so does someone else! Please share your thoughts in the comments