Our Walt Disney World vacation planning guide offers tips & tricks for 2023 on how to avoid crowds, save money & time, with info on Genie+ & Lightning Lanes, best rides, restaurant reviews, and itineraries for Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom & Hollywood Studios. It’s a great resource for first-timers or annual visitors to Florida. (Updated January 1, 2023.)
The latest update comes at the start of the new year, bringing an end to the busy holidays and a start to the winter off-season. That won’t come quite yet, with large crowds expected until schools go back into session and the Walt Disney World Marathon concludes. However, our expectation is that January 9 through February 16, 2023 will be among the least busy dates of the year (minus the MLK holiday weekend). With the start of the Presidents’ Day and Mardi Gras holidays, all bets are off.
A number of other changes are also on the horizon. Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary finally ends on March 31, 2023. After that, the Disney100 festivities, celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the company as a whole, will begin. That’ll bring with it new and reimagined nighttime spectaculars, other entertainment, and the much-delayed debut of TRON Lightcycle Run at Magic Kingdom. We visit the parks regularly, reporting on everything as it happens–if you want to receive updates when discounts are released, new things are announced, etc., sign up to receive our FREE Walt Disney World Email Newsletter.
Before we cover what’s next in 2023, let’s start with what’s new. First up is Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at EPCOT, which was last year’s big addition. It is awesome, incredibly popular, and can bedifficult to experience due to not having a standby line (for now). Improve your chances for success in scoring virtual queue spots by reading our Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind Virtual Queue FAQ & Ride Guide.
Second, as mentioned above, there’s the World’s Most Magical Celebration, an 18-month anniversary event running now through March. Honestly, the additions 50th Anniversary festivities have been underwhelming. The fireworks aren’t as good as what they replaced, and the whole thing feels more like a celebration of new characters than Walt Disney World turning 50. You don’t really need to “plan” for the 50th, as there’s not really much substance to it.
If you’re looking for ways to avoid waiting in long lines without spending extra on Lightning Lanes, see our Best Time-Saving Strategies for Walt Disney World, which covers the best & worst ways to do that in each park. That’s the result of extensive testing, and the optimal methods for outsmarting the crowds aren’t always intuitive. For 3 of the 4 parks, you’re better off using a ‘free’ strategy rather than paying extra for Genie+ and Lightning Lanes!
Finally, Walt Disney World is still not back to normal after the closure almost 3 years ago, but things continue to improve. Most recently, Fantasmic returned to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Before that, the full Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo: The Big Blue and Beyond both came back at Animal Kingdom.
With those updates out of the way, let’s tell you about ourselves and why this guide is useful to your trip planning. We are obviously big Disney fans, but with this guide, we share our objective and unbiased tips. This covers the good and the bad, and the hard realities of planning Walt Disney World trip. We don’t sugarcoat everything or feel the need to put a positive spin on things. A lot about Disney is great, but that’s plenty that’s overpriced and not-so-great. If blunt, honest advice is not for you, there are many other sites that are all-positive.
With hundreds of trips dating back to the 1980s when we were kids, we’ve learned a lot about all things Disney. We visit multiple times per month to see what has changed, taste-test new menu items, analyze crowds, offer recommendations for things you should do on vacation, share updates on construction, and much more.
This guide distills the key things we know about Walt Disney World into something easy to absorb and less overwhelming. Think of this planning guide as WDW101, with everything organized into the most important aspects of planning. The reality is that Walt Disney World is one of the most complicated vacation destinations on earth, and having a smooth and good trip requires doing your homework. With that said, we promise that taking the time to learn about Walt Disney World will be worth it, so let’s get started…
1. When to Visit
This is often the first question readers ask, and it’s not an easy one to answer. From our perspective, the two best starting points are cost and crowds. Many people don’t realize it, but prices vary significantly based upon when you’re visiting. Here are the Cheapest Times to Go to Walt Disney World in 2023.
That’s especially significant now, as prices are up across the board. If you’re a first time visitor or it’s been a few years since your last trip, you might be in store for sticker shock. We take a look at this topic in How Much Does a Walt Disney World Vacation Cost in 2023?with sample pricing for multiple ‘trip tiers,’ from budget to luxury.
The good news is that deals are starting to return. See All Current Walt Disney World Discountsfor a full rundown of special offers through Spring 2023. More discounts are expected to drop for travel dates through early Fall 2023 very soon.
If you’re primarily concerned about wait times, consult our 2023 Walt Disney World Crowd Calendars: When to Visit & Avoid. That takes into account Orlando area school schedules, conventions, youth sporting events, park hours, special events, and more to provide you with specific dates that are the least and most crowded.
While that’s all about crowds (and can be overwhelming), we also have something more holistic: our 2023 Best and Worst Months to Visit Walt Disney World. That ranks every month of the year, and recommends the 3 very best weeks to visit. Or at least, our 3 favorite weeks of the year at Walt Disney World.
Rather than our objective crowd calendars, those are our subjective picks for when to visit. In addition to wait times, those rankings take other things into account: seasonal offerings like Christmas & Halloween, weather, new attractions, and more. If you find the crowd calendars intimidating, go with the Best & Worst Months post instead.
The good news is that, as a general rule, lower prices and crowds coincide with one another. Meaning that if you book your trip around the cheapest dates, you’re more likely to also have lower crowds. Prices are higher and discounts are weaker when crowds are higher, meaning you get hit with a double-whammy if visiting during these times of the year. (Spoiler: the highest prices and crowds both occur when school is out of session.)
When it comes to Walt Disney World discounts, far and away the most popular of these is the Free Disney Dining Plan. This is usually available in the late summer through December, with similar promotions sometimes offered in late winter and spring.
Unfortunately, that isn’t currently being offered due to the suspension of the Disney Dining Plan, which is the incredibly popular and money-saving meal plan. In fact, one of the most common questions among WDW fans right now is When Will the Disney Dining Plan Return? That post covers our thoughts and predictions on when that’ll be back!
When determining when to visit, seasonal events cannot be overlooked. The holiday season is our favorite time of year at Walt Disney World. If you’re thinking of a November or December vacation, start by reading our Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Walt Disney World.
Every park, resort, and Disney Springs gets into the spirit of the season. The last few holiday seasons have been scaled back, first as the parks reopened and then for the 50th Anniversary. With that now over, things should be 100% normal for Christmas 2023, including the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights. We aren’t holding our breath on that last one, but here’s hoping! Magic Kingdom’s special holiday event should also be back, which our Guide to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Partycovers in full detail.
There will be seasonal events throughout this year, starting with the 2023 Epcot Festival of the Arts in January and February. Following that will be the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival from March through July 2023. There will also be smaller-scale events throughout the year, and in the other parks. It’s also possible that Magic Kingdom will once again do a summer event.
This will culminate in August 2023, which will kick off the 5-month long ‘party season’ at Magic Kingdom. This starts with Halloween time in Magic Kingdom, which will run from mid-August through October 31, 2023. Our Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party Guide offers info & tips for Magic Kingdom’s fan-favorite Halloween-themed event.
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, we recommend a Walt Disney World vacation of at least 6 or 7 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.
In addition to visiting Disney’s theme parks, you’ll also probably want to build a day into your itinerary 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, SeaWorld, or Busch Gardens. We recommend at least a couple of days at Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. Use our 2023 Universal Orlando Resort Trip Planning Guidefor strategy. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is absolutely mind-blowing, even if you’re not a fan of the books. The new Jurassic World VelociCoaster is the best roller coaster in all of Orlando–and that’s just one of several excellent recent additions.
We recommend buying your tickets from an authorized third party ticket seller to save money. 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. Normally, prices increase in February and/or October. They increased twice last year, with the second occurring later than usual in December. Whether another increase occurs in February 2023 is unclear, but it’s not a bad idea to buy now to lock-in current prices no matter when you’re visiting this year.
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 Get Away Today, our recommended & Disney-authorized ticket seller. You can save an extra $5 per ticket with discount code DTB5 at check-out. In total, that’s up to $79 off multi-day tickets with their deals and that coupon.
Disney’s mantra is “the longer you play, the less you pay per day.” It’s corny but true. Single-day Walt Disney World tickets are expensive, 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.
One of the very best posts on this blog is our Walt Disney World Hotel Reviews page. We have stayed at every Disney hotel, plus many off-site ones. That page offers links to each of our hotel reviews, room photos, thoughts on the amenities, pros & cons, and more.
When deciding whether to pay the premium prices that Disney-owned hotels charge, one important consideration for many will be on-site perks. Unfortunately, there aren’t many anymore–basically just some extended hours (see our Guide to Early Entry at Walt Disney World), location, theme, and more convenient transportation. Since reopening, many benefits have been eliminated–either permanently or temporarily. Read about this in Is Walt Disney World’s On-Site Advantage Disappearing?
When pricing out Walt Disney World hotels, you’re bound to have some sticker shock. Prices have gone up considerably in the last few years, and discounts are not nearly as abundant as they once were. If your budget is tight but you still want on-site luxury, consider getting a quote from Disney Vacation Club point rental company (click here to book with the cheapest point DVC rental company).
Another option if you want to save money by staying off-site but want larger accommodations than a standard hotel is Airbnb or a vacation home rental. We’ve used Airbnb a ton, and absolutely love it. If you’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the service, we have a post covering Tips for Using Airbnb at Disneyto put you at ease!
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:
Debating whether to stay off-site to save money or on-site at Walt Disney World for convenience and to be immersed in the magic? We have an Off-Site v. On-Site Walt Disney World Hotels article that goes into great depth about the pros and cons of both options.
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. If you’re looking further into the future, 2023 Walt Disney World Vacation Packagesare now available.
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 or Costco, even though some of their agents have Disney knowledge).
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 commission 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 one) to get a quote and to help you plan. Request a quote from our recommended Authorized Disney Vacation Planner here.
6. 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 go over the best stuff in ourWalt Disney World Unique Packing List.
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. If you are contemplating letting Disney’s roaming photographers around the parks take photos for you, read our Memory Maker & PhotoPass Review.
7. Itineraries & Attraction Advice
Having an itinerary is a big deal, even for some frequent Walt Disney World guests. Some visitors create binders, spreadsheets, and schedule every step of their day. People get serious and obsessive about this. We are not those people. Planning is important, but going to those lengths is unnecessarily stressful and creates unrealistic and rigid plans. The best laid plans often go awry, and when that inevitably happens, it can be disappointing if you’ve over-planned.
With that said, we also 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. As with most things in life, balance and moderation are key.
We have the following flexible step by step plans for each park that cover our perfect days using standby-only:
With that said, we’d strongly recommend using our pre-made Walt Disney World Park Itineraries. Those step by step guides are maximized for efficiency, and will save far more time than ones you put together yourself, or just winging it. 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.
Those with small children should also know that some Walt Disney World rides have height restrictions, requiring kids be a certain number of inches tall (usually 38 to 44″) in order to experience. Measuring sticks are outside attractions with a requirement, and kids who do not meet the minimum height are not allowed to enter the line. There are no age requirements for any attractions. See Height Requirements at Walt Disney World for a comprehensive list, updated with Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind.
Attractions that have height requirements also offer Rider Switch (also known as child swap, baby switch, rider swap, or parent swap). This is Walt Disney World’s system that allows parents with small children to take turns experiencing thrill rides and other attractions with height requirements via Lightning Lanes. See our Guide to Rider Switch at Walt Disney Worldfor everything you need to know about this service. If eligible, it can save you a ton of time.
8. 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.
Good dining experiences can make a trip, so if you only read more on one topic in this guide, make it dining. 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.
Once you start salivating over all of the places to eat, you need to consider whether you should add-on the 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.
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!
Walt Disney World 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!
One of the other big considerations is whether you want to stay at a Walt Disney World hotel that offers a unique form of transportation, such as the monorails to Magic Kingdom or Epcot, or the boats, walking paths, or Skyliner to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot. These can be a huge time-saver.
An alternative to a rental car is Lyft (or the Minnie Van service powered by Lyft) or Uber. For the basics on using these ride-sharing services, read our Tips for Using Lyft or Uber 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)
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. 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:
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 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 2023? 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? Are you excited to experience the parks for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, or will you wait until when pent-up demand fizzles out, more normalcy is restored, and more discounts are (hopefully) offered? We love hearing from readers, whether it be questions from newbies or tips from seasoned Disney pros with tips of their own to add!