Our Walt Disney World vacation planning guide offers tips & tricks for this year and 2024 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. (Updated November 2, 2023.)
Beyond the holidays, a ton is happening and changing at Walt Disney World. There are new attractions, nighttime spectaculars, and other additions on the horizon, as well as the Disney100 Celebration at EPCOT. There are also several operational changes starting on January 9, 2024–all of which we’ll discuss in this guide. 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.
There are a few important things you need to know if you’re visiting Walt Disney World soon. First, the big new ride is TRON Lightcycle Run in Magic Kingdom. This attraction is very popular and can be difficult to experience due to not having a standby line. Improve your chances for success in scoring virtual queue spots by reading our TRON Lightcycle Run Virtual Queue Strategy Guide & FAQ.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at EPCOT, which was last year’s big addition, also does not have a standby line. At least, for now. Walt Disney World has been setting up overflow queue and seems poised to ditch the virtual queue for that once the off-season rolls around.
Second, there’s the Genie+ paid-line skipping service that replaced free FastPass. This can be purchased in the My Disney Experience app for variable, date-based prices that now differ for each park (Magic Kingdom and Park Hopping are most expensive).
Genie can be confusing, but we’ve used and tested Genie+ and Lightning Lanes a ton. Everything you NEED to know, including ride priorities, where it’s NOT necessary to buy Genie+ or Lightning Lanes, and much more is covered in our Guide to Genie+ and Lightning Lanes at Walt Disney World.
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!
As noted above, there are also several things are returning to normal starting on January 9, 2024 at Walt Disney World. Those include the following:
Some or all of these changes might seem insignificant if you’re a first-timer, and it’s true that they may have little bearing on your vacation. But they’re a big deal for a lot of Walt Disney World diehards, and if you’re visiting after January 9, you may not even realize how much friction has been removed from your trip. (Given that you’re reading a planning post with several thousands of words, there’s still a good amount of friction…just not as much as before!)
Otherwise, things are pretty much back to normal. Characters are the big thing that continue to return, both meet & greets and meals with characters. Most notably, the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda now patrol Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and the two are hugely popular with guests.
Two popular princesses also now appear in the parks: Mirabel is in Magic Kingdom and Moana is in EPCOT, both of whom are new additions as of the late summer and early fall. Speaking of which, Moana’s Journey of Water is now open at EPCOT. (Moana meets right next to that.)
Late last year, 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. For insight into entertainment and everything else that isn’t back, see the 2023-2024 Walt Disney World Refurbishment & Closure Calendar, which we update regularly with return and downtime dates.
Beyond getting back to normal, things are always changing and being added at Walt Disney World. Earlier this year, Splash Mountain permanently closed to make way for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. That’s currently scheduled to open in Late 2024, but that timeline could move forward to summer…or be delayed until early 2025!
Then there’s the colossal EPCOT overhaul, which will wrap up later this year with the debut of the new Luminous: The Symphony of Us nighttime spectacular and (maybe) CommuniCore Hall. Oh, and a bunch of trees. (Stop the presses!) More than anything else, it’ll be nice to have EPCOT no longer be a maze of construction walls. The front of the park has been unpleasant the last few years.
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. (In 2024, that’ll come full circle as we start taking our daughter to Walt Disney World!) We visit every 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…
1A. Best Times to Visit for Avoiding Crowds
“When is the best time to visit Walt Disney World?” This is often the first question readers ask, and it’s not an easy one to answer because it’s subjective. What makes an experience the “best” differs from person to person. With that said, in helping first-timers plan over the course of the last decade-plus, there are usually three distinct components to this: crowds, cost & fun.
The first two variables are the overriding factors and, thankfully, those are objective. If you’re primarily concerned with avoiding long lines and high wait times, consult our 2023-2024 Walt Disney World Crowd Calendars. 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 list of the 10 Best and 10 Worst Weeks to Visit Walt Disney World in 2023, 2024 & 2025. As the title suggests, that identifies the ‘red flag’ dates to avoid, as well as the ideal times to visit. It’s really more than just 10 weeks, as a number of the good and bad windows are far longer than a single week.
For example, pretty much the entirety of August and September are great from a crowds perspective, but we zero in on a single week that’s the best-balanced (from our perspective) as it combines low crowds, seasonal events, weather, and other factors. Same idea for a number of other dates throughout the year.
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.)
1B. Best Times to Visit for Saving Money
The second component is cost. This one is 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?with sample pricing for multiple ‘trip tiers,’ from budget to luxury.
However, it’s not as straightforward as that. Some people don’t realize it, but prices vary significantly based upon when you’re visiting. If you visit for New Year’s Eve, you could end up spending close to double what it costs to visit a few months earlier, in September. Cutting to the chase, here are the Cheapest Times to Go to Walt Disney World.
The good news is that there’s considerable overlap between the cheapest times to visit and the least-crowded times. Visiting during the least-expensive and least-crowded times is entirely possible, and those goals align pretty well. Conversely, the most expensive times are usually also the most expensive.
Intuitively, this should make sense. When demand is highest, prices are highest. Like most other businesses, Walt Disney World charges what the market will bear, raising prices when able and discounting in order to incentivize visits when attendance and hotel occupancy are lower.
To that point, the other good news is that deals are starting to return to Walt Disney World after a couple years of very strong pent-up demand! See All Current Walt Disney World Discountsfor a full rundown of special offers through Spring 2024. There are a TON of discounts available right now, some of which offer up to 40% off hotels!
Now we’re getting into the much more subjective area of determining when to visit. What makes a time of year more or less fun? Will you enjoy the parks more or less during certain timeframes? That’s really difficult to say. As a general matter, our mantra is this: “A rainy day at Walt Disney World is better than a sunny day at home.”
This is to say that you can have a great Walt Disney World vacation no matter what time of year you visit. The smile and laughter of your child hugging Mickey Mouse for the first time; the delicious taste of a Dole Whip or Citrus Swirl; the sight and sound of fireworks exploding over Cinderella Castle at the end of a long and satisfying day at Magic Kingdom. Absolutely none of that is seasonal. Those joys are possible 365 days of the year at Walt Disney World, and your trip will be made up of moments big and small exactly like those that happen all year long.
However, it’s also fair to say that a sunny day is better than a rainy day at Walt Disney World. Most people probably are more comfortable during mild and temperate days than oppressive heat and humidity. Seasonal events can likewise add a lot to the baseline experience, taking a trip from “memorably magical” to “magnificently magical” on our highly scientific scale of magicalness.
Hopefully you get the point here–that every day at Walt Disney World has the potential to be great, but also, that greatness has its own sliding scale, with weather, seasonal enhancements, and more cranking things up to the next level of magicalness.
The holiday season is our favorite time of year at Walt Disney World. It’s not even a close call. If we could only visit Walt Disney World one month of the year for the rest of our lives, we’d pick November or December. (Super-specifically, we’d pick the week after Thanksgiving that straddles the two months.) If you’re thinking of a holiday vacation, we’d implore you to 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 are almost 100% normal for Christmas 2023, minus the Cinderella Castle Dream Lights.
This year, there will be two hard ticket events: Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom and the brand-new Disney Jollywood Nights at Hollywood Studios. (Families with small children–and just about everyone else–will want to stick with Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.)
There are other seasonal events throughout the year, starting with the EPCOT Festival of the Arts in January and February. Following that is the EPCOT Flower & Garden Festival from March through July.
It’s also possible that Magic Kingdom will once again do a special event in Summer 2024. In fact, we’d expect this to occur, with new entertainment debuting and smaller scale additions. Walt Disney World’s big new attraction (Tiana’s Bayou Adventure) won’t be ready in time for Memorial Day, so they’ll need something else to market in the first half of 2024.
Even if a summer-time event doesn’t happen, Pride is celebrated in June, and there are other smaller-scale events throughout the year. It’s also likely more After Hours parties will occur in Summer 2024.
The special events kick into high gear in August, which will kick off the 5-month long ‘party season’ at Magic Kingdom. That starts with Halloween time in Magic Kingdom, from August through the 1st of November. 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.
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, 2024 Walt Disney World Vacation Packages are now available! (For those already wanting to plan 2025 WDW vacations, you’ll need to wait until late June or early July 2024, unfortunately.)
If you’re already overwhelmed, you might want to consider 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, planning a Walt Disney World vacation is incredibly complex. 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.
4. Park Tickets
If you opt to book things yourself and without a vacation package, 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. This October, the only admission costs that increased were on Annual Passes, which raises a question about whether tickets will increase again in December, or if Walt Disney World is waiting until February 2024. Either way, 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 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).
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.
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 Disney to help you understand the ins and outs.
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.
One of the most important things to pack for Walt Disney World is comfortable shoes. This can trip people up, as you probably walk far, far less at home than you will at Walt Disney World. Suffice to say, what’s best for logging tens of thousands of steps could differ from your day-to-day footwear. See our picks for the Best Shoes to Wear at Walt Disney World for guidance–and be sure to plan ahead, breaking in your shoes before your trip!
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.
If you’re starting the planning process far in advance, you might want to subscribe to our free newsletter for updates. We also 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.
Disney’s Magical Express has now ended, and following a merger of two competitors, it’s indirect replacement is essentially Mears Connect Driven by Sunshine. This does cost money, but otherwise it’s roughly analogous to Disney’s Magical Express–it’s even operated by the same vendor that ran Disney’s Magical Express (same buses and everything, just no Disney branding!). For a broad overview of alternatives, see our Airport Transportation Guide to Walt Disney World.
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 or 2024? 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 Disney’s 100th Anniversary, or will you wait until Tiana’s Bayou Adventure opens or more on-site perks are restored? We love hearing from readers, whether it be questions from newbies or tips from seasoned Disney pros with tips of their own to add!