Walt Disney World Guide: Planning Your Trip

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 Walt Disney World

Florida’s Walt Disney World is one of the planet’s most popular vacation destinations. Its four theme parks–Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom–generate upwards of 60 million visitors each year. For good reason. They boast classic, timeless attractions that feature universally adored characters and properties along with some of the most cutting-edge, immersive storytelling technology ever developed. But with two world-class water parks, a couple dozen hotels, myriad shopping, dining, and entertainment options at two large complexes, championship golf courses, and other diversions, there’s much more to the massive, 47-square-mile, resort than blasting off on Space Mountain and meeting Mickey Mouse. There are lots of things to consider when planning a journey to the theme park mecca, including when to visit, must-see attractions, how to make ride reservations in advance, where to dine, and where to stay. Let’s dive in.

Planning Your Trip

Best Time to Visit: With the introduction of annual special events such as the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival (held in the fall) and Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend (held in January) that span the calendar, there is no longer a “slow season” at the resort. But there are times that are busier than others, including peak visitation periods in June, July, the first half of August, Easter week, Thanksgiving week, and, especially, the week between Christmas and New Year’s (when the parks often reach capacity). In addition to larger crowds, it costs more to visit Disney World during these higher-attendance periods. On-property hotels charge higher rates, and, using a surge pricing model, the parks charge more for tickets.

Florida’s heat and humidity can be overbearing from late spring through early fall. The Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1 and runs through Nov. 30 , with the highest storm probability from August through October. If you are concerned about your trip being interrupted by a hurricane, consider buying travel insurance. Or avoid the issue completely by not going to Orlando at that time of year.

Regardless of when you decide to plan your visit, you should consider learning about the ways that Disney World has adapted and made modifications during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Getting Around: You wouldn’t necessarily need a car to navigate around the resort, although it could offer you more freedom and help you avoid the hassle of the resort’s often crowded and sometimes balky transportation systems. To travel between the hotels, parks, and Disney Springs, options include buses, water taxis, ferries, the snazzy Disney Skyliner aerial gondolas, and the world-famous monorail, all of which are included in ticket prices and hotel rates. You could request a cab, or use a ride hailing company, including the resort’s official Minnie Van Service, which is offered in partnership with Lyft.

Travel Tip: It is virtually essential that all visitors establish a My Disney Experience account. That will give you the ability to take advantage of the resort’s revolutionary Fastpass+ advance ride reservation program. You can use the resort’s integrated Magic Bands along with the Walt Disney World app to store and use your Fastpass+ reservations as well as open your hotel door, make cashless purchases throughout the property, make dining reservations, see how long the waits are for rides’ standby lines in real time and more.

If you are seeking thrills beyond the Studios park, check out the top Walt Disney World thrill rides. If thrills are NOT your thing (or the thing of someone you know who is Disney World-bound), consider heading over to Disney's Hollywood Studios for wimps.
Disney

Things to Do

Of course, the theme parks will be the focus of any visit to Disney World. Whether you have a limited amount of time and want to make sure you get the most out of it or you just want to make sure you target the top things to do at the resort regardless of your length of stay, it’s a good idea to scope out the best rides and shows. Maybe you and your park posse want to make sure you scream to your hearts’ content. In that case, you’ll want to identify the parks’ best thrill rides. Or maybe you’ll have young ones in tow, and want to find out where to experience the best rides for kids. One of the great things about Disney World is that there are some truly wonderful things for just about everybody to enjoy, no matter your age, interests, or thrill tolerance.

There are many, many highlights throughout the parks, but you’ll want to check out three of the newer lands, all of which are self-contained odes to a movie (or movie series) with multiple attractions, characters, food, merchandise, and more to discover:

  • Get the lowdown on the (mind-boggling) rides, visiting tips, and more for the wildly popular and impeccably themed Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
  • There are some amazing things to do and see in Pandora the World of Avatar, including taking a flight of passage aboard a banshee and encountering a full-sized Pandoran shaman as you float down the Na’vi River.
  • Over at Toy Story Land, you’ll be able to ride the whimsical, launched coaster, Slinky Dog Dash, and rack up points playing virtual carnival games in Toy Story Mania.

We have plenty more articles for you to check out including how to experience Walt Disney World if you are a ride wimp, everything you’ll want to know to plan a visit to Blizzard Beach water park, and more of the best things to do at Disney World

Satu’li Canteen Restaurant at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Disney

What to Eat and Drink

How vast is Walt Disney World? It’s so big that between the theme parks, water parks, many hotels, Disney Springs, and the Boardwalk area, there are more than 400 places to dine. You can grab a quick bite, plan a memorable, special occasion meal at a posh restaurant, or find a spot that caters to every dining whim in between. Like the lands and attractions in the parks, many of the restaurants feature special themes and offer unique, only-at-Disney experiences. One of the more intriguing ways to meet Goofy, Donald, or one of the many princesses at the resort is by booking a character meal. And speaking of booking a meal, you’ll want to learn how to nab a reservation at the resort’s more high-demand restaurants as far in advance as possible.

When Walt Disney first opened Disneyland in California, he imposed a strict no-alcohol policy. Today, there are loads of places, both within and outside the parks, to belly up to the bar. You might want to consider trying out the libations offered at Epcot’s World Showcase pavilions, which is popularly known as “drinking around the world.” Some other intriguing watering holes include Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, a hideaway spot in Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, the magic-themed AbracadaBar at Disney’s Boardwalk, and the hugely popular Oga’s Cantina in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

Explore our articles on Disney World’s best table-service restaurants (including Sanaa and Jiko - The Cooking Place, both at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge–yum!), our rundown of the resort’s best quick-service eateries, and, because it is so huge and a culinary haven in its own right, our picks for the ten best restaurants in Disney Springs.

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Disney. Used with permission.

Where to Stay

Disney operates 25 resort hotels on property at the resort. They come in five flavors. Deluxe Resort Hotels include the most exclusive places to stay such as Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and the highly unique Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. Moving down the amenities scale, Moderate Resort Hotels include Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort and Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort. Among the more barebones Value Resort Hotels are Disney’s Art of Animation Resort and Disney’s Pop Century Resort. If you are into roughing it, consider affordable campsites at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort.

Disney World’s fifth category of hotels are its Deluxe Villas. These “home away from home” accommodations include studios as well as one, two, and three bedroom villas that are part of the Disney Vacation Club, Disney’s timeshare program. They can be especially suitable for large families or groups that want to stay together.

You could also consider staying off-property at one of the gazillion hotels located near Disney World. While it’s certainly possible to find lower-priced accommodations, you should consider the time that you’d save and the value that you’d get (including benefits such as early admission to the parks and complimentary transportation to and from the airport) by staying at a Disney hotel–not to mention the round-the-clock “magic” that Disney offers to its hotel guests.

There are many compelling reasons why you should stay at Disney World hotels. Check out our picks for Disney’s best hotels.

Getting There

The primary airport serving Disney World is Orlando International Airport. If you are staying on property at one of Disney World’s hotels, the resort offers complimentary motor coach transportation to and from Orlando International Airport.

Money Saving Tips

  • Disney World’s Ticket Program Get the info you'll need to navigate through different ticket options, learn how to save some of your vacation dollars, and score the best deals for your getaway.
  • Disney World on a Dime We run down strategies, such as how to get discounted Disney gift cards, to help make your next trip to the Mouse House more affordable.
  • The Complete Guide to Military Discounts at Disney World If you or your spouse are members of the military, you are eligible for some significant discounts on park tickets and stays at Shades of Green, the Disney World hotel that is owned and operated by the military.
Article Sources
TripSavvy uses only high-quality, trusted sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. AECOM and TEA. “Theme Index.” 2019

  2. National Weather Service. "Hurricane Safety Tips and Resources."

  3. Disney. “Walt Disney World Restaurants and Reservations.”

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