Cinderella's Castle illuminated at night at the Magic Kingdom

Walt Disney World Guide: Planning Your Trip


 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 a 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 of 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 many 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 some times 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.

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 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: Familiarize yourself with Disney Genie, the new digital service that Disney World introduced in fall 2021. The complimentary, interactive program helps visitors plan their days at the parks by suggesting itineraries and steering them to attractions they want to experience at times when the lines are likely to be the lowest. The service also includes Disney Genie+, an optional, paid line skipping program that replaces Fastpass+, as well as Lightning Lane Select, which gives visitors the option to purchase access to two high-demand attractions per day. With the elimination of Fastpass+ and the loss of the ability to make advance ride reservations, the calculus of planning and experiencing the parks at Disney World has changed considerably.

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.

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

Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure at EPCOT

Harrison Cooney, Disney

What's New at Disney World?

  • In October 2021, Disney World officially did away with FastPass+ and introduced new digital services to help guests plan and enjoy their days at the parks including Disney Genie, Disney Genie+, and Individual Lightning Lane.
  • In October 2021, Disney World launched its 18-month 50th anniversary celebration. Highlights include “Harmonious,” a new nighttime spectacular at Epcot that features choreographed, moving fountains, large LED panels, pyrotechnics, and other effects all set to Disney music as interpreted by artists from around the world. The Magic Kingdom also offers a new nighttime show, “Disney Enchantment.” it includes fireworks and projections of scenes from Disney films that light up Cinderella Castle and extend down the buildings along Main Street, U.S.A. Disney’s Animal Kingdom offers "Disney KiteTails," a new daytime show that features themed kites and windcatchers. All of the parks are featuring Beacons of Magic that are illuminating their signature structures–Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom, the Tree of Life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, The Hollywood Tower Hotel at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Spaceship Earth at Epcot–with fanciful lighting and effects.
  • The France Pavilion at Epcot welcomed Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, a new dark ride themed to the popular Pixar movie, as well as La Crêperie de Paris, a new restaurant, in October, 2021.
  • Space 220, a new restaurant that virtually takes guests 220 miles above the Earth’s surface to dine on a space station, opened in September 2021.
Satu’li Canteen Restaurant at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

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.

Disney. Used with permission.

Where to Stay

Disney operates 31 resort hotels on the 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 and 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 motorcoach transportation to 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 owned and operated by the military.
Article Sources
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  1. AECOM and TEA. “Theme Index.” 2019

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

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