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A Magical Disney Vacation…in only 6 steps!

Did you know that you can plan your own Disney Vacation in only 6 steps? It’s not as hard as you may think.

For first timers, the task of planning a fun filled and magical Walt Disney World vacation can seem overwhelming. There’s so much to consider that it’s even hard to know where to start. Even if you have been before, you may not be up to date on the latest innovations such as Fastpass+.

However, if you take a step back and look at the process step by step, you’ll come to realize that it’s not as daunting as you might have first thought. We have a step by step breakdown of the process that should make planning your first or your next Disney vacation a snap!

This post will give you a general guideline for planning your trip. We will get into more detail in further posts. But for now, here’s what you have to know and consider.

1. Choose when and how long you’ll go:

The first step is to determine when in the year you’ll go. You’ll have to consider crowds, vacations, holidays and special events when making your decision. School vacations and major holidays are the most crowded. There are many crowd calendars that can help you visually see when the most people are usually in attendance. Also, throughout the year, Walt Disney World has many special events such as:

  • Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival
  • Epcot International Food & Wine Festival
  • Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Parties
  • Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Parties
  • runDisney events
If it is important to you to be there for one of these events, you might want to consider planning your vacation around it.
Once you chose your time to go, now you need to decide how long. If it’s your first time, you might want to plan a whole week. There’s so much to do and see. If you’re like us and know you’ll be back, then consider a short stay. The amount of time you stay is dependent on how much you want to do.

2. Pick where to stay:

You’ll first have to decide whether or not you want to stay on property or off property. Guests who stay on property are entitled to perks such as AM and PM Extra Magic Hours (the parks will open one hour early or stay open later for resort guests only), free parking, free bus transportation, and complimentary airport shuttle service with Disney’s Magical Express . However there are many options outside of the resort and “Good Neighbor” hotels that will shuttle you to Walt Disney World parks.

If you choose to stay on property there are five levels of resorts to choose from:

  • Campgrounds: From $49/night, camp out under the stars with benefits of a Disney Resort
  • Value: From $85/night, affordable comfort and convenience for families on the go
  • Moderate: From $162/night, perfect combination of lush themes and value
  • Deluxe: From $284/night, highly themed getaways with great dining and amenities
  • Deluxe Villa: From $318/night, comforts of home for large families
The resorts are organized by area, Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Downtown Disney (soon to be Disney Springs). If it’s important to be close to one of those areas, then choose your resort based on its location. You’ll also have the option to add on park tickets to your stay. If you choose not to, you could always purchase them separately.

3. Plan your days

Your first though may be, “Why? I’m on vacation?” A Walt Disney vacation is unlike any other. Unfortunately, gone are the days when you can “wing it” especially if you have your heart set on specific dining and attractions. This is the step where my type-A planning skills come into play. I do it the old fashioned way, make a schedule with paper and pencil. We like to plan our days based on morning extra magic hours in order to maximize our time in the park with the little ones. Other factors could include:

  • Special occasions: wanting to be in a certain park to celebrate a birthday or anniversary
  • Special events
  • PM extra magic hours: great for families with teens
This is also the part of the process when you have to decide whether or not you’ll park hop. You can read all about whether park hopping is worth it here.

4. Make dining reservations

This next fact is what usually blows any first timer away. Reservations for dining can be made up to 180 days in advance(180 +10 for resort guests). Yes, you’ll have to think about where you want to eat a whole 6 months before your vacation. This is only for table service restaurants only. You can still eat at quick service locations without a reservation. However, if you have your heart set on eating in the castle at Cinderella’s Royal Table or swinging the napkins with Mickey and pals at Chef Mickey’s, it is highly recommended that you make your reservations as close to your 180 mark as possible.

Your dining options could also depend on whether you’ll be purchasing the dining plan. You can read all about whether it’s worth it here. From time to time, rooms are available with a free dining option. However, you will not be able to get a discounted room with free dining.

5. Add some magic

Now that most of your plans are in place it’s time to add some magic. To make your visit even more special you can consider some add on experiences such as:

  • Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique: Treat your princess to a fairy tale makeover
  • The Pirates League: Pirate and Mermaid makeovers
  • Tomorrowland Dessert Party
  • IllumiNations Sparkling Dessert Party
  • Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage
Many more experiences can be found on the Walt Disney World website.

6. Make a must-do list

With so much to see and do, it will be hard to fit it all in. We always make a must-do list. It helps us prioritize the attractions we have to get to during our vacation. This list will also be important when making your Fastpass + reservations. Through My Disney Experience, guest can pre-book their Fastpass selections. Disney releases a certain number of FP+ slots for attractions at midnight at 60 days for resort guests, and more at 30 days for non-resort guests. To make sure you get the attractions you want at the best times, make sure you are logged in and ready. You can read more about the process here.

Once you book your vacation, on property Guests will receive Magic Bands in the mail. These bracelets will be your park tickets, room key, Fastpass and charging devices. To read more about Magic Bands, My Disney Experience and Fastpass+, check out our very detailed post on the subject.

See it’s not as bad as you thought. In just 6 steps you can be on your way to a magical Walt Disney World vacation. Now, how to pay for it is another story!

Planning a Walt Disney World Vacation in Just 6 Steps!

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Rachel Langer

Monday 15th of August 2016

This is a great list and a perfect step by step guide. If you really are still intimidated you can always book through a travel agent! Most travel agents will charge you not a penny for their services and your trip will not cost you a penny more than if you did it yourselves!

Beth Green

Sunday 18th of January 2015

We may be the same person... this is exactly how I plan!! I even do my daily plans the same way on a sheet of paper- all scratched out with arrows drawn all over it! Once everything is "in place" I create a spread sheet that ends up being color coordinated! Nerd? Yes I am! :)

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