Where do you start? How much will it cost? When should you go? Where do you buy tickets? There's more than just the Magic Kingdom???
The questions can be overwhelming and it's probably one reason so many people end up not going at all. They think it sounds like a good idea but then someone like me tells them to start planning and that restaurant and special extras can book up six months out, suddenly Disney-phobia sets in.
Relax. You can do this. It can be complicated but you just have to take it one decision at a time.
Let's get started with a quick overview for those just starting out with planning their very first (or first in a long time) vacation...
There are four theme parks and two water parks...
Magic Kingdom is the original and has Cinderella's Castle. If this is your first time planning, Magic Kingdom is probably the theme park you're thinking about when you think Disney World.
Epcot connects to Magic Kingdom via monorail and was the second park built. For years it wasn't considered very kid-friendly and it still caters to adults (eat and drink your way around the world) but has certainly grown to be a favorite for many kids with attractions like Turtle Talk with Crush where kids actually do get to talk with Crush and he talks back.
Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM Studios) is probably the park that is the most balanced between what kids and what adults want. There's stunt shows and thrill rides but also Disney Jr characters and a Woody and Buzz Lightyear meet and greet spot.
Animal Kingdom is a double-edged sword. It's awesome but it will ruin your ability to just go to your local zoo and have a good time. The Kilimanjaro Safari is worth the price of admission alone but there's also Expedition Everest-a roller coaster that will have you running to the single-rider line over and over (thereby skipping the regular line which can get pretty long even in the slowest of seasons).
Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon are Disney's two water parks and each offers a lot for those that are so inclined. If you have very small children and want to do a water park, we recommend Typhoon Lagoon as Blizzard Beach has more of the high-adventure type water coasters. Typhoon Lagoon does, however, give you the opportunity to swim with sharks...yup, sharks. We've done it a few times and it's a blast. Just be sure to bring your underwater camera (the Kodak Sport C123 works great).
Now that you're excited about where you're going, let's talk about all those planning decisions you have to make..
First you should decide when you want to go. Most people ask us "what's the best time of year to go?" which generally translates into "when are the crowds the lowest, the temperatures the best and the prices the cheapest?"
Historically, the lowest crowd levels are...
January (just after New Years) to President's Day in February
*tip-all US national holidays are times that will be much busier as both locals and families from around the nation who don't want to pull their kids from school will opt for these times
September (the week following Labor Day) to the week BEFORE Thanksgiving
*tip-if you opt to go in late September/October keep in mind that Magic Kingdom will close early at least twice a week for Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party and Epcot will be MUCH busier-especially at night because of the annual Food and Wine Festival
The week AFTER Thanksgiving to mid-December
*tip-this time can really be hit or miss, there's Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party in Magic Kingdom and the Candlelight Processional in Epcot BUT it's a great time to go with pretty low crowds if you're wanting to see the parks decorated for the holidays
Moderate crowd levels...
The week of Thanksgiving
*tip-the crowds may not be as packed at the peak season where you're just sardines in a can but moderate crowd levels can still be overwhelming and if you plan to have a nice Thanksgiving meal, you MUST call 407-WDW-DINE 180 days in advance at 0700 est. Disney restaurants-especially American themed restaurants like Liberty Tree Tavern and the popular Character meals like Cinderella's Castle will book up first and fast!
Late April through early June (with the exception of Memorial Day which falls into the peak season)
Highest crowd levels (aka insanity...at least 90 minute wait times for most attractions)...
President's week in February
Mid-March until late April
Memorial Day Weekend
About the second week of June through Labor Day
Thanksgiving Day Weekend
Christmas Eve through New Year's
*tip-New Year's Eve is the single busiest day of the year. The parks often reach capacity and shut down the front gates mid-day. Go during any of these peak times only if you must, you don't want to see our family or you're just a big fan of waiting two hours for a 60-second ride.
It may go without saying but resort stays are cheapest during the seasons with the lowest crowds and highest during the peak seasons. Check out our break down of the resorts by clicking on one of the resort links on the left. We've included a general idea of what to expect to spend. As for temperature, that's all up to you. We prefer early fall because we still get that summer feeling without melting into the pavement.
Second, figure out your budget. Someone asked us yesterday if they're family of four can go to Disney World for less than $10,000. I choked a little when I heard the question because as many times as we've been and even though we've gone for as long as 15 days and have always stayed on Disney property, we've never spent anywhere near that much. In fact, I'll level with you. The most we've spent from our front door to Disney and back is less than $5,000. Granted, we're on a budget and we are vigilant about seeking out the best deals. My husband is in the military and I'm a stay-at-home mom-it goes without saying that we have to be wise about what we spend and where it goes. Can you go and spend $10,000? Absolutely. Do you need to? No. However, if you'd like to, I have a few ideas of what you can do to make it an amazing time...and if you decided to take me along, I'd be ok with that too...just throwing that out there. Once you know your budget, you can start on the third decision you have to make...
Where will you stay? We always recommend staying at a Disney-owned resort on property but you can check out your options with our comparison of on-property/off-property and even Shades of Green (for all our military friends and family) for more details.
Next, where do you buy your tickets/package? I know people who ONLY use a travel agent because they're afraid they'll make a mistake on their own...understandable but stay informed because more than once, we've known about a discount someone qualified for but didn't receive because their travel agent either didn't know about it or didn't bother to do the work to get them the discount. If you want to plan it on your own...as I suspect since you're here...keep in mind some of the biggest discounts...free dining, room-only discounts, and Disney's Military discounts CANNOT be purchased or added to a reservation online. You MUST call into the reservation center at 407-WDW-7675. In fact, if you call that number and ask them, they'll help you start your planning and the great thing with Disney is that when you're ready to book your vacation, you only need a $200 deposit. The rest of your package is due 45 days before you check-in so you can make monthly payments or save up and pay it all off at once...just be sure to book as soon as you can so rooms fill up fast. If you're looking for just tickets...for example, you've decided staying on property just isn't for your family, and you don't qualify for the greatly discounted military tickets, check out websites like Undercover Tourist for discounted tickets. However, generally speaking, you'll only find discounted tickets when you purchase a minimum of three of four days worth of tickets.
Lastly, if you have children...especially small children, be sure to take a little more time and do some extra planning-particularly check out the height restrictions. Also, click on our Bibbidy Boppidy Boutique and Pirate's League pages for the fun extras to add to your trip.
As always, if you have any questions, email me by clicking on the profile (where it has my name), I'm happy to help.