As a seasoned veteran of WDW, I know the parks inside and out. My parents are Disney Vacation Club members, Annual pass holders, Disney Visa owners, shareholders, and basically ‘anything Disney’ fanatics. In 16 years, I’ve been to Walt Disney World over 40 times. I am writing this blog post to cover all the basics of the Orlando, Florida parks and resorts.
First and foremost, the biggest tip for vacationing at WDW is to plan. Even if you despise planning, you need to plan your vacation in order for it to be successful. The resorts and parks are so complex that it is impossible to do everything, but it is possible to cover all the main attractions when planning ahead of time. My Disney Experience is the perfect place to start. I would encourage you to schedule FastPasses and dining reservations at the maximum time prior to arriving to ensure you get what you want. After booking your resort and purchasing annual passes, you can schedule up to 180 days prior for dining and 30 days prior for FastPasses.
Is it worth staying on property with the additional cost rather than staying off property for a cheaper stay? I think so, and here is why:
- All resort guests have transportation via the Magical Express for airport transfers to and from the resort
- The bus system is the most efficient to get to and from parks, waterparks, and Disney Springs
- Boats to and from Epcot and Hollywood Studios as well as Beach Club, Boardwalk, and Swan and Dolphin resorts
- Monorail transportation to the Ticket and transportation center, Polynesian Village, Grand Floridan Resort and Spa, Contemporary Resort, Magic Kingdom, and Epcot
- All resorts have themed rooms which add to the Disney experience
- Hospitality is unparalleled when staying at a Disney resort
- All resorts have themed pool areas for kids and families with waterslides and food; some resorts have interactive splash areas.
- Disney resorts are tiered in price, so value and even moderate level resorts are comparable to competitors in the area.
- You aren’t in your room very often, which is a good thing to keep in mind when making your resort decision.
- The monetary value of a resort stay can be questionable, but there are seasonal deals that pair with the Disney Dining Plan.
Is it worth purchasing the Disney Dining Plan for your vacation? Personally, it is not for my family. Here is an in-depth explanation of the Disney Dining Plan, and why it may not be valuable to some families (including mine).
Disney Dining Plan: What to Consider
- It is simply too much food
- Depending on which plan you may choose, there are varying levels of meals, drinks, and snacks included. Even with the lowest plan option, it can be too much to satisfy your needs.
- The food at Disney is very good, but can be very heavy. A lot of the options when dining at Disney are rich and limited, especially quick service.
- The Dining Plan can force you to eat more than you would like, which results in an experience that is less enjoyable than it would be if you ate your normal amount of food.
- As DVC members and annual pass holders, we are able to utilize Tables in Wonderland. This is a wonderful value that we have felt is more economical than the Disney Dining Plan. Tables in Wonderland is available to Annual Passholders and Florida Residents. For a yearly fee you can receive a 20-percent discount on most of the table service restaurants, including alcoholic beverages.
- More often than not, I believe families come to discover that eating off the Dining Plan is more economical because you only eat when you are hungry. Especially with planning, it is very probable that dining off the plan results in a lower bill than dining with the plan.
- There are a few table service restaurants around the parks and in Disney Springs that are comparable in price to quick service restaurants. Personally, I eat off the kids menu more often than not at WDW, and find that eating a meal off that menu at a table service can be more economical than eating an adult burger or chicken fingers at a quick service. I also find that the variety at table service restaurants with the kids menu is more than the adult menu at quick service restaurants.
- If the Disney Dining Plan is the option you see as the best fit, I strongly recommend planning the table service restaurants where you plan to dine. The value is heavily based on where you choose to eat, so I encourage you to make the most of the value by choosing restaurants that are pricier.
- Children from 3-9 have different dining options. When I was younger, it made more sense financially to utilize the Disney Dining plan because of the kid’s meal portions. The plan is cheaper, and portions are more reasonable.
- At age 10, children are considered adults at Walt Disney World. It is important to consider the eating habits of your child when weighing all of the different food options; does your 10 year old eat as much as you? The answer is probably no, which is why my family never found the value when I turned ten years old.
A lot of this advice is based off personal preference, so it is very important to consider the needs and tendencies of you and your family before making any decisions for dining. I’ve linked another blog post where you can find my favorite restaurants on Disney property as well as pictures for reference.
Q: I can only afford one park for my family, what park should I visit?
A: This is a loaded question; although, for most people Cinderella Castle is a must-see. Magic Kingdom has six lands, and a lot of family-friendly attractions and character experiences. This is the park to visit if only one day is possible, mainly because it is centered around Disney magic.
Q: How many days should I allow to visit all four parks?
A: Not including Disney Springs, I would recommend at least five days to visit all four parks. If a park hopper is in the budget, four days would be reasonable.
Q: Is a park hopper worth it?
A: Personally, annual passes include the park hopper option so I know no different than to include it. Even so, it is worth it because of the freedom it gives you when planning your trip. If you want to dine in one park for breakfast and another for dinner, it is possible with the park hopper. If you want to go to Animal Kingdom bright and early to race to Pandora and then go to Magic Kingdom to see the fireworks at night, it is possible with the park hopper.
Q: My partner and I want to visit Disney World without kids, what park should we go to first?
A: If you’re a foodie, Epcot is the park you want to spend most of your time. Epcot offers food and drinks of 11 different countries. If you’re an animal and Avatar lover, Animal Kingdom is the park for you. Animal Kingdom is one of the busiest parks right now because of Pandora, the new land of Avatar that was just added to the park. If you’re a movie lover, I would recommend Hollywood Studios. Star Wars is coming to this park, and will offer immersive experiences inside the world of Star Wars. This park also has the most thrilling rides, like Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Magic Kingdom is also an option if you’re just looking for the overall Disney experience.
Q: Are the waterparks and Disney Springs worth it to stay an extra day?
A: The waterparks get very busy during the summertime. The wait times are very high, and it is very crowded. If that doesn’t bother you, then go for it! There are two water parks: Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. My family and I enjoy both, but our favorite is Blizzard Beach because of the massive water slide Summit Plummet. If the crowds and wait times aren’t worth it, hanging by the pool or at the resort waterslides is included and much easier! Disney Springs is one of my favorite places for food, and I love the atmosphere of shopping and dining in a family-friendly area.
I’ve included a few photos from various trips: