I love Disney. We are Disney Vacation Club owners (an explanation for another time), and I’ve been to that magical place so many times that I consider myself something of an expert – and it’s the only destination I feel comfortable using that weighty “e” word about. We’re actually headed there soon, and I can’t wait! (Expect a full trip report!)
Walt Disney World is huge. There are four parks and tons of resorts, restaurants and things to do. For a first time visitor, it can be overwhelming. Where should I stay? What kind of ticket should I buy? Where should I eat? Well, instead of answering these same questions that have been answered about ten thousand times already all over the internet, I think it’s just better if I point you in the right direction. Hopefully this post will serve as a guide to help any Disney newbie start planning an amazing Walt Disney World vacation.
Q. Should I get a guide book?
A. Yes, yes and more yes. The Unofficial Guide has all the hotel/restaurant and attraction info you could possibly want. You want info about off property hotels and restaurants? Want to know when to go? Want info on Sea World and Universal? The Unofficial Guide’s got your back, baby. It’s basically the Disney bible. The information is presented with humor in easy to read chunks and contains plenty of real world experiences from Disney World visitors. If you only do one thing to plan for your trip, buy and read this book. I’ve been reading it since the early 90’s (when I was like 10), and read it so often I actually had parts memorized. (Don’t judge me.) They also have a website, but be warned you have to subscribe (and pay) for most of the good stuff.
Q. Where can I get general info on Disney World?
A. Let me just dump some websites here for you: The DIS and AllEars.net are brimming with all the Disney info you could want. Both are updated frequently with the latest news and happenings. Especially watch out for ride rehabs or other closings that might be happening during your trip. Sure, you can check out Disney’s official website I guess, but these sites are better. (Keep reading this post if you want direct links to more specific info.)
Q. Is there a good Disney message board where I can interact with other people planning trips and get answers to any specific questions?
A. You bet there is! DISboards is the largest Disney fan community on the web. There are forums for hotels and restaurants, how to save money for your trip, and even Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line and Universal. It’s easy to search for exactly what you’re looking for too, using the search feature. I always search first because I find that usually someone else has already asked my question. If you want the official Disney answer, you can always check out the Disney Parks Moms Panel.
Q. Where can I learn about saving money on my trip?
A. MouseSavers has all the discounts you could want, from hotels to tickets to rental cars. Absolutely visit, and sign up for their newsletter for exclusive savings.
Q. When should I go to Disney World?
A. Here’s a good article, although it doesn’t really mention September, which is my favorite time to go. (Cheap and not crowded.) You can subscribe to TouringPlans.com for really detailed info on Disney crowds, including historical data on how park attendance was in years past.
Q. Where can I find info on the Disney hotels?
A. AllEars.net has tons of info on all the Disney hotels, including FAQs and photo galleries. The DIS also has a plethora of info, including photo galleries, pricing and videos on all the on-property hotels. For reviews and detailed FAQs for each of the Disney run hotels, check out the resort forum at the DISboards.
Q. What about Disney restaurants?
A. Info, photos, menus and reviews @ The DIS! Reservations (or ADRs, as Disney calls them) are a must, so check out these tips before making yours. For more reviews and dining chatter, check out the restaurants forum at the DISboards.
Q. What about the dining plan?
A. Check out this link for general information on the dining plans, including cost comparisons on using a dining plan vs. paying out of pocket. I recommend you do your homework and check out the menus I linked to in the previous section before buying any dining plan. The standard dining plan isn’t as good as it used to be (doesn’t include tip, for example), and you won’t always save money using it, so definitely do the math (sorry, unless you like math, in which case, whoo hoo!) before you buy. Disney portions are pretty large, and when we used the standard dining plan we just found it to be too much food. (We didn’t usually have room for the dessert that comes with the quick service meals, for example.) MouseSavers has great tips on how to save money on food at Disney too.
Q. What kind of ticket should I get?
A. There are so many different kinds of tickets, and what kind of ticket you should get really depends on how long you’re visiting and how you plan to tour the parks, so definitely check out this ticket calculator and this great ticket FAQ written by a Disney cast member. Want general ticket info and tips? Ask and ye shall receive at MouseSavers!
Q. Where should I buy my tickets?
A. Not from Disney – you’ll pay top dollar. You can find discounts and the like from the MouseSavers link above. You’ll notice MouseSavers also recommends Undercover Tourist, as do I. I’ve ordered from them several times and it’s always been a painless process. (Keep in mind, some special offers that Disney runs, like their free dining promotion, requires you to buy your tickets from Disney to get the deal.)
Q. What’s the deal with Fastpass+?
A. With Fastpass+ there’s no more running to an attraction just to get a ticket to come back later. Instead, you can reserve your Fastpass+ from home, either 60 (if you’re staying on Disney property) or 30 (if you’re not) days in advance. People either love the system or hate it. I personally don’t mind it – I like not having to run to a ride first thing in the morning to get my Fastpass+, on the other hand, so much scheduling months before your trip can be a bit of a headache. Here’s the rundown on how Fastpass+ works, but I suggest checking out this amazing post on Disboards for complete info, including what attractions are worth getting Fastpass+ for.
Q. How will I get there? How can I get from the airport to Disney?
A. Disney has a free service called Magical Express that you can take advantage of if you’re staying on Disney property. You don’t even have to touch your luggage! I’ve used it many times with no problems. (They’ve never lost my luggage, if that’s your fear! It’s so nice to just affix the tags and have your bags show up at your resort later and not have to wait at the bag carousel, lunging at every suitcase that looks remotely like yours.) You can learn more about that service and your other options at MouseSavers.
Q. Should I use a travel agent?
A. I recommend it. Using a Disney travel agent will cost you nothing (they get their commission from Disney), and they can make all your dining and other reservations for you. Best of all, they are constantly monitoring the new discounts and they will automatically apply them to your reservation if you qualify, saving you money! There are a bunch out there but I use Dreams Unlimited Travel.
Q. Can you recommend any good Disney podcasts?
A. I listen to two, and they are excellent. First is the DIS Unplugged, run by the people behind Dreams Unlimited Travel and the DIS. They put out new episodes once a week. Second is WDW Today, featuring Len Testa, the co-author of the Unofficial Guide. They put out shorter shows every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.