Walt Disney World Planning Guide (2023)

We have had the pleasure of visiting the Walt Disney World resort more than 20 times over the past decade.

We got engaged inside Magic Kingdom and married just a few miles away less than 12 months later. As such Walt Disney World holds a very special place in our hearts.

Based on our experiences we also know that planning a trip to Walt Disney World is like nothing else – the learning curve can be very, very steep!

Given this, we wanted to put together a detailed guide to walk you through everything you need to know when planning, booking and visiting the Walt Disney World Resort so that you’re able to have an incredible time at the most magical place on earth!

When To Visit Walt Disney World

There are a number of different factors to take into consideration when deciding when to visit Walt Disney World, including weather, crowds, and prices.

When To Visit Walt Disney World Based On Weather

Despite being located in Florida (the sunshine state), the weather is still something you’ll want to consider when planning your trip to Walt Disney World.

Summer 

Florida summers can get extremely hot, with temperatures climbing to at least 90°F (32°C) most days during July and August.

The heat and humidity can make visiting Disney World during this time pretty unbearable, especially for younger or older guests.

If you do plan on going to Walt Disney World during the peak summer months, it’s important to stay hydrated, wear plenty of sunscreen, and take regular breaks in the shade – and don’t shy away from the water and splash rides to help you cool down.

Spring & Fall 

The shoulder months of April, May, and October are a little more bearable in terms of heat.

Average temperatures sit around 80 – 85°F (26 – 30°C) and humidity is much lower than during the summer, making it a more comfortable time to visit the parks.

Winter 

Winters in Florida are still pleasantly mild, with daily highs of 70°F (22°C) and plenty of sunshine.

October through to early May is also the dry season, so rain is uncommon. Given this, Walt Disney World can make for a great winter vacation.

When To Visit Walt Disney World Based On Price

The budget for your Walt Disney World vacation is another key factor to keep in mind when deciding when to visit.

Tickets for the parks work on a date-based pricing model, meaning prices can vary between days depending on demand.

During peak periods, such as the summer and Christmas holidays, tickets are more expensive.

While in the low season, around late winter and early fall, prices drop significantly. Tickets are also more expensive on weekends and public holidays.

Of course, it’s not only the park tickets that vary in price throughout the year. Flight and accommodation prices increase during periods of high demand too.

Therefore, travelling during the busy school holidays will cost you significantly more overall than travelling off-peak.

When To Visit Walt Disney World Based On Crowds

No matter when you visit Walt Disney World, it’s the resort and subsequent theme parks are going to feel busy.

The resort is a popular destination throughout the year. However, some periods are busier than others.

Weekends, public holidays, and school holidays are when you’ll experience the largest crowds in the parks.

Crowd levels also reach their maximum when there are special events and festivities taking place. 

The periods around Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year are some of the busiest times to visit Walt Disney World. 

When To Visit Walt Disney World Based On Special Events

Although special events in the parks naturally lead to larger crowds and lines, they can still be a fun time to visit. 

Below are some of the biggest events and festivities at the Walt Disney World Resort parks and when they usually take place.

  • Epcot Flower & Garden Festival – March to July 
  • Epcot Food & Wine Festival – July to November
  • Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party – August to October
  • Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party – November to December
  • New Years’ Eve Fireworks and Celebrations – 31st December

Other annual celebrations featuring special events at the parks include Valentine’s Day, St Patrick’s Day, Easter Holidays, 4th of July, and Thanksgiving.

When To Avoid Visiting Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World is open 365 days a year, so you can really visit at any time.

However, in our opinion, there are some periods that you should try to avoid if possible;

  • Spring Break and Bank Holidays – These are the times when the parks are at their busiest, so you can expect large crowds and long lines for the rides.

  • Peak Summer – Not only do the parks also get extremely busy during July and August but the extreme Florida heat and humidity can make it pretty unbearable.

  • Hurricane Season (Sept to Nov) – Most hurricanes occur off the Florida coast (resulting in strong winds at the parks), however, there is still a small risk of them coming inland.
    Disney World has been known to shut its parks before due to powerful winds or hurricane risk. While this isn’t necessarily a reason not to visit during this period, it is something you should keep in mind.

How Long To Spend At Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World is made up of four theme parks, two water parks, and the entertainment complex of Disney Springs, if you want to check out all of these, you’ll need at least a week at the resort. 

However, even with one week at Walt Disney World, it’s likely you’ll be able to see and do everything that resort has to offer. 

Instead, two weeks will allow you to explore the resort at a more leisurely pace.

You can visit all of the parks and even have some additional time to go back and experience anything you may have missed the first time around. Plus a couple of relaxation days, which are often needed.

The 14-Day Magic Ticket lets you hop around the parks freely and is one of the best value tickets you can purchase.

If you are limited on time, the Genie+ service can help you plan the most efficient visit to the Walt Disney World theme parks. 

The handy Walt Disney World mobile app helps you pre-plan an itinerary for each park based on personalised recommendations.

It also includes a park map, useful tips, and Lightning Lane entrance at select attractions to help save you time standing in line.

However, Genie+ comes at an additional daily cost and requires you to be extra organised in advance to really maximise its value.

If you want to visit just one of the theme parks within the Walt Disney World resort then you’ll need at least a day. However, for Magic Kingdom, we’d suggest two days if possible.

Travelling To The Walt Disney World Resort

Whether you are located inside or outside of the US is likely to have the most significant impact on how you travel to the Walt Disney World Resort.

Plane

If you’re flying to Walt Disney World, the best airports to arrive at are;

  • Orlando International Airport (MCO)
  • Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB)

Orlando International Airport (MCO) is the closest airport to Walt Disney World, located just 16 miles away. However, it’s also the busiest and can take up to two hours to get through immigration (based on our experience).

As well as taxis, there are a number of shuttle buses and public buses that provide a budget option for travelling between the airport and the resort.

Sanford International Airport (SFB) is located 46 miles north of Walt Disney World but is still a popular choice for reaching the resort.

There’s no public transport between this airport and the Disney parks, so you’ll need to either hire a car or jump in a taxi/Uber.

Alternatively, you may also want to look at these other popular airports in Florida;

However, keep in mind that travelling from these airports to the Walt Disney World Resort could take several hours.

Car

If you live – or are already travelling – in the US, you may also choose to take a road trip to Walt Disney World Resort.

Travelling by car gives you a lot of flexibility and the option to make a few detours and stops along the way. 

However, depending on where you’re travelling from, the journey could take a number of days and cost a lot of money in gas and overnight stays.

You’ll also need to consider the additional cost (where applicable) of parking wherever you are staying in Orlando.

Where To Stay When Visiting Walt Disney World

The best place to stay in Disney World is one of the on-site resort hotels.

However, these can be expensive and not fit into everyone’s budget. Other options include nearby hotels or Airbnbs.

On-Site Hotels

Walt Disney World Resort Florida has an impressive 34 different on-site accommodation options, categorised into five tiers;

  • Deluxe Villas
  • Deluxe Hotels
  • Moderate Hotels
  • Value Hotels
  • Campgrounds 

The deluxe hotels within walking distance of Magic Kingdom, such as Disney Grand Floridian and Polynesian Village Resort, can cost as much as $700-800 per night during peak periods. 

For a slightly more affordable option, Disney’s value hotels cost $200 per night on average, while a tent at the campsite is around $110 a night (for two people sharing).

Staying on-site at Disney World can cost you around 50% more than staying elsewhere in Orlando. However, there are many benefits to staying at the resort. These include;

  • Close proximity to the parks and attractions

  • Uniquely-themed rooms and resorts to continue the magic after leaving the parks

  • Special Disney experiences such as character dining

  • Early entry to theme parks (30 minutes before opening)

  • Extended evening hours on select dates

  • Complimentary transportation around the entire Disney World Resort

  • Complimentary standard parking at all parks

  • Early access to purchase lightning lane entry

  • Use a MagicBand to unlock your room, enter parks, and make purchases 

While there are certainly many fantastic family-friendly Disney World Resort hotels, there are also some more luxurious and romantic Disney hotel options perfect for couples

We even spent our honeymoon at a Disney World Resort hotel.

Partner Hotels

Disney World Resort also has a number of official partner hotels

These hotels are predominantly owned by large chains such as Holiday Inn, Marriott, and Hilton, and offer exclusive Disney packages that include theme park tickets.

Although most partner hotels are not located on-site close to the parks, many hotels can be found around Disney Springs or Flamingo Crossings, the hotel and retail districts developed by Disney. 

All Disney partner hotels also offer a complimentary shuttle bus to and from the parks, saving you money on transport.

Nearby Hotels

If you’re looking for more budget-friendly accommodation, staying at a nearby hotel rather than an official Disney Resort hotel is a better choice.

Disney World offers a list of Good Neighbor Hotels that aren’t owned by or partnered with the company but are recommended based on their quality and facilities. 

There are a variety of hotels to choose from, ranging from budget to luxury.

Many nearby hotels provide a shuttle to both Disney World and Universal Studios (complimentary or for a fee), on-site ticket concierges, and more. 

If a hotel doesn’t include transport to the parks, you should weigh up how much you might spend travelling by Uber/Lyft or the parking costs (if you’ve hired a car).

It may be worth paying a little extra for a hotel with a shuttle if it saves you money overall.

Airbnb & Vrbo

A final option for staying close to Walt Disney World Resort is renting a private villa or apartment through Airbnb or Vrbo. 

Private rentals tend to be more affordable and give you extra space if you’re travelling as a large family or group of friends.

Benefits of staying in a private rental include;

  • They can accommodate large groups easily
  • You can save money by cooking food at home
  • Some rentals come with an extensive range of private amenities and facilities, including swimming pools, game rooms, hot tubs, etc

The main downside of staying in a private rental is that they tend to be a little further away from the parks and you’ll need to pay for taxis/Uber or parking at the resort each day. 

Things To See & Do At The Walt Disney World Resort

There are seven major attractions at Walt Disney World Resort; 

  • Four theme parks
  • Two water parks
  • One entertainment complex

Magic Kingdom

Dating back to 1971, Magic Kingdom is Disney’s original Orlando theme park.

Today, it is the crown jewel of The Walt Disney World Resort and the most visited Disney theme park in the world. If you only have time to visit one park, this is the one to choose.

Disney’s Magic Kingdom is split into six themed areas, each with numerous rides, attractions, shows, shops, and restaurants. The six ‘lands’ are;

  • Adventureland
  • Fantasyland
  • Frontierland
  • Tomorrowland
  • Liberty Square
  • Main Street U.S.A

With its fun shows, magical parades, and live character greetings, Magic Kingdom is one of the best Disney parks for younger kids. Plus, only a few of the attractions have height restrictions. 

There are still plenty of exciting rides to keep older visitors entertained too, including five of Disney World’s nine roller coasters.

The park is home to many of Disney’s most iconic rides, including;

  • “It’s a small world”
  • Space Mountain
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • The Haunted Mansion
  • Jungle Cruise
  • Seven Dwarfs Mining Train

And, of course, no visit to Magic Kingdom is complete without exploring Cinderella’s Castle, the centrepiece of the entire park.

EPCOT

EPCOT is Walt Disney World Resort’s second most popular park. The unique theme park is a celebration of people and cultures around the world.

The World Showcase is EPCOT’s biggest draw, with authentic recreations of 11 countries; Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Norway, the UK, and the US. 

Each country has its own pavilion showcasing its cuisine, culture, history, and architecture. It’s not difficult to figure out which country is which, thanks to the small-scale iconic landmarks. 

The park’s other three areas are;

  • World Celebration – Connect with a Global Community
  • World Discovery – ​​Explore the Wonders of Science and Technology
  • World Nature – Be Amazed by Our Incredible Planet

EPCOT’s flagship attraction has to be its enormous dome, which houses one of the park’s original rides, Spaceship Earth. 

Spaceship Earth takes you on a journey through the history of communication, from the Stone Age to the computer age. The ride was way ahead of its time when it opened in 1982. 

Still to this day, it’s one of Disney World’s most famous rides and definitely shouldn’t be missed!

 There are also a number of other fun-themed rides scattered throughout the park, including;

  • Mission: SPACE
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind!
  • Frozen Ever After
  • Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure

Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom is pretty self-explanatory. As the name suggests, the park is centred around the natural world and transports guests to some of the most remote and wild places on earth.

The lands in Disney’s Animal Kingdom are;

  • Africa
  • Asia
  • DinoLand U.S.A.
  • Discovery Island
  • The Oasis
  • Pandora – The World of Avatar
  • Rafiki’s Planet Watch

The park has a number of large thrill rides, which makes it popular with teens and adults. 

Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain is the tallest attraction in all of Disney World, with the longest and most intense drop of any of the roller coasters.

Other thrill rides at Animal Kingdom include;

  • Avatar Flight of Passage
  • DINOSAUR
  • Kali River Rapids

Some of the best things to do at Animal Kingdom for younger guests are;

  • See lions, elephants, gorillas, and more on a safari through Disney’s African savanna

  • Get up close to some adorable animals at the petting zoo

  • Learn about endangered species at the conservation stations

  • Sing along at the Festival of the Lion King

  • Meet Mickey, Minnie, and other animal characters at the exploration headquarters

Hollywood Studios

Hollywood Studios is Disney’s movie-themed park that lets you step into the magical world of showbiz.

The different areas in Hollywood Studios are;

  • Animation Courtyard
  • Echo Lake
  • Grand Avenue
  • Hollywood Boulevard
  • Pixar Place
  • Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
  • Sunset Boulevard
  • Toy Story Land

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is one of the newest and most popular areas at Hollywood Studios.

Here you’ll discover a host of amazing Star Wars attractions, shows, and character encounters.

Hollywood Studios is aimed more towards teens and adults, with many of the rides having height restrictions.

Younger guests may also not be familiar with some of the older movies referenced throughout the park.

Some of the best rides at Hollywood Studios are;

  • Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith
  • The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
  • Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
  • Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance

Blizzard Beach Water Park

Ever wondered what would happen if you built a ski resort in the middle of Florida? Well, Disney’s answer to this is Blizzard Beach, a melting ski resort-themed waterpark.

If you’re visiting Disney World Resort on a hot summer’s day, Blizzard Beach is the perfect place to cool down.

The park’s snow-capped mountain, working chairlift, and bobsled and toboggan-themed water slides will trick your body into believing you’re in a magical winter wonderland rather than the heart of the sunshine state.

The water park is great for visitors of all ages, with everything from thrilling rapids and epic water slides with 120ft drops, to a rambling river and a fun playland for little guests.

Some of the best rides and attractions at Blizzard Beach are;

  • The Summit Plummet
  • Runoff Rapids
  • Slush Gusher
  • Teamboat Springs
  • Cross Country Creek

Typhoon Lagoon Water Park

Typhoon Lagoon is Disney World’s other water park. It’s themed around a storm-tossed tropical paradise. The park has just undergone some major refurbishments in late 2022, so it’s currently a great time to visit!

The water park has something for everyone. There’s a lazy river and a serene white sand beach for a little relaxation time.

Little ones can splash around at Ketchakiddee Creek meanwhile thrill seekers will love the park’s many exciting slides and water-coasters, including;

  • Crush ’n’ Gusher Water-Coaster Raft-Ride
  • The Humunga Kowabunga Speed Slides
  • Miss Adventure Falls Family Raft-Ride

Plus don’t miss Typhoon Lagoon’s Surf Pool, which is the world’s largest inland surfing lagoon, with waves up to 6 feet high.

Disney Springs

Disney Springs is Disney World’s dining, entertainment, and shopping paradise located just to the east of the parks.

The complex is not the only one of its kind in Orlando, but it is one of the best in our opinion. Some of the biggest draws of Disney Springs over the likes of Universal’s CityWalk include;

  • It’s home to the largest Disney store in the world
  • It has the highest concentration of celebrity chefs in Orlando
  • There’s a myriad of entertainment options
  • Admission and parking are always free

Some cool and unique things you can do in Disney Springs other than eating and shopping include;

  • Watch a movie at the cinema
  • Go bowling or play a game of billiards at Splitsville
  • See Cirque du Soleil’s new show ‘Drawn to Life’
  • Watch local dance troupes and musicians for free at the Marketplace Stage
  • Go Coke tasting at the Coca-Cola rooftop bar
  • Take a hot air balloon ride above the complex
  • Hit the water in a vintage amphicar

While the complex has many evening entertainment options for adults, it’s also extremely family-friendly too. 

There are plenty of fun things to do in Disney Springs with toddlers and children.

How To Travel Around The Walt Disney World Resort

The entire Walt Disney World Resort covers almost 40 square miles (or 25,000 acres), making it the largest resort park in the world. This means that you’re definitely going to need some form of transport to get around.

How you get to and around the Disney World Resort will largely depend on three factors;

  • Where you’re staying
  • Whether you have a car or not
  • Your budget

If you’re staying at one of the on-site resort hotels, you’ll be able to make the most of the free resort transportation. Many partner hotels also offer shuttles to the parks for free or for a small fee.

If you’re staying at another nearby hotel or in a private rental that doesn’t offer transport then you’ll have to either get a taxi or drive yourself to the parks. 

Driving is a convenient option if you do have a car with you. But you’ll need to remember to budget for parking, which costs $25 per day at all parks. 

Once at the Disney World Resort, you can also travel for free between the different parks and attractions using the below methods.

Resort Buses

Walt Disney World Bus Service is a complimentary service that runs regularly between all of the parks, resort areas, and Disney Springs.

The bus service begins 45 minutes prior to the park opening times and ends one hour after closing.

Disney Monorail

The Walt Disney World Monorail System has three lines that travel throughout the resort.

Two of the monorail lines originate at the transport and ticket office and offer round-trip services to EPCOT and Magic Kingdom. The other connects Magic Kingdom to three on-site resort hotels.

Disney Skyliner

The Disney Skyliner lets you float through the sky in whimsically themed gondolas while experiencing unique, birds-eye views over the parks.

Currently, the Skyliner only connects Disney’s Hollywood Studios, EPCOT’s International Gateway, and a handful of nearby resort hotels.

Minnie Van

The Minnie Van is a paid ride service available to guests at Walt Disney World Resort hotels. 

Powered by Lyft, you can use the app to call a quirky red and white polka-dot car to come and pick you up, wherever you are in the resort.

The Minnie Van is a convenient option for moving around after hours, whether you’re returning from the parks late and can’t handle the crowded buses, or you’re heading out for a romantic dinner and want to splurge on a little luxury.

Typical Costs At Walt Disney World

Working out the cost of a trip to Walt Disney World Resort can be relatively complex. 

Transport and hotel are the most significant expenses. But you’ll need to budget for additional expenses such as tickets, food, and souvenirs too.  

Tickets

Tickets are another of the biggest expenses when visiting Disney World Resort.

Therefore we understand why you might want to look for a deal, discount or coupon to save money. Sadly, however, saving money can be difficult as there are limited deals and coupons to take advantage of.

For those in the US or Canada, we recommend buying your Disney World park tickets from Get Your Guide or direct from the Disney World Resort website.

If you’re travelling to Disney Orlando from the UK then we recommend purchasing your park tickets from AttractionTix.

The cost of your Disney World Resort tickets will vary depending on;

  • The number of days you’re visiting for
  • How many of the parks you plan to visit
  • Whether you plan to visit one park per day or want a park hopper ticket 
  • Age of guests (children are slightly cheaper than adults)
  • Time of year you’re visiting (peak season is more expensive)
  • Whether you’re a Florida resident (locals get a discount)
  • Any add-ons, such as the Disney Memory Maker
  • Annual passes

As with most resort parks, the prices become better value the longer you stay for. 

A single-day park ticket currently costs between $109 and $159. But if you purchase a 10-day pass, the daily price drops to between $58 and $75 per day.

Multi-day passes don’t need to be used on consecutive days. But there is a certain date range that you’ll need to use your ticket in.

Booking a package at one of the resort or partner hotels that includes park tickets can be another economical way to save some money on your trip. 

Food

It’s certainly no secret that eating at Disney isn’t cheap. As with any theme park, food prices at Disney World Resort are inflated compared to the rest of Orlando.

A meal at one of the park’s many fantastic table service restaurants will cost you between $15-40 per adult, depending on what you order.

For a slightly more affordable meal, the food carts and quick service restaurants offer tasty snacks and fast food options for around $10-15.

If you’re eating both lunch and dinner at the parks, as well as snacks and drinks throughout the day, you can easily spend $60-70 per day on food per person.

Souvenirs

Souvenirs are one of the most unexpected expenses at Disney World. But it’s something that you should really factor into your budget.

From character costumes and cuddly toys for little ones to themed mugs, keyrings, and t-shirts for adults, it’s almost impossible not to buy anything during your trip to Disney.

Much like food and drinks, souvenir prices at Walt Disney World are fairly inflated compared to similar items you can find elsewhere.

The average prices for popular souvenirs at Disney World are;

  • Keyrings and magnets – $6-10
  • Mugs – $10-20
  • Mickey and Minnie Mouse Ears – $29.99
  • Soft toys – $15-25 depending on size and character
  • T-Shirt – $30 for adults, $15-20 for children

Money Saving Tips For Walt Disney World

A trip to Walt Disney World can be expensive. Thankfully there are a number of ways you can cut costs during your visit without compromising on the experience.

Bring Your Own Food

Disney allows you to bring your own food into the parks, as long as it doesn’t need heating up.

Packing some homemade sandwiches for lunch and bringing some snacks with you to eat throughout the day can save you a considerable amount of money on food during your visit.

Bring A Water Bottle

When walking around the Disney parks in the intense Florida heat, it’s vital to stay hydrated.

However, a small bottle of water at Disney World will set you back $3.50. If you’re buying several of these a day, it can really eat into your budget.

Instead, make sure to bring a reusable water bottle to the parks with you. 

Some areas in the resort have water bottle filling stations (typically located near the toilets). You can also ask any quick-service restaurant to refill your water bottle for you for free.

Buy Souvenirs At The Outlets

If souvenirs are a must but you don’t want to pay Disney Resort prices, head to the outlet.

Disney’s Character Warehouse on Orlando’s International Drive is an official Disney outlet. The huge store sells many of the same items as in the parks for up to 75% cheaper.

How To Stay Safe At The Walt Disney World Resort

Walt Disney World has a strict security policy to ensure that you remain safe during your visit. A bag check is compulsory for everyone entering the parks.

However, some crime does still occur at Disney World. The most common being theft.

To avoid being a victim of theft at Disney, it’s crucial to look after your belongings. Especially high-value, important items such as your keys, wallet, phone, and camera.

Don’t leave your possessions unattended while going on rides. Instead, use one of the lockers that you’ll find in all four theme parks and at both of the water parks.

Walt Disney World Packing List

We’ve become Disney World packing pros after countless visits to the resort. Here’s what we recommend packing and wearing for your Disney trip.

The dress code at Disney World is extremely casual. Being a family-friendly destination, only clothing with rude or obscene messages or clothes considered too revealing are prohibited. Shoes and shirts also need to be worn at all times at the parks. 

We’d recommend wearing loose-fitting clothing (that will dry quickly after any water rides or rain showers) and your favourite character t-shirt.

You’re also going to be walking A LOT, so it’s essential to pack comfortable shoes. Personally, we opt for trainers, but sandals or crocs are good alternatives.

When it comes to a day bag for the parks, you’re going to want a backpack or a fanny pack. 

A backpack is better if you’re visiting the parks with young children who need extra items. But for solo travellers or couples, a fanny pack to hold your valuables is easier to carry around.

For Disney’s water parks – Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach – you’re also going to want to pack your swimwear, a towel, and a sunhat.

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