Ever since its opening in 1971, Disney World has attracted a steady stream of visitors from across the globe. This Orlando-area destination has since become the single most visited resort in the world. Disney World is bigger and better today than it’s ever been before, mainly because it consistently adds new features to keep it fresh and exciting.
While most people think of Disney as a vacation spot for kids, there is something for everyone here: magical theme parks, thrilling water parks, magnificent resorts, excellent restaurants, unique transportation, shopping, sports and other family activities. Boredom is never an option at this destination!
Let’s take a look at 5 things you must know about Disney World before you make your vacation plans.
1. Disney World is Huge
Disney World is spread across 43 square miles, a size equivalent to San Francisco and two times that of Manhattan. The resort is comprised of four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom), two water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach), more than 25 Disney resorts, 23,000 hotel rooms, 300 restaurants and food carts, 3 golf courses, and buses, boats, and monorails going in all directions. If you don’t already know your way around Disney World, it can be confusing, to say the least!
I would recommend studying a Disney transportation map so you have some sense of the park layout before you arrive.
2. Avoid the Crowd (if Possible)
Disney World is known as the ultimate family destination. It may come as no surprise that the park is more crowded when kids are out on school break, on the weekends, during holiday periods, and during the warmer summer months. If your schedule allows, try to plan your vacation during off-peak times when the lines for rides are shorter and the transportation, restaurants, and resorts are less crowded. These less crowded periods are also the times when it typically offers cheaper nightly resort rates, special vacation package promotions, and seasonal festivals.
The least crowded times to visit this place are January through early February and during the autumn months of September, October and November (with the exception of holiday weeks/weekends). My favorite time to visit is during September and October because the crowds are moderate and the weather is fantastic.
Before you go, consult a Disney Crowd Calendar for daily crowd estimates of each theme park.
3. The Disney Resort Tiers
Disney World has three categories of resort hotels: Value, Moderate, and Deluxe. Not surprisingly, Value resorts are the least expensive option while Moderates are priced in the middle and Deluxe resorts are the most expensive. These tiers are also based on the quality and size of the rooms and the variety of restaurants, pools, and transportation options afforded to guests. Deluxe resorts come out on top in all these categories because they offer the best of everything. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for.
Disney Value resorts have all kid-friendly Disney themes, pools, food courts, and bus transportation to and from the theme parks. The rooms of Disney Moderate resorts are roughly 60 sq. ft. larger than those of Value resorts, plus Moderates are generally larger and more spread out and have a better selection of restaurants, pools, and transportation options. Disney Deluxe resorts are situated closer to the theme parks and have the best in accommodations, room size, transportation options, and pools. However, be aware that Deluxe resorts are pricey!
While Deluxe resorts are regarded as the best, there really aren’t any “bad” resorts. Value resorts are certainly adequate, and families traveling on a budget will be happy to know that many Value resorts start at just over $100 per night. You can easily pay four times that amount by staying at a Deluxe resort! Value resorts are also great for families with kids ages 12 and under. They do tend to be geared towards younger children and are generally noisier. Moderates and Deluxes are best for children over the age of 12 and families who don’t mind spending more money to have nicer and quieter accommodations.
One of the best parts of staying at any of these Disney resorts (as opposed to staying at a hotel off-property and not owned by Disney) is the perks you receive as a guest. These include Extra Magic Hours (extra time at a Disney theme park beyond normal operating hours), free shuttles to and from the parks, free transportation to and from Orlando airport, and advance booking for dining and FastPass+ selections. You may pay more to stay at a Disney resort, but it is worth it!
4. Dining at Disney World
Disney World employs over 350 chefs at its 300 restaurants. There are restaurants ranging from casual to fine dining, American fast food to exotic ethnic cuisine, and all-you-can-eat buffets to dinner shows. Whatever type of dining experience you are looking for, this place will likely have it.
There are a few different options when it comes to dining. The most popular approach is to purchase one of the Disney Dining Plans: the Quick Service Plan, the Standard Plan, or the Deluxe Plan. These plans are the most convenient option because you won’t have to take out your wallet to pay for every meal, and you are allotted a certain amount of dining and snack credits to use over the course of your vacation (based on which Dining Plan you choose).
If you are a light eater, you may find the pay-as-you-go method to be more cost advantageous. This will also allow you a little more flexibility in deciding where and when to eat. However, paying out-of-pocket may end up being more expensive if plan on eating at table service restaurants. You will also be inconvenienced with pulling out your wallet every time you pay for your meal.
If saving money on dining is a priority, then you could either bring your own food on your trip or shop at a nearby Orlando grocery store and prepare your own meals. Some resorts offer rooms with kitchenettes, so it is possible to cook meals in your hotel room if that appeals to you. Additionally, Disney does allow guests to bring their own food and non-alcoholic beverages into the theme parks. Food at Disney World is expensive, so bringing your own lunch into the theme parks could save you lots of money over the course of your trip.
5. Use a Disney Travel Agent (It’s Free)
If you are travelling to Disney World for the first time, chances are that you will find all of this information somewhat confusing. The best advice I can give you is speak with someone who knows all the ins and out of the park. Ask for advice about everything from theme park attractions, resorts, restaurants, pools, activities, etc. If you don’t know anyone who can steer you in the right direction, find a good Disney travel agent that can help.
What many people don’t realize is that the services of Disney travel agents are completely free of charge. Disney pays travel agents to help guests plan and book their vacation, and at no time are the costs passed down to you.
With that said, what specifically can Disney travel agencies bring to the table? For starters, they act as your personal guide to craft the vacation you desire. They answer all your questions, give you advice on where to stay, where to eat, and which attractions to prioritize. They can explain how Extra Magic Hours and FastPass+ work, and which restaurants require dining reservations far in advance. The best Disney travel agencies only hire agents with plenty of first-hand knowledge, so they should be able to give you all of the guidance you need.
Not only are their services free, but Disney travel agents will also search for the best possible deals for your vacation package. They continually monitor special promotions and discounts so you get the absolute lowest rate available. Plus, they will book every aspect of the trip, including your resort, dining, FastPass+ selections, and theme park tickets. This is time-consuming and confusing, so it is better to let someone with experience do it for you. The only aspect you are responsible for is booking your flight to and from Disney World.
These travel agents provide a great service at no cost to you. There really isn’t any reason not to use them.
I hope this list is a good starting point to plan your Disney World vacation. Have a great trip!