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Here is your ultimate Disney World planning guide! We have all of the information you’ll need for if you’re planning a 4 or 5 day Disney World vacation.
Let’s face it, Disney World is huge, complicated, and expensive. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime vacation for most families in American or traveling from around the world, so it needs to be as worth it as possible! It’s entirely possible for your trip to Disney World to lead to inter-family fights and heat exhaustion or be the best family vacation of your lives. The difference comes down to the planning you do beforehand, and a great attitude.
We can’t help you with the great attitude part, but chances are you have that down if you feel enough magic in your heart to be planning a Disney World family vacation. But the planning in advance part? Now that we have covered.
In this article we and some of our favorite Disney bloggers cover:
- The best time of year for your Disney vacation
- A basic breakdown of which parks to visit
- The best and worst restaurants at Disney World
- The best Disney World family resorts
- Disney World dining plans
- Tips on using FastPass+
- Which photo service to order
- Where to meet characters
- Most unique and cost-effective souvenirs
Let the magic begin!
The Best Time of Year to go to Disney World
This is a huge deal. Going to Disney World at the right time of year can literally make or break your vacation. You have to consider when the majority of your Disney fan group can reasonably go, what events or holidays you want to experience at the park, and what you’re willing to trade to make those dreams come true.
While the truly young at heart and endlessly optimistic Disney fans among us will be happy to visit the parks under any circumstances, beating sun, long lines, and horrific rain will make mere mortals resent nearly every penny they spent to get there. But having your whole family there, not needed to take off extra vacation days from work, or seeing the special holiday magic might be worth it.
To answer the question of when is the best time to visit Disney World once and for all we turn to Disney Tourist Blog, one of the most respected resources on planning a great Disney World vacation. In this article, they count down the best and worst months to visit Disney World from 12-1, and the results may surprise you!
The BEST time to visit Disney World:
I won’t give away Disney Tourist Blog’s #1 month, but I will share my #1 month, which also happened to be in their top 3: September!
The beauty of September is that crowds are much lower as families don’t want to miss the first few weeks of school after such a long summer vacation, and the weather is fairly decent. It goes from So-unbearably-hot-that-I-will-either-faint-or-kill-you-or-both to Wow-I-can-actually-walk-around-comfortably before heading into Did-you-remember-to-pack-our-canoe season. Win-win!
For what it’s worth, we also visited Disney World in January and expected to have a great time with no lines and smaller crowds, and it was awful. Weather is so unpredictable in Florida, and that year we experienced below freezing temps. Yikes!
Best Disney World Parks to Spend Your Time In
Disney World Orlando features four parks and a water park. Each park is vastly different, and each lives up to the Disney hype of transporting guests to a whole new world. Likewise, each park has a reputation.
But does each park actually live up to it’s reputation?
The fact is, each park is as unique as the guests who visit Disney World. What one person absolutely loves may not impress you at all. So when you consider where to spend your time, it’s best to research each park and decide what you want to get out of your vacation.
1. Magic Kingom
- 73% Audience favorite
- Requires at least 1-2 full days
- Most famous and considered the best for Disney fans of the original Princess movies
- Also includes Tomorrowland
- 14% Audience favorite
- Can be done in half day – 1 day
- Smaller, and known for showcasing countries around the world
- Better for those who like to stroll and take things slow
3. Animal Kingdom
- 10% Audience favorite
- Requires at least 1 full day
- A bit wilder with a focus on the outdoors and great live shows
4. Hollywood Studios:
- 4% Audience favorite
- Can be done in half day
- Behind-the-scenes peak at movie making and Hollywood history
- Considered more boring than the other parks
So how should you organize a 4- or 5-day Disney World vacation?
So, if pressed, I would recommend a 4- day Disney World vacation as follows: Magic Kingdom 2 days, Animal Kingdom 1 day, and split Epcot and Hollywood Studios on the 4th day. If you can swing a 5-day Disney World trip, however, do the above and go back to your favorite park on the fifth day, or break up Epcot and Hollywood Studios on separate days for a little down time!
Where to eat at Disney World: The Worst & Best Disney Restaurants
Park execs know that their visitors will need to be fed and energized to spend all day (and all their money) at Disney World, so food stalls are a frequent sight. Disney World wants you to feel the magic everywhere you go, including restaurants and snack stands. That’s right- there’s no such thing as downtime at Disney!
At Disney World you’ll find some of the most exclusive, delicious restaurants and meals in the country, as well as incredibly creative quick snacks to eat while waiting in line. But when everything is made in bulk to serve thousands of people each day, is quality really guaranteed?
We reached out to some fellow bloggers to answer our most burning questions about what’s worth it or not when it comes to eating at Disney World.
Disney Food Blog is the creme de la creme (pardon the pun!) of resources on eating at Disney World. They have visited Disney World a ton of times in their 10 years of researching the food at Disney World, and write about their insider tips, food hacks, secret menus, where to meet characters, the best foods, the best values, the best overall experiences, all about the Disney Dining Plan, as well as the worst meals, worst restaurants, and worst deals at the park.
They blog and vlog about every aspect of Disney World restaurants, but we found this video to be the most comprehensive guide on eating at Disney.
So what’s the BEST restaurant to eat at Disney World?
For the record, our favorite Disney World restaurant was Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom.
We woke up at 6:00 a.m. EST exactly 6 months before our trip (this is when reservations open up) to be sure to get reservations to eat at Be Our Guest on the day we wanted. We wrote all about the experience, but I’ll summarize by saying that getting up early was so worth it! The restaurant is chock-full of incredible detail and ambiance, the food was reasonably priced and delicious with large portions, and the entire experience was smooth and relatively fast while still being relaxing and luxurious.
Best Disney World Resorts: Where to Stay in Orlando
There are 3 undeniable benefits to staying at a Disney World property during your vacation.
1. Disney World Resorts help your time management
The first benefit which can not be overrated is time management! Staying on property gives you access to extra magic hours to spend at the parks without the general public, and regular transportation to and from the parks. Getting the resort bus to Disney World means not spending the time to drive yourself! You don’t combat the traffic, you don’t wait in line, you don’t pay to park, and you don’t have to walk from far away into the park. This sounds like a small feat, but when you’ve shelled out thousands of dollars for this once-in-a-lifetime vacation those precious, stress-free hours make a big difference!
2. Disney resorts offer extra magic
Another benefit of staying at a Disney World property is extra magic. Like, beyond magic. Your room is decorated with such details to transport you inside your favorite classic Disney movie, and resort staff will do everything they can to help you have as wonderful a vacation as possible! Our resort concierge helped us arrange our fast passes when our magic bands malfunctioned, and even gave us extras to make up for the trouble. You can also have any gift store purchases sent straight to your room at the end of the day, arrange for babysitting, and access special cafeterias for early morning or late night snacks.
3. Extend your trip by resort-hopping
Our final reason to stay at a Disney World resort is that you can resort hop! That’s right; each resort has it’s own theme, displayed in it’s architecture, decor, and amenities. By staying on any Disney property you gain access to the amenities of each other property! These resorts are as decked-out as the parks, and going from each pool to playground to campsite to restaurant is worth at least one full day of your 5-day vacation.
Let the magic continue!
So which is the BEST Disney World resort for families?
After visiting the grounds and touring rooms of most of the family resorts at Disney World, our favorite is Disney’s Art of Animation. Art of Animation resort features 3 different sections designed after different Disney movies: Cars, the Little Mermaid, and Finding Nemo. The amenities and rooms are beautiful and transportive without breaking the bank: starting at just $171/ night, which really helps your overall budget!
But don’t just take our word for it. Read the Undercover Tourist’s guide to the best Disney World resorts for families, and see which resort made the top of their list!
How to make your Disney World vacation easier: Dining, Pictures, and Tips
Want to make your 4 or 5 day Disney World vacation even easier? Disney wants to help! They’ve organized a dining plan, a picture service, FastPass+ line skipping, and more to make your trip as stress-free as possible.
Here are some popular Disney hacks to have the best, most stress-free 5-day vacation possible:
1. Disney World Dining Plan
There is a lot to consider with the Disney Dining Plan, so check out Disney Tourist Blog’s guide for the most up-to-date information on the various Disney Dining Plans, their costs, free dining days, how to use the plans, tips to save money, and which plan might be right for you.
2. Disney PhotoPass and Memory Maker
Disney World knows this vacation is a once-in-a-lifetime trip your whole family has been looking forward to and planning for years. They want you to come home with photo proof of your great memories, and are making the process as stress-free as possible. Remember, Disney charges an arm and a leg to help you have a great time! They have two major photo services, which Undercover Tourist rates very well in their guide to understanding PhotoPass and Memory Maker, to help you decide which is best for you!
3. Disney FastPass+
As mentioned earlier, Disney knows there can be horrendous lines. They also know that standing in a long line with
whiny excited kids under beating sun can make their guest, well, cranky. They developed FastPass+, a system which allows every guest to reserve up to 3 ride each day. There are a lot of insider tips and tricks to getting the most out of Disney FastPass+, so watch this video from top Disney World vlogger, Theme Parks & More, spill all the secrets on Disney FastPass+!
4. How to Park Hop at Disney World
Disney offers you a way to visit more than any one park (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios) each day. While each park (with the possible exception of Epcot and Hollywood Studios) can keep you busy for at least one day, sometimes it makes for a boring day. Or maybe you just want the flexibility to see certain stuff in one park and then move on to your favorites in another park. Well, you can! For a little extra money you can park hop as much as possible.
Here’s a great guide on how to park hop at Disney World!
5. Meeting Characters at Disney World
Meeting the famous Disney characters is one of the main reasons to visit Disney World. If it wasn’t you’d be going to any other amazing theme park, right? Well, Disney creates multiple opportunities for you to hobnob with your favorite cartoons in real life. Some of them cost a small fortune, like a dedicated meet-and-greet meal, and others are completely free, like waiting in line for a public photo opp.
Follow this guide on where to meet characters in each Disney World park!
6. The Best Disney World Souvenirs to Bring Home
Fact: Disney World is expensive. Fact: You want to remember this ultimate vacation. Fact: You don’t want your physical reminders to add to the crazy expense. Do I have that right? Well, you’re in luck. Yes, there are loads of wonderful souvenirs which will increase your magic during and after your Disney World vacation, but you don’t have to buy them!
Here are 20 unusual Disney World souvenirs which can be bought ahead of time, at the park, come free, are cheap, and fun to collect. My personal favorite? Pressed pennies!
Pin our Disney World planning guide to read later!