Where to Start When Planning a Disney World Vacation

Pig Tails and Pixie Dust

So I get a little (BIG!) thrill out of planning every Disney World vacation.  At my day job, I’m a project manager so it’s not completely out of my character to enjoy mapping out our days at the happiest place on Earth.  Each time there are different challenges work through.  We try to hit everyone’s wish list and pack a lot of fun into a few short days.

I do have a few tried-and-true tips that I have refined over my seven Disney World vacations in 5 years.  I’ve used these for planning anything from a trip for my family of three (and now four!) to a trip for seven including in-laws and friends.

  1. Disney gives you some awesome tools…Use them! : MyDisneyExperience website and app

    1. When I am in the park, I use the Disney Experience app to make changes to plans or look up wait times.  When I’m planning the trip, I use the website because it offers you some additional functionality that you can’t get on the app.  Specifically, the first thing I do is work through the park hours and note any magic hours that might be helpful. The website then lets you assign yourself to a park each day, which I use to help with restaurants and fast pass planning.  Another great benefit of the app and website is that they warn you when you try to overlap experiences. You can’t schedule two fast passes at the same time and you get a warning when you try to schedule lunch over a fast pass.
  2. Review the Park Hours and Make the Most of Extra Magic Hours

    1. The park hours can vary wildly day-to-day, and I try to plan to make the most out of any extra magic hours or extended hours.  We personally never seem to make it to the Extra Magic Hours in the morning, but my kids tear up the late night hours.  If there are late night hours at a park, I plan to go there that day.  We almost always stay on property, which allows us to the get in the park earlier or stay later.  You can access the park hours from the calendar on the main website.
    2. After I have the park hours, I map out which park we will be going to each day.  You can write this down or use the MyDisneyExperience App to “add a park”.  By clicking on “My Itinerary”, you can go to the calendar and select a park for each day.

      Using “My Itinerary” you can select the parks you’ll visit each day. This makes fast pass and restaurant planning WAY easier.

  3. We always go to Magic Kingdom on the first day

    1. Our kids are currently 3 and 6 years old.  Magic Kingdom is their jam, so we hit it up first thing. I also like to try to schedule a character dinner/lunch on the first day. We are going to Cinderella’s Royal Table this year, so I’ll be sure to add in some reviews to my Disney Character Dining post.  We have had lunch at the Crystal Palace and for any Winnie of the Pooh lovers, it is the best!  I have a whole set of tips for Disney with Toddlers if you want some more suggestions on how to make it extra special for those age groups.
  4. Know your heights

    1. Nothing is worse than getting in line for a ride only to be turned away at the front of the line, because your child doesn’t meet the height requirements.  You can find a quick list of the height requirements on the Disney World Website here : Disney World Height Requirements.  Our daughter just hit 40″ which is the magic height to open up most rides.
35″ Barnstormer
38″ Kali River Rapids
40″ Splash Mountain Big Thunder Mountain Railrod Stitch’s Great Escape Test Track Soarin’ Twilight Zone Tower of Terror Star Tours DINOSAUR
44″ Space Mountain ission: SPACE Expedition Everest  Avatar Flight of Passage
48″ Rock-n-Roller Coaster Primeval Whirl
52″ Tomorrowland Indy Speedway – Solo Rider
  1. Plan your fast passes around the rides you CAN’T miss

    1. Starting 60 days before your visit, you can schedule fast passes if you are staying at a Disney hotel.  Once you are 30 day out, you can schedule if you aren’t staying on property. For full details on FastPass+ selections, see my Disney FastPass+ : Skip the Lines! article:
      1. Fast passes are scheduled for one park each day.
      2. You can cancel a fast pass and switch it to a new park later, but you can only have fast passes active at one park at a time.
      3. After I know which park we will be in each day, I plan fast passes for the family based around the 1 or 2 rides we have to make.  There are some rides that you will never get to ride in less than an hours without a fast pass. These are the first on my list to schedule
        1. Magic Kingdom : Seven Dwarves Mine Ride
        2. Hollywood Studies : Toy Story Mania
        3. Epcot : Frozen, Soarin’
        4. Animal Kingdom : Anything in Pandora
    2. For first time planning, I would plan my first fast pass about an hour after the park opens.  That gives you enough time to make it without having to rush.  I also usually plan two fast passes before and one after lunch.  If you end up not using one, that should leave you plenty of time to switch your fast passes to a different ride or park for the afternoon.
  2.  Dining Planning – People really DO book restaurants 6 months in advance

    1. You are allowed to book your dining 6 months in advance, and people really do.  Character dining experiences go the quickest, especially Cinderella’s Royal Table.  Breakfast is usually the cheapest character meal if you are paying without a Disney Dining Plan.  I usually book 2-3 character meals for a 7 day trip. There are some, like the Garden Grill, that you can literally book same-day and are a great last-minute addition if time permits.  For a description of all of the character meals, you can go to my Disney Character Dining page.
    2. My personal favorites meals that you can plan in advance in each park:
      1. Magic Kingdom :
        1. Be Our Guest – Great value for a “quick service meal”.  You can make advance reservations and your meal is delivered directly to your table (tracked by your RFID magic band).  My husband is legitimately full after one of these meals which isn’t always true from a quick service restuarant.
      2. Epcot :
        1. Garden Grill -Character experience with Farmer Mickey, Pluto, Chip and Dale. The food is family-style and much is from the sustainable farm on “The Land” ride.  It is also very easy to get reservations
        2. Spice Table – Also easy to get reservations, and several of the tables overlook the lake in the middle of epcot. I highly recommend the 5 Spice Tuna

          5 Spice Tuna at The Spice Table

        3. La Cellier – AMAZING steaks. These reservations go fast, so I recommend placing them as early as you can.
      3. Hollywood Studios :
        1. Mama Melrose’s – We got the Fastasmic! Dinner package which came with dinner and VIP seating at the Fantastic! show later than night.
        2. Sci-Fi Dine-In Theatre – This is another reservation that goes quickly.  You likely won’t get it “same-day.”  The food is good, but the atmosphere and experience are what you are paying for.
        3. 50’s Prime Time Cafe – Mama’s home-cooking with a sassy waitress too!
      4. Animal Kingdom :
        1. Tusker House – Character meal with a nice buffet of African dishes
      5. Resorts
        1. Sanaa – At Animal Kingdom Lodge, you can enjoy your dinner while watches the animals graze on the savannah. I highly recommend the butter chicken and naan sampler!
        2. Flying Fish – This restaurant at Boardwalk provides some of the best seafood I’ve ever had.  It’s also a quick walk to Epcot via the entrance between Boardwalk and Beach Club.
  3. Schedule a Special Experience

    1. There are several special experiences you can set up while at Disney.  While you’ll hear a lot about the Bippity-Boppity Boutique where your child can get the royal treatment, including a princess hairstyle and dress, some experiences are a little cheaper and just as much fun:
      1. Harmony Barber Shop – We did first haircuts for both of our children here. It is only $15 and they get a hair cut, special “First Haircut” Mickey Ears, and a certificate. Our daughter also got some pixie dust in her pig tails!

        Pig Tails and Pixie Dust

      2. Jedi Training Camp – You sign up for this while in Hollywood Studios, and your child gets training and then a final test against Darth Vader or another villain.  We loved watching our son battle for the Force!  Disney will have professional photographers grabbing pictures the whole time.

If you have made it this far, you are doing really really well! Your Disney World vacation is coming together!  You should have your parks picked out for each day, your fast passes selected, and reservations made for the tough-to-get dining experiences.  While I’m a planner at heart, I still go into it knowing that the plan never comes together 100%.  You will have a time when your child doesn’t want to hang on for another hour until your fast pass for Soarin’.  The best advice I can give is to know the 3-5 things that you can’t do without, and be flexible around everything else.



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