Our Disney World trip is coming up, and our family is beyond excited. Over the past few months, I have been planning like crazy. As such, I have had many requests from people asking to share how I planned, where we are staying, what parks we are attending, our itineraries... and all of the details. So! I figured a blog post would be most helpful.
I will start with basic information, then get into a Q+A and finally, share our itineraries and schedules for our trip! Oh, and of course a link to our cute, matching Disney tees at the end.
Disney World Planning
Do I need to plan?
A very popular question and I'd certainly say that this depends on your personality. Are you go with the flow? Don't care that you go on many rides? Simply, want to savor the experience? Or... does not getting the most out of your Disney vacation stress you out? Do you want to maximize every, single moment and have a go-to schedule so that you know what to do and when to do it?
Here is my answer based on experience. A few years back, I took the boys (when Rhett was 4 and Vance was 2) to Disneyland. We went at the last minute and was actually gifted the tickets by friends. I grew up going to Disneyland and was pretty familiar, so we just entered the park and kind of went for it. The day was great! We did a park hopper and truth be told, didn't get on many rides because of the crowds. All in all, it was fun... but if I knew then what I know now (having researched Disney World like crazy), I would have planned our day entirely differently and would have gotten much different results.
So, if you want your Disney experience to be maximized, I say 100% YES, you need to plan. Plan in advance and plan quite a bit. Disney is full of wonderful experiences for those who put in the effort, and to make the cost of admission worth it, I say... PLAN.
Where do I start with planning?
I'm going to keep this simple and offer three avenues of planning....
Where to Stay?
Clearly, there are MANY accommodation options when it comes to Disney World. The key is to understand the types of accommodations. Meaning, are the hotels Disney Resorts or not? Are they on-site or off-site? My personal recommendation is to stay on-site. There are certainly perks to doing so, including early access and close proximity, among other things.
What our family wanted to consider was all of the aforementioned, plus we also wanted a resort that was a little more balanced. Something that would be fun for the adults AND for the kids. Something that was totally Disney, but not in your face 24/7 Disney. Thus, we landed on Four Seasons Orlando.
Why? While Four Seasons Orlando is not a Disney World resort, it is an affiliated resort and is also on-site Disney World, which means that it is in close proximity to the parks. Again, totally fit the balance we were trying to strike! Four Seasons Orlando would give our kids the full Disney World experience, but would also allow the adults to partake in a more relaxing adult-type vacation. Quite honestly, I had heard that Disney World can be a bit of an overload, so to come back to a resort that was more Disney World in my face, wasn't something I necessarily wanted to do. Four Seasons offers that nice balance. You still feel like you are amongst the Disney theme, but adults can also feel like they are on a vacation oasis.
Because Four Seasons is technically on-site, it is in close proximity the parks. You can get to the parks in about 10-20 minutes max and they provide complimentary shuttle service. On top of it, Four Seasons is a renowned resort and top notch. The room quality is incredible, they have a Disney concierge to help with any Disney planning and questions, and the resort restaurants are incredible with high quality food.
Additionally, Four Seasons offers a character breakfast. We are doing this with the kids and are able to skip the character dining at the parks. This makes for a more controlled environment, much better food, and we don't have to stress about missing rides in order for the kids to see Goofy. Again, we wanted Disney, but not too too much Disney, and this was the perfect balance.
Other perks? Four Seasons also offers a kids club (for free!), which is great for our older boys. This means that mom and dad can have a little private time, while the kids go hang with their friends. In addition to the Disney perks, Four Seasons has many other events for kids such as movie nights at the pool and princess/pirate salon experiences.
The resort itself is both an oasis and basically a full-on waterpark. You get the best of both worlds. So while we will have an amazing time at the Disney Parks on the three days we are going, we can come back and still look forward to an amazing time at the resort. Massive pools, splash areas and waterslides. Heck! I'm looking forward to the resort as much as I am looking forward to the parks!! This was a huge win for us because I didn't want the trip to be so solely focused on the parks, as fun as they are.
Other great perks for the adults? The Four Seasons ambiance and food! Did I say the rooms are amazing? Yay! We got two adjoining rooms. The restaurants are top-rated. Because they are so nice, we are not going out of our way to places like Disney Springs. Instead, we are staying at the resort and maximizing our ability to walk to the dining Four Seasons has to offer, such as Ravello (amazing Italian), PB&G (poolside dining) and CAPA Steakhouse (ranked amongst the 100 best in the US by Wine Enthusiast).
Needless to say, Four Seasons Orlando hit ALL of the marks.
A Deeper Dive into Planning for Disney World
After you purchase the Unofficial Guide to Disney World, start reading it.. ASAP. I recommend purchasing the book six months (4 months at the latest) before your trip. This will give you ample time to start perusing and planning. The book will give you a glimpse into resorts, what to bring, budgeting, etc. Simultaneously, cross reference what you learn with what the blogs say. While I'm not going to get into everything in this post, I did want to talk about how I started and where I got my info from!
What parks to attend?
This is totally personal preference. But I will say that you will gather the information you need to make this decision best in the book, Unofficial Guide to Disney. Here, you will read about all of the parks, get to know the rides and understand what each has to offer.
You'll need to take into consideration the ages of your kids and also their preferences. We are going with another family, who was dying to attend Animal Kingdom. This gave us good insight, but on the flip side, I knew my boys were dying to ride all things Star Wars (which is located in the Hollywood Studios Park). My friend had originally mentioned they may skip that park all together. What I'm trying to point out is that the more familiar you are with the rides in each park, the vibes and what each park has to offer, the better you will be at deciding which ones to attend.
What parks are we attending?
Based on the research I did and the information I gathered, attending three parks was plenty for us. Again, we were equally as excited to spend time at Four Seasons Orlando and didn't want to overdo it at the parks.
We decided not to do park-hoppers since our kids are so young. The effort and time it takes to go between parks can be exhausting. Better for us to stick to one park per day and get the most out of each one than to be moving around.
What days to attend which parks?
This information can best be found in the book I recommended! You can check "crowd levels" to determine when crowd levels will be lowest at each of the parks. We determined we wanted to see our most desired park first being Hollywood Studios, do it big with Magic Kingdom and then end on a lighter note with Animal Kingdom. We have a day-off break in between Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom, and then scheduled Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom on back-to-back days since we wanted our last day to be a pool day at Four Seasons and that is what our vacation time permitted.
Counter service dining verses table service dining.
Counter service dining is more casual dining where you order at a counter and find a table (first come, first serve) to eat at. Table service is the type of dining where you are served. You usually have a reservation ahead of time, or can sometimes (luckily) walk up and wait for a table to open up. Table service will either have characters or not - this is restaurant specific.
You'll want to decide how you are going to dine ahead of attending the parks. Some families MUST eat at table service. The perks? Getting out of the heat into an air conditioned building, being served, getting a moment to rest away from the parks, a fun experience, decent food. The cons? Expensive, takes away from ride time, if you have a toddler, will the toddler sit still? Is the cost worth the food and experience?
Counter service pros and cons. Pros: quick and easy, relatively less expensive than table service, less time eating and more time riding, great for active kids who won't sit long at tables. Cons: still expensive. May have trouble finding a table due to crowds. Food quality. Eating in the heat.
After considering ALL of this and the fact that we are staying at the Four Seasons (where the food is incredible), our family decided on counter service. Ryan and I would rather spend our time and energy on rides and shows rather than table service food and experiences. Because we get our character dining fix at the Four Seasons, this also helps. Our actual strategy is to bring the kids' lunches since our boys tend to be rather simple when it comes to food. We will pack PB+J's, snacks and plenty of water bottles for the kids. If it happens that counter service looks easy and appetizing, Ryan and I will order our food there (I have selected my top counter service restaurants based on my research and have built them into the schedule). Again, the boys could case less about "good food", so PB+J's will be just fine to get us through the day! If they demand something else, there are plenty of quick options.
All of this said, we chose ONE table service dining experience that simply looked super cool online. It is located at Disney's Hollywood Studios and it's called the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater. We chose for an earlier dinner. I went to book it ahead of time (which you have to do) and it was already booked. If this opens up, we will try out the table service on our first day at the parks (we are going to Hollywood Studios park first before any of the others). If we like the table service experience and think it is worth it, we will consider it at the other parks (if reservations should open up).
How to create a 1-Day Park schedule for the family?
After you choose the parks you will attend, you'll want to familiarize yourself with all of the rides. It sounds like a lot of work, but once you narrow down your kids' heights and preferences, it's actually not as much as it seems. Again, the boys and I would gather together nightly and read about each of the rides in the Unofficial Guide to Disney World, then we would watch some YouTube videos that would show us the rides. Some may think this could spoil the rides, but I felt it better to know that my kids would actually like certain rides than to weight 45 minutes only to approach boarding and one of the kids to have a meltdown about not wanting to ride.
So, after we had all of the information about rides and shows of preference, I would then go to the WDW Lines app and organize my schedule. The beauty of this app is that it is based on algorithms and wait times. It will allow you to select all of the rides you want to go on and then it organizes your schedule FOR YOU based on shortest wait times and proximity of rides to one another. I used this schedule and cross-referenced it with the blog, Disney Tourist Blog, I recommended.
Our Disney World Itineraries
For the fun part! Below are our actual 1-day park itineraries for Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. Again, these will be different for everyone because not everyone prioritizes and prefers the same rides. My best advice is to arrive at the parks 45 minutes prior to opening time and choose the highest priority rides and most highly demanded rides first-thing in the morning. Another good time to ride those in-demand rides is closer to park closing. Enjoy!
DISNEY WORLD TRIP SCHEDULE
*I will post the more detailed itinerary after we arrive home, just for safety purposes!
Just for fun, this is where I purchased our matching Disney shirts HERE.
And, our Mandolorian matching tees can be found HERE.