For a long time, the idea of building a Walt Disney World planning guide hasn’t appealed to us. Really, 90% of this site is a Walt Disney World planning guide. You can’t fit all of the content into one post!
But what we can do is help you organize our content. This guide doesn’t itself tell you everything you need to know to plan your Walt Disney World vacation. What it does is provide an overview of a wide variety of topics and link to related pieces on the blog.
2020 Disney World Packages Now Available
If you're looking to book a 2020 Disney World Vacation Package, we recommend you Get A Quote from Lauren Quirk at Enchanted Escapes Travel. Lauren is our go-to agent for all things Disney!
Contents of our Walt Disney World Planning Guide
Those contents are a little deceiving, as the last two actually comprise the most interesting third of this planning guide. If you’ve already booked much of your vacation, feel free to stick to those sections and the second section (Basics and Tips).
About This Planning Guide
Not a day goes by when someone on Twitter doesn’t bemoan the amount of planning that goes into Walt Disney World vacations these days. Some people think Disney requires too much planning, and others think that bloggers (like us) simply tell you there’s too much planning.
While this guide doesn’t cover every nook and cranny of Disney World planning, it is pretty thorough, and we won’t apologize for that. We write primarily for people planning a first or only visit who want to put in all the time they can to make sure their experience is magical.
Can you have a magical experience at Walt Disney World with no advance planning? Definitely. Will you miss out on a ton with no planning? Definitely.
Here’s the thing, you can always stop reading about Walt Disney World if you feel you’re just getting too deep or you run out of time. You cannot go back in time to learn things you missed out on once you’re there.
At about 6000 words, this guide should take an average person about 30 minutes to read straight through. Of course, as I said, this guide links out to a ton of other material. Regardless, 30 minutes to introduce you to pretty much every concept you need to know for booking a Walt Disney World vacation really isn’t a bad use of time, especially as some of the tips in here (and on this site) can save your hundreds—even in rare cases thousands—of dollars.
So if you’re interested in an extensive guide to putting together a great trip to Walt Disney World, pour yourself a cup of coffee (or tea…or lemonade in the summer) and get cozy.
Planning your Walt Disney World vacation is a holistic / interconnected process, and there’s no perfect order to put this content in. If we mention something you don’t understand, it’s likely that we cover it in more depth later. We just don’t always want to say “(more below)” every time something like this pops up (though we still say it a lot).
Relatedly, feel free to use the contents above to jump around the guide. If you’ve already booked your hotel, tickets, and flights, you can skip over a lot of sections.
(FYI: The links throughout this guide open in new tabs. This is intentional so you can jump deeper into a topic without losing your space on this guide. We apologize if this harms anyone’s browsing experience.)
Important Message For Visits August 29 Through November 2
This post is impacted by changes, some temporary and some permanent, at Walt Disney World beginning August 29. People visiting between August 29 and November 2 are highly encouraged to click here to read our dedicated post especially for those dates.
Walt Disney World Basics and Essential Tips
Walt Disney World is a vacation destination outside of Orlando, Florida with four theme parks, two waterparks, numerous hotels, world class dining, and several other offerings (golf course, mini golf, conference centers, etc.).
If you’re brand new to Walt Disney World planning, start with our Basic Things To Know About Walt Disney World. That’s a quick read that will get you familiar with Walt Disney World.
Then move on to our Essential Tips for Planning Your First Disney World Vacation. There’s some overlap between that list and this guide, but that’s okay, you’ll just be a little ahead of the curve in the rest of your planning.
How Much To Budget For Walt Disney World
Here’s a dollar amount: $3,797.79. That’s the standard (i.e. no discounts) cost for a family of four (kids 13 and 8 years) to spend four nights and five days in June 2020 at a Walt Disney World value resort with the mid-level dining package (more on these below, don’t worry).
Upgrading to the better dining package will bring you to $4,357.66. Add in flights for four, and you’re probably just over $5000 for this trip. Again, that figure includes all your dining, flights, hotel, and park tickets.
If You Want To Spend A Bit Less…
Can you do better than this? Definitely! Some quick budgeting tips (no dining plan, stick to quick service meals, book discount hotel and tickets) will get you closer to $4000 total.
To go below that, you’ll need to start thinking out of the box—booking around only the best Disney deals; booking non-Disney hotels or Airbnb; cutting a day off your tickets; buying groceries and bringing your own food. We cover much of these in the rest of this guide in the appropriate sections.
Beyond the rest of this post, we also have a separate post of 50+ Ways to Save On Your Disney Vacation.
If You Want To Spend A Bit More…
The sky is the limit for how much you can spend at Walt Disney World. But if you want to spend a bit more, we say do it with a budget mindset.
You can sometimes save 50% on Disney’s deluxe hotels easily by renting DVC points, for example. If you’re buying 10-day tickets, you’ll still save buying discount tickets! If you want to fly first class, consider using points.
If you really have infinite money available for your trip, you skipped over this section. Since you have some finite amount, make sure you’re getting the most you can out of it! Read the rest of this guide (and site) with a budget mindset, and apply those tips to your deluxe vacation.
Picking Your Dates
You don’t have to start planning by picking your dates, especially as you might find that things like flight prices or hotel availability impact your dates. That said, it still seems a natural place to start.
How Long To Visit Walt Disney World
For a first visit, we recommend at least three full days. That’s four nights, and with the arrival and departure days, five days. Obviously this is better if you can fly in very early and out very late. With three days, you can spend two full days at one park each, and split the third day between the remaining two parks.
Four full days plus one travel day is better. If flight prices work out, consider flying in one night earlier than planned and staying at the cheapest Disney room you can find. Wake up the next morning, tell them to send your bags to the Disney hotel you booked the rest of your trip at (a “split stay”), and go enjoy the parks.
Five full days, or four full days plus a solid half day (e.g. your flight out is 5PM or later), is ideal. This will allow you full days at each park and an extra half day at Magic Kingdom.
We’ve done ten-day vacations at Walt Disney World and month-long Airbnb stays off property. There’s really no amount of time we’d say is “too long.” After six to eight days, you’ll need look beyond the standard plan though, and to things like water parks, spa / resort days, and backstage tours.
Selecting Dates - Price
If you’re looking to select your dates based on price, you’ll want to look at two resources. First, the MouseSavers Disney World rack rates table tells you hotel prices for every night of the year. The cheapest dates are in the fall and winter outside of the holidays.
Second, the Walt Disney World ticket buying tool tells you how much tickets cost at different times of the year (we assume the patterns here closely mirror the hotel prices, but we haven’t checked).
Selection Dates - Major Changes In 2019
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will open at Hollywood Studios on August 29, 2019 with one attraction—Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run. We expect this, along with the December 5, 2019 opening of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance to give the resort sustained high crowds from August 29 through the end of the year. [NB: Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland opened to low crowds. Whether or not this happens in Walt Disney World, it doesn’t impact our recommendations.]
Selecting Dates - 2020 Changes
The next big update will come with the opening of Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway at Hollywood Studios in early 2020. Overall, we expect this to be more helpful than hurtful to crowds as it should alleviate some of the pressure inside Hollywood Studios. We’re not worried about visiting in 2020 and expect it to be much better for crowds than the final months of 2019.
Selecting Dates - Other Factors
We’ve got a post on Disney World crowd calendars you should check out. Holidays are obviously when crowds are worst. Beyond that, we just don’t put much weight in crowd calendars (which is what the post says, just with more words).
You also might be interested in events. Check out Undercover Tourist’s WDW Events Calendar. Epcot has various festivals throughout the year. We prefer Epcot without festivals, but to each their own. Since we don’t follow festivals closely, we’ve linked to the coverage at Disney Tourist Blog, except for the Festival of the Holidays, which we do cover. Here’s the calendar for 2019:
Disney Vacation Packages
Before we go on, we need to briefly touch on the two main ways to book your Disney vacation. The first is with a room + ticket package (a “Disney vacation package”). With a package, you’re booking your room and tickets through Disney, together, as a single package.
Generally, you need to stay at a Disney hotel to book a Disney vacation package, but other hotels sometimes are available through Disney’s booking system.
The second way to book your vacation is to book your room and tickets separately. Most people staying at a non-Disney hotel will book this way. And generally, we recommend that everyone staying at a Disney hotel consider booking their hotel and tickets separately. We compare package bookings to “room-only” bookings in detail in a separate post. It’s a very dry subject.
In short, if you’re considering a package, it’s easiest to either (1) get a quote from an authorized Disney Vacation Planner for a quote or (2) go to the Disney website and see how much a package costs. Then, compare that price to what you see when you book everything separately.
Buying Your Tickets
Unlike, say, flight prices, ticket prices don’t vary by when you make the booking (they do vary by the date you visit, though). They also don’t sell out (except maybe two days a year, at the gate), like hotel space might. So you theoretically can wait until the day before your trip to buy your tickets. You won’t do this though, because you need tickets to make FastPass+ reservations (don’t worry, more below).
But once you’ve selected your dates, it’s only natural to price your tickets. It’s an easy process, and the price will give you a good idea of where your budget is before you start trying to pick your hotel.
Discount Disney World Tickets
Unless you’re booking a full vacation package in order to access Free Dining or another package-only discount, you’re probably going to want to purchase discount Disney World tickets.
As we discuss in greater detail in our post on discount Disney World tickets (link right above), we recommend purchasing through Undercover Tourist or Get Away Today. You’ll want to look into other discount options, if you have access to them, as well.
Wherever you buy your discount tickets, you’ll be able to link them to your My Disney Experience account (the fancy name Disney gives to your online Disney World account) to make sure you’re able to book FastPass+ reservations and use a Magic Band.
Types of Disney World Tickets
Disney World park tickets come in basically four varieties. First, there are “standard” one park per day tickets. These tickets allow you access to any of the four Disney World parks on each day of your visit (one park per day). You can visit the same park multiple days, if you choose.
Second, there are “park hopper” tickets. Disney World park hopper tickets allow you access to multiple parks on a single day. (Park Hopper “Plus” tickets also come with water park access.)
Sidenote: Summer One World Tickets. For summer 2019 (June 4 to August 28) Disney has a special ticket offering—click through to read our analysis of the Summer One World Ticket.
Third, there are Walt Disney World annual passes. Annual passes come in a few varieties, but basically operate as park hopper tickets that are good for an entire year.
Fourth and finally, there are special event tickets. Disney regularly has special events that require a separate ticket. The include things like parties (Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party) and “After Hours” events. During these events, the park is closed to anyone without a ticket to that event, even if they had park admission for the rest of the day.
Pricing Disney World Tickets
Beginning in 2018, Disney started pricing Walt Disney World tickets on a date-and-length based system. Discount ticket brokers also price tickets this way. Now, when you purchase a ticket it will:
have a start date at which it becomes valid
have an end date—the date by which your visits must be complete
have a set number of days you can visit the parks during that window.
You choose the start date and the number of park days. The end date is automatically set by the system. Price is determined by the number of park days and the start date.
So, for example, a five-day park hopper ticket with a start date of November 11 can be used on any five days during the eight-day range of November 11 through November 18. That ticket costs $555.88 for an adult directly through Disney and $508.99 through Undercover Tourist. Party and event tickets vary based on date and event but typically cost between $100 and $200 per person.
Choosing Your Hotel
Choosing accommodations for your Disney World vacation is a two step process. First, you’ll need to choose whether you want to stay at a Disney hotel or not. Then, you’ll need to choose what sub-type of accommodations you want. We’ll start—as all good guides do—with step one!
Disney Hotels vs. Non-Disney Hotels
A “Disney hotel” is one that is owned and operated by Disney. It is staffed by Disney Cast Members, and it has restaurants that participate in the Disney Dining Plans. A non-Disney hotel is any other hotel, including other hotels on Disney property.
access to free Magical Express transportation to and from Orlando International Airport (including luggage pickup and delivery)
early 60-day access to FastPass+ reservations
access to Extra Magic Hours (we have a post covering Extra Magic Hours at Magic Kingdom)
the ability to book a Disney Dining Plan
free Magic Bands
free, regular transportation to all Disney parks and Disney Springs
that unquantifiable, indefinable “Disney magic” quality, particularly at deluxe resorts
All of this comes at a price. It’s safe to say that—theming aside—you’re paying about 40% to 50% more to stay at a Disney value or moderate resort than a hotel of comparable quality (more about these hotel types below).
For the deluxe resorts, it sort of varies. We think Animal Kingdom Lodge is one of Disney best-priced options. Others think Polynesian Village Resort is one of the best hotels they’ve even seen, while we weren’t that impressed given the price. Disney’s Deluxe Hotels are nowhere near the quality of say, the Four Seasons Orlando—but they’re also nowhere near the price (for the most part).
For what it’s worth, we highly recommend staying at a Disney hotel on your first visit. We’re actually big fans of the Disney World value resorts. We find the roughly $40 per night premium to be well worth access to Extra Magic Hours, Magical Express, the 60-day FastPass+ window, and a touch of Disney magic.
We’re going to move onto choosing your Disney hotel before covering non-Disney options.
Choosing Your Disney Hotel in 2019
The Disney hotels are broken into (roughly) three groups: value, moderate, and deluxe. We have an entire Disney World hotels guide. That guide links to reviews of individual hotels and provides some basic information about each. We also have:
Value resorts are the lowest-priced hotels, with rooms occasionally priced on third-party sites at under $100, and often available through Disney directly at around $125 per night. These resorts have the smallest rooms (some might say “motel style,” but we’d dispute that), food courts, and bus access to all the parks.
Moderate resorts are priced in the middle of value and deluxe. They have slightly better rooms and theming than the value resorts. They have a mix of dining options, and bus access to all the parks.
Deluxe resorts are Disney’s finest resorts (at Walt Disney World). They have better theming and more of a luxurious feel to them. They have some of Disney’s best table-service restaurants (though their quick service can be limited). They have excellent pools, and generally better location than the other resorts, typically including monorail, boat, or walking access to at least one park.
2019 and 2020 is an interesting time for choosing your Disney hotel. In the past, the monorail resorts (Contemporary, Polynesian, Grand Floridian), had an obvious location benefit over the other deluxe hotels.
Pro Tip: Disney Hotel Split Stays
If you’re considering one Disney hotel, why not two? Disney will transfer your luggage (for free) between any of their hotels. This makes doing a split stay—where you stay at two different Disney hotels on the same trip—quite convenient. In particular, we like to pair hotels across tiers, usually a longer value stay with a shorter deluxe stay.
Picking a Room
We don’t put much effort into room choices at hotels, but we want to highlight two big things. First, the Savanna View Rooms at Animal Kingdom Lodge are a unique offering and some of our favorite rooms on property. We don’t stay at that hotel without a Savanna View.
Second, a big bucket list item for many is a Theme Park View of Magic Kingdom—and we have a post comparing your options for those views as well.
Choosing Your Non-Disney Hotel
This is definitely the area of Walt Disney World planning where we have the least expertise. There are several categories of hotels here. If you want to dive into these deeper, you’ll need to do some separate research, but we want to give you a lay of the land.
The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin are two Marriott hotels between Hollywood Studios and Epcot right off of the BoardWalk. Location-wise, these are equal to Yacht Club, Beach Club, and BoardWalk Inn. Swan and Dolphin guests:
have access to the 60-day FastPass+ window
have access to Extra Magic Hours
do not have access to Magical Express
have direct access to free Disney transportation
do not get free Magic Bands
The Disney Springs Resorts are seven hotels operated by a few different major chains located within walking distance of Disney Springs. Guests at these hotels:
have access to the 60-day FastPass+ window (through 2019)
have access to Extra Magic Hours (through 2019)
do not have access to Magical Express
do not get free Magic Bands
Guests at these hotels also do not have direct access to Disney’s free transportation system, though they do have a shuttle to the parks every 30 minutes, and anyone (guest or not) can use Disney’s transportation system once they have access to it (e.g. once at a park, you can take a Disney bus to another park, a Disney hotel, or Disney Springs).
The Four Seasons Orlando is confirmed to have Extra Magic Hours and the 60-day FastPass+ window through 2018, but there’s no word yet on 2019.
Walt Disney World Good Neighbor Hotels are 52 hotels located within 14 miles of Walt Disney World. These are hotels that have been given the “stamp of approval” by Disney. They all offer transportation to Walt Disney World (some with a fee). They do not have access to any of the aforementioned perks.
Beyond that, there are a wide range of hotels that aren’t good neighbor hotels. Honestly, there’s little reason to consider these hotels.
Besides weighing price and the importance of the Disney perks, the biggest factor in picking your hotel near Walt Disney World is going to be transportation. To that end, we highly recommend reading review on Trip Advisor, Google reviews, and different blogs to see how people describe the transportation.
Considering a Walt Disney World Airbnb
One thing budget travelers will need to consider is renting an Airbnb near Walt Disney World. Airbnb is a service that allows people to rent out their apartment like a hotel room. But near Walt Disney World, it’s more common to see apartments, condos, or vacation homes that are rented out exclusively to vacationers.
Airbnb rentals tend to have good price, and you’ll have the space of an apartment, usually including a full kitchen. This makes an Airbnb a great savings option if you’re willing to cook some meals or pack lunches.
The biggest downside of an Airbnb is transportation. You’ll need to either drive or rely on Uber (or taxis) to get to Walt Disney World. As Disney hotels now charge for parking, drivers may find great value in Airbnb rentals that include parking. Those who rely on Uber can find rentals that are a $10 Uber ride from the parks, which means you’ll spend an extra $20-$25 per day on transportation.
Booking Your Hotel
Unlike buying tickets, you won’t always want to go with a third-party “discount” option for booking your hotel. As we cover in our guide to getting the best deal on your Disney World hotel, you’ll want to compare prices at Disney (or the website of whatever other hotel chain you’re considering) to prices on sites like Expedia, Hotels.com, and Booking.
If you’re going to book through Disney directly, we strongly advise using an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner (a travel agent). The reason is that your agent will keep an eye on your reservation and modify it if any offers from Disney arise that lower the price.
If you do book through a third-party service like Expedia, it’s always important to confirm your reservation with the hotel directly. The easiest way to do this with a Disney hotel is to link your hotel reservation to your My Disney Experience account.
Deciding on a Disney Dining Plan
We have a full post on Disney dining plans, so this is going to just be a brief overview. If you book a stay at a Disney hotel through Disney, you can add a Disney dining plan to your stay.
Under a dining plan, you pay a set nightly amount for a number of dining credits that can be used for food across Disney World. Essentially, instead of paying out-of-pocket for your meals as you go, you just buy credits in advance and use those. Dining plans are complicated, so you’ll need to read our full post on them if you really want to analyze them.
The other thing to know about dining plans is that you can only get a dining plan if you book a room or package through Disney. If you’re booking a room-only through Disney, you’ll need to get what’s called a “ticketless package,” and the easiest way to do that is definitely to (you guessed it!) work with an authorized Disney Vacation Planner.
If you’re booking a full room + ticket package through Disney, the dining plan is easily added as part of the online booking process.
Booking Your Flight
We have a post on getting the best deal on your flight. Generally, we’re fans of packing light and relying on low-cost airlines (when the price is right). Besides price, you’ll want to keep a few other things in mind regarding your flight to Walt Disney World.
Fly to Orlando International Airport (MCO). There’s no reason to consider other airports.
Mind your transit time. Taking Magical Express with no checked luggage (or luggage checked with Magical Express tags), we plan for two and a half hours from flight arrival time to when we get to the gate of a Disney park. That means a 2PM arrival won’t get you in a park until 4:30PM. (Uber could probably save you 45 minutes here.)
We definitely think you can have an awesome day at a park starting at 4:30PM. We also think that if you’re looking at a 2PM arrival, you should consider alternatives. Maybe you can save some money by flying in at 10:30PM and then use that money to add a night to your stay, for example.
The Disney World Luggage Problem. Let’s be real. Are you going to buy a bunch of souvenirs at Walt Disney World? If so, make sure you have a plan for the extra luggage. This is especially important if you’re flying a low-cost airline, where the fees for having to add a last-minute bag can be astronomical.
Preparing For Your Time At Walt Disney World
Now, you’ve booked your trip, and it’s time to start planning your time at Walt Disney World.
Packing for Walt Disney World
Rather than an extensive packing list, we offer simply 10 items we always forget to pack for our Disney trips. These are ten things you might not find on every other list if you Google “Disney World packing list”.
Booking Magical Express
If you’re staying at a Disney hotel, you can book Magical Express (Disney’s free transportation to and from Orlando International Airport) alongside your reservation if you booked directly through Disney. If you didn’t book through Disney, you can use this form to book Magical Express.
Remember, if you want to have the most time at Walt Disney World, you may want to consider a $30 to $40 Uber ride instead of using Magical Express.
Picking Your Park Days
A lot goes into figuring out what days you’ll go to what park. This starts with figuring out how many days you need at each park. Magic Kingdom is the only park that absolutely needs a full day, and an extra half or second day is preferred. Each of the other three parks can easily fill a full day, but each has highlights that can be experienced in half a day (if you have park hopper tickets and can split a day between two parks).
Thrill seekers will want to check out our ranking of the best roller coasters at Disney World.
Next, you’ll want to figure out what days you spend at which parks. Here are some of the factors you’ll want to consider…
Park Hours. If you’re spending a full day at a park, you want to have the most hours possible. If you’re park hopping, consider starting at the one that’s open earliest and finishing at the one that’s open latest. We have posts that cover the hours (along with extra-hour events) at every park:
Extra Magic Hours. If you’re staying at a Disney hotel and have access to Extra Magic Hours, you’ll want to visit the park for that time. If you’re not at a Disney hotel, or you can’t fit EMH into your schedule, you’ll want to avoid the park with Extra Magic Hours because it will be more crowded than usual. We’ve written particularly about Extra Magic Hours at Magic Kingdom.
Dining Reservations. We discuss dining more below, but you’ll want to mind dining reservations when scheduling your park days. If you’re scheduling a meal at a park or at a hotel near a park, you’ll want to plan to be at that park the rest of the day. For example, we typically schedule Kona Cafe brunch (at Polynesian) on our Magic Kingdom day.
FastPass+ Availability. We discuss FastPass+ more below, so don’t worry if this one doesn’t quite make full sense yet. Particularly when you’re booking FastPass+ less than 60 days out, you might wind up at a park just because it was the only day you could book a FastPass+ for a certain ride.
Transportation Between Parks. This is more about park hopping. When planning a split day between two parks, you’ll want to consider how easy it is to get between the parks (including whether or not you want to Uber). Generally, Animal Kingdom is the toughest park to get to and from, as it is only accessible by bus or car. You can take the monorail between Epcot and Magic Kingdom, and you can walk or take a boat between Hollywood Studios and Epcot.
180 Days In Advance - Advance Dining Reservations
You can make Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs) at Disney restaurants up to 180 days in advance at 6AM Eastern Time. If you want to dine at Disney restaurants, the most popular ones will book 180 days in advance. If you miss a reservation, you can continue to check on your own or use a service like MouseDining to alert you to openings.
We’re not dining experts by any stretch of the imagination, but we do have a few quick thoughts. First, if you’re looking for ideas, read Disney Tourist Blog’s top table service restaurants at Walt Disney World. Our favorite restaurant is Sanaa, which comes in at number 9 on their list.
Second, consider a character meal. These are meals where characters walk around, greeting each table individually for signatures and pictures. Most Disney experts will (rightfully) point out that Chef Mickey’s, for example, is a very overpriced dining experience for the quality of food. But breakfast at Chef Mickey’s is also a chance to meet the “Fab Five” (Mickey Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, and Donald) before walking right over to the Magic Kingdom.
60 to 30 Days In Advance - FastPass+ Reservations
FastPass+ is Disney’s “skip the line” system for Walt Disney World rides. It is sometimes erroneously called “FASTPASS” or even just “fast pass.” When you have a FastPass+ reservation for a ride, you’ll use a significantly shorter line to access the ride during your designated hour.
If you’re staying at a Disney hotel (or the other select hotels discussed earlier) you’ll be able to make three FastPass+ reservations for each day of your stay 60 days in advance of your arrival date. If you’re not staying at one of those hotels, you can make reservations 30 days in advance of each specific day.
We’ve written extensively about FastPass+ at Walt Disney World. If you’re really interested in getting the most out of your vacation, our FastPass+ posts are essential reading:
Welcome Home! (And Everything Else)
Once you’re at Walt Disney World, it’s time for all of your planning to pay off. We’ve already provided links to our one-day itineraries and our FastPass+ strategy, which are our two big pieces of “day-of” content. Here are some other quick pieces to prepare you for your time at Walt Disney World…
My Disney Experience
By now, you’ve probably gathered that Disney’s name for your online Walt Disney World account is “My Disney Experience” (“MDE”). MDE is available online through Disney’s website and through the My Disney Experience / Disney World app.
Essentially, MDE is where all your digital Disney World records are kept—FastPass+, PhotoPass, hotel, dining reservations, linked Magic Bands, etc. It can also keep track of who is in your “party” or “family.”
A really random way to get more acquainted with Walt Disney World is to simply browse the app. I just pulled it opened, scrolled a little bit, and discovered there’s a “Chip ‘n’ Dale Campfire Sing-A-Long” at Fort Wilderness. I had no idea that existed until just now!
Magic Bands are bracelets used for a variety of purposes by Walt Disney World guests. Each Magic Band has a chip that allows it to be used at different “tap” points.
Guests at Disney hotels get Magic Bands for free (they get to choose from a standard color lineup). Anyone can buy a Magic Band in a Disney World park or online and link it to their Disney account. Disney hotel guests can also pay to upgrade to select “premium” Magic Bands with other designs.
If you’re staying at a Disney hotel, your Magic Band will serve as your room key, your park ticket (including for using FastPass+), and for charging purchases to your room. Anyone else can use a Magic Band in place of a park ticket, but it cannot be used for purchases without a hotel stay.
More broadly, Magic Bands act as a sort of ID. For example, using their long-range sensors, Cast Members can identify guests who are approaching restaurants (to match them to reservations) or identify what table guests are sitting at.
Transportation at Walt Disney World
One important decision is deciding whether or not to have a car at Walt Disney World. Even if you’re sure you want a car, we recommend you read some of our tips about having a car at Walt Disney World.
Generally, you’ll be relying on bus, boat, monorail, or walking to get to and between the parks. You can also Uber around Walt Disney World. If you’re unsure how to get between two points, ask the concierge or desk staff at your hotel, or ask a Cast Member at a park (or ask me, if you see me).
Transportation at Walt Disney World can, unfortunately, be quite slow. This is especially true of bus and boat transportation. If you’re in a hurry, consider Uber.
Disney offers its own rideshare system—Minnie Vans—through a partnership with Lyft. The high prices of Minnie Vans make them not worth considering for most purposes other than getting to the Magic Kingdom, where other drivers are not allowed to make drop-offs.
PhotoPass and Memory Maker
PhotoPass is a photography service offered throughout Disney World. Professional photographers—and in some cases, machines—are stationed at different points throughout the park and at character greetings to take pictures for you. They use professional cameras and, via your Magic Band or park ticket, link those pictures to your Disney account for purchase.
PhotoPass photographers also have the ability to take “Magic Shots.” A Magic Shot is essentially a photograph where they edit the photo to add in a special effect, like Tinkerbell sitting on your hand or you holding Simba.
Notably, PhotoPass photographers will take photos for you on your own camera if you request. They offer this service free of charge. Obviously they cannot produce Magic Shots using your camera.
Ride photos are also available. Some of these, notably Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, automatically load onto your Disney account via long-range technology. You don’t need to take any action, other than riding the ride. At most other rides, you’ll need to touch your park ticket or Magic Band to a tap point that beneath the screen with your ride photo on it after the ride.
Once you’ve gotten your photos taken, you’ll need to purchase them. Memory Maker is a purchase that gives you access to downloads of all PhotoPass photos taken by your party during your trip. It costs $199 + tax or $169 + tax if purchased more than three days in advance of your trip.
Resorts and Resort Days
If you have some free time, or if you’re planning a meal at one of Disney’s hotels, you may want to set aside some time to explore their resorts. This is particularly a good idea if you’re planning a future visit and want to scope out the hotel.
You can easily visit the monorail hotels (Contemporary, Grand Floridian, and Polynesian) by riding the monorail between them. You can easily visit the Boardwalk hotels (BoardWalk Inn, Beach Club, and Yacht Club) by walking between them, particularly while walking between Epcot and Hollywood Studios.
At your own resort, you may want to set aside time for a resort day. This is a day where you don’t go to the parks, and instead enjoy the amenities your resort has to offer.
If you’re celebrating something—like an anniversary, birthday, first visit, or anything else—swing by the front desk or Guest Services to inquire about a celebration button for your stay.
I use my Fuel Rod daily and think it was an excellent purchase. Tom Bricker vehemently disagrees, but he’s known to be very wrong about other things, including Dino-Rama. I haven’t gotten around to writing why I disagree, but basically it boils down to me being irresponsible and never remembering to charge my things. If you can remember to charge your portable battery regularly, consider bringing your own. I prefer my Fuel Rod.
Disney Springs has come up a few times already, but we haven’t really talked about what it is.Disney Springs is an outdoor restaurant and shopping complex on Disney property. It features a variety of restaurants, stores, a movie theater, a bowling alley, and other experiences.
We don’t typically recommend a visit to Disney Springs for first timers, but if you have an evening to spare or really are into shopping, it can be worth a visit.
If you’re interested in visiting Disney World’s water parks, you’ll first want to make sure to budget for it in your tickets. The park hopper plus option includes visits to the water parks, or you can go ahead and buy a separate single day admission if it makes financial sense. We have a complete guide to Typhoon Lagoon and a complete guide to Blizzard Beach.
There’s so much to be said about Walt Disney World, and we can’t fit it all on this post or even our own site. Here are a few resources covering topics we’re not well-versed in:
Kenny The Pirate is a good resource for those heavily interested in meeting characters at Walt Disney World
MickeyBlog has a good piece on the Spas of Walt Disney World