Disney Theme Park

A Simple Guide to Planning
Your First Walt Disney World Vacation

By Leah Zanolla

Since my family and I are the local “Disney experts,” our friends often come to us for advice when they begin planning a Walt Disney World vacation. They have no idea where to even begin, so I tried to simplify the process by suggesting some decisions that need to be made before others.

Our first piece of advice is to book through a Disney travel agent, like Dreams Unlimited Travel. Using an agency that specializes in Disney vacations can offer several benefits, at no cost to you.  Read more about those advantages here. But, before contacting any agency for a quote, here are the 4 things you’ll need to think about first to make the initial part of the planning process go more smoothly.

Disney World Travel Agent logo

1) When to Visit

When you choose to visit Walt Disney World can have a big impact on your trip. Everyone you ask will have a different opinion on when is the best time to go, but since this is my column, I’m going to give you mine. :) I think the best times to go are the last week of August through the third week of November, the first two weeks of December and the second week of January through the second week of February. Why does when make a difference? Let’s use the 3rd week of January and the 3rd week of July as comparisons:


3rd week of January   

6 nights in a value resort ~ $600

Crowd level = Low

Average temperature = 71/50

3rd week of July

6 nights in a value resort ~ $900

Crowd level = High

Average temperature = 93/75


In addition to the already lower prices in the off-seasons I listed, Disney often offers discounts during these times as well.  When crowds are predicted to be lower, Disney looks for ways to bring people to the parks. An up-to-date list of these discounts can be found here on the DIS. Discounts are typically up to 30% off of the regularly priced rooms and are available for room only reservations or a package that includes room, tickets and sometimes, dining. Additional discounts can also be found for Annual Passholders and Florida residents.

Some costs will stay the same no matter what time of year you choose:

2) Where to Stay

Disney has four categories of hotels – Value, Moderate (these also include a campground/cabins), Deluxe and Deluxe Villas. Each vary greatly in price and amenities.

Value Resorts

Moderate Resorts

Moderate resorts (campground cabins) Deluxe Resorts

You also have the option of staying off property, though that can lead to some disadvantages.



Magical Express

Extra Magic Hours

Transportation to parks (every 20 mins)


Must use private transportation

No Extra Magic Hours

Some offer shuttles, but not as often


3) How to Play (Tickets)

You think it was difficult choosing a hotel? Now you’ve got to start looking at how long you're staying and what different ticketing options are available. You have several choices here too.

If you can afford to add on the park hopping option, it's definitely great to have. You then have the freedom to switch parks mid-day at your leisure. One thing to think about - if you're only going to be at Disney for a few days, you may not need to park hop, and instead just spend one full day at each park. This is especially true if this is your first visit to Disney World. You'll have so much to see that you should easily be able to spend full days at each park and won't need the park hoppers.

Adding on the water parks is going to be personal preference. Our family has never done that, but we're not water people. With as many times as we've been to Disney, we've only gone swimming once. We prefer to spend all our time in the parks. But, a family who loves to swim may find value in adding on a water park ticket. Check out what kind of pool your resort has too, because many have slides and water features. That may be enough for you and you can save the money of an actual water park ticket.

4) What to Eat

You have a couple of different options here. You can pay for your food out of pocket or choose one of the prepaid dining plans that are available. Now, you're probably wondering - why do I have to decide this now? You don't really, unless you are booking a package that includes the Disney Dining Plan. This choice really depends on your family and your style of dining/how much you eat, so you'll have to weigh this option to see if it works for you. If you have small kids that don't eat a lot, then you may opt to not do the Dining Plan; on the other hand, if you're traveling with a group of hungry teenagers, the Dining Plan may make sense for you. A lot of people like knowing that their food is pre-paid for and they don't have to think about it again during their trip, so the Dining Plan would be a good choice in this situation. The two main Dining Plan options are (below are 2018 prices):

Quick Service Plan

Adult - $52.50/night 

Child - $21.74/night

2 quick service meals/night

2 snacks/night

1 refillable mug per person

Regular Dining Plan

Adult - $75.49/night

Child - $25.75/night

1 quick service meal/night, 1 table service meal/night (entree, drink, dessert)

2 snacks/night

1 refillable mug per person


So, there you have it; the 4 things that you need to consider when starting to plan a Disney vacation. Of course, your travel agent will be happy to discuss these options with you and give you some advice. But, that process can go much more smoothly and quickly when you've done a little pre-planning and research on your own first. Our friends are often surprised at how much goes into planning a Disney vacation. Because there are so many options, it's not as simple as just booking one standard "all-inclusive" package. But, because of all the options, you are able to customize your vacation to really make it fit your family and give you exactly the experience you are looking for.

**All prices listed are current as of this writing, but do not include any applicable taxes or resort fees. Please check with your travel agent for accurate pricing for your trip.