Family Travel

Planning a Trip to Disney World? We’re Answering All Your Common Questions

written by KATHY SISSON

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disney world trip planning"
disney world trip planning
Source: @ravenvasquez
Source: @ravenvasquez

I’m a major Disney fan. I love the movies, the theme parks, and the Disney outfits. I even went to an info session about becoming a Disney Cast Member in college (although, I didn’t follow through). I’ve been lucky enough to visit Disney World as a kid, teen, adult, and now, as a mom. But planning a trip to Disney now requires a lot more thought and advanced organization than our trips to the parks as kids.

To help parents ready to plan their child’s first Disney trip, we put together this list of hacks for planning a family vacation to Disney World. We talked to some other seasoned Disney experts, sourced the Disney Parks website, and gleaned tips from the many, many Disney Park blogs, Disney TikToks, and more to answer some of the common questions families may have about planning a trip to Disney World.

What’s the best age to take my child to Disney World?

This question pops up in online mom groups all the time, and there’s no right answer. Since I’m a Disney fan, I say any age has its perks, but if you want a real answer, here it goes. If you have more than one child and are deciding when to take your family to Disney World for the first time, I think the best age is when your oldest is 5 or 6. Why? They will have memories of the trip, are tall enough to ride most of the rides, and the Disney magic seems extra magical. Additionally, you won’t feel as bad if you pull them out of school to avoid peak travel times (and cost).

If you’re planning a Disney trip with your baby or toddler, it’s true they may not remember much from the trip, but they will be in the pictures, their tickets are free (if they’re under 3), and they will be part of your memories of the trip. Plus, toddlers have a magical quality us older folks sometimes forget—being present. Their squeals of delight when they spot their favorite character or sail into the sky on Dumbo the Flying Elephant may not make it into their core memory bank, but you’ll know they’re having fun in the moment.

Other age considerations for Disney World:

  • Tickets for children under 3 are free.
  • Many rides don’t have a height limit, but if your child is over 40 inches, they’ll be able to go on most of the rides. My 4-year-old just made the cut.
  • Even if your child meets the height requirement, you’ll want to consider the fear factor of certain rides and know that many attractions are in the dark.
  • Disney offers Rider Switch, so if you or your partner are excited to see an attraction that may not be a fit for your kids, you can swap kids and each ride solo.
disney world planning
Source: @thosegarciagirls

When is the best time of the year to visit Disney World?

The best time is hard to pinpoint, but the best time to not go to Disney World? During a school break—especially for your first trip. Holiday breaks and spring breaks are considered “peak times” when your trip will be more expensive and the parks will be more crowded. Disney often offers hotel and ticket discount packages during off-peak times, which can save you money as well. Check out our Disney World crowd calendar for other less-crowded times to visit.

How far in advance should I plan my Disney trip?

You’ll want to book your Disney trip a minimum of 60 days in advance. Hotel reservations book up, so the more time you can give yourself, the better. Plus, all guests staying in a Disney hotel can book their dining reservations 60 days before their trip.

If you have a restaurant you really want to visit, set your alarm for the morning you are first able to book selections. For example, character breakfasts fill up quickly and can be a great way to knock out meeting some of your children’s favorites Disney characters.

Should I buy theme park tickets in advance?

Right now, theme park reservations will no longer be required for date-based tickets. However, other theme park admissions may still require a reservation in advance. Check the Disney Parks availability calendar here.

Additionally, when considering theme park tickets, the price per day goes down the more days you plan to visit. And although more expensive, the Park Hopper ticket option offers more flexibility if you want to visit more than one park in a day. One park could be inexplicably more crowded or the ride at the top of your list could be unexpectedly shut down, and the Park Hopper allows you to switch parks and maximize your day.

If you’re opting for one park, and one park only, The Magic Kingdom has the most attractions for young children.

planning a trip to disney world
Source: @mrscofieldandco

Should I stay at a Disney Resort hotel?

Staying in a hotel on Walt Disney World property has a lot of perks. Not only are you closer to the attractions, but Disney hotels are an extension of the storytelling and detail from the parks. Disney offers hotels at varying price points and many accommodations offer condo-like rooms with kitchens, which can be convenient for families with younger kids.

Additional benefits include:

  • For 2024, you’ll get access to the parks 30 minutes before guests not staying on Disney property.
  • Early access to Lightening Lane reservations for attractions (more on Genie+ and Lightening Lanes below).
  • Ability to add Magic Bands (more on Magic Bands below).
  • Convenient rides on the Disney transportation system—bus, boat, monorail, and Disney Skyliner—so you don’t need to rent a car if you don’t want to.
  • Free parking at the parks if you choose to drive.

Of course, you can still have a magical vacation staying off the Disney property. And if you only plan to visit the park one or two days, it may make more financial sense to stay in a nearby resort. But if you’re going for the full “Disney experience,” and it’s within your budget, I personally think the extra cost of a Disney hotel is worth it.

Should I buy Disney Magic Bands?

Disney Magic Bands are wearable devices offered to guests staying at a Disney resort hotel. They are not only convenient, but they also link your park tickets, Genie+ selections, Advanced Dining Reservations, photos, and work as your hotel key. They can also be used to contact you if your child gets separated from you at the park (Disney Cast Members can scan your child’s band and call the phone number associated with your reservation.)

How do I avoid the long lines at Disney?

Traveling at an “off peak” time will minimize your Disney wait times, but there are plenty of other ways to make sure your visit isn’t just spent in lines.

Use the Disney MyExperience App

Disney’s app houses everything you need for planning and navigating your days. Be sure to download it to link your park passes, connect all members of your party, check wait times, manage dining reservations, add your Genie preferences (more on that below), and more.

What’s the difference Between Genie, Genie+, and Individual Lightning Lanes?

For a bit of Disney Park history, guests were previously able to make Fast Pass and Fast Pass+ reservations in advance for their favorite attractions. The pandemic saw the end of Fast Passes and the beginning of a new service, Genie, Genie+, and Individual Lightening Lanes—the latter two being paid options.

According to Disney’s website, Disney Genie helps you get the most out of your day and offers attraction and dining recommendations inspired by your interests. It even suggests a good time to visit an experience and an idea of the forecasted wait.

With Genie+, you can pay an extra cost per person for access to Lightning Lane entrances to about 60 experiences throughout the parks (see the list of attractions here). You are able to make one selection at a time starting at 7:00 a.m. the day of your park reservation. You can then make an additional selection after you have redeemed the first or after two hours. Many longtime Disney fans have complained that Disney is now charging for a service they used to include with the already hefty price of park admission—and that popular rides fill up fast. Not to mention, it kind of forces you to be on your phone more when you really want to be present and experiencing the magic.

Now for the top attractions at each park, guests can also purchase Individual Lighting Lanes. For guests staying at a Disney resort, you can purchase your Individual Lightning Lanes at 7 a.m. For guests not staying at a Disney resort, you can make your first selections when the park opens.

What is “Rope Drop”?

If you’re able to arrive at the park right when it opens (AKA “rope drop”), you can usually squeeze in a popular attraction before the park fills up and the lines get longer. If you’re really into park strategy, you can go pretty deep into rope drop tips on Disney TikTok and Disney travel blogs.

Yes, it’s a lot to manage and can be a stressful few minutes as you plan your entire day at 7 a.m. Go in with a plan—and a back-up plan—and consider checking out some on-the-ground Disney bloggers who’ve tested the new systems.

disney world planning
Source: @mikaperry

Should I buy the Disney Dining Plan?

Another change coming to Disney World in 2024 is the return of the Disney Dining Plan. Walt Disney World Resort guests can choose from two dining packages based on their preferences. The Disney Dining Plan acts as a pre-paid meal packaging, where you can purchase “credits” that can be used at Table-Service or Quick-Service dining at Disney World. Keep in mind that some popular experiences like character and fine dining require multiple meal credits. You know your family best, so determining if the Disney Dining Plan is worth it will depend on your family’s plans and preferences.

Is it easy to breastfeed my baby in Disney World?

Each park has a Baby Care Center with rocking chairs for nursing and extra essentials for purchase (at normal prices) in case you’re dealing with an unexpected blow-out or running out of wipes. Indoor rides and shows, as well as indoor restaurants, can double as air-conditioned nursing spots. And each park offers plenty of shaded benches.

Should I bring a stroller to Disney World?

You will be walking a lot, so a stroller is nice to have. Disney is very accessible, with stroller parking for every ride and a stroller can double as a nap spot. If you don’t want to bring your own stroller or purchase a travel stroller, services will deliver a high-quality stroller right to your hotel—which is less expensive than renting inside the theme park and you won’t have to wait in another line. Opt for a stroller that reclines and has plenty of shade.

Should I use a Disney Vacation planner?

If this all feels like a lot, it is! From the endless options to the ever-evolving technology, some parents may want to call in the experts. A Disney Vacation planner can help streamline the process. Otherwise, calling Disney directly or chatting through their website will connect you to a Cast Member happy to help you plan.

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