So You Want to Go to Disney World
Create an Online Disney World Account
Even if you are not sure you want to take a trip to Disney World, but are flirting with the idea, you should create an online account with them. It is free and you will absolutely thank me once you book your trip. (A few weeks ago, I waited on the phone for over 30 minutes just to change a dining reservation because I did not have internet access. Eeek!) All of my planning is done online through my Disney World online account.
When to Go
So when is the best time to go to Disney World? If you have children in school, you are limited on your options. The traditional vacations (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Winter/Spring break, and Summer) are always the most crowded. Christmas and Thanksgiving week are wall-to-wall. Seriously. Summer in Florida is hot I tell you, hot! Winter and Spring break are a little more ideal. You do have crowds but they are not as insane as Christmas or Thanksgiving. Not to mention, the weather in Spring is usually perfect with sunny skies and in the low to mid 70's.
There are a lot of great websites out there for crowd predictors. I recommend you search online for crowd prediction calendars to get an idea of what the crowds could be like during your planned visit. I like to compare multiple calendars and figure out the average estimated crowds on each given day, along with which park to visit on which day.
If you do not have school-aged children, the best times to go are the last 3 weeks in January (you may get some crowds for Martin Luther King Jr. weekend), early spring (before spring break), early May, and late September through mid-November (crowds will increase slightly for Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party on select weekdays/weekends). You have smaller crowds with wait times of 30 minutes and under for most rides, and your hotel rate can be anywhere from $100 to $200 less per night than during peak times
But honestly, there really is no bad time to go to Disney World if you are a fanatic like me!
Where to Stay
To stay on property, or not stay on property, that is the question.
If you can swing the cost of staying at one of the many Disney World hotels, do it! It really is worth it. At the end of the day, you (and your family) will thank yourself for staying on property. Your family will most likely be very tired from an exciting, and possibly hot day. Do you really want to schlep everyone and everything (stroller, souvenirs, backpacks) through the parking lot, pack up the car and the kids, and drive 20-30 minutes to get back to your room? Probably not. Plus, when you stay on property, you get access to your coveted Fast Passes 60 days in advance (those staying off site or going for a day only get 30 days); you can utilize the Extra Magic Hours (early or late access to select parks throughout the week, only available to those staying on property); and you get those neat magic bands which act as your ticket, room key, and room charge card.
The Disney World transportation system is great! Buses, and monorails, and boats, oh my! Walk a fairly short distance from your room and your off Individual park transportation methods run regularly at about 20 minute intervals and runs throughout the day/evening based on the hours of each park. Which resort you stay at will determine which type of transportation method is available to you. It can get crowded, but I will take it over the trek of doom - err, I mean walk/car ride when leaving at the end of the day. Disney World lists the specific transportation methods available at each resort on their website.
Disney World offers a variety of hotels at a variety of price points, and each with their own unique themes. So what is the difference between the $100+ a night room vs $600+ a night room? Amenities, amenities, amenities! The roomier the room, the prettier the decor, the more in-hotel dining options, the closer the hotel to a park, the more expensive.
My favorite hotel, and one of the most expensive resorts, is the Grand Floridian. You are submersed in a Victorian era themed hotel, the staff is dressed the part, and there is a "lovely stroll through the tea gardens" atmosphere wherever you go.
Three other top-rated hotels of mine include:
- Boardwalk Resort - a five or ten minute boat ride and you will arrive at either Epcot or Hollywood Studios. The resort also has a stretch of shops and restaurants running along the... you guessed it, Boardwalk.
- Animal Kingdom Resort - the decor is phenomenal and rich in influence from several African countries. If you get a Savannah View, you can wake up to animals grazing outside your window.
- Bay Lake Tower - you will not find a resort closer to the Magic Kingdom than Bay Lake Tower. A five minute walk will have you at the entrance gate to the park. If you do not feel like walking, the resort connects to the iconic Contemporary Resort where you can catch a ride on the Monorail.
What to Bring
For Heaven's sake, don't over pack! You don't need three different outfits for each day, you do not need a bazillion toys to bring with the kids, and you do not need those 6" designer stilettos.
What you will need is comfortable clothes appropriate for the anticipated weather, a good pair of sneakers, a bathing suit, sunscreen, and maybe one or two toys for the kids for the room, backpack, and any other essential travel items.
My family and I go every Memorial Day weekend. Our essentials include shorts, t-shirts, sweatshirt for the evenings, bathing suit, sneakers, pool shoes or flip flops, rain panchos, sunscreen, and a backpack for the park.
If you make a dining reservation at one of the upscale resort restaurants, bring a business casual outfit (leave the cocktail dress and 3 piece suit at home). There are only a handful of restaurants with this dress requirement. If you are unsure of the dress code, go online to the restaurants information page through the Disney World website. Most restaurants expect you will be dining in shorts and a t-shirt. It is Disney World after all.
Leave the toys at home. No, really. Chances are, your kids will forget all about the toys they brought from home once you are back in the hotel room. I am guessing you will also buy them a toy or two while at the parks. So don't pack a suitcase full of toys. Save that room in your suitcase for all your mementos from your magical trip you will be bringing back with you.
© 2017 Patricia McNamee