How to Plan for Your Family Trip to Disney World in 2021
Walt Disney World is the world’s largest and most popular amusement park for family vacations. Disney fans have been enjoying the rides, entertainment, and Disney-themed attractions for years! It’s also the best amusement park for people of all ages, multigenerational trips are popular at Walt Disney World.
Located in Orlando, Florida and spread across multiple theme parks, a trip to Disney is a pretty big deal. Preparing for your visit can be overwhelming, but these travel tips will help you plan the ideal itinerary for your Walt Disney World vacation. Be sure to bookmark this page so you can reference it later, there is a lot of information here and we update it frequently.
Walt Disney World Theme Parks at a Glance
Preparing for your Disney Vacation involves learning the basics about the theme parks. We’ll walk you through the four different theme parks so you can decide if you want to visit them all during your visit (which we highly recommend). In addition to the theme parks, Disney has two water parks (Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon).
Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom
Disney’s Magic Kingdom is home to Cinderella’s famous castle. It is often the busiest park and the first stop on everyone’s itinerary. The Magic Kingdom park is full of opportunities for iconic photos and all of the music, delicious treats, and costumed friends that create that dreamy, heartwarming Disney World feeling.
Pro Tip: When you enter Magic Kingdom, especially first thing in the morning, walk right through to the back of the park. Most people will stop right at the front to take pictures, and it can take up a lot of your time.
Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom
This adventurous park is where you will find the Tree of Life, Kilimanjaro Safaris, and the popular Pandora experiences. This is the largest of the parks (580 acres) and even when it’s crowded it feels more spacious than the other parks. There are so many reasons to love this park which is why it’s my personal favorite.
Pro Tip: A cloudy day actually offers a better chance to see more animals.
Read More: Best Things To Do At Animal Kingdom
Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios
Hollywood Studios is another great park and has become even more popular since they’ve added Toy Story Land and Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. If you or someone you’re traveling with is a Star Wars fan you will not want to miss visiting this park
Pro Tip: Take some souvenir money along with you to this park so you can stop by Savi’s Workshop for Handbuilt Lightsabers.
Walt Disney World’s Epcot
Epcot is known especially for its popular rides, but don’t forget about the World Showcase! This unique experience allows you to eat, drink and experience different cultures from the 11 represented countries surrounding the World Showcase Lagoon. There will be a lot of walking in Epcot, so be sure to wear comfy shoes and allow plenty of time to explore during your trip.
Pro Tip: Epcot has several festivals throughout the year. Check the schedule ahead of time to see if one is happening during the time of your visit.
Best Place to Buy Disney World Theme Park Tickets
You can buy tickets directly from Disney. However, I always purchase my tickets from Get Away Today. They offer vacation packages that combine your tickets and resort stay. Here are the reasons why I chose them for every trip to Disney.
- They will help you plan your entire trip! From booking dining reservations to reserving the magical express, they assist you through the whole process. This is priceless when visiting Disney World for the first time.
- They have a price monitoring system that alerts them if your already booked vacation is available for a cheaper price. They will automatically apply those discounts to your trip. This has happened to me on our last two trips we booked through Get Away Today and I’m always impressed that they do this for their customers.
Two Disney Ticket Options
There are two types of tickets a base ticket and a park hopper ticket. The difference between them is that you can visit more than (1) park per day with a park hopper ticket. You might be wondering if the park hopper tickets are worth the extra money. I believe they are if this is NOT your first visit to Disney World. There is so much to see and do in every park and transporting between the parks can be time-consuming. Unless you have a very clear plan laid out, for first-time visitors I’d stick to purchasing base tickets.
Find the current ticket prices and any specials going on right now at GetAwayToday.com. If you have any more questions about our booking experience please leave a comment on this post.
Disney World Resorts vs Off Property Hotels
This has become a hot topic since the shut down in 2020. There have been so many changes since the Disney parks reopened. Some of that changes took away certain benefits to guests who are staying in one of the Walt Disney World resort hotels.
Prior to the shutdown guests staying at one of the resorts could enjoy Extra Magic Hours which would allow only resort guests access to the parks either before it opened or after the park closed. This extra time was one of the biggest reasons why we would stay onsite. Disney recently announced that Extra Magic Hours is NOT coming back.
They did reveal that later this year (for the 50th Anniversary) resort guests will be invited to enter the parks 30-minutes earlier than other guests but this doesn’t seem to justify the extra money spent to stay onsite. I do love some of the Disney resorts (especially Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge) but I must be honest in saying that it might be worth looking into an off-property stay.
Discounts on Resort Stays
One of the best tips I can give you for saving money on resort stays is to book with David’s Vacation Club Rentals. David’s Vacation Club Rental allows you to book a stay at one of Disney’s resorts using other people’s Disney timeshare points. There is no membership required. It’s really the best kept Disney secret! Here are some of the savings you can expect:
Example: We searched for stays at the Grand Floridian and the Animal Kingdom Lodge on David’s Vacation Club Rental and compared it to booking the same resort rooms for the same dates directly through Disney. The savings were substantial: $1,567 saved at the Grand Floridian and $1,206 at the Animal Kingdom Lodge!
Transportation at Walt Disney World
If you’re a Disney resort guests you can ride the Magical Express from the Orlando International Airport to your resort (reservation must be made in advance). However, it’s important to know that this benefit is ending on January 1st, 2022 so if you’re planning a visit to Walt Disney World in 2022 the Magical Express will no longer be available.
Resorts guests can use the Disney buses to transport them to the parks. You can also travel between the parks using this bus system. Due to COVID restrictions and limited seating available on the buses, there are longer wait times.
There are also several other ways for resort guests to arrive at the parks. The monorail, Skyliner and boats are some additional options, however, not all resorts offer the same transportation options so confirm what options are available at the resort you’re staying at.
TIP: Parking at the parks is $25 for guests staying off property. If you’re driving to Disney World there is also a parking fee at each of the resorts (prices vary).
Walt Disney World Expert Travel Planning Tips
We’ve visited Disney World many times and have made some mistakes during the planning process. We hope these tips will help as your plan an EPIC vacation to “the most magical place on earth”.
Plan Ahead & Prioritize
- Especially with young kids who have shorter attention spans, try to make plans several months in advance rather than days in advance so you can maximize your time at one (or multiple) parks during your Walt Disney World vacation. You can make Disney World dining reservations starting 60 days in advance.
- Prioritize the attractions or experiences that are most important to your family. There is so much to see and do, it is virtually impossible to cross off everything in one trip, and it can be overwhelming if you do not prioritize your choices properly. Try making a list and divide food and restaurant reservations, shows, and attractions into “Must See” “Nice to See” and “Optional” to help with your planning. Reserve tickets in advance for as many activities as you can.
- We have a list of 9 things you will want to buy BEFORE your Disney vacation. Merchandise in the parks and at the resorts is pretty expensive. Come prepared — check out our list here which will help you stay on budget.
- With that said, patience is key to a successful family Disney Trip. Walt Disney World is one of the busiest tourist destinations, and you will have to wait in lines. Enjoy the experience and find creative ways to keep the kids occupied. Take photos or use this time for snacking and adjusting travel plans.
- One of our favorite ways to pass the time is to Download the “Play Disney Parks” app for fun games and activities that are family-friendly to play while waiting in line. There is WiFi available inside the parks just keep in mind that it’s not always reliable.
Get The My Disney Experience App
- Download the “My Disney Experience” app well before your trip. You can pre-book reservations for meals and other dining plans, plus when fast passes return that’s how you’ll schedule them. Once you get to the park, you can view an interactive map with live wait times and other helpful features.
- Prior to the COVID shut down Disney allocated three fast pass experiences per person in the park per day, however, this has been paused. We will update this post when they are available again.
Check for Special Events at Walt Disney World
- Often times throughout the year, Walt Disney World offers special events and limited-time celebrations. Keep your eyes peeled to the Disney website days in advance to see if any special events are happening during your vacation!
- When scheduling your vacation plans, try to think the opposite way as other families. If you have older children, visit high volume attractions later in the day, as many families with younger children will likely visit these first thing in the morning (especially parades).
- If you can, try and reserve dining at restaurants for non-peak times so you can enjoy busy attractions while everyone else is eating!
- If you’re planning to break up your days at the park with some time just relaxing at the hotel or resort (highly recommended) plan these “off” days during the weekend when the parks are the busiest.
- You can bring food and drinks into the parks (there are some restrictions which can be found here). Meals and drinks in Disney parks can add up quickly, so it’s best to pack a granola bar or other easy food and snacks to munch on. Days in the parks can be very long, and you don’t want any “angry” family members.
- The Disney Dining Plan is a great option for families trying to stick to a budget inside the parks however this has been temporarily suspended.
Disney World Attire
- Orlando weather can change on a whim so it’s always best to practice the layer game, especially if you’re planning on spending a long day in the park. Start your day with a sweater or a light jacket (during the winter months) and be able to layer down once the sun comes out. Keep those layers handy if it rains or cools down at night.
- Comfy shoes are absolutely key for a successful day in the parks. Most of your travel will be done walking on asphalt so ensure you have good support and something that will dry easily in case it rains!
Must Popular Rides
Here is a quick guide to the most popular rides at each of the Disney parks. These are the rides that normally have the highest wait times. You’ll want to watch the wait times on the My Disney Experience app and plan accordingly:
- Big Thunder Mountain
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
- Splash Mountain (which is being refreshed into a new ride soon)
- Avatar Flight of Passage
- Expedition Everest
- Na’vi River Journey
- Frozen Ever After
- Test Track
- Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
- Slinky Dog Dash
- Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway
We hope this guide will help you plan your vacation to Walt Disney World. We know that this has been a lot of information but we hope that you can use these expert tips to plan a fun-filled trip to Disney. If you have more questions feel free to leave them below.