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Disney Planning 101

It’s the most magical place on earth, but planning a Disney trip is no cakewalk. It takes time, strategy and planning. The options are pretty much endless at Disney World and thankfully cater to a variety of budgets, needs, and desires. My family made the pilgrimage this summer and this mama has learned a trick or two. 

Resort vs. Off-Resort

Knowing whether you plan on staying within the Disney Resort compound or off-resort is crucial in the planning process. There are pros and cons to both, so your budget is the main factor when making this choice. While many hotel chains offer deals and specials, staying on resort gets you some pretty decent perks as well, especially if you plan to make Disney your only destination. Staying on resort used to cost a pretty penny (and still can), but now with the addition of the value resorts staying at Disney itself has become much more affordable. So make sure you do your hotel research folks, you never know how attainable your Disney dreams may be!

The Disney Parks at a Glance

Since my very first visit in the 90s, Disney has expanded exponentially. So knowing which park suits the needs of your family best is an important thing to incorporate while planning your stay.

There are currently 4 main parks on the Disney property:

  1. Magic Kingdom – Think all things “classic” Disney. The castle, classic character experiences, well-known rides like the teacups and splash mountain. This is also the most “family friendly” park in my opinion because there is something for everyone young, old, and in between.
  2. Epcot – Foodies! This is the park for you. You can travel around the world pavilion and try delicacies from around the world. Frozen fans, this is also the park for you. This is (from my understanding) the only park you can meet Elsa and Anna and enjoy the Frozen Ever After ride.
  3. Hollywood Studios – Thrill seekers, this is your stop. If you like more thrilling rides this park is a must. Another major attraction in this park is Star Wars. 
  4. Animal Kingdom – Animal lovers, this is your stop. Experience the zoo but in typical Disney fashion. You can also experience The World of Avatar and the ride Flight of Passage! 

My biggest tip for which park to visit is to do your research on attractions specifically for who you are traveling with. If you have small children, they likely aren’t tall enough for most of the rides at Hollywood Studios. If you’re traveling with fellow adults, the chaos that is Magic Kingdom might be off putting but the variety of food and drinks available at Epcot might be right up your alley. Knowing small, yet important details like these will make planning your trip that much easier. 

Dining Plan (must be staying ON-RESORT to take advantage of this Disney Perk)

Dining at Disney can be hectic and expensive, so like most things Disney related, a plan is important. By staying on resort there are two perks in choosing a dining plan. First, you are able to book reservations for table service meals (like Cinderella’s Table) 180 days in advance. Secondly, if you’re on a budget, lumping your dining cost into the main payment is much more manageable. Dining plans also cover character dining experiences!  So if you’ve got a character obsessed Disney fan, there’s likely a dining experience just for them.

Below you’ll find each dining plan, what it covers and the cost. 

Quick-Service Dining Plan (2018 pricing: $52.49 for each adult; $21.75 each child ages 3-9)

  • 2 Quick-Service Meals
  • 2 Snacks

Disney Dining Plan (2018 pricing: $75.49 for each adult; $25.80 each child ages 3-9)

  • 1 Quick-Service Meal
  • 1 Table-Service Meal
  • 2 Snacks

Deluxe Dining Plan (2018 pricing: $116.24 for each adult; $39.90 each child ages 3-9)

  • 3 Meals (can be a mix of quick service or table service dining options)
  • 2 Snacks

Dining plans cover each NIGHT of your stay. So if you’re staying 4 night and 5 days, four of those days are completely covered by your dining plan. 

Guest under 3 are able to share off of an adults plate if they choose, otherwise, you will be charged for their plate from each dining location.

Quick service meals cover: 1 entree and 1 beverage (breakfast, lunch, and dinner)

Table service meals cover: 1 entree and 1 beverage (breakfast) OR 1 appetizer, 1 entree, 1 dessert and 1 beverage (lunch and dinner)

Each Guest (ages 3 and over) will receive a refillable drink mug, which is eligible for refills at self-service beverage islands at Quick-Service locations at any Disney Resort hotel.

New for 2018 vacation packages! Guests have several new beverage options available including non-alcoholic specialty beverages and, for Guests 21 and older, beer, wine and cocktails.

For EVEN MORE details check out the dining plans online via Disney’s Website


Transportation is readily available within the Disney compound. People staying on resort have the most access to the buses, monorail, and boat systems at the parks. However, getting to some of those drop-off and pick up zones will require you to drive yourself, or use a driving service. I’ve heard a few horror stories of long waits for the buses that end up causing people to miss dining reservations, rope drops, etc. So make sure you give yourself plenty of time if you plan on using the bus system. Since the monorail and boat transportation is limited to certain resorts, those tend to be more reliable when it comes to time.

As I mentioned above, you can also use driving services. The great thing about these options is you can actually plan and book your rides 30 days out from the day you need them. They can also drive you up close to the gates and just drop you off. So be sure to weigh out the pros and cons and whether spending a few extra dollars is worth it for those services. And as always, you can drive in yourself from off resort or on resort. Just be ready to pay a relatively hefty parking fee to park in one of the Disney lots and give yourself time to ride the bus from the lot to your destination. Whatever you decide to do make sure you have a plan and stick to it as much as possible.  

Tickets and Add-Ons

Like most things, when you buy in bulk you get a better deal per item and Disney tickets are no different. The more days you plan to go the cheaper the daily rate gets. So knowing which parks you want to go to and what you want to do there will be the big deciding factor in the number of days you need tickets. As a quick example, we did a 3-day park ticket. We went to Magic Kingdom twice with a day at Epcot in between. Ticket prices also vary pending on the time of year and types of events happening at the parks. So consider that as well when budgeting your trip and during your planning process. 

On top of your tickets, there are also add-ons. The big add-on is the memory maker photo pass. This allows you access to ALL photos taken by cast members through the parks, at character meet and greets and photos taken on rides. I know for me I was too busy crying watching my kids interact with their favorite characters and getting their autograph books out and ready to sign to worry about taking a good clear photo. In addition, there are also smaller ticketed events (like an ice cream social with Tiana) at the parks that you can add on. So be sure to check the events calendar on the Disney site for the days you’ll be there to snag a reservation for these one of a kind events. 

At the end of the day, I could talk about planning a Disney trip for HOURS. There is so much to do and experience that unless you plan on spending a week or more at the parks you won’t be able to get it all done in one trip. Lucky for us Disney is realizing the desire of so many families to come and experience the park that they are doing whatever they can to make the Disney experience an affordable one while still maintaining the magic at each and every park. If you have planning tips or tricks feel free to post them in the comments below. If you plan on using this guide to plan your very own trip feel free to ask questions, I’d be glad to help. Until next time friends, tootles!

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One Response to Disney Planning 101

  1. Suzanne Hines September 15, 2018 at 2:09 pm #

    This is such a great summary! You are the queen of planning Disney!

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