Walt Disney World Vacation 101: What You Need To Do Before You Go

Planning any vacation can be daunting. There is a very good reason why travel agents exist. Walt Disney World does everything possible to put all the tools you need right at your fingertips. The key is planning and preparation. If you follow these simple steps about preparing yourself and planning out your vacation, then your Walt Disney World vacation really will be one of the most magical experiences you and your family will ever have.

The first thing I do whenever we start planning our Walt Disney World vacation is start a notebook. I will dedicate pages in that book to each aspect of our trip. So because we live too far away to drive (well, at least too far away to drive and keep our sanity), our first page usually contains all of our flight information. This comes in very handy when you are setting up your Disney Magical Express pickup from the airport, as they require flight information. Then of course I dedicate a page to our resort with information like reservation number and some facts about the resort. Once we check in and get our map of the resort, I add that as a reference, in case it’s needed later.

Next is a day-by-day breakdown of what parks we want to hit first. Usually the park hours are put out fairly far in advance, so I start by writing down park hours for each day taking into consideration the Extra Magic Hours for each park. Quick hint here: write down when the parades/fireworks/shows are in the parks – the last thing you want is to schedule a dinner reservation when you needed to be getting ready for fireworks. Speaking of meal reservations, that’s usually next on our list. Once you have determined which park you are going to be in each day, it is so much easier to then pick your restaurants. If you have a full day in the Magic Kingdom planned, the last thing you should do is pick a dinner reservation for a restaurant in Hollywood Studios. It will just waste valuable park time. Instead, if you can’t find a dining reservation in the Magic Kingdom, pick something at one of the nearby resorts, like the Contemporary or Grand Floridian. Both have great character dining opportunities that the whole family is bound to enjoy. Usually, we take our list of which park we want to be in on which days, and then start seeing what’s available in which park. If you have planned far enough in advance (180 days), you can have your choice. In this case, make sure to wake up early at 6:00 a.m., when the restaurant reservations open up, and have your restaurant choices ready.

The next page is for FastPasses. Now that you have picked your parks and your restaurants, you have a rough schedule for the day set out, so when it comes time to choose your FastPasses, you can slot them accordingly. A good tip here: if you are having lunch at a restaurant on one side of Animal Kingdom and you have a FastPass reservation clear on the other side of the park just before or just after lunch, leave yourself travel time. You don’t want to miss one of your favorite attractions or rush that delicious dessert. If you keep all of this information together, it is a one stop shop, and you’ll have all the details you need if you have to adapt or change anything in your schedule.

Check out your resort and park maps ahead of time. If you have never been to Walt Disney World before, it can be very overwhelming. The parks are enormous, but the resorts can also be mazes of their own if you aren’t careful. All of them have maps online that you can access, and I definitely suggest that you do. Figure out where the bus stop is at your resort, so that you can easily access it when you arrive and want to head out to one of the parks right away. Have a general idea where the restaurants, pool and amenities are. Of course, you’ll want time to explore, but if you know where things are in advance, it will make things much easier. Park maps are crucial. So many people waste time in the parks because they want to do certain rides and miss others while walking from one end of the park to the other. Come up with your plan and make sure you do things in an order that makes sense. Don’t walk into Magic Kingdom thinking you are going to do Pirates of the Caribbean, and then jump on Space Mountain. It just won’t be the best use of your time. Study your maps. Make an evening of it, and go over the maps and rides with your family one night at home. It will get everyone excited about your upcoming vacation, and be a great family night together.

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Last but certainly not least, make a packing list. I never did this myself in the past (I learned the hard way). Things in the most magical place on earth are expensive. If you forgot some of the ‘bare necessities’ of life, they will come to you, but they will come with quite the price tag. If you get headaches and forget the Aspirin or Advil, for example, you will be able to get some on site, but they’ll be far pricier than at home. Also, bring some snacks – it can bring down the cost of a trip more than you think.

Planning really is key in any vacation. Follow these simple suggestions, and your vacation will be just as magical as you hope it will be.

About Jason Dick

Jason is a Disney addict. Walt Disney World trips are an annual occurrence that his partner has had to come to terms with. In between Disney trips, he spends his time running the theatre company he started in 2007. As Artistic Director, he picks musicals to bring to his hometown of Hamilton, Ontario Canada that have never been produced in the area. Traveling is definitely a passion and in addition to his trips to the happiest place on earth, he and his partner also travel the world, most recently to India and Nepal. A carnivore by nature, Jason loves the incredible amount of steakhouses Walt Disney World has to offer - they are always at the top of his list for each and every visit.