Planning Your Disney Trip Makes It MORE Relaxing

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Planning your Disney trip -- start here.

You might not have realized that there are different types of vacations.  At least, I didn’t know this until I went to Disney.  Sure, you might check out TripAdvisor for some restaurant or hotel suggestions before you head to the beach.  You might even browse some apps to find local entertainment options.  Most people, though, don’t spend a lot of time planning the actual days of their trip.  If you’re headed to Disney *especially if it’s your first trip* let me implore you to take the time to plan.  Disney definitely has a learning curve; ask anyone who has been there and they’re likely to give you a bazillion tips and hints.  It really can be overwhelming.  Our family had a downright awful, exhausting first trip.  Yet we persevered and have visited several times since.  Each trip gets better than the last!  Let me share our mistakes and successes with you.

1.  Decide if you want to stay “on property.”  That means your hotel is a Disney-owned hotel.  Many people stay off-site in order to get more space, better rates, or to visit other attractions like Sea World.  Our family always, always stays on property.  We stayed at a hotel that was “minutes from Disney” — seriously, just outside the gates, yet it still took a long time to get into the park.  Disney offers perks to those who stay on-site, including extra hours for their hotel guests and the ability to get a package deal with your room. For us, this is the way to go.

2.  Decide if you want the Dining Plan.  On our first two trips, we purchased the Deluxe Dining Plan.  Basically, this gives you the opportunity to eat at a sit-down restaurant 3 times per day (depending on the restaurant.)   This was a fabulous package and we loved it!!  However, it was way too much food for us.  We found that we were spending most of our day eating or waiting to eat.  So the next few trips, we bought the basic Dining Plan instead.  We like this one much better.  We typically pay out-of-pocket for breakfast and use our meal credits for lunch and dinner.   Many people will argue that the dining plan is too expensive; you can certainly eat for less if you choose to opt out of the meal plan and adhere to a stricter budget.  For us, though, the dining plan allows us the luxury of not worrying about the cost of meals during our trip.

3.  Make your dining reservations early.  The earlier, the better!  If you are taking your daughter to Disney for the first time and you want her to have the Cinderella’s Royal Table experience, this must be booked well in advance.  Like, yesterday.   Other restaurants that can be difficult to get into are Be Our Guest (dinner) and any character breakfast.  If you are going soon and don’t have the reservations you wanted, keep checking online — the window will open up if someone cancels.  I’ll share the secrets on that in another post. If you stay on-property, you can use your hotel confirmation number to link your reservation to your vacation package.  See Tip #4 below, because it is directly related to your dining reservations!

4.  Decide upon your itinerary.   Which parks are the priority?  How much time will you devote to each park?  For our family, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom are half-day parks.  We could spend multiple days at Epcot and Magic Kingdom.  I typically ask each person on the trip for their #1 must-do while we’re there, and then I schedule that in.  If there are any special events (like the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, for example) I make sure we’re at the corresponding park for that day.  Check the online crowd calendars for recommendations about which parks will be least crowded.   Depending upon how long your trip is, you also want to schedule in some down time.  That sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s true — you’ll be so tempted to run everyone ragged trying to enjoy it all, that you won’t enjoy anything.

5.  Schedule your Fast Passes.  I can’t emphasize this enough —- use the Fast Pass system!!  This is a way to hold your place in line for the most popular rides while you enjoy other attractions.  We really like the new option to schedule these in advance.  Some Disney-goers complained that the new system takes all the spontaneity out of the trip, and it kind of does.  But for us, it’s a relief to know that we WILL get to ride that must-do ride because we’ve got an appointment for it.  We can take our time enjoying the rest of the park while we wait for our time.

Now, I’ll have a Disney 101 post for each of these concepts down the road.  For now, this gives you a starting point if you’re planning your first trip!

To keep track of our plans, my friend Michelle made a great spreadsheet for our first trip together.  I still use the basic idea for our trips now.  Disney has an online portal to store this information, but I like to have a hard copy as well.   I also print all of our confirmation numbers on this spreadsheet so I can access them in case my phone doesn’t work.  Want to save it and modify it?  Here’s the link. 

Planning your Disney trip - start here!

For me, planning our Disney trips is almost as fun as the actual trip itself!   I love thinking about what will make each of my family members happy.  Reading about new Disney sites and attractions gets me excited for the vacation.  When we get there, all the work has been done and I can just relax!

How much planning do you put into your vacations?


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  1. Wow! What a great resource. I love the schedule.

  2. Ashley F says:

    Thanks for the tips! We are probably a couple years from our first family Disney trip, but I can’t wait to take my little girl there for the first time!

  3. Our family Disney vacation is next summer, so this post couldn’t have come at a better time! Thank you!

  4. I didn’t know Disney had dining plans! We’re hoping to visit this December or next summer, so these tips will definitely come in handy. We’ve been before and I definitely agree with you – plan ahead!

  5. We are taking our first Disney trip in December. Thanks for the tips.

  6. I try to put planning into my vacation. I like just doing things but if it doesn’t work out the kids can get frustrated.

  7. Although I prefer to go by the seat of my pants-remember I am single and can afford that luxury! For those of you traveling as a family it would be a good idea to listen and heed those recommendations above!

  8. Great tips… We haven’t been yet, but I think when we finally do we will want to stay close and will do the dining plan. I have heard it is a great way to save…

  9. Great advice. We’ve only been to Disney as a family during a conference so much of the planning was handled for us.
    I can see how the meal plan is a benefit because you’d already know up front how much your meals are going to cost vs. having to account for extra spending cash.

  10. I always plan A LOT… but the organization and cooperation needed from the whole family to make Disney work intimidates me!

    • I won’t lie, I do a lot of planning. But it’s really FUN and worth it. If you need help, just email me (savingsinseconds*at* I’ll totally help you!

  11. I didn’t know about dining plans. That sounds like a great idea for us. This will be our first time going in 20 years or so. I went when I was younger, but haven’t been with my son yet.

  12. I had no idea that Disney offered so many perks and plans. If I ever go there for vacation, I think I’ll stay onsite. I’ll probably do what your family does and opt for the basic dining plan to. I like convenience.

  13. I’d love to take a Disney vacation with my daughter when she gets a little older. If we ever go, I’ll definitely be staying on site for the extra access. I’ll use the dining plan as well. I’m still on the fence about going with the basic or deluxe dining package.

  14. Planning does make everything so much less stressful. But.. of course, be ready to throw it all out the window if something awesome comes up and you don’t want to leave the park!

  15. I have been to Disney several times, but I have never stayed on property or gotten a dining plan. Orlando traffic is terrible though so I think it would be worth the extra money just to stay on property and avoid the traffic.

  16. We’ve done Disney both ways and loved it both times. We don’t have the meal issue most times as we stay in a timeshare.

  17. These are such great tips!! I wish I would have planned our trip like this. It would have been much more enjoyable!

  18. What a great tutorial. I am pinning this for future reference. One of these days we will get to Disney.

  19. Sherry Compton says:

    Love the spreadsheet idea! Keeps everything organized and easy to glance at. I know there are relaxing vacations and busy vacations filled with activities. I never thought that Disney could be both. You are right in planning all this in advance. A big help to take off the stress during the trip.

  20. We won’t be doing Disney for a few years yet, but I will keep these tips in mind when the time comes. I am pretty meticulous about planning vacations.

  21. Great advice! Must keep this in mind when we have little ones!

  22. my husband and i have been several times but now that we have our own family a family trip is to disney is a must. our girls are still a bit young, but i’m gathering all the tips i can! thanks!

  23. Great tips! I grew up in central Florida and have been to Disney over 50 times and feel like you can never be too prepared!

  24. Rebecca Swenor says:

    They are some good perks I didn’t know about. I would probably stay on site if I ever get there again. Thanks for sharing.

  25. You’ve put a lot of work into all of this and have some great tips. It is important to preplan where ever a trip is being taken.

  26. Wow, things have changed a lot since I visited Disney at age 12.

  27. How far in advance should you reserve a hotel/package and when is the best time to go?

  28. This is an awesome article! We are thinking about going in a couple years and this will help out a lot! Thank you!

  29. I loved to plan all my trips to Disney! I wanted to do everything and not miss anything, but I have to remember next time to schedule relax time! I remember I was so tired after three parks days….

  30. Great post! My daughter turns 3 this year, so we will be planning to take her soon!

  31. I always take the time to plan my trips like you suggest. Much easier when you get there.

  32. Susan Broughton says:

    I would agree that planning your trip makes things more relaxing because you know what is coming but there will always be surprises lol

  33. I’ve never been to Disney (Yes, I know I’m un-American or something!) I cannot believe how much there is to do there!

    • No, not Un-American Leah! I didn’t get to have a “real” trip there until I had my own kids. It is such a neat place, though, and YES — it’s unbelievable how much there is to do!

  34. I have always wanted to go to Disney world but never got the chance.

  35. We always preplan so that we don’t have to worry about it when we are vacationing!

  36. Susan Broughton says:

    These are some great tips you gave. It has been a while since we have been to Disney since our daughter is now grown but we had such a great time when we did go.

  37. Sherry Compton says:

    It looks like a lot of fun to stay on site at one of their hotels. They have them designed well and keep with the theme. We choose to stay out; less traffic and a lot cheaper.

  38. Sherry Compton says:

    I am glad so many bloggers and people are willing to help others with their trip. Disney is huge and can be overwhelming. Thank you for the wonderful ideas and posts!

  39. Planning as much about a trip that you can do makes the trip run more smoothly.

  40. I love planning vacations. Half the fun is seeing what’s available and how to work it into the trip.

  41. Amy Orvin says:

    Having a plan and schedule in mind would be key for me when on a trip. I have never been to Disney World , but have always wanted to go.

  42. Sarah L says:

    Planning a trip can be as much fun as the trip itself.

  43. natalie nichols says:

    I would love to take my kids to Disney. My son would lose his mind.

  44. These are wonderful tips. I hope someday to be able to go to Disney. I’ve never been before. 🙂

  45. Sarah L says:

    Planning a trip gets you into the mood for traveling.

  46. I agree, it is so much easier to do Disney with a plan!

  47. I would love to go to Disney world

  48. rochelle haynes says:

    I would love to go here looks nice loving the

  49. I plan to save money each month so I can go.

  50. Nancy Burgess says:

    Good advice.We are saving every month for our trip.

  51. Sarah L says:

    I wouldn’t go there in the summer.

  52. Jerry Marquardt says:

    I would love to go to Florida really soon. I went to Disney last time we went, so I enjoyed your post.

  53. rochelle haynes says:

    Love to visit here looks like fun

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