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This is the second in my new series: Dreaming of Disney! It is no secret that I LOVE Disney and have such precious memories of visiting as a child and with my own children. Over the years I have had LOTS of people ask for advice & tips – and I am more than happy to share to make their time more magical. I am a self-proclaimed Disney expert =-) So I decided to share my tidbits with you =-)
I am a HUGE planner – so it is no surprise I put a lot of thought into planning our vacations too! I feel that if I plan well ahead things go smother & I can just enjoy the moment.
What time of year to go? There are a LOT of factors in choosing when to go: do your kids go to school, are you a teacher with only certain times you can get off, amount of money you want to spend, etc. If you are able to, I HIGHLY suggest going in:
- January or early February – for lowest crowds (most everyone is in school so you will have low crowds with 15 minutes or less wait time on most rides) and lowest cost (it is one of the budget times so hotels are 35% cheaper PLUS you will probably find other deals like free dining or an additional 30% off hotels). The only downside to this time of year is the weather is a little colder (high 70-74; lows 45-50). So you will need to bring a sweatshirt and splash mountain may not sound like such a good idea.
- September & October – again lowest crowds, lowest rates plus good chance of free dining or hotel offers, and warm Florida weather (high 90 / low 73). September (like all summer) you are going to get more rain, an average of 6” a month. So expect sudden showers, but it is very rare to get rained out all day. Plus if you go in the beginning of October the park is decorated for Halloween and you could even go to the Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.
- May – There is a small 7-10 day window at the beginning of May where crowds are low (spring break is over and most schools haven’t gotten out yet) and the rates are good. The hotel is still 20% less than during regular season, but no quite as cheap as in Jan/Feb/Sept/Oct. The weather is perfect in my book with high of 88 and low of 66 with only about 3” average monthly rainfall. Plus you will get to see the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival (AMAZING!!) and might even catch Star Wards Weekends at Hollywood Studios (a very cool experience if you are a Star Wars fan)
- November / December – Disney is truly magical around the holidays! Each park has it’s own magical celebration: Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom, Holidays around the World Candlelight Procession at Epcot, Mickey’s Jingle Jungle Parade at Animal Kingdom, and The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Hollywood Studios. Mid November or December 1-14 are the best as far as crowds and pricing, but will still be more crowded than Jan/Feb/Sept/Oct.
- The rest of the year there are crowds to deal with (although the parks are open longer and more characters come out for meet & greets) and the prices go up (although you will still find some deals out there). June is the best summer month as far as crowds go. No matter when you go it will be magical! Just remember the more crowded it is – the more important to have a plan to see everything!
- Excellent Resource: Touring Plans – you do have to pay for this service, but their crowd calendar predictor is FANTASTIC!! Find out how crowded each park is going to be!
How long should you stay? Well – that depends on how long you can spare and how many parks you intend to see. I think the Magic Kingdom is the best – it is the most magical, most rides, and my favorite by far!! You need 1 LONG day to see it all during low season…and trust me you’ll want to ride things more than once. I would allow 3 days. You can do the other parks in 1 day (although there are always things you’ll want to see more of!) So at minimum here is what I’d allow:
- Magic Kingdom – 3 days (the most magical place – you’ll want 2 days to see it all and an extra day to see your favorites again!)
- Hollywood Studios – 1 day (you won’t be able to fit in all the shows, characters, parades, rides, and Fantasmic! in one day – but you’ll see MOST of it! Besides chances are your kids will be too young or old for different attractions.)
- Epcot – 1 day (you could spend longer if you watched every movie & show around the world and played a lot in the Imagination areas, but you’ll get on all the rides, walk through the countries, character pictures/autographs, and see Illuminations in one day.)
- Animal Kingdom – 1 day (You can see it all in 1 day, but you could spend longer watching the animals or seeing more characters)
Click on parks above for my park specific tips
If you can spare it, this is what we do & recommend – we spend 10 days. That is getting the most bang for your buck! After all – for most of us the expense if flying/driving down there!! And especially if you can get a Free Dining offer – stay longer!! If you stay 10 days this is what I suggest: 6 days at Magic Kingdom, 1 day at each of the other parks, and 1 day at one of the other parks of your choice. If you stay this long you don’t have to pay extra for the non-necessary and at times stressful hopper option. Also, by staying longer you can go back to your hotel around lunch when the crowds get longer and it gets warmer – use the pool, have the kids take a nap, or just enjoy the beauty and theming of your Disney hotel.
*As pricing can change, please visit Disney to get up-to-date pricing.Book Dining 180 days before your visit! - It is CRAZY, but if you want to get a good selection of days/times for dining during your visit you will need to book them waaaaay out. You can begin booking 180 days before you arrive. You can always cancel, but so many of them book up & you will have a hard time getting the random cancellation spot if you do not. This is especially true if you want to eat at Cinderella’s castle or for other favorite spots. Even if you have not booked your vacation yet, if you have dates you are looking at BOOK YOUR DINING. You can always cancel it if you change your mind (at no charge if in advance)!
DEALS! - Let’s face it, any vacation costs money. But that doesn’t mean you have to pay full price!! So how do you get deals on a Disney world vacation.
- Check their website: SPECIAL OFFERS (Let’s face it, in this economy everyone is offering deals!)
- Order their vacation planning DVD! Make sure you opt to receive email promotions. I have gotten many exclusive PIN offers for free dining or up to 40% off hotels this way. I don’t know that anyone outside of Disney knows when & why they mail them out, but you may receive an email or your may receive an offer in the mail.
- Check Mousesavers to find promo codes. They are a Disney authorized travel agency. You will not get special offers, but it is a place to check for any current Disney offers you may have missed. They can book your vacation for you if you want. But it is very easy to do online at Disney’s site so I see no real value as I like to see things are done right with my own two eyes =-)
- Sign-up for a Disney Visa card. Another way to get free offers is by having their visa card. There are other perks too: a one time sign-up bonus (I got $150 first statement credit so shop around on this offer), free stroller rental at Disneyland, private photo op with Mickey & Goofy at Epcot only for cardmembers, 6 month 0% financing on Disney vacations, plus Disney dream dollars that are good towards giftcards or merchandise online/stores/Disney.
- Ever wondered how good the deals get for the particular time you are going? Check Mousesavers here to see historic offers – a VERY cool tool!!
Should you stay at a Disney World Hotel? YES! - Unlike Disneyland, Disney World has a LOT of land! So they have a LOT of hotel options – options to meet EVERY budget! Check out some of their amazing hotels here. PLUS when you stay at a Disney World property you get the following perks:
- FREE pick-up/drop off from the Orland International Airport (MCO) – super easy to find & well organized. Note: You need to reserve this free service in advance through our reservation.
- FREE shuttle to/from all the parks, hotels, and downtown Disney (yep! you can even go hotel hopping!)
- Luggage transportation – if you use their luggage tags you don’t even have to lug around your luggage in Orlando. They deliver it right to your hotel. They will also take it from your hotel to the airport when you leave!
- FREE LUGGAGE on return flights – they have an agreement with most major airlines so that if you check in for your return flight from the hotel they will check in your luggage for FREE!
- FREE Shopping delivery – If you buy something while you are in the parks they will deliver it to your hotel room for free – no need to lug the bag around in the park all day or worry about loosing it!
- FREE Morning/Evening Magic Hours – For hotel guests only one park either opens 1 hour early or stays open up to 3 hours late!! You can see a LOT of rides with the fewer lines =-)
- They are as close as you get to the parks so you will be able to get their sooner (and sleep in longer!)
- You can use your Disney Dining Plan at your hotel!
- Stay in the magic – everything is magical when you stay in the magic!! Trust me you’ll LOVE it! Everyone is so nice – even the other guests
*Please visit Disney’s website for any updates, changes, and current ride closures/refurbishments.
LOOKING FOR MORE?!?
Check out other helpful topics in the Dreaming of Disney Series below!
- When to take your kids (what is the 'perfect' age)
- Planning for your trip (time of year, how long to stay, Disney hotels, and affordability/deals)
- Tidbits (20 tips from the best place to see Mickey to strollers to super cool Disney features you may not know about)
- Dining: My top picks for snacks, quick meals, and reviews on 12 restaurants (including character meals)
- Magic Kingdom
- Animal Kingdom
- Hollywood Studios
- Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland, CA
And if you are ready to book your next magical vacation may I recommend:
Lori Watson, of Watson Vacations, is a stay-at-home, homeschool mom to 5. Watson Vacation's services are always FREE to you when you book your Disney/Sandals/Cruise/or any other vacation stay with us and our prices are the same as if you'd book directly through Disney and other vendors! Why use an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner? We offer so MUCH more for free! Our concierge services include (but aren't limited to) resort booking, dining reservation arrangements, ticket purchases, special events, special park itineraries and planners to help you avoid crowds. We also offer weddingmoon and honeymoon planning, family reunion planning and Much MUCH more! For your FREE, no-obligation quote, email Lori at email@example.com. Also, check out her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/