Planning your very first disney vacation is an exciting and overwhelming experience.
The reason I remember it so well is because I spent so long in this stage. I was so excited at the thought of going on a Disney vacation, but too scared to actually book it. I didn’t know what I was doing I was so worried about doing something wrong and spending more than I needed to.
If this sounds familiar, this post is for you.
I have broken up the planning process into different parts. Because believe it or not, everything doesn’t have to be figured out right away.
Depending on how far in advance you’re planning, you may have months before your next decision needs to be made. So, relax and take the planning process one step at a time. After all, planning is supposed to be fun!
Part 1: Choosing Your Dates, Resort, and Tickets
Choose Your Dates
If you can only travel when the kids are off of school or you can only take a certain week off from work, this makes choosing your dates easier.
It’s when you have an infinite amount of days to choose from that it starts to get overwhelming.
What if the crowds will be at an all time high or you could get a cheaper price if you went a few days later?
This is when other factors come into play.
Many Guests travel during the weekends.
Flying to Orlando on a Sunday and leaving on Saturday seems like a good idea. You have a day before your trip to pack last minute items and make sure the house is in order. And flying back home on a Saturday means you have a whole day to rest up before everyone goes back to work and school on Monday.
The problem is that airlines know when people would prefer to travel, which is why prices are higher on these days.
With the exception of Fridays, traveling during the week can help save you money before you even start planning your Disney vacation.
For this reason, we try planning our vacations from Wednesday through Tuesday. They are the less popular days, meaning we can pay less than the same exact vacation planned a few days later.
Since Disney switched to a Date-Based Ticket System, there was worry that planning would get even harder.
But, for me, this system did the exact opposite. It actually made choosing days easier.
Disney knows when their Guests are planning on visiting the Parks. This is why Park Tickets cost more during the summer and when kids are off school.
But, by looking for the lower priced ticket days, Disney is showing you when they think attendance is going to be lower. By offering cheaper Tickets, they’re hoping to increase Guest attendance during times when the crowds will be lower.
Not sure what Date-Based Tickets are or how to use it in your planning? Visit Disney’s Date-Based Ticket Calendar.
Choose your Resort
With dozens of Resorts to choose from, how do you choose the right one for your family?
Most of us are looking to spend the least amount of money as possible. So, the following recommendations have budget in mind.
Up to 4 Guests (or 5, if there is an infant)
When you’re on a tight budget, Value Resorts are going to be your best option.
If you can’t make any of these Resorts work within your budget, then you may want to consider looking at hotels that are located off Disney property. You won’t get all of the perks that you get when you stay on Disney property, including the free shuttle ride from the airport to your Resort.
But, as far as Resort prices go, Value Resorts are the least expensive options you will find.
- All-Star Movies
- All-Star Sports
- All-Star Music
- Pop Century
- Art of Animation
We’ve written a post comparing all of the Value Resorts. So, if you want to know what each one is like, I suggest checking it out.
5 Resorts are much easier to consider than than dozens…and the list keeps getting longer all the time.
If you don’t have a Little Mermaid fan in your family, you can make that list shorter and cross Art of Animation off the list. As much as I absolutely adore this Resort, a Little Mermid themed room is the only one that truly has a Value Price.
Admittedly, 5 Guests can be a bit of a challenge when it comes to budget.
Most Resorts are set up to hold 4 Guests. And unlike other Hotel chains, renting a foldaway bed or letting Disney know that your 3-year-old will sleep with you isn’t an option.
While both of these recommended Resorts are in the Moderate Price Level, the only Rooms in the Value Resorts that can accomodate 5 Guests are Family Suites at All-Star Music and Art of Animation.
Since Suites are much larger than Standard rooms, you’re actually going to pay less at these Moderate Resorts than renting a Suite at a Value Resort.
Interested in seeing how the Moderate Resorts compare to each other? We’ve written a whole post dedicated to comparing all of the Moderate Resorts.
Both of these Resorts have 2 Queen sized beds and a pull down Murphy bed that is perfect for the young members of your family. It is not a true twin sized bed. But, my son was 13-years-old when we stayed at Port Orleans – Riverside. Since his only other option was sleeping with his brother, there were no complaints from him.
There are other options that fit families of 5. But, for the sake of budget, these are your 2 best options.
Your options do get slimmer as your traveling party gets larger. But, if you need a larger space, these are great options.
- All-Star Music – Family Suite
- Art of Animation – Family Suite
- Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness
These Family Suites are located in Value Resorts, so the whimsical and obviously Disney theming is something you won’t see at other Resorts.
And the Cabins also have a benefit of coming with your own private driveway, full kitchen, and a grill outside that can help cut food costs.
Family Suite vs 2 Standard Rooms
It can be tempting to book 2 Standard Rooms at a Value Resort, especially when the price is right.
While there is nothing wrong with this (I’ve actually done this with great success), there are a few things to consider before making your decision.
- There will be 2 Security Deposits (Disney requires a $200 Deposit for each room)
- You must put in a Room Request for connecting Rooms. Disney does a wonderful job at trying to accommodate everyone, but requests are not guaranteed to be honored.
- My Disney Experience! You will have 2 different Reservation numbers. Guests in each room will need to be “linked” before making Fastpasses and Dining Reservations with friends and family in other Rooms.
More Than 6 Guests
Finding affordable accomodations with a large family can be challenging. But, it’s not impossible.
Recommended Resorts / Hotels:
- The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness – either bring your own camper to hook up or you can rent one at RVShare
- Multiple Rooms at a Value Resort – if you’re comfortable with the possibility of not getting connecting rooms
- Non-Disney Hotels – some may give you some Disney Perks
- Private Vacation Home that can hold many people
If you have a camper, then staying at the campsites will most likely be the most cost effective option. Full Hookup prices vary by season. But for around $120 per night, it’s not a bad price when you think about how many people that reservation can hold. And since you’re on Disney property, you receive all of those Perks, as well.
But, if you have a large family and you want to ensure you stay together, renting a private home off Disney property may be your best option. You will have more square footage and you may even get your own pool.
Orlando is a giant vacation destination, so there are many Orlando Area Vacation Homes to choose from.
Choose Your Tickets
By the time you choose your tickets, you should know how many day you’re going to be spending in the Parks.
To avoid exhaustion, it’s recommended to schedule a non-Park day in the middle of your vacation. Many worry that a non-Pak day will result in boredom. But, trust me, there is PLENTY to do at Walt Disney World outside of the Parks.
Theme Park Tickets
Once you know how many days you want to go to the Theme Parks, you will have 3 Ticket options to choose from.
- Base Tickets (Visit 1 Park per Day)
- Park Hopper (Ability to visit more than 1 Park per day)
- Park Hopper Plus (Includes Park Hopper and Water Park Tickets)
For First Timers, I suggest sticking with Base Tickets. The only exception to this would be if you want to visit all 4 Theme Parks, and you have less than 4 days at Walt Disney World.
Everything is brand new, so you’re less likely to leave that Park to experience something else.
Transportation can also be an issue. Walt Disney World Property is 43 square miles, slightly smaller than the size of San Francisco. Seriously…Walt Disney World is huge!
There are many different transportation options to get you wherever you want to go. And they’re all free to use. But, unless you know how to get from Point A to Point B, getting lost is easy.
So, for these reasons alone, I suggest saving some money and purchase the Base tickets.
Water Park Tickets
Disney’s Water Parks are great for those really hot months.
But, when your planning only leaves time for 1 Water Park, you’re not going to get your money’s worth with the Park Hopper Plus upgrade.
Instead, purchase your Water Park Tickets separately.
Water Park Tickets currently cost between $64 and $69 for adults, depending on the time of year. Upgrading your Ticket costs around $100.
Sure, you get a lot with the ticket upgrade. But, it doesn’t make sense, financially, if you’re only using it to get into 1 Water Park.
What to expect in Part 2
Once you know your travel dates, where you’re going to stay, and your ticket options, you can book your reservation, if you want.
Add-ons, such as Memory Maker and Meal Plans, can be added to your Reservations at a later date without affecting your trip, or your deposit.
So, if you’re considering either one of these options, check out Part 2!
We explained Memory Maker and the Meal Plans, so you can make an informed decision on whether or not they will work for you family.