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disney world planning guide

Going to Orlando for the first time (even the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th time) is an exciting adventure. There is so much to do there and it can be daunting trying to figure out how much time should be allocated for each event. Since the Disney theme parks pretty much put Orlando on the vacation map, we will start here. While it doesn't look like it at first glance, Disney World and the adjoining parks, can be and is, a very complicated place. We will try to simplify it a little for you here.

WHAT'S NEW

New Fantasyland is now open and construction on the Central Plaza is finished as well. Check out the 7 Dwarfs Mine Train, the Festival of Fantasy Parade and Mickey's Royal Friendship Faire stage show, The Frozen Ever After:Escape to Arendelle boat ride opens at EPCOT. The continuing fever over Frozen will make this a popular draw so be prepared for long lines. Also, the Norway pavilion has been expanded.

Animal Kingdom began nighttime entertainment with several different offerings with the River of Lights attraction opening soon. It is a little early to determine the success of the new entertainment but we are sure it will catch on as time goes by. The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic show will be discontinued. It has not done well. Construction continues on Pandora: World of Avatar which is scheduled to open in 2017. The park is open until 11pm for the summer, make sure to stop at the Tree of Life.

Hollywood Studios has a new fireworks show – Star Wars: A Galatic Spectacular. More Star Wars themed entertainment has been added such as Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away. This stage show is a work in progress. However, you wouldn't be missing much if you skipped Hollywood Studios altogether. There is a lot of construction in progress too.

Downtown Disney has been renamed Disney Springs. It is still an entertainment and shopping district with solid additions such as The Boathouse, Jock Lindsay’s Hangar Bar, Morimoto Asia, and more.

WHEN TO VISIT

Summer is obviously the most popular time if the year for visiting Orlando but not the best time. This time of year is hot, humid and crowded, both in the parks and on the roads leading to the parks. Spring has its moments of over crowding as well. By far, the best time to visit Orlando is in the fall, September to the first three weeks of December. The crowds are thinner, the weather can be much more comfortable. Discounts on a variety of things are offered more frequently during this time frame.

In September and October, you have Food & Wine Festival at Epcot and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party in the Magic Kingdom, plus Halloween decorations. While Food & Wine and the Halloween Party will cost you some money, they are both enjoyable. Christmas is a magical time of the year and Disney adds even more magic to this celebration. They go all out to make the place very special but because of school break, the crowds tend to be excessive during the last week of December along with the prices.

HOW LONG TO STAY

For the first time visitor, we recommend a Walt Disney World vacation of 6 to 8 days. The exact length will still vary a bit depending upon how much vacation time you have and if you plan on visiting non-Disney theme parks or destinations. Disney World has 4 theme parks. Magic Kingdom and Epcot are at least a full day, maybe two day, parks. Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a solid, 1-day park. Hollywood Studios will take a little less than a day if you go at all. If you park hop and want to experience most attractions, 4 or 5 days for the 4 theme parks is a good number.

It's a good idea to take a day in the middle of your vacation for a little Rest and Relaxation away from the parks (they can be exhausting!) You might want to visit Universal Studios Florida (including the Wizarding World of Harry Potter), SeaWorld, or Busch Gardens. While in Florida, it is almost imperative that you visit one of the great beach areas like Daytona Beach.

PARK TICKETS

We recommend buying your tickets separately from an authorized third party ticket seller to save money if you can. See our Disney Ticket Guide for more info on tickets.

WHERE TO STAY

In general, you get more bang for your buck when staying in an off-site hotel, as there are a lot of non-Disney hotels competing with one another, and they can’t charge the premium Disney charges for its name recognition or location. Depending on how many people in your party, you will want as much room as possible and a 1 bedroom luxury condo (or larger) makes the down time a lot easier to enjoy. While a condo can be expensive, there are ways to get those costs drastically reduced.

BOOKING AIRFARE & TRANSPORTATION

For finding cheap airfare, we recommend ITA Software by Google. You can’t book through ITA, but it’s the most robust airfare search engine out there. It gives you latitude in choosing multiple airports to see if nearby airports might offer better pricing, and allows you to check out a calendar of dates for travel, among other things. Expedia is another option for a flight search engine, and many people prefer it because it still searches multiple airlines, but has a simpler interface and allows for immediate booking, as well as their “Best Price Guarantee.”

The other aspect of transportation you’ll want to figure out is rental cars. If you’re visiting other destinations outside of Walt Disney World or are staying at an off-site hotel, you might need a rental car. An alternative to a rental car is Uber.

WHAT TO PACK

It might sound hard to believe, but packing for Walt Disney World offers ways to save money and improve your experience. Items you wouldn't think of bringing will come in very handy if you get them ahead of time. These are items you would likely end up buying during your visit to Disney but at a considerable discount when compared to Disney prices. Check out our "Must Have" list - 12 Things To Buy Before Going To Disney World. Most of these items are something you will continue to use well after your vacation has ended.

In addition to those things, you might also want to bring some pins for Disney Pin Trading. Buying pins in advance for less than $1/pin (versus $10+/pin at Walt Disney World) will save you lots of money.

WHERE TO EAT

Disney has a lot of wonderful dining options that can be an experience in themselves. Dining at Disney is expensive, and unlike park tickets, it’s not mandatory. You can save a lot of money by eating off-site, or better yet, getting groceries and preparing your own meals. A soft sided cooler will hold enough snacks to get your group through the day. You can carry it with you or store it in a locker. Coolers on wheel are not allowed in the park.

WHICH ATTRACTIONS TO DO

Walt Disney World can be a crowded place with some really long lines. Having an itinerary, even a loose one, is important for first-time visitors. Doing things inefficiently can mean a lot more time spent in lines or having to skip attractions completely if lines are too long. The most important things to know are: 1) how to use FastPass+, which is a free ride-reservation system allowing you to “reserve” a slot in advance for three attractions per day to skip most of the line at select attractions and, 2) to arrive at the parks just before they open. Optional step 3 if you’re the parent of a Frozen-obsessed kid: make sure to know when and where all the Frozen “stuff” is happening, and make sure to do it.

Arriving at the parks early is self-explanatory (with this you’ll also want to know which attractions have the longest wait times…there’s no use going early to avoid the crowds only to hit attractions that rarely have long waits), but FastPass+ can be confusing, which causes a lot of people to simply not use it. Since you can book your FastPass+ reservations 60 days before your trip (if you already have your tickets and are staying on-site), we highly recommend buying your tickets before you get to Walt Disney World. You don’t want to waste time at kiosks when you arrive, only to find out popular attractions like Toy Story Mania and Soarin’ are fully booked.

WHAT ELSE TO DO

Your imagination is really the limit here. Most first-time visitors only know about the theme parks, Disney Springs, and the water parks. That’s just the surface of what Walt Disney World has to offer. There are tours, golf, fishing, nightlife, shopping, fireworks cruises, baby sitting, spas, and much more. As long as you are in the area, you should take at least one day and go to one of the outstanding beaches. The closest one is only an hour away and world famous Daytona Beach is only 90 minutes away. If you are interested in nature, there are swamp boat rides that will take you up close and personal to native alligators and other creatures unique to Florida.

It wouldn't hurt to spend some time online and do some research on the area. This will help you develop a rough plan on what to do and where to do it. You can spend a little more time to refine your plan on specific attractions once you know what you want to do.

Florida is a great place to visit and has a lot to offer.

 
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*A $200 credit is available for you to apply to any combination of attraction tickets from our available list of tickets. Some of the tickets available are: Gatorland, Kennedy Space Center, LEGOland, SeaWorld, Universal Studios, Walt Disney World and Wet N'Wild. Dinner tickets include: Medieval Times, Pirates Dinner Adventure and Sleuths Mystery Dinner Show. In order to get the entire $200 credit, we suggest you select tickets with a higher value than $200 and pay the difference out of pocket. For example, select two 1 day Universal Studio passes @ $120 per ticket and pay the difference of $40. Or select 5 adult passes for the Kennedy Space Center and pay the difference of $25. Not all tickets may be available at any one time but we try to keep this list current.
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by Paradise Adventures