I’m breaking down our Ultimate Guide to Plan a Disney World Family Vacation for you with all our tips, tricks and fun splurges along the way.
We’ve traveled to Disney World from the West Coast three times in the last 5 years and so I really want to break it all down for you guys. I realize that for many families this is a once or twice a lifetime kind of family trip. Believe me, I get it. It can be a big trip for families, especially if you are traveling from far and require airfare. It adds up.
My hope is to break it down our planning tips from flights, hotels, food, parks, and all the extras to make sure you can make the most out of your Disney World family vacation.
FLIGHTS To DISNEY WORLD
I understand this is a super broad range depending on where you are traveling from and how big your family is, but there are deals out there. We are a family of four traveling from San Diego to Orlando. If you are strictly looking for budget, then I recommend breaking it down into two ways.
- Does your airport fly directly to Orlando. If it does, look for direct flights and/or red-eye flights. These tend to be the cheapest and when coming from the West Coast.
- If your airport does not have a direct flight, then check larger airports in the greater area. While your flight from your airport might not be as reasonable, there might be deals going on from other airports and then you just have to get yourself to that airport. From there, there might be lots of inexpensive flights. For us in Southern California, we make sure to check San Diego, Orange County and LAX, but also, we find there are cheap flights for us to fly to Phoenix and then Phoenix might be having a deal to Orlando. Keep you mind open when looking for deals.
HOTELS OF DISNEY WORLD
We have stayed at four different hotels over the past three visits. We’ve stayed at the Disney’s Beach Club Resort which is connected to the Disney’s Yacht Club Resort and shares the same pool. We’ve stayed at the Disney’s Port Orleans Resort = Riverside, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, and Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort.
While I realize that we have only stayed on site, the benefits for us at staying within a Disney resort is not having to rent a car because we are able to get to and from the airport and to and from all the parks using their bus system. There is some wait time for buses, but our overall experience has been pretty great.
FOOD OF DISNEY WORLD
Okay friends, I know that this can be a hot topic. There are many ways to approach the subject.
- Dietary Restrictions – Vegan, Gluten Free, Dairy Free, etc. While we don’t have these restrictions within our family, I know that Disney chefs take these allergies very seriously and in speaking with a few different chefs, at most restaurants throughout the parks, you just let your server know and they will come and accommodate. There are some great bloggers that have write-ups on each of these allergies, so please do your research.
- Budget – This is a big one for us, as I’m sure it is with the majority of you. Feeding your family while at Disney World without breaking the bank. Especially with kids, its hard to know how to much to budget, how to save, etc. There are meal plans options that are a way for you to setup your meals in advance and potentially save money. There are credits for meals and snacks that you are given to your family for the trip based on the
number of days you stay. The meal plans start at around $52 for adults per day, and $27 for children. This is for two quick service meals, two snacks and a refillable mug. We do not end up going the meal planning route only because we aren’t that big of snackers and we enjoy having sit down meals for dinner and those plans start at $75 per person and we just don’t eat enough for that, but for those families with hearty appetites, meal plans might just be your thing.
- Cost Saving Tips: Some tips we have found that save for us on our trips.
- Pack snacks. I have one kid that is a snack king. He loves to snack, but rather than paying for the $5-$10 per snack in the park, I pack a box of apple-sauces, a box of protein bars, and a box of goldfish or crackers. Yes it does take up a bit of room in my bag, but it has saved us tons of money on our trip to have a few of each in our day bag and so throughout the day, he will pull out a snack from our bag rather than purchasing everything.
- Bring your own water bottles – We bring our own hydro-flasks with us from home. They will happily fill them up with water throughout the parks and so you save tremendously if your family are water drinkers to bring your own refillable water bottle.
- Along with the bringing your own snacks, consider your breakfast when packing as well. My family aren’t big breakfast eaters and so I can pack a sack of bagels and have those in the room, or muffins, or instant oatmeal packets. There is always hot water in the coffee machine in the room, so if you looking to cut costs, bring some breakfast items with you. Grab some muffins or bagels in one of the hotel stores when you get here. All these meals add up, so thinking ahead, saves tremendously.
- Cost Saving Tips: Some tips we have found that save for us on our trips.
THE PARKS OF DISNEY WORLD
I get these questions all the time.
- What is your favorite park?
- Which rides do you think we should use our fast passes on?
- Is there any park you would skip? (that answer to that is NOPE) 🙂
But I do get a lot of these questions, and I am hoping to have write ups on each of the park soon, but in the meantime, I will try and break it down for you and simply as I can.
First things first, you are able to schedule your 3 fast passes per park per day 60 days out from your trip. I highly recommend doing that as soon as you can. We have seen a ride with up to a 4 hour wait, and that is crazy town. Schedule those fast passes.
Second thing to think about is the make up of your family. Meaning, do you have young ones with you? In that case, you need to consider the height requirements of each of the rides. Do you have those that love roller coasters and trill seekers, or timid family members that can get scared easily? The rides with the longer waits typically are the roller coasters and virtual reality type rides. There is also the case for those who love to meet the characters. There are some character meet and greets that have fast passes, so depending on who wants to do what, something to keep in mind. For each park, I’ve listed some of our favorite rides and character meets, and then you can hopefully make your decision on what will be the best for you and your family.
This may be where you spend a few days of your trip, so plan accordingly. Their parades and shows are amazing too, so make sure to catch times for those too.
- Roller Coaster Fans – Some of our favorites that we would recommend for fast passes Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (my favorite), Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, or Space Mountain.
- Kids Favorite Rides – Tomorrowland Speedway, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Pirates of the Caribbean, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, and The Magic Carpets of Aladdin.
- Character Meets – My kids are huge fans of meeting characters, and so we have met pretty much all the characters over the last three visits. For the magic kingdom, our favorite that we have used our fast passes towards is Meeting Mickey Mouse at Town Square. This Mickey talks and interacts with the kids and is pretty magical. Our other favorites are most of the princesses at the Princess Fairytale Hall and Arial at her Grotto.
- Go/No Go – Then there are all the rest of the rides within the park. There are some that we enjoy each time like Its a Small World and Jungle Cruise, but there are also those that have long waits that in our opinion are not worth the time like the Haunted House and Peter Pan. The Barnstormer is another one. It is not a terrible ride, it just has a long wait for a very quick ride. Please realize this is just our opinion.
This is truly one of my favorite parks. Not as many rides as Magic Kingdom, but lots of fun.
- Roller Coaster Fans – I would definitely use your fast passes for Avatar Flight of Passage (the 4 hour wait), Expedition Everest (goes backwards), Kali River Rapids(you get wet), Kilimanjaro Safari, Dinosaur (a little scary for the timid).
- Kids Favorite Rides – TriceraTop Spin, Wilderness Explorers, and It’s Tough to be a Bug!
- Character Meets – We met with Goofy and Pluto along with and Donald and Daisy at Animal Kingdom. No fast passes can be used for these meets, its simply waiting in line.
- Go/No Go – There really isn’t anything that we didn’t love to ride or see at Animal Kingdom. I would mention that the Na’vi River Journey has a pretty long wait. It is a calm river cruise like a It’s a Small World, but through the World of Avatar. It is visually amazing, but may not be worth a really long wait.
We love this park a lot. In my opinion, it has some of the best food of all the parks. We like to plan dinner at Epcot at least one or two times throughout our stay.
- Roller Coaster Fans – Soarin, Mission: Space, and Test Track (All Fast Pass attractions)
- Kids Favorite Rides – Test Track was our kids absolute favorite, along with Frozen Ever After, and The Seas with Nemo and Friends
- Character Meets – There are lots of fun meets and greets throughout Epcot including Alice in Wonderland and Mary Poppins in England, Belle in France, Snow White in Germany, Jasmine in Morocco, Donald Duck in Mexico, Mulan in China, along with Anna and Elsa in Norway.
- Go/No Go – The only ride I would mention is Spaceship Earth. It is the ride in the big golf ball. It isn’t a bad ride, but I wouldn’t use my fast pass on it, as the line goes pretty fast.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Roller Coaster Fans – Toy Story Mania, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (drops 13 stories), Star Tour. Rock-n-Roller Coaster (goes upside down) Slinky Dog Dash (opening June 30, 20180
- Kids Favorite Rides – Toy Story Mania, Frozen Sing-Along, Jedi Training (get there early to sign your littles up), and the Star Wars Galactic Nights (Light Show) is amazing!
- Character Meets – Many Disney Junior Characters, Pixar Characters (Monster U, Toy Story, and The Incredibles) along with lots of Star Wars Characters.
- Go/No Go – There are lots of different shows at Hollywood Studio. While there aren’t any shows we wouldn’t recommend, I would suggest you layout the times of the shows you want to see along with your fast passes when arranging your day.
Disney Blizzard Beach
The Disney water park included with your park hopper. The other water park (Typhoon Lagoon is under construction).
- There are no fast passes for Blizzard Beach and all the rides are so much fun for the kids. There are areas for younger kids as well as some pretty thrilling rides for those with no fear. Definitely one of our favorites and a great place to break up the theme parks and escape the heat.
DISNEY WORLD Extras
Disney World is huge and there is no way you could possibly do it all with one trip, but some other extras I want to make sure to mention so that you can keep in mind when planning.
- Download the Disney Experience App. This shows the wait times of all the rides. It allows you to make restaurant reservations, and set your fast passes.
- Consider Purchasing the Memory Maker before your trip. This is all access to the photos taken by the photographers at all the parks. For our family who loves character meets, and for me who typically photographs the family, it allows me to be in pictures. They simply scan your magic band every time they take your picture and within a few minutes they are in your account. It also includes all the pictures of you and your family on the rides.
- Disney Springs – This is an outdoor mall with shopping, entertainment and tons of great restaurants. You may want to plan one dinner over there to check out.
- Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique – Ideal for those princess loving girls. Its a bit pricey, but its pretty incredible experience for the princess loving girls. There are a few different locations.
- Jedi Training – This is at Hollywood Studios and is pretty amazing for your Star Wars loving kids. Get there early and get your kids signed up for it. It typically fills up within the first hour of the park being open.
I do hope we’ve covered most of the info here, but in the case, I haven’t, please feel free to email me any questions you have. We hope you have the most incredibly HAPPY trip at the Happiest Place on Earth!
Some of our favorite all time travels
- By Plane (Turks and Caicos, Jamaica, and Squaw Valley)
- By Train (Napa Valley Wine Tour)
- By Boat (Walt Disney Cruise)
- By Car (Phoenix Road Trip, Indian Wells, San Diego Gaslamp and Renting an RV)
- Packing (TRAVELING WITH KIDS – HELPING THEM PACK)
Disney World Family Vacation
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