Disney World FAQs for First Time Visitors (and Veterans!)

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Are you overwhelmed with Walt Disney World vacation planning? Or maybe you don’t know where to start? We get A LOT of questions about Disney World. We’ve created this post as a resource or index if you will of some of the most frequently asked Disney questions. So go ahead and bookmark this page to refer back to as you plan your trip! Read on for information, insider tips, and all the Disney tricks you could want ahead of your trip.

This post is sponsored by VISIT FLORIDA.

How to use these Disney FAQs: This is a LOT of information. I recommend you carve out some time to read through this list of Disney World FAQs and bookmark this page to refer back to as you plan your own magical trip.

If you don’t see your question, definitely ask! Now, on to the answers to all your Disney questions!

Back side Cinderella Castle
Planning a Disney vacation involves lots of moving parts. We’re here to break it down for you with answers to your most common Disney questions. Photo credit: Jill Robbins

Disney World Vacation Planning Tips

Do not attempt to wing it at Walt Disney World! There is a lot of planning that goes into a successful Disney vacation. This guide is a great start.

Even if you are using a Disney travel agent, which we recommend, you’re still going to have some research to do. I recommend dedicating a specific notebook for jotting down your Disney-related questions and notes as you think of them. Or go digital and create a dedicated online space such as a folder, iPhone note or a Pinterest board to help keep all of your vacation stuff in one place.

Disney World FAQs with Mickey and Minnie
How far in advance do I plan? What’s the best time of year to go? We’re here to help you with all of your Disney World FAQs! Photo credit: Disney PhotoPass

What is the Best Time to Go to Disney World?

Topping the list of Disney World FAQs is “When should I go?”

The answer is…it depends. We don’t always have complete flexibility on when we can take vacations, so my bottom line is that you should go when you can and everything else will fall in line. 

But. It’s not always that simple. 

Things like weather and crowds are also going to factor into the equation when determining the best time to go to Disney World. In general, Spring Break, summer and holidays are going to be more crowded. This makes senses: Families plan vacations around kids’ school breaks. If you go during Spring Break or during summer, expect crowds. If you’re planning your trip based on when your kids do not have school, so is everyone else. In addition, Walt Disney World is currently celebrating their 50th Anniversary which means more people are visiting. 

I recommend taking a look at a Disney World crowd calendar when making your plans. They are easy to find online. I find the one at touringplans.com to be pretty accurate. Even if you’ve got zero flexibility on your dates, I recommend checking out a crowd calendar to help manage expectations. Bigger crowds=more time spent waiting in lines. 

Central Florida is hot (or at least warm) most of the year. Based on weather alone, I think February and November are great times to go. You’ll probably still sweat in the parks but it should be warm enough to swim in the pool at your Walt Disney World Resort hotel.

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How Far Out Should I Plan My Disney vacation?

I don’t think there is a hard and fast rule. However, I feel like 12 months is a sweet spot. 

It’s always possible to plan a Disney trip last minute, although I recommend first-time visitors plan as far in advance as they can. Seasoned pros who understand how to navigate the many pieces and parts of a Disney vacation will probably have an easier time with shorter-notice trips. 

I recommend going in this order:

  1. Book your hotel
  2. Buy your park tickets 
  3. Make your park reservations.

Once those three things are squared away, you can start planning the rest of your visit. 

SheBuysTravel Tip: If you are planning your visit to Walt Disney World around a special event, such as a runDisney race, long range planning is extra important.

How Do Walt Disney World Reservations Work?

You need park tickets, of course. But you also need a park reservation for each day you have a ticket. A park ticket with no reservation is almost like not having a park ticket.

Initially, I thought this sounded really daunting – and I’m a Disney World pro. It really isn’t that difficult, though.

Get Help Planning Your Disney Vacation

If this process – or any part of planning a Disney vacation – is as clear as mud for you, ask your travel agent or call Disney directly.

Our SheBuysTravel team recommends Get Away Today for discount Disney tickets and vacation packages. If you ever find park tickets cheaper, Get Away Today won’t just match the price, the company will beat it! Great customer service is another reason why we recommend Get Away Today. From buying your tickets to planning your Disney vacation, the travel agents at Get Away Today help you every step of the way.

Read our full review of Get Away Today here. If you want to know what it would cost to go to Disney World for your family, ask for a free quote.

How Many Days Should I Plan for Disney?

A month! Kidding! In a perfect world, though, right?

I recommend five to seven days, with the understanding that not all families have the luxury of taking a trip of that length. 

Since Walt Disney World has four theme parks, plus the Disney water parks and Disney Springs, I recommend making time to explore as much as you can. I don’t believe you can see everything on one trip, which is part of what makes Disney so fun for me. Always something new to discover. 

Ideally, you will dedicate one full day to each park. I recommend scheduling a non-park day to enjoy your resort or fully explore Disney Springs. Five to seven days gives you an ample chance to experience most things (or at least to visit all the parks in a relatively unhurried way) and to not feel exhausted at the end of your trip.

If you are planning to combine Disney with another Florida destination, like something beachy, you may find yourself limited on days to spend at Disney World. If that’s the case, here are a few resources to help you if your Disney time is shorter:

Even if you have a longer Disney trip planned, the above guides will help you get the most out of your time in each of the parks. 

Character Cavalcade at Disney's Animal Kingdom
With its lush green landscape, Disney’s Animal Kingdom is my favorite park out of the four Disney Parks. That said, if you’re short on time, I recommend you prioritize Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. Photo credit: Jill Robbins

Tips for First Time Disney Visitors

If you are a first-time Disney visitor with extremely limited time, I recommend doing the Magic Kingdom, unless you are a Star Wars superfan, in which case you simply must do Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. Disney’s Hollywood Studios also is a great option with younger kids. You’ll see a lot of Disney Junior characters and Pixar friends. Toy Story Land is really, really cool for kids of all ages.

And finally, if you are exploring another Florida city, I recommend you do Disney first, especially if your second destination is something that will move at a slower pace. 

SheBuysTravel Tip: Try one of these Florida vacation spots for your after-Disney vacation.

One of the common Disney World FAQs is “Should I stay in a Disney Resort?” My answer is yes. Photo credit: Jill Robbins

Should I Stay at a Walt Disney World Resort?

If you hear folks talking about “on property” versus “off property” that means at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel versus staying at hotel or resort not owned by Disney. This is one of the first Disney World FAQs you need to answer in your trip planning.

My short answer is: There are terrific off property Disney hotels, but staying on property is better. That is not to say you can’t have a great stay at a non-Disney hotel or that I never have. There are usually several things that go into deciding where you will stay but if it’s simple choice between on property and off, I’d choose on property every time.

Walt Disney World has a resort hotel for everyone and every budget. There are three levels of resort: value, moderate and deluxe. Obviously, the value is going to be the least expensive option. Moderate and deluxe will have larger rooms, generally be closer to the parks, have more amenities, better pools, and more resort dining options. 

This is not to say the value resorts are not nice, because they are. You’ll spend more and get more at deluxe level resorts, which is pretty much the way hotel pricing tiers anywhere work. Deluxe villas aren’t always out of reach. There are ways to book them for less

This is the lower level of the Gran Destino Tower at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort. This is a moderate resort but the tower is new and the rooms and lobby have a Deluxe Resort vibe. Photo credit: Jill Robbins

Recommendations for First Time Visitors

We have stayed both on property and off property. We’ve stayed at partner/good neighbor hotels (certain resort hotels that offer their guests the same perks as Walt Disney World Resort hotel guests, such as early theme park entry) and at Orlando area hotels that have no agreement with Disney at all. 

I’ve had great stays off property and at partner hotels. But, if this is your first Disney vacation, stay at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel. There’s something so magical about being on property. The convenience of being close to the parks while you’re learning the lay of the land is helpful, too. 

A dip in the pool is a great way to relax after a day in the Disney Parks. Photo credit: Jill Robbins

Walt Disney World is about the size of San Francisco (yes, really!) so there is definitely a learning curve to navigating your way around. I am a Disney Vacation Club member so I’m 99.99 percent of the time going to stay on property because we pre-pay for our vacations. I enjoy the familiarity of being on Disney property. It is truly home for me. 

What’s the Best Way to Get from the Airport to Walt Disney World?

Unfortunately free Magical Express bus service ended. Uber and Lyft are also great options to get to and from Walt Disney World. There are lots of options for booking transportation in and out of Orlando International Airport: traditional taxi cabs, Mears shuttle, private car service. Shuttles and private car services should be booked in advance. We’ve compiled a full post on how to get to Disney World from the Orlando airport

SheBuysTravel Tip: Flying into Orlando Sanford will change things up. You might get a cheaper flight to Orlando, but you’ll probably pay more — maybe MUCH more — getting to Walt Disney World. 

Disney Parking Fees to Consider

If you are renting a car and staying at a Walt Disney World Resort, you will be charged a per-day fee for parking. This parking fee covers you for parking in the parks as well, so if you drive to the resorts and drive to the parks, you’ll only pay once for parking. 

Two boys at Star Wars Galaxy's Edge
One of the top Disney FAQs is “What age is the best age?” Although I think Disney has universal appeal, a really great age for a first visit is 4-6. My boys are 10 and 11 and still believe in the magic. Photo credit: Jill Robbins

What’s the Best Age for Disney?

There is no wrong age for Disney, in my opinion, but I know parents talk a lot about the best age for Disney when planning their special trip.

Disney World has universal appeal. I love it just as much at the age I am now as I did when I first went as a 9-year-old. Most people have grown up with some sort of Disney presence in their lives, whether it be from trips to the theme parks or movies, so the nostalgia and magic is something I think is timeless. Everyone experiences it in a different way. 

That said, I think the best time for a first visit is between ages 4 and 6. Kids this age will likely have a favorite Disney character and the experience of seeing their favorites will be very real and magical for them.

Ride Height Limits at Disney World

Disney has pretty generous height limits for attractions, meaning there’s quite a bit for smaller kids to ride. Of course, “can ride” won’t mean “should ride.” You know your kids best. 

For example, there’s no height requirement for The Haunted Mansion but younger kids will probably find it scary. It’s kind of “friendly scary” but littler kids aren’t going to be able to understand the difference. 

Kids 48 inches and taller can ride just about every ride at Walt Disney World. Most of Disney World’s more thrilling rides are not overtly “scary” which might make them less of a draw for teens or tweens. The Rock n’ Roller Coaster at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the only attraction at Walt Disney World that currently flips you upside down, so a true adrenaline junkie might find the selection of rides too tame. 

Here’s a look at the Disney roller coasters from the always entertaining SheBuysTravel contributor Fran Capo:

My kids are 10 and 11 and still really enjoy all of the attractions at Disney World. I’ve taken school-aged kids, tweens and teens to Disney World and I’m looking forward to my 3-year-old grandson’s first visit. I was at Disney World when he was born and yes, I’ve been planning his first trip to the magic since then.

Is it Worth it to Go to Disney for One Day?

If friends came to me and said “Jill, I want to fly to Orlando and go to Disney World for one day and then fly home,” I would try to get them to rethink their idea. I would tell them to find another couple of days in their schedule or move their trip to a time where they could go for longer.

However, if you only have one day — maybe you’re planning on adding one day at Disney World to a convention trip to Orlando – definitely do it. A little bit of magic and pixie dust is better than none.

Still, I think three or four days at Disney is better than one day at Disney, so if you can extend it past one day, definitely try to do so. 

First Timers Need More Time at Disney

I don’t recommend one day Disney visits for first timers – not because you won’t have fun but because I think you are short-changing yourself. If you can only do one day, I recommend you stick with just one park and plan what attractions you’ll hit and what things are “must see” or “must eat” in advance. That one day will go fast.

My kids and I tagged along on one of my husband’s trips to Orlando for a conference (because of course we did) and did a one-day trip to Walt Disney World. It was not the kids’ first trip and we decided ahead of time to pick one park and stick to it.

Staying cool at Disney World is often a challenge. We usually wear loose, light, casual clothes. I find I stay cooler with a cute skirt or dress with bike shorts underneath. Photo credit: Jill Robbins

Should I Use a Travel Agent?

Yes, a million times, yes! If you are a first-timer, there is no sound reason not to use an authorized Disney Vacation Planner like Get Away Today. You won’t pay a thing for their services and using a travel agent will likely help you save money. The commission your travel agent earns is paid by Disney, not you. 

If you’ve never planned a trip to Walt Disney World, there’s a lot you don’t know. Let someone who does know help you plan your vacation. They may also have access to discounts and experiences not available to the general public.

I’ve never understood anyone’s hesitance to use a travel agent for Disney. If you had a friend that had superhero level Disney knowledge and would hold your hand throughout the trip planning process, keep your budget in mind and be on call during your trip to answer questions or smooth out in wrinkles, why wouldn’t you tap into that resource? 

Even if you’ve already started the planning process on your own, it’s probably not too late to turn your booking over to a Disney travel agent

We get a lot of Disney World FAQs about transportation, like this Skyliner
Disney’s Skyliner is the newest way to get around Walt Disney World. Photo: Jill Robbins

How Does Disney Transportation Work?

Buckle up (pun intended). There is a lot to know about Disney transportation.

Remember when I mentioned Walt Disney World is about the size of San Francisco? You wouldn’t visit a big city and expect the transportation system to be absolutely intuitive with zero learning curve, now would you? 

That’s why I think it’s worth it for Disney goers to take a few minutes to get information about the transportation at Walt Disney World before your visit. Although there is a learning curve with using Disney transportation, it’s not too difficult to figure out.

That said, do learn as much as you can before you go (which you are doing now!) and give yourself some grace and be patient.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Disney’s transportation is something to be considered when booking an off property hotel room or resort. Are you going to be driving to the parks every day? If so, have you factored in the cost of parking? Although many off-property hotels offer transportation to Walt Disney World it is not as robust as what you can get on the Disney property. Before you book what you think is a great deal, consider how much time and money you’ll spend going back and forth to the parks each day. 

Minnie Vans are an alternative at Disney to using uber with kids.
These cute Minnie Vans charge a flat rate $25, but currently are not operating. Photo credit: Jill Robbins

Free and Paid Disney Transportation

There are four ways to get around Walt Disney World that are free to use: buses, the monorail, Disney water transportation and the new(ish) Skyliner.

You can also drive your car around the resort.

There are also the Disney Minnie Vans. They’re currently not running, but I really hope they will come back. They’re specialized Lyft vehicles decked out like our favorite polka-dot-loving gal. The Minnie Vans have car seats and are operated by Disney Cast Members who know how to properly install them. Also, Disney Minnie Vans can drop off guests in the same places the Disney buses use. Guests using regular ride shares are dropped off a little further away. It isn’t terrible, but you will have a short trek.

Your kids may consider the Monorail, Skyliner, and Disney boats as rides (the buses probably not so much). If this is the case, take full advantage of the unlimited free rides. 

Alien Cookie in Toy Story Land. Hollywood Studios for Preschoolers.
Grab an alien cookie or a grilled three-cheese sandwich in Toy Story Land. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

How Does the Disney Dining Plan Work? (Currently Paused)

The Disney Dining Plan allows you to prepay your meals and snacks at Walt Disney World. This is a great tool to help keep you on budget and avoid having to keep track of expenses as you enjoy the parks. Food and snacks will add up fast and can be an unpleasant surprise when you get the bill at the end of your stay if you’re not tracking as you go.

The Disney Dining Plan takes the unknown out of the equation. While you might have sticker shock when you buy it, I think knowing is better.

Disney is currently not offering the Dining Plan but it has been very popular in the past so I’m guessing it will be back at some point. Past dining plans offered three levels so you can have some control over what you spend based on your budget and what kind of traveler you are. If you prefer to be on the go, you can get the quick service plan. If you want sit-down dining experiences every day, there is a plan that caters to that, too. 

SheBuysTravel Tip: Here’s how to save $50 a day at Disney by packing your own snacks.

Mickey Bar at Walt Disney World
A classic but always my favorite: the one and only Mickey Bar. Photo credit: Jill Robbins

Keeping Track of Your Disney Eats

Disney MagicBands are one way to keep track of your dining credits. Since Disney has eliminated the free MagicBands for people who stay in a Disney hotel, more people are using paper tickets and the My Disney Experience app to keep track of things. (More on the app in a minute.)

Festival food and drink at EPCOT = the perfect adults-only day. Photo credit: Jill Robbins

Is Disney Still Fun Without Kids?

You’re reading an article written by someone who went to Disney on her honeymoon, so you know what my answer is going to be. But seriously, any vacation where I don’t have to keep track of my kids is a great vacation in my book. Disney for adults is pretty awesome.

I’ve been to Disney World with girlfriends and with just my husband and strongly recommend both experiences. Going to Disney World without kids might give you a chance to try some different types of dining that you wouldn’t book with kids in tow, such as The California Grill or, one of my personal favorites, Tiffins Restaurant, one of the fabulous Disney’s Animal Kingdom restaurants.

And, although we’ve never done it, I would COMPLETELY book a character dining experience with just my husband and me. We always talk about our kids getting too old or too cool for character experiences and I say, “That’s OK. We’ll go without them.” 

Go on a hunt for Lego sculptures with your family in Disney Springs.
There are lots of fun and free things to see and do at Disney Springs. Photo credit: Sarah Gilliland

Should I Visit Disney Springs?

Time permitting, yes. Absolutely. 

Disney Springs is one of the reasons I recommend a five- to seven-day stay. This will give you plenty of time to explore all the parks and explore Disney Springs.

You do not need a park ticket or a reservation to go to Disney Springs. There will be a dedicated bus from your hotel. A few resorts (Saratoga Springs and Old Key West) have boat service to Disney Springs. 

If you have a shorter stay (four days or less), I recommend leaving Disney Springs for a longer visit, unless you snag a dining reservation you really can’t pass up. 

Disney Springs is a fun collection of shops, dining and other experiences. It’s got a great selection of restaurants that are more high-end/gourmet versus Disney-themed. Whatever you like to eat, there’s a ton of choices. Don’t worry, everything is kid-friendly. Your kids might not enjoy Wolfgang Puck’s quite as much as you do, but there’s no place in Disney Springs where kids are not welcome. 

I recommend making a dinner reservation here and arriving a couple of hours early so you can shop/walk around. If you need to walk off your dinner or want to grab an ice cream cone or a cupcake for dessert (buy it from the cupcake ATM outside Sprinkles!), you’ll certainly find more to see. 

Dining and fun activities? Both can be accomplished at Splitsville Luxury Lanes
Dining and bowling? Both can be accomplished at Splitsville Luxury Lanes! Photo: Sarah Gilliland

Activities and Rides at Disney Springs

There are also fun activities you can do at Disney Springs. From riding in a floating car to bowling, there are all kinds of activities you can do at Disney Springs without a park ticket, although just about all the activities at Disney Springs are cost money and many require advance reservations. 

There are a couple of small rides at Disney Springs that are great for younger kids. The train and the carousel charge a small fee per ride and the lines are usually minimal. Read here for more tips on things to do with families at Disney Springs.

Walkway at Disney's Coronado Springs
Know how much things cost before you book. Photo credit: Jill Robbins

Disney World FAQs: How Much It Costs

There’s no simple answer to this question, although the short answer is “a lot.” I know people don’t want to hear that, but it is definitely not cheap to take your family to Walt Disney World. There are things you can do to cut costs when planning your magical vacation. But personally, I think the notion of Disney on a shoestring budget is not realistic. 

We break down all of the costs in this post: How much does it REALLY cost to go to Disney World?

Here are some highlights: 

Transportation Costs to Get to Disney World

First, you’ve got to get there, right? If you live within easy driving distance (a day or less), your transportation costs are minimal. If you live further away you’re going to have to decide whether to fly or drive

We live about 17 hours from Walt Disney World. Our family just can’t do that kind of a drive and be ready to party in the parks for several days. Disney is an active vacation and being tired from a road trip before we start is just not for me. Plus, that’s at least four days of vacation time my husband is using, just to get there. 

If driving, your cost will vary based on where you’re coming from. Make sure you are factoring in fuel and hotels along the way as well as wear and tear on your car. 

If you opt to fly, this can be a major expense, depending on your family size, how far you have to come and whether you’re near a major airport. We’re a family of four flying from San Antonio. We can usually get direct flights to Orlando on Southwest Airlines for a decent price. That’s still airfare times four. 

If I were to book a flight from our hometown to Orlando today (booking the flight one month out) I would pay a little over $1,000 in ticket prices on Southwest. Other airlines are generally more expensive (at least from where I live) and charge extra for baggage. 

Southwest Airlines doesn’t assign seats so we always buy the Early Bird check in, which gets us in an early boarding group. That’s an additional $200. Other airlines will assign seats, but if you want to pick your seat (versus having it assigned at the gate) or pick seats together, you’ll usually be charged additional fees. Read more here about flying Southwest Airlines with kids. 

Length of Stay at Disney

A seven-day Disney vacation will cost more than a three-day Disney vacation. That’s simple math, right? I recommend you crunch numbers at the beginning of your planning phase (probably where you are right now) and compare different lengths of stay. 

Park tickets are going to account for a big chunk of your expenses. Walt Disney World consists of four theme parks and two water parks. You can purchase tickets to each park individually or purchase a Park Hopper option. A Park Hopper allows you to visit more than one park per day and offers additional flexibility, although they are more expensive. Here’s how to know if a Park Hopper is worth the extra cost

There’s also a pricing tier for tickets based on which park you want to visit and when you want to be there. Tickets cost more for park visits on the weekend and during higher demand times, such as the holidays and during the summer.

Short answer, beginning on December 8, 2022, the parks each have different prices. Animal Kingdom prices range from $109 – $159. Magic Kingdom is the most expensive park, reflecting its popularity with a ticket range of $124 – $189.

You can still access multi-day savings. Under the new pricing model, if you purchase 6-day tickets, the cost starts at $87/day.

Discounted tickets are available for Florida residents and military personnel. You also may find additional discounts and offers directly from Disney or, again, buy discounted tickets from our partners at Get Away Today.

Disney Resort Hotel Choice

Staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel will generally be more expensive than staying off property. Staying at a hotel or resort further from the park usually means you will pay less money per night, but spend more in time and money traveling to and from the parks each day. 

I mentioned the three different resort categories above: deluxe, moderate and value. Expect to pay about $500 per night at deluxe resorts , about $200 per night for value resorts, with the cost of  moderate resorts landing somewhere in the middle.

Don’t forget to budget for food and snacks. P.S. Disney’s popcorn is awesome. Photo credit: Jill Robbins

Food: Because You Have to Eat

If you are going to eat three meals a day plus snacks in the parks or resorts, that is going to add up. You can get around that by packing your own snacks. But some Disney treats are so cute that you’ll want to budget for them. There is just something super fun about Mickey-shaped food. 

You also can save by having easy grab-and-go breakfast items like Kind bars handy in your hotel room. There’s also a retail shop in each resort hotel that sells food items, but you pay resort prices. Or you can use a delivery service, such as Garden Grocer, Shipt or Instacart to deliver items to your resort hotel. A room charge will normally apply, so be aware of that. 

If you have a car, you can always drive to a local grocery store to stock up or dine in restaurants outside of Walt Disney World Resort. There are a handful of fast food options off the Disney World property that aren’t too far away. Personally, I think the savings is minimal when you stack it up against the time you’ll spend getting off property to eat.  

Beside, there are some great restaurants in the parks, in the resorts and at Disney Springs. Just know the prices before you go. An adult meal at a quick service restaurant in the parks averages around $13, not including a drink, which will be another $3+ unless you stick with a free cup of ice water. A kid’s meal is going to be around $7 and usually includes a drink. 

There’s going to be more variation in price at a table service restaurant. Expect an adult meal to cost around $25 (that’s an average) without a drink. Kids meals will be around $10 and usually include a drink.

Snacks are usually $6-$7 each. 

None of these prices include tax. 

I triple promise my kids were having a good time. Photo: Jill Robbins

Disney Souvenirs and Merchandise

“Mom, can you buy me…”

Does that sound familiar?

The Disney Parks, resorts and Disney Springs have incredible shopping. From high-end clothes and accessories (Tommy Bahama, Vera Bradley, Dooney and Bourke and more have adorable Disney lines) to princess dresses to mouse ears to pin trading pins, there’s so much cool stuff to buy.

So. Much. 

In Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, you can build a custom droid (highly recommend) or your own lightsaber. If you’re a real Star Wars fan, there’s an incredible array of art and merchandise. Check out a video of the experience on our Facebook page!

I find it helpful to set a limit on souvenir spending. You can set a per-trip or per-day limit or have your child bring his or her own spending money. Talk about (or at least think about) what you really want to come home with and try to plan as best you can.

To save a little, do your souvenir shopping at the Disney Outlet in Orlando.

If you think this first trip to Disney might be the start of MANY trips to Disney, consider purchasing a Disney Annual Pass.

SheBuysTravel Tip (and a Warning): It’s impossible to plan for all the cute stuff you’re going to see and want. It’s so tempting. If you have a big budget and lots of room in your suitcase, Disney World really is a fantastic place to have fun shopping. 

How Can I Afford a Disney vacation?

This answer, of course, depends on your family. The following insights are based on my family’s planning style and things we’ve learned along the way. 

Plan in Advance

Disney allows you to book resort hotel rooms up to 500 days in advance with a minimal down payment. The balance is due seven days before your trip. Get Away Today  (which we always recommend) will hold your Disney vacation for just $175 down.  

Once you book your room and have an amount, you know how long you have to pay it. If you’re booking far out, divide the amount monthly or however it makes sense to you to divide it. Think of this as putting your vacation on layaway. 

Be Mindful of Your Kids’ Ages to Save Money

Children under 3 do not need a park ticket. This means there is no charge for their hotel, there is no charge for their park tickets, and there is no charge for the Dining Plan (as long as they eat off an adult’s plate).

Kids ages 3 to 9 pay kid prices. Kids 10 and up pay full adult prices. To save the difference between child and adult tickets, consider taking the kids before they turn 10. 

Disney Gift Cards

We let our families know that a Disney gift card in any amount is what we want most for birthdays and Christmas. You can also buy them yourself throughout the year and save them for your vacation. 

If you have a Target RedCard you can save 5% on your Disney Gift Card purchases. You may see Disney Gift Cards at Sam’s Club or other large retailers at a discounted rate. 

Consider an Annual Pass

An annual pass may sound like a huge splurge but depending on how long you’ll be at Disney it might actually make sense. An annual pass will give you access to hotel sale discounts and food discounts. Learn more about annual passes here.

My Personal Budgeting Tips

We use miles and points for our airfare. This requires finding the right card for your needs and being careful with your credit and paying balances off monthly. When done right, you can get a lot of freebies and benefits this way. Our family pays for the majority of flights with points. We’ve also qualified for Companion Passes through Southwest Airlines and our kids fly almost free.

I also plan what and where we are going to eat on every trip. Yes, that removes some of the spontaneity of our vacation but it helps save time and money. I look at menus ahead of time and have my kids figure out what they want. This gives me a better idea of what we’ll spend and is such a time saver. 

We generally eat two meals and one or two snacks each day at Walt Disney World. We’ll typically have a bigger breakfast and have snacks instead of lunch. We typically do one table service meal per day.  

Disney Vacation Club Membership

We are also Disney Vacation Club members, which means we typically stay in a deluxe villa, which has cooking facilities. The Disney Vacation Club is essentially a Disney time share and my family and I love it. You can rent DVC villas or renting DVC points (the latter is usually the best deal) even if you’re not a DVC member.

DVC Villas are more expensive than deluxe resort hotel rooms but they are also larger and more homelike. There are four levels (studio, one bedroom, two bedroom and three bedroom) and all but the studios have a full kitchen and laundry facilities. 

Staying in a DVC villa saves us money on food. I’m not a huge fan of cooking on vacation but buying easy breakfast items, sandwich fixings and snacks to keep in our kitchen helps drive our overall vacation cost down. 

Where Can I Find Disney Discounts?

We recommend you first check with our partner, Get Away Today. The company offers amazing service and great prices on discounted tickets for Walt Disney World, as well as other Orlando area attractions.

Also check directly on the Walt Disney World website. The home page is where you will find the latest deals and offers for the general public.

If you are a Florida resident, you can enjoy great savings. Currently, Walt Disney World offers 40% off a four day ticket and 30% off a three day ticket. Residency must be verified online.

If you are military or retired military, Disney offers special pricing on park tickets as well as a heavily discounted Memory Maker photo package. Read more about Disney’s military discounts, including who is eligible.

BEFORE Your Disney Vacation

Use Our Disney World Packing List

What you take – and don’t take – are important here. We’ve perfected our Disney World packing list based on hundreds of trips to Walt Disney World by our experienced SheBuysTravels writers.

What you need to pack for Disney World will depend on your length of stay, what you’re going to do during your trip, the season (somewhat – Central Florida is usually warm or hot) and the age of your kids.

For the most part, you’ll want casual clothes, although some restaurants, including California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Jiko at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, have dress codes. But it’s still pretty casual — no tank tops, swimwear or cutoffs allowed.

My best packing advice is to go through your schedule before you leave (yes, you should know what you’re doing each day) and select clothes for those activities. I even go so far as to pick out what my family will wear each day in the parks and pack it in a gallon-sized plastic bag, labeled with the day and/or park name. You might think this is overkill but it makes getting ready for the day in a hotel room a lot easier.

And, keep in mind, it’s Disney, not the moon. The retail stores on property will probably have what you need if you forget something. You can also order from Amazon Prime Now for same-day delivery.

Disney dad using My Disney Experience App in Magic Kingdom
One of the Disney FAQs I get when I am in the park is about the My Disney Experience app. It always amazes me that so many people don’t know of it before their trip. The app is your friend. Photo: Jill Robbins

Set Up Your Walt Disney World Account and Download the Disney App

Repeat after me: I will download the My Disney Experience app.

The Disney app is my absolute lifeline when I’m at Walt Disney World and I’m a veteran. Each time I go, I am astounded at the people I encounter who do not have the app and don’t even know about it!

There is an app. Tell the others. The app can do so many things: Open the door to your resort hotel room, tell you how long the waits are for rides and attractions, make dining reservations and more.

Right now, contactless is the way to go in order to help guests maintain distance and keep everyone as safe as possible.

I was able to check in to my resort hotel and completely bypass the front desk by using the app. I was playing in Magic Kingdom when I got the notification via the app that my room was ready. We rolled up to the Gran Destino Tower at Disney’s Coronado Springs and went right to our room.

2 kids in Tomorrowland
Definitely use your Disney app for mobile ordering. We ordered breakfast sandwiches at The Lunching Pad, which you see behind my boys, while we were in line to get into the park. Photo credit: Jill Robbins

Mobile Ordering at Disney

One of the best uses of the app right now is Mobile Ordering. This has always been a time saver but right now, it helps keeps the lines at the quick service restaurants shorter and makes it easier to stay socially distant.

With all things Disney, embrace the technology. It really will make your visit go so much more smoothly.

You can also download the Play Disney app. It’s got fun trivia games you can play at home or while waiting in line at the parks. If you turn on the location settings, the app will know where you are and unlock special things you can do in line for certain attractions. It’s a lot of fun and helps pass the time.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Play Disney eats up a lot of battery life on your phone so pack an extra power supply to get you through the day.

How Can I Save Money in the Parks?

Once you are in the parks, all of the attractions and entertainment (shows, character interactions, when available) are included in your park admission. Your biggest expenses inside the parks will be food and merchandise.

The easiest way to save money on food is to bring your own. Here are the rules:

“Guests are allowed to bring outside food and nonalcoholic beverage items into the park for self-consumption, provided they are not in glass containers and do not require heating, reheating, processing, refrigeration or temperature control and do not have pungent odors. Inform a Security Cast Member of any food items when you enter the park.”

While you can’t bring a cooler full of snacks into Walt Disney World, you can pack simple snacks like energy bars, peanut butter sandwiches and trail mix.

I can find food I love at all of the Disney Parks but I think the best snacks are at EPCOT.

Make sure to budget for shopping and souvenirs. Photo credit: Jill Robbins

Disney Souvenirs

In the past, we have bought our kids’ autograph books and Disney t-shirts on Amazon or Etsy and gotten much cheaper prices than we pay in the parks. Disney ears can also be purchased on Etsy for (usually) less than the going rate in the park retail shops.

If you are on a budget but still want to get into the spirit of things, you absolutely can. It just requires a little more planning ahead of time.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Check out this list of park/resort freebies.  

What is Park Hopping?

Park hopping is going to more than one park in a day, as in hopping from park to park. This is a category of ticket so if you want this option, your ticket will cost more. You can park hop after 2pm only.

An example of park hopping would be getting up in the morning and going to Magic Kingdom. You spend the morning riding rides and then take Disney transportation to EPCOT after lunch when park hopping opens at 2pm. After, you go back to your resort hotel and enjoy the pool or a nap. Later that evening, you’ll return to Magic Kingdom for the fireworks.

Is Park Hopping Worth the Extra Cost?

I think it is, although get ready, I’m going to contradict myself. Even a planner like me appreciates that spur of the moment decisions sometimes just work. I like the flexibility a Park Hopper offers.

On a pre-pandemic visit, my kids and I planned to do EPCOT, from open to close. But, as evening rolled around, we started talking about how fun it would be to ride the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Spur of the moment, we hopped on the bus, rode the ride, caught the end of the fireworks hosw and then called it a day.

If we’d not had the Park Hopper tickets, which I usually buy “just in case” we couldn’t have done that. Would we still have had fun if I’d bought the cheaper tickets and stayed at EPCOT? Of course. But our days was just a little bit more magical because we had that Park Hopper.

Having a Park Hopper also allows you to adjust your plans for weather and move to a park with more indoor attractions.

If you are down to the wire with budget, skip the Park Hopper. Just make your plans and stick to them. You will save money. Bottom line, it’s flexibility versus money spent and you have to decide which wins.

One of the most frequent Disney World FAQs I get is "Should I buy Memory Maker?"
I love how Disney Memory Maker lets me get in the picture. Photo credit: Disney PhotoPass

Should I Buy Memory Maker?

This is a yes for me.

First, let’s talk about what Memory Maker is. Memory Maker is pre-purchasing all of your Disney PhotoPass photos. Every time a Disney photographer takes your picture and every time your picture is taken on a ride or attraction, those pictures are stored in your Disney account. Make sure you have the photographer scan your MagicBand or paper ticket so the image aligns with the account.

You’ll also get fun magic shots (characters magically appearing in your finished photos, like Tinkerbell in your hand or a hitchhiking ghost alongside you) and fun videos. I’ve also always gotten stock images of the iconic Disney landmarks (i.e. Cinderella’s Castle, the Tree of Life, etc) in my gallery, as well as some fun video images.

If you buy Memory Maker at least three days before your visit, you’ll pay $30 less than you’ll pay while on your vacation.

Family in front of EPCOT ball
One of the Disney World FAQs I get most often is “Is Memory Maker worth it.” This is one of the Magic Shots – obviously, we didn’t see Figment while at EPCOT but he magically appeared in our photo! Photo credit: Disney Photopass

For me, pictures are the best vacation souvenirs of all. We are big pin trading people (more on that in a minute) but we are not big merchandise people so I’m absolutely willing to pay for this every time we go. We all know moms are typically the last to get into the picture and Memory Maker helps us do that.

SheBuysTravel Tip: If you buy Memory Maker, make an effort to look for the Disney PhotoPass photographers. They are not difficult to spot but they are also not going to run after you and ask if you want your picture taken. There can be a small line to wait in, but most of them go pretty quickly.

How Do We Stay Cool at Disney World?

It’s really hard! Orlando is hot and humid nearly all year round and summers can be brutal.

Wear loose, lightweight, breathable clothing. Make sure you have a hat. If you have long hair, I recommend wearing it up off your neck.

Stay Hydrated and Take Breaks

Keeping up with your water intake might not make you feel cooled down, but it will help keep your body cool. We also like to take frequent rest breaks in shady spots where we can take off our face masks for a few minutes.

Want more tips on how to stay cool at Disney plus some great recommendations for products that help you get through a hot, busy day? Check out this guide to keeping cool at Disney for info on cooling towels, portable fans and even wicking underwear.

You do not need a MagicBand to get into the park but it is a great way to keep track of your park tickets and other reservations. Photo credit: Jill Robbins

Do I Need a MagicBand?

Disney did away with free MagicBands for resort guests and that’s made this one of the most asked Disney FAQs right now.

The answer is maybe. The Disney MagicBand is not your ticket; it’s a place to store your ticket. If you’ve ever used Apple Pay for anything or stored a ticket in Apple Wallet, think of it like that.

You do need a ticket to get into the park (and right now, a reservation.) Link your park tickets and any other reservations you have and a payment method to your Disney account and MagicBands and you can use your MagicBand instead of pulling out your park ticket or your wallet. I promise it is not complicated. Getting all of this set up inside your Disney Account is very intuitive. If you are going to use Genie+ to skip lines, I’d recommend MagicBands. You’ll need to scan in on every Genie+ ride and it makes it much easier. If you have a free MagicBand from a previous trip, you can still use that.

What is Pin Trading?

Pin trading is a fun Disney pastime (and kind of expensive hobby, TBH) that you can do inside the parks, at the resorts and on a Disney cruise.

To start, you need to purchase a pin lanyard or some kind of other wearable pin storage. I have a small pin book with a long strap that I can wear like a crossbody bag. It holds a lot of pins but isn’t too heavy. You buy a couple of pins and you’re off!

You can trade pins with Disney Cast Members or other guests you see wearing pin lanyards. Most retail shops and resort have a pin board you can trade with. Sometimes you’ll see it in full view.  Other times, it’s behind the counter and you’ll have to ask for it.

How Pin Trading Works

It’s super simple. You give one and take one. It’s easy to trade with Cast Members. They’ll trade whatever pins you offer. If you want to trade with a regular person, some negotiation may be required. If a trade isn’t acceptable to you, propose an alternative. You can also nicely say no.

I have a few pins that are extra special. They’re either rare or they mean something to me and I wouldn’t trade them for just anything.

We also buy pin packs (multiple pins in one pack). These are our “trade pins.” You can also buy “grab bags” or bags of “mystery pins” that can be a little cheaper.

We keep our trade pins separate from ones we don’t want to give away. I guess we are “pin collectors” versus pin traders! In the two years we’ve been avidly doing this, we have acquired way more than we’ve given away.

You can buy pins online but beware of fakes.

Don’t see the answer to your question in this list of Disney World FAQs? Leave a comment for us and we’ll answer!

Thank you for letting us help you with your Walt Disney World FAQs! Photo credit: Jill Robbins

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