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

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Photo credit: Jill Robbins

I am a Disney Vacation Club member and I visit Walt Disney World with my family about once a year. When someone in my circle is thinking about planning a Disney Vacation, I’m always the go-to person for their questions. 

There’s good reason to that: Walt Disney World vacation planning can be overwhelming, especially for first-time visitors.

We get A LOT of questions at SheBuysTravel about Disney World, so we created this post as a resource or index for some of the most frequently asked questions about Disney World. 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. 

How to use these Disney FAQs

This is a ton of information. You should carve out some time to read through this list of Disney World FAQs before you dig into vacation planning. If you don’t see your question, ask in the comments or join our Disney Planning Facebook Group. Now, on to the answers to all your Disney questions!

Back side view of Cinderella Castle at Disney World
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

My best Disney World advice is: Do not attempt to wing it. Disney isn’t a “go with the flow” kind of vacation. Although more free-spirited travelers might resist the idea of planning everything to a tee, you will be glad you took the time to plan. A successful Disney vacation has a lot of moving parts, and it is important to stay on top of them. This guide is a great start.

Even if you use a Disney travel agent, which we recommend, you’ll still 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. You can also go digital and create a dedicated online space, such as a folder, smartphone note, or Pinterest board, to help keep all of your vacation stuff in one place.

What is the Best Time to Go to Disney World?

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

The answer: It depends. We don’t always have complete flexibility regarding vacation times, so my bottom line is that you should go when you can, and everything else will fall into place. 

Weather and crowds will factor into the equation when determining the best time to go to Disney World. In general, spring break, summer, and holidays are crowded. This makes sense: 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 are on a school vacation, so is everyone else. 

I suggest looking at a Disney World crowd calendar when making your plans. They are easy to find online, and 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 equal more time spent waiting in lines.

Central Florida is hot, or at least warm, most of the year. Based on weather alone, 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.

Join our Private Disney FB Group for more tips! JOIN HERE

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, since this brings more people into the parks.

How Far Out Should I Plan My Disney Vacation

Twelve months out is a good place to start planning your first visit. I acknowledge life’s unpredictability, and sometimes, last-minute vacations just make sense, but if you’ve never been to Disney World, 12 months is a sweet spot. 

Seasoned Disney pros who understand how to navigate the many parts of a Disney vacation will probably have an easier time with shorter-notice trips. But if it’s your first visit, more time is ideal. 

Once you have decided on your dates, I recommend booking your hotel and buying your park tickets. After you purchase your park tickets, find out if your ticket category requires a reservation. It probably doesn’t, but check to be sure. Park reservations were a thing from 2021, when the parks re-opened after the pandemic closure, to early 2024, so you might still hear people talk about needing park reservations. 

If you buy a date-based ticket, which is what most vacationers buy, you do not need a reservation, but certain categories, such as group tickets and Disney’s Military Salute tickets do require reservations. See this reference for the most up-to-date detail.

SheBuysTravel Update: If you hear someone talking about needing park reservations, they’re probably working off outdated info since  park reservations were required until recently. Plus, Disney changes their policies without warning, so once you get on board with a Disney vacation, ensure you’re keeping yourself updated.

Help! I’m Already Confused! Get Help Planning Your Disney Vacation

If you’re already starting to go into information overload, consider working with a Disney-authorized travel planner. 

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 take your family to Disney World, ask for a free quote.

A boat on the water at Animal Kingdom, one of four Disney World theme parks
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

How Long is the Ideal Disney Vacation?

For a first visit, I recommend five to seven days, understanding that not all families have the luxury of taking a trip of that length. If you can’t spend at least four days at Disney World, I recommend postponing your trip until you can stay for at least that long. 

Walt Disney World has four theme parks, two water parks, two 18-hole miniature golf courses, and Disney Springs, a shopping and entertainment district. While you shouldn’t try to see everything in one trip — because that’s impossible — dedicating one full day to each of the four theme parks is ideal. 

I strongly recommend having a non-park day to chill at your resort or explore Disney Springs. Five to seven days gives you time to experience most things, visit all the parks relatively unhurriedly, and not feel exhausted at the end of your trip. 

The water parks are great, but if you’re short on time, especially if it is your first visit, they are skippable, as are the miniature golf courses.

But What if I Only Have One Day?

It happens. Here’s my best advice. 

Suppose you are a first-time Disney visitor with minimal time. In that case, I recommend spending your day at 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 is also a great option for younger kids. You’ll see many Disney Junior characters and Pixar friends. Toy Story Land is really, really cool for kids of all ages.

If you are pairing Disney with another Florida city, I recommend you do Disney first, especially if your second destination will move at a slower pace. Ditto for land and sea vacations, combining Disney World with a Disney Cruise leaving from nearby Port Canaveral. 

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

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

Should I Stay at a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel?

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

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 a simple choice between on-property and off, I’d choose on-property every time, especially if you are shorter on time. 

Walt Disney World has a resort hotel for everyone and every budget. There are three levels of resort: Value, moderate, and deluxe.  Value is obviously the least expensive option. Moderate and deluxe hotels have larger rooms, are generally closer to the parks, and 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.

SheBuysTravel Tip: 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

How to Choose a Disney Resort

It depends on what kind of vacationer you are and what your budget is. If you plan to be in the parks from rope drop – that’s Disney-speak for park opening – to close and don’t care much about hotel amenities, such as higher thread count linens or a balcony, a value resort might make more sense. Going a bit cheaper on accommodations can also leave room in your budget for a splurge like character dining or more souvenirs. 

If hotel amenities are important and you plan to spend time enjoying the resort as well as time in the parks, a deluxe resort is the ticket, provided you have the extra room in your budget. I enjoy the subtle theming at the deluxe resorts, which is less traditionally Disney than the value resorts, which have colorful larger than life character statues and might appeal more to children.

Whichever you decide, I recommend picking one end of the spectrum or the other and skipping the moderate resorts. The two main differences between value and moderate resorts:

  • The size of a standard room
  • The pool areas

Moderate resorts have larger, themed pools with slides whereas value resorts have basic pools. I don’t think this jump in amenities is worth the extra money. First-time visitors should go budget or go big.

Disney’s Deluxe-Level Resorts have more elaborate pools. Photo: Walt Disney World Photographer Todd Anderson

Recommendations for First-Time Visitors

We have stayed both on and off property. We’ve stayed at partner/good neighbor hotels (certain resort hotels offering 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. 

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. Walt Disney World is about the size of San Francisco so there is definitely a learning curve to navigating your way around. 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

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

Uber, Lyft, taxis, and private car services are all solid options to get from Orlando International Airport (MCO) to Disney World. There are also private shuttles that must be booked in advance.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Before you book your flights, make sure you know whether you’re flying into MCO or Orlando Sanford, It’s a smaller airport farther away from Disney World. You might get a cheaper flight to Sanford, but you’ll probably pay more to get from the airport to Disney

Disney Parking Fees to Consider

If you are renting a car or driving, Disney charges a per-day fee for resort 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. 

Should you have a car at Disney? While not absolutely necessary if you’re staying “in the Disney bubble” – AKA staying at a Disney hotel and not planning to go anywhere besides the parks and Disney Springs – I enjoy having a car at Disney World. While transportation to the parks and Disney Springs is included in the cost of on-property hotel stays, the lines for buses can often be long, especially at the end of the night. I like being able to come and go on my timetable versus waiting for a bus.

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 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 8. Kids this age will likely have a favorite Disney character and the experience of seeing their favorites is magical for them. My sons were in the first grade the first time we took them to Disney World and they truly believed that the guy dressed up like Peter Pan was the real deal. It was very special. 

Although Disney is very stroller-friendly, I think the experience is better when you’re not encumbered by a stroller or having to carry small children who are too tired to walk on their own. Every family has a different perspective on this.

Family of four with Mike and Sully.
Younger kids’ reaction to characters is quite magical. Photo: Jill Robbins.

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. Kids who are at least 48 inches tall can ride all the rides in the park. Some of the rides might be scary for younger kids, though. There’s no height requirement for The Haunted Mansion, but younger kids may find it too intense. 

Disney’s more thrilling rides are fairly mild when compared to other theme parks, such as Universal Studios. True adrenaline junkies might perceive these rides as too tame.

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

YouTube video

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 my best to convince them that this is a bad plan. I would tell them to find a few more days or move their trip to a time when they could stay longer. 

However, if you’re stacking Disney with another trip, such as a convention trip to Orlando, adding one day at Disney World makes a little more sense. 

If you really only have a day, here’s what to do:

  • Pick just one park
  • Make a list of your “Must Do’s” and “Must Eats
  • Plan to be there at park opening and stay until it closes
  • Buy Lightning Lane when available- more on that in a minute but it’s a paid “jump the line” pass

Should I Use a Travel Agent?

Yes. It costs you nothing to use an authorized Disney Vacation Planner like Get Away Today. 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 who 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 any 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 just one of the ways to get around Walt Disney World. Photo: Jill Robbins

How Does Disney Transportation Work?

Buckle up (pun intended). We’ve got a full guide to Disney transportation.

I’ve already mentioned that Disney World is about the size of San Francisco. You probably wouldn’t show up to explore San Fransisco via public transportation and expect all the buses and cable cars to be 100 percent intuitive with zero learning curve. 

The good news is, Disney transportation isn’t too difficult to figure out and there are plenty of Cast Members (Disney workers) who can answer your questions and point you to the right bus. Just be patient and build in about an hour to get from place to place. 

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 Disney transportation 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.

Disney Boats.
Transportation includes buses, the monorail, Disney water transportation, and the Skyliner. All of these help guests get around the parks and resort hotels. Photo credit: Walt Disney World photographer David Roark.

Free Disney Transportation

There are four free ways to get around Walt Disney World: buses, the monorail, Disney water transportation, and the Skyliner. Which mode of transportation you take will depend on where you start from and where you are going. The Boats and Skyliner don’t go everywhere. 

Rideshare at Disney World

There are also the Disney Minnie Vans. They’re specialized Lyft vehicles decked out like our favorite polka-dot-loving gal. Minnie Vans have two car seats and are operated by Disney Cast Members who know how to install them properly. 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. 

Minnie Vans are ordered through the Lyft app. If you check your Lyft app while on the Disney property, you should see the option for a Minnie Van. If you don’t see it, ask a Cast Member for assistance. 

A Minnie Van costs between $30 and $70, depending on where you’re going. It is substantially more expensive than regular Lyft or Uber, which is my favorite way to get around Disney. 

SheBuysTravel Tip: If you are short on time, consider using rideshare or driving vs. Disney’s transportation. 

Group of Disney adults using a Minnie Van.
Minnie Vans are specially outfitted Lyft vehicles you can summon using your Lyft app. Photo: Jill Robbins.

How Does the Disney Dining Plan Work?

The Disney Dining Plan allows you to prepay for your food, which is a great tool for staying on budget and avoiding 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.  

Starting January 9, 2024, guests staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel can add on one of two dining plans: the Disney Quick Service Dining Plan or the Disney Dining Plan. Both help you have some control over what you spend based on your budget and what kind of traveler you are. You can get the quick service plan if you prefer to be on the go. If you want sit-down dining experiences every day, there is a plan that caters to that, too. 

This link breaks down everything included in both plans to help you decide.

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.)

I still have a good stash of free Disney MagicBands we’ve collected through the years and I purchased the 2.0 version, MagicBand+ which has new and different styles to match your Disney outfits and interacts with your Disney environment. MagicBand+ can also be used as a DisneyBand+ aboard Disney Cruise Line ships.

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 the chef-curated restaurants in Disney Springs. Disney Springs also has nightlife options that child-free groups can stay up late for.

Carousel at Disney Springs.
There is a small carousel at Disney Springs that charges as per-ride fee. This is a fun thing to do on a non-park day. Photo: Jill Robbins.

Should I Visit Disney Springs?

Yes, time permitting. 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 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. 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. 

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

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.

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 cost money and may 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 wait times are usually minimal.

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.” That might not be the answer you were hoping for but this isn’t a cheap vacation. There are things you can do to cut costs when planning any vacation but 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 thought-starters to help you figure out your budget:

Transportation Costs to Get to Disney World

You’ll have to decide iwhether to fly or drive. Driving is almost always the cheaper option, especially for larger families. 

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, factor in the cost of gas, tolls, food and hotels along the way to Disney. 

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 and compare different lengths of stay to find what’s comfortable for you. If you can only afford a couple of days, that might be your sign to plan your trip a bit further out or to save more aggressively. 

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 and you should factor in the transportation time between parks when you think about whether a Park Hopper is worth it.

Disney World tickets are priced seasonally, which means tickets may cost more on weekends and higher demand times. 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 farther from the park usually means you will pay less money per night, but spend more 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 upwards of $500 per night at deluxe resorts, about $175 per night for value resorts, with the cost of moderate resorts landing somewhere in the middle. The time of year will impact the price. 

Disney also has a campground with both tent and RV sites.

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. Disney may charge you a fee to have an outside service deliver to your hotel.  

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. I think the savings are minimal when you stack it up against the time you’ll spend getting off property to eat.  

The Disney Dining plan rates – about $57-$95 per day for adults and about $28 for kids 3-9 is a pretty realistic idea of how much food costs at Disney World.

Woman eating Mickey pretzel.
Food at Disney adds up. We usually have one big meal per day and snack. Mickey-shaped food for the win! 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 in Disney Springs 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. 

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.

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: To save a little, do your souvenir shopping at the Disney Outlet in Orlando, although be warned, this is outside the parks and Disney transportation doesn’t stop here.

Droid Depot at Star Wars Galaxy's Edge.
There are tons of opportunities to purchase souvenirs at Disney World, such as The Droid Depot in Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. Photo credit: Walt Disney World photographer David Roark.

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.

Take Your Kids to Disney Before They Turn 10

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.

Family taking a picture with Figment.
Families can save money by visiting while their kids are under 10 to take advantage of kid prices. Photo credit: Disney Photographer Matt Stroshane,

Use 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. Snap them up – the savings might not be huge but they can add up if you buy enough gift cards. 

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.

My Personal Budgeting Tips

We use miles and points for our airfare as much as possible. This requires finding the right card for your needs, being careful with your credit, and paying balances off monthly. We currently use a cobranded Delta American Express card which helps us earn miles. 

We’ve also used Southwest Airlines in the past and qualified for Companion Passes through Southwest Airlines, which enabled our kids to fly free for a year. I currently find Southwest less reliable than it was a few years ago, but I’ll note that they offer all ticketed passengers two free bags, so if you’re not a light packer or plan to shop, this can be quite a savings, with airlines charging $30-$60 per checked bags. A cobranded credit card will usually get you free checked bags, too, so shop around. 

We generally have one big meal and two or three snacks each day at Walt Disney World. Our bigger meal will be breakfast or dinner, and we usually skip lunches at the parks and eat ice cream, pretzels, or popcorn.

Disney Vacation Club Membership

As I said, we are 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 timeshare, and my family and I love it. You can rent DVC villas or rent DVC points (the latter is usually the best deal) even if you’re not a DVC member.

DVC Villas are larger and more homelike than a hotel room, and most offer full kitchens and a washer/dryer. Although I’m not a huge fan of cooking on vacation, 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 for special offers.

Should I Get Genie+?

Disney Genie+ replaced the old FastPass+ system, so if you hear anyone talking about FastPasses, their info might be outdated. Disney Genie is free and is embedded in your My Disney Experience app, which is the mobile version of the Disney account you can set up for free. The app is also free to download.

Disney Genie helps you craft an itinerary based on interest and offers a Tip Board that lets you see wait times, plus a few other features. Genie was rolled out after I was already an experienced park visitor, so I have never found it particularly helpful, but I can see where it could be valuable for a newbie.

Genie+ is the paid version of Genie. The idea behind Genie+ is to allow purchasers to spend less time waiting in line by allowing them to make ride reservations and access to Individual Lightning Lanes. Guests can expect to use Genie+ to reserve ride times for two attractions per day, which is designed to give the purchaser a better experience. Everyone in your party must have Genie+ for this to work. It connects seamlessly to your Disney account, so it’s easy to keep your group together when making reservations. Prices start at $15 per person per day, but like everything else at Disney, it can cost more at peak times. 

Currently, there is not a ticket + Genie+ option. Genie+ must be purchased separately. This has changed since the program was rolled out and is always subject to change again without notice. 

But That’s Not All – Individual Lightning Lane

Genie+ will get you access to Individual Lightning Lanes, which is a pay-per-ride program. This will cost you an additional $10-$25 per person per ride. Yes, on top of Genie+ and your park ticket. You might find the layers of add-on pricing annoying but when you consider it is a nominal amount in the scope of the big picture and that this program is designed to reduce your time spent waiting in line, the upcharges might be more palatable. 

Disney’s website lists what rides and attractions fall under Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane so you can get an idea of what’s included. 

I Don’t Love it

I have used Genie+ twice and the most recent time was about a year ago. Disney sells a seemingly unlimited amount of Genie+ but they limit the reservations included with the purchase and they also limit the add-on Individual Lightning Lanes. It is possible to purchase Genie+ and not be able to purchase an Individual Lighting Lane because they’ve sold out. 

I had difficulty using the service to ride rides my family was interested in and we spent a lot of time refreshing the app trying to buy four Individual Lightning Lanes so we could ride Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and bypass an almost three-hour wait time. We were not successful, which is why I’m a little salty about it. I’d be more willing to pay for an extra service if there were guarantees but it isn’t set up that way. 

The upside to this is that if you manage to get a Lightning Lane, you will have a truly reduced wait time. But overall, I miss the system they had in place before Genie came to be. 

SheBuysTravel Tip: If you’re going to buy Genie+/Individual Lightning Lanes, don’t make other firm plans that day. The service will work best if you’re completely unencumbered and free to choose whatever ride reservations the app gives you. One of the reasons we didn’t have great success with Genie+ is that we were working with a firm dining reservation time. 

Do I Need a MagicBand+?

Disney did away with free MagicBands for resort guests and that’s made this one of the top 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 can link your park tickets and any other reservations to your Disney account and use your MagicBand+ to gain entry versus pulling out your ticket or wallet. If you are going to use Genie+ to skip lines, I’d recommend MagicBand+. You’ll need to scan in on every Genie+ ride/Lightning Lane and it makes it much easier.

SheBuysTravel Tip: If you have a free MagicBand from a previous trip, you can still use it.

Disney's MagicBand+ interacts with the environment at Disney World.
Disney’s MagicBand+ interacts with the environment at Disney World. Photo credit: Walt Disney World.

BEFORE Your Disney Vacation

Use Our Disney World Packing List

What you take – and don’t take – are important here.

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 and often find same-day or next-day delivery.

SheBuysTravel Tip: We’ve perfected our Disney World packing list based on hundreds of trips to Walt Disney World by our experienced SheBuysTravels writers.

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.

Play Disney App

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.

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. Annual Pass holders can also park hop.

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. 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.

Park Hopping is subject to park capacity limits.

Is Park Hopping Worth the Extra Cost?

I’ve so far preached planning every minute of your Disney day, so this might sound contradictory – I like buying the Park Hopper tickets because it allows flexibility and lets me change my mind. Sometimes, spur-of-the-moment decisions just work and I don’t mind paying a little more to be able to switch parks. 

Having a Park Hopper allows you to adjust your plans for weather and move to a park with more indoor attractions or to potentially move to a park with less crowds, although if one park has long lines, the rest of them might, too. 

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.

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

Should I Buy Memory Maker?

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. Magic shots are when characters magically appear in your finished photos, like Tinkerbell in your hand or a hitchhiking ghost alongside your family and fun videos. Memory Maker will also capture in-ride photos, although I recommend you tap your MagicBand+ on the screen when you exit the ride. MemoryMaker does a pretty good job at facial recognition if you forget. 

You can purchase Memory Maker One Day or Memory Maker, which includes all photos and videos from your vacation. You will save $25 if you purchase Memory Maker at least three days prior to your visit. 

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 the time, it goes 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, down to your underwear. Make sure you have a hat. If you have long hair, I recommend wearing it up off your neck. Carry a portable fan and a cooling neck towel for those really hot days.

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. Every Disney restaurant will give you a free cup of ice water — just ask.

We also like to take frequent rest breaks in shady spots or choose an indoor attraction or show where we can enjoy the air conditioning.

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 resorts 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.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Here’s our guide for first-time pin trading.

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 at the gift shops or kiosks in the park and use these as 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.

Beware of Fake Pins!

You can buy pins online, but beware of fakes. Authentic Disney pins often have official markings on the back, including a Disney copyright. A real pin will be of good quality with crisp, clear details, so if the painting looks shoddy or blurred, you might have a fake on your hands. The easiest way to tell if a pin is fake is to compare it to one you know is real and has been purchased from Disney. It is usually easy to tell the difference.

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

Jill Robbins is a freelance writer covering lifestyle, travel, health, and commerce. Her writing has appeared in SheKnows, HuffPost, Tripsavvy, Insider, AARP, and other publications. Jill lives in San Antonio with her husband and two youngest kids, although she’s usually somewhere else. You can find out what Jill is up to by reading her blog, Ripped Jeans and Bifocals.
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