How to Book a Disney Vacation: Tips You Need

Caroline Knowles Avatar
cinderella castle at night
Disney World’s Cinderella Castle at night. Photo credit: Yanlei Li /

Wondering how to book a Disney vacation for 2023? Trying to sneak a few Disney days in by the end of the year? Your perfect Florida getaway to Walt Disney World can seem like a lot of work when you look at all the parts. We walk you through what you need to know to have a magical Disney trip including how to book a Disney vacation, fun extras whether you’re with family or on a girlfriend getaway, when to use a travel agent, and how far in advance to book.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, planning a Walt Disney World vacation can be overwhelming. In an effort to simplify things, I’ve put together some tips on how to book a Disney vacation to help make the process a little easier. We’re going to assume that you’ve already set your Disney budget and understand how much Disney costs. These tips cover important information for those guests planning to stay on-site with Walt Disney World Resort vacation packages. If you’re planning to stay off-site definitely check out our list of fantastic properties!

SheBuysTravel Tip: You can now book Disney vacations up to 500 days in advance! All it takes is a $200 down payment. The balance isn’t due until 30 days prior to travel. You can get details on this, as well as help booking, from our partners at Get Away Today. Not only does the company have the lowest prices, it offers a best price guarantee. If you ever find park tickets cheaper, Get Away Today won’t just match the price, the company will beat it.

star wars galaxys edge disney lit up at dawn against a dark sky
Want to travel to another galaxy at Disney? This ode to Star Wars is a must do! Disney Genie+ service will add Lightning Lane (paid) access. Photo credit: Nasreen Stump

Set Up a My Disney Experience Account

This should 100% be your very first step. This account will rule all of your Walt Disney World reservations. FYI- if you’re headed to Disneyland there is a separate app for that. Your My Disney Experience account will have information on your travel party, hotel room reservations, Walt Disney World theme park tickets and more. The accompanying smartphone app will allow you to view maps, see wait times, order quick service dining, and set up Genie+ times. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Read More: Wondering whether Disney is the right theme park for you? Check out our analysis of Disney World vs. Universal Studios.

Choose Your Travel Dates and Make a Disney Park Reservation

The first step to booking any kind of vacation is knowing when you want to go.

When it comes to a Walt Disney World vacation you should really try to book at least 3-6 months in advance. Why? Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs) open 60 days from your arrival date. If you are looking for character dining reservations, put that at the top of your Disney To-Do List!

There’s an advantage here for on-site guests. You can book up to 60 days in advance from your first arrival day for up to a 10 night stay. So at 6 a.m. ET 60 days before you get there you can call in and book dining for your entire trip, essentially giving you a head start of 1-9 days for the remainder of your stay.

If you aren’t sure when you want to visit, look at a crowd calendar to see what is recommended. If you can, avoid the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve at all costs. This is when crowds are at an all-time high.

Disney Changes To Be Aware Of

If you haven’t been to Walt Disney World since before Covid it definitely looks different. We’ve written an entire post about changes to expect in 2024. One major change is the Disney Park Pass Reservation System. To enter a Disney theme park, both a park reservation AND valid park admission for the same park on the same date are required. You cannot just buy park tickets and show up.

Once you have settled on your preferred travel dates, check park availability. After verifying availability purchase your tickets and then immediately log into your My Disney Experience account and book your theme park reservations.

SheBuysTravel Tip: A Disney Resort hotel reservation or a dining reservation within a park does not guarantee theme park access. Only a park reservation does that! Make sure to match in park dining reservations to your reserved parks to avoid disappointment.

kids jumping into pool at Coronado Springs Disney resort
A Disney travel agent can help you book a Disney resort with a great pool! This is the Dig Site Pool at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort. Photo: Jill Robbins

Contact a Disney Travel Agent

Did you read the first section and say “Huh?”. If you don’t want to deal with the details of park reservations, booking advanced dining, and keeping up with changes as they pop up you may want to consider using a travel agent. Travel agents specializing in Disney vacations can help you plan your vacation — for free. Seriously.

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Not only will they help you score that extra special breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table, but they can help take the stress out of the entire planning process.

The best part about using a travel agent is that you can do as much of the planning process on your own as you want to. With all of the changes as a result of Covid-19 it is even more important than ever to get help. One gigantic reason to use a travel agent is to skip hold times. Phone waits to hammer out details with Disney are lengthy. Let someone else sit on hold.

How to Book a Disney Vacation: Select Your Disney Resort Hotel

There is a Walt Disney World Resort hotel for just about every family vacation budget. The hotels come in four categories: Value, Moderate, Deluxe, and Deluxe Villas. Each category offers something unique.

The first question I am asked when someone is seeking Disney planning advice is: “Where should I stay?” This is a very personal decision that only you can make. Here are some facts that may help you narrow down your choices. Each room can accommodate a set number of guests, plus 1 child under age 3 in a crib.

Value Disney Resorts  

  • Affordable, comfortable & convenient for budget minded families
  • Standard rooms sleep up to 4 guests
  • Family suites sleep up to 6 guests
  • Quick-Service dining
  • Bus service and Skyliner (at some) transportation to the parks

Moderate Disney Resorts

  • Lush themes, affordable & relaxing
  • Standard rooms sleep 4-5 guests
  • Fort Wilderness Cabins sleep up to 6 guests
  • Table-Service Restaurants / Quick-Service dining
  • Themed pools & waterslides
  • Bus service, Skyliner (at some), & water launch (at some) Disney transportation to the parks

Deluxe Disney Resorts

  • Highly themed, fine dining, luxurious amenities
  • Standard rooms sleep 4-5 quests
  • Signature Dining restaurants / Table-Service restaurants / Quick-Service restaurants
  • Themed pools & waterslides
  • Bus service, water launch service or monorail service transportation to the parks

Deluxe Villa Resorts

  • Spacious, multi-room, condo-style resort offering the comforts & convenience of home
  • One, Two and Three bedroom villas offer full kitchens & in-room washer & dryers
  • Shared benefits of Disney’s Deluxe Resorts
  • Bus service, water launch service, Skyliner or monorail service transportation to the parks

You can also get access to some of the best Disney resort hotels via membership in the Disney Vacation Club, or more affordably by renting DVC points.

One thing to keep in mind when vacation planning is perks that might be associated with certain resorts. All on-property Disney resort hotels currently have access to Early Theme Park Entry. This 30 minute “headstart” is open to resort guests with a valid park reservation, park admission ticket, and resort ID (MagicBand, Key to the World card, or MagicMobile pass). However, Extended Evening Theme Park Hours are only available to deluxe resort guests. Extended Evening Hours are currently only available two nights a week at the EPCOT (Mondays) and Magic Kingdom (Wednesdays) parks. In December there are two extra Thursdays for Hollywood Studios. If your family used to love Extra Magic Hours this perk may be a good reason to choose Disney’s Contemporary Resort or the Grand Floridian over Art of Animation or Pop Century.

SheBuysTravel Tip: If it’s an EPCOT Extended Evening qualifying guests have an extra chance at 6pm to join the virtual queue for Guardians of the Galaxy. 

Transportation is part of determining how much it costs to go to Disney World.
You might choose your resort based on transportation. Disney resorts like the Polynesian, Contemporary, and Grand Floridian are conveniently located on the monorail. Photo: Sarah Gilliland

Select Your Disney Theme Park Tickets

How many days do you want to visit the theme parks? There are four theme parks – Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and two water parks – Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and Disney’s Blizzard Beach. Each of these parks requires a ticket for entry. The only location in Walt Disney World that does not require a ticket is Disney Springs.

Once you know how many days you will need to decide if you want Base tickets or Park Hopper tickets. What’s the difference? Base tickets allow you entry into only one park per day. Park Hopper tickets allow you hop to another theme park, usually after 2pm. Disney recently announced that they may update those times based on availability and crowds. If you look at the park hours calendar you can check the Park Hopper Availability time. Here’s how to decide whether a Park Hopper is worth it for your family.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Walt Disney World is a giant place. There really is no way to see and do it all in one visit. A 4-day Park Hopper ticket is a great option if you are trying to see as much of Disney World in one day as possible. Planning to visit one of the water parks? Consider adding the Water Park Fun & More Option. It is more economical to add this to your package than to pay for individual daily admission to one of the water parks.

Where Can I Buy Discount Disney Tickets?

Searching online for discount Disney tickets can feel overwhelming. It’s important to make sure you’re buying from a reputable website. 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, they 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 here.

Get Away Today is offering to hold your 2022/3 Disney vacation for just $200 down. Better yet, the final payment is due just 30 days before you go. So put your next Disney vacation on layaway and have fun planning your next trip!

Harambe at Disney's Animal Kingdom is where to find Tusker House restaurant.
One of the best ways to book a Disney vacation used to be with a dining plan or free dining offer. Unfortunately, Disney Dining plans are still suspended so meals like Tusker House restaurant will be paid for individually. Photo credit: WDW/David Roark

Select a Disney Dining Plan (Currently Suspended)

Editor’s note: Disney Dining Plans have been suspended into 2022 with no announcement yet about 2023. This section details how the Disney Dining Plan used to work. We fully expect Dining Plans will return at some point in the future. We will update the details once they’re announced.

To dine or not to dine, that is the question. Personally I am a huge fan of the Disney Dining Plan. I have traveled to Disney World with and without it and I will admit there are pros and cons. I think the pros outweigh the cons. There are four dining plans:

Quick-Service Dining Plan

If your family likes to eat on the go and doesn’t like to schedule sit-down meals, this is a great option for you. Each person gets the following per package night:

  • Two (2) Quick-Service meals
  • Two (2) Snacks
  • Refillable drink mug (to be refilled at self-service beverage islands at quick-service locations at any Disney Resort hotel)
people strolling in front of restaurants on the boardwalk at disney how to book a disney vacation
A great place for a walkabout, dining, and games, Disney’s BoardWalk is a great way to spend an evening after the parks.  Photo credit: Keri Baugh

Disney Dining Plan

If you are planning to book character dining meals this is a great plan to consider. Each person gets the following per package night:

  • One (1) Table-Service meal
  • One (1) Quick-Service meal
  • Two (2) Snacks
  • Refillable drink mug (to be refilled at self-service beverage islands at quick-service locations at any Disney Resort hotel)

Disney Dining Plan Plus

This dining plan is perfect for visitors who want more flexibility with their dining credits. Each person gets the following per package night:

  • Two (2) Meals per night of stay (any combination of Table-Service or Quick-Service meals)
  • Two (2) Snacks or Non-Alcoholic beverages
  • Refillable drink mug (to be refilled at self-service beverage islands at quick-service locations at any Disney Resort hotel)

Deluxe Dining Plan

Those families who are wanting to experience Signature dining restaurants and dinner shows (each take 2 dining credits per meal), this is a great option for you. Each person will enjoy the following per package night:

  • Three (3) Meals (*credits can be used as Table-Service or Quick-Service)
  • Two (2) Snacks
  • Refillable drink mug (to be refilled at self-service beverage islands at quick-service locations at any Disney Resort hotel)

Kids under the age of 3 do not pay for the Dining Plan and are required to eat off the plate of an adult, or you can buy them a meal from the children’s menu.

Beverages are included with each meal. Guests under 21 years of age may choose from a variety of nonalcoholic beverages. Guests 21 and older may order beer, wine and cocktails.

How to Book a Disney Vacation: Dining Reservations

With the absence of the Disney Dining Plan and the changing of the dining booking window it can feel a little more challenging to plan meals. There are some tricks though. Your booking window will open up at 6 a.m. Eastern Time 60 days prior to your first reservation. Try to be on as close to that window as possible and prioritize the reservations that are most important to you like any character meals or family favorites. Do not worry if you don’t get all of your desired reservations. It is very common for these reservations to book up completely 60 days out. As your travel dates get closer people tend to drop reservations as they finalize their itineraries.

If you aren’t utilizing a travel agent (who can watch for openings and book them) you may want to look at sites that alert you when reservations become available. Be warned that open spots go fast!

Sites SheBuysTravels have used in the past to track dining openings are MouseDining, MouseWatcher, and WDW Passport.  We’ve also had great luck snagging last minute reservations during our vacation.

Keep in mind that quick service dining is readily available as well. You can even order from within the My Disney Experience app. Some of our budget-minded writers also highly recommend planning to bring snacks and even lunch into the Disney theme parks to save money.

Build a droid at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge
The best souvenir at Galaxy’s Edge, make sure when Disney vacation planning that you reserve times for extras like building a Droid. Photo Credit: Breeze Leonard

Best Way to Book a Disney Vacation: Add-On Any Extras Ahead of Time

Keep in mind that many things require advance reservations at this time. If your child will want to build a droid at Disney’s Hollywood Studios or if your family wants to view the fireworks from a private boat (yes that’s a thing!) you’ll need to book it in advance.

disney cancellation policy 2022 best way to book a disney vacation with travel protection
Disney’s cancellation policy is not as all encompassing as trip protection. Be sure you look over both options when booking your trip. The best way to book a Disney vacation always includes a contingency plan. Photo Credit: Screenshot from Disney (click to go to page)

Disney Travel Protection Plan vs. Disney Cancellation Policy

Personally, I will not travel without vacation insurance. This is a small price to pay to in comparison to what you could lose should your vacation have to be canceled and you not be able to recoup the funds. Sadly, I have seen it happen. Time and time again. Disney offers a Travel Protection Plan for Walt Disney World®, Disneyland® Resort and Aulani Packages. This means if you have a room only booking or a ticket only booking you will need to look into insurance on your own.

Do you still need vacation insurance now? I think so, yes.

Plus, vacation insurance covers other expenses, like lost luggage and trip interruption. If you have insurance and you get sick or injured during your trip, you can file a claim for the missed portion of your trip. If you don’t have trip protection and get sick mid trip you’re out of luck on unused Disney World tickets.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Vacation insurance can be added to your Disney vacation package any time before you make your final payment. 

best way to book a disney vacation with travel protection exterior shot of cinema hall at all star movies resort
One key consideration for the best way to book a Disney vacation is how you’ll protect your investment. Even nights at value resorts like Disney’s All Star Movies add up. Disney’s Travel Protection Plan will give you peace of mind if things change. Photo credit: Nasreen Stump

What Does the Disney Travel Protection Plan Cover?

Here is a full list of what the Disney Travel Protection Plan covers. It is underwritten by Arch Insurance Company. In our opinion the best way to book a Disney vacation always includes travel protection. Between airline delay issues that could have you missing paid hotel reservations and days in the park to illnesses that could keep you from traveling it is worth it. You can view Disney’s Travel Protection Plan details here. Be sure to go to the drop down menu and enter your state so that you can see any exclusions or additions based on your residency.  You can also shop elsewhere for your trip insurance, just be sure to pay attention to exclusions and dates.

  • Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption– Reimburses up to total trip cost of the prepaid travel arrangements due to illness, injury and non-medical reasons such as job loss, military service and more
  • Trip Delay– Reimburses related expenses, up to $600 ($200 per day)
  • Baggage Loss-Reimburses up to $2,000 for lost, stolen, or damaged luggage and personal effects
  • Bag Delay-Reimburses the purchase of necessary personal items if your bags are delayed 12+ hours
  • Emergency Medical Protection-Provides up to $25,000 of coverage if you get ill or injured on your trip
  • Emergency Evacuation/Repatriation– Arranges and prepays for emergency medical transportation and other covered expenses
  • Travel Accident– Provides up to $25,000 in the event of accidental death or dismemberment
  • Rental Car Damage– Reimburses repair costs up to $25,000 in the event of collision, theft, damage or vandalism to rented vehicles

How Much Does Disney Travel Insurance Cost?

The Disney Travel Protection Plan costs $82.50 per adult and $6 per child under 18. If you are booking a 6 night, 7 day Disney trip for a family of 4 that includes a hotel room and 4 Park Hopper Plus park ticket with Genie+ you’re looking at a rough quote of $4883 at the time of this writing. For $177, roughly 3.6% of the cost of your trip without any other extras like flights, prepaid dining experiences, or booked extras, you can protect that investment.

Disney Vacation Planning

Those are the base items you’ll need to do to head to Disney with your family. Of course once you’ve planned the vacation part of it be sure to check out our Disney packing list and our list of Disney essentials to buy before your trip.

Caroline Knowles lives on the Gulf Coast in Fairhope, Alabama with her husband and two children. She is the owner of Magical DIStractions Travel Co., a travel agency that specializes in Disney, Universal, and all-inclusive travel. She is also the founder of Magical DIStractions, a website focused on her love for all things Disney.
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6 responses

  1. What site do you use to book your reservations that only require the 200 down?

  2. Need info on booking a summer vacation in June 2019 for my family.

  3. Can you make dining and fast pass reservations with just the $200 deposit? Or do you have to wait until the vacation is paid off?

    1. You can make all dining and FastPass+ reservations with just your $200 deposit. Dining reservations open 180 days prior to arrival and FastPass+ reservations open 60 days prior to arrival for on-site guests (30 days for off-site). Your balance isn’t due in full until 30 days before arrival.

  4. This helps so much to make sure the magic is not dampened with things we don’t know. Dinning plan, yes important

  5. 5