Planning 101

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By Carol Garcia

In the course of collecting questions for Magically Speaking, sometimes we find that some questions require a little more discussion. In this case, we had one reader, Nancy, write in with many frequently asked questions. So, in order to help Nancy, and likely a lot of other planning novices, we will go over some Disney trip-planning basics.

Is it best to stay on property?

Most Disney planners will definitely say “yes” to this question. While there is nothing wrong with staying off-site, there are benefits to staying on-property. Probably one of the biggest advantages is being immersed in the magic. From the time you enter property, you are a guest of Disney. The details are all around you, and it makes your stay that much more enjoyable.

There are more tangible benefits as well. Resort guests don’t pay to park at the parks. If you’re planning on driving rather than using Disney transportation, that can really add up. Also, your resort key can be used for room charges throughout the property. It can be a lot easier to not have to carry cash or credit cards with you. Any purchases you make can also be sent pack to your resort gift shop for pick up. That means no lugging around the giant plush Minnie Mouse for your niece at home. Resort guests can also book their dining at 180 days out from their check-in date. That means subsequent days in your trip can be booked before off-property or local guests can make their reservations.

Finally, there are Extra Magic Hours. Only on-site guests with a room key are able to take advantage of these extended hours. If you are traveling at a busy time, or really any time you would like to avoid crowds, this is a great perk.

When is the best time of year to go to WDW?

Well, anytime is a good time, we think, but some could definitely be better than others. There is no magic date that is perfect since “best” can mean lots of things.

If you are looking to avoid crowds, any time the kids are in school is less busy than when they are out. Just remember, though, that not all school schedules are created equal. Local children may be out of school earlier than your out-of-state children. Different parts of the country have different schedules as well. Spring break does not necessarily fall the week after Easter, so much of March and into April can be busy.

If you are looking for nice weather, the summer isn’t your time. It is hot and humid in Florida for the summer months. Cooler weather in the winter can still be pleasant, but can also be a little unpredictable. Some December days are quite warm, while others make wandering the parks rather chilly. For a look at historical temperatures, visit our weather page. The spring and fall are wonderful times to visit, if you can avoid the school breaks.

Rates for Disney hotels are broken down by season. The lower seasons are the least expensive times. They also tend to be the times when Disney is expecting the lowest crowds. Just remember, lower crowds also translate into shorter park hours, so plan accordingly.

Generally speaking, January and February are nice times to visit, although President’s Day Weekend can draw crowds. April (after Easter) through the first two weeks of May is quite pleasant. The second week of August and September are still quite hot and now have free dining, but are still good options. October and all of its fall festivities are pleasant and much cooler than the summer months. If you want to celebrate Christmas at Disney, opt for the first two weeks in December, before the schools are on break.

I have seen multiple phone numbers listed for reservations. Which number should I use?

The phone number for reservations is 407/W-DISNEY (407 934-7639). You can also book online at or contact your travel agent.

Is there a best time to call?

Not necessarily. Hold times are longer when discounts are released. It’s not always best to call too close to closing time, either.

Is it possible to get room upgrades at WDW, and if so, what are your suggestions for doing so?

Well, room upgrades are usually the luck of the draw. A smile and a polite word will make your experience better and could help, but resort occupancy can’t be changed. Rooms are assigned before the guests arrived, so the front desk doesn’t always have the ability to give an upgrade. It’s best to book the room type you really want. But you are at Disney and sometimes some Pixie Dust will come your way.

When are the best discounts given at WDW?

In the past few years, the free dining promotion has been a crowd favorite. How can eating for free, especially if you’re feeding a family, not be a good discount? As with everything, though, there is a trade-off. Deep discounts mean more people take advantage of the discount.

What are your other options? Disney discounts are harder to predict than they used to be. There are discounts for Florida residents, discounts for annual passholders and discounts for the public at large. Planning a trip around when a discount is released is not really possible. If you’re flexible, try to book a trip when you can find an attractive rate.

How far out does Disney publish their discounts?

There is no hard-and-fast rule as to timing of discounts. Usually you will find discounts several months in advance. If you have a particular time in mind, book a trip you can afford. If a discount is released, then you can get it applied. If not, then you already know your price. Try to work several months in advance. Again, this is the time that flexibility is key. Try to book when you find a deal you are happy with.

If you reserve a room and a better price comes out, how do you get the discount applied to your reservation, or do you have to make a new reservation?

Discounts are often limited in quantity. The availability by resort or even room type is often different. So, when a discount is released, you need to be on the phone as soon as possible when it is released. Again, flexibility is key. You might have to change resorts to get the better deal.

This, in our somewhat biased opinion, is why booking with a Disney-specialized travel agency, like The Magic for Less Travel, is so beneficial. We can speak for the agents there regarding the policy on code releases. They will work for you to apply any discounts without you having to be on the phone hoping to catch a price drop. While there are no guarantees, if the code can be applied, they will find the information and apply the discount code without you having to do anything. There is nothing like receiving the e-mail saying you just saved money.

Where is the best place to stay if you will not be renting a car? Which resorts have the best transportation to the theme parks?

These two questions are very much related, so we’ll tackle them together. Any resort on-property offers complimentary transportation to guests. It really isn’t necessary to rent a car if you don’t want to. Many guests prefer to not deal with driving while on their trips and leave the driving to Disney. Transportation will be via monorail, bus, or boat, depending on the resort. The Yacht and Beach Club and Boardwalk Inn even make foot traffic the mode of choice. Guests can walk to Epcot from these resorts. To find out transportation method and approximate travel times from any of the Disney resorts, visit our Resort Information page and select your resort of choice.

The best places, which we will assume means fastest to get to from a park, are the resorts on the monorail line. Not taking a bus to the Magic Kingdom is very convenient. Even having to transfer monorails to get to Epcot isn’t too bad. As stated above, you can even walk to Epcot from the Yacht and Beach Club or Boardwalk Inn.

One factor in choosing a resort (aside from price and amenities) might be your favorite park. If you plan on spending the most time at Epcot, an Epcot-area resort would be more convenient. If you love Animal Kingdom, then Animal Kingdom Lodge or Pop Century would be the closest.

How much time or how many days do you need to see each theme park?

You’ve probably heard it before, but it bears repeating: you won’t be able to see or do it all. It’s not even worth trying. Do try to see the highlights of each of the four theme parks and spend some time relaxing, too.

At a minimum, you will need one day for Animal Kingdom, one day for Disney’s Hollywood Studios, one day for the Magic Kingdom, and two days for Epcot (one day for each section of the park – Future World and World Showcase). If you have young children (or just young-at-heart people in your party), additional time at the Magic Kingdom would be justified. That means about six days before you factor in water parks, mini-golf and Downtown Disney. If you don’t have that much time, don’t worry. Just start with your must-do list and adjust from there. There is much to do and see at each park, but seeing what most interests your family is what will make your trip memorable.

We hope that this helps you start down the right planning path. Just remember, be flexible and have fun! You’re going to Disney World. Have a wonderful trip.

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