Walt Disney World® Planning Guide

Welcome to the One Smart Mouse Disney World Planning Guide! Here you’ll find everything you need to help plan the perfect trip or just learn about all that the resort has to offer. We have have saving tips for tickets and hotels, first-timer musts, or top recommended things to do, packages, Fastpass+, and more! There’s lots to talk about because the Walt Disney World Resort is huge! So get planning with the Disney World Planning Guide.

Theme Parks

There are 4 theme parks and 2 water parks at Walt Disney World (there are lots of other things to do as well not covered in this Disney World Planning Guide. Find them here.) The 4 theme parks are:

  1. Magic Kingdom
  2. Hollywood Studios
  3. EPCOT
  4. Animal Kingdom

Magic Kingdom is the most popular of the 4 theme parks and typically the busiest of them all. the park holds some of the most iconic Disney attractions including Space Mountain, The Jungle Cruise, Dumbo, Peter Pan’s Flight, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Splash Mountain to name a few. Of course one of the biggest draws to this park outside of the rides is Cinderella’s Castle and the nighttime fireworks show Happily Ever After. Just a few things you don’t want to miss!

Disney World Planning Guide

Hollywood Studios is the “movie” park. It used to be home to the Studio Tour and several stunt shows. While there are still some shows such as Indiana Jones, this park, in our opinion should be know as the “Star Wars” park. After acquiring the rights, Disney put theme to use right here at Hollywood Studios. There are several Star Wars shows and experiences throughout the day here including the family favorite Jedi Training. There are of course some classic attractions including Tower of Terror and Rock “n” Roller Coaster.

EPCOT is the food capital of Disney World and one of our favorite parks (we’re biased but read on). EPCOT is split into 2 main sections, Future World and World Showcase. Future World holds most of the attractions including Test Track and Soarin’ Around the World. It will soon be home to the new Guardians of the Galaxy ride though no details have been released other than it will be different than the one in California. Anywho, World Showcase is home to over 10 countries who have several things to offer guests who visit including shows, attractions, and most importantly food. You could spend 2 weeks in World Showcase eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner and never eat at the same place twice. Fantastic offerings from all over the world!

Animal Kingdom is where you go for an adventure! This unique park sits furthest away from anything on Disney World property. This is due to the fact that they have real animals on a massive 580 acre sanctuary. It’s the largest theme park in the world! If you want to experience something really awesome head straight for Kilimanjaro Safaris for a real-life safari with elephants, rhino, lions, crocodiles, hippos, giraffes, and more! Try going in the early morning as most of the animals are out then. Then go have fun in the new land: Pandora – World of Avatar and ride Flight of Passage. If you like a good roller coaster head to the peaks of Everest and don’t get caught by the Yeti!

Water Parks include:

  1. Disney’s Blizzard Beach
  2. Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon

Both parks are a lot of fun, we don’t prefer one over the other. Be sure to bring lots of sunscreen and big energy! Both parks have lots of great slides and pools for all ages. Get there early as shaded seats go quick!

Tickets

Let’s get down to business: Discount Disney World tickets.

There’s one seller we recommend over all other sellers and that’s Get Away Today. They have the best prices on Disney World tickets and can save you a TON over gate pricing. Be sure to check out their tickets and get ready to save! Read more about Discount Disney World tickets in our guide. This Disney World Planning Guide is already paying off!

There’s a lot to consider when purchasing Walt Disney World tickets. First, you’ll need to choose your ticket type. There are 3:

  1. Base Tickets
  2. Park Hopper Tickets
  3. Park Hopper Plus Tickets

Base Tickets allow you access to 1 park per day. You cannot visit more than 1 park. Once you pick one you’re stuck there the entire day. While is doesn’t offer much flexibility they are the cheapest of the tickets.

Park Hopper Tickets allow you to go between all 4 theme parks as much as you’d like each day. If you go into Animal Kingdom in the morning you can switch over to Magic Kingdom in the evening. There’s lots of flexibility in this ticket and we always recommend the Park Hopper. You’ll thank us and this Disney World Planning Guide later.

Park Hopper Plus Tickets give you the Park Hopper “plus” some extra fun things to do. It can be confusing so pay attention. Here’s a list of fun things you can do when you purchase this ticket:

  • 9 holes at Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course
  • Blizzard Beach Water Park
  • Typhoon Lagoon Water Park
  • Winter Summerland Miniature Golf
  • Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf
  • ESPN Wide World of Sport Complex

So those are the fun things you can do, now how can you use them? It’s based on however many days your ticket is. If you buy a 5 day Park Hopper Plus ticket you’ll receive 5 fun visits to do. And you can use them however you want in whatever order you want. Just keep in mind that you always only have 14 days to use EVERYTHING on your ticket from first use. That means you have to use your days at the theme park and your fun visits within 14 days of first use.

Dining

There’s a ridiculous amount of dining to be had at Walt Disney World. Our favorite place to grab some food is at EPCOT’s World Showcase. There’s a ton of options here between all the countries so each person in your group is usre to find something they like. Outside of EPCOT every theme park has lots of great restaurants to choose from and so do the resort hotels. We’ve been going for years and still haven’t eaten at them all!

Because there are so many offerings Disney has created several dining plans that guests can choose from when booking a package. Choose from the Quick Service Dining Plan, the Disney Dining Plan, and the Deluxe Dining Plan. One of them will meet your needs where you’re always on the go (Quick Service Plan) or want to stop and enjoy a nice meal with friends and family (Deluxe Dining Plan). You can read more about these plans and other dining experience including our top restaurants in our Disney World Dining Guide.

Packages

Booking a package to Disney World is a good idea. They typically include your hotel, tickets, and sometimes a dining plan. A package hotel would include any of the Disney World Hotels and the Swan and Dolphin Hotels. Tickets range from 1-10 days and all the options are available. Dining plans can include anything from quick service to sit-downs with snacks and drinks included.

There are a few times throughout the year that Disney offers free dining with a booked package. It’s a great deal to take advantage of! They will also offer discounted packages up to $500 off at certain times of the year. We suggest following our blog or newsletter to stay informed of when these come up.

The best way to save on a package is by booking with Park Savers. Not only do they offer the best prices but you’re certain to receive some special extras with each package! They offer all the Disney packages but discounted, even the free dining plan packages! Take advantage of their Best Price Guarantee when you book and be sure to use our special Disney World Planning Guide link above!

Fastpass+

This is the infamous time-saving system that allows you to skip the main lines and speed through the Fastpass line to get on an attraction faster. In reality what it’s doing is saving your place in line until you return so you can get on the attraction faster. This service is free with every valid ticket purchased not matter where you buy them.

We encourage you to read our Fastpass+ Guide to learn everything you need to know about it but here is the most important thing we can share:

You can book your Fastpass+ in advance (and you should). You do this online at Disneyworld.com by creating a My Disney Experience (MDE) account. If you’re staying at a Walt Disney World Hotel you can make your Fastpass+ reservations 60 days in advance. If you’re not staying at a Walt Disney World Hotel you can make your Fastpass+ reservations 30 days in advance.

Hotels

There are 18 Walt Disney World Hotels to choose from that are operated in Walt Disney World Property. They range from Value Resorts starting at $80 per night to Deluxe Villa Resorts starting at $350 per night and up. Price is based on location and view. Value Resorts are typically the furthest away from all the theme parks and only offer rooms with 1 king or 2 double beds. Deluxe Resorts will be close to the theme parks and offer several different room types including 2 queen and villas featuring full kitchens, washer and dryer, dining room, and more.

We recommend one hotel above all the rest that is sure to help you save time when it comes to getting to the theme parks as well as offering lots to do during the day and nightlife. Read our in-depth Walt Disney World Hotels Guide to find out which one it is, how to save on your hotel with great discounts, and which hotels we don’t recommend.

Transportation

Getting to and from Walt Disney World is easy when you’re staying at a Walt Disney World Hotel. Disney offers the Magical Express to help you get from Orlando International Airport to your hotel, for free. That’s right, all you need to do is make a reservation with how many guests and your flight information. After you’ve done this they’ll send you some luggage tags in the mail along with a confirmation letter. Bring them all with you. Put the luggage tags on on your checked baggage before you check them in. Disney will take care of the rest! They’ll be delivered right to your hotel room! No need to pick them up at Orlando International Airport. It’s a great service to use!

Upon arrival at Orlando International Airport you’ll follow the instructions on your confirmation letter to reach the Magical Express hub. A Cast Member will check you in and load you on the correct bus. Then you’re on your way to your hotel! It works the same when you’re heading back home. Your hotel can offer you more information when the time comes.

Getting around Disney World is easy because there are a lot of options (assuming you don’t have a car). The first one is Disney’s bus transportation system. Buses run from you hotel to all 4 theme parks and both water parks, Disney Springs, and ESPN Wide World of Sports. They typically run every 10-20 minutes. Your hotel will have at least one bus station but most have several. Find the closest one to you and use that station to get to and from the parks. It’s free!

Once you’re at a theme park there are bus stations that can take you back to your hotel or other theme parks. Just follow the signs for wherever you want to go or ask a Cast Member. Keep in mind that at the close of a park bus lines can get long and you may have to wait 30+ minutes just to get back home. You may want to leave a bit early to avoid this.

Also available to use at the Walt Disney World Resort is Uber and LYFT. This is our favorite way to get around. They’re readily available and are much faster than taking a bus typically. They can pick up and drop you off at any theme park, Disney Springs, etc. They’ll run you between $5-$15 per ride. You can use our coupons for new users and save on your first ride.

Of course you can always drive your own car to get around. Parking is annoying because you have to be shuttled in from the parking lot after you’ve found a spot. It just makes getting to the parks 20+ minutes longer than a bus or Uber would.

First-Time Visitors

So it’s your first time visiting the Walt Disney World Resort?! You’re in for a real treat! Don’t get overwhelmed by everything. Just take it nice and slow and you’ll be okay. You’ve probably already read most the Disney World Planning Guide at this point so some of this is recap and some you haven’t heard yet.

Our first recommendation would be to stay at a Walt Disney World Hotel. This will make things much easier when it comes to getting around. Cast Members are eager to help you have the best experience possible and they can if you’re staying right on property. If you can try to get a Moderate to Deluxe Resort Hotel.

Secondly, we would recommend getting a 5 Day Hopper ticket. This ticket allows you enough time to explore most of what the theme parks have to offer. It offers time and flexibility which is exactly what you need on your first trip. To save on this ticket check-out Get Away Today. They have the best prices on discounted Disney World tickets. In our opinion, the more days you can give yourself the better.

Third, book your Fastpass+ reservations as soon as you can! Don’t hesitate on these because they fill up fast. All the bigger attractions including Flight of Passage, Na’vi River Journey, Everest, Toy Story Mania, Peter Pan’s Flight, etc. will disappear. That’s why we encourage you to stay on property, so you can book 60 days in advance. It’s completely worth it. Thank you Disney World Planning Guide!

Fourth, eat up! There are so many great places to eat at the Walt Disney World Resort! Many of them are in EPCOT but several at located at other theme parks and resort hotels. Read our guide to Walt Disney World Dining for our top recommendations. You’ll also make reservations in advance for these places. Typically 120 days out.

Fifth, download the Disney World app. It allows you to control your day when it comes to Fastpass+, dining reservations, tickets, and so much more! In fact, the Disney World app gives you the most leverage when getting Fastpasses beyond your scheduled 3. As soon as you’ve finished your last scheduled Fastpass open up the app and schedule another one! Once that one is used you can make another one and so on. Genius!

We hope you enjoyed reading our Disney World Planning Guide! Throughout this article you’ll have noticed we referenced a lot of other resources for the Walt Disney World Resort. Be sure to read them as they have some expert advice!