Planning a trip to Walt Disney World can be daunting — especially for large families — but it’s easier than you think.
I would know; I’m what you call a lifelong Disney fan. And as a frequent park visitor (three trips in one year isn’t excessive, is it?), I’ve learned that the key to a successful visit to The Mouse relies on one thing: planning.
Here are nine of my best tips for planning a Disney trip from start to finish. By the time you and your family get to the parks, all you’ll need to do is be ready to have the best time at the Happiest Place on Earth.
1. Choose a date.
First things first, decide when you want to go. If you have a big family, chances are you’ll need to coordinate everyone’s schedules to find the best time for a vacation.
I would also recommend checking a crowd calendar to get an idea of how busy the parks will be during your trip (although I must say I’ve visited during multiple holidays/busy times and it never felt too packed).
2. Pick a hotel.
There are many benefits to staying at a Walt Disney World Resort: You can ship all of your essentials (extra bottles, diapers, sunscreen, etc.) straight to your hotel before you leave for your trip. You’ll have the option to choose from family suites (I recommend the spacious and themed rooms at the Art of Animation Resort) or a single room with two full-sized beds. Plus, no need to worry about transportation; the Disney Magical Express will pick you up at the airport and buses will chauffeur you to and from the parks — all for free.
3. Start saving.
Sign up for a Disney Vacation Account! It’s a great way to save for your trip over time — and as a bonus, you’ll earn a $20 Disney gift card for every $1,000 spent on qualified Disney vacation purchases. Not to mention, keeping your vacation money WAY out of reach is always a good idea.
4. Designate park days.
I find it easiest to plan my WDW visits when I choose which park I plan to visit on which day. By doing this you can purchase your tickets before your trip, plan out your dining reservations, and book your FastPasses. Nailing down exactly where you want to go and when will make the rest of your vacation-planning a breeze.
5. Make dining reservations.
Start reading up on what restaurants you want to eat at! You can make reservations up to 180 days in advance. All of the restaurants’ menus are listed online so you can rest assured knowing there will be at least something for the picky eater in your family.
If you’re interested in a really special meal, consider reserving a character dining experience. Who wouldn’t want to dine with Mickey or the princesses? The look on your kid’s face will be priceless.
6. Order MagicBands
Your key to the kingdom awaits! As soon as you book your trip, you’re eligible to request a free MagicBand for everyone in your party. This bracelet acts as your room key, park ticket, FastPass, and credit card — and it comes in a bunch of fun colors.
7. Select FastPasses.
Personally, I love that you can actually plan your entire day at the park before you’ve even left your home. Which ride is your family looking forward to the most? By using FastPass+ you can assure that you’ll get to experience it. Upon purchasing your park tickets, the program allows you to select three passes up to 60 days prior to check-in or up to 30 days before your arrival (if you aren’t staying on site).
FastPasses are listed with specific times, so once you select yours you’ll be able to schedule other activities for the day around them. There’s nothing wrong with a little organized fun to keep the trip running smoothly.
8. Download the My Disney Experience app.
This app will be a busy parent’s saving grace. You can create a user profile for each person in your traveling group and sync up everyone’s MagicBands, FastPasses, tickets, and reservations. Plus, when you’re at the park, the app lets you check ride wait times, browse through rides and attractions, and more.
9. Start packing.
Forget pixie dust, all you need is a good list to keep your packing in check. I like to write out each day of my vacation and note which items I’ll need per day. I find it helpful to pack by outfit, rather than pile all of my clothes in; this way, as I unpack, each outfit is already paired up. You can also pick up some space-saving bags prior to zipping up your suitcase — they’ll leave you with plenty of room to fit everything you need (souvenirs included).
To help you keep these tips handy for planning on the go, here’s an infographic you can pin or bookmark.
All GIFs courtesy of Oh My Disney