So you've decided to take a Disney vacation, now what to do? Start with the same basic questions you would ask yourself for any vacation. To help you answer these questions we've listed the specific Walt Disney World (WDW) resort information as an illustration, information on the other Disney resorts and Disney Cruise Line can be made available as well. You should write down your answers, you'll need them later on.
When do you want to go?
WDW, like all other tourist areas has "busy seasons" which may affect your decision on when to visit. The busiest time of the year are the weeks of Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Other busy periods are the week of President's Day, Martin Luther King Day weekend, school spring break, the week before and after Easter, most of June, all of July and August and the American Thanksgiving weekend. During these times of the year attendance at the Magic Kingdom (one of the four theme parks) can reach 90,000 people. In fact we've visited when several of the theme parks have reached their capacity and have closed by mid morning to additional guests. Many would suggest that you avoid WDW during these times unless you absolutely cannot visit some other time of the year. In any case, if you are traveling during a busy season we can provide you with tips to help you enjoy WDW despite the size of the crowds.
On the flip side, the slowest period of time, "off season" is after the American Thanksgiving weekend though the week before Christmas. Other slower periods are January through the first weekend of February, the week after Easter through early June, all of September, October and November (excluding the American Thanksgiving weekend). There are advantages and disadvantages to visiting regardless of when you go. The biggest advantages to visiting during the "off season" is that the crowds are drastically smaller in comparison to the "busy seasons" and as a result you can find great deals on air line tickets, car rentals and hotel accommodations. The down side to "off season" travel is that the theme parks generally open late, close early, some of the rides and attractions may be closed for maintenance and temperatures fluctuate a great deal. For the current list of scheduled attraction maintenance, visit the Events & Refurbishments page.
How long do you want to go for?
Most of what the four WDW theme parks have to offer can be experienced in five days on a tightly planned schedule, add an extra day or two to accommodate a more relaxed pace. If you don't have at least five days available, or if you want to visit other area attractions you will still have an enjoyable vacation but you will need to make some tough decisions.
How will you get around?
If you've decided to drive to WDW then you already have your mode of transportation. However, if you'll be flying into town, depending on where your hotel is located, you may want to get a rental car for your stay. If you're staying at a WDW resort you probably don't need a rental car as WDW has a fairly reliable transportation system and also provides transport from the airport to the resort and back, all of which is complimentary. However, if you're staying outside of WDW or if you want to visit other area attractions you'll probably want to get a rental car.
Where do you want to stay?
There are many options to chose from when it comes to selecting a place to stay. The first question is, do you stay inside or outside of WDW? Room rates inside WDW range from as low as $90/night at a value resort to more than $500/night for luxury accommodations, depending on the season. The same range of rooms can be found outside WDW but the rates begin at about $50/night and go up from there. Let's look at the advantages of staying at hotels in both situations.
As mentioned above hotels outside of WDW are generally less expensive for the same level of accommodations. Also in the cost savings column, meals can be less expensive. More and more of the outside hotels are offering a scheduled, but not frequent, hotel shuttle that will take you directly to the four theme parks inside WDW. If you have a car, some of the hotels are actually closer and take less time to get to many of the theme parks than some of the resorts inside WDW, however you will need to factor in $25 per day for parking at the theme parks.
Staying inside WDW is also known as staying inside the magic because you are immersed in Disney magic. If you don't have a car, this is where you want to stay as WDW offers reliable complimentary transportation for resort guests. Staying at a WDW resort entitles you to the Extra Magic Hour benefit which means you will be invited to enter at least one of the four theme parks one hour earlier, or stay two hours later than the general public is each day. WDW resort guests with a car pay a night fee for parking of $15 to $25 depending on the resort level, for parking at all WDW locations. And finally, WDW also offers guests specials on admissions and various other programs and packages.
If you are traveling with young children you may want to stay at a hotel/resort as close to the theme parks as possible so that you have the option to return to your room for breaks during the day. If you're traveling with a group that will be splitting up, you should choose a WDW resort to take advantage of the available transportation. Once you've decided to stay either inside or outside of WDW then you need to choose which hotel/resort you would like to stay at. There are two components to your decision, cost and amenities. The higher the cost the more amenities you receive. The basic amenities include food courts, snack bars, lounges/bars, pools and playgrounds. Additional amenities include bell services, whirlpools, table service dining, water sports and other recreational activities, beaches, fine dining, room service, character breakfasts, valet parking, kids' programs, fitness centre and spa, concierge service, larger rooms, suites and better transportation access. In order to select a hotel/resort you need to decide how much you want to spend on a room per night and what amenities you want or need.
What do you want to do when you get there?
It is quite common to feel overwhelmed when you first look at all the activities available not only inside WDW but also at the other area attractions. In fact, there is so much available to do inside WDW that you could take a vacation and never set foot into a theme park! The first thing you need to consider is, who's going on the trip? Are you traveling with a group that includes infants, toddlers, pre-teens, teenagers, adults and/or seniors? Are you traveling alone? Are you a couple looking for a romantic getaway? Have you and/or the group been to WDW before, and if so when was the last time? What kind of vacation do you want to have? Are you looking to experience as much of WDW as you can? Are there specific theme parks that you want to visit, but others you can skip? Maybe you're looking for the ultimate relaxing vacation filled with rounds of golf, spa treatments and lounging by the pool? Keep in mind that the activities available to you are endless but your available time is not!
Where would you like to dine?
If you will be staying outside of WDW or don't mind traveling then you will have many more options available to you. Your choices outside WDW range from fast food (McDonald's, Wendy's, Steak N Shake, etc) to chain restaurants (Denny's, T.G.I. Friday's, Olive Garden, etc) to many local dining establishments. When dinning outside WDW, in almost all cases, you will not need reservations or any advance planning.
Your choices to dine inside WDW number well over a hundred locations and are broken down into two categories, counter service and table service restaurants. In the case of table service meals you will, in most cases, need to make reservations; for some locations reservations need to be made as early as 180 days before your trip. WDW offers everything from a 1950's soda joint to fine dining and in most cases delivers the themed atmosphere that Disney has come to be known for. Something else that WDW offers that cannot be found at outside restaurants are character meals. This is where your favourite Disney characters are present at the meal and meet with all the people dining at that location. This is a great opportunity to meet and obtain pictures and autographs without having to wait in long lines. WDW does a great job of looking after any special dietary needs that your party may have. There is almost an endless list of different types of cuisines to chose from as well. You can even make a vacation out of trying all the fine dining WDW has to offer, we call this the damn the budget we'll worry about the cost when we get home plan!
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