Disney World Castle

A Comprehensive Guide to Planning Your Trip to Walt Disney World

When to visit, what to prepare, hotels, tickets, it's all here.

adela reyes travel author
Author
Adela Reyes
Destination
Disney World

Who here doesn’t know about the magical world of Disney? It’s populated our hearts since we were just a little kid, and even now, we yearn to go back to that wonder that Disney introduced us to.

It’s probably why the embodiment of Disney in its many theme parks are so beloved, and how Disney World is known universally as the land of magic.

With all that’s happening globally, it feels like we desperately need a little of that magic into our lives.

It’s sad enough that Disneyland is still closed, and talks of reopening are still up in the air; Disney World is a good escape for a few days of magic. So if you’re like me and are planning to head straight to Disney World as soon as I can, then we’ve got just the thing for you.

From when to go, buying tickets, and what to expect in a post-COVID-19 Disney World, we’ve got you covered!

The Basics

Before anything else, you have to know that Disney World is enormous. Stepping inside is like entering a whole other world.

The entire resort encompasses almost 25,000 acres and is twice the size of the city of Manhattan. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost with its sheer size, but here’s a handy map you can look back on for help.

Disney World has a lot of moving parts. There are 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 32 hotels, Disney Springs, and other amenities like golf courses.

The 4 theme parks are:

Magic Kingdom

This is what probably comes to your mind when you think of Disney World. This is where the classic theme parks and rides are like the Cinderella Castle and the Pirates of the Caribbean.

Hollywood Studios

Hollywood Studios

This park includes new favorites Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

Epcot

Epcot Center

Epcot is where it’s all about the countries. It focuses on 11 different countries in the World Showcase attraction.

Animal Kingdom

animal kingdom disney world

Here, you’ll find Disney World’s zoo and a special attraction called Pandora — the world of Avatar.

The water parks include Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. Both are still currently closed. They plan to reopen it on March 7, 2021.

It’s important to note that the parks aren’t all that’s inside the resort. The destination includes your dining and hotel, with Disney owned hotels and restaurants. The magic starts for you as soon as you check-in.

Disney Springs is also still a part of the resort. If you can’t get enough of the parks, Disney Springs has shops, dining, and other activities lined up for you. It has 99 shops, 64 dine-in options, and 22 attractions, shows, or events already available for its phased reopening.

Disney Springs, Disney World

Many get confused, but the Universal Orlando Resort is different from Disney World. Universal Orlando has the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Universal Studios Florida.

When to Visit

Because of the times, the peak seasons may be a bit different, but once the resort completely opens, here are some of the months you can avoid.

The peak season will probably still be during the summer, holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, and Spring Break.

A good off-season month to visit is in January. There are fewer crowds and better weather as opposed to visiting during summer. The downside is that parks have shorter hours, and the water parks are closed.

Another option is during September. This month has the lowest hotel rates, and everything is open. Though the weather is hot during this time of the year.

As for now, things aren’t set in stone, so don’t plan around typical events. For safety, some events and live shows aren’t allowed yet.

A lot of families wonder what’s the best age for your child to visit Disney World. The answer really depends on you and your children, but the tickets can vary depending on your kids’ ages. There are also specific rides aimed at younger kids, so it can also affect where you’re going to spend your time.

Generally, visit the parks at an age where your young ones can remember the experience and meet most rides’ height requirements.

What to Prepare

Tickets

A one-day ticket for one park costs $109 per day. One day tickets used to have variable pricing, which means prices are higher when demand is higher. Multi-day tickets are generally more inexpensive and give great value. But all these can be subject to change because of the pandemic.

Other options for single-day tickets are:

  • Tickets with park hopper: $169 per ticket. A park hopper ticket gives you access to more than one park per day starting at 2 pm. Park reservations only apply to the first park in the case of park hopper tickets.
  • Tickets with park hopper plus others: $194 per ticket. Along with park hopper benefits, this includes water parks and other Walt Disney attractions like the sports complex and golf course. This will be available starting March 7, 2021.
  • Tickets with the water park and sports: A one-day ticket with a water park and sports access. This will be available starting March 7, 2021.

You can check their current discounts here.

Park Reservations

Park reservations are now required before entry to the resort by everyone ages 3 and up. You can make a reservation through the Disney Park Pass system.

Before getting a reservation, you need valid park admission. Make sure it’s linked to your Disney account. Be extra sure that your theme park is available before buying your ticket, and make a reservation as soon as you’ve bought your ticket.

What to Expect

Admission, features, and offerings are not guaranteed during this time and may be subject to change at any moment. They’ve also implemented a limited capacity in the resort, so some attractions may be unavailable. Some entertainment options and events will not be available at this time. This could be meet-and-greets, live shows, and other events that draw in large crowds.

Physical distancing. There are social distancing markers and signs all over the resort to ensure this is being followed. Mobile ordering and cashless transactions are also widely used and recommended in shops and restaurants.

Face Coverings are required for those ages 2 and older, as well as Cast Members.

Temperature Screenings. Before entry to select locations, there will be temperature screenings.

Longer wait lines. Because of the limited capacity and physical distancing, expect a longer wait for lines for rides and attractions inside the parks.

Keep updated about the travel advisories for Florida: https://floridahealthcovid19.gov/travelers/.

Hotels

What to prepare

The first thing you’ll need is your confirmed room reservation, so make sure you’ve got that on hand when you get to the resort. And if you’re only staying for the day, a confirmed dining reservation is also needed.

Like it is for the rest of the resort, you’ll also need your face masks for 2 years old and older.

It’s definitely preferred that you use a contactless transaction. You can use a Magicband or Key to the World to charge purchases to your room or your My Disney Experience app to open your hotel room.

How to choose where to stay

Now how do you choose a hotel with so many options available? First, you have to choose between a Disney hotel or a non-Disney hotel.

The difference is pretty self-explanatory. A Disney hotel is owned and operated by Disney and is located inside the resort, while a non-Disney hotel may or may not be inside Disney World. Since most people go for a Disney hotel, we’ll be focusing more on Disney hotels in this guide.

First-time visitors are better off going for a Disney hotel if only for the experience. But these hotels also include perks you won’t get from a non-Disney hotel. Some benefits you’ll get are transportation, and expenses within the resort can easily be charged to your resort. What’s more, every Disney hotel has a theme, so the magic starts as soon as you set foot in the lobby. What better way to welcome you in the land of magic!

If you’re deciding based on your budget and quality, there are three categories to choose from: a value, moderate, and deluxe hotel.

Check Hotel Pricing

Value hotels have the smallest rooms out of the three kinds, though they can still fit a family of four. They have fewer pools and amenities, but you’ll definitely save a few bucks. Most value hotels average at $90 per night.

Next on the list are moderate hotels. They’re a perfect middle ground with bigger rooms and more amenities than the value, but not too extravagant like the deluxe ones.

Now, if you’re going all out, deluxe hotels have enormous grounds. Their amenities contain multiple pools, a kids’ club, and fine dining restaurants.

Some hotels you can stay at

  • Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort
  • Disney’s Contemporary Resort
  • Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
  • for families: Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
  • on a budget: Disney’s Art of Animation Resort

Check here what hotels are open and what are scheduled to reopen.

Dining

Usually, when you buy your park tickets, it’s best to add on your hotel and dining plans as well. But because of the times right now, Disney’s dining plans are currently unavailable. Instead of the dining plan, you need to make a dining reservation, which you can make 60 days in advance.

Check here the updated list of open restaurants.

There’s still a big chance that the Disney dining plans will be back once the resort is fully opened. So here’s a handy guide for you for when you can avail it again.

There are 3 plan levels at various price points. The plan is most convenient for families and involves having a certain number of meal credits per day. Children ages 3 to 9 can have a kids menu, and those staying in the same room should have the same plan.

The dining plan is an excellent choice if you want to get everything ready before your trip. This means that you’ve got your budget all sorted before even getting here. There are also a lot of available plans with different budgets and various restaurants, so it’s all pretty flexible.

The only thing you have to think about is that there are no refunds if you don’t get to use all of your credits. So make sure to research, do the math, and decide if your dining options will be a priority on the trip.

So if you’ll get the dining plan, each member of your party will be given a number of meal credits per day at specific locations.

  • A Quick Service Meal credit has 1 entree and 1 non-alcoholic drink.
  • A Table Service Meal credit can be used at any table restaurant. It includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
    • Breakfast: 1 entree with 1 non-alcoholic drink or 1 full buffet
    • Lunch/dinner: 1 entree, 1 dessert, and 1 non-alcoholic drink or 1 full buffet
    • Snack: for food carts, food courts, and bakeries

There are three levels to choose from:

  1. Quick Service: 2 quick service meals and 2 snacks per person per day
  2. Disney Dining Plan: 1 quick service, 1 table service, and 2 snacks per person per day
  3. Deluxe Disney Dining Plan: 3 meals and 2 snacks per person per day

Some options to eat at

Best Table Service restaurants: Jiko – the Cooking Place, Be Our Guest, Sanaa, California Grill, and Flying Fish.

Best Quick Service: Les Halles Boulangerie and Patisserie, Gasparilla Island Grill, Satu’li Canteen, Tangierine Cafe, and Sunshine Seasons.

Safety guidelines for dining

  • The menu will be displayed, or you can scan a code for a digital version
  • Some self-service items are now served by Cast Members
  • Use your My Disney Experience app to order ahead or sign on a walk-up list
  • Use cashless transactions for lesser physical interactions

Some tips

  • Plan your itinerary. Trying to fit as much as you can in your trip will be exhausting and take a lot of time. Prioritize where you’re going to spend your time, so you won’t miss anything you really want to go to.
  • Book as soon as you’re sure you’re going to go. Prices may fluctuate, and don’t leave it till the last minute.
  • Consider travel insurance. The smart thing to do with the situation right now is to be prepared and look at travel insurance you can get.
  • Get the My Disney Experience app. This app is a life-saver, and it’s got your back through everything: from trip planning, opening your hotel rooms, and keeping your trip convenient and safe.

Now you’ve got everything you need to plan for that magical trip! Remember to research and download the My Disney Experience app to make your life a little easier. Ready yourself for the Disney World experience; you’re gonna love it!