*Post was last updated on February 07, 2022
For anyone planning a trip to Disney World, there are seemingly endless websites, books, and blog posts with information and tips on planning. As a regular visitor to Disney World, I have strong opinions as to which tools and resources are the best. This article is an overview of the five best Walt Disney World planning tips, tools, and resources out there.
A Disney World vacation is expensive and it is important to get the most out of your time and money. Each of the tools below can help you streamline your planning and make your trip a magical one. I have used them to plan short and long trips as well as adult-only and family trips. A bit of advance planning can really improve your Walt Disney World experience.
*This post contains affiliate links.
#1: Disney World Crowd Calendars
There are several websites that offer crowd calendars to help you choose the right time for your trip. I consider this the most important planning resource because the timing of your trip can truly determine the quality of your time in the park. You definitely don’t want to plan a visit during the week between Christmas and New Years Eve. I once made that mistake and truly felt as though I had wasted my money and time. Because we had to wait so long in every line, we were only able to enjoy a handful of attractions each day.
Crowds affect not only ride wait times, but also your general stress level. If you have flexibility in scheduling your vacation, I strongly encourage you to utilize a crowd calendar. My favorite is at magicguides.com. It is easy to read and understand. Undercovertourist.com also has a good crowd calendar. If you choose to purchase a subscription to touringplans.com (see my endorsement below), their crowd calendar is invaluable.
*Another calendar to consider: You will also want to consider the weather when you schedule your trip. The temperatures in Florida during the summer regularly reach the high 90s. Spending hours standing in the hot sun (there is remarkably very little shade in the parks) while bumping into thousands of other sweaty people can really detract from the quality of your trip. We visit most often in the winter months.
#2: Touring Plans (Website and App)
I discovered the touringplans.com website several years ago. It has completely changed the way that I think about and plan our Disney trips. This website offers valuable Disney planning information for free, but in order to access their crowd calendar and individual touring plans you have to pay a subscription fee. The fee is $17.95 for Disney World alone and an additional $6.95 to add on Universal Studios. You can save 50% on this if you purchase their guide book (which I discuss below).
Touringplans.com is the work of data scientists. They gather endless data on ride wait times, daily attendance, and even public school calendars. They then use this data to help you make a ‘touring plan’ which is a detailed plan for each day of your trip. Essentially, you enter in all of the rides or shows you want to visit each day along with your dining reservations and it will tell you the optimal order in which to visit each attraction. They have recommended plans which you can edit as well.
I love having a specific plan instead of wandering aimlessly from ride-to-ride. The Touringplans.com website claims to save users upwards of four hours of waiting in line each day. And the best part is that they have an app. So, while you are in the park if a ride is closed or you fall behind schedule, you just click the update button to refresh your plan. Likewise, if you book a Lightening Lane or schedule a Genie + reservation, you can enter this information into the app and it will update your touring plan with this information. We generally update our touring plans several times each day.
Touringplans.com is also a great resource for information regarding the many changes happening in the park. Specifically, they clearly explain considerations for traveling to Disney World during the pandemic. When you are in the parks, they also offer ride wait time estimates. In our experience, these estimates are usually spot on and significantly more accurate than Disney’s officially posted waitlist times which are often inflated.
Touring Plans aren’t perfect. While the information is invaluable, the website isn’t very user friendly and can be difficult to navigate. We have used it on our past six trips. On one of those trips the server went down and I wasn’t able to access our plan for an hour or so. While this was very stressful, it has only happened once. Despite this, we will absolutely use Touring Plans for all future Disney trips as we greatly value efficiency and hate waiting in lines.
#3: Disney World Guide Book
There are many Disney guide books available. Amazon lists the Birnbaum’s guide as the best seller in this category, but I recommend the Unofficial Guides book that is authored by the same people who run the touringplans.com website I describe above. The Unofficial Guides book is entertaining to read and easy enough to navigate if you are looking for specific information. I especially appreciate their honest and detailed hotel reviews, dining recommendations, and ride descriptions. When I was planning a trip with my 8-year-old niece, it was very helpful at highlighting considerations when visiting Disney World with children.
The Unofficial Guides blog also posts regular updates and planning tips to supplement your guide book. Look here for up-to-date information on the newest rides and attractions.
#4: Disney World Discount ticket sites
You absolutely want to purchase your tickets before you arrive at the parks. Disney adds a surcharge of more than $20 to all 3-day or more tickets sold at the gate. Additionally, time spent waiting in line to purchase tickets is time not spent in the parks. There are several sites that sell discounted park admission tickets. It is essential that you purchase tickets from a reputable and authorized vendor. Some of the most popular include: Undercover Tourist, Park Savers, Tripster (previously Reserve Orlando), and Maple Leaf Tickets. On one of our most recent trips I saved $132 by purchasing my tickets on Undercover Tourist instead of through the Disney site.
Once you have your electronic tickets, you simply add the codes to your account at mydisneyexperience.com. You will want to do this ASAP so that you can make dining reservations as soon as your window opens. You can currently make your dining reservations 60 days prior to the start of your trip, but this may change as it has been as far in advance as 180 days in the past. Making these reservations at the exact moment your window opens is vital if you want a hard-to-get reservation such as Cinderella’s Royal Table, Be Our Guest, or California Grill.
#5: My Disney Experience (Website and App)
You will want to familiarize yourself with www.mydisneyexperience.com as it is where you will actually schedule all of your plans. Once you have connected your park tickets to your account, you will be able to make all of your dining reservations on this site. It is very user-friendly and easy to navigate. It also makes it easy to update dining reservations if your plans change. Additionally, you can buy and view your memory maker photos here and view ride wait times once you are in the park.
You must also have the My Disney Experience App in order to manage your Lightning Lane selections and Genie + reservations. On our most recent trip, we found it very helpful to set alarms for every two hours so that we were reminded to make our next Genie + reservation.
Planning a Walt Disney World vacation takes a ton of time and can be very stressful. The resources above will help you get started and hopefully reduce some of the stress and expense of your vacation.
If you also plan to visit the Universal Orlando Resort while in Orlando, see my post on the top tips, tools, and resources for planning a trip to Universal and on Top tips for visiting Universal Orlando.
What other planning tips, tools, and resources do you use when planning your Disney vacations? Please share in the comments!
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