When will you visit?
This is very dependent on when you can visit. When do you have the ability to take vacation time? How busy or free are your schedules? Your children's schedules? Do you want to stay during the off season for the best prices? What dates can you realistically visit? etc.
If you have a lot of flexibility in when you can visit Disney World, then you need to ask yourself what do you want to do while you are there?
- Do you have your heart set on walking down Main Street USA lined with Autumn decorations and Mickey pumpkins? - go in September or October.
- Does the thought of Cinderella's Castle lit up for Christmas make your heart happy? - go in November or December.
- Do you want to go when the crowds are at their lowest? - try February or September.
- Do you want to eat your way around Epcot during the popular Food & Wine Festival? - go from September through November.
- Do you want to avoid the Florida heat? - you'll be hard pressed to find nicer weather than Florida in January or February.
After you figure out when you can travel and what you would enjoy doing on your trip then you can narrow down your vacation dates.
Keep in mind that Disney World runs specials on resorts and dining throughout the year. For example, you may be able to book a resort stay for 25% off during certain days this spring at qualifying resorts. Or, usually in the fall you can book a resort stay and receive the Disney Dining Plan for free - this is hugely popular and books up quickly, but it hasn't been announced for 2016 yet. If you are trying to get the biggest bang for your buck consider taking your vacation during an offered promotion.
Here are a few helpful websites to help you plan your dates:
- easyWDW crowd calendars
- Touring Plans (has a fee)
- Walt Disney World for prices, special deals, and events
Where will you stay?
In my opinion, you cannot beat a stay on Disney property at one of the many resorts. We've stayed as a family at The Boardwalk, Fort Wilderness campground, and Wilderness Lodge. The first thing you should ask yourself is what is your highest priority when it comes to your resort - budget, location, theme, transportation availability, amenities, pool size, etc?
The majority of my advice speaks on resort location because that is how we've prioritized our resort stays. When we stayed at The Boardwalk we were attending a wedding, so we wanted to be right there. When we stayed at Fort Wilderness campgrounds we wanted to see how camping was at Disney World. When we stayed at Wilderness Lodge we wanted to be close to Magic Kingdom because it is Aria's favorite, but we also took into consideration that it was Christmas time and the holiday decorations at Wilderness Lodge make my heart happy. As soon as we stayed there it became my favorite Disney World resort - I've also stayed at Pop Century, Coronado Springs, Port Orleans - Riverside, and The Polynesian before I married my husband.
With a child or more in tow you'll probably want to spend a good chunk of your time at Magic Kingdom. It's the park with the most to offer young children. Consider staying on the monorail loop - The Contemporary, The Polynesian, or The Grand Floridian. Or, a resort that has a boat to the Magic Kingdom - The Contemporary, The Polynesian, or The Grand Floridian as well as Fort Wilderness, and Wilderness Lodge. We absolutely loved the convenience of taking a short boat ride to Magic Kingdom from Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness. However, the boats don't operate until 30 minutes before park opening which disappointingly never got us to Magic Kingdom in time for the welcome show. I think that is a huge flaw in the boat system, and definitely something to think about when planning a Disney World vacation. If you aren't antsy to be at Magic Kingdom precisely at opening then it might not be a big deal to you. If you however want to maximize those key early hours where the crowd levels are low and the line waits are short then you might want to rethink a stay at Fort Wilderness or Wilderness Lodge. You can of course also take a bus, but you are paying for that close proximity to Magic Kingdom. You can take a bus from anywhere. For Aria's 3rd Birthday Disney trip we called Wilderness Lodge home and since we already knew the boats were less than ideal to get you to Magic Kingdom early we didn't sweat it.
Or, maybe you want to be close to Epcot instead. You like the idea of taking a quick boat ride or even a short walk to the back entrance (or the international gateway) of Epcot and being able to get a bite to eat at the many many World Showcase restaurants and food stands. Are your plans revolving around enjoying the Food & Wine Festival or the Flower & Garden Festival? Then consider staying at The Boardwalk, The Beach Club, The Yacht Club, or the Swan/Dolphin Resort. For Aria's very first resort stay we called The Boardwalk home and we walked over to Epcot almost every evening after spending our morning at one of the other parks. It was absolutely glorious.
I wouldn't personally prioritize resort location near Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom because they don't have quite the same draw as Magic Kingdom or Epcot for our family. You can also take a quick boat ride or a short walk to Hollywood Studios from The Boardwalk, The Beach Club, The Yacht Club, or the Swan/Dolphin Resort. Animal Kingdom Lodge, Coronado Springs, and the 3 All Star Resorts are closest to Animal Kingdom, but there are no boats and it is not walkable. That isn't to say you shouldn't stay at any of those resorts. Personally the Animal Kingdom Lodge is high on my resort wish list, but that is so that I can have a balcony looking out on animals not because it is near Animal Kingdom.
Something else important to ask yourself when deciding on a Disney World resort is how much time will you be spending at your resort. If you are only wanting a place to sleep at night before and after spending nearly all of your time at the parks, then spending a large chunk of cash on your resort might not be the wisest use of your money. You can stay at Pop Century or Art of Animation at a much more reasonable price point. But, if you want to take afternoons back at your resort and spend a day or two at the pools or take advantage of all the amenities that come with your resort then staying at a moderate or deluxe level resort might be a great fit for you.
If you want to immerse yourself in a certain resort theme be sure to check out all the different resorts to choose from at Walt Disney World. The Boardwalk is like staying on the Atlantic coast at the turn of the century. It has a carnival themed main pool, many dining options, and even nightlife in the form of a dance hall and piano bar. The Fort Wilderness campground is like a stay in the wild American frontier. It has a large pool with slide, the favorite Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue restaurant, horses, and golf cart rentals. The Wilderness Lodge is like staying at an early 20th century National Park lodge in the Pacific Northwest. It has one of my favorite pools, a huge fireplace complete with rocking chairs, and a geyser. There's a little something for everyone!
You can check out each of our Walt Disney World resort stays here!
And, here are a few more links to help you with all your planning needs:
- Walt Disney World
- Disney Parks Moms Panel
- The Disney Food Blog
- Touring Plans Fastpass+ Overview
- Dixie Delights Delightful Disney
- Chatting Over Chocolate Disney
- See Ya Reel Soon YouTube
- Disney Parks Blog
- Disney Tourist Blog
If you have any questions I'm always happy to chat about Disney World! Shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or leave a comment and I will help to the best of my ability.
You may also be interested in this post on packing for a day at the parks with a toddler: