How to Start Planning Your First Disney World Vacation in 2020 & Beyond!

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Planning & Disney World Guide 2020

Walt Disney World is the Most Magical Place on Earth, but the planning process can make you feel, well, not very magical. Decisions about when to go, where to stay, and what to do while there can quickly become overwhelming. If you have never been to Disney World (or have not been in many years), our Walt Disney World guide 2020 will help you begin the planning process.

Walt Disney World Guide 2020 – Introduction

Walt Disney World in Florida consists of four separate parks (not including the water parks):

Each park has its own unique attractions, dining, and entertainment. With regular tickets, you can visit one park per day, or you can upgrade to a park hopper, which allows you to visit multiple parks in one day.

Magic Kingdom Park

Magic Kingdom is the park you probably picture when you think about Disney World, with Cinderella’s castle and most of the iconic rides, shows/parades, and characters. This park is great for everyone, but especially good for young children, as there are many age appropriate rides, shows, and characters for them.

Magic Kingdom is divided into six areas, or lands: Main Street U.S.A, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Liberty Square, Frontierland, and Aventureland, each with its own themed rides and attractions. Don’t miss classics like It’s a Small World, Splash Mountain, Jungle Cruise, and the newest attraction: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.

Hollywood Studios

Hollywood Studios has an old-school Hollywood theme throughout the park, but also contains Toy Story Land and the newest and anxiously awaited land: Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. This park is best for older children, teens, or adults, as many Hollywood Studios rides have minimum height restrictions. Hollywood Studios can feel even hotter than the other parks, so keep that in consideration when planning.

Disney World Guide 2020

 

Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom is a very beautiful park, containing a safari, lush vegetation, Pandora Land, great shows (like the Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo – The Musical), rides, and unique dining experiences. Pandora land is truly unique, and even those who are not fans of Avatar will be awed by Avatar Flight of Passage. Try to ride Kilimanjaro Safaris early in the morning, as the animals will be more active in the cooler temperature.

Disney World Guide 2020
Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

EPCOT

Epcot’s two main attractions are the World Showcase and Future World. At World Showcase you can visit eleven “countries” each with unique food, shows and/or attractions. Future World features a lot more rides, but it is currently in flux with major renovations happening to Epcot over the next couple of years. While Epcot only has a handful of rides, my favorite is Soarin’ Around the World, but look for a new Guardians of the Galaxy Coaster coming soon as well.

When to Visit Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World is open 365 days a year. Choosing when to visit can be a tough decision. While there’s no one perfect time to visit (as every day at Disney World is magical!), certain times of year can definitely be more crowded (think Christmas, school spring break, etc.) than others.

  • Summer – Summer offers extended park hours (up to two extra hours compared to winter months), meaning you could get more hours of park time for the same ticket price, but can be crowded with kids off of school, and summer in Orlando can be brutally hot.
  • Fall – Fall has nicer weather and generally lower crowds, and special holiday events like Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (Aug. – Nov.) and Epcot International Food and Wine Festival (Aug. – Nov.). September is a good time to visit without school-age children, as kids are back in school and crowds are low. Avoid the week of Thanksgiving if possible, as crowds are especially bad, as well as the weekend of the Wine & Dine Half Marathon.
  • Winter – Winter also holds special holiday events and festivals, including Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (Nov. – Dec.), Epcot International Festival of the Arts (Jan. – Feb.), and special holiday celebrations at all four parks and Disney Springs (Nov. – Dec.). January and February are generally quieter months, except around holidays like Valentine’s Day (a lot of proposals happen in front of the castle), Presidents’ Day, and MLK Day, as well as winter Disney races. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is the most crowded time of the year, with tales of Magic Kingdom sometimes reaching capacity before noon.
  • Spring –  Spring also sees generally good weather and low crowds, with the exception of school spring breaks and the Star Wars Rival Run Weekend. The Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival is held during the spring (Mar. – May).

Depending on the time of year and day of the week, ticket prices vary by up to $50 per person per day. For example, a 2019 one day adult non-hopper park ticket costs $109 on a Wednesday in September, or $159 on the day after Christmas. Multiply that by several people for several days, and this can be an influential factor in a family’s decision. Lower prices can also mean Disney is expecting lower crowds (though this is not always an accurate prediction).

How Long to Stay at Walt Disney World

The length of your Disney World vacation may be determined by non-negotiables like budget, vacation days, or school schedules. But if you have more flexibility in how long to stay, there are a few factors to consider.

  • More days = less money per day – Disney tickets have dynamic pricing, meaning the more ticket days you purchase, the cheaper each day becomes (especially after the fifth day). For example, a one day adult non-hopper park ticket currently starts at $109, but if you buy a 6 day hopper, the price drops to $71 per day.
  • Schedule in some rest – If your schedule allows, it can also be helpful to schedule a non-park day to rest, hang out by the pool, or visit Disney Springs (full of shops and restaurants). Too many long back-to-back days in the parks can be exhausting and overwhelming, so it can be nice to have some down time in between. Of course, more time at Disney is never a bad thing, and there are plenty of things both in and out of the parks to fill your time there.

Disney World Guide 2020

Disney World Guide 2020 – Where to Purchase Walt Disney World Tickets

You can save a few dollars on Disney tickets through Disney partners such as Get Away Today (they will match any competitor’s price) or Undercover Tourist (which codes as Travel on most credit cards). You can even stretch the savings further by going through the Rakuten portal (previously Ebates) to get an additional 1% back on Undercover Tourist purchases. Tickets through partners like Undercover Tourist & Get Away Today have the same rules and functionality as any other Disney ticket, and are linkable to your My Disney Experience account.

If you want to buy Disney tickets directly through Disney (one or two day tickets are actually cheaper directly through Disney), you could buy discounted Disney gift cards at Sam’s Club to put towards the price of tickets. You could even do a mix of these strategies – for example, for a recent trip, I purchased single day tickets using Disney gift cards and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party tickets through Undercover Tourist, saving a total of $87 for 6 people for 3 park days.

Big Thunder Mountain at Magic Kingdom is one of the more thrilling rides in the park.

Disney World Guide 2020 – Where to Stay at Walt Disney World

There are many, many options of places to stay in Orlando. I like to divide the options into 3 categories. Each has its pros and cons, so decide what priorities are most important to your group.

On Property – Official Disney World Resort Hotels

Also referred to as staying “on property,” these are hotels owned and operated by Disney. There are 3 levels of official Disney World resort hotels (Value, Moderate, and Deluxe/Deluxe Villas), categorized mostly by price range. Staying on property has certain benefits, including a seamless guest experience between resort and parks, the ability to enter the parks earlier or stay later on certain days for no extra cost (called “Extra Magic Hours”), free transportation to/from the airport and to/from the theme parks, and the ability to book FastPass+ selections 60 days in advance of your resort check-in date, instead of the usual 30 days.

Disney World Guide 2020
Disney hotels often have special touches for the holidays like this Gingerbread Carousel at the Beach Club Resort.

Disney Resort List by Category

Disney breaks up their resorts by category. Each Disney owned Walt Disney World resort is broken out into either the Value, Moderate, Deluxe or Deluxe Villas category.

Here is a list of each Walt Disney World hotel and where it is categorized:

Disney Value Hotels

  • Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort
  • Disney’s All-Star Music Resort
  • Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort
  • Disney’s Art of Animation Resort
  • Disney’s Pop Century Resort
  • The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort

Disney Moderate Hotels:

  • Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort
  • Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort
  • Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter
  • Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside
  • The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort

Disney Deluxe Hotels:

  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
  • Disney’s Beach Club Resort
  • Disney’s BoardWalk Inn
  • Disney’s Contemporary Resort
  • Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
  • Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
  • Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
  • Disney’s Yacht Club Resort

Disney Deluxe Villas Hotels: 

  • Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
  • Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
  • Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Jambo House
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani Village
  • Disney’s Beach Club Villas
  • Disney’s BoardWalk Villas
  • Disney’s Old Key West Resort
  • Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows
  • Disney’s Riviera Resort
  • Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
  • The Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

The list of all official Disney World resort hotels can be found here.

Disney World Guide 2020
Disney’s Yacht Club Resort lobby.

Disney Resorts Need to Know

Disney resorts generally cost more than off property, but there are strategies to save money.

Capital One Venture: If you have the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, you can book an available Disney resort through Hotels.com/Venture and earn 10x miles per dollar (until January 2020), and often at a cheaper rate than directly through Disney. For example, a room for 5 nights for 2 adults plus 2 children between Christmas and New Year’s at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort (a moderate resort) currently costs $460.13 a night (including tax) if booking directly through Disney. The same room would only cost $420.76 per night (including tax) through Hotels.com, plus you would be halfway towards earning a free night with Hotels.com’s 10th night free policy. With the 10x points back you earned using your Venture Rewards card for Hotels.com, the end total would be $1,893.42, as opposed to $2,300.65 through Disney.

Other Ways to Save: If you don’t have the Capital One Venture card, you could still earn 6% back on Hotels.com if you sign up and book through the ibotta app, bringing the total down to $1,977.57. If you want to book directly with Disney, be sure to use a card that gives you points for travel, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve card  (3x), the Chase Sapphire Preferred card  (2x), or the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card (2x).

Disney Affiliated Hotels

I like to call this group “Disney-affiliated hotels,” since they are “off property,” but have an affiliation with Disney to offer some of the same benefits of official Disney resorts, including the same Extra Magic Hours and 60 day FastPass+ perks. However, these options usually don’t have that true “Disney” feel and do not provide as many transportation options to and from the hotel.

There are several brands that have Disney-affiliated hotels, offering rare opportunities to earn or redeem points on a Disney vacation. Some brands with Disney-affiliated hotels include:

  • Hilton (including the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, Waldorf Astoria Orlando, DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Orlando, Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista, and Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace). A room with two queen beds at the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista between Christmas and New Year’s would cost 50,000 Hilton Honors points per night (resort fee is waived for stays booked entirely with points) or $388.13 per night including the resort fee. Eligible honors members can get the fifth night free if booking with points, and Hilton Gold and Diamond members also receive complimentary breakfast, saving money on park food. The Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista is located within walking distance to Disney Springs, an entertainment destination filled with shops and restaurants.
  • Marriott (Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotels). These adjacent properties are centrally located near Epcot and Hollywood Studios, close enough that you can walk or take a free boat to either park. These properties are Marriott Category 6, so award nights will cost 40,000 – 60,000 points per night, but if staying for more than five nights, you can receive the fifth night free. Marriott Platinum members may receive complimentary breakfast, and with a Disney character breakfast buffet on property, this can be a great savings.

Others include Wyndham (including Wyndham Lake Buena Vista and Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista), the B Resort and Spa Lake Buena Vista, the Best Western Lake Buena Vista, and the Four Seasons Resort Orlando.

Don’t forget to use a credit card that earns additional points on hotels, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve card  (3x), the Chase Sapphire Preferred card  (2x), or the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card (2x).

The list of all Disney affiliated hotels can be found here.

Option 3: Off Property Unaffiliated Hotels

There is no shortage of “off property” lodging options in Orlando, including many hotels and Airbnbs that aren’t too far from Walt Disney World. They can be a lower cost option (and may have more space for larger families), but don’t allow guests to access the parks during “Extra Magic Hours,” and guests must wait until 30 days before their trip to book FastPass+ selections.

Don’t forget to use a credit card that earns additional points on hotels, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve card  (3x), the Chase Sapphire Preferred card  (2x), or the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card (2x).

One More Thing. Priceline.

Priceline can be an amazing deal for all types of hotels in Orlando including on Walt Disney World property. From time to time Disney “dumps” their inventory onto Priceline for far below the rates they advertise publicly. Also, Priceline can be a good tool to save money off-property at Disney as well. It doesn’t always work, but if you are visiting during lower demand periods there are some amazing deals to be had.

Disney World Guide 2020

Disney World Guide 2020 – FastPass+ Selections, Dining, and Extras

FastPass+ is a front-of-the-line pass/reservation system to select attractions, entertainment, and character greetings, minimizing wait times.  If you visited years ago, you might remember paper FastPasses. The new FastPass+ system is now fully digital through the “My Disney Experience” app or website. All Disney World park tickets include FastPass+ selections for no additional charge.

Here are the rules pertaining to when you can get a Walt Disney World FastPass:

  • You can start booking up to three FastPass+ selections 60 days in advance of your trip if you’re staying at an official Walt Disney World resort or Disney affiliated hotel
  • You can start booking 30 days in advance of your first park day if you are staying elsewhere

After you use the first three that day, you can continue getting more FastPass+ selections throughout the day. It often pays to get those first three out of the way as early as possible!

Dining Reservations

Walt Disney World Dining reservations open 180 days in advance of the first day of your stay, and many of the most popular character dining reservations fill up quickly. Advance research can pay off, but there are also plenty of options available last minute. If your choices are booked, keep checking leading up to and during your visit in case any reservations are cancelled. Disney has a pretty strict restaurant cancellation policy, so be sure to check it out before you go.

Disney also offers many optional extras to enhance your vacation, like special tours, after hour passes, Halloween parties, Christmas parties, dessert parties, and more.  These are all events that require a paid ticket or purchase separate from your park ticket. While they are not needed to make a Disney vacation magical, they can be nice for special occasions.

Walt Disney World Guide 2020 – Bottom Line

Planning a Disney World vacation can seem daunting, but with the right plan and information, you can have a truly magical vacation! Hopefully our Walt Disney World Guide 2020 has inspired you to start planning your next magic filled trip to Walt Disney World.

Just remember, if you spend the time planning before you go, you’ll reap the benefits later! Have any other tips for beginners? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Felicia Kiefer
Growing up in a family that loves amusement parks, I developed a love for creative rides and an appreciation for clean and well-run amusement parks. My goal is to help people realize that planning a trip to Disney World doesn’t have to be as stressful, time consuming, or expensive as you might expect. I am all about minimizing stress and maximizing fun at Disney World!

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