A First-Timer’s Guide to Planning a Disney Vacation

9 questions to ask your family before visiting Mickey and Minnie’s Florida home
Disney Kids: First Christmas Visit
Photos courtesy Steven Diaz

A trip to Walt Disney World tops many family’s wish list, but the cost and time it takes to plan that magical experience can be mind-numbing. The logistics are more complicated than a beach vacation or a mountain getaway, so we’ve got some expert tips to make the vacation as memorable (and stress-free) as possible.

Questions to ask your family as you plan your visit to Disney:

  1. Now or later? There’s no perfect time to bring kids to Disney. When they’re too young to remember the experience, it’s really for the parents and grandparents to have an excuse to visit (and that’s perfectly OK). But if this is a one-and-done visit to Disney, consider waiting until every family member is old enough to enjoy the experience. If you plan to go multiple times, base your trips on what’s new at Disney, considering each season brings special events and activities.
  2. Who’s coming? Some families meet up with extended family for a joint vacation or reunion. This can be a bonus if grandparents, aunts, and uncles can assist with childcare. Others plan a special Disney adventure for just one child and one parent at a specific age: “When you turn 10, you and Dad will visit Disney.”
  3. Fly or drive? If a road trip is a family tradition and it fits with your budget and plans, driving can be an economical way to get to Florida. From Charlotte, it’s roughly eight hours, and driving gives you flexibility if you stay off property. If you fly, rideshare options and taxis can get you from the airport to your accommodations.
  4. Do we want to tour Orlando attractions AND Disney parks? Depending on the length of your stay, you may be able to visit nearby attractions like SeaWorld Orlando, Universal Orlando Resort, and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
  5. Will we stay on property or off? Off-property hotels may be less expensive and closer to Orlando’s attractions, but you must arrange transportation to and from the parks. Keep in mind the time lost and parking costs. On-property resorts range in price but have amenities like dining options and pools. They also allow you early entry to the parks and access to transportation. The three All-Star Resorts are budget- and family-friendly.
  6. Which Disney parks? Disney has four main parks: Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Magic Kingdom. Park Hopper passes allow guests to reserve space at one park and hop to another later in the day. Guests must start out at the reserved park before hopping. If you plan on staying at one park per day, you can forgo the Park Hopper pass and the extra expense.
  7. Where do we eat? Disney parks have cafés, restaurants, and dining rooms for snacks, grab-and-go meals, and sit-down dinners. Reservations, some six months in advance, are recommended for places like Be My Guest in Magic Kingdom and Yak & Yeti’s in Animal Kingdom. Outside snacks and drinks are permitted in the Disney Parks.
  8. What are the “must-see” activities? If your children are old enough, involve them in the planning. Do you want a character photo with Donald Duck? Eat breakfast with a Disney princess? Find out ahead of time what special activities are available and if you can fit them into your budget and timeframe.
  9. How will we schedule each day? It’s tempting to dive into the Disney experience without a plan. And if you’re a go-with-the-flow family, you’ll have a great time. If you prefer to plan each day around naps and mealtimes, schedule your days in advance.


Lonna Hayes, founder of Magic Managed in Charlotte, shares her top picks:

Website: WDW Prep School’s podcast features trip reports, and the website has infographics, crowd calendars, and strategy recommendations for those that really want to geek out.

App: Download the free My Disney Experience mobile app, which puts accommodations, tickets, Genie+, dining, and maps at your fingertips.

Blog: Disney Food Blog’s short videos highlight the dining options at Disney.

Books: Birnbaum’s 2023 Walt Disney World Guide for Kids, Disney’s Who’s Who, and a Guide to Hidden Mickeys will prepare your child for the adventure

Instagram: Follow Mousehacking, MichealDoesDizLivingbyDisney, disneyforfoodies, and of course, Magic Managed.

Disney Kids: First Christmas Visit Disney Kids: First Christmas Visit