Six Decisions in Six Minutes: A Busy Person’s Guide To Planning a Disney Trip

how to plan a Disney trip

It has come to my attention that many educated, talented, worldly, and otherwise awesome friends of mine think that planning a trip to Disney World is an extremely difficult task. And I started to argue with them. It’s not, I claimed. There’s so much information out there about how to plan a Disney World trip, I claimed. How can it be hard?

how to plan a Disney vacationAnd then I realized–that is how it can be hard. There’s so much information. And most normal families don’t have time to sift through all of it.

But I’m not most normal families. I’m a childless adult. And as a childless adult, I have that thing that most other adults don’t have: time. I also have a Disney annual pass and have spent more days in Disney over the past five years than any childless adult has any right to do. So I’m here to help.

Do you want to plan a Disney trip for your family but have no idea where to start? Are you overwhelmed by the sheer mass of information available online, or by the inches-thick Disney planning guides your well-meaning friends offer to lend you? Fear not! You’ve come to the right place.

Below you will find my Guide to Walt Disney World For Super Busy People. It is a six-minute read which will arm you with all of the information you need to plan a Disney World trip from start to finish (seriously–I put the text into a ‘how long will this take to read’ site and it estimated five minutes and 54 seconds.) And, like all other things here on The Suitcase Scholar (but like nothing in actual Disney World) it is totally free. You’re welcome, world.

A note on this guide: I typically try to avoid making absolute statements here on The Suitcase Scholar. That’s because what’s right for me may not be right for you. Right? Right. Except you are super busy and you are trying to plan a Disney trip. So in this case, I’m going to state some things to be fact which are really opinion. My opinion. I can assure you, it’s an opinion coming from a pretty solid base of real-life experience. So just trust me on these things for now. After all, you don’t want to read that inches-thick Disney guide book, do you? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

The Suitcase Scholar’s Guide to Walt Disney World for Super Busy People

Decision 1: When to go?

when to visit Disney World

If at all possible, do not visit Disney World during any time when kids are not in school. If this cannot be avoided due to some kind of insane attendance policy at your child’s school or your own work schedule, try to visit during the first week of summer vacation or the last week of summer vacation. Because of the staggered school year in different states, you will encounter lower crowds during this summer ‘shoulder season’. But it will still be insanely crowded. Just…less so.

The actual best time to go is:

-Any time in September.

-The week after the week of Thanksgiving and the first week of December.

-The first week in January after winter break.

Decision 2: How long to go?

Five full days, not including travel days. Any less and you will feel rushed. Any more and you’ll kinda want to strangle your children, other people’s children, and the fake animatronic children from It’s A Small World.

Decision 3: Where to stay? 

You have two choices–off site or on site. I’m not going to be definitive here so just read my pros and cons below and decide for yourself. I’ve done both and had an equally magical time.

Staying on Disney Property: Pros

-You can use the Magical Express from the airport (provided you fly into MCO and not Sanford). This is a free bus from the airport to your resort.

-You don’t need a rental car.

-You can book your Fastpasses 60 days in advance. See below for Fastpass tips.

-You will have access to Extra Magic Hours, special times that parks are open to only on-site guests.

-The hotels have fun themes.

-People seem to think it’s more ‘magical’. I’m not sold on this, as you can tell by my use of air quotes.

Staying on Disney Property: Cons

-It is more expensive. 100% of the time.

-Without a car, you are at the mercy of Disney. Everything you need or want will be purchased from them, at a premium. See also: it is expensive.

-The magical express airport shuttle, while free, is less than magical. Also the Disney bus system is generally painfully slow. Basically: transportation will be tedious.

Staying off site: Pros

-You will save money. No matter what, this is always the cheaper option.

-You will have more space. You can rent a condo-style hotel for less than the cost of a single room on property, thus giving you things like privacy and the ability to pee while others are showering.

-You will need a car (trust me) and this gives you more freedom.

Staying off site: Cons

-You will need a car. Some people think this is a con so I’m going to include it here. Also: don’t believe the off site hotels that tell you there’s a shuttle. There may be, but it is so infrequent it may as well not exist. Repeat after me: no one has time for an off site Disney Parks shuttle.

-You can only make Fastpass reservations 30 days in advance.

-You will not have access to Extra Magic Hours.

Decision 3.5: Where to Stay On Property

Where to stay Disney WorldOk, so you’ve read my pros and cons above and you decided to stay on property. Here’s where you should stay based upon your needs:

If you are on an extreme budget: Pop Century Resort

If you are on a budget but have a large family: Art of Animation Resort

If you are on a moderate budget and have small children: Port Orleans French Quarter

If you are on a moderate budget and do not have small children: Coronado Springs

If money is no object: The Polynesian

If money is kind of an object but not too much of an object and you want something kind of special: Animal Kingdom Lodge

If you are adults with no children and like to drink and also have a lot of money: The Boardwalk

Same as above but you are trying to not spend a fortune: The Swan and Dolphin (not an official Disney resort but on property; offers all on-property perks except the free shuttle from the airport.)

Decision 4: Should I get the dining plan?

No. You should not.

Decision 5: Where should we eat?

The best budget options in Disney World are the various counter service stands in the parks and at the resorts. Most counter service meals serve at least two normal people, if not two normal people and one child.

There are many park and resort dining experiences that are worthy of your time. But making reservations requires more thought and time than you have, busy as you are. So know this:

-If your child really wants to meet princesses while eating, you have two options: Cinderella’s Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom and Akershus in Epcot’s Norway pavilion. These need to be booked in advance. If you care about either, you will need to research further.

-If you want to sit down for meals, you really should make reservations. It’s not as easy as walking up to a restaurant and asking for a table; most are booked 6 months in advance. Is this insane? Yes. But it’s also a fact, so if you want to sit down and have someone bring you food, make reservations as soon as you book your trip. You will need a credit card to secure each reservation, and if you don’t cancel within 24 hours and fail to show up, you will be charged $10 per person.

-Don’t worry about picking restaurants based on your picky child’s eating habits. Every Disney restaurant has boring kids meal options. Even the fancy ones.

Decision Six: How Should We Plan Our Time? 

how to plan a Disney tripHere’s where it gets real.

Aim for one park per day and for the love of all that’s good, make Fastpass reservations. I put that in bold and italics because IT IS IMPORTANT.

Which Attractions to Visit

Yeah, that’s going to be too much information to fit into a six minute read. So if you want super detail on that, check out this Wikipedia entry. It lists every single attraction by park, and they are hot linked to further descriptions. Or you can just take my Fastpass recommendations below and wing the rest. Which is what I’d suggest.

The Down and Dirty on Fastpasses

-Fastpasses are like reservations for rides. They allow you to skip the regular line.

-You are permitted to make three Fastpass reservations per day. They must all be in the same park.

-Fastpasses are valid for one hour. So an 11am Fastpass is good from 11am until noon.

-After you’ve used your last Fastpass, you can make one more in any park on property. After you’ve used that one, you can make one more. And so on and so on.

How to Make Fastpasses

  1. Visit My Disney Experience dot com or download the app.
  2. Click ‘Help’ in the top bar.
  3. Scroll down to FastPass+
  4. Read the directions.

The Best Way to Plan Fastpasses

I’m not going to explain why this is, because you are busy and this post is already kinda long. So just trust me on this. Follow these directions:

  1. Make Fastpasses for thirty minutes to an hour after park opening. Example: the Magic Kingdom opens at 9am. Your first Fastpass should be for 9:30am.
  2. Make the rest of your Fastpasses for exactly one hour later. Example: 9:30, 10:30, and 11:30.
  3. Arrive at the park before park opening and ride as many rides as possible in the first hour and a half.
  4. Then, use your first Fastpass at the end of its use-time. So in this example: use your 9:30 Fastpass at 10:30. Use your second and then your third. Because you took my advice and scheduled them exaclty one hour apart, this can all occur within a 90 minute period.
  5. Immediately after using your last Fastpass, use the My Disney Experience app to make another Fastpass. You can do this in line for your third Fastpass attraction.
  6. Repeat step #6 until you are sick of walking onto rides.

Repeat after me: there is NO reason to stand in line at Disney World. None. Zero. If you are standing in line, you are doing it wrong.

A Final Word On Fastpasses

Some attractions require Fastpasses and some do not. If you feel like reading beyond the six minute mark, check out my list of Fastpass-Requiring Attractions below.

In Conclusion

And…that’s it! You now know everything you need to know about planning a Disney trip. Wasn’t that easy? And that was only 1,300 words. Take that, inches-thick Disney travel guides!

Do you have anything to add to this advice? If so, share in the comments below. And if you are interested in learning which attractions you should prioritize for Fastpasses, check out my Blog Post Appendix, starting right after this photo of my mom on the carousel…

Disney World planning advice

Blog Post Appendix: Which attractions require Fastpasses

Note: each attraction list is in order of the amount of time you’ll wait without a Fastpass, from most to least.

Magic Kingdom

-Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

-Peter Pan

-Space Mountain

-Big Thunder Mountain Railroad


-Frozen Ever After


Hollywood Studios

-Toy Story Midway Mania

-Rockin’ Roller Coaster

-Tower of Terror

Animal Kingdom*

-Expedition Everest

-Kilimanjaro Safari


*Update for 2017 and beyond: if you are interested in the attractions in Pandora: World of Avatar, these should be your Fastpass Priorities. These include Flight of Passage and Navi River Journey, with Flight of Passage as your #1 pick. As of this writing, you can only choose one Pandora attraction Fastpass per day.

Now, go forth and have a magical, well-planned trip! And if you found this post useful, please do share it with your Disney-trip-planning friends or on your favorite form of social media.

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