Walt Disney World is kind of like mecca.
It is really THE destination for family vacations and twenty five million people visit the parks every year. No matter where you’re from, chances are good people you know have been to Disney World or are going to Disney World or want to go to Disney World. Chances are good, you’ve toyed around with the idea yourself. Should you go? And when? And how?
Over the next several months I will be giving you my very best hints and tips to allow you to plan for the Disney vacation of your dreams.
In 1971, Walt Disney World opened with one theme park (the Magic Kingdom), two hotels (The Contemporary Resort and Disney’s Polynesian Resort) and one campground (Fort Wilderness). Today, Disney World is comprised of four theme parks, 25 different hotels, hundreds of restaurants and food kiosks, a dedicated shopping area, water parks, golf courses and nearly any sort of family accommodations you can imagine including an on-site kennel. Planning a trip can be overwhelming and it will certainly be expensive. Look, I love going. I can’t wait to go back. We already have a trip penciled into our books for fall 2016 (more than a year away) and despite my excitement I can still openly admit that a Walt Disney World vacation is expensive and I want to help you make the most of out of that time and money.
#1 When to Go
1) When Can You Afford to Go?
I want to start out by saying that there are all sorts of price points for a Disney World vacation. You can stay at an off site, in a suite for under $100 a night or you can stay in a deluxe, club level hotel with a theme park view for $800 a night. The sky is really the limit and while pricing out and understanding how much a Disney World vacation can cost is an important factor, the more general idea of when can you afford to go makes the most sense.
Yes, I know this is an obvious question, but it’s really the most important one. My general pricing guideline is $1000/person for seven days. Of course, you can tweek different factors and spend less money and Disney does offer a Vacation Savings Account to help you save for your trip, but in the end, when you can go is based, most importantly, on when you can actually pay for your trip.
2) When Should You Take the Kids?
Another important factor, secondary to when you can afford to go is at what age you want to take your children. This will vary from family to family, but the first question you should ask yourself is whether you hope to return to Disney World at some point or if there is only room in your budget and life for one trip during all of your children’s childhoods. If this is true, I would recommend waiting until your youngest kiddo is at least six. Not only will they be able to have a memory of visiting, but they will have better stamina which will allow you to pack more into your day and will be tall enough to ride most of the rides.
If a once in a lifetime visit isn’t what you’re planning on, there are a few more additional factors to consider. First, all children under age three (that means 0, 1 and 2) are free at Disney World. They stay free, ride for free and eat for free (from your plate at non-buffet restaurants). As long as your child is under 3 for the first day of your stay, they may turn 3 during your stay and still enjoy “baby” pricing.
Children 10 and up are considered Adults at Disney World and will enjoy a pricing increase once they turn ten, particularly in regards to the dining plan where the price will jump from just over $19/day to $60/day as a Disney Adult. Planning a trip before these price increases can save you money.
But, what is the perfect age to take a child to Disney. Of course, that varies from family to family. Some see no reason to not travel with a young baby and are willing to tailor their trip to their baby’s needs. Some cannot imagine traveling with a young baby. You know your family best! Big Daddy and I have amended our “perfect age” from 4 to 7. Seven, in our experience, is the perfect mix of stamina, height and belief.
3) But, When do I go?
Predicting crowd levels and making visit recommendations is a huge business. There are full websites and companies that devote themselves to being in the parks every day giving real time attendance information to bean counters who will use it to predict next year’s crowd levels. You can access this information for free or even pay for a subscription.
Here’s what you should know to be true; Disney will be most crowded during holidays and traditional school breaks. Yes, it’s crowded President’s Day Weekend and Spring Break and Summer and Christmas. Any time kids traditionally have off school, Disney will be the most busy.
Additionally, Disney hosts events throughout the year that will increase guests as well, particularly their Food and Wine festival in EPCOT each fall which finds EPCOT very busy during October weekends.
If you are willing to have your kids miss school you can absolutely visit Disney World during their lowest crowd times where you will enjoy steeper discounts and less people. For example, the last week of February show very low crowds, but that also means earlier park closing and less shows. To compare, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is as crowded as the parks are expected to get and while you will wait in much longer lines, you will experience cooler temperatures and more show times and other diversion to compensate you.
Crowd calendars are helpful as they take into considerations that you probably didn’t when you thought about planning your trip. Park attendance swells during Jersey Week (a traditional week off of school in the fall for New Jersey school kids in early November) and these aberrations off of the normal school/holiday schedule could throw a cog in your works, so consulting crowd prediction web sites can help you out.
I admit that I subscribe to Touring Plans. For 12.95/year they give you an enormous amount of data and I LOVE data. The not only give you crowd predictions, but also gives you estimated wait times for each hour the park is open. I find this REALLY useful because while a park may be more crowded, the lines may be something we are willing to stand it which gives us more flexibility. Touring Plans also has their own wait time app for your smart phone which, not only gives you the current stated wait time by Disney, but also the real wait time observed by Touring Plans folks on the ground AND advice on whether to ride a ride now or skip it based on wait time predictions. I love all that data.
But, if free is more your thing EasyWdW and Kenny the Pirate both offer crowd prediction calendars that can help you plan your trip for no charge.