The first time I went to Walt Disney World, to say I was shocked by the size and scope of the resort would be an understatement. I am a life-long “Disneylander.” I grew up in Orange County and quaint Disneyland Park was (and is) like my second home. I had been told by countless people that Walt Disney World is “bigger” and “different,” but I was truly blown away by just how different it was on that first visit. I had always figured that given the fact that I am a Disneyland expert, that my expertise would obviously also pertain to Walt Disney World. That isn’t exactly the case.
With that in mind, here are five really important things you should know before planning your Walt Disney World vacation.
1. Walt Disney World isn’t just big, it’s massive.
I know you’ve heard that before. I did before I went to Walt Disney World the first time. The problem is, I just couldn’t fathom HOW big it was. So let me break it down for you: The Walt Disney World Resort is 40 square miles. Yes, that’s 40 square miles–or roughly the size of San Francisco, Santa Rosa, Oceanside or Simi Valley (all cities/towns in California). It is more than double the size of the town I live in (Burbank).
What does that size mean to you, the traveler? It results in two important things: the parks are bigger and you will be doing a lot of walking AND transportation around the resort is very important. We will cover this in a future blog post.
2. The weather ain’t like California.
Let’s face it: Disneyland has great weather pretty much year round. If you have never visited Florida… or the south… it’s hard for me to prepare you for the humidity that is experienced in Florida. There is a reason why many (most) of the attractions have indoor, climate-controlled queues. You really need to think about weather when planning a trip. The first week in November through March are usually the least humid. After that humidity increases but even May can have pleasant temperatures around 84 but lower humidity. Once June hits, it can get uncomfortable and that can last through October.
I have visited in April twice and at the end middle/end of May once. April was perfect and during my May trip we had one days of drippy, hot weather and the rest was really nice.
3. It’s not as expensive as you may think.
Before you jump down my throat on this, hear me out. If you want to stay on-property at the Disneyland Resort, rooms set you back way more than $200 per night. The nice thing about Walt Disney World is that they offer different “levels” of resorts and within those resorts, different types of rooms. You can get a value room for as little as $100 a night Sunday through Thursday if you visit during the value season. And although prices go up from there, it is still possible to get rooms for less than $200 during the peak season.
The nice thing about less-expensive rooms at the Walt Disney World Resort is that you are still getting the Disney magic and commitment to quality and guest service. When you book a less expensive hotel near Disneyland at an off-property hotel or motel, you certainly don’t get Disney magic, quality and guest service levels. You can also combine those lesser-expensive rooms with vacation package that include tickets and meal packages.
4. Dining is different.
At Disneyland, most of us are used to grabbing a corndog on the go or sitting down for a quick burger at the Hungry Bear. In Walt Disney World, a lot more dining is focused around table-service restaurants, which then lends itself to two things Disneylanders don’t often spend a lot of time thinking about: having to make dining reservations MONTHS before your visit and having to plan out each day of your vacation so that you can make those reservations. Plus, as you know a sit-down meal is usually going to cost a bit more than a turkey leg on the go. That’s not to say you HAVE to make reservations for all of your meals, but you should know that food is a BIG deal in Walt Disney World.
Personally, I have never made a meal reservation for our trips, and have been able to eat just fine. That being said, I am in the minority.
5. It’s not as easy as booking flights, room and tickets.
Before I went to Walt Disney World, I didn’t believe this statement either. Seriously. I mean how hard can it be, right? I understood the difference in resort levels and the like (sort of), but it takes an expert to really help you understand which rooms are right for your family and your budget. Plus, an experienced travel planner can help you figure out things like which hotels have the best dining for your family situation and each hotel’s transportation situation and proximity to the different parks. (With more than 20 resort hotels within the 40 square mile resort, stuff like that matters.) During my family’s last trip, my travel agent insisted that a certain room would be PERFECT for my family. Based on photos online, I disagreed and only booked one night in the said room (instead of all of our nights) and it turned out it was indeed our favorite and the perfect room (and resort). I should have listened and I have learned my lesson.
A travel agent is a MUST for any Disney World vacation so that you not only get the right room (or rooms if you “resort hop” like we do), but so that all of your dining reservations and special requests can be made before your visit. It is such a feat to get your kids on a plane and go across country, the last thing you need to worry about is whether your special room request on a certain floor has been made, etc. I am being completely serious when I tell you that there is NO WAY I would EVER book a Walt Disney World vacation without an agent. Period. (I wouldn’t book a Disney Cruise without one either.) And I’m not saying this because I am trying to sell you a vacation because as you already know I am NOT a travel agent and don’t get a cut from anyone booking a Disney vacation. I am saying this because even the most seasoned travel pros make mistakes, forget things or get stressed out when booking a vacation. When you book with a Disney-authorized travel agent, they know when to call to make arrangements you need or to place requests and if something isn’t right once you reach your destination, you just call your travel agent and they will work with Disney to try to fix whatever is wrong.
It is important to find a Disney-authorized vacation planner because they have access to the best deals and monitor those deals as your trip nears. You might be tempted to book through AAA, but be forewarned that while they may appear that they have good deals on trips far ahead of time, they will NOT help you find a better deal as your trip gets closer, which means you will likely end up spending more in the end. They also do not offer things like making dining reservations for you or holding your hand through all of the planing. With an agent, you are more than a number.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2015. Because it is so helpful, we updated May 11, 2017.