Visiting Walt Disney World for the first time in forever? It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the planning process. You’re getting advice from friends, you’re reading blogs, you’re picking up guidebooks—there’s so much information! How could all of this be necessary, right?

While it’s true that a lot of planning goes into a visit to Walt Disney World, we think we can simplify things for you just a little bit. Check out our seven easy steps to planning your Walt Disney World visit!

1. Pick your park days. Use the calendar on Disney’s website or a planning site like TouringPlans to determine the best best day to visit. Consider park hours, refurbishment calendars (don’t wait for Thursday if your favorite ride goes out of service starting Wednesday!), special events which might close the park early, and entertainment schedule (some shows and fireworks might operate seasonally). Another consideration is early opening or late closing hours for Disney resort hotels guests. These “Extra Magic Hours” can make a park busier in the morning or evening, so avoid those if possible.

2. Build an itinerary. Build your own itinerary with the help of premade itineraries such as those at TouringPlans or EasyWDW, which helps you prioritize attractions. Plan on riding headliner attractions (think Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom) early in the day, while crowds are light.

Writing out your itinerary or having it saved as a photo file on your phone can eliminate wasted time standing around staring at a map, trying to figure out what to do next. It can also cut down on back-tracking around the park. You’re already going to be walking as much as ten miles a day, so every saved footstep counts!

Your ticket to the magic: understanding how Disney tickets work is key to planning. Photo: beleaveme/flickr

Your ticket to the magic: understanding how Disney tickets work is key to planning. Photo: beleaveme/flickr

3. Understand your tickets. There are a dizzying variety of Walt Disney World tickets out there. The most basic are multi-day Magic Your Way tickets, with or without Park Hopper, which allows you to visit more than one park on the same day. Multi-day tickets are not attached to a specific date, but once you use your ticket, you must use all the days on it within fourteen days, or the benefits will expire. This blog post at Traveling Mom gives you a good look at whether Park Hopper or single-park tickets are best for you.

Always buy your tickets before you visit Walt Disney World, whether you buy them online ahead of time, or from a resort representative such as you’ll find at Summer Bay Orlando By Exploria Resorts. It’s just one less line you’ll need to stand in once you arrive at the parks!

With the free My Disney Experience mobile application and extensive complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the Florida Vacation Kingdom, Walt Disney World Resort guests can have Disney fun at their fingertips. Information about attractions, show times, dining and more is easier than ever to explore and access. Guests have the option of modifying FastPass+ choices or dining reservations while on the go, thanks to the app and in-park kiosks Ð or at fully-staffed service centers. (Kent Phillips, photographer)

Make and manage FastPass+ with the free My Disney Experience mobile app. (Photo: Disney, Kent Phillips, photographer)

4. Use FastPass+ service. Walt Disney World’s FastPass+ service makes it easy to make sure your family will enjoy their three favorite attractions with little wait, but you have to set it up beforehand. Once you’ve bought your tickets and connected them to your account at MyDisneyExperience.com, you can schedule three FastPass+ selections per day ahead of time—as much as thirty days ahead of time if you’re staying at Summer Bay Orlando.

Make your FastPass+ selections for must-do attractions you expect will have long waits: think thrill rides, or character meet-and-greets if you have smaller children who must meet Ariel during their visit. Saving them for mid to late morning lets you skip moderate waits, and gives you the opportunity to select additional FastPass+ rides after you’ve used your first three selections.

5. Get up early. There’s a reason that guidebooks have continued to say “go to the parks early” for years and it still hasn’t made the mornings just as crowded as the afternoons: people don’t heed that advice! The majority of theme park visitors arrive after eleven o’clock in the morning. Meanwhile, most parks open at 9 AM, and even earlier in busy periods like Easter or Christmas. If you’re waiting at the entrance as soon as they start letting people in, you have an advantage of several hours over the folks sleeping in.

Here’s a bonus to arriving before a theme park opens: you might just get in early. Certain parks allow guests to enter before the official opening time and wait in a staging area until the attractions open. This is an awesome opportunity to take photos – and to get that much closer to your favorite ride before everyone else!

Cinderella Castle lights up the night. Don't miss this view by going home too early - plan an easy afternoon. Photo: Disney.

Cinderella Castle lights up the night. Don’t miss this view by going home too early – plan an easy afternoon. Photo: Disney.

6. Save shows for the afternoon. Once you’ve powered through your must-do list, enjoy a leisurely lunch before spending your afternoon on shows and longer attractions. At Magic Kingdom this will be attractions such as the Carousel of Progress, Mickey’s Philharmagic, and the Country Bear Jamboree. While not as exciting as Splash Mountain, these attractions all involve air conditioning (important on a mid-afternoon in Florida!) and sitting down for at least fifteen minutes at a time, making them great choices to avoid the crowds.

7. Allow time for kids to just be kids. This might mean letting them splash in an interactive fountain, climbing on a play-set, or running around Tom Sawyer Island in the Magic Kingdom. While the pressure to measure the value of your park ticket against how many rides you manage is high, take a step back and experience the bigger picture. Enjoying unstructured time in Disney’s elaborately themed parks will give you happy memories for years to come.

A visit to Walt Disney World has become a rite of passage for families around the world. It’s also gained a reputation of something of a hassle. While it’s true that a lot of planning, walking, and patience are required for a Disney World visit, we think you’ll find the memories are worth the trouble. Use these steps to plan a vacation that’s low on stress, and high on fun!

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