Tips to create the perfect Disney World itinerary:
If you’re planning a Disney World trip, you may have heard the words “Disney itinerary” thrown around. It can certainly sound intimidating – you need a whole step by step itinerary just to visit a theme park? But Disney is huge, and can be crowded, and there are so many things to do that it’s smart to have some sort of plan going in. Luckily I’m here to help you create the perfect Disney World itinerary for your vacation!
There are places that write out practically minute by minute guides for what you should do in each park, and there’s even apps and software you can pay for to help you plot out something similar. In the future I may share some of my own itinerary suggestions, but my top tip for now is not to follow a plan just because someone else says it’s great. Everyone is different and everyone’s vacation style is different – what makes a great trip for one person may be a terrible vacation for another.
That’s why I’m not just giving you a “perfect Disney World itinerary” with a list of attractions and times, I’m giving some advice and tools to help you put together the itinerary that’s right for you.
1. Have your basic info available
When it comes to planning out your day by day activities, you’ll want to have all of your basic information available to work off of. Chances are a lot of this is either in email confirmations on linked to your My Disney Experience account, so I’d have that handy. You’ll probably want to have on hand:
- Transportation confirmations – flights/times, rental car info, etc.
- Resort or hotel confirmation (including dates of stay)
- How many ticket days you have (and which park you booked for each day of your stay)
- Anything else you’ve planned already, such as dining reservations, special tours, etc. (and fastpasses if/when they return!)
2. Determine whether or not you’re getting park hoppers
Whether or not you have park hopper tickets is going to make a big difference in what you can do during your trip. Currently with a park hopper you can go to a different park after 2pm if you’d like. This gives you a few more options in terms of where to eat, what activities and rides you want to do, and if you’re taking an afternoon break or not.
3. Talk with your family
Make sure you get input from everyone involved who is traveling! You don’t want to plan out an itinerary only to find that one member of your party will be heartbroken if they don’t get on Space Mountain, or that your child is actually too scared to go on Tower of Terror. While you may not be able to do everything that everyone wants to do, you should at least figure out what is most important to each person. Also try to get a feel for their approach to touring – is your group one that wants to get there right at opening and do as many rides as possible, or do they want to sleep in on vacation? These are important things to know before coming up with the perfect Disney World itinerary that’s right for you.
4. Start with dining
Because you’ll probably want to get dining reservations for many of the major restaurants, starting with dining is usually a good idea. (yes, many of my trips revolve around food!). If you already have reservations, write down the times you have meals booked – obviously that’s set and you will have to work your perfect Disney World itinerary around that. If you haven’t booked dining yet I’d recommend putting approximate dates/times you’re hoping for, but keep things flexible so you can adjust plans as needed.
5. Write it down
Whether you write it out digitally or on paper, writing down your plans is the best way to stay organized. My Disney Experience is a good place to start because it keeps track of your reservations, but you may have other notes and things to keep track of. For example: your flight information, activities you might want to do that don’t require reservations, and any breaks or other things you have planned.
I’ve been writing an itinerary for years and it helps so much. When I first started I kept a very detailed itinerary, but I’ve gotten a bit more casual now that I know Disney so well and I don’t feel like I have to hit everything in one trip. And since I’ve found them so useful, I figured I would make them available for purchase in my Etsy shop!
I am a big fan of printables (basically worksheets that you can print out and then fill in yourself). They are easy to use, you can keep them all together in a binder or folder, and it’s much easier for me to read when it’s not on my phone. Plus I can just use a pencil so if anything changes I can adjust.
Want to plan the right vacation for your group? Consider using Disney itinerary and planning printables – 11 pages of trip planning, including several daily itineraries, a variety of weekly itineraries, a Disney trip basics worksheet, a food plan, small pocket itineraries that you can bring to the park with you, and more!
6. Use a style that works for you
One thing I have learned in working with people for many years (trip planning or otherwise) is that what’s right for one group may not be right for another family. The same goes for how you plan your itinerary. Your perfect Disney World itinerary may look different than someone else’s. Some people find it useful to write down every single detail or the day. Others just want an overall idea of what they’re doing with a lot of freedom and flexibility.
When coming up with my itinerary printables I found I couldn’t just stop at one. I really wanted to offer something for everyone so I created (probably too many!) different itineraries that you can use.
Disney trip basics
This is a good place to start to get all of your basic information out on paper. It has spots for the things you may already have planned or know you’re definitely going to do, like your resort, transportation information, and any dining reservations you’ve made. Then there’s a spot to brainstorm your “must do” items at each park so you’re sure to hit the things that are most important to you.
I’ve also got a “Disney food plans” itinerary because dining reservations are one of the earliest things you can book – so like it or not, there’s a good chance you’re going to be planning your day around food! This gives you a place to fill in all of your dining information so you can reference it easily as you’re making your daily plans.
7. Have an overall plan and a more detailed daily plan
I like to create both a weekly itinerary and a daily itinerary. It’s helpful to see an overview and know where you’re headed each day, but once that day arrives you probably want a somewhat more detailed plan. The level of detail is totally up to you, but I’ve provided options for a very basic itinerary and a very detailed one (plus a few in between!).
I usually start with a weekly itinerary to give me a good overview of my trip and week ahead. I’ve got three different versions for you to take a look at to find what works best for you. I personally like the one with the gray boxes because it has the main things I need to know for each day – what park, the hours, any dining reservations, the weather (so I know what to wear), and any other plans. Each of these weekly itineraries has 7 days but of course if you’re staying longer you could print two of them (or just not use all the boxes for shorter trips).
The “Disney itinerary” is probably the most basic. It has spots for your resort, transportation, and reservations, as well as a place where you can list what park you’re going to each day and the hours it’s open. The blue “Disney World Itinerary” sheet is a great option for those who just want a basic and quick list of all the important things each day.
On the opposite end of planning you have the detailed Disney itinerary. This is a chart which will allow you to fill in pretty much anything you might have going on each day and see it all side by side. It has a place for the park(s), hours, weather, outfits, dining reservations, fastpass+ (when they return), attractions to hit, parades, shows, transportation, and other.
I have two different versions of a daily Disney itinerary. One has an hourly schedule on it while the other does not. I personally use the one with the hourly schedule, though I don’t fill in every single attraction I plan to do – I might just put the general area, like “Adventureland,” and I usually leave a gap or two so I don’t feel rushed. Some people definitely don’t want to be on any sort of schedule like that which is why I provided the other version. They do currently have a space for fastpasses, though Disney isn’t using them right now. I left it in there because I want them to have that when they return (or if something similar comes back!).
These ones are designed for being used on the go when you’re actually headed into the parks. They’re a bit smaller and I’d recommend printing them on cardstock or something sturdy so you can throw them into a backpack and not worry about it. There are two different ones here – the first is a daily itinerary by park (so there’s one for Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom, though of course you can print as many as you need!). The other is an overview of your whole trip, with a total of 8 days. You can print it double sided on one piece of cardstock if you’d like so you have a small reference each day.
8. Don’t try to do too much in one day
Are those itineraries looking a little overwhelming? Don’t stress! They are meant to be a guide so you can feel like you have a handle on things – I only include so many different ones so people can have some flexibility in what works for their trips. That being said, making sure not to over-plan is key!
I mentioned earlier that even when I’m using the hour by hour itinerary, I usually leave some blank spots. Some of the most magical things about Disney are the things you may not plan for – a special character interaction that pops up out of nowhere, catching a street performer, taking that perfect photo. Don’t fill up your schedule so much that you’re rushing by these things. I build in some buffer time so I don’t feel stressed if things don’t go according to plan as well.
9. Prioritize your plans
Starting with the Disney trip basics sheet is good for this. You simply can’t do it all, but if you have any “must-do” items you want to make sure you get to them. So write those things down, make it a priority, and then everything else will feel like a bonus. It’s lower stress that way!
10. Have a plan for Rise of the Resistance
If you’re hoping to get on Rise of the Resistance, make sure you have a plan. You’re going to need to have a park pass reservation for Hollywood Studios and be ready at 7am from the app to try and get a virtual boarding group. If you want to have a plan read my article on Rise of the Resistance. Just keep in mind that you can’t predict when your boarding group will be called or what time you’ll ride, so keep that in mind when looking at your itinerary.
11. Understand transportation
If you haven’t been to Disney before (or it’s been awhile), be aware of just how big the resort is and the fact that it can take awhile to get around. Even if you’re staying on property, you’ll probably want to block out around 45 minutes to get to your destination. It will often be quicker than that, but 45-60 minutes will make certain you’re where you want to be on time.
Most Disney resorts will rely on buses to get you to the parks. They say buses run every 20 minutes and depending where you’re going it can take 5-15 minutes on the bus. Some resorts also have the monorail, Skyliner, or boats. You can learn more about all the different transportation options here.
If you’re staying off site and have your own car, you’ll still need to build in some time to get there. Even though many hotels advertise that they are right near Disney, the property itself is quite big – once you get in the gates you still may have a 10-15 minute drive to the park itself, and then it takes some time to park, walk from the parking lot to the front, etc. Depending where you’re coming from you also want to allot time for Orlando traffic.
12. Try to rope drop
If you’re not familiar with the term, “rope drop” means getting to the park before it opens so you can be among the first people inside. The term comes from the days where they used to physically hold a rope in front of the entrance to prevent people from entering before it was time. When it hit park opening they’d drop the rope and you could enter.
Getting there at rope drop is a huge advantage in touring and getting on more rides and attractions with a shorter wait. It does often mean getting up early on vacation. But many families will sleep in or arrive an hour or two after the park opens, which is when things really start to fill up and wait times increase a lot by around 11am. You can really get a lot done if you’re able to work rope drop into your perfect Disney World itinerary.
13. Consider scheduling a rest day
Believe it or not, you don’t have to go to a theme park every single day. There’s plenty to do at Disney outside of the parks and even at the resorts. Many people tend to go at the theme parks hard, spending a ton of time walking and constantly on the move. Having a rest day is a great way to relax and recover a bit. You can check out your resort’s pool, schedule a nice meal at any of the outside park restaurants, check out Disney Springs for shopping, bowling, a movie theater, and more, or even play mini golf.
14. Ask questions
Don’t be afraid to ask questions before and during your trip. If you’ve booked your trip with a travel agent, they are a great resource for personalized advice and can give you information on which rides might have the longest waits, restaurants that need to be booked early, and more. You can also find tons of information on websites and facebook, though be careful to make sure everything is accurate and up to date. I have a Disney facebook group called Put a Little Disney in your Day that I monitor to insure that information provided is correct.
And once you arrive at Disney World, cast members are very glad to help! If you’re not sure how to get to a certain attraction or what time something opens, just ask. That will generally save you more time than trying to look at a map or your phone to get the same information, and they usually know any up to the minute changes.
Feeling overwhelmed? A travel agent can help you book and plan your trip – and it doesn’t cost you anything! I’ve helped hundreds of people plan their magical vacations – contact me today to get started.
15. Be okay with a back-up plan
Sometimes even the most organized itineraries don’t go according to plan, and the worst thing you can do is panic or feel like your vacation is ruined when that happens. Because guess what? Something is always going to go wrong. Maybe an attraction breaks down, it rains when the parade should have happened, or the bus takes longer than you anticipated. “Go with the flow,” as I like to say, and don’t be afraid to have (and embrace!) and back-up plan. So many things at Disney are wonderful experiences that even if you don’t get to everything you’ve heard about, you might discover something else just as good – or even better.
What are your top tips for creating the perfect Disney World itinerary?