According to science, there are 999 decisions to be made when planning a Walt Disney World vacation, and that’s before you even leave your home. Well… I’m sure it would be according to science, if scientists weren’t so focused on going into space and building robots and stuff. If they weren’t busy with their space robots, though, scientists would absolutely agree with this (totally not made-up) statistic.
Past some of the “big” decisions (how you’re getting there, where you’re staying, whether you’re bringing your entire family or just your favorite members), there are a lot of other choices to be made. From what sort of park tickets to get, to what you’re going to eat while you’re there, it seems like you have to keep making one decision after another. While some choices are admittedly minor and can be made up as you go once you’re there, many restaurants require reservations and therefore some planning. Now, too, with the Fastpass+ system (which allows guests to get them up to sixty days before their trip) it can be helpful to plan ahead and get FastPasses for busier attractions in advance.
It can actually be a lot of fun to plan a Walt Disney World trip, but especially if you’re not familiar with the parks it can be confusing and overwhelming. Even for someone who has been there before there’s a lot to deal with when trying to put the whole trip together.
To try and assist (because I’m helpful like that), I’m listing some of the top sites that I use when planning a Walt Disney World vacation. They offer great tips that can help tailor a trip, and can give you valuable information on everything from ride closures to food options.
My only real caveat here is that–with the exception of My Disney Experience–all of these are third party sites. This means that they’re not affiliated with Disney, and their iinformation can change or even be incorrect. For the most part I’ve had good luck with them (or I wouldn’t be recommending them) but bear in mind that there is a chance for error. Additionally, Walt Disney World information can change very quickly, so it’s helpful to check back now and see if anything has been updated.
So, in no particular order:
Undercover Tourist sells discounted Disney tickets. They’re sometimes cheaper than going through Disney or other sites, so its definitely worth checking them out before committing to a purchase. They often offer special deals, like a ‘buy X days, get one free’ that can help save money if you’re looking for a multi-day ticket, and there are no hidden fees. Undercover Tourist is also an authorized Disney ticket seller, which is important: there are some places out there that claim to offer big discounts but end up being sketchy and/or suddenly charge extra fees that jack up the final price. I’ve ordered tickets from Undercover Tourist, the entire process was great, and now before we purchase tickets for any WDW trip we check them first.
What’s worth noting, though, is that Undercover Tourist only sells particular types of passes. So, for example, you can’t get a one-day or two-day Disney ticket through them. You also have to be sure to order in enough time for them to mail the tickets to you, as opposed to getting them at Disney which you can do right on property. If you’re staying at a Disney resort and have a Magic Band, there’s then a process to linking the UT tickets to the band. From what I’ve seen it isn’t difficult, but it is an additional step along the way.
Undercover Tourist isn’t always the best deal, but they can be, so it’s worth checking out their options before spending your money.
Touring Plans is a fairly expansive site which offers information for a variety of theme parks (including, obviously, Walt Disney World). They are a subscription site, so many of their features are hidden behind a pay wall, but some of the information–including what I check it for–is available for free.
Touring Plans offers a list of the attractions that are closing for renovations, and the dates that they’ll be down, so you can check it out before a trip and see if a particular ride or show isn’t going to be available when you’d be there. Bear in mind that it doesn’t cover random technical difficulties, so a ride can still be down on a day simply because it needs a repair (or, in the case of Haunted Mansion, unruly spirits are causing issues), but actual scheduled work is listed.
If you don’t care what’s going to be open or not–since there’s so much to see anyway–then there’s no reason to worry about this list. If you absolutely have to see Hall of Presidents on every trip, though, then you may want to take a quick look at Touring Plans before setting dates (if flexibility is a thing). Checking this site actually affected our plans to go to Disneyland this year, in that we moved the trip to Walt Disney World instead, as some iconic (and exclusive to Disneyland) attractions were going to be closed during our dates and we didn’t feel like we’d be getting the full experience.
Easy WDW offers park information, such as hours of operation and if there are any special events planned. What I find really useful, though, is their crowd calendar.
The crowd calendar allows you to see an estimation of how busy the parks are going to be on an upcoming date. There’s a daily ebb and flow to the parks, and Easy WDW shows what they anticipate to be the best or worst park to visit in terms of crowds. There is some degree of science to tracking park crowds (for example: people often travel on weekends, and then go to Magic Kingdom first, making that park busier on Mondays) . It’s also possible, of course, that the people behind the site are actually from the future and have gone to the parks every day for the next several months and are reporting their findings.
In addition to the estimated crowd levels, Easy WDW also gives an idea on weather (based on historical data), schedules for shows and Extra Magic Hours, and any special events that may be running.
It’s all predictions based upon past data, algorithms, and possibly clairvoyants with crystal balls, so of course (like anything) reality can go in a drastically different direction. For our most recent trip, though, we did look at their projections and choose which park to go to on which day based on their suggestions. Interestingly, on our original EPCOT day we hadn’t been able to get a reservation at the Rose & Crown for the timeframe we wanted–late enough to be able to see IllumiNations from the restaurant–and when we changed plans based on the information at Easy WDW we were able to get that. So their projected crowd estimates, in my opinion, are something to check when planning.
World of Walt offers articles about Walt Disney World, and it also has a robust forum. So in addition to being a great place to ask questions and get help, it’s a fun spot to chat and share stories with like-minded Disney fans.
The articles cover a lot of different topics, but it’s the forum in particular that can really help someone if they’re planning a Walt Disney World trip. People have posted questions about everything from wanting hotel and restaurant suggestions to asking about pin trading and merchandise, and the people on the forum generally offer good advice. World of Walt also recently launched a podcast, called “Making the Most of Your Walt Disney World Vacation”, which is geared towards first-timers with subjects like the top six restaurants or top six live shows.
Full disclosure: I’m an active participant on the World of Walt forums, I’ve contributed articles to the news page, and I’ve been a guest multiple times on the podcast. So obviously I’m a bit biased when I say that it’s a great site and everyone should check it out. Beyond my own personal involvement, though, it really is a good resource. Recently someone joined the forum, who had never been to Walt Disney World but is currently planning a family trip, and the community has been answering all of his questions and really helping him navigate the often confusing decisions involved. So that’s a lot more personal than simply looking up information on a site.
As a side note, you should totally check out the aforementioned World of Walt podcast because (as I said) I’ve been a guest on it.The podcast is available through iTunes, Stitcher (on Android), or directly through the World of Walt site. It’s a lot of fun and listening to information can be a nice change from reading websites. Even if I did ramble on about Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom a bit on one episode…
While you’re at Walt Disney World, it’s entirely possible that you’ll want to eat at least once throughout the trip. If that’s the case, then you may want to check out All Ears and/or the Disney Food Blog (each title above is a separate link to the coordinating site).
All Ears has a lot of news and information about Walt Disney World, but in particular they post menus for the restaurants on property. So especially if you’ve got dietary restrictions (or just brought really picky eaters with you), it can be a handy resource to check out before planning your days at the parks. They have the prices listed as well, which can help with budget planning.
The Disney Food Blog has a lot of information about dining at Disney (like a FAQ about dining plans), and also reviews of many of the restaurants in the parks. If you’re curious on a particular restaurant, it can be good to check out DFB to see if there are any write-ups about it.
It can be a good combination of sites to check if you’re really interested in learning more about the food options at Walt Disney World. As my wife keeps kosher, we often check the menus at All Ears when planning our trips (it should be noted that the official Disney site also has menus, but All Ears offers more info on the dishes and includes pricing). The reviews on Disney Food Blog are fun to read, and can give more insight into a restaurant. Especially during a busy season, making dining reservations for certain restaurants as early as possible (like popular spots ‘Ohana and Be Our Guest) is necessary, so being able to look at menus and get reviews makes planning a lot easier.
This is the only official Disney site on this list, and it’s a must-use resource if you’re planning a Walt Disney World vacation. From My Disney Experience you can make hotel and dining reservations, buy park tickets, book Fastpasses, choose and personalize your Magic Bands, and more. Almost everything is then tracked in your itinerary, giving you easy access to the particulars of your trip.
You do have to create a (free) Disney account to access many of the site’s features, and then if any travel companions create accounts you can link them to the itinerary so they also have access to the reservations. The site also has information on park hours, attractions, tours, dining, and special events. There’s even a list of entertainment–including the “street” shows around a park–for a chosen date, which is helpful if you’re looking to see a certain performance.
The itinerary feature is particularly cool in that it gives you an easy way to keep track of your day. It has all of your Fastpasses and dining reservations, but you can also add extra attractions that you want to see. So, for example, if you wanted to be sure to catch IllumiNations at EPCOT, you could add it to your itinerary and it’ll be added to your list of things to do. It’s great to have this list of bookings and must-see attractions, it’s easy to change Fastpass times and reservations (provided the new times are available), and it’s fun to tailor your trip in advance and build this itinerary of what you’ll be doing at Walt Disney World.
My Disney Experience has an accompanying free smartphone app for iPhone and Android, which offers some of the same features. You can track your itinerary, make dining reservations, and with the app you can even check attraction wait times.
The site (and app) does have one weird omission, and that concerns reservations for special activities. So if you book a tour or the Pirates & Pals Fireworks Cruise, for example, you can’t link it to your My Disney Experience itinerary. You can see them on the attractions lists, get information on them, and get the phone number to call if you want to book, but then you can’t link the actual reservation to your itinerary. That’s a little sad when you’re someone prone to booking such things (like we are) but that’s a small issue with what’s otherwise a phenomenal resource.
Is this a complete list of great Walt Disney World-related sites? Absolutely not. This is just a small look at some of the information that’s out there on the web, and these are sites that I have personally used when planning a trip to the Most Magical Place on Earth. A quick online search will bring up about sixteen million (give or take) sites dedicated to Walt Disney World, and trying to sift through all of them can be just as overwhelming as planning the trip itself, so hopefully having a few to check first will make things easier for you travelers out there.
Here’s a question to my readers, too: Do you have any must-check sites when planning your own Walt Disney World vacation? Have you used the ones listed, and do you have others that you think are great? Share in the comments!