With an average annual attendance of over 52,000,000 visitors in 2018 alone, Walt Disney World (WDW) is the undisputed leader in theme park attendance. It’s a vast complex, with four major theme parks, over 140 restaurants, over twenty-five hotels, three 18-hole golf courses, two full-sized water parks, a miniature golf course, a shopping district, special events galore, and dozens of other options packed into a resort that encompasses nearly 25,000 acres or just shy 40 square miles.
For those who visit WDW on a regular or even semi-regular basis, they learn how to negotiate everything that the resort has to offer. But for newbies who have never been before, or who haven’t gone in decades, planning their WDW vacation can be a daunting and even overwhelming task.
Here are some things to make things easier and hopefully give you the lay of the land…
There are two books available that have been around for 30+ years and I recommend both of them for different reasons:
Birnbaum’s 2020 Walt Disney World: The Official Guide
This book has been around since at least 1989 and has been updated every year ever since. Sanctioned by Disney and with official photos (and coupons!) supplied by them, the book gives detailed descriptions of all of WDW’s attractions, resorts, and places to eat, offers money-saving coupons and strategies to maximize your vacation budget, and includes a peek into what’s new. Initially just offering a guide to WDW, the writers (there are several. Stephen Birnbaum actually passed away in 1991, at the age of 54) have expanded and also offer official guides For Kids, to Disneyland, and to Disney Cruise Line. Available in the U.S. at Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com, books.Disney.com, and many brick and mortar bookstores (if you can find one), as well as online booksellers outside the U.S.
Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2020
This book was first published by Bob Sehlinger in 1990 and, like the Birnbaum guide, is updated every year. This one is not sanctioned by Disney, but that doesn’t make it any less valuable. In fact, it actually has more value in some respects, because it tells you things that don’t necessarily tow the company line. As per the book’s description on Amazon.com, “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2020 explains how Walt Disney World works and how to use that knowledge to make every minute and every dollar of your vacation count. With an Unofficial Guide in hand, and with authors Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa as guides, find out what’s available in every category, from best to worst, and get step-by-step, detailed plans to help make the most of your time at Walt Disney World.” There are several other Unofficial Guides that Sehlinger has authored or co-authored, including those of WDW With Kids, as well as to Universal, Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, Las Vegas, and other places.
Travel Agent or DIY?
WDW is a lot to plan; I mean a LOT. Some people, especially newbies or those who haven’t gone in years and years, find using a travel agent helpful. Others would instead do all the work themselves. This post might help you decide what’s best for you.
Online Websites and Forums
There are a bajillion websites that are devoted to WDW, including WDW’s official web presence. However, there are a handful of sites that I think are especially good for newbies:
Online since 1996, Deb Wills and her team have built what may be the best independent online Disney travel guide out there, and it’s continuously updated. Deb retired not long ago and sold the rights to AllEars.net to a friend. From what I’ve seen, she’s left the site in excellent hands.
There are also plenty of WDW forums out there when you can ask questions and/or see the questions/answers/discussions that others have written. Each forum has a different feel – some may be “all Disney, all the time,” some are more chit-chatty, some may be more snarky, etc. Here are some of them: (please note that you’ll have to sign up and log in to ask questions, but you should be able to read existing threads without being a member)
There are literally hundreds of FB groups devoted to Walt Disney World. The group that Joe and I run, Travel: Disney, the US, Points, Miles, Savings & Everything Everywhere Else, is mainly about all aspects of travel, but with a slightly stronger focus on WDW (because you have to travel to get to WDW or anywhere else, right?), with lots of opportunities for people to ask/answer questions and share/learn about travel. Other groups may focus on a specific aspect of WDW – just do a search on FB for “Walt Disney World” or “WDW” or “Orlando,” with whatever other keywords might be relevant (kids, adults, food, special needs, etc.)
Just like the online forums, different Facebook groups will have different vibes to them. Some just have a few messages a day, some have hundreds. Some ensure that threads remain faithful to the group’s focus, whereas others will allow some off-topic discussion. Some groups have members that are genuinely willing to help people, whereas other groups seem to be more focused on snark, posting memes, spreading rumors, and/or selling items and services. Feel free to ask me my opinion on any group(s) – I’m in a couple of hundred of them 😉
One Important Suggestion
The one thing I would recommend when it comes to groups and forums is to have *some* knowledge before you start asking questions. Logging on and saying, “It’s my first time at WDW, what do I need to know?” is way too much to cover in a reply, and chances are not many people, if any at all, will answer. The same goes for writing one post with ten questions about ten different topics – it’s just too much for readers to digest, even if they’re some of the kindest and helpful people in the world. After you’ve done some research (seriously, check out those books that I mentioned at the top of the post), write separate posts for each question – one for how to narrow down which hotel to stay at, one about FastPass+, one about Disney’s Magical Express, one about how strict height requirements are, etc. Chances are you’ll get much better feedback to help you plan your trip.
WDW is a huge place, and it takes a lot of research to understand the complex so you can really make the most of your time there. Between doing your homework with books, websites, forums and friends and family who can give you advice, you should do fine!
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary