What You Need to Know When Planning a Trip to Disney World

Here’s how to ensure your visit with Mickey goes off without a hitch.

© Disney

If the prospect of planning a trip to Disney World has you wishing upon a star for either  a magic wand or a stiff drink, help is on the way. The 2011 editions of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World With Kids are as packed as the parks at high season with tips and information that will have you mastering the Magic Kingdom in no time.  Here are their answers to a few commonly asked questions:

When are the best times to visit? In December before Christmas or in November before Thanksgiving, you’ll avoid both the mobs and the broiling heat. To view predictions for crowd levels on a particular day, go to touringplans.com and sign up for full access to the site ($10.95), which lets you use certain tools, including the crowd calculator. Plug in any day from now until the end of 2012 and get an estimated crowd level represented by a number between 1 and 10.

Is there an ideal age when it comes to taking the kids? The consensus of readers of The Unofficial Guide is that the sweet spot is 8-12, when most children are old enough to appreciate a range of attractions, tall enough to ride all of the rides, strong enough to spend a day on their feet—and still like hanging out with mom and dad.

How many days should we spend there? If you want to visit everything, you should allocate 6 days for a whirlwind tour and 7-10 for a more relaxing one. Ideally, you should spend at least two days in the Magic Kingdom, days that include a three-hour break in the middle to return to the hotel, nap, swim in the pool, and generally recharge your batteries.

Is there a suggested order for touring the parks? Though the kids will be clamoring to see it first, try to save the Magic Kingdom for last—that way they won’t be disappointed by the more adult-oriented and/or educational aspects of the other parks. A good plan is to visit Epcot first, Animal Kingdom second, then Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which serves as a nice transition to the purely entertaining Magic Kingdom.

Should we stay in a Disney hotel? It depends on how much you’re willing to pay for convenience, perks–like early admission, which staying in the World often grants you– and that Disney touch: their resorts have themes that kids often love, and many offer one-of-a-kind swimming facilities and an opportunity to dine with a Disney character.

How much will it cost per day? On average, $569.64 for a family of four, excluding lodging and transportation to Orlando, and assuming that family is using their own car once there and staying outside the World.

What’s a Fastpass? A number of popular attractions let you make an appointment to return later at a designated time and skip the line. Note that the passes are limited—you might not be able to get them by mid-afternoon—you can only get one per admission ticket for any designated time period, and, because there’s also a line involved in obtaining Fastpass tickets, they’re only worth it if the wait time posted at a ride is 30 minutes or more.

What are Magic Hours? On certain days of the week, certain parks open an hour early and stay open up to three hours late for guests staying at a Disney resort. If you are not staying at a Disney resort, try to avoid whichever park has Magic Hours that day. Which parks offer them and on which days changes constantly. Check the parks calendar at disneyworld.com for more info.

Sources:  The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World With Kids

Plus: Disneyland in Pictures: Then and Now

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest