Trip Planning 101: How Long Should We Stay at Disney World?

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With a vacation destination as vast as Walt Disney World, it’s possible to stay there for several weeks or longer, without repeating a single activity or attraction. But just because there’s plenty to do at the parks, that doesn’t mean you can, or should, stay to do it all in any one trip. With so many options available, how do you decide the length of your Walt Disney World vacation?

If you're traveling during the busy holiday season, you may need extra time to see everything.

If you’re traveling during the busy holiday season, you may need extra time to see everything.

There are several factors you might consider when planning the duration of your trip:

  • Amount of time available for travel
  • Budget allocation
  • Time of year of your visit
  • Age/Stamina of the members of your traveling party
  • Your frequency of travel to Walt Disney World
  • Number of “must do” attractions for your family
  • Distance from which you’re traveling
  • Interest in non-theme-park activities
  • Interest in time for relaxation
  • Interest in visiting other Central Florida attractions
  • Do you need time at home at either end of your trip to pack/unpack?

Let’s break these down individually …

Amount of Time Available for Travel

In my previous post, Trip Planning 101: Deciding When to Visit Walt Disney World, I determined that a week in late August 2014 is an ideal time for my family to visit the parks. Given that time frame, does that mean we stay for six days? Seven? More? Given our commitments, the trip could possibly last as long as nine nights. But is that the right length visit? The first step in deciding the length of your trip is to determine the maximum time available.

Budget allocation

It sounds like a truism that the longer you stay, the more you’ll pay, but that’s not necessarily accurate. With a bit of savvy shopping, you’ll find that two or even three nights in a Disney value resort costs less than one night in a deluxe resort. Are you willing to stretch your budget into a longer trip by compromising on accommodation amenities? Are you willing to save enough money for extra nights at the hotel by eating a quick service restaurants vs. table service restaurants? Your answers to these questions will help determine the trip length that’s right for you.

One area where you may not need to make concessions to stay longer is in park ticket prices. Take some time to explore different options on the TouringPlans.com Ticket Calculator. For example, in a few minutes of experimenting I learned that OfficialTicketCenter.com currently offers a 7-day WDW ticket for about five dollars more than a 5-day ticket purchase directly from Disney World. In general, you’ll find that beyond the first five or six days of a trip, increasing the number of days of your stay has minimal impact on ticket expense.

If you're participating in a runDisney race, you may want to arrive a few days early to get acclimated.

If you’re participating in a runDisney race, you may want to arrive a few days early to get acclimated.

Time of Year of Your Visit

Take a look at the Touring Plans Crowd Calendar. Make a note of the relative crowd level during the time of your visit. Even with a Touring Plan in hand, the larger the crowds, the longer it’s going to take to accomplish what you want at Walt Disney World. Decide if crowd levels create a need for you to stay longer. Also, note whether there are special events that may influence the length of your stay. For example, if you stay one extra day, you might have the opportunity to attend Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. Or, because you’re traveling during Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival, you might want an extra day at that park.

My family often visits Walt Disney World during our February break. At that time of year, I like to spend every possible vacation moment in sunny Florida, thus avoiding the icy yuck at home in New York.

While weather situations can happen at any time of the year, during fall/winter when hurricanes in Florida or blizzards in the North often impact flights, you may want to build in a buffer day for travel home if you have something important to attend to immediately upon your return.

Age/Stamina of the Members of Your Traveling Party

Does your party include babies or toddlers who have limited patience for non-home environments? Does your party include seniors who want to take things at a slower pace and extend the trip with intermediate rest days? Does your party include teens who want to sleep all morning, thus limiting touring to the more crowded afternoons? Factor these items into how long you’ll need in the parks.

Your Frequency of Travel to Walt Disney World

I often make half a dozen trips to Walt Disney World in a year. With such frequent visits, I know that if I don’t go on a favorite ride this time, I’ll have a chance again soon. This means that shorter trips are often fine with me. However, if this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, or even if you only visit once every several years, then adding a few days to accomplish more may make sense for you.

You may want to build some pool time into your vacation plan.

You may want to build some pool time into your vacation plan.

Number of Must-Do Attractions for Your Family

I have three daughters, all fairly close in age, with a large overlap in their park touring interests. Particularly when they were younger, this kept my family’s list of must-do attractions quite small. As long as we hit the princess highlights, everyone felt satisfied. However, if you have a large age range or both boys and girls in your family, your list of key attractions may be longer. If both the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and Expedition Everest must be accomplished, then you may need a longer vacation to get everyone what he or she needs.

Distance from Which You’re Traveling

Most folks like to spend more of their precious time off actually enjoying their vacation vs. traveling to and from their vacation. This means that if you’re coming to Florida from a sizable distance (Europe or even the Western U.S.), you may want to consider taking a longer visit to Walt Disney World. This keeps the ratio of travel to trip balanced in the right direction.

Interest in Non-Theme-Park Activities

Walt Disney World is a HUGE place. In addition to the four major theme parks, there are also dozens of non-park activities: spas, mini-golf, water parks, waterskiing, parasailing, fishing, shopping, exploring the resorts, dining, dancing, shows, a tethered balloon ride, tennis, horseback riding, behind-the-scenes tours, bike rentals, and on and on. If you want to experience these types of amenities, you’ll need a longer trip.

Interest in Time for Relaxation

A Disney World vacation has the potential to be both fun and exhausting. Many folks walk five, six, or more miles per day just visiting park attractions. Consider your family’s need for unplanned downtime on a vacation. If you’d like to take a mid-trip day to lounge at the pool, factor that into the length of your stay. And yes, a relaxing Disney vacation IS possible!

Interest in Visiting Other Central Florida Attractions

While I’m a Disney girl at heart, my kids are absolutely Harry Potter fanatics. On our Disney vacations, we’ve planned side-trips to Universal Studios’ Wizarding World. Your family may be interested in Sea World, Orlando’s outlet shopping, the LEGOLAND near Tampa, Kennedy Space Center, a beach visit, or any number of other non-Disney activities. Add time to your trip if you plan on experiencing other nearby attractions.

Do You Need Time At Either End of Your Trip?

When I return home from a vacation, I like to start fresh the first Monday back with suitcases unpacked, laundry done, and groceries purchased. This means that on a week-long trip, I’ll almost always choose to come back on Saturday rather than Sunday. This may make my trip shorter by a day, but it keeps me saner when I’m home. Other folks may choose to delay the start of their trip so that they can pack or clean house before they go. Both options may impact how long you’ll be able to be at Walt Disney World.

Decide What’s Right for YOU

Many “experts” will recommend a five-day or seven-day trip as the best way to experience Walt Disney World, but that could be entirely wrong depending on the profile of the guest. For example, taking into consideration the factors above, a single parent coming from Atlanta on a limited budget might have a four-day trip work best, while a family of six coming from London might find that a ten or twelve-day trip works best. Try to disregard blanket recommendations and create the travel plan that’s right for your specific needs.

Are there other factors you consider when planning how long to stay at Walt Disney World? Have your past Disney vacations been too long or too short? What made it feel that way? Please let us know in the comments below.

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Posted on February 24, 2014

5 Responses to “Trip Planning 101: How Long Should We Stay at Disney World?”

  • My Girlfriend and I are going in June, we’re from the UK so fitting in as much as possible is going to be a big factor. It’s such long way to come and you never know, or at least we don’t, when we’ll be coming back next either. Contradictory to what I’ve just said though is that we visited WDW last March, but with 3 other people, meaning there were 5 people to please. One of the reasons we decided to return again this year was so that we could do just our own thing, although that has turned into everything! Either way we’re very excited, and can’t wait to see Walt Disney World again.

  • by Trisha Johnson on March 2, 2014, at 3:16 pm EDT

    We are Disney Experts, but still like to go for at least 10 days with 12 days in the parks even better. That allows 2 days in each park (always arrive at opening) plus 2 extra days for our favorites (MK and Epcot)and trips to DTD, character meals, pool time and lots of rest time at the resort. With that long we never feel pressured to “get it all done” in one day and frequently start at one park, leave by lunch and then return just for fireworks or Fantasmic at another park.

    • I hate to say it, but I agree with this. It is incredibly hard to get the time or money to go this long; but it is especially important if you can only go once or very infrequently.

      And also, it allows you to plan around any bad weather days that may hit.