How to Decide Your Disney Vacation Length
What’s the most difficult decision about your vacation? Well, for many people, the answer is choosing where to go. As a Disney fanatic, however, you’ve already made up your mind. You’re going to the Happiest Place on Earth or the Most Magical Place on Earth. So, your most challenging debate is different. You want to know how long you should stay. Today, I’m going to present a few thoughts on the subject. Here’s a guide on how to plan a Disney vacation of short, medium, and extended length.
The Short Trip
Each vacation decision comes down to a few key choices. I want to stress upfront that I’m never comfortable telling people how to spend their money. Only you know your budget, and the reality is that budget drives many vacation choices. Don’t ever overextend yourself to take a trip.
You’re at home almost every day of the year. You want a trip to provide some relaxation and entertainment; you don’t want it to put you in a financial hole. You may need to get estimates for the various costs of such a trip to make sure you can afford it. Get a free quote from a MickeyTravels agent. When you book your trip, Disney will pay the agent, so the service is always free to you. It’s a smart way to assure that you don’t spend too much. Plus, these agents can give you terrific tips about maximizing your time at Disney.
Keeping all of that in mind, I’m going to evaluate three kinds of vacation lengths. The short trip is what I call anything that’s three nights or less. It’s a hit-and-run kind of weekend getaway, and the best place to do one of these is a Disney theme park. I’m frequently stunned how much we get done in just a couple of days at Walt Disney World. At Disneyland, you can do virtually everything there is to do in four days, meaning that as long as you arrive early enough on day one, a three-night stay is plenty.
How should you decide the length of a short trip? Well, your vacation days play a factor. You’ll likely feel tempted to visit on a holiday weekend, one where you have a government-mandated vacation day on either Friday or Monday. I understand the appeal of this, but I want to warn you that everyone else does, too. The parks are more crowded on holiday weekends. Should you have the extra vacation days to spend, target a mundane weekend that’s less appealing to the masses. On Friday and (especially) Monday, you’ll face much shorter lines.
With budget and available vacation days settled, you should think about your Disney trip in simpler terms. What do you want to do? How full do you want your schedule to be? Can you go at a breakneck pace the entire time or do you want to take it easy? If you plan to do the latter at Walt Disney World, you should schedule some Advanced Dining Reservations. Take your time with your meals. If you’re in a rush to see everything, use Mobile Order for your meals.
Either way, the one suggestion I feel strongly about is that you’ll want to pick a Disney resort close to one of the theme parks. Specifically, pick one close to the theme park you want to make your base of operations during your weekend getaway. You’ll reduce travel time to the park where you plan to spend most of your time, and you’ll also have convenient access to the bus, boat, and monorail systems. While your hotel is good for this stuff, the best transportation hubs at Walt Disney World are at the theme parks (and Disney Springs). At Disneyland, this is much less of a factor, as everything is within walking distance.
The Medium Trip
I view the medium trip as a vacation stay of four or five nights. I use “nights” rather than days, as that’s hotel industry training kicking into gear. The profession uses the term since they get paid by the night’s stay, but I’ve found that it’s useful for Disney visits, too. A person’s first “day” at Disney will feel like a blur. I’ve arrived in Orlando at the break of dawn before, but I still felt the easiest way to bisect the trip was by nights. There’s something about the hotel room that adds equilibrium to a dizzying set of circumstances.
On a medium trip, you’re choosing to spend several vacation days in exchange for a calming time at Walt Disney World. Alternately, you’re going to do everything imaginable at Disneyland and maybe even visit some of the other parks. The subdivision of a four-night vacation in Orlando is perfect. You can spend a day at each of the Walt Disney World gates plus have some time to circle back to Magic Kingdom, at least if you buy the Park Hopper option on your tickets.
I always recommend Park Hopper since the option costs only about $20 more per day for a four-day ticket. In exchange for that modest investment, you gain a lot more flexibility in how you spend your days. You’ll rarely know in advance when a park will have unusually long lines. Park Hopper gives you the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. When Epcot’s too crowded, you simply punt on that idea and head to Magic Kingdom. It’s easy peasy. An odd aspect of the Park Hopper pass is that it becomes less needed the longer you stay. I’ll explore this more in the final section.
Your resort choices are different from a medium trip, too. You have more time to play, and you might have other interests. Do you want to spend a day at a water park? Some resorts like Disney’s Old Key West and Disney’s Port Orleans – French Quarter are quite close to Typhoon Lagoon. Similarly, the various All-Star resorts and Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort provide convenience to it. The question becomes whether you want to play an extended trip around a single day at a water park. That choice is yours to make. I will say that Old Key West and Port Orleans are among my favorite Disney resorts overall.
With a medium trip, you’ll also want to think about the Disney Dining Plan. You’re eating at least a dozen meals on the Disney campus. The math may work out right for you to save money via the plan. At a minimum, you’ll have cost control and pre-paid meals for your trip. At Disneyland, you’ll have a different consideration. You’re in town long enough that may have time to investigate the wealth of global cuisine located in the greater metropolitan area.
The Extended Trip
Okay, this one is my bread and butter. My most recent Disney visit was a Medium Trip, but the overwhelming majority of our vacations are extended trips. My family generally settles on the 10 to 11 night timeline, but I view anything of six nights or longer as an extended trip. A week at a Disney theme park gives a person plenty of time to do everything. That’s especially true at Disneyland.
When staying that long, I’d recommend Universal Studios Hollywood and/or Knott’s Berry Farm or, you know, just hanging out in Los Angeles. I view a trip of that length as overkill for Disneyland itself, but I could happily spend a month in the city.
At Walt Disney World, a week’s stay sets you up for a dream vacation. In fact, you no longer need the Park Hopper option. Past a certain point, it becomes overkill. With a multi-day ticket of that length, you can pick your daily park and still have plenty of time to do other stuff. You’ll get to shop at Disney Springs and may have time for other amenities such as golfing or playing tennis.
You can also explore the Boardwalk and visit some of the other Disney resorts. While that may not sound exciting compared to Space Mountain, take my word on this. Roaming the grounds of various Disney properties is a wonderful, relaxing way to spend part of your day. The theming at the resorts is masterful and well worth your time. You’ll especially enjoy it during the end-of-year holiday season, and that brings us to the other benefit of the extended stay.
With more time, you’re not as beholden to park traffic. You can use FastPasses to book plenty of rides. Once you’re done, you can take a break and head back to your resort or go shopping or whatever. You don’t have to rush as much. For that reason, traveling during the holidays is more viable. The crowds aren’t as problematic since you can always switch to a backup plan if the near-capacity foot traffic gets to be too much.
You’ll open up two other options with an extended trip. The first is that you can spend a lot more time at the pools. We spend at least an hour a day swimming. When we stay at Disney’s Beach Club Resort, it’s probably closer to two hours. That may seem like an exorbitant amount of time, but hanging out at the pool provides a bit of serenity and a beachy vibe. We’re in Florida, after all! We want to come back home with a tan.
Along those lines, the Central Florida area has other theme parks to visit, most notably Universal Studios Resort. You can grab an Uber and spend the day at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter if you like. Also, Florida has other beaches within a reasonable driving distance. You can skip the pools and head to Cocoa Beach, Daytona Beach, or Vero Beach. Florida’s white sand is breathtaking to behold.
As for meals, I’m a devout believer that Table Service restaurants are the way to go during an extended trip. They take between 60 and 90 minutes as a rule, giving my family time to recharge and catch our breath between our aggressive theme park visits. We try to pack in lots of attractions in three hour windows. With Table Service meals, we recuperate while devouring the finest cuisine in Orlando. And I say all of this to note that the Disney Dining Plan makes more sense the longer you stay at Walt Disney World.
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