Walt Disney World (FL)

Trip Planning 101: How Long Should We Stay at Walt 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?

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 April break 2012 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? For us, the trip could possibly last as long as nine nights (from Friday after school until the following Sunday). But is that the right length visit? The first step in deciding the length of your trip is to determine the maximum time available.

You may want to extend your trip in order to experience special events such as the Osborne Dancing Lights

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 Undercover Tourist currently offers a 7-day WDW Park Hopper ticket for the exact same price as a 6-day Park Hopper ticket. In general, you’ll find that beyond the first four or five days of a trip, increasing the number of days of your stay has minimal impact on ticket expense.

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.

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.

Taking in all of Downtown Disney could add a day to your trip.

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 short 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.

Number of Must-Do Attractions for Your Family

I have three daughters, all fairly close in age. For many years, there was a large overlap in their park touring interests. 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.

To make time for swimming, you may need to stay longer.

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.

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 new LEGOLAND near Tampa, Kennedy Space Center, a beach visit, or any number of other non-Disney attractions. 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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Erin Foster

Erin Foster is an original member of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel (now PlanDisney), a regular contributor to TouringPlans.com, and co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line. She's been to WDW, DL, DL Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, Aulani, DVC Vero Beach, and DVC Hilton Head. She's a Platinum DCL cruiser and veteran of 10 Adventures by Disney trips. Erin lives near New York City, where she can often be found indulging in her other obsession - Broadway theater.

11 thoughts on “Trip Planning 101: How Long Should We Stay at Walt Disney World?

  • The correct answer to any WDW travel question always begins with, “It depends!”

    • Ain’t it the truth!

  • Coming from the UK every 3-4 years at best, there’s simply no point in staying less than 10 days. Especially as we also have other Florida things we like to do, and relatives to visit!

    I first went at four years old with a sister who was 9 (I’m in my 30s now) and we’ve never been for less than that, usually two weeks. Even then there are things that get left out and it’s so frustrating – you occasionally wonder if they’re even going to be there next time go (if I’d known Horizons was going to disappear, yadda yadda).

    • I hear you about Horizons!

      Many UK guests I speak to plan for a two week stay. There may be special ticket prices for UK residents that facilitate a longer stay.

      • There are 7, 14 & 21 day ticket deals available exclusively to UK guests. I always go for the 14 day option but one day I’d love to stay 3 whole weeks. Love it! 🙂

  • We took our first trip as adults to Disney this summer with our girls age 2 & 9, both sets of their grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins age 3 & 5- 14 in all. We stayed off property for 11 nights/10 days. Perfect length for us. That gave us time to parts of 7 days at Disney as well as pool time and one day at Universal for Harry Potter and one day at the beach with my in-laws. We still had plenty if time to ride most of the rides and do character meet and greets.

    I would actually say that for us longer rather than shorter worked better for our 2 year old because we had plenty of time each day for midday naps which were a must.

    • As you note, naps are critical for kids (and adults). Some children have difficulty napping in new environments. I’m glad your daughter was able to get the rest she needed.

  • I recently came back from a Saturday to Saturday trip. Flying in from the West Coast meant we had 6 days of theme park time so we split up with 5 days at Disney and one day to visit Harry Potter. While I would always like more time at Disney, this was a perfect length of stay for my family. By the end of the week, our feet couldn’t take anymore! And I totally agree with the getting back on Saturday allows for a much more manageable week back at work. Plus airports are less crowded on Saturdays (especially during non-summer times) because most weekend travel involves flying on Fridays, Sundays, and Mondays.

    • Good point about smoother travel on Saturdays. Another benefit of Saturday travel is buffer in your schedule in case you experience weather-related delays.

  • Awesome post! Couldn’t agree more on all of the points.

    • Thanks for the feedback!


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