Planning is great but where to start isn't always and when you have the key information you want you're all set. When you are stuck entering key words and having to sort through all sorts before you hit something of interest, it can waste a lot of time and make the great experience well annoying.
I want to help you with that. I can't just write one post on Disney though. See it's not a place you should pick up the phone and let the travel agent set you up and then forget about until you get there. Sure you can, but you'll be one of those people in the masses that gets stuck in hour long line ups to get on one of those rides you can't miss not to mention it will probably cost you more. Then you won't even touch a 1/4 of the parks even with all your might. If that's ok with you, that's great and you're probably not reading much more of this anyway.
Now even with planning your not going to be able to do all the parks and rides in a weeks time without pretty much killing yourself. You are so better off being realistic and picking must do's, like to do and ok to miss. Key is to be ok with the fact you're going to likely miss out on some stuff and that's ok because you saw or did the most amazing things you wanted and aren't going to forget. If you don't prepare, you are likely to do the less popular stuff since you didn't plan.
Disney is really like it's own small city. I've read it being compared to the size of San Francisco. When you haven't really researched it, I don't think you can fathom how large it is. Most people can not in no way go through the whole of Magic Kingdom in one day (especially with kids) and enjoy it and there is 3 other parks plus 2 water parks, golf course ESPN sports a shopping district with attractions. It's just crazy. From one of the hotels on their property it will take a 15 min drive to get to one of the parks. They aren't all attached and require some form of transportation to get to one and then to the other. Like Epcot from Magic Kindgom you can take a train. But to go to Hollywood from Epcot you could take a boat but not a train. All places can be reached by bus and Animal Kingdom is only reached by bus. Also to use train or Boat they are included (need hopper pass to go to park to park same day) but they are not in same location as bus etc. We had read about and researched to find out that there was a boat going to Hollywood and had to walk to the other end of Epcot to get it. Epcot is another park that is so widely spread out that it is crazy to just walk the perimeter.We certainly didn't see everything, didn't touch two water parks though it was so crazy hot in Sept, might of been a good idea. Nor did we manage to go to ESPN which I thought we would but ended up not being in the cards.
Once you decided to go the next thing to decide is when are you going. The time of year is a big thing. I knew it got hot in Florida but man it was stifling when we were there. There was a wicked rainstorm every day at 2pm and humid. It isn't as noticeable at Magic Kingdom (everything is closer in proximity) but Animal Kingdom, it was hard getting around there in those temperatures. I'd really like to go back Nov-Feb. If you are going to want to use pool daily and stuff then warmer months (not necessarily the hottest though because the pool wasn't refreshing the only time we used in Sept!) may be more interesting for you. Anytime kids are off, is guaranteed to be busy but for us Canadians that differs to our American friends so there is some good times for us to go, like I believe the end of Aug. If its busier it's longer ride waits, but also longer food waiting and transportation to and from hotel starts to get busy too so if its a busy time maybe car rental is better vs slower time when buses take 20 min and probably less then car.
So where are you going to stay? This is huge and makes a big difference on what you plan to do on this trip. If you have never been to Disney and wanted to do all sorts in Orlando then you're crazy, lol. No really, I think you are but hey up it's up to you. Of course you'll still have a blast but you're not going to experience all of Disney but a little Disney is better then nothing. I thought at first maybe to do a few things but once I started researching I changed my approach to just Disney and then decided to stay inside Disney. We had a great trip and saw a lot but missed a couple of things like Frozen big disappointment thinking because my boys would rather do other stuff but it was new and fastpass wasn't available shortly after my window opened up. Anyway, Fastpass is another post at a later date. Right now lets focus on where we are staying or mainly what you ideally plan to do on this trip.
There is the option of renting a house or a condo off site in the area. This is what I always thought I'd be doing when I was dreaming of Disney. It really has a great appeal and seems like a budget friendly option. You can make meals at dinner and breakfast and then you can buy stuff to pack a lunch etc. Disney lets you bring your own food and drink into the park. They do check bags and thoroughly though and you should read up if there is stuff you can't bring etc. I was all for this option and normally my style but after really reading about how large this place was and how far of a drive it is to parks off site. It's over 20 min, finding parking, paying for parking, rental of car. Then you are stuck leaving for dinner. You could be half way across the park needing to walk 20 min to car then 20 min drive then go home after quite the magical day but now you're making dinner for everyone. Of course you could pack a lunch and buy dinner, great option though the prices in Disney for Disney food are of theme park insanity. Again going off site to eat and come back is a huge time eater. At least an hour or getting in and out and that is not including the time to eat. That being said, it is still a good option depending on your needs of course and under different circumstances I could have gone this route. You just need to be prepared or you'll spend more then you wanted quickly.
You can find a place on FlipKey which I have used once in Costa Rica with great success. They are a branch of TripAdvisor. There is also a Canadian site HomeAway or Airbnb for a start.
Another option is your average or of course above average hotel. There is every chain of hotel. If you have a loyalty card with tons of points and stuff you could use to help drive down the cost of your stay. You can book flight and hotel and even rental car with the travel agents or you can use sites like Hotels.com. There is so much competition that you can get some good deals it all depends on time of year etc. I didn't do much looking into this because I wasn't using hotel points or anything so I thought if I stayed at hotel, might as well be at Disney and I'll explain why that was great for us.
Another option is to stay at a Disney property. They have a huge variety of options. From a campground to a deluxe villa. Hotel options are from value to deluxe. Every place there whether value or deluxe still has the complete Disney Magic and depending how much time you are staying at the hotel and amenities you want for where you'd like to stay. You can go to the Disney site and choose the hotels to compare them against each other. Another great resource that's fun for the family to read through is the Birnbaum's guide to Disney World. They come out each year for up to date information. You can even borrow from the library there was lots of different books we went through at first before I decided to purchase a copy of the Birnbaum 2016
When we did our trip we treated it like we may never go back or not for many years, so lets get the most out of the parks. I heard about the free dining plan offer that tends to release yearly usually sometime in April, so keep your eye out for it if it interests you. This year they are offering alcohol and specialty drinks included with the meals.
The Condo option was still my choice when hearing about this because I thought the food was burger and fries all week and no good snacks. Well, they have everything and the quick service is pretty great because you aren't wasting time. If you want to enjoy sit down meals every evening then the Regular dining plan would be better. You can have character meals too with that option but for dining reservations you have to book like 6 months in advance or you may find yourself very disappointed you can always change and cancel up to 10 days before. Especially for certain character dining. That should be done the day reservations open for you.
If you are not interested in the dining plan but want to have some goods without packing at home especially if you don't have transportation, etc you can order a box from Amazon of groceries an have it delivered on the day of arrival. Apparently many do this and the hotel is good with keeping packages for you. This is a great option for US customers. When I wanted to use it wasn't compatible from my address being in Canada sending US. There was other grocery delivery services but they had a nominal fee that didn't work for us.
As for snacks there, they have different fruit and stuff you can use or you can use snack credits for various breakfast items too like muffins. At the Food and Wine Festival you can use for the food sampling too. It's all very well set up. There is no fast food chains in Disney like McDonald's but there is tons of places to eat and you can have ribs and chicken as a quick service option. It's really worth looking into a dinning plan if you plan to spend a lot of time at parks.
I have decided to partner up with Undercover Tourist as an affiliated partner (meaning I have potential of making a small fee through the links if you purchased something) because when I did my planning I found myself on their website quite a bit. They did have the cheapest rates on tickets and good guarantees. They have stuff for all of Orlando attractions.
Although I originally booked on Disney's site as soon as the dining plan was released and reserved a spot there, I later cancelled (great thing about Disney, you can reserve with $200 US and they'll refund you if you change mind) and booked through Airmiles (Canadian loyalty points). I had 3 agents looking up prices for the stays just to see if using Airmiles was worth it because lets face it some things aren't. They were the same price and knocked about a $1000 Canadian off the trip with like 6200 Airmiles. Let it be warned, if you have at least 5000 miles look into Airmiles but really, they weren't always easiest to deal with, you pay fees though you can use another persons points as well as long as drawn up in initial booking. I did have my husband sign up to get 5000 points on a card but because it was after booking it wasn't' eligible. You pay in installments and could collect more Airmiles and use in the end though so that was good but if you have less then 5000 it's probably not worth the effort and they were hard to get a hold of agent wise on the phone sometimes.