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How To Plan A Disney And Universal Vacation


by Silvana Kautz



Welcome to the world of Disney and Universal vacations! Planning a trip to these magical theme parks can be an exciting and memorable experience. Whether you are a seasoned traveler or embarking on your very first budget-travel adventure, this comprehensive guide will equip you with the necessary knowledge to plan an unforgettable Disney and Universal vacation without breaking the bank.


Disney and Universal are renowned for their immersive attractions, thrilling rides, and enchanting experiences. From exploring the enchanting lands of Magic Kingdom to discovering the world of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, there is something for everyone to enjoy.


However, with so much to see and do, planning a Disney and Universal vacation requires careful consideration and organization. This guide will walk you through the steps necessary to ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip, from choosing the dates to packing essentials and everything in between.


Whether you prefer a shorter getaway or an extended adventure, there are options available for all budgets and schedules. By following this guide, you’ll be able to plan a trip that suits your preferences and allows you to make the most of your time at these incredible theme parks.


So, get ready to embark on a magical journey as we delve into the steps required to plan a remarkable Disney and Universal vacation. Let’s begin by selecting the perfect dates for your adventure.


Step 1: Choosing the Dates

The first step in planning your Disney and Universal vacation is to determine the dates for your trip. This decision is crucial as it will dictate the availability of accommodations, crowd levels at the parks, and overall experience.


When selecting your dates, consider factors such as school holidays, special events, and weather conditions. It’s important to note that peak times, such as holidays and summer vacation, tend to be more crowded and expensive. If possible, try to schedule your trip during off-peak times to maximize your enjoyment and minimize costs.


Additionally, take into account any specific events or attractions you wish to experience. Disney and Universal often have unique events throughout the year, such as seasonal celebrations and movie premieres. Research the event calendars for both parks and align your visit with any special activities that interest you.


Weather is another important factor to consider when choosing your dates. Florida, where both Disney and Universal are located, experiences hot and humid summers, and mild winters. If you prefer milder temperatures, aim for the spring or fall months.


Once you have a general idea of when you want to visit, check the availability of accommodations and ticket prices for your preferred dates. If you have flexibility in your schedule, you may find better deals and availability by adjusting your travel dates.


In summary, choose your vacation dates by considering school holidays, special events, and weather conditions. Aim for off-peak times to avoid crowds and higher costs. Research the event calendars and align your visit with any unique activities you wish to experience. Take into account the availability of accommodations and ticket prices for your chosen dates.


Step 2: Deciding on the Duration of the Trip

After determining the dates for your Disney and Universal vacation, the next step is to decide on the duration of your trip. The length of your stay will depend on several factors, including your budget, the number of parks you wish to visit, and the amount of time you want to spend exploring each park.


For a comprehensive experience, it is recommended to allocate at least one full day for each park. Both Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort have multiple parks, each offering unique attractions and experiences.


Disney World consists of four main theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Each park has its own distinct offerings, from classic Disney characters and fairy tales to futuristic technology and exotic wildlife.


Universal Orlando Resort, on the other hand, has two main parks: Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. These parks cater to movie enthusiasts and thrill-seekers alike, featuring iconic film franchises and heart-pounding rides.


Consider the number of parks you wish to visit and allocate enough time to fully appreciate the attractions and entertainment within each park. A good rule of thumb is to allow at least one full day for each park you plan to explore.


In addition to the theme parks, both Disney and Universal offer water parks that provide refreshing fun on warmer days. If you wish to visit the water parks, be sure to factor in additional days for these experiences as well.


Furthermore, consider your preferred pace of travel. Some travelers may prefer a relaxed and leisurely visit, while others may want to maximize their time by experiencing as much as possible in a shorter duration. Take into account your personal preferences and energy levels when deciding on the length of your trip.


Ultimately, the duration of your Disney and Universal vacation is a personal decision. It’s important to strike a balance between seeing all the parks and attractions you desire while allowing for downtime and rest. Plan your trip according to your interests, energy levels, and available time.


Step 3: Researching and Booking Accommodation

Once you have determined the dates and duration of your Disney and Universal vacation, it’s time to research and book your accommodation. Finding the right place to stay can greatly enhance your overall experience and provide a comfortable and convenient base for your adventures.


There are several options to consider when choosing accommodation near Disney and Universal. Here are a few popular choices:

  1. On-site Resort Hotels: Both Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort offer a range of on-site resort hotels. Staying at these hotels grants you benefits such as early park access, free transportation to the parks, and the immersive theming of the resorts themselves. However, keep in mind that these options are typically more expensive.
  2. Off-site Hotels: There are numerous off-site hotels in the surrounding area that cater to different budgets. These hotels often provide shuttle services to the theme parks and can be a more cost-effective option. Research and compare prices, amenities, and guest reviews to find the best fit for your needs.
  3. Vacation Rentals: Another option is to rent a vacation home or condo near Disney and Universal. This can be a great choice for larger groups or families who require more space and amenities. Websites like Airbnb and VRBO offer a wide range of vacation rental options to suit different budgets and preferences.

When researching accommodation, consider factors such as proximity to the parks, transportation options, amenities, and guest reviews. Look for special deals and discounts, especially if you plan to stay for an extended period or visit during off-peak times.


Once you have narrowed down your choices, make your booking as early as possible to secure your preferred accommodation. Popular hotels near Disney and Universal tend to fill up quickly, so it’s advisable to book in advance to avoid disappointment.


Remember to keep a copy of your reservation confirmation and any important information regarding check-in procedures, cancellation policies, and additional fees. This will help ensure a smooth and hassle-free arrival at your chosen accommodation.


By thoroughly researching and booking the right accommodation for your Disney and Universal vacation, you can ensure a comfortable and enjoyable stay that perfectly complements your theme park adventures.


Step 4: Purchasing Tickets

Once you have chosen your travel dates and accommodation, the next step in planning your Disney and Universal vacation is to purchase your park tickets. Getting the right tickets can save you time, money, and ensure you have access to all the attractions and experiences you desire.


Both Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort offer a variety of ticket options to suit different preferences and budgets. Here are some key factors to consider when purchasing tickets:

  • Single Park or Park-to-Park: Decide whether you want tickets that grant access to a single park per day or tickets that allow you to hop between parks within the same day. Park-to-park tickets are necessary if you wish to experience the unique offerings of multiple parks at both Disney and Universal.
  • Number of Days: Determine how many days you want to spend at the parks. Keep in mind that each park has a vast array of attractions, shows, and entertainment, so allocating enough time to explore each one thoroughly is recommended.
  • Additional Options: Both Disney and Universal offer options to enhance your park experience, such as FastPasses (Disney) or Express Passes (Universal) to skip the lines, dining plans, and special event tickets. Consider these options and decide if they align with your preferences and budget.
  • Discounts and Deals: Check for any available discounts or promotions on tickets. It’s worth researching offers for Florida residents, military personnel, annual passholders, or bundled packages that include accommodations and tickets.

Before making your ticket purchase, it’s essential to compare prices from different sources, such as the official park websites, authorized ticket resellers, or travel agencies. Ensure that the source is reputable to avoid scams or invalid tickets.


Once you have purchased your tickets, keep them in a safe place and be aware of any restrictions or expiration dates. Familiarize yourself with the park policies regarding ticket usage and any required reservations for certain attractions or experiences.


Remember, planning ahead and buying tickets in advance can save you time and help you secure the best deals. By selecting the right ticket options and considering any additional enhancements, you can make the most of your Disney and Universal vacation.


Step 5: Creating a Park Itinerary

Creating a park itinerary is a crucial step in planning your Disney and Universal vacation. A well-planned itinerary ensures that you make the most of your time at the parks and prioritize the attractions and experiences that interest you the most.


Here are some tips to help you create an efficient and enjoyable park itinerary:

  1. Research Park Layout: Familiarize yourself with the layout of each park. Look at park maps and study the locations of major attractions, shows, and dining options. This will help you strategically plan your route and minimize walking distances.
  2. Identify Must-Do Attractions: Make a list of the must-do attractions and experiences you want to prioritize. Whether it’s riding Space Mountain at Disney or experiencing The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal, focus on the activities that are important to you.
  3. Consider Crowd Levels: Check crowd calendars and opt for less crowded days or times to visit popular attractions. This can help you avoid long lines and maximize your time in the parks.
  4. Use FastPasses and Express Passes: Take advantage of the FastPass+ system at Disney World and the Express Pass at Universal to skip the lines for select attractions. Prioritize your FastPass or Express Pass selections for popular and high-demand rides.
  5. Build in Breaks and Downtime: It’s important to schedule breaks and downtime throughout the day to rest, recharge, and enjoy dining experiences. This will prevent burnout and allow you to savor the atmosphere and ambiance of the parks.
  6. Be Flexible: While it’s good to have a plan, it’s also essential to be flexible. Unexpected events or attractions that catch your attention may alter your itinerary. Embrace spontaneity and allow for some unplanned exploration.
  7. Remember to Prioritize Restrooms and Dining: Pay attention to the locations of restrooms and dining options within the parks. Incorporate these into your itinerary to ensure convenience and avoid long waits for meals or restroom breaks.

Remember, your park itinerary is meant to serve as a guide, not a strict schedule. Allow for flexibility and be open to adjusting your plans based on unforeseen circumstances or changing interests.


By creating a well-thought-out park itinerary, you can make the most of your time in the parks and ensure that you don’t miss out on any of the attractions and experiences that are important to you.


Step 6: Planning for Transportation

Planning for transportation is an important aspect of your Disney and Universal vacation. Depending on your chosen accommodation and preferences, there are various transportation options to consider:

  • Driving: If you have your own vehicle or have rented one, driving to the parks can provide flexibility and convenience. Both Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort have ample parking facilities available for a fee. Keep in mind that parking fees can add to your overall expenses.
  • Shuttle Services: Many hotels in the area offer shuttle services to the theme parks. Check with your accommodation if they provide this service. It can be a convenient and cost-effective way to get to the parks without the hassle of driving and parking.
  • Ride-Sharing Services: Popular ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are widely available in the area. They provide a convenient and efficient way to travel to and from the parks. Simply request a ride through the app and your driver will pick you up at your specified location.
  • Public Transportation: If you’re staying in a more central location, you may have access to public transportation options such as buses or trains. Research the routes and schedules to see if public transit is a viable option for getting to the parks.
  • Walking: If you’re staying at an on-site resort, you may have the convenience of walking to the parks. Both Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort have hotels within walking distance of the parks, allowing for quick and easy access.

Consider factors such as cost, convenience, and flexibility when deciding on the best transportation option for your needs. Evaluate your available options and choose the one that suits your preferences and budget.


In addition to planning for transportation to the parks, consider how you will navigate within the parks themselves. Familiarize yourself with the transportation options provided by the parks, such as monorails, buses, and boats. These internal transportation systems can help you efficiently move between different areas of the parks.


By planning for transportation in advance, you can ensure a smooth and hassle-free experience getting to and from the parks, allowing you to focus on enjoying the magical adventures that await you.


Step 7: Making Dining Reservations

When planning your Disney and Universal vacation, don’t overlook the importance of making dining reservations. Both parks offer a variety of dining experiences, from quick-service meals to fine dining options. By securing dining reservations in advance, you can ensure that you have a spot at popular restaurants and save time waiting for a table.


Here are some tips for making dining reservations:

  • Research Dining Options: Familiarize yourself with the dining options available at the parks. From character dining experiences to themed restaurants, there is a wide range of choices to suit different tastes and preferences.
  • Prioritize Popular Restaurants: Identify any specific restaurants or dining experiences that you don’t want to miss. Popular options, such as Be Our Guest at Disney or the Three Broomsticks at Universal, tend to book up quickly, so securing a reservation early is essential.
  • Consider Meal Times: Think about your preferred dining times and plan accordingly. Lunch and dinner times tend to be busier, so if you prefer a quieter meal, consider making reservations for breakfast or an early lunch.
  • Use Online Reservation Systems: Both Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort have online reservation systems that allow you to book dining reservations in advance. Take advantage of these systems to secure your preferred dining times.
  • Be Flexible: If your desired restaurant or time slot is not available, be willing to be flexible. Look for alternative dining options or adjust your park itinerary to accommodate the available reservations.
  • Special Dietary Requirements: If you or anyone in your party has specific dietary requirements, inform the restaurant at the time of booking or when you arrive for your reservation. Both Disney and Universal are accommodating when it comes to dietary restrictions.

Remember, not all dining options require reservations. Quick-service restaurants typically don’t require reservations and offer a more casual dining experience. However, popular quick-service locations can still be busy during peak times, so plan accordingly to avoid long wait times.


By making dining reservations in advance, you can ensure that you have a delightful dining experience and maximize your time in the parks. Be sure to keep a record of your reservation details to avoid any confusion when it’s time for your meal.


Step 8: Packing Essentials

As you prepare for your Disney and Universal vacation, packing the right essentials is crucial for a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Here are some items to consider including in your packing list:

  • Comfortable Clothing: Pack lightweight, breathable clothing suitable for the weather during your visit. Consider layering options as temperatures can vary throughout the day. Don’t forget comfortable walking shoes as you will be spending a lot of time on your feet.
  • Weather Essentials: Check the weather forecast for your travel dates and pack accordingly. Bring items like sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, ponchos, or umbrellas to prepare for any potential weather conditions.
  • Backpack or Bag: A backpack or bag is essential for carrying your belongings and essentials throughout the day. Choose one that is comfortable, lightweight, and has enough storage space for items like water bottles, snacks, and personal items.
  • Chargers and Power Banks: Ensure you have chargers for your electronic devices and consider bringing a portable power bank to keep your devices charged while exploring the parks.
  • Reusable Water Bottles: Staying hydrated is essential, so bring your own reusable water bottle to refill throughout the day. Both Disney and Universal have water refill stations throughout the parks.
  • Snacks: While there are plenty of dining options available, having some snacks on hand can help keep you energized throughout the day. Pack non-perishable items like granola bars or trail mix.
  • Medications: If you take any prescription medications, be sure to pack an adequate supply for the duration of your trip. It’s also a good idea to have a small first aid kit with essentials like band-aids, pain relievers, and any other necessary medications.
  • Park Tickets and Identification: Keep your park tickets, hotel key cards, and any necessary identification easily accessible. Consider using a lanyard or a secure wallet to keep them safe.
  • Camera and Memory Cards: Capture your magical moments by bringing a camera or smartphone with a good camera. Don’t forget extra memory cards or storage space to ensure you can capture all your memories.
  • Entertainment for Waiting Times: To pass the time during lines or waiting periods, bring entertainment options like books, puzzles, or small games to keep yourself or your travel companions entertained.

Remember to pack efficiently and consider the size and weight restrictions of your chosen transportation method. It’s also a good idea to make a checklist to ensure you don’t forget any essential items.


By packing these essentials, you’ll be well-prepared to have a comfortable, convenient, and enjoyable Disney and Universal vacation!


Step 9: Preparing for the Parks

With your travel plans and packing complete, it’s time to focus on preparing for the parks themselves. Here are some important steps to take to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience:

  • Review Park Information: Familiarize yourself with the rules, regulations, and park policies of both Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort. Understand what items are allowed and prohibited within the parks to avoid any issues during security checks.
  • Download Park Apps: Download the official park apps for both Disney and Universal. These apps provide maps, wait times for attractions, show schedules, and other useful information. They will help you navigate the parks efficiently and stay updated on any changes or special events.
  • Link Tickets and FastPasses: If you haven’t done so already, link your park tickets and FastPasses (for Disney) or Express Passes (for Universal) to your account. This will save time and allow you to book or modify FastPasses or Express Passes directly from your mobile device.
  • Plan Park Arrival Time: For shorter wait times at popular attractions, consider arriving at the parks before opening or during off-peak times. This will give you a head start and allow you to experience the most popular rides with shorter wait times.
  • Familiarize Yourself with Ride Restrictions: Take note of any height, weight, or health restrictions for rides and attractions. Ensure that everyone in your group meets the necessary requirements to enjoy each experience.
  • Stay Hydrated and Take Breaks: Florida can get hot and humid, so it’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day. Use water refill stations or purchase drinks from vendors within the parks. Take regular breaks in shaded areas or indoor attractions to cool down and rest.
  • Be Mindful of Show and Parade Times: Check the daily show and parade schedules to plan your day accordingly. These performances can be popular and may require you to secure a spot well in advance for optimal viewing.
  • Practice Patience and Enjoy the Magic: Remember that theme parks can get crowded, and there may be some waiting involved. Stay patient, embrace the atmosphere, and enjoy the magic of the parks. Take in the immersive environments, interact with characters, and savor every moment.

By being prepared and informed, you can make the most of your time in the parks and ensure a memorable and magical Disney and Universal vacation experience.


Step 10: Enjoying Your Disney and Universal Vacation

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the final step of your Disney and Universal vacation planning: enjoying the magic of the parks. Here are some tips to ensure an unforgettable experience:

  • Embrace the Atmosphere: Immerse yourself in the immersive worlds of Disney and Universal. From the enchanting storytelling to the intricate theming, soak in the ambiance and let yourself be transported to a world of magic and adventure.
  • Try New Experiences: Step out of your comfort zone and try attractions or shows that you may not have initially considered. You might discover hidden gems or unexpected favorites that add an extra layer of enjoyment to your trip.
  • Meet Characters: Interacting with beloved Disney characters or Universal icons can be a highlight of your visit. Check the park schedules for character meet-and-greets and have your camera ready for memorable photo opportunities.
  • Indulge in Culinary Delights: Disney and Universal offer a wide range of dining options to suit every palate. Treat yourself to delicious snacks, unique dining experiences, and themed restaurants to fully savor the culinary delights of the parks.
  • Take Advantage of Photo Opportunities: Capture the magic of your vacation with memorable photos. Disney Photopass and Universal’s My Universal Photos services offer professional photos taken by park photographers. Don’t hesitate to take advantage of these opportunities to preserve your special memories.
  • Stay Flexible and Pace Yourself: It’s natural to want to experience everything, but pacing yourself is important to avoid burnout. Take breaks, enjoy snacks, and savor the moment. Be open to adjusting your plans and embracing unexpected adventures.
  • Experience Nighttime Entertainment: Both Disney and Universal offer spectacular nighttime shows, parades, and fireworks. Make it a priority to experience these dazzling displays to complete your magical day.
  • Connect with Other Guests: Engage with fellow park-goers and share your experiences. Exchange tips, stories, and recommendations. You might even make some new friends along the way, enhancing the excitement and camaraderie of your vacation.
  • Take Time to Reflect and Appreciate: Amidst the excitement, take moments to reflect on the grandeur and attention to detail present in these parks. Appreciate the efforts that go into creating these magical experiences and the memories you are making.

Remember, a Disney and Universal vacation is a special opportunity to create lifelong memories. Cherish every moment, let your inner child come alive, and enjoy the enchantment that these incredible theme parks have to offer.



Congratulations on completing the steps to plan your perfect Disney and Universal vacation! You’ve taken the time to choose the dates, decide on the duration, book accommodations, purchase tickets, create a park itinerary, plan for transportation, make dining reservations, pack essentials, prepare for the parks, and now it’s time to enjoy the magic.


Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort offer unique and enchanting experiences for visitors of all ages. From iconic attractions to thrilling rides, immersive landscapes to captivating shows, these parks have something for everyone.


Throughout your vacation, remember to stay flexible, pace yourself, and embrace the magic that surrounds you. Take advantage of FastPasses, Express Passes, and dining reservations to maximize your time and enjoy the most sought-after experiences.


Engage with characters, explore hidden corners, and indulge in culinary delights. Capture the memories with photos and reflect on the awe-inspiring attention to detail that makes these parks so special.


Above all, cherish the time spent with loved ones and the joy that comes from experiencing these incredible theme parks together. Allow yourself to be swept away by the magic and create memories that will last a lifetime.


Thank you for following this comprehensive guide to planning your Disney and Universal vacation. We hope it has provided you with valuable insights and tips to make your trip truly magical. Have a magical adventure and enjoy every moment of your incredible journey!