How to Plan a Last Minute Walt Disney World Trip

 

Walt Disney World, Epcot, Mickey Mouse,
The Carful of Kids explored Walt Disney World for four days during the International Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot.

What would you do if you had to plan a last-minute trip to Walt Disney World? A while back, I got the opportunity to explore Walt Disney World as a part of a work trip and had to plan a trip for four in a couple of weeks. Before this, we spent only one day in a whirlwind tour of Disneyland. So how does a national parks, road-tripping Mom plan a last-minute Walt Disney World vacation?

I lost my mind.

Taking a Disney trip requires planning. Really. For a moment I thought could wing it. Then my best friend, traveling companion and fellow Walt Disney World newbie talked some sense into me.

If we wing it, she said, we’ll be walking around, getting nowhere, wasting all our time in line. She was right. Her sister, a Walt Disney World veteran, had given her that advice.

Top 9 Tips

1. So I logged on to Amazon and bought the book. Which book? I bought the one with the most pages, The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2016.

2. Then I read it cover-to-cover, my friends. Is it boring? You bet, but I still read the book. I recommend this. Packed with lots of information that will save you time and money. Don’t skip the book!

Epcot, Walt Disney World, Epcot at Niight

3. Then I took the book with me. The thick, heavy book lived in my backpack. Hard to believe but I thumbed through the book A LOT in the parks. I checked to see how scary a ride was for my youngest who still takes about the scary ride from four years ago. I checked to see if a ride was worth the wait. The book was right.

4. I made a touring plan with the help of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2016 and I stuck to it. A plan helped to keep my group on schedule and to use our time wisely.

5. The Orlando International Airport is not next to Walt Disney World. I mean that would be great! Nope, It’s a $70 taxi ride away so I wanted to stay at a Walt Disney World resort because of the complimentary Magical Express transportation. That and this was my first trip, I didn’t know my way around and didn’t want to get too far from the parks.

Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World, Dole Whip,
Grab a Dole Whip to get the tired kids refreshed and ready for more riding.

6. I loaded up on snacks, like protein bars, nuts and fruit leather, and stashed them in my backpack. Each of us had a water bottle so we didn’t sip on soda in the parks. The food at Disney is expensive and so-so at best, except for a few signature items like the Dole Whip.

7. I also got myself kids meals. I’m not proud. Pro tip: Have the kids hold a table so no one asks how many kids you have.

8. I stopped by the Dollar Store and loaded up on glow sticks, autograph books and Disney tattoos. I threw this stuff in their cinch sacks with a couple of sharpies.

9. A note about dining reservations. I skipped this because my boys aren’t into food and the typical Disney characters. They would rather ride rides. Now when Walt Disney World opens a Star Wars themed restaurant, my boys will be all over it. So if you are planning a last minute trip, don’t sweat the dining reservations and eat at quick service instead.

What to do when Your Favorite Resort is Booked

I didn’t have a lot of time to plan my April trip, about a month. So the value-priced rooms disappeared before I could snag one for the Saturday night of our five-day, four-night trip to Walt Disney World.

To make it work, I ended up with reservations at three different resorts. No biggie, I’ll just transfer resorts. I’ll make it work. I’m a family travel writer, it’s just part of the job. That and I didn’t have a choice.

So I learned a lot from my three-resort tour of Walt Disney World. My trip was part of a work conference so a couple of rooms were booked at a Walt Disney World deluxe resort. Since I arrived early to explore the parks, I booked a room at a value resort. Then the least-expensive room I could find for a Saturday night was a moderate resort.

Have to plan a last-minute trip to Walt Disney World and you've never been? I know the feeling. I've got some hints and tricks for your trip.

I had my freak out moment when I couldn’t find a room for under $600 for a few weeks. And I wasn’t going to spend that on a family trip. If I’m spending that kind of money on a room, my lovely children will be at Grandma’s. But maybe, that’s just me.

By stalking the Walt Disney World website, sometimes more rooms come available about 4 weeks out. Don’t count on this feature but check daily for resort availability. If a room does come available, grab it and don’t wait. You can always cancel.

Walt Disney World will transfer your luggage for free from one Walt Disney World resort to another Walt Disney World resort. I found this out by asking my pals and Disney experts at TravelingMom.com.

My Stay at a Value Resort

The Pop Century Resort is a value resort ($-$$) 1.7 miles away from Hollywood Studios. It features four areas named after decades of the 20th century with a total of 2,880 rooms along the shores of Hour Glass Lake and cross from the Art of Animation Resort.

If your kids spend all day in the park, this might be the resort for you. Pop Century Resort Review, Walt Disney World,
If your kids spend all day in the park, this might be the resort for you.

The Pop Century Resort is fun. The buildings exude energy and draw me through the resort. From the four-story tall bowling pins and the ginormous 60s flowers pasted to the sides of the candy-colored buildings, this place is a hit with the young at heart.

Hits of the Pop Century Resort

  • Over the top theme that kids love
  • Nice pool
  • Great option if you plan on spending all your time in the parks.
The atmosphere at the Pop Century Resort is FUN. Resort Review Walt Disney World,
The Hippy-Dippy Pool has a fun atmosphere for the kids.

Misses of the Pop Century Resort

  • Farther away from parks but closer than off-property lodging
  • Limited activities for kids, no fishing or pirate cruises
  • Limited to quick-service dining
  • No character breakfasts
  • No in-room coffee maker
  • Small rooms and skimpy linens
This is a basic room at Walt Disney World. If your family just needs a place to sleep, this might be the resort for you. resort review, Pop Century Resort,
If your family just needs a place to sleep, this might be the resort for you.

My Stay at a Moderate Resort

The Caribbean Beach Resort is a moderate resort ($$-$$$) 4.1 miles from Epcot. An expansive property that includes seven villages with a total of 2,112 rooms along the shores of the 45-acre Barefoot Bay.

Along the shore of Barefoot Bay, the Caribbean Beach Resort blends a tranquil setting with plenty of activities for the kids. Walt Disney World
Caribbean Beach Resort offers its guests lots of activities and white-sand beaches

The Caribbean Beach Resort evokes the calm and serenity of a beach vacation yet includes a resort-style pool that’s sure to excite the kids. With its expansive grounds and lush, tropical landscaping, the Caribbean Beach Resort never felt crowded.

Hits of the Caribbean Beach Resort:

  • The Fuentes del Morro pool is one of the best of the Walt Disney World resorts.
  • Lots of activities for the kids, like fishing excursions and pirate cruises
  • Larger rooms with more amenities, nice if you’ll be spending more time in the room
  • More dining options, quick-service and casual dining
  • A pool in every village
  • White-sand beaches
The interior of the Caribbean Beach Resort with the TV, coffee maker and trundle-hiding credenza. Caribbean Beach Resort, Walt Disney Resort,
The interior of the Caribbean Beach Resort with the TV, coffee maker and trundle-hiding credenza.

Misses of the Caribbean Beach Resort:

  • Huge resort that requires its own bus to get around
  • No character breakfasts
  • No private patios or balconies
  • A motel feeling, I entered my room from an outside corridor.

My Stay at a Deluxe Resort 

The Grand Floridian Resort and Spa ($$$$$+) is the Walt Disney World’s flagship resort located on 40-acres next to the Seven Seas Lagoon. Built to resemble a grand Victorian seaside resort of the late 19th Century, it features 867 guest rooms across the main building and five additional buildings. Next to the lagoon is a pool, a white sand beach, a marina and a view of Cinderella’s Castle in Magic Kingdom.

The Courtyard Pool is the place to rejuvenate the kids after a day in the parks. Walt Disney World, The Grand Floridian Resort, WDW,
The Courtyard Pool is the place to rejuvenate the kids after a day in the parks.

The Grand Floridian Resort and Spa offers a grand experience for families who yearn for the convenience a Walt Disney World Resort and want a refined environment to decompress from the energy of the parks. Walking into the Grand Floridian lobby is sensory experience, the architecture is as impressive as the 3-foot tall flower arrangements that greet me. The service is refined yet welcoming.

Hits of the Grand Floridian Resort

  • Beautiful accommodations
  • Lots of dining options including quick service, casual dining and fine dining.
  • Character meals
  • Lobby entertainment
  • The most transportation options to get to the parks—bus, monorail or ferry
  • The highest level of service of the Walt Disney World resorts
  • One of the best spas in Orlando
The beds in our room at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa make for a great night's sleep. Walt Disney World, Review of the Grand Floridian Resort,
The beds in our room at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa make for a great night’s sleep.

Misses of the Grand Floridian Resort 

  • Nice pool but not my kid’s favorite
  • My kids were immune to their luxurious surroundings and wanted to spend all their time in the parks.
  • Beautiful property but off-site luxury resorts give you more for less
The Alice-in-Wonderland themed water play area for the littlest guests is a must-do. Walt Disney World, Review of the Grand Floridian Resort,
The Alice-in-Wonderland themed water play area for the littlest guests is a must-do.

Note about transferring resorts during your stay:

I had to change resorts three times during my five-day/four-night stay at Walt Disney World and they will transfer your bags free-of-cost. I preferred to pack up our bags and roll them down to bell services that transferred them in the afternoon, usually between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.

If I wanted a bell hop to grab my bags from my room I would have to stay with my bags until the bell hop arrived. I found this inconvenient since we wanted to get to the parks as early as possible.

The process was fairly easy and I had only one small incident. One of our bags had a tag on it stating it was left on the transportation bus. Nothing was missing.

Looking for more reviews and information?

I’ve stayed at the Art of Animation Resort and the Coronado Springs Resort.

Looking for off-property resorts, I’ve stayed at the Wyndham’s Lake Buena Vista, the Best Western Lake Buena Vista and the Mystic Dunes Resort and Golf Club.

I use the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa for every trip. It provides a comprehensive guide, packed with information.

Disclosure: 

Some of the rooms were hosted.

This post contains affiliate links in which I get a small commission if you purchase a book.

Know before you go:

  • By checking frequently for cancellations, I found a room on a booked Saturday night about 3 to 4 weeks before my scheduled arrival.
  • Make reservations as soon as possible, even for slower months, if you’re visiting during a weekend.
  • If you are transferring resorts during your stay, pack light. One rolling bag per adult. One rolling bag for every couple of kids. Backpack for the adults and cinch sacks for the kids.
  • Missed all the dining reservations? Skip it. There’s plenty of quick-service places to eat. My kids don’t miss the experience and just wanted to ride the rides.
  • Pack refillable water bottles and skip the soda. Take protein or granola bars for snacks while in line or on the bus.
  • Bring running shoes for the park. No flip-flops, sandals or hiking sandals; they all killed my feet.

 

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