Congratulations! You have decided to go to Disney World! Now what?
Plan Your Perfect First Trip to Disney World
There are so many pieces of the Disney puzzle to consider before and during planning. Planning a Disney vacation can be overwhelming. You may have so many questions. Where do I start? What is my budget? When do we want to go? Are we staying on property or off? What is included in our package? What does all the lingo mean? A simple post for help on a Facebook page nets hundreds of responses. An online search brings thousands of results. I have a few suggestions on how to get started and plan the perfect trip for your family, and hopefully, help you proceed with minimal stress.
What is Your Budget?
When planning your dream vacation, the first thing to consider is your budget. Disney can get expensive. If you are limited to a specific time frame, such as Spring Break or Fall Break, you will be traveling during Disney's peak season and costs are higher. However, if your travel dates are flexible, you can take advantage of off season value pricing. Off season visits when crowds are lower and pricing is at value vs at peak or holiday pricing will help with your budget. The 2nd week in January, once everyone has returned to school after the New Year is a great time to plan a trip to Disney World. If you plan for January, be sure to find out when the Disney Marathon is planned and avoid that weekend. September; right after school gets back in session, but before Labor Day weekend, is also a good time to plan to visit Mickey. There are also some good times in February; but steer clear of Presidents Week, and any RunDisney events, such as the Disney Half Marathon Weekend.
No matter your timeframe, there are many economical options. Disney resorts are divided into 3 categories: Value, Moderate and Deluxe. All the resorts include the same magical extras, including Magical Express ground transportation from the airport, complimentary, on-property transportation, such as buses, boats and monorail, early access to FastPass reservations and Extra Magic Hours at the parks. Value resorts are a great way to keep your budget costs low while still having access to the magic. If you are planning on being away from your room from dawn to dusk, and just need a place to lay your head at night, there is no need to pay huge prices for merely sleeping. If you plan on returning to your resort at any time for down time (naps), value resorts are still a great option.
Family Trips vs Adults Only
Are you taking a family that includes kids, or are you planning an adults-only trip? If adult only, then a quiet moderate, such as the Port Orleans Riverside or French Quarter resorts are lovely and a great choice. If you are taking children, some resorts appeal to them more, such as any of the All-Stars, Art of Animation and even Animal Kingdom Lodge, a deluxe property. The Art of Animation resort has the largest pool on Walt Disney World's property. This resort has top notch family suites with various themes and is always bursting with energy and things to do.
All the Magical Extras
Once you decide when you are going to Disney World and where you are staying, there are ‘extras’ you can add to a vacation package. A base package, staying in a Disney resort property, can simply be tickets and lodging. You can even just do a room-only reservation, or just buy tickets and stay off site. You can then add the Dining Plan, Memory Maker, Water Park tickets and Travel Insurance. It’s always good to price out packages with everything you want. You may be surprised to see it’s within your budget. Disney often runs promotions, such as Free Dining and free days.
Park Hopper Tickets
A Park Hopper allows entry to more than one theme park per day. You can go to and from all four of the Disney World Parks in a single day- Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Disney Epcot. This is added to a Base Ticket.
Disney Dining Plan
What is the Dining Plan? Is it ‘worth’ it? There are many opinions to choose from. When my husband and I visited Disney World, before kids, we did not get the dining plan. We just went with the flow, ate when we wanted, and weren’t concerned with reservations. With kids, we had the dining plan. First, this is a huge budget point. You have to pay for it in advance, so no extra money is required for food purchases when you get to the parks. There will be food purchased outside of the dining plan, out of pocket, but it’s usually minimal. Second, your MagicBand tracks your dining plan. With every purchase there is a receipt showing what has been used and what is remaining. Third, it is effortless, and there is plenty of food per meal and snack. There are also hundreds of healthy options throughout the parks.
Disney Memory Maker
The Disney Memory Maker allows you unlimited digital downloads of all your Disney PhotoPass photos and videos. You can see them digitally, download, edit and order using Memory Maker. If you just want to use your camera or phone, you can opt to not purchase Memory Maker.
Park Hopper and More Options
Park Hopper and More option (aka Hopper Plus Option), provides admission to more than one theme park on the same day, plus a certain number of visits to your choice of Disney’s water parks Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Oak Trail Golf Course, Fantasia Gardens or Winter Summerland Miniature Golf courses.
Travel Insurance provides coverage for you and your family for unexpected covered events. The plan allows you to cancel or interrupt your trip for covered reasons and to file a claim against the travel insurance plan so you can be reimbursed for things such as the prepaid and non-refundable costs associated with your trip. You never know when an emergency might arise. Disney travel insurance gives you some peace of mind.
My Disney Experience App
Disney has pushed everything online to their MyDisneyExperience app and website. A lot of things are also completed far in advance of your trip. You need to know when your Advanced Dining Reservations window opens (180 days from your first day), when your FastPass reservation window opens up (from 60-30 days in advance of your first day). You can check into your room, check park hours, see wait times for rides and attractions and check character appearance times, parade and show times, events, and ride status, all in advance of setting foot on property. Having your trip mapped out before you as you arrive makes your trip so much less stressful and so much more fun.
Use a Disney Travel Planner
If this all seems a little overwhelming, a professional Disney travel planner (like me) can help! A travel planner can handle as much or as little of your trip as you would like. Some people, even when hiring a travel planner, still want to be involved in the planning process. Some people want their first trip planned for them. I have had clients ask me to do all their dining reservations, decide, plan and make their Fast Pass reservations, and create a touring plan. I have also had clients who want me to do it all, but with input and signoff. The most important thing to consider if you hire a travel planner is to be sure they listen to your wants, needs and desires, and that they plan YOUR trip the way YOU want it.
If you book and purchase your Disney vacation package through a planner, there should not be any additional fees. The prices you see on the Disney World website are the same that you will pay using a planner, and you get the extra help and advice. However, before you decide on your travel planner, be sure to ask up front what is included in the planning and if there are additional fees or charges.
Once you have purchased your package, know what you have paid for. What tickets did you purchase, how many days, did you get the park hopper? Did you get the dining plan? How many meals and snacks are you allotted per day per person? Memory Maker? Do your research before you leave so you know the lingo and what to expect.
You will need to plan around park hours, FastPasses, dining reservations, Extra Magic Hour, shows, fireworks, parades, etc. If have children, you would want to take in account meal times, nap times and bedtimes (although Disney bedtime is usually far later than home bedtimes!)
I find having a plan of attack also cuts down on stress. Your touring plan should be tailored to your family and what you want to see and do. Fit Fast Passes and Advanced Dining Reservations into that. Do you want to take advantage of Extra Magic Hours? Is there a specific parade you want to see? A specific character you want to see? Knowing before you arrive what is most important will make your trip more seamless and less stressful.
There may be snafus. Should something not happen exactly as planned, it’s ok. Go with the flow and utilize your apps and Guest Services to rectify the issues. Disney is top notch at fixing any issues that may come up to make their guests 100% satisfied. Their customer service is second to none.