Saturday, September 17, 2011

How I Plan Trips to Walt Disney World

Planning a trip to Walt Disney World can be stressful if you aren't sure where to start!  Hopefully, if you are reading this, you already have a plan in mind or you've been reading my blog to help you get started!  Since our trip is literally days away, I thought I would backtrack a bit and share with you how I plan(ned) my trip(s).  There are several links in this post that will take you to previous posts I have written on these topics in more detail or the official Walt Disney World Resort web site.

The first thing to do is decide when you want to go.  Here is a short list of several things to consider when making this decision:
1) Look at the "seasons"  at WDW- value, regular and peak.  These seasons will affect the price of resorts  and the size of crowds.  Value is cheaper and less crowded, obviously! :)
2) Do you want to take the kids out of school?  Value season is usually when kids are in school.
3) Weather.  Winter's are usually mild, but they can get quite chilly- especially at night.  Summers can get scorching hot and rainy.  Summer and early fall also mean hurricane season.  Think of your family, their needs, ages and conditions considering weather and seasons.
4) Do you want to spend a holiday at Walt Disney World?  Holidays usually mean peak season, but the celebrations can be wonderful- along with thousands of your closest Disney friends!
5) Special events.  Disney has events all year long to attract guests with different interests.  You may want to consider attending or participating in one of these events.  But, this may also mean larger crowds for some events.
6) Special deals and packages only offered at certain times of the year.  This is usually how we plan our vacations!  We wait for free dining, military discount, or conferences for work purposes in the Orlando/ Anaheim areas- then tag on a trip to WDW or DLR!
7) Ages of your children.  Did you know kids under the age of 3 get in the parks for FREE?  They also eat for free off of buffets and parent's plates.  We planned our trip for next week for this reason!  Cman will be 3 in January, so we wanted to squeeze in one more trip while he is free!

Next, decide how long you want to stay.  I would suggest a 6 day minimum.  This will give you 2 days at Magic Kingdom, 2 at Epcot, and one at Animal Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios.  The last trip we went on was for 4 days.  We spent one day at each park and we all decided this was too rushed and not enough time.  If you only have 4 days, prioritize what you MUST do and make sure you get those things done first.

Once you decide when you are going and how long you will stay, you need to decide which park tickets you want to purchase.  You can choose to get a base ticket to go to one park each day or you can add "park hopper" and go between the parks each day.  You can add the water parks and more option that will include Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, Disney Quest, Disney Sports Complex or a round of golf.   You can also add the Disney Dining Plan to your ticket- quick service, dining plan, deluxe dining, premium and platinum dining.  You can read more about the ticket options here.

Lodging.  Do you want to stay on Disney property or off?  I will always stay on property.  There are too many perks to not do it, in my opinion.  But, staying on property is not always the best option for all families.  You need to weigh the pros and cons and decide for yourself.  Things to consider:
1) size of your party
2) price you want to pay for room(s)
3) Will you be leaving Disney property to visit other areas of Orlando?
4) Do you want to easily return to your room for a break during the day?
5) Do you want to enjoy free transportation on property and extra magic hours?

Transportation.  Will you fly or drive?  This will obviously depend on how much money you want to spend, how far you are from WDW and the size of your party.  If you fly and stay on WDW property you can take the free Magical Express shuttle from the airport.

If you are completely confused at this point, consider ordering a free WDW planning DVD, look at the WDW web site, read books on WDW vacation planning from the library or book store, visit other web sites on WDW or read all the amazing personal blogs people have written about Disney travel!  Of course, I am a Disney Vacation travel agent who can help you too! I would love to help you plan your magical vacation to Walt Disney World.

Once you have decided when to go, how long you will stay, where you will stay, which tickets to purchase, how you will travel and if you will do the dining plan or not, you're still not through.  Crazy, I know!  Here are a few things I do to help make the vacation as magical as possible.

Familiarize yourself with Walt Disney World.  This place is huge!  It's 47 square miles which is larger than Manhattan, NY.  There are 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 23 Disney owned hotels, 5 golf courses, 2 health spas, shopping areas, over 100 restaurants, and MORE!   There is no way you can do everything Disney has to offer in 1 vacation- unless you stay for at least 3 months!  Look at all there is offered and prioritize.  Look at the attractions in each of the parks, the extras at resorts, along the waterways and at Downtown Disney.  Make a list of "must dos" for each family member and make sure you accomplish those things.  What you don't get to on this trip can be done on the next! :)

Once you have prioritized what you want to do, start looking at the restaurants.  If you want to have a sit down meal or a meal with characters you need to make your advanced dining reservations 180 days before your vacation.  Sounds crazy, huh?!  Trust me, you want to do this.  I've been down before with no reservations and had to eat at counter service places the whole trip- one can only have so many hamburgers, corn dog nuggets and turkey legs in a week!  If you want to eat at signature restaurant or have a character meal, I highly suggest waking up at 6:00am on the 180th day before your trip to make these reservations.  They fill up fast!  Other table service restaurant reservations aren't quite as important to make that early, but it always helps to get the dining time you want.

The final thing to do is plan your days.  You can use touring plans to help with this.  This site takes into consideration past park crowd patterns, extra magic hours and other events and shows you which park is best on which day of your trip.  You can also plan your days around shows, evening events, parades and your dining reservations.  I try to make a rough plan for which park we will be in each day, but I don't hold myself to the plan!  There is always wiggle room- especially when traveling with kids!

A few other things to help with your planning:
Our Complete Packing List
A Countdown Calendar

Have a Magical Trip!

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