So, you've decided to finally take that trip to Disney World! Congrats!!! Get ready for a fantastic time!!!
Now I know Disney World is not many people's "thing" and they often "give in" and take the kids so they can say they did it once. Well, definitely get that out of your head!!! Disney World was built on the idea that families could play and have fun together. Yes, Florida is hot. Yes, there will be lines. And yeah, sometimes it can be expensive. But you're in the right place. I can help you ease many of the discomforts of a Disney World vacation!
Planning is key for a successful trip. It never ceases to amaze me when I hear someone had gone to Disney World, with zero planning ahead of time, and had an awful time. Well, what did they expect?? The place is 40 square miles...roughly the size of San Fransisco. Would you go to any major city and not have a game plan for what to do, where to eat, what to see, etc??? No, of course not. So definitely don't do it at Disney. There is so much to do and see and if you don't go with some knowledge, you will be disappointed.
Step 1: Decide when to go.
Disney's prices are based on seasons, but not really the four major ones. Basically, any time the kids are out of school is peak or holiday season, and therefore, are the busiest and most expensive. Then we have regular season, moderately busy and moderately priced. And value season, the cheapest prices and lowest crowds. We strive to always travel in value season!
We choose to take our daughter out of school so we can go during value season. It's a decision we are happy with. She does well in school and have been told numerous times by her teachers, that her missing school for a few days is not a big deal. If at some point this changes, we will re-evaluate our decision. The school district supports parents and are big supporters of special family time. They only require the children to keep a journal while on vacation. But I know some districts are not as understanding. And some parents are not willing to take their kids out of school for their own personal reasons. And that's perfectly fine. They are then limited on travel times, but as long as they plan accordingly, the trip should be smooth and enjoyable.
So once you've got a date.....
Step 2: Decide where to stay.
Resort costs not only vary by season, but also by category. Deluxe resorts are the most expensive with the most amenities and largest rooms. Next are the moderate resorts, middle of the road pricing and some amenities. And value resorts, which are the cheapest prices and have limited amenities. See my Accommodations page for perks of staying on property and my reviews of the resorts we've stayed at. We are huge fans of staying on property!
Step 3: Decide on your park pass.
There are several different categories of a park pass for Disney World. there didn't used to be, so when they made all these options, at first it was pretty confusing. But it's designed to save families money. Those who only want the basics can get that. Those who want more can get that too. The Magic Your Way park pass is a basic pass that will allow you entry to each of the four main parks: Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom. You can only enter one park per day, though. To be able to go to different parks in the same day, you need to add the Hopper option. If you want access to both water parks: Typhoon Lagoon, and Blizzard Beach, plus Disney Quest, you can add the Water Parks and More option. Park passes are available for 1- 10 days and expire 14 days after first use. You can add a no-expiration option too.
We usually purchase a pass to cover each day of our trip, which is usually eight or nine days. We keep just the basic passes. We take our time and spend an entire day at the park we choose for the day, exploring and doing everything we want, redoing our favorites, trying things we've never done before. And since our children are rather young, we don't see the value in the water parks option either. Maybe when they are older and tall enough to ride everything at the water parks, we will do it.
Step 4: Decide on how you will eat!
I have no guilt in admitting this is one of my favorite parts of a Disney World vacation! The food! We are huge fans of the Disney Dining Plan. Click here for my Dining Page. And also my Dining Reviews!
You can book the Disney Dining Plan as part of your package and have it all paid ahead of time, or you can pay for your meals while there. Either way, if you want to dine at table service restaurants (the kind where a waiter or waitress seats you and takes your orders and delivers it to your table, or a buffet meal) you need to make Advance Dining Reservations (ADR for short). And you need to do them early. Many of the best restaurants book up fast. You can book reservations 180 days before your arrival day...yep, that's 6 months. I know you're wondering, "How do you know what you'll want to eat 6 months ahead of time?" Well, all I can say is, the restaurants at Disney are amazing and I love planning my meals and look forward to the fabulous food when I get there! All Ears has every menu on property, so I highly suggest checking them out before you choose your sit down meals and also my dining reviews!
Table service meals can be pricey, which is the reason we go with the dining plan. We usually save some decent money that way.
Disney also has tons and tons of great counter service places, not your typical fast food either! Yes, there are plenty of places that serve burgers and fries and chicken nuggets. But in my experience, each place also has some fun and different things too. Pricing is decent, but it will run you more money than McDonald's.
For a complete rundown of the Disney Dining Plan, check out my Dining Page!
Step 5: Decide how to get to Florida.
I am a huge fan of flying there. I hate being in a car for extended periods of time. I get motion sickness, and that prevents me from reading or playing games..basically most forms of entertainment that make a ride go by faster. I'm from the north east, so the drive to Orlando takes us about 20-24 hours, depending on the stops. We did it once and I vowed never again. Unless we could take 4 days to do it and only drive for 4-6 hours at a time and then get out and do something, stay the night. So maybe when we're retired....
So, for us, flying is really the best option. We like Southwest the best. Their prices always seem to be the best and we love the fact that there are no fees for checking bags- and two per person! We've had great experiences with Southwest and their flight schedule is great. There are usually at least 3 direct flights offered to Orlando airport and 3 direct flights coming home. We like direct flights...2-1/2 hours in the air and we're there.
Now, we're lucky. There's only 4 of us. I know for large families, the cost to fly can be really pricey. I guess if you're looking at a $1500-2000 airfare bill, driving and paying for gas, and possibly a hotel, looks real nice. When we drove, I figured we spent about $400 on gas (this was the summer when it was almost $4 a gallon). Going down, we drove straight, but had to stop quite frequently to feed an infant. Home, we stopped in NC and got a hotel. Luckily, hubby had some points with Marriott and got our room for free. So, even without a free hotel, you can still save some decent money. But in the long run, is the aggravation worth it? If it saves you $1000-$1500...yeah, maybe. For us the savings wasn't too significant...so in my opinion, no, it's not worth it.
And I really think it depends on the ages of your kids. Ours were 5 and 4 months when we drove. There were times it was okay, (the kids slept almost the entire time we drove at night), and times when it was bad (every time after stopping to eat, our son would cry non-stop for like 30-45 minutes. He was just sick of being in his car seat! And driving through West Virginia at night...so so dark and scary!) If the kids were older, and had video games, ipods, texting with friends, to keep them occupied, it might have been better. But it still doesn't change the fact that I have to sit there doing nothing but staring out the window! LOL!
I truly think travel is a personal decision. I have my reasons for why we probably won't drive again, and I'm sure many people have their reasons for not flying!
Step 6: Pick your parks.
Now this step is not something everyone has to do. BUT if you are making ADRs, you really need to know which parks you plan on being in each day of your trip, especially if you just have basic Magic Your Way park passes. For example, if you go to Magic Kingdom on day 1, it is easiest to eat either in the Magic Kingdom park or take the monorail to one of the resorts nearby. With just the basic park pass, you can't, say, go eat dinner at Epcot that nigh. You'd have to have the Hopper option to do that.
I decide which park to go to by visiting the Crowd Calender at TouringPlans.com. There is a fee to join the site and view the calender in it's entirety, but it's pretty reasonable for such valuable information.
There are lots of Disney travelers who prefer a spontaneous trip and pick which park they'll go to that morning. And that is wonderful! But it's not something I'd suggest for a first timer.
The planning process can be overwhelming. A Disney-Certified travel agent (like me!!) can help. My services are completely free :)
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