Ah, the life of a Disney fan... who lives in Southern California. I love being asked all kinds of questions about Disneyland theme park planning from friends and acquaintances. I can be counted on to pull up an app and help them decide which day to go to Disneyland, where to eat, and what are not to miss things. Generally, I want to give them way more tips and advice than they are looking for!
I'm currently in the process of planning my sixth trip to Walt Disney World. Even though I've been to Disneyland so many times I literally have no way to count, I find planning for Disney World a fantastically fun experience. Planning a trip is a great build up to the actual trip. How else is one to kill the time before day zero? But I find planning for Disney World a much more complicated process (as Disneyland is just a drive, albeit sometimes a long one, down the freeway for me). So here is my 15 step planning guide. (15 steps?!?)
Step One: Decide to go
You've looked on the website, talked about going, thought about going, dreamed about going...Well the first step is deciding to really go through with it and book a trip. At this point, request a planning DVD. I do this every time I go, partly because it's fun to get mail other than bills, and if Disney wants to mail me some discounts or offers, I want them to have my address!
Step Two: Set a budget
Figure your budget with all expenses. Calculate room, tickets, air fare, food, souvenirs...try to include anything you know you will need during the trip.
Once you set the budget, you've got to stick to it! I always determine my set cost but allow myself to "earn" additional spending money for the trip with things like garage sales, gift cards, and other unexpected cash.
Step Three: Buy a Book (or E-book)
There are soooo many books about Disney World. (Disclaimer: Contrary to what my friends say, I have not read them all). Disney, of course, has official guide books too. Now, you may be thinking, why buy a book? The Internet has so much information, aren't books obsolete?
Not in my opinion! There are two that I need to have to help me plan. One is the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World book by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa. This book is very user friendly and helps so much when planning, I've used it for all of my trips. The reviews are honest and detailed. I have highlighting, sticky notes, and dog ears all over mine. The book is a great resources for people who have never been the Walt Disney World. There is a wealth of information about every aspect of the World and even a chapter or two about off property (not that I'd ever do that!)
The second book I recommend is the new 102 Ways to Save Money For and At Walt Disney World by Lou Mongello. I just downloaded the eBook, and it is fantastic. It's written by a Disney World Podcast expert (see step 12 for more info about that ). This book has many different tips for ways to save at Disney World - in fact, the author guarantees you'll save! Even as a experienced fan, I found things to save and do in this book that I didn't know about.
Step Four: Subscribe to touring plans
Step Five: Decide when to go
So now that you know when you are going, you need to decide how many days you want to go. My preference is a week. I like 2 days for Epcot, 1 for Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios, with an extra day to decided about later (I often split it between Epcot and Animal Kingdom). I typically spend only one day in Magic Kingdom because I am a Disneyland gal, and go all the time. However, if you are not like me, I advise taking your trip up to 8 days. I always think of my travel days as good Downtown Disney or resort days.
Step Six: Decide which resort
Disney Magical Express is a transport service that will take you from the airport and to the resort. You do not need to rent a car if you are staying on property! Disney World resort has a complex network transportation system. This includes boats, monorails, and buses. It is pretty easy to get to theme parks and other locations, but it takes a little more time and navigation to get from resort to resort. Read the Disney Tourist's Blog info on resort transpiration. Additionally, there are extra magic hours available only to resort guests where one of the parks will open early or stay open later.
On property there are three basic categories of resorts; value, moderate, or deluxe. How do you decide which category do you fit in? That is largely determined by budget. If you can afford a deluxe, I say go for it! The location close to a park and the slightly better transportation make it worth it. However, it can be a big finical jump to deluxe. I usually stay in a moderate resort as that is where my budget lies.
Once you determine your category, go back to the touring plans website and check out the resorts. They have video that is helpful to give you a feel for the resort. I also find the rating system helpful. You can even use the room selector and look at the view from each room! Amazing! I find this website able to answer pretty much any question I have when it comes to resorts.
It's very tempting to want to move up a category, but stick with your budget. I have stayed in Beach Club (Deluxe), Contemporary (Deluxe), French Quarter (Moderate), Pop Century (Value), and off property. Each has its pluses and minuses, but also consider - how much time will you stay in the room?
Step Seven: Book with a travel agent
You can certainly book with Disney directly, but I like booking with someone who can apply discounts and offers a little extra. I've booked several past trips and a cruise with AAA. I've always been happy with them, but this current trip, I booked with Mouse Fan Travel.
AAA offers some additional perks at times, and they usually offer a discount. However, once you book with AAA, you are locked into a price. So if you book really far in advance, you may miss some of the promotions.
I choose to book with Mouse Fan Travel after hearing about it over and over on the two podcasts I listen to (see step 12). I have been very impressed and, in fact, check out my blog post just about them.
Step Eight: What style theme parker are you?
It may seem way to soon to begin to think about this, but it will really help you with some decisions you'll make in future steps. While this list is certainly not exhaustive, here are some common types of theme park touring styles:
The Early Bird
The Night Owl
The Park Hopper
Once you have a list of restaurants you want to eat in, you're ready to start putting together what you want to do.
You can base the theme park of the day on the dinning reservations you make, or you can plan which parks to go to, then go for dinning reservations accordingly. If you do the first, you'll want to go online at 180 days from the first day you're booked, and make your reservation. If you're the latter, you will want to look at the touring plans crowd calendar and choose the lowest rated day to go to.
Either way, some dinning options fill up fast, remarkably fast. If you choose to book with Mouse Fan Travel, you can fill out a request sheet of where you want to eat, and leave it up to them to book it for you!
Step Ten: Pick a Splurge
Almost every trip I've taken I've done what I consider a splurge: something extra that really enhances your trip. The first trip, we did a Candlelight processional package (dinning reservation with reserved seating for the Epcot holiday tradition). On my second trip, we did the character breakfast inside the castle (I ate inside a castle!!). The third trip we went over the Grand Floridan for a character breakfast. On trip five, it was the Hoop De Doo. On this next trip there will be the Wild Africa Trek.
Consider having a character meal, taking in one of the dinner shows, taking a tour, going to a desert party or a fireworks cruise, attending a hard ticket event (Halloween party or Christmas Party). There are a ton of options. I try to book a new experience each trip even though it's been tempting to go back and re-experience some of the great memories, there is so much more to do at Disney World than just theme parks!
Once you've chosen what you want to do, be aware of booking times (dinning and tours are often 180 days out). Talk to your travel agent about this one!
Step Eleven: Create a countdown calendar
|Here is mine. The jar to the left is my savings jar for spending money|
Step Twelve: Research
So now you're at 176 days out, you made your countdown calendar, and while flipping the days is fun, it's not enough to keep you busy. First, request personalized maps from Disney. Second, I recommend a few podcasts and websites to fill that Disney need. Third, subscribe to a Disney Magazine.
Now check out WDW Radio. Lou has been doing this for something like seven years, and has so much great advice and tips. It's a great listen in your car on the way to work, while cooking dinner, or at the gym. The podcast is available weekly for free downloads on iTunes. He also has a blog, videos, and a live weekly show (Wednesday 7pm Eastern time).
Wedway Radio is a podcast by two brothers that spend lots of time delving into the history behind the parks. They also produce a weekly news segment as well. These guys spend lots of time researching and do a great job! Definitely check them out.
There really aren't many Disney magazines anymore. You can subscribe the the D23 by becoming a silver or gold member, but it is pricey. There is also an unofficial, but amazing Disney World centric magazine: Celebrations. This is a much lower price point than D23 and will focus on your upcoming destination!
Step Thirteen: Make FP+ Reservation
Step Fourteen: Create your touring plan
Step Fifteen: Pack
What do I pack!? There are lots of advice websites on this (try this list from WDW Prep school). But there are a couple of things I won't leave without. I bring a small power strip to recharge all the electronics at night. I use hiking socks when theme park-ing, but other family members swear by the two thin sock rule. Always bring a camera but decide what kind of shots you want: are you looking for professional shots that make lugging a big camera around worth it, or do you just need a pocket sized point and shoot. Disney does offer a photopass where, for a pretty big fee, you can get all the pictures Disney photographers take of you on your trip on CD. I will be doing this for the first time on this upcoming trip, and therefore am only taking a small point and shoot. The other thing I don't leave home without is my booklet with reservation numbers and info. I know that My Experience app wrangles all of that information for you on the app, but if your cell phone is like mine, it doesn't always make it through a full day. (Note: the app does not include your tour information, the cast member informed me that isn't part of My Disney Experience yet, but they hope it may be...some day). This is the new shirt I got:
|From Look Human: Totally awesome, right?|
So, there you are. My 15 step trip planning guide!
Clip art images from http://www.disneyclips.com/. All characters are copyright Walt Disney Company.