Don’t know where to start in planning a Walt Disney World trip? Too many details and choices? Don’t have 40 hours to research and plan? Wondering if you can afford it? Follow my Walt Disney World planning series and make this vacation stress-free and fabulous. Here are 8 tips to help plan your trip like a pro.
1. Book a “Room Only” reservation.
Select the dates you wish to travel and call the Walt Disney World Travel Company. Book a “Room Only” reservation. You may convert it to a package deal later if you wish, once all your planning is complete. A “Room Only” reservation requires only a one night’s down payment, and you may cancel without penalty up until one week before you travel. Also, be sure to ask about any “Room Only” discounts occurring during your travel dates. You have to ask! Disney travel planners do not volunteer info on any special discounts. In Part 2 of this series, I will tell you how to select a WDW hotel (even if your family has more than four persons) and give my top recommendations. I only stay “on campus” at Walt Disney World and in my series, I’ll tell you why. Pick a hotel and go.
What have you accomplished in this quick step? You’ve put a stake in the ground so to speak and started your vacation foundation. Room Only reservations give you the most flexible opportunity to cancel without penalty, and you may easily convert it to a package deal if it fits your vacation plans.
2. Book your airfare, if traveling by plane.
Book your favorite airline with miles, points, or cash. Discount airlines such as Southwest Airlines and Jet Blue fly to Orlando and sometimes do not show up on the websites designed to search for the least expensive airfare during the dates you select. Traveling on Sunday and checking out on Friday morning may give you cheaper airfare and less expensive hotel rates. WDW charges more when staying on Friday and Saturday night. If your budget is not tight, just book your favorite airline. Unless you are putting this vacation together on short notice or have travel insurance that reimburses airfare, make sure your plane fares are refundable. In Part 3 of Walt Disney World Planning Series, you will receive more tips to make airline travel a snap!
What have you accomplished by booking your airfare and hotel? The most difficult planning tasks of your vacation are done! Congratulations!
3. Set up your My Disney Experience account.
Access to the My Disney Experience account is available on the main Walt Disney World website. In Part 4 of this series, I will give you step by step instructions on how to set it up. From this account, you will make all your dining reservations, plan your vacation days, and make your fast pass selections. I will explain how to obtain and use the new Disney wristbands that are now used instead of paper or plastic tickets/room keys.
4. Call Walt Disney World’s Magical Express.
Oh yeah. I love this part. Simply call the Walt Disney Magical Express number and tell them you want your FREE airport pick up to your hotel. Have your Walt Disney World hotel reservation number and all your flight information handy. Only those staying in a Walt Disney World hotel have this service. They will also fetch your luggage and deliver it to your room within three hours after landing. I will tell you when it would be best just to go grab your luggage yourself and let the Disney Magical Express driver load it onto the bus and take it to your hotel. Enjoy the ride to the hotel while a vacation orientation video plays on the movie screens. Your kids will be distracted by the video and you will be in your hotel in no time. In Part 5 of this series, I will give you all the tips and tricks for making your trip from your home airport to your hotel room as easy as pie.
5. Select and purchase tickets, and decide on the dining plan.
Call the Walt Disney World Travel company to add tickets to your room stay. Please note: There is often no reason to buy a ticket for the day you arrive and the day you leave unless you are coming in early and leaving late. If you need an extra day, you may easily add it through the concierge at your hotel front desk. Now you must answer the big question on whether or not to add the Disney Dining Plan (DDP). If you decide to add it, your room and ticket purchase becomes a package, and you are subject to an earlier pay-off schedule and less flexible cancelation policy. In a nutshell, the dining plan gives you the peace of mind that comes with prepaid meals, and within the rules of the plan, your party may order what they wish. I recommend the dining plan for first-time visitors because you may partake in spectacular dining experiences without being concerned about cost. On the other hand, when you have daily dining reservations through the dining plan, these reservations tend you dominate your day and rule out the flexibility and spontaneity that many travelers desire. It also presents you with a ton of food. Many people feel stuffed like piggies eating on plan constantly. The dining plan includes dessert but not appetizers. Those not utilizing the dining plan have the freedom to order an appetizer and skip dessert if they so desire. Of course, you may order an appetizer on the dining plan, (extra charge), and you may “feel” as if your “free” dessert option is going to waste. In Part 6 of this series, I’ll give you my top picks for restaurants if you are on the dining plan or wish to have daily reservations, and my strategy for playing it fast and loose without dining reservations.
6. Pack for a comfortable and healthy vacation stay.
The key to a successful, comfortable, and happy experience at WDW as far as travel essentials goes has to be bringing proper shoes! In Part 7 of this series I’ll discuss the types of shoes that may be best for the huge amount of walking you’ll be doing. Your clothing selection should always include items for warm weather, but the winter months at Disney can be tricky. You should always pack a rain jacket and a sweater. If you are traveling with younger children, I’ll share with you one of the best tricks I learned for helping children get ready quickly each morning of the trip. Finally, I’ll be discussing the med bag basics to bring, along with surprising ways that essential oils and a travel diffuser may help your whole family to say “ahhhh” every night and maintain a great attitude all day.
7. Set proper expectations and bring the “pixie dust” with you.
In all the years I’ve been going to Walt Disney World, my experiences with the hotels, restaurants, and cast members have been mostly excellent. However, I must admit that on at least two occasions, I’ve had a cast member serving me who was either distracted or distraught over something in their personal life. Surprise! All the Walt Disney World cast members are human. Even in one of the most amazing businesses that prides itself on exceptional customer service, you may encounter a problem. I’ll give you ideas on ways to handle these with grace and perhaps even have the opportunity to bless a cast member. You should be tipping your hotel “mousekeeper” and I’ll tell you what is considered standard. Additionally, you need to sprinkle the “pixie dust” on your own family by setting reasonable expectations. Children will get very hot and tired. They need rest time and a nap. If you feel you are “wasting” your vacation by allowing your family to rest, then perhaps it is not the time to go to Disney. The elderly or injured in your party may be walking slowly and may need assistance. Certain times of the year are more crowded than others. Having a strategic “touring” plan is a must to make the most of your stay with a great attitude. In Part 8 of my Disney World planning trip, I will give you more tips on ways to sprinkle thoughtfulness, kindness, and plain ol’ smarts on your special vacation.
8. Save up, set a budget, and come home debt-free!
Here’s what I love about travel. It’s fun to plan for and anticipate a trip, it’s awesome to actually get away and leave cares behind for a week or two, and it is absolutely fabulous to come back home and sleep in my own bed! Win-win-win! However, it is not fun to come back to a pile of debt from uncontrolled spending on vacation. In this last part, I’ll give you some ways to plan ahead financially for your trip, and keep expenses under control without feeling deprived. Are you ready for a fabulous trip to the House of the Mouse? Start planning! In Part 9, I will give you my best tips for saving $$$ at Walt Disney World and coming home with zero debt after a fabulous vacation!