1. Initial Vacation Booking (Dates, Hotel Reservations, Park Tickets)
Now that you’ve made the excellent decision to visit WDW, you can take your first steps! First of all, when are you traveling? Will you pull your kids out of school and will the adults be able to take time off? After determining that, you can contact Disney or a third-party travel agency. (I must suggest our very own Authorized Disney Vacation Planners at Mickey Travels!) Once you’re acquainted with an agent, they can help you select things like on-property accommodations and the number/type of park tickets you’ll want to purchase. These agents can also provide information on trip insurance and Disney’s cancellation or refund policies. Essentially, these agents help you plan out the “shell” of your trip before you start filling it up with details! With the shell in place, you will be set up with an online My Disney Experience account where you and your agent can manage all of your trip details. (And an app version is also available for your smartphone.) And now you’re off and running!
2. Book Transportation
With the dates, tickets, and hotel rooms booked, you’ll need to settle on transportation. Ask yourself, “How am I planning to get to Florida?” Are you driving, flying, or taking a train? If you aren’t driving, do you want to rent a car or use cab services to travel off-property? Please note that if you’re staying on Disney property, you will have access to free buses, monorails, and boats that can take you anywhere within the WDW bubble. Also, on-property guests can book a ride to and from the airport on the Magical Express bus. Not only are these rides free, they also include free handling of checked luggage. (These rides must be booked by your Authorized Vacation Planner.) But again, while free Disney transportation is in great supply, you may need to tap into other resources depending on your needs. Just make sure you are well versed in all of the options.
3. Advance Dining Reservations, FastPass+ Reservations, and Special Ticketed Events
Since steps 1 and 2 are completed, you should be good to go, right? Not yet! Next, you’ll want to decide where you’re going to eat. Basically, if you want to eat at any sit-down restaurants, you will need reservations. (Don’t miss out on this! Many table service venues are exceptional in terms of theming and cuisine.) Advance Dining Reservations can be made 180 days prior to your trip. Additionally, this is the time to decide whether you want to add on the Disney Dining Plan. This package enables you to pay for most of your food/beverages in advance by allotting you a number of “dining credits” per day. Package types and prices vary, so do some quick math before making a decision. (Please note that you don’t need to purchase a plan to make ADRs.) After that, it’s time to start selecting your FastPass+ reservations! 30 days before your trip (or 60 if you’re staying on property), you’ll be able to select your three FastPass+ reservations for each day you have park tickets. These reservations enable you to skip the long lines for various attractions, shows, and popular character meet and greets! Best of all, once your three FastPasses+ reservations have been used that day, more can be booked through your My Disney Experience account. And lastly, if you want to attend any of Disney’s hard ticketed events (e.g. dessert parties, seasonal parties etc.), you’ll want to buy admission in advance. A trusted Authorized Vacation Planner or cast member can advise you further.
This may sound premature, but effective Disney packing starts weeks (even months) before your trip. Since Florida weather is temperamental and the amount of walking is intense, it’s extremely important that you pack “smart”. This means setting aside clothes that are comfortable and weather appropriate. It also means researching useful gadgets (e.g. portable smartphone chargers, filtered water bottles, rain gear) that could make your days much more pleasant. Also, take time to document which items you use on a daily basis. Do you need to pack ear drops for the pool? Will your child only fall asleep if they hug a specific stuffed animal? Luckily, Disney gift shops and food courts can provide you with basic necessities, but some things just can’t be substituted. Don’t surprise yourself at the Magic Kingdom by realizing you forgot your reliable orthopedic sneakers! Instead, take time to write up that detailed list of “must pack” items beforehand. (And give yourself time to purchase and receive online orders well before the trip!)
5. Enjoy the Countdown!
After all of the careful planning, you can partake in my favorite step. Fully immerse yourself in anticipating the trip by scouring travel blogs, watching Disney vloggers, studying WDW history, and watching as many Disney movies as possible! Set a countdown on your phone or even make an old-fashioned poster board for your kids. Sometimes half of the fun can be in the eager wait, so make it as fun as possible! Believe it or not, you will fondly look back on these pre-trip days.
We hope that this helps you get a great head start on planning your magical Disney vacation. Trust us, not slacking on your Disney “homework” will pay off immensely.