Whether you are planning your first trip to Walt Disney World or your 50th, you want it to be special. In your mind, you picture perfect weather, low crowds, delicious food and short lines. Reality is a bit different. However, it’s always good to have a plan. Here are 10 steps to planning the perfect (OK, near-perfect) trip to the “Happiest Place on Earth!”
1) Establish a budget – A Disney vacation is not inexpensive, but for what you get, it can be a good value. After all, Disney is the king of family entertainment. Still, most families operate on some sort of a budget. Consider travel costs, ticket prices, whether you want to stay onsite at a Disney hotel or offsite (off Disney property), dining costs, souvenirs, etc. Disney will allow you to book your trip a year or more out. Then you can make monthly payments to spread out the costs. Knowing your vacation costs up front will allow you to plan better.
2) Decide when to go/how long to go – If you have school-age children, your vacation dates may be limited, unless you are willing to take them out of school. Basically, Disney World is busier when school is out. Think summer months and holidays. You will have fun regardless, but it’s best to be aware. Another thing to consider is how long to stay. Disney World is huge! There is more to do than can ever be done in one trip. To enjoy yourself, without running ragged, consider a week-long trip. That will allow you sufficient time to visit the theme parks, enjoy your resort and relax.
3) Check the Disney calendar – A big mistake I made on our first trip to Disney was not understanding how the park hours work. Before you go (up to 6 months before), check the Disney park hours for the days you are visiting. Every day, one of the Disney parks opens early or closes late for those staying at a Disney hotel. Think about what works best for your family. Arriving early and/or staying late can help you beat the crowds. Tip: Consider visiting the park that had “Extra Magic Hours” the day before. Statistics show that park will have lower attendance, resulting in shorter lines.
4) Choose your Fastpasses – Up to 60 days before your trip, you can schedule 3 Fastpasses for each day of your trip. Fastpass allows you to make a reservation time for the most popular attractions, thus saving time in line. If you don’t already have one, open a free account online at mydisneyexperience.com to take care of this, plus make dining reservations, etc. Tip: Once you use all 3 of your Fastpasses, you can schedule another one at any Fastpass kiosk.
5) Pictures/Memory Maker – Pictures and memories are a big part of any vacation. Certainly, you can take all the pictures you want on your personal camera, but who’s gonna be left out because someone has to actually take the picture? Disney makes it easy by taking your pictures for you! You can purchase the Memory Maker package and Disney photographers will snap your photos all over the parks, including ride photos and character meals.
6) Make time for parades/fireworks – Arguably, the best part of any trip to Disney World is the parades and fireworks. Be sure to schedule time to see these daytime and nighttime spectaculars. At the Magic Kingdom, see the 3:00 parade. After dark, save time for Wishes fireworks show and the evening parade. At Epcot, Illuminations’ light, laser, fireworks and music show will leave you awestruck! Find a spot anywhere around World Showcase, about an hour before the show. At Hollywood Studios, be sure to see Fantasmic, where Mickey Mouse battles the Disney villains. Tip: Coming soon, a nighttime show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom!
7) Schedule “off” time – You will quickly discover a trip to Disney can be taxing! While planning your daily schedule, plan some “down” time. Things to do: If your budget allows, schedule a sit-down meal at one of Disney’s many great restaurants. Besides enjoying a good meal in a well-themed restaurant, an hour or so in the air conditioning will do wonders for your mind and body (and your family’s mood). Also, take advantage of your resort hotel. Enjoy the pools, shopping, dining and other things your resort offers. Did you know Disney World has a movie theater, a bowling alley, two waterparks, golf (both real and putt-putt) and even a Cirque du Soliel show? Anyone in your family like to shop? At Disney World, everything begins with a line and ends with a gift shop, LOL! Plan some time to browse the souvenir shops.
8) Splurge – Want to create a lasting memory? Find something to splurge on! Schedule a character meal in Cinderella Castle for your little princess. Any pirate wanna-be’s in your group? Try out the Pirates League in the Magic Kingdom. Give your daughter a princess makeover at the Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique. Adults only? Try a behind-the-scenes tour or have dinner at one of Disney’s deluxe resorts. Want to surprise your family? Schedule a fireworks cruise at Magic Kingdom or Epcot. The possibilities are endless!
9) Visit other resorts – If you are staying a week or longer, you absolutely MUST visit some of the other Disney resorts, especially during the holidays. You could also consider it a scouting trip for your next visit. Warning! Once you visit Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, you will want to stay there!
10) Visit Disney Springs – You may know it as Downtown Disney. If you’re old school, you might have called it Pleasure Island. Regardless, this dining, entertainment and shopping destination is undergoing a massive rebuild! When finished, there will be more to do here than ever. At the very least, plan one night to browse the shops, enjoy a meal, see a show or movie or just people-watch. The best part is, there’s no cost to get in!
BONUS TIP: Consider planning and booking your next Disney trip with an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner you can trust like Mickey Travels. They’ll help you get the best Walt Disney World deal, share expert advice and their services are totally FREE! It’s genius!