Planning a Disney Vacation can be quite daunting, but if you do your homework and make a list of all the attractions and rides that interest you and your family most, the planning phase can be quite enjoyable. The most important step is to plan ahead and really look at all your options, including package deals, dining plans, resort choices, etc. Don’t leave anything to chance. Sit down with your family or group and get everyone’s opinion on what they want to experience on this very special vacation. Here are a few ideas that may help.
1. Choose Your Vacation Arrival and Departure Dates
There are two important considerations when planning your dates for your Disney Vacation: weather and crowds. Here are a few pointers:
- Least Crowded—Jan. 2 – Mid Feb., early Sept. to mid Nov., early to mid Dec.
- Moderate Crowds—late Feb. – early March, late April to late May
- Most Crowded—New Year’s Day, President’s Week, mid March-mid April, Memorial Day Weekend, mid-June – Labor Day, Thanksgiving Weekend, late Dec.
Florida is known for its summer afternoon thundershowers, but they usually don’t last long and can sometimes be a refreshing break from the heat. Rain is more predominant in the summer months, during hurricane season (June through November). While the threat of hurricanes is always there, they have rarely shut down Walt Disney World. Heavy rains are more likely between June and September. Another weather related consideration is the summer heat, which can sometimes reach temperatures in the mid to high 90’s, generally in the months of June, July, and August. Temperatures are much more moderate between September and December.
Now that you have considered crowds and weather, you will need to decide on your length of stay. My personal recommendation is a minimum stay of 7 days and nights for a well rounded visit of all the parks, including at least one water park, if you are planning a summer trip. If your budget or schedule does not permit this length of stay, you can plan your visit accordingly, and still enjoy a magical visit. If your plans only allow for a stay of 5 days or less, I would encourage you to concentrate on those theme parks where the rides and attractions that appeal to you most are located. Save the rest for your next visit. With careful planning, no matter how many days you plan to visit Walt Disney World, your visit will be one you will always remember.
2. Travel Agency or Do-It-Yourself
The decision to use a travel agency or plan your Disney Vacation yourself depends on how confident you are in making travel plans. There are many travel agents who handle only Disney vacations, and if I were going to use a travel agency, I would definitely choose one of these specialized agents. There is no right or wrong way to plan your trip. The advantage of using a travel agent is the fact that they do all the work for you. You explain to them exactly what you want to experience on your trip, and they find the best Disney package for you and your family or group. I, myself, enjoy planning our Disney trips. For me, it is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle and watching all the pieces fit into place, with the result being a perfectly planned Disney Vacation.
If you are not sure you can handle planning your Disney trip, you would probably be happier letting a professional set everything up for you. If you’re like me and want to do it yourself, go for it! You really can’t go wrong either way.
3. Transportation—Drive or Fly
Travel plans, of course, should include your mode of transportation, arrival date, and departure date. If you are flying, Disney has initiated a program called, “Disney’s Magical Express”, for Walt Disney World guests. This program offers the following: Check your luggage at your local airport; it will be delivered to your Disney Resort room shortly after your arrival, and motor coach transportation from the airport to your Disney Resort; the same applies to your return home. This service really adds to the convenience of traveling by air.
If you are driving, you will able to take advantage of free parking at your Disney Resort, and if for some reason, you want to drive to any theme park, your parking fee is waived. There is complimentary transportation (bus, boat, or monorail) available at all Disney Resorts. One advantage of having your car with you is the ability to drive off property if you want to explore other sights around the Orlando area.
How you choose to travel to Walt Disney World is the right way for you, and Disney accommodates your needs no matter how you arrive.
4. Accommodations—On or Off Property
Off Property—There are so many and varied choices of where to say while on your special Disney Vacation. They range from small independently owned Hotels to grand, luxurious Hotel Suites offering superb amenities. In between these two options are many Hotels that are family friendly with a low to medium price range, offering a variety of amenities. Also available are rental properties; apartments, condominiums, etc. Most of these Hotels do offer complimentary to and from Walt Disney World.
On Property–The advantages of staying at a Disney Resort Hotel are amazing: complimentary airport service, complimentary Resort transportation and parking, extended theme park hours, Fast Pass+ and dining reservations, complimentary WiFi, special “Magic Your Way” package deals, Resort Hotel entertainment, and many more amenities. Staying at a Disney Resort Hotel may cost a bit more than staying off property, but if you plan ahead you can take advantage of several promotions offered throughout the year, such as 30% off select Resorts, free dining plan dates, and the “Magic Your Way” package deals. One of my favorite things about staying at a Disney Resort is being able to climb aboard a comfortable climate controlled bus and after a short ride, we’re back at our Resort. I know the buses are usually crowded, and you may have to stand, but it beats a ride to the parking lot, then a tram car ride to where you parked your car, walking to your car, and then the drive back to your Hotel. Believe me when I tell you, when you shut down a Disney Park, especially the late hour when you’re there until 2 or 3am, even standing on the bus is a relief.
5. Ticket And “Magic Your Way” Package Deals
Tickets—There are several Walt Disney World ticket options: You can choose to purchase a 1-day theme park ticket to the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, or Hollywood Studios; or you can choose a multi-day ticket which allows you to visit one theme park per day. There are options you can add to a 1-day or multi-day ticket purchases.
For an additional fee, the Park Hopper option provides you with the same-day access to all four theme parks, while the Park Hopper and Water Park Fun & More option offers the same as the Park Hopper with the additional admission to Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon, Disney Quest(an interactive extravaganza offering high-tech adventures for your gaming pleasure), ESPN Wild World of Sports Complex, Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course, Disney’s Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf Course, or Disney’s Winter Summerland Miniature Golf Course.
For those guests who have chosen to stay at a Disney Resort Hotel, there are several “Magic Your Way” packages, which include accommodations at a Disney Resort Hotel, a 2-10 day ticket which gives each member of your travel party entry to one Disney theme park every ticket day, including Resort Transportation (buses, boats, monorail). Extras include 100 Arcade points at the Resort Arcade, 2 vouchers per package for admission to Disney Quest, discounts at Splitsville Bowling Center, select shops and restaurants, children’s activity centers, WDW marina, and many other discounts.
“Magic Your Way” Plus Quick Service Dining—This package offers the same extras as the Basic “Magic Your Way” deal; in addition, for each night and for each member of your party, this plan includes (2) quick service meals(1 entrée or one complete combo meal, one beverage), (1) lunch or dinner(1 entrée or one complete combo meal, 1 dessert, one beverage), (1) snack, and (1) refillable drink mug.
“Magic Your Way” Plus Dining Plan—Basic Plan, plus for each night and for each member of your party, this plan includes (1) table service meal or full buffet, (1) quick service meal, (1) snack, and (1) refillable drink mug. *Both meals include (1) beverage and (1) dessert.*
“Magic Your Way Plus Premium Package Dining—Basic Plan, plus for each night and for each member of your party, this plan includes (3) meals, either table service or quick service, (2) snacks, and (1) refillable mug. *Lunch and dinner include (1) beverage and (1) dessert.*
6. What To Pack For Your Disney Vacation
What you pack for your Disney trip is so important. Whether you are driving or flying, you don’t want to overload on clothing, toiletries, electronic devices, etc. *Tip—bring a surge protector so you will have several plug-ins for phones, I-Pads, laptops, etc.*
As for clothing, the weather is a definite consideration. Florida is known as “The Sunshine State”, but
it is also known for those predictable summer afternoon thundershowers, and although they never last very long, if you are caught out in the open when they begin, you will get wet. Every shop at the Disney Resorts and the theme parks sell Disney rain ponchos and umbrellas, so you might want to invest in one to keep handy. Also, in December, January, February, and March, the temperatures can dip into the 50’s in the evenings; therefore, I would pack a lightweight jacket or sweatshirt.
If you will be staying at Disney for more than 5 days, there are self service laundry facilities at all Disney Resorts, or dry cleaning and valet service laundry. These services are very handy, especially if you are flying and are not able to pack extra clothing.
In conclusion, pack wisely and consider weather conditions for your chosen Disney Vacation dates.
7. Magic Bands and Fast Pass+ and Dining Reservations
Magic Bands are the latest innovation in the Disney experience. They are colorful, waterproof, wristbands that you simply touch to a sensor called a touch point (match Mickey to Mickey); place your finger in the other sensor, the light turns green, and you’re in! These Magic Bands can be used to open your Disney Resort Hotel doors, enter theme and water parks, check in at Fast Pass+ attractions or rides, connect Photo Pass images to your account, and charge food and merchandise to your Disney Vacation account, all with a simple touch. You can also purchase accessories, such as band covers, sliders, and Disney character charms to personalize your Magic Band. These bands are very comfortable and have enough holes to fit any size wrist.
Once you receive your Magic Bands in the mail, you can link them to your Disney Vacation account and begin the process of reserving your Fast Pass+ and dining reservations (these can be done up to 30 days before your arrival date). With a “My Disney Experience” ap, you can reserve 3 Fast Pass+ experiences per day at one theme park. After you have used all your initial Fast Pass+ choices on the day of your visit, or your arrival windows have passed, you can select one additional Fast Pass+ to use that same day. The additional Fast Pass+ is considered a “rolling Fast Pass+ which means each time you use an additional Fast Pass+, you can select a new one.
Dining Reservations—With the “My Disney Experience” ap, you can link your Magic Band to your Disney account and make reservations via your mobile phone, which enables you to make dining and Fast Pass+ reservations at the same time. Your choices in dining are numerous, but the table service and character dining restaurants are the most popular, so you might want to reserve them as soon as you are able.
Magic Bands are a sign of Disney ingenuity at its best and a preview of new advances that will bring the future into the now.
8. Decide When and If You Will Visit A Theme Park On Your Arrival
Whether you decide to visit a theme park or chill at your Resort on your day of arrival, you will enjoy your first day at Walt Disney World. Depending on your Ticket or Vacation Package deal, you should be able to enter any theme park on your arrival. Guests who are staying at a Disney Resort can check in, get their Magic Bands connected to their Disney Vacation account, unlock their room door, get settled, then catch a bus to your choice of theme parks. For those guests staying off property, it depends on your ticket dates as to when you can access the Disney theme parks.
If you have done your homework, you should be aware of opening and closing times of each park, and for Disney Resort guests, you can find out when you check in which park is having “early or late magic hour”. *Tip—you might consider the fact that most people will pick the park with the “special magic hour”, so I would suggest going to a park without the “magic hour”, especially in the mornings, because most guests will attend the park with the “magic hour”, and by the time the hour is over, you will be at one of the other parks and be first in line to enter.*
Another option or idea is to check into your Hotel, on or off property, and get acquainted with all the amenities your Resort offers, and the location of any necessary facilities, laundry, general store, dining options, etc. In the summer, you might consider taking an afternoon dip in the pool. For younger children, this is a good way to let them burn off some energy, giving Moms and Dads an opportunity to get refreshed and ready for the first theme park visit the next day.
Planning ahead is good, but don’t forget where you’re at. Every once in a while this “most magical place on earth” will offer up some surprises that you hadn’t counted on, so “plan ahead” and “plan on being flexible”.
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9. Final Check Before You Begin Your WDW Vacation
I would strongly advise having a check off list before you leave your home for your magical Disney vacation. Leave nothing to chance, and make sure all necessities are accounted for, especially all paperwork associated with reservations, tickets, etc., and especially have those “Magic Bands” in a safe and secure location. (If you are flying, keep them with you at all times.) If you are driving, be sure you have your car checked out thoroughly; tires, hoses, belts, battery, tires, windshield wipers, etc. Leave your Hotel Location and Phone information with whomever will be house sitting while you are away. We all have cell phones, but it is a good idea for relatives and neighbors to have access to the Hotel information also.
After you are confident and secure in your departure preparation, you will be on your way to one of the most memorable vacations of your life, a Walt Disney World Magical Vacation!
As Walt Disney said himself, “If you can dream it, you can do it”! Enjoy your Disney Dream Vacation!
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