Planning Your First Walt Disney World Vacation
This is exciting! You are going to Walt Disney World! If this is your first trip, however, the planning process can be a little daunting. Even if you are a seasoned visitor, there are always new things popping up. For example, did you know that you are able to make reservations for your favorite rides months before you leave for your trip?
If this is your first trip, especially with children, chances are pretty good you are going to want to make this trip as near perfect as possible. After all, these are the memories your children will have for the rest of their lives. I will never forget my first trip to Disney World. My parents drove through a tropical storm to make sure my brother and I would get to see the Main Street Electrical Parade the next day. We have since caught the bug, and I can proudly say that I have been fifteen times in the last thirteen years. In fact my family and I are currently planning to take my boyfriend on his first trip to Disney World, the poor boy doesn't know what he is in for.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you begin planning:
- Will you stay on property?
- How many days will you stay?
- Will you visit any water parks?
- Will you visit any parks off property?
- Will you buy the dining plan?
- Where are you going to eat?
- How much do you want to spend?
- Will you fly or drive?
The First Steps
Alright, so first things first, you need a budget for this vacation. With the promotions that Disney does each year it is entirely possible to do a week at Walt Disney World for around $2500. That's not too bad when you think about it. That includes your resort, park tickets, and food. Though, that does not include your transportation to and from your vacation. To be safe I would budget around $3500, perhaps a little more if you plan on flying depending upon the number of people in your group. Besides do you really think you are going to be able to go to Disney and not buy at least one souvenir? Unlikely.
Now that you have your budget its time to book your hotel. Believe it or not but rooms can be booked up in not time at all during the peak seasons so it is better to book as soon as you can. Disney offers resorts for every budget. If you don't want to spend the extra money to stay on property there are dozens upon dozens of places off property. But be warned, you might end up paying the extra in parking at the parks. If you are trying to stick to a strict budget I would recommend one of the All-Star resorts. They are the cheapest resorts on property and they geared towards children. If your budget allows for you to spend a little more on your hotel I strongly recommend one of the moderate resorts. They are beautiful and offer slightly more room than the value resorts. (The beignets at Port Orleans are amazing!) Though if you are looking to stay in high class, and your budget allows for it of course, the deluxe resorts at Disney cannot be beat. If camping is more of your style, Disney has that too. (Personally I like the sound of peacocks, but if you don't I wouldn't stay at the campground.)
The Magical Express
The Magical Express the the bus that takes guests from the airport to the resorts and then back to the airport. It leaves from Orlando International Airport at various times throughout the day and goes to each of the resorts.
There is also a special bus that goes from the resorts to Cape Canaveral so that guests may stay at the resorts and also take a Disney cruise. Again, this is provided to guests and all they must do is make their reservations.
The best part is: this feature is complementary for all guests staying at Disney resort.
How Will You Get There?
Depending upon where you are coming from you have a lot of different ways to get to Walt Disney World. Two of the more popular ways are flying and driving. One really nice thing about staying on Disney property is that if you fly Disney will pick you up from the airport and bring you back for free. All you have to do is let them know when you land and when you depart and they take care of the rest. This is a nice improvement upon the airport transportation to Disneyland, which takes people to the non-Disney resorts around the park and is not free. Unless you plan on leaving the Walt Disney area there is no reason to waste money on a rental car, since Disney provides free transportation to its resort guest to wherever they wish to go on the property.
If you are driving Disney looks after you as well. You get free parking at the resorts, that's right all of them, and at the parks. In most cases you just park your car at your resort and then you don't see it again until you leave.
The train is also an option for many people. Though Disney does not currently offer transportation services from the train station to the resorts and vice versa. This means that you will either need to take a bus, cab, or rent a car.
Which park is your favorite?
When you plan your Disney vacation you will get magic bands. These are important for your vacation. The magic bands are your park tickets, room key, keep track of your fast pass and photopass accounts, and a charge card. You can customize the colors and there are some people that even go as far as to paint theirs to match their favorite characters.
Make sure that you keep them with you at all times on your Disney vacation. If you lose them you can have them deactivated but you will need to pay for a replacement.
Parks and Tickets
Now that you have your resort reservations and know how you are going to be traveling it is time to map out the days of your vacation. There are four theme parks and two water parks currently on the Walt Disney World property: The Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney Studios, Animal Kingdom, Blizzard Beach, and Typhoon Lagoon. If you do not plan on having specific dining reservations then you can play your park days by ear and visit whichever park you choose to. However, most people plan their days out in advance.
The kind of ticket you buy can dictate what you do on your vacation. If you just wish to see the four parks then the basic ticket is all you really need for four days. If you wish to be able to go from park to park on the same day then you want the park hopper passes. If you want to go to the water parks and the theme parks then you want on the water parks and more option to your tickets. Just don't get more tickets than what you can use on this trip. Disney tickets used to never expire, but they now have an expiration date that depends on the type of tickets you purchase.
Tickets can be expensive. The more days you go to the parks the cheaper the tickets are per day. For those of you that think there isn't enough to do at each park to merit more than one day each vacation you are wrong. In fact it would almost be better to do some parks over two days, especially if it is your first trip. That way you can enjoy each day instead of feeling like you need to rush from attraction to attraction to make sure your kids ride Pirates of the Caribbean, It's A Small World, and the Hunted Mansion. Seeing the parks over two days could even allow for you to return to your hotel for a short nap each afternoon, and speaking from experience sometimes a nap is just what you need come two in the afternoon.
If you are looking to do something outside of the parks but still wish to remain on Disney property there is still plenty for you to do. There are two mini golf courses, as well as several world class golf courses. There is also Downtown Disney and all it has to offer. Disney Quest is a five story interactive theme park, and a great way to spend a rainy day. Downtown Disney is home to the largest Disney store in the world, not to mention other shops and restaurants.
There are many different dining options for your Disney vacation. You can have breakfast in your room, at your resort restaurant, or in the parks. Disney has all kinds of snacks ranging from giant turkey legs to Mickey ice cream bars, or you can bring your own into the parks. You can have sit down meals or grab a burger on the fly. You can participate in the dining plan or pay out of pocket.
If you do choose to dine at one of the many table service restaurants Disney has to offer you will need to make reservations. Reservations can be made 180 days in advanced, and it is strongly recommended to make them as soon as you can since many restaurants send to fill up quickly. I will say that if you have young children that are picky eaters it might just be better to save some of the more expensive dining until they are older and willing to eat more than just mac n cheese and pizza.
People often say that the portion sizes are very large at Disney. Well, to be honest for the price you are paying for the food they should larger than average. Also, you will eat more than you will you will after spending all day walking at the parks. Vacationing is hard work after all. No matter what you go with for food rest assured it will be delicious.
A Ride on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Fastpass and Photopass
Disney offers the fastpass system free to all of its guests. You simply go to the kiosk for the ride you want to ride and insert your park tickets. You will get a set of fastpass tickets along with your park tickets. On the fastpasses there will be a time window (10:35-11:35) that is typically about an hour long. This is the time you can come back to ride the ride. The fastpass lines are typically much shorter than the standby lines. This allows to to ride other rides, go to dinner, or just do something other than wait in line for an hour to ride your ride. Some rides are so popular that their fastpasses 'sell out' within a few minutes of park opening so make sure that you get those fastpasses first. (Test Track, Soarin', Toy Story Mania are just a few or the more popular rides)
Just like with any theme park Disney has park photographers just waiting to take your picture. However, unlike most theme parks you can buy these pictures whenever you want. Even weeks after you have gone home. A photographer takes your picture, or pictures, and then scans them to a card. You use that card for the remainder of your trip. You can get as many cards and take as many pictures as you like. Even some of the rides are now allowing guests to upload their ride pictures directly to their photopass cards. When you get home from your trip you can look through your pictures and put the ones you want onto a CD. You can even buy a CD of your pictures before your trip and save a lot of money.
When Is the Best Time to Go?
If you are looking to avoid crowds you are in luck. There are specific times of the year when Walt Disney World tends to be busiest. From the second week of December through the Second Week on January, the spring break months, from mid-June through the end of August. These time periods are known as peak season. Why? Because, that is when most children are out of school and families take their vacations. If you are able to pull your children out of school for a week it is worth it to avoid the crowds. The slowest times of the year are: Thanksgiving through the second week of December, the second week of January through February, and most of September. This is when kids are going back to school or right before or after school breaks. During this time there are no lines and the weather is not horribly hot and humid.
So now that you have your plan how do you make your reservations? Believe it or not but it is easier than you think. Unless your travel agent can save you a boat load on your flight chances are pretty good you can get the same Disney deals on your own. Disney's website for their parks gives you all the tools you need to make your reservations and buy your tickets. You can even book your flight from their site. The best part is it will let you know about any deals or specials they are offering during the time you pick for your vacation and automatically apply them so that you get the best price possible.
Best of luck planning your Disney vacation. Remember to have fun. After all, it's the happiest place on Earth.