Because I am known to many of my friends and family as their go to person to help plan a Walt Disney World Resort Vacation, I often get asked, “where do I start?” Whether this is your first trip, or you are a frequent guest of the World, there are many questions to consider when you begin planning your perfect Disney vacation. How do you decide when to visit? Do you use a travel agent? How many tickets do you really need and what kind? Is there as much planning as you hear people say there will be? What are ADR’s, FastPass+ and Magic Bands? There are indeed many things to consider when you begin planning, so here are my first 5 questions to ask yourself while planning your next Walt Disney World Resort Vacation!
How to decide on your travel dates:
Deciding on your travel dates will be the first major decision you have to make while planning your vacation. What time of the year you decide to travel could greatly influence the enjoyment and cost of your trip. Are you trying to work with a school calendar and make sure your little ones only vacation when schools are out? If so, know that crowds tend to be higher during school breaks and weeks during and around major holidays. However, if that is your only option, a great itinerary plan and proper expectations will be a must for you. If you are like me though, heavily crowded times and long wait lines may not be how you want to spend your vacation. If so, do some research and utilize online crowd calendars to help you pick less popular times to visit. Also, if you are on a budget, those times may also offer incentives, such as discounts or even free dining! Lastly, if you want to travel when flights are cheapest, fly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, traveling on the weekends will cost you a premium.
How to stay on budget:
Vacation budgets are not only greatly influenced by when you visit Walt Disney World Resort, but also what type of accommodations you choose, how long you plan on staying, the size of your travel party and ticket costs as well. Don’t forget to add in funds for dining, entertainment, transportation and souvenirs too. I have traveled on a value budget, and have also splurged on my honeymoon and birthday trips as well. There are ways to save, and reasons to splurge. Each trip is different. Once you have an idea of what you want to spend in total, it will help you determine a break down and make other decisions from there. The hard part is once you have decided on that number to try really hard to stick to it! (And give yourself a bit of a cushion in case expenses come that you might not have anticipated such as illness, flight delays which cause travel plans to change, etc.)
Should you use a travel agent?:
People often don’t know that if you use an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner, you get not only expert advice from a trusted source, but also someone who will book your accommodations at no extra cost to you as if you booked the trip through Disney yourself. (Disney pays their commission, you do not.) A Travel Agent will be aware of any special deals or promotions that might occur during your stay which could save you money, and are also able to add on Disney extras like tickets and dining packages. They will also help you find accommodations to meet your needs and budget, and can advise you on alternatives you may have not even thought of, such as renting DVC points from Disney Vacation Club members. Often times they will be available to answer any questions that you may have, help you arrange your Magical Express transportation to and from the airport if staying on-site and some even offer concierge planning services! All for free, so why not take advantage of that?
How many tickets will you need?
So you’ve decided on your travel dates, secured your flights and accommodations, now it’s time to think about tickets. Let’s just say your vacation is 7 nights and 6 days. First you need to determine how many and what type of tickets you’ll need to purchase. Generally, the longer your stay and more days of tickets you purchase the cheaper the cost per day they become. An example would be the cost today for a 3 day base ticket (one park per day) costs $274.00 which is $91.34 per day. If you purchased that same ticket for all 6 days, the total cost would be just $314.00, which is only $52.34 per day. So ideally, you want to purchase as many tickets as you think you’ll use, because the cost per day is cheaper in the long run. Now, you need to think about adding on additional ticket options. Adding on Park Hopper means you will be able to visit more than one park per day. This is a good idea if let’s say you are visiting Magic Kingdom but want to hop over to Epcot for dinner. Park Hopper allows you more flexibility, but it will cost a bit more. There are also options to add the Water Park Fun & More Option, or both Park Hopper and Water Park Fun and More. These come in handy if you decide to add on visits to a Disney Water Park, Oak Trail Golf Course, Fantasia Gardens or Winter Summerland mini-golf, Disney Quest or the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Adding the WPFAM option gives you a single admission to any one of these experiences per day of your ticket, but it also comes at a premium price.
Do you really need an itinerary on vacation?
I will be honest when I say that planning a Walt Disney World Resort Vacation today is a much more complicated task than ever. You can certainly visit the World without making a plan, with no restaurant reservations, with no Fast Passes, and then hope for the best that those magic bands they sent you in the mail (if you are staying on-site) work! However, you will certainly miss out on many of the advantages Disney has to offer and many of the most popular attractions, restaurants and shows as well. Once you have booked your vacation decide on a day to day itinerary using your travel dates. Generally you can plan a park per day, perhaps an extra day at your favorite park and a day of rest at your resort pool. The final plan depends on your length of stay, and you can make it as flexible as you want, but this will give you the necessary structure to make ADR’s (Advance Dining Reservations) and Fast Pass+ reservations, (reservations for time slots for the most popular attractions.) These will help save you time waiting in line and ensure you get to see and do the attractions most important to your family. About 30 days prior to your trip, you’ll receive your Magic Bands, which will be your tickets, room key, method of payment throughout the parks if you wish and hold all of your Fast Pass+ reservations. In other words, they will be the life line of your Disney Trip. Lastly, I recommend downloading Disney’s My Experience app. This will allow you to keep track of your ADR’s, Fast Passes and also help you make changes while you are in the park. If all these “Disney terms” are unfamiliar to you, or you need help planning an itinerary, I recommend picking up the book, The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. In my opinion it is the most comprehensive and easy to understand Walt Disney World Resort planning resource available.
By now you’ve decided on your travel dates, came up with a workable vacation budget, utilized an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner to book your accommodations or package, purchased your theme park tickets and developed your vacation itinerary. 180 days prior to your resort check-in date if staying on site, you may begin to make your ADR’s. At 60 days, you can make your Fast Pass+ reservations. (Remember, you can always move things around as you get closer, or even when you arrive, but having these plans in place ensure you don’t waste time in lines or miss your favorite dining experiences.) With all of these questions now answered, you are well on your way to experiencing your best Walt Disney World Resort vacation yet! (One last piece of advice, stay organized! I wrote a great post about my Perfect Disney Planning Binder, begin by reading that and then create your own system that works for you!) Happy planning friends!