You know that commercial…the one with family is walking up to Cinderella Castle, with their matching Mickey ears, when suddenly their favorite character appears out of nowhere! Of course a photographer is there to capture this magical memories that will be cherished forever!
You also know it doesn’t just magically happen…right? While Walt Disney World is known for making amazing, magical moments, but it also requires research and pre-planning! With the increase in technology, planning ahead has become even more crucial! Today, I wanted to give you some travel agent insider tips about planning a Walt Disney World vacation.
Booking Your Vacation – 7 Months
When to book?
The time of year you visit Walt Disney World can have a huge impact on your experience. Peak times include summer vacations and weeks that include major holidays (Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter are the big four)! During these times, the prices will be higher and the parks will be far more crowded. Booking off-peak times means less expensive pricing, lighter crowds, and great events like Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party in the fall, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party in the winter, and Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival in the spring. In general, it is recommended to book sooner rather than later to allow the most flexibility in planning. I recommend booking at least 7 months in advance, if possible – you’ll see why in just a bit.
How long to stay?
Walt Disney World is roughly the size of the city of San Francisco. It’s not a mere amusement park, but an amazing destination complete with 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, dozens of resorts, 4 PGA golf courses, 2 mini-golf courses, a major sports complex, and a newly-renovated shopping and entertainment district! It’s a lot to cover, but a week for your vacation is a great amount of time to get a chance to see a bit of everything. If a full week doesn’t fit in your budget, 5 nights would allow you 4 full days at the parks…time to visit each park once! You’ll just scratch the surface, but with a good plan in place you’ll see and do a lot!
Where to stay?
Walt Disney World has over 25 resorts to choose from, for a variety of budgets. Each resort offers something different in terms of theming and experience.The benefits to staying at a Disney resort (vs off- property somewhere) includes extra hours in the park, access to discounted dining through Disney’s their dining plans, amazing guest service, magic bands, early access to reservations, and more!
Basic rooms and amenities are available at the Value level hotels – All-Star Movies, All-Star Music, All-Star Sports, Art of Animation, and Pop Century. These resorts offer simple rooms with double beds, bright colors, whimsical decor, and a very kid-friendly atmosphere. Each resort has its own food court dining option.
- At the next resort level (Moderate), you will see more subdued theming, queen beds instead of doubles, as well as specially themed rooms, such as royal princess or pirate motifs. Moderate hotels include Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs, Port Orleans – French Quarter, Port Orleans – Riverside, and the Cabins at Fort Wilderness. These resorts offer full-service restaurants in addition to food courts and they are in great locations that are central to everything!
- The top level of Disney accommodations is their Deluxe and Deluxe Villa resorts – Animal Kingdom Lodge, Beach Club, Boardwalk Inn, Contemporary, Grand Floridian, Old Key West, Polynesian Village, Saratoga Springs, Wilderness Lodge, and Yacht Club. These resorts offer a variety of rooms types, many with magical upgrades, like theme park or savanna views. Fine dining opportunities are available, in addition to full-service and food court options. These resorts come in at a premium price, but are also located the closest to theme parks (typically with unique access to at least one of the parks). The villas offer even more space and home-like amenities.
Dining Reservations – 180 Days
Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs)
Walt Disney World’s dining reservations open 180 days (~6 months) prior to your arrival. When I tell my clients this, I get a lot of “I don’t know what I’m eating tonight, let alone what I’ll want in 6 months!” While I can totally commiserate with the “what’s-for-dinner” discussion, Disney dining is a completely different beast, involving over 100 dining options and some very hard to get reservations!
While not impossible to get dining reservations less than 180 days out for sought-after locations, it usually requires flexibility, patience, and perseverance. For my clients, I like to have as much opportunity as possible to get them reservations at the specific restaurant and day/time they want. Booking your reservation before 180 days maximizes the chance of getting everything you want on the first try! If you will be visiting during a busy time, booking early becomes even more important, in order to snag the reservations you want!
Disney Dining Plans
Walt Disney World offers a variety of dining plans for you to choose from. These plans can not only save you money, but also help to make your vacation as stress-free as possible. By prepaying for your meals, you don’t have to try and guess at how much to budget for food!
- Disney’s Quick-Service Dining Plan is for families on the go! If you don’t like to sit down at a long meal each, day this plan is for you! It offers you 2 fast food (or “quick-service” as Disney calls them) meals per night of your stay, plus a snack for each person! No reservations required, with one exception… your family can eat when and where’d they’d like!
- The most popular plan by far is the next tier up, or Disney’s Plus Dining Plan. This is a great mix of both the “quick-service” food and more traditional table-service restaurants, plus dinner shows and character meals! This plan does require pre-planning as the most popular restaurants will book up quickly!!!
- The Deluxe Dining Plan is the third tier and really makes your vacation all-inclusive, with three meals, your choice of quick-service or table-service, plus two snacks for each person per night of your stay. For a lot of folks, this is just too much food, but if you plan on a lot fine dining (you might be surprised to know Disney has some of the best-rated restaurants in the area) or dinner shows this is the plan for you!
FastPass+ – 60 Days
You may have heard friends who have recently been to Disney toss around words like Magic Band or Fastpass+. This will soon become your lingo too!
Fastpass+ is Disney’s system for pre-reserving your spot in line at up to three attractions per day. This ensures you get to see your favorites attractions with very little wait. Combine that with a great plan of attack and you’ll find you can see and do so much! You can begin selecting your Fastpass+ reservations 60 days prior to arrival!
Magic Band bracelets are FREE to Walt Disney World guests and are your life line throughout your vacation! They hold your park tickets, entry to your room, dining plan credits, FastPass+ reservations and more – all with a simple tap! They make your vacation easy and everything is so convenient. You even get to pick your own color!
Getting Ready to Vacation – 30 Days
Let’s Get Packing!
In the month leading up to your trip, you’ll also want to start gathering anything you’ve purchased for your trip – special outfits, Mickey ears, autograph books, etc. The Florida sun is a lot hotter than some people are used to, so be sure to pack sunscreen (I know from experience). You may also want to consider buying/bringing a portable phone charger so your electronic devices will be able to keep up with you and your amazing vacation!
Paid in Full
Your vacation balance also must be paid in full at least 30 days prior to your arrival. If you plan to use a Disney gift card, make sure it specifically says Walt Disney World or Disney Parks on the back of it. There are some gift cards that are just for the Disney Store and unfortunately those won’t work to pay on a Disney Park vacation.
Does this still sound a bit overwhelming? Well, let me share with you a secret tool… me!!! While there is a ton of information out there, using a travel agent that specializes in Disney vacations can be an invaluable tool to making the most of your Disney vacation! At Living With The Magic Vacations we offer a special package that includes all the necessities for a memorable Disney vacation (including booking your dining and Fastpass+ reservations for you)… and we tailor it specifically to your family! Normally this package is $89 (per family…not per person or per day), but we are currently offering it to Mod Housewife readers for 25% off! Just mention where you saw us. Oh and we also will help you find the best dates and right vacation package (including resort, tickets and dining) for you at no cost!! You can read more tips and hints from me on my blog – TravelsInNeverland.com!