A trip to Disney? Where do you start?
For those of you that have been to Disney at least once or more than once may know a lot of this already, but here’s my guide to Disney World with some help from my friend and co-worker Cindy Casey.
I have been twice, once when Gabby was three years old and once very recently when Gabby was five years old. Cindy usually goes annually so she knows Disney inside & out.
When I started planning my first trip to Disney I thought I could do it by myself and so I Googled Disney Vacation and I was instantly overwhelmed. I knew with the amount of spare time I had there was no way I could plan my own Disney vacation especially since I’ve never been before. I employed a good friend of mine I met while in college, Dawn Crowder. She is a Jefferson County Court Reporter who helps families take their dream vacation to Disney. She’s definitely a pro and had me in the right places at the right time and at the right price. Plus, the best part is that Disney paid her directly; I didn’t have to pay her out of pocket.
When you start to plan your vacation give yourself plenty of time; giving yourself six months or more of planning time is suggested. This way you have your choice of resorts and restaurant reservations. You can actually pay for your vacation in installments up to 30 days out and cancel or reschedule with a 30 day notice.
To get my trip planning started the only information I had to give Dawn was my daughter’s age and interest plus what type of resort I wanted to stay at and she sent over several quotes for different resorts and meal plans. One of the best things I love about Disney is everything is included! Once you pay for it you are done paying for meals, hotel stays, park tickets etc. The only thing I paid for on both trips were souvenirs! That makes for a stress-free vacation.
Review hotel transportation and how far you are from your preferred parks. There are deluxe hotels which are the most expensive, but will be closer to some of the parks or Disney Springs. Some of the deluxe hotels are set-up on the monorail system and/or ferries. Most deluxe hotels also have the bus system to some of the parks as well. The moderate hotels and value hotels are set-up on the bus system solely. The bus system is great and the buses run almost every 5-10 minutes. Remember when selecting a hotel most of your days you will be at a Disney park or at the resort pool and not in your hotel room. So, when reviewing hotel information I would recommend looking at location, amenities and transportation.
Once you select your hotel, park days and meal plan you are now ready for the fun part. Making breakfast, lunch & dinner reservations. I didn’t have reservations for every day, but meals I knew I wanted to be a part of I made sure to make reservations. The most popular meals are the character meals. We enjoy meeting princesses at Cinderella’s Castle in Magic Kingdom, meeting Mickey and friends at the Tusker House in Animal Kingdom and meeting the Disney Junior Pals at Hollywood & Vine in Hollywood Studios.
Sixty days before you head to Disney it’s time to start selecting your Fast Passes. As you all can imagine the lines for rides and attractions can be very long so Disney allows their guests to select three “fast-passes” per day for three different rides or attractions. These “fast-passes” allow you to loosely schedule when you want to go on a ride and then you get to bypass the long line of other guests. This is very important for the popular rides. My suggestion is to schedule your fast-passes for anytime past 10:00 because all rides and attractions will be easy to get to earlier in the morning. Also, a little trick I learned on my last trip is once you have used all of your fast-passes for the day you can actually apply for more fast-passes for the rest of your afternoon and evening.
Before you start selecting your Fast Passes be sure you either order a map online of each of the parks (they are free of charge) or go online to view a map. You do not want to be running back and forth from one end of the park to another for Fast Passes and restaurant reservations. The maps also show you where the parades are so if you’re interested or not interested in viewing the parade you will know where to be during that time.
About month before your trip you will receive a “magic-band” for every member of your family. You will have the option prior to them being mailed on color selection for each family member. If you have a young daughter this will be very important 😊. This magic-band is your everything so don’t lose it. It will have all of your park tickets on it, your hotel room key on it, your credit card info it (if you wish), your restaurant reservations and all of your fast passes on it. You will wear it everywhere you go. This is how you will get in the parks, get on your fast-pass rides, prove you have a reservation, get into your hotel and pay for everything (if you choose). It’s almost more important than your wallet! It’s very convenient though because you don’t have to carry around a hotel key, a credit card or anything – you just use your magic-band for everything.
Also, before you get to Disney be sure to print or review your hotel map as well. Based on what type of room you selected check the map for the rooms or sections of the hotel you would least likely to be and review which part of the hotel you would most like to stay. Check for transportation, pools and restaurants at your resort. Before your trip you will receive an email that asks if you want to check-in online; I would suggest you do that because on your way to Disney they will send you a text message of your room number and building number. Check your hotel map and if that’s not the area you want to stay in then go to the check-in counter at your hotel when you arrive and request the area you would most like to stay. They may or may not be able to accommodate you, but the hotels are very interested in making sure your time in Disney is “magical” and will work with you if it’s possible. If you like your room and area of the hotel go straight to your room and the door will open with your magic band – no need to go to the check-in desk.
A major convenience that Disney provides for your vacation is a Disney app on your smartphone. Once you log into your Disney app you will have access to your vacation itinerary which will include all of your meal reservations, your fast-passes plus any other fun attractions you have put on your schedule as a reminder. The app will also allow you to search for any ride or attraction at any park and tell you how long the line is currently. That helped us figure out where to go when between our fast-pass reservations and meal reservations.
Before you’re thirty days out of your vacation go to the Disney website (by this time you should have a login) and review your PhotoPass options. This is a fairly new option where you can pay roughly $150 and get as many photos taken with professional photographers that are all over every park. After your photos are taken they touch your magic band with their camera device and you have professional photos automatically uploaded on your Disney app and your Disney website login. This is a great deal! For my recent week long vacation at Disney we did four park days and I received roughly 200 photos including family pics, Gabby pics, roller coaster pics and beautiful pictures of each park. We took our own photographs as well, but the professional photographs were much better than my iPhone photos. Once you get home go to your Disney login and download all of your pictures. It’s so easy!
Another trick I learned is that the earlier you get the parks the easier it is to ride some of the rides and see some of the attractions. The same is true for later at night. Whether you are an early bird or night owl you may want to consider that when booking your fast-passes and scheduling out your day in general.
Although Disney is paid for once you get there, it’s still an expensive trip so my recommendation is to be prepared at the parks and have a plan. You don’t want to waste time at the parks wandering around not knowing what to do next. This is another time your map will be important – plan out your day and when you will do what. Do your research and be sure that you know what rides and attractions you want to do while you are at each park that way you don’t miss anything you want to do. Also, you don’t want to forget anything at the hotel room and have to go back. So, have a checklist of items you want to be sure to take with you every time you go to a park.
For families with smaller kids it will be important to bring an extra set of clothing just in case an accident occurs. Or, if you want to ride some of the water rides you may want to bring an extra set of clothes to change into as well. Also, if you have a young child I would recommend bringing a stroller so they can nap or rest during the day.
Before my first trip to Disney I was a little panicky over the safety of Disney – what if my daughter got lost? If you do get separated from your child please know that Disney has a system to reunite kids and their parents. Something I did every morning in the hotel before we left for a park was take a picture of Gabby so if something did go wrong and she was lost I could give a picture to security and they could see exactly what she was wearing, how her hair was fixed etc. There was no guessing what my child looked like or what she was wearing. Safety is very important to us as parents and I felt 100% safe at Disney with all their safety measures.
Disney is so fun to visit; I recommend it to anyone with kids of any age! There are things to do for younger children, tweens and teens. There are very easy-going rides along with very thrilling rides that go backwards in the dark and at over 55 miles per hour! There is something to do for every person. If you haven’t been I would take a serious look at Disney for your next family vacation!
Christina and Cindy’s favorite things in Disney:
- Soarin and Test Track in Epcot
- Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train, Big Thunder Railroad and Tea Cups – Magic Kingdom
- Kilimanjaro Safari – Animal Kingdom
- Consider single-rider line to get more rides – this was great when Chance wanted to ride all of the larger roller coasters and me and Gabby were too chicken!
- Festival of Lion King – Animal Kingdom
- Indiana Jones – Hollywood Studios
- Fantasy Parade – Magic Kingdom
- Royal Friendship – Magic Kingdom
- Wishes Fireworks Show – Magic Kingdom or the Polynesian Resort
- Fantasmic – Hollywood Studios
Food or treats:
- Dole Whips in Magic Kingdom (Adventureland)
- Dreamboat – in Disney Springs – voted best food in Disney
- Epcot – Has adult beverages for each country you visit – (great for when you’ve had a long day)
- Gaston’s Tavern have huge & tasty cinnamon rolls
Fun things to do outside of Disney:
- Hang out at your resort pool
- Go to Disney Springs – there are buses and ferries that will take you there
- Go to the campgrounds – they have a campfire sing-a-long with smores. They also have Chip & Dale there for a character meeting
- A lot of the resorts have activities on the weekends and they usually have nighttime outdoor movies
CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER ™
‘Any opinions are those of Christina Jones and not necessarily those of Raymond James. Raymond James is not affiliated with Disney World.’