We’ve been busy planning a Disney World vacation. I have been twice before. Once, for one day, when we were staying in a condo on the Gulf coast while I was in fifth grade. And, once for four days while Eric and I were in college 13 years ago. Needless to say, I suspect, this trip has involved a lot more planning than either of the other trips.
As a matter of fact, I remember that the planning of our college trip pretty much involved us trying to see if we could get into one of the cheaper onsite hotels, finding out that we couldn’t (because we didn’t call soon enough), and then booking a hotel in the Downtown Disney area. That was pretty much it. We bought park tickets at the Disney Store and just went. Disney planning has definitely changed (although some of the things on the list are true from way back)!
Here are ten things I’ve learned from our experience thus far (as always, however, your mileage may vary, this is just my experience):
1. Book your lodging as early as possible. The sooner you start planning, the more likely you are to actually be able to get into the resort of your choice. This is true of both onsite and offsite.
2. Don’t be afraid to change your plans, if needed. During the planning of this trip, we have gone from having a cabin booked onsite to staying offsite and then finally back to staying onsite. I don’t think this is ideal, but if you need to do it and you won’t lose a deposit, go for it.
3. Plan to spend time planning. I cannot even believe the hours that I have spent on planning this trip, particularly where restaurants are concerned. (More on that later.) There are so many aspects to a Disney trip, so just assume that you’ll be spending some time with planning.
4. If possible, try to take your trip during some kind of promotion or deal. We have managed to arrange to take our visit during a period of time when they are offering a free dining plan when you buy a package of a resort stay, tickets, and a dining plan. When looking at the prices at the restaurants, I have been astonished at just how much we’re going to save by having this free dining plan. I know that there are a variety of deals throughout the year, but this one is just amazing.
5. If you need to save money, try to eat meals outside of the parks. As I just mentioned, we’ve scored free dining, but even we are planning to bring food for breakfasts. Having your own food is a great way to supplement a dining plan or just to save money if you’re paying for your food. You can also try to eat at restaurants that are offsite, particularly if you are staying offsite.
6. Make dining reservations early! I have come to learn that with the proliferation of the Disney Dining Plan, it has become essential to make reservations for any restaurant in the park or the resorts that is considered to be “table service.” This includes a lot of different restaurants, and definitely every restaurant that features character meals. We waited too long to make reservations, and there wasn’t a single opening at two of the restaurants that we were originally considering for character meals during our entire stay. That was with us being open to breakfast, lunch, or dinner. We have, however, been able to score several character meals (as these are included in our dining plan as well), as well as a nice variety of meals.
7. There’s an app for that. I bought the Disney World Magic Guide app for my iPhone, and I am already loving it. I really feel that it is going to be an asset for us while we’re at the park, and was worth the $5 for the app.
8. Your husband, Mom, kids, or somebody else won’t want to hear about the planning. For me, it’s Eric. He has tried to be good natured about it, but he is clearly tired of hearing about it, even though he’s mostly just hearing it while I’m figuring out things with my Mom. I think that once he’s actually there with us though, he’ll appreciate the time we put into it. (I hope, anyway.)
9. Consider a credit card with a reward program. It just so happens that right as we were getting ready to book our trip, I got a Chase card application in the mail with a Disney theme. I normally don’t open them at all, but I thought I would open this one. The card offered a $200 Disney gift card after the first time you use the credit card. To date, I have officially used it just the once and then paid that right off. And, true to their word, a $200 Disney gift card showed up in my mailbox. (I was able to use it as our deposit on our trip!)
Our hair dresser uses her Disney credit card all year long (and pays it off) to get points that she tends to use to pay for all of her food during her trips. Since I figure this will be our last trip for quite some time, I just didn’t worry about trying to rack up points, and felt more comfortable using the card just the once.
10. Do your homework! We’ve been using the website AllEars.net quite a lot for learning more information. There are tons of other great Disney-themed sites to learn more from other Disney goers, and there are also lots of wonderful Disney planning guides available.
Since it’s been forever since our last Disney trip, please feel free to share some of your great tips with me about a trip to Disney World. We’d really appreciate it!
If you are planning a trip and using a dining plan, check out the site that my friend Nony put together about her family’s experience with the Quick Service Dining Plan at Disney World.
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