Planning a Walt Disney World vacation is my jam! Let me tell you, getting a direct message asking for Disney planning advice makes me do a happy dance. Jiggity jig! I love it! Call me weird, but that’s like the next best thing to planning OUR trips. Gotta live vicariously, people.
So over the years, I’ve amassed these lists of recommendations that I’ve doled out like candy and thought-dang! I should put some of these out there into the interwebs. I’ve decided to sum them up into broader categories and create what I’m calling…
My Top Four Rules to Planning a Walt Disney World Vacation:
# 1. Know Before You Go
This means you must do some research and get the lay of the land (or in this case Kingdoms). No, you don’t have to know every little facet or detail about every park and become an expert. There are apps (like My Disney Experience) for that! But you do have homework to do before going: make a game plan for each day.
As you are filling in that plan, questions will emerge. So then find someone who knows how to answer them. Hint: I’d be happy to help ya! Or you could send a question in to the Disney Parks Moms Panel. They know their stuff, and can answer anything you can throw at them. Seriously, one of the panelists, Jason, recently named all the countries and parts of the world represented in “It’s a Small World.” Nice job!
Here’s a cautionary tale on WHY you want to plan before you get there. Sitting at Kona Cafe a few years back, I overheard grandparents at a neighboring table talking about their last minute trip to Disney and how they didn’t have anything planned or reserved but they were just going to wing it. Uh-oh. Disney is not the vacation for “just winging it.” Make some dining reservations. Decide which days you will spend in the parks, and grab FastPass+ selections for the most popular attractions.
# 2. Everybody Is Part of the Club…
and Part of Planning, Too
While it often happens that there is a designated planner in every family or group, that doesn’t mean everyone else gets to take a back seat. Quite the opposite! The best laid vacation plans start with the end in mind–meaning the ultimate goal to have had an AMAZING trip filled with something for everyone. You MUST make a “must-see” list and include everyone’s input. That’s right, from newlywed couples to families with toddlers to multigenerational reunions, EVERYONE has a say-so. One of our Must-See’s is Splash Mountain as many times in a row that we can muster (after a trip in December where we rode three times in a row).
Unforgettable happens here is the new tagline for a Disney vacation. And it’s totally true. But the way you ensure that your trip is indeed unforgettable is to decide what your vacation looks like. What parks do you have to see at Walt Disney World to feel immersed in the magic? Do you have enough days to make that a reality? What have you always dreamed of doing and seeing while there?
The more times you go, you might think you have it all figured out and settle into a Disney groove. Fight against that! My one challenge I give my family is that we find something new to do each trip. (One of our new experiences was snagging a photo op with Baymax and Hiro on our last trip-SCORE!)
Sounds like a tall order? Not hardly! When you consider Walt Disney World includes roughly 43 acres (the size of San Francisco), boasting four theme parks, two waterparks,Disney Springs, DisneyQuest, and ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, and almost 30 resorts, you’re bound to find something new to you! And they are always expanding and adding new offerings, whether it be the New Fantasyland, The World of Avatar, currently under construction, or the new Jungle Skipper Canteen restaurant at Magic Kingdom. As Walt Disney used to say, “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
#3. Say Yes When Disney Says “Be Our Guest”
I’ll admit it: I drank the Disney Kool-Aid, so when it comes to vacationing at Walt Disney World, I’m ALL IN. As in taking advantage of all the perks of staying onsite at one of the many Disney properties. What perks, you might ask? In Disney speak, it includes Disney’s Magical Express, MagicBands, FastPass+, Extra Magic Hours, and proximity to everything for starters.
Here’s how I explained it in one of the many Moms Panel application questions I’ve answered:
“My ‘Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo-tiful’ tip is to stay in the middle of the magic at a Walt Disney World Resort property. The variety of choices is awe-inspiring: from Caribbean-inspired settings to African savannahs, with options for every possible budget. Whatever castle you choose, a Walt Disney World Resort Guest is Cinderella being given everything she needs from Fairy Godmother for the ball. Your “coach” is the Walt Disney World transportation system with buses and monorails and boats–oh my! If arriving by air, it starts with Disney’s Magical Express, your complimentary transportation from Orlando International Airport. As Disney Resort Guests, you can use My Disney Experience online as your magic wand to make FastPass+ selections for attractions up to 60 days in advance instead of 30 days for non-Resort guests. Another perk is the Extra Magic Hours, where you can stay late (or arrive early) to theme parks without Cinderella’s midnight curfew! So make a Royal Reservation and may the pixie dust fly!”
Tip: When electing to stay off-site, make sure you factor in the extra costs outside of just room rates, such as parking, transportation and other incidentals. Disney is bound to have special offers available which might make a stay on property much more attractive (such as the Free Dining plan).
And the final crucial rule you must remember at all times is…
#4. Don’t try to DO IT ALL
Ain’t. Happening. And boy, will you pay for that. Plan for some down time, or better yet, don’t plan some of your time and leave a little bit of freedom to be in the moment. This is the counterpoint for the “know before you go” tip. Don’t OVERPLAN to the point of exhaustion and burnout. We’ve all seen what that looks like and it isn’t pretty.
Leave time for the pool, shopping, spa, or whatever pops your cork. Do something outside the parks because there are so many options available! Just picture it: parasailing or driving your own watercraft in the Seven Seas Lagoon; spending a day immersing yourself at Disney Springs (formerly known as Downtown Disney); bowling a few frames at Splitsville; miniature golfing at Fantasia Gardens; beating the heat at Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach water parks; cruising around the on the Boardwalk on a surrey bike ride; or enjoy a sojourn to a South Seas tropical tiki bar beverage in Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto for a HippopotoMai-Tai or a Krakatoa Punch (my favorite!)
You won’t do it all. So don’t even try. Accept that as the premise going in and you will be SO much better off.
THIS is what makes your trip unforgettable in the best possible way instead of unforgettable because you overdid it and everyone ran out of steam.
Let me know if these helped you in any way or if I can assist you in planning…I love it!