Disney World Vacation Planning Guide
Tips and advice to help you book a Walt Disney World vacation in Orlando
Looking at the size and scope of this website, you may start to think that quantum physics is easier than planning a Disney vacation. Relax, there are a few basic steps to follow that will make it easy on you and your pocketbook.
- First, take a head count. If there are more than 4 of you, there are some Disney World resorts where you cannot be accommodated in a single room. Disney doesn’t do rollaways and are very strict when it comes to room occupancy. The exception is a child under the age of 3 who can sleep in a Pack ‘n’ Play Crib. (They’re not counted towards the occupancy total.) Take a look at the Disney resorts and check which ones will work for you.
- Budget – Since the above link to resorts also includes rates, at first glance staying on site may seem out of reach. Even the Disney Value resorts are higher priced than the surrounding Orlando hotels which often offer enticements such as free kid’s meals. However, what you’re saving in $$$ may be costing you in other ways. For example, unless you want to be held captive by an off site resort’s shuttle schedule, you’ll more than likely need to rent a car. In addition to dealing with traffic, there are parking fees. There are so many advantages to staying on site. Take a moment to see what you’ll be getting or giving up and paying for when making your decision: Disney World Resort Comparisons
- Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have Disney World all to yourself? We all have that dream, but the reality is that most of us are dealing with school/work schedules. The Mouse knows when most of us are free to travel, and the prices vary accordingly during the various travel seasons. While logic would tell you that “Value” Season means fewer visitors, traveling any time when school is out is going to translate to the parks being busy. Here’s another instance where staying onsite makes a huge difference. You can take advantage of Disney’s Extra Magic Hours when staying at a Disney resort.
- Special Events – Depending on what dates you choose, there’s usually something special going on.
- You’ve picked a Disney resort; you’ve chosen your vacation dates, now’s the "fun" part - what ticket/package do you select? Disney has the Magic Your Way Tickets which allows you to customize your ticket to match your vacation plans. It looks confusing (and expensive) but let’s break it down a bit:
- Start with the Magic Your Way Base Disney Ticket: Don’t look at the one day rate and assume that you simply multiply that number by the amount of days you’re vacationing. The per day ticket price decreases the longer you stay. Example: In 2014, one day is $99 for adults while 5 days is $304 which comes to $60.80 per day. (What’s really amazing is if you get a 6 day ticket, your cost only increases to $314. You read that correctly; only $10.00 to add a 6th day).
- Think about your travel style. The Base Ticket is the cheapest, but you can’t “park hop” with it. If you’re like the majority of guests, you'll be visiting more than one Disney Park in a single day. For an extra price you can add "Park Hopping". (The extra price is per ticket, not per day.) This way you can visit, one, two or all four of the Disney theme parks on the same day.
- Do you want to visit the Disney Water Parks and/or Disney Quest? For another fee you can do just that: Water Parks Fun & More . (Before paying for a feature you won't fully use - take a look at the costs of purchasing these add-on's individually: Water Park, Disney Quest, Pleasure Island Tickets
- The most costly “add-on” is the “no expiration” option. The best time to consider this is if you can purchase a longer stay ticket, use part of it for one trip and use the rest of the ticket during a future stay (specifically years down the road). Let's do the math (all adult prices without tax): In 2014, a 10 day Magic Your Way (MYW) Ticket with the No Expiration option will be $694 for guests ages 10 and up. If you purchase a 5 day MYW Ticket with the No Expiration option, the total is $464.00. By purchasing that 10 day ticket that never expires, you're getting those additional 5 days for $230.00 and you're paying for them at today's prices, not what they will be when you plan your next vacation. (Trust us, prices will increase, they always do).
- At this point, you have to sit down, think about all of the ticket combinations, look at your budget and figure out which one is right for you. Always keep in mind that you can upgrade your ticket after the fact (within 14 days of first use OR before the number of days on your ticket have been used). In other words, if you regret not getting “hopping” or the water parks add-on initially, you can add it while at Walt Disney World.
- For ease of travel, you can’t beat a Disney Magic Your Way Package. For starters, your tickets are encoded on your Resort ID. (It sure beats that feeling of sheer panic when you can’t find that tiny ticket that cost roughly as much as your mortgage payment.)
- There are also a few amenities added when you book a Disney Magic Your Way Package. Some are worthwhile, like the free photo pass picture, while others are questionable, such as the Planet Hollywood certificate. This restaurant gets consistently poor ratings and may not be worth the $15 savings towards a really bad meal.
- One of the most popular packages is the Magic Your Way Plus Dining package. This includes dining at your choice of over 100 Disney restaurants. If you’re booking a Disney package, then you’re staying at a Disney Resort. A lot of people aren't going to go offsite for a meal, so you might choose to book the “Plus Dining” package. Just review the “rules” that you’ll find in the package description and decide if the dining plan will work for your family.
Travel Agent or Planning your own Disney World Vacation
- If you can afford to splurge, then either the Magic Your Way Premium or Magic Your Way Platinum packages is the way to go. With the Premium package you get three full serve meals at your choice of most of the Disney restaurants, tickets to Cirque du Soleil, preferred viewing of Epcot's Illuminations and the Magic Kingdom's Wishes fireworks, unlimited scheduling of almost all of the Disney Backstage Tours, unlimited child care at one of Disney's Children's Activity Centers, unlimited use of most of the recreation options, etc. With the Platinum Package, you get the three daily full serve meals including Disney's most exclusive dining venue, Victoria & Albert's. You also get the preferred fireworks viewing as well as a Fireworks Cruise. You'll have reserved seating at Disney Hollywood Studio's Fantasmic, unlimited child care at Disney's Children's Activity Centers plus private in-room babysitting, unlimited Backstage Tours, a Spa treatment, special keepsake and concierge pre-planning.
As you can see, planning a Disney vacation isn’t easy. Which park has Extra Magic Hours? Is there a special event going on? Are all of the attractions open? Is my favorite restaurant available? When can I book it? The list is endless.
Sure, you’ll find this information on the DIS, but do you really want to constantly be checking for changes/updates and making a bazillion toll calls setting everything up?
This is where using a travel agency that specializes in Disney is invaluable. We're biased and think that Dreams Unlimited Travel is your best choice on the market. Your Dreams agent knows all of the ins and outs of planning a Disney vacation. Tours, dining, recreation, etc, is all taken care of in advance. You get a customized itinerary you can print out to take with you. In addition to your own dining reservations, touring tips and the like, the itinerary includes the Park hours, when Extra Magic Hours are scheduled, what time the parades take place and if an attraction is closed during your visit.
A common misconception is that using a travel agency means you’re paying more. This simply isn’t true. Price out the identical trip with Disney directly and you’ll see that it’s the same, just with better service.
Another advantage of using Dreams is in finding Disney discounts. If there’s one in effect when you book, great, but what if one comes out later on? Your Dreams agent will constantly check to see if you can get a better rate. They have saved their clients countless thousands of dollars over the years by doing this. Forget about Disney giving you a better price if a new offer is released after you've booked with them. While the DIS does let you know when these discounts come out, if you don’t see it right away, there’s a chance you’ll miss out on getting it.
There you have it, Walt Disney World Vacation Planning 101. With these basics you’re off to a good start. For hardcore planners, there's also a ton of useful tips found here: Disney Planning. A little bit of advance homework should make your Disney vacation what it was meant to be. A memorable, magical trip that everyone will enjoy.