Disney World Vacation Planning Guide
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.
Selecting a Disney World Resort
- 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
When to go to Walt Disney World:
- 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 2013, one day is $95 for adults while 5 days is $289 which comes to $57.80 per day. (What’s really amazing is if you get a 6 day ticket, your cost only increases to $299. 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 2013, a 10 day Magic Your Way (MYW) Ticket with the No Expiration option will be $664 for guests ages 10 and up. If you purchase a 5 day MYW Ticket with the No Expiration option, the total is $434.00. 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.
- 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.
Travel Agent or Planning your own Disney World Vacation
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.
- Limited Time Magic: Secret Santa Week - Visit the Town Square Christmas Tree on Main Street and see Duffy in his Christmas outfit. Other Disney characters will be located around the park. Get a special decorated keepsake card from each one as a souvenir.
- Limited Time Magic: Tour the Magic Kingdom with Phil Holmes - 25 lucky guests will get to tour the park with current Vice President Phil Holmes.
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- VIDEO: Holiday Storytellers - The Canadian Holiday Voyageurs - New to Holidays Around The World 2013 at Epcot in 2013 are the Canadian Holiday Voyageurs. The Canadian Holiday Voyageurs play multiple sets each day filled with Christmas songs done the Canadian way on the Mill Stage.
- Blog - EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Jonathan Groff from FROZEN
- Guests at All Star Resorts will no longer receive Key to the World cards - As of 12/2/13, guests at All Star Sports Resort will no longer receive a Key to the World card. All information for the resort and parks will be on the Magic Band you receive when you check in. This will begin at All Star Music on 12/4/13 and at All Star Movies on 12/6/13. This system is already in place at Pop Century.
- VIDEO: it's a small world Holiday Full POV Ride-Through - The happiest cruise that ever sailed gets even merrier for the holidays. it's a small world, the 1964 World's Fair attraction that came to Disneyland in 1966, gets a full overlay for the holiday season including decorations and a new soundtrack!
- Atlanta Braves spring training tickets now on sale - The Atlanta Braves return to ESPN Wide World of Sports for their annual spring training. Tickets are first come/first served and the games take place at Champion Stadium.
- Blog - Give Kids the World Village and Giving Tuesday December 3, 2013
- VIDEO: Gran Fiesta Tour POV Ride-Through - Donald Duck disappears on his way to a Three Caballeros performance in Mexico City and his friends, José Carioca and Panchito Pistoles, set out to search for him.
- Blog - Brewing Now: Joffrey’s Disney Parks Collection of Coffees
- Blog - A Brit’s Perspective – Visiting the UK in Orlando
- Specialty food and drink offered for holidays at Epcot - New this holiday season, each country will be serving a specialty food and drink.
- New bus loop at Magic Kingdom open - In addition to regular single stops, there are several double stops that will accommodate two regular buses or one of the new articulated buses.
- Limited Time Magic: Donate a Duffy the Disney Bear to Toys for Tots - Visit the Once Upon a Toy store or the World of Disney store at Downtown Disney and with every $5 purchase, Disney will donate a Duffy the Disney Bear toy to Toys for Tots.
- Limited Time Magic: Jolly Year of the Ear - Celebrate the season in style with Santa Mickey and Minnie Santa ear hats - only available for a short time at the Emporium at Magic Kingdom.
- Times and dates for Epcot holiday storytellers - Each country has its own special theme that highlights its culture. Storytellers will delight you with tales of their heritage and how the holidays are celebrated in their homeland.
- VIDEO: "Let It Go" from Disney's Frozen in Celebrate the Magic - This holiday season, "Let It Go" from Disney's Frozen is featured in Celebrate the Magic, the nighttime projection show on Cinderella Castle.
- VIDEO: Disney Park Bench - Main Street Plaza - Cinderella Castle - Take 5 Minutes to Relax at Main Street Plaza - Cinderella Castle November 11, 2013 - Night
- Blog - Happy Thanksgiving from the Magic Kingdom!
- VIDEO: Disney Park Bench - Main Street U.S.A. Bridge - Main Street U.S.A. - Take 5 Minutes to Relax at Main Street U.S.A. Bridge - Main Street U.S.A., November 11, 2013 - Night
- Blog - Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom: Turnstile-Free!
- New holiday entertainment for the Canada pavilion at Epcot - Follow the Canadian Holiday Voyageurs on a musical tour to discover the country's holiday customs.
- Blog - Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights 101
- Royal Caribbean is offering a $200 Onboard Credit and 50% Reduced Deposit! - The offer is only available for booking on December 2, 3 and 4, 2013.
- Disney Vacation Club members offered event at Splitsville Luxury Lanes - On December 2 and 9 from 5-6:45pm, the experience will include bowling, shoe rental, a shared appetizer, an entree (or kids' meal), a signature beverage and a special DVC gift.
- Several rehabs added for early 2014 - The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Festival of the Lion King, Kali River Rapids, and the Studio Backlot Tour have all been added to the rehab list.
- Aulani named Best for Families by Fodor's Travel - Aulani was recently named "Best for Families" by Fodor's Travel in their "Top 10 Hawaiian Resorts for 2013" list.
- Blog - Review: “Frozen”
- VIDEO: Disney Park Bench - Main Street Train Station - Main Street U.S.A. - Take 5 Minutes to Relax at Main Street Train Station - Main Street U.S.A., November 11, 2013 - Night
- Limited Time Magic: Thanksgiving Treats Available - Special treats will be available at various locations in the theme parks.
- New Year's Eve dining info for Swan and Dolphin Hotels - The restaurants of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin will be offering special New Year's Eve menus.
- Walt Disney World Annual Passholders can save up to 37% at select hotels - Discount is valid for travel between 1/4/14-3/18/14, 3/14/14-3/29/14, 1/19/14-3/13/14 and 3/30/14-4/12/14.
- Blog - Why I’m excited to take my baby on a Disney Cruise!
- Limited Time Magic: Jingle Cruise poster giveaway - Celebrate the Jingle Cruise at Magic Kingdom and Disneyland Park with a complimentary mini poster while supplies last.
- Several rehabs scheduled for the Magic Kingdom - Among the closings are The Plaza Restaurant, Pinocchio Village Haus, Tomorrowland Transit Authority People Mover, Barnstormer, and the Liberty Square Riverboat.
- Blog - Disney’s Newest Animated Feature “Frozen” Flurries Into Theme Parks On Both Coasts
- The Comedy Warehouse Holiday Special to return? - Rumors are that the popular holiday version of The Comedy Warehouse will be returning to Hollywood Studios this year.
- Blog - EXCLUSIVE: Nikon becomes the Official Camera of Walt Disney World and Disneyland
- VIDEO: Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party 2013 - What happens when you combine one 30,000 pound, 65 foot tree, one 40 foot star, 5500 twinkling lights, 430 feet of garland, 325 ornaments, 275 feet of strung popcorn, 400 flickering candles, 135 candy canes, 100 gingerbread cookies and the Disney Characters? Why, you have the perfect recipe for Christmas at the Magic Kingdom!
- Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party Photography - Creative photos from Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
- Christmas dining options for Walt Disney World - All restaurants on property will be open as normal, but some are serving special Christmas menus.
- Thanksgiving dining options at Walt Disney World - All restaurants on property will be open as normal, but some are serving special Thanksgiving menus.
- New looks available for the holidays at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique - Now through 1/3/14, little girls can choose from a Frozen Package or a Holiday Minnie Package.
- Santa Claus comes to Downtown Disney - At the Marketplace, you'll find Santa Claus waiting to greet you at his chalet in front of the World of Disney store.
- VIDEO: Josh Gad - Voice of Olaf in "Frozen" - Interview - Josh Gad, the voice of Olaf in "Frozen" and "World of Color - Winter Dreams" and Tony Award nominee for "The Book of Mormon", takes a few minutes to talk about how important it was to work on a Disney film that led to a theme park experience and the music behind it all.
- All guests at Pop Century will now use MagicBands - As of 11/14/13, guests at Pop Century will no longer receive a Key to the World card. All information for the resort and parks will be on the Magic Band you receive when you check in.
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