From plan to park-part 1
Updated: Apr 29, 2020
So...you have heard the hype and you want to know, how do I plan a trip to Walt Disney World Resort? This post will kick off the first of many installments of how to go about planning your trip. I would make a disclaimer that I am really focusing on couples/adult travel because that is my realm of experience in trip planning, AND it is my absolute favorite part about travel to Disney. For those who aren't familiar with the Disney system, you may be surprised to hear that Disney is a WONDERFUL destination for adults (if you are into food, rides, and amazing experiences).
This blog focuses on blended family travel/frugal travel. My husband and I have to be very flexible when it comes to family travel due to custody agreements, finances etc. However, we balance family duties/having time off as a blended family couple (when kiddos are with bio mom) with investing in our marriage by going on couples' trips. These trips enrich our marriage so much.
Disney is one of our favorite destinations by far. We are big travelers, but we always go back to Disney as one of our most special places. We hope to become annual pass-holders one day as well as going on Experiences by Disney trips around the world. We love the charm, beauty, and variety of experiences we can get by going to one place. It is truly magical for us. I hope it will be for you too.
First things first, and one of the most important factors to consider...you CAN go to Disney without a plan. You can be spontaneous, BUT in my opinion, you will not have the best time you COULD have. Having a plan insures that you get maximum value out of your stay. It won't be the cheapest vacation, so how can you make those dollars stretch to have the most magical experience? There are many tools, websites, books, etc that are out there to help you make your plan, but you will need to consider some basics first.
So you know you want to go...what are your first steps? I too am in this journey right now. When we went on our honeymoon in 2018, we primarily used a travel agent to book and plan for us (which I don't regret because it helped me learn the ropes. If all of this is too intimidating at first, don't hesitate to reach out to me or to an authorized Disney vacation planner so you can learn too, headache free!)
In January of this year, I decided I wanted to go on a summer couples' trip with my hubby. As many of you know, Disney is closed currently due to COVID, but we are hopeful we can still swing our July vacation as it is almost paid for. There are a lot of uncertainties right now, but we know it will eventually reopen. If we don't make it in July, we know we can trust Disney's stellar customer service to help us reschedule our trip for the future.
What did I consider when I started planning this trip? What should you consider?
WHEN do you want to go? This is the most important thing. Disney is a very popular place. You will want to allow yourself 6 months to a year to plan your trip. I also subscribe to many Disney blogs and websites. I stay tuned to when Disney rolls out discounts on rooms or offers things like a free dining plan (more on that later). But, we decided we would go in summer due to what was best for our schedule. We know it will be hot and possibly crowded, but we trust we can find ways to cool down and still have a restful vacay.
Download the "My Disney Experience" app and explore the Disney website-this is your hub for all your planning. This is where you can explore all your different choices for where to stay, eat, etc. as well as booking reservations, fast passes for rides. You will want to be very familiar with this as it is used throughout the entire planning process.
Choose your budget for your trip-We decided this time we would not splurge as much as we did on our honeymoon. Disney puts their resorts into three categories: Value, moderate, and deluxe. They vary by size, amenities, dining, etc. We chose our resort based on its location and price. I was able to do a lot of research on the Disney website and Pinterest to make my decision here. We chose the Caribbean Beach Resort because of its location near the new Disney Skyliner and to two parks we wanted to explore most. Once we decided the dates and the resort hotel we wanted, I phoned Disney to make the reservation. I like talking to a live human about big purchases like this. Plus, the phone service works better than the over-jammed website which can crash when you are trying to pay your deposit.
Deposit-all you need to do to reserve a trip is pay a $200 deposit no matter what price trip package you want. Then, you can log back on the My Disney Experience website and make payments as often as you like. I LOVE THIS. I can have my whole trip paid off by the time it arrives. The only rule is that you have to pay your final deposit one month before your arrival date (for us, June 5th). This helped me budget our payments.
We needed to decide about dining for our trip. We were excited that Disney was offering a free dining plan option for a date we could go this summer. For the Disney newbies, there are MANY ways to go about dining at the parks. For us, we have found that the Disney Dining Plan (known as DDP for short) is the best use of our money. Just like any theme park, food isn't cheap in Disney, but there are ways to get the best use of your money while there. With a dining plan you can choose your budget (again, lots of details there that I can pick apart at a later time, but the plans are "graded" just like resorts).
We love that our food is prepaid and we can relax and not be counting every penny of our food. We have decided that ahead of time. When you take up Disney on a "free dining" offer that means you are getting their cheapest dining plan included in your trip price. You can upgrade to one of the higher plans for a fee. We did that and chose the Standard dining plan (1 fast food type meal, 1 sit down meal, and two "snacks" a day.) A snack credit can easily count as a meal though! Again, more details to come there. Basically, food is a HUGE part of travel for us and that is not where we ever scrimp. We will always prioritize dining because we are passionate foodies. But, I understand everyone has different priorities here.
You want to pick your dining plan so that you can reserve your dining. Yes, you will again have a better trip if you choose where you want to eat and reserve it six months out. I use blogs, Pinterest, books, and word of mouth to make my choices. You will have a seamless trip if these decisions are made in advance. Once you decide what parks you will be at on what day, you can choose your dining spots and make reservations (for sit down restaurants) on the app. Disney has such a HUGE and wonderful variety of food options. It is incredible.
Tickets for parks-LAST thing. Kudos if you have made it this far LOL Again, if any of this system intimidates you, I get it! But once you learn the system, it will make perfect sense. The last big decision we had to make when we were making our initial booking was what type of park admission tickets we wanted. You can research the full offerings here. I have done this two different ways. One way is to choose which parks I want to attend and only buy one day tickets for those parks. I prefer this with small kids. BUT, for Chuck and I, we love the park hopper option. With a park hopper, you save money and can go to multiple parks in a day. We love this because with just us, we can run around to different parks to try different dining or maybe one ride. We like the freedom and flexibility.
Are you ready to book?! :) Again, always reach out to me with any questions about these initial steps. Coming up next...explaining ticketed events, add ons, and fast passes for rides!