Article and photos by Florida Diva unless otherwise noted
Photo courtesy of WestJet Airlines
This is an excellent question and its answer is critical if you’re a Disney Newbie and don’t know where to start. With so many parks, attractions, dining options and other choices it can be overwhelming to say the least. So, let’s find a good jumping off point and take you through some basic steps that can ensure your trip is enjoyable and filled with all the best things.
First of all, determine how much money you’ll need for the trip. Consider airfare, or fuel costs, hotel, Disney Park tickets, food budget, and souvenir money. Once you have an estimate of this, you can work it into your savings budget and determine how long you’ll need to save up for. (I always check out the Official Disney Website and other Disney sites often during this phase to help keep my eye on the prize!)
Once you have the funds you need to determine the best time for you to go. What’s your schedule like? Do you have to go when the kids are off school or are you okay with taking them out for a week or two? Are you hoping to celebrate a season or event while on your trip? Depending on the answer to these questions, you may want to start planning as you save up; as I did for one of our Christmas trips.
As a general rule though, 6 months out is a good place to start. And here’s why. There is so much to decide based on interests, individual “must dos”, best place to stay, transportation options, and if you want to look into ADRs (advanced dining reservations).
Once you know when you want to go and how much you’ll need, it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty and where the excitement really begins! First, research each park and all attractions and shows. Find out which characters are at which park or if they are available to meet at different dining options.
MAKE A LIST!!!! (I got a notebook specifically for the trip) You will NOT be able to keep all the different options straight in your head if you’re new to Disney or are planning a long stay with multiple guests, and creating a list as you go will help you prioritize and plan as you go. For example, when listing potential dining options, you should include: which park the restaurant is located in, what characters will be available if any and the approximate cost of menu items (moderate to expensive and note that the prices for lunch and dinner often vary.)
TIP: ADRs are called that for a reason. Many restaurants are so popular that reservations may need to be made months in advance, so this is another reason to begin your planning so far out.
Once you have your priority list, you can look at scheduling the visit. Which park/parks will you visit on which day? Which of your top attractions offer Fastpasses? Which parks have extra magic hours on which days? Will you be visiting for more than a week? If so, it might be a good idea to take a break. Maybe a day at the pool or one of the water parks, rent a car and head to the coast for a beach day or an outlet mall; perhaps even…GASP!!…visit another theme park? Again, use your list to define and build each day.
Now at this point many of you may be thinking, “What the heck is she talking about? I’m trying to go on vacation not plan an invasion! Who wants to be that meticulous when trying to relax and have a good time?” And really, that’s a valid thought to have, but if you want to actually enjoy your vacation once you get there, it’s imperative that you realize, right now, as you read this, that I am right and you are wrong, period. Deal with it, get over it and let’s move on. Seriously, every single person that I know that has stormed the gates of Disney without having researched, and planned ahead has had a terrible time and vows to NEVER go back…ever. No joke, EVERY…SINGLE…ONE. But, those that have taken the advice of us Divas and Devos have always reported back to say what a great time they had and how they can’t wait to “plan” their next trip. So, trust me when I insist that I’m right on this. Planning now is what allows you to relax and enjoy your time when you actually get there.
Other things to consider when planning your trip are weather (summer is scorching in Florida and they experience severe thunderstorms as a result), crowds (the holidays are the busiest times and hotels and flights are generally more expensive than too), ride and attraction maintenance (most ride shutdowns occur on a rotating basis starting in mid January to gear up for the busy summer months. Some also occur in the early fall prior to the popular Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas season).
So now that we’ve discussed all the things to consider for formulating your plan, how meticulous should you actually be when planning the details? The answer is, be as meticulous as auditor from the IRS reviewing Warren Buffet’s tax return, but, with this caveat; be willing to be flexible.
For example, day one may look something like this:
Breakfast 7:30 AM
Board Disney transportation at 8:15 (enter park at approx 9 AM)
Visit first area of park based on your first fastpass window of the day. (For example, if you have a fastpass for Space Mountain between 10 and 11 AM, you should be spending the first part of your day in Tomorrowland seeing some of the other attractions and rides on your list in that area both prior to and after your FP usage.)
If you have lunch reservations for 12:30 at Beauty and The Beast’s Castle, the Fantasyland expansion area should be your next destination.
So where does the “flexibility” come in? If next on your “must do” list is a ride with an outdoor queue and it’s threatening to pour rain, maybe it might be a good idea to swap that out for when you had planned on seeing an indoor attraction OR vice versa. ** If you have rain gear (which you should, by the way) standing in line for a popular ride while it pours could very well see you get on much quicker as others leave to find cover. ** And, if you spend more than one day at Magic Kingdom, for example, plan to see Wishes and the parade one night and the next night, skip those and use that time to hit some of the more popular rides while most of the crowds are watching the show. (It’s also a great way to redo some of the outdoor rides like Thunder Mountain at night, which will make it seem like a whole new experience.)
Bottom line is, planning is essential to any successful and memorable trip. Knowing all there is to see and do, and having a plan for tackling it will help ensure that your trip to Disney is everything you’ve dreamed it to be.