by Disney Magic Diva
If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you’ve seen some of our popular ABC-series articles. JollyFrogger Diva shared ABCs of the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios A to Z. Wishes Diva took us From the American Adventure to Zipping through Space: The ABCs of Epcot, and across the savannah in Antelope to Zebra: The ABCs of Animal Kingdom. Canadian Diva shared A-Z Value Resorts at Walt Disney World Resort and A-Z Allergy Friendly Tips. But before you can visit any Disney park, you’ll need to plan that trip. So here’s my contribution to the series: The ABCs of Planning a Disney Trip! Let’s go!
A: Agent If you’re new to Disney planning, I’d encourage you to use a travel agent. Even if you’re a previous visitor, you may want to use a travel agent on your next trip. MANY changes have occurred since the reopening of the parks, and a professional can guide you through everything you need to know. (Our very own Military Diva, Patricia at All for Dreams Travel, is an excellent choice!!) Check out the Top Five Benefits of Booking with a Travel Agent.
B: Budget Without question, a Disney vacation is expensive. So one of the first things I’d recommend when planning a trip is setting a budget. It’s easy to get carried away with add-ons to a trip, so keeping your eye on the budget will insure you won’t come home feeling far less than magical.
C: Calendar When’s the best time to go? That’s a GOOD question! Naturally, you may be limited in the times your family can vacation, but generally the parks are most crowded in the summer or during school breaks. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is one of the busiest weeks. A great resource for gauging crowds is Touring Plans Crowd Calendar. We always utilize this when planning our trips!
D: Dining A huge part of the fun (and potential expense!) of a Disney trip is the food! A convenient way to plan dining expenses is with the Disney Dining Plan. There are multiple plans available so you can choose what fits for your family. (Note: The Disney Dining Plans are temporarily suspended due to Covid-19). You also will want to plan advance dining reservations (ADRs) for any table service meals. The booking window opens 180 days in advance. JollyFrogger Diva has tips on preparing to make your dining reservations
E: Etsy If you scroll through social media, you’ll find lots of adorable photos of families with matching or Disney themed shirts. It can certainly add some magic to your vacation to have Disney themed clothing to wear in the parks. On one of my granddaughter’s first trips, my daughter bought her a dress from an Etsy shop, and everywhere we went characters marveled at how adorable she was. She was an exceptionally enchanting toddler (an unbiased grandma’s opinion, there), but we also think the cute dress helped get her some special attention.
F: Facemask A new item to add to your packing list is a facemask. To help keep everyone safe, Disney requires face coverings for anyone over 2 years old. They must be worn whenever you are on property – at the parks, resorts, and Disney Springs. Be sure to check the latest “Know Before You Go” page for updated information.
G: Ground Transportation If you’re flying to Orlando, one of the most magical parts of traveling to Walt Disney World Resort is starting your vacation at the airport! Disney’s complimentary Magical Express service is such a wonderful feature – we always look forward to seeing those cast members before we even leave the terminal! Once you have your flight information, be sure to link it to your My Disney Experience so you can take advantage of this service. Military Diva tells you how!
Disneyland Resort, unfortunately, doesn’t offer a ground service from the nearby airports. You’ll need to arrange a shuttle service, shared ride service, or plan on renting a car. Don’t forget to arrange for car seats and/or budget for parking at your hotel.
H: How to get there? A big part of the expense of a Disney trip is often the travel expense. Will you fly or drive? Since we live around 1500 miles from either Orlando or Anaheim, we choose to fly. We’ve become pretty adept at finding the best deals on airfare by taking advantage of airline miles and traveling midweek. If you’re able to drive, don’t forget to budget for the parking fees at the hotel. Wishes Diva has some tips on driving to Walt Disney World Resort with a toddler.
I: Insurance You should always consider travel insurance when planning an expensive trip. If you had to cancel, what expenses would you lose? If it’s more than you can afford to “throw away,” you may want to purchase insurance. While Disney offers refunds under certain circumstances (6 days in advance for room only reservations, 30 days for packages), you’ll likely have other expenses (airfare, for instance) related to your trip. We once had to cancel a trip 24 hours before our departure due to a medical emergency. Thankfully, our travel insurance kept us from losing a lot of money! Disney offers a Travel Protection Plan. We generally search online for the best deal, and have often used TravelGuard.
J: Just keep smiling! It should be fun to plan a trip, but rarely does it happen without some setbacks. The hotel you want may be full, you can’t get your first choice for dining, or the weather forecast looks miserable just days before you leave. Whatever happens, just keep smiling. It’s Disney, and you will be spending time with your loved ones creating lifelong memories. Keep a positive attitude, and the magic will happen.
K: Know your limits Accept the fact that it is impossible to do everything! The choices are seemingly unlimited, so you must prioritize. Make a list of everything you’d like to do, then start ranking those activities. “Must Do,” “Want to Do,” “It Would be Nice to Do.” Or whatever works for you. Keep that thought in mind when planning your days too! No one has fun if you are on the go 20 hours a day. And by scheduling “non-park” days, you can save money on tickets. Wishes Diva has ideas of things you can do outside the park. Just be sure to relax and enjoy the sights and each other.
L: Luggage On one of my many trips to Walt Disney World Resort, my suitcase got soaked while sitting on the tarmac at the airport. Actually, that has happened many times, but this particular time it happened on arrival rather than on departure. When my bag arrived in my resort room, everything in it was soaked. Like, wring-out-the-water-and-watch-it-drip soaked. That was the moment I decided I was investing in good hard-sided luggage. (There are lots of cute Disney choices from American Tourister. I bought this set.) It may be easier to squeeze one more thing into soft-sided luggage, but beware! Given Florida thunderstorms, everything may arrive wet.
M: My Disney Experience If you do any one thing to prepare for your trip, DO THIS! Download and become familiar with the My Disney Experience app. This app is your lifeline both before and during your trip. You can make reservations, purchase tickets, make FastPass+ selections (when they hopefully return after Covid-19 restrictions are lifted), find maps, see when your bus transportation is coming, unlock your resort room, see photos captured by Disney photographers, check attraction wait times and schedules, join virtual queues, and so much more! It also is incredibly useful when you want to change plans at the last minute. Be sure to download it and use it!
N: Now or later? Deciding WHEN to go to Disney can be a tough decision. (Well, in reality it’s ALWAYS a good time to go, but when is the best time for your family is the question.) If it’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip, you’ll want to consider your kids’ ages, any park construction closures, special events, etc. Luckily, we have lots of articles to help you prepare for a trip with children! JollyFrogger Diva can help you get your kids ready before the trip, we have stroller tips, tips for taking kids and even tips for traveling with twins.
You can check Disney websites for information on construction closures. Right now, Epcot is having major construction, and the Tron Lifecycle Power Run is under construction at Magic Kingdom. But Galaxy’s Edge is relatively new, Rivieria Resort and Gran Destino Tower at Coronado Springs have opened, the Skyliner is running, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway just opened, and Cinderella Castle has had a makeover! There is always something new! And don’t forget – Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary is coming up in October 2021!
O: On or off property? A big question with every trip is where to stay. Walt Disney World Resort has literally dozens of properties on-site. We’ve stayed off-property twice, and unless we are able to have free lodging, will never do so again. The benefits of staying on-site just completely outweigh any potential cost saving of staying off-property for us. (And frankly, we haven’t found the cost savings to be very significant depending on the time of year we travel.) You can read more about why we stay on-property here. Passholder Diva and Soarin’ Diva also prefer on-property resorts.
At Disneyland, the situation is a little different. There are only 3 on-property hotels, and they are significantly more expensive than non-Disney hotels which are literally across the street from the park entrance. We’ve stayed at the Disneyland Hotel (Read Tinker Belle Diva’s review of Disneyland Hotel!) and it is fabulous, but we generally choose an off-site hotel on Harbor Boulevard. You can find reviews of various good neighbor hotels like Best Western Plus Park Place Inn, Camelot Inn, Fairfield Inn, Anaheim Desert Inn and Suites, HoJo Anaheim, and many more on our website.
P: Park Pass In order to keep guests safe during the coronavirus pandemic, Walt Disney World Resort is requiring guests to obtain a Park Pass in addition to a valid park ticket for entry into a park. This is essentially a reservation to enter the park on a certain day and allows Disney to monitor crowd capacity. Pixie Dusted Diva’s article tells you how to obtain a Park Pass.
Q: Questions You undoubtedly will have questions as you plan your trip. Even if you’re a veteran guest, many things have changed in the last few months, and planning a trip today is very different than it was even six months ago. You’ll want to utilize your travel agent for advice, or, if you aren’t using an agent, find a trusted source of information. Disney Parks have done a great job of keeping their website up-to-date with information, although at times it has been so overwhelmed it’s very slow to load. The Disney Parks Moms Panel is a wonderful reference. And naturally you can trust all of us here at Tips from the Disney Divas and Devos to keep you updated with accurate information!
R: Reservations While it is theoretically possible to go to a Walt Disney World or Disneyland without a reservation, it’s certainly not recommended! You obviously want to be sure you have a place to stay. Resort reservations can easily be made online. You will also need Park Pass reservations if traveling to Walt Disney World in the near future. And as previously stated, dining reservations are highly recommended! You may get lucky and be able to “walk in” a restaurant, but it’s not likely. And when FastPass+ selections return, you’ll want to have those at Walt Disney World. Don’t forget about Magical Express reservations if you’re flying into Orlando International Airport. I know many people like to have a vacation be spontaneous, but your trip will be much more magical if you do at least some minimal planning and make these reservations.
S: Schedule It may be helpful to develop a daily schedule for your trip. We generally start by checking expected crowd levels on Touring Plans Crowd Calendar and from there choose which park we’d like to visit each day of our trip. Next, we’d choose FastPass+ selections (hopefully to be returning soon!) and any dining reservations we’d want to make. And, of course, currently you’ll need to make Park Pass reservations in order to enter a park. From there, you can choose to be more detailed, creating an hour-by-hour schedule, or you can just “go with the flow” and take each day as it unfolds. But some scheduling is required.
T: Tickets Another huge expense of a Disney vacation is park tickets. In pre-pandemic times, you’d need to decide if you wanted a “base” ticket, which allows you to visit one park per day, or a “parkhopper” ticket, which allows you to visit more than one park each day. Now, however, at least for the time being, you are only allowed to visit one park each day. And don’t forget, you’ll need a Park Pass to enter the park in addition to your ticket.
You’ll also need to decide for how many days you want tickets. It’s quite popular to not have a ticket for every day of your vacation. Many people enjoy a “non-park” day about midway through their trip. And depending on your arrival and departure times, you may not need/want a ticket for those days.
U: Understand the jargon As you research, read, and talk to people about planning your trip, you’re probably going to come across some acronyms that can be confusing. MK, AK, FP, ADR, EMH, HS, CM, QS, TS, PH, AP – there is definitely a Disney jargon. Thankfully, Tinker Belle Diva is here to help you out!
V: Virtual queue Disney often uses virtual queues to help with crowd control. When Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance opened in late 2019, guests used a virtual queue to experience the attraction rather than wait in an actual line. Be prepared to use a virtual queue for Rise of the Resistance, and possibly other attractions as crowds increase at Disney. You hear about how this works here.
W: Weather We often get asked “When’s the best time to go for good weather?” Well, there’s no great answer to that! Summer is obviously quite warm in Florida and California. The fall is peak hurricane time in Florida. Spring can be lovely but crowded. (May is actually my favorite weather!) And while it seems like a great idea to escape winter doldrums with a visit to the Mouse, know that it’s not always warm enough to enjoy water parks, pools, and “wet” rides during winter. So, check average temperatures, and decide what works for you. (And bring a poncho! It almost always rains at least once!)
X: Xternal battery You WILL want to bring a battery charger! My Disney Experience is a vital app, and you will be using it quite a bit while at the parks. And it will drain your battery. You don’t want to miss out on that awesome photo because your phone died. I love this charger. It allows me to recharge my phone 3-4 times each day.
Y: Yellow tags These are important if you are using the Magical Express at Walt Disney World Resort. If you have made reservations for Magical Express, about 3 weeks before your trip you’ll receive a letter with yellow luggage tags. Put these on your luggage in addition to your regular luggage ID tags BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME. They will enable Disney to retrieve your luggage from the airport and deliver it to your resort room.
NOTE: Due to coronavirus, Magical Express has temporarily halted this luggage service, so you may not receive yellow luggage tags if your trip is soon. You will need to collect your own luggage and bring it with you on the Magical Express.
Z: ZZZZZZZ Be sure to catch your zzz’s! We often feel like we need a vacation after our Disney vacation! There will be A LOT of walking – easily 6-10 miles per day. Sometimes more! You may have early mornings or late nights, or maybe both! Although I encourage you to make time for down time, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and find yourself going strong from morning til night. You will definitely want to at least begin your vacation well rested. Be like Aurora. Get your beauty sleep! You’ll enjoy your trip much more!
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