I am often asked for any tips I can share about planning a Disney vacation, so I thought I would share them with you here. These are my top ten tips for a truly magical Disney World vacation.
1. Don't plan your own trip!
Seriously. Just don't. Walt Disney World is so big and can be so overwhelming. Instead, get a FREE expert involved! That’s what the agents at Magical Memories Planners specialize in. Our goal is to make planning your vacation fun and stress-free so all you have to do is show up and enjoy time with your family. We can help plan the perfect vacation just for your family and budget. If you are curious about how we plan a vacation, you can read about that here.
2. Start planning about nine months in advance, if possible.
While we can help you put together a last minute trip that will still have plenty of magic, you will be more likely to get all the items on your wish list if you plan early. Dining reservations open up 180 days in advance and some locations book up very quickly. It can take a little time to decide which resort and vacation package will be the best fit for you, so starting the process of booking your vacation about nine months in advance is ideal. Then you will have plenty of time to book your vacation and think through which dining experiences you would like to book!
3. Pay for your vacation over time.
There is a Disney vacation for every budget. That said, Disney magic don't come cheap. BUT it is worth every single penny. I promise. You can book your vacation with just a $200 deposit and your balance is not due until 30 days before your arrival. So if you plan ahead, you can break the cost of your vacation up into payments. The wonderful thing about this is that when you arrive, everything is paid for and you don't have to think about staying on budget. If you want to begin to set money aside specifically for your Disney vacation in a few years, you can even open up a Disney Vacation Account for free.
4. Don't try to do it all in one day!
Disney World is so big that it is impossible to do everything. We found that taking a break in the middle of the day helped us get the most out of our days at the parks. Most people take their time getting to the parks in the morning, so if you arrive before the park opens, you can ride a bunch of rides with very little wait time for about two hours or so. Then, use your fastpasses to hit the other rides you think will have long lines later in the day. Leave around 1:30 or so and go swim at your resort or take a nap. Come back around 5:00 and have dinner. Then, ride a bunch more rides without long waits after everyone leaves to eat dinner or take small children back to the resort for the night.
Once (and only once), we made the mistake of doing one REALLY long (14 hour) day on our first day and our whole family was miserable, cranky, and sore the next day. NOT FUN. Don't do it! So, this is what a typical day looks like for us in the parks:
5. Use your fastpasses!
So many people don’t really understand fastpasses. They basically let you bypass the lines and walk straight onto rides. You can select three for each day 60 days in advance of your arrival date. It is wise to choose these as soon as they become available as some rides fill up quickly. This is especially true for the Frozen Ever After, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and Toy Story Midway Mania. However, even if you don't have a fastpass, these are worth the long wait!
6. Meet as many characters as you can.
Think up fun questions to ask them. They never break character and it is SO MUCH FUN! You can use fastpasses for most character meet and greets. You can even have meals with many of them, but they book up early. Have your awesome Magical Memory Planners agent book your character meals for you as soon as those dates open up.
7. Add Memory Maker.
It will be the best $149 you spend on this trip ($169 if you add it during or after your trip). Each time we go, we end up hundreds of photos from our trip that Disney photographers took. Family photos galore and pictures from every single character interaction we had. AMAZING. And any ride that takes your picture? Those go on your Memory Maker account, too. So do the ride videos from Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Hollywood Tower of Terror! Be sure to ask each photographer if they have any Magic Shots. :) They will tell you to do something silly without explanation... just do it! The photos always turn out really fun. Want to know how to get the most out of Memory Maker? You can read about that here.
8. Spend the “extra” money and stay at a Disney resort.
It has been my experience that what you think you are saving in money, you pay in travel, trouble, and precious Disney time. Many people do not take things like parking fees, gas, rental car, etc. into account when staying off site. Plus, you lose the convenience of being able to do #4 above. There will be no mid-afternoon pool and nap break if you are staying off site. And you will not be able to grab your fastpasses until 30 days before your visit each day.
Know that your Magical Memory Planners agent will always be on the lookout for the best deal for you. Disney often releases promotions throughout the year that may be able to be applied to your vacation, even after you book it! We make it our priority to get you the most value for your vacation money.
9. Use the Disney Dining Plan.
Like most vacation destinations, food at Disney World is expensive. If you use the Dining Plan wisely, it will save you money. Use your table service meals for character meals, enjoy all the quick service meal options (all meals come with drinks and desserts!), and be amazed at all the snack options. We once ended up with 7 snack credits left on our last day (the snacks are HUGE, so we share a lot). We used our remaining snack credits to buy goodies to bring home! It was so fun for us to have Disney treats for a few days after we returned... softened the blow of returning to the real world just a little.
Here is a sample breakdown of how the dining plan can save you money:
For a two adults, it comes out to about $120 per day.
Let's do a day at Magic Kingdom for our example.
Lunch at Be Our Guest (quick service) including a drink and dessert will be about $20 per person.
A Snack of a Dole Whip will be $3.99 per person
Dinner at Chef Mickey’s will be $59.99 per person.
The refillable drink mug for your resort is $12.99 for the length of your stay which is about $2.60 per person per day (for a five day trip).
So, you would spend $173.16 on the food above, so the dining plan would save over $50 just that day alone.
10. Expect to suffer from PDD... Post Disney Depression... after you get back home.
I cry every time I have to leave and usually again when I get home. It is hard enough to return to the real world after vacation, but to come back from Disney? That's really hard! It truly is the happiest place on earth. And the memories you make there are priceless. The only cure I know of for PDD is a deposit on your next Disney vacation!
Ready for FREE help planning your Disney vacation? We'd love to help! Contact me here and I'll be in touch soon!
Jo is a travel planner who loves all things Disney! She also has food sensitivities and lots of experience with special diets while traveling.