Over the past few years writing for the TouringPlans blog, I have been honored to get to help so many people from all walks of life plan Disney World trips for their families. In helping folks, one thing that I notice time and time again is how overwhelming planning a trip to one of the world’s most popular travel destination can be, especially for someone preparing for their first visit. Many people do not know where to start with planning. Some prospective visitors end up either giving up or making rookie mistakes which they pay for later on.
Many of our posts here at TouringPlans aim at Disney World guests who are already seasoned veterans. I imagine that for a first timer, the nitty-gritty details seem unimportant when you are trying to just figure out how the heck to get to Disney World. The next two posts of mine are for those of you that still need those trip planning training wheels. Get out a pen and piece of paper and let me walk you through the basics.
Every family has some kind of requirements or “givens” that are known from the get go. These are things that cannot usually be changed. First thing you need to do is write down your requirements. A usual requirement for most families is a budget. Maybe you have saved up for this trip or maybe you are preparing to save up and need to know how much this is all going to cost you. If your budget is entirely unlimited, you are one of the lucky ones. However, if you have some boundaries, write down a number that you would like to stay under. I would say that if you are willing to give and take a little bit, almost anyone can afford a trip to Disney World. What you can afford is so important because everything is affected by your budget.
Next up, determine if you have a specific range of days that you must travel in, whether it be because of work, school, or any other number of reasons. If sticking to a tight budget is your top priority, consider being very flexible with your travel dates. You can save perhaps the largest amount of money this way.
Another common given is whether you are going to be flying or driving to Florida. If you are not sure, I suggest that you use an online map, such as MapQuest or Google Maps to determine if driving is a feasible option for your family. If it is, you might want to think about renting a larger vehicle to provide some more comfort for the drive. If you are like me and you know that you need to fly to Disney World because of distance reasons, investigate what it is going to cost you by using Kayak.com or another airline price comparison website. Keep in mind that some of the comparison websites sometimes do not include Southwest and/or smaller airlines.
The final given that I suggest you determine right away is if your family would like to travel off Disney property at any point. Many visitors would like spend a day at the beach or at a neighboring theme park such as Universal Studios or Sea World. Eventually, this will become relevant to certain aspects of your planning experience.
When & How Long
The time of year that you travel often determines what kind of vacation you will have. For instance, some people despise extremely hot temperatures. If that is you, avoid the summer months all together. Next, take a look at a yearly event calendar for the Disney parks and see if anything pops out at you as an interest. Christmas? International Food and Wine Festival? Star Wars Weekends? If your budget allows, choose the time of year that interests you most. Keep in mind that certain times of the year are busier than others. Special events and holidays usually draw in larger crowds. While you will always be dealing with other guests and lines no matter what time of year you go, you can avoid utterly painful crowds by not traveling to Disney World when it is at it’s busiest. There are down sides to the slower or “value” season as well. Sometimes the most popular and beloved attractions are down for a period of time due to refurbishment. Many first timers would be completely crushed if they missed out on riding Splash Mountain. You can pretty much guarantee that popular attractions will be open when the parks are busiest.
Certain days of the year are traditionally cheaper to fly on, such as Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Fridays and Sundays are most commonly the expensive travel days of the week. If you are planning on a full week of vacation, consider flying out on a Tuesday and back on a Tuesday. When airlines have big sales, there are usually days of the week that are blacked out. The days that will save you the big bucks are typically mid-week.
You need to determine your desired length of your vacation. While I like to suggest an entire week for a first-time guest, some of you might have a different number of days in mind for whatever reason. Less days usually means less expense overall and less potential for park “burnout.” However, by only giving yourself a short period of time to visit, you run the risk of missing out on some attractions, or even entire parks. Rushing to get things done means that you might not have the relaxing family vacation you imagined. Trips longer than just a few days allow you enjoy the parks at a slower pace without worrying that you are going to miss something that you expected to experience. It is best to try and strike a balance between how many days you can afford and how many days will satisfy your families needs.
Disney lingo comes into play pretty heavily when talking about park tickets. Disney using the term “Magic Your Way” is a fancy way of saying that you can pick what you want. It all starts with a basic one-day ticket and you add what you wish from there. The more days you wish to play, the less it is to pay per day. Simple yes and no questions will help you figure out exactly what type of ticket you need for each member of your family.
Do you want to park hop? Park hopping allows you to travel from park to park on the same day. There are four major Disney theme parks that encompass the Disney World Resort. If you want to visit multiple parks on the same day, you will need to add the park hopper option to your Magic Your Way base ticket.
Do you want to visit one or both Disney water parks? Are you interested in DisneyQuest? If so, it is probably in your best interest to add on the “Water Park Fun and More” option to your Magic Your Way ticket.
Do you intend to revisit Disney World within the year? There are times that it makes more sense economically to purchase a ticket that allows you access to Disney World parks for an entire year instead of just the length of one visit. If this sounds like a possibility for you and/or your family, look into Disney’s Annual Passholder program.
Once you know what kind of ticket everyone in your party needs, I suggest that you figure out take a look at TouringPlans.com’s Ticket Calculator to determine where it would be cheaper for you to purchase tickets from. Most of the time it is a better deal to purchase tickets online before your vacation from a reputable company that is authorized to sell real Disney World park tickets. Also, keep in mind that you can upgrade any Magic Your Way ticket as long as there is still one unused day available on the ticket. This means you can add more park days or upgrade your ticket to include the park hopper option even after you have already purchased your initial ticket.
Hopefully I have not totally lost any of you along the way in this edition of Disney World 101. Please feel free to ask any questions that you might have regarding what I have covered in this post. Trust me when I say that there is no such thing as a dumb question.
What are you finding to be the most difficult part of planning a Disney World vacation? Let us know in the comment section below and hopefully we can be of some help!