A few weeks ago, I posted an article aimed at those of you travelers looking to plan your first ever Disney World trip. I covered three very important topics… requirements, when and how long, and tickets. In this second part I am going to go over transportation, accommodations, and the ever important itinerary.
I am pretty sure that almost anyone that looks at a list of possible accommodations in the Orlando area will be totally overwhelmed. There are so many options! Off property, on property, vacation homes, motels, hotels, value resorts, and even cabins! In order to make the big decision of where you are going to rest your head, you want to look at your options in categories and then break it down from there.
First off, if you have no interest in renting a car, either because you are petrified of driving around an unknown area, or because you do not need to go off of Disney property for anything, you probably should look at accommodations available to you right on Disney property. Disney hotels also work well for families looking to camp. When you are looking at on property versus off property, the major differences lie in what discounts and special perks you get from staying right with Disney. Disney offers guests staying right on property benefits like free parking at the Disney theme parks, shuttle service to and from the parks, a “magical” bus shuttle to and from Orlando International Airport, room charging privileges, package pick-up at resorts, and the ability to add-on one of the controversial Disney Dining Plans.
Staying off property usually works well for folks traveling minute, because most of Disney’s steep discounts must be booked months ahead of time. Dining at the Disney theme parks and resorts is really expensive for the most part, so if you are staying off-property you really have the advantage to hit up far less expensive restaurants. Transportation to non-Disney theme parks and other area attractions will probably be easier if you are not surround by the Disney bubble. If off-site accommodations sounds like your thing, I seriously suggest picking up a copy of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and check out the in-depth reviews of many hotels, motels, and vacation homes that can be found off of Disney property. No, I do not get paid to plug the book. I actually think that the Unofficial Guide excels in this topic, since most other guide books only cover reviews of on-site resorts.
If you have decided to be surrounded by the Disney magic 24/7, you have to choose from one of Disney’s incredible resorts. This is no small task. Trust me. Just think of it this way, you usually get what you pay for. While one size does not fit all in terms of Disney resorts, there are very few guests that end up truly hating the resort that they choose. If your budget is what matters to you most, go with a value resort. That is a no brainer. If you want more than just a place to rest your head and if you are willing to throw extra money into your hotel, examine your choices in the moderate and deluxe categories. Most people worry that once they are willing to pay over $300 a night for a hotel room, they are going to regret it. However, I really believe that you will be happy with whatever resort you choose. None of the deluxe resorts repeatedly get horrific reviews, so you really do not have much to worry about. I suggest you go to YouTube and watch resort tour videos to get a good idea of what each hotel’s vibe is like. Try not to stress about it too much, because no matter what you choose, you are going to be in Disney World and that is the most important part.
You are faced with a few big questions when it comes to transportation in your Disney World trip. The first is, how are you going to get to Disney World? If you are really cool and can teleport, then by all means, do so. However, if you are an average human like the rest of us, you are either going to be flying to Florida or driving.
In most cases, driving is going to be your least expensive option. While gas prices are always on the rise, some people choose to caravan with another family and split the cost of gas and a rental vehicle. Often times, a family can rent a van, plus pay for gas and still come out of trip spending less money on transportation than if they flew to Disney World. This option allows you to have freedom to travel outside of the Disney World Resort to visit other area attractions and restaurants. While some off-site accommodations provide free shuttles to Disney theme parks, not all do. So, you will need to think about renting a car if this applies to you.
Flying is the best way to get your Disney vacation started as soon as possible. There are some serious benefits to flying to Disney World other than just getting the magic started quickly. Once you arrive at the airport, you actually do not need to rent a car or hire a car company to transport you to Disney World. Disney provides a free shuttle service to and from Orlando International Airport for anyone staying on Disney property. Whether you use it or not, you essentially pay for it when you book your hotel room. The downside to using Disney’s Magical Express is that you have to depend entirely on Disney’s internal busses to transport your family around Disney property. If you are in a hurry or think might get impatient waiting for a bus, you could find Disney’s busses frustrating since they are not always the most dependable. It is pretty hard to know if you are going to wait two minutes or twenty minutes for a bus. When it is nearly midnight, you are exhausted, and all you want to do is get back to your hotel room and sleep, waiting for a bus sounds like absolute misery. However, for some people, this small inconvenience is well worth the money you can save from not having to rent a car.
Keep in mind that even if you choose to drive your own vehicle to Disney World, this does not mean you are required to drive your own car to get to the parks and back to your Disney resort (provided you stay on property). If you feel uncomfortable driving around the sometimes confusing Disney World roadways, you can always use the internal bus system.
I was told by a reader of the TouringPlans blog that they find creating an agenda the biggest challenge in planning a Disney World trip. I totally understand this. Even after planning what feels like a million trips, it still is in no way a simple process to figure out my agenda. I will tell you about how I personally plan, and you can decide from there what tips you would like to incorporate for yourself.
First, I lay every bit of information out in front of me. I print out park hours for my vacation dates. I also jot down the recommended “best park” and “worst park” for each day based on the crowd calendar. At this point, I usually have not made any Advanced Dining Reservations yet. I only book those once I know what park I would like to start my day at. If I have the park hopper option, obviously I have a little bit more flexibility when it comes to booking my dining reservations. When going online or calling to make my dining plans, I try to match up the “best park” for an given day to a desired restaurant. Simple enough, right? Wrong. Sometimes I do not always get my way and can only get a restaurant reservation that I want for a day that does not work with the schedule I have laid out in front of me. Here is where your own judgement comes into play. What matters more to you? Sticking to a schedule with the presumed lowest park crowd, or nabbing a coveted Disney dining reservation?
Some of you might be wondering why I only care about documenting where I would like to start each day at. I have come to realize that you cannot always predict how fast or slow you will get done with a park on any given day. You also cannot predict the weather very far out. Sometimes things happen and you want to spend the afternoon finishing up attractions at another park that you might have skipped for whatever reason. Sometimes you discover that you really enjoy a nighttime show and would like to see it again, but you will have to travel back to a park you already visited. That is why I prefer to only note where I would like to start each day. I always pick each of the four major parks as my “primary” park at least once. I like to get the morning experience and nighttime experience of each park, even if that means not doing it on the same day. This is a definite benefit of adding on the park hopper option to your theme park admission ticket.
Once all of my Advanced Dining Reservations are made and I know what parks I will be starting my day at, I type up a helpful piece of paper that I literally take with me everywhere during my trip. The paper lists my travel dates, primary park, any special shows or activities planned, and any dining reservations for the day, along with the confirmation numbers. I put it in a page protector just to keep it relatively crinkle free, even if I have to fold it a bit to fit it into my bag. I carry it with me so I can pull it out in case I ever ask myself, “what park will I be at on Friday?”, or if a restaurant cannot find my reservation.
Everyone plans their trips a little bit differently, but I just wanted to give you a glimpse on how I like to keep my head on through the excitement of Disney trip. I would love to hear about how all of you are organizing your schedules!
Traveling to Disney World for the first time is a big daunting task for a lot of people, but it does not have to be. Everyone seems to have the one thing that trips them up in their planning. In the comments section of my previous post, many of our awesome TouringPlans readers shared what their travel struggle tends to be. Hopefully, my tips and tricks helped you out and answered some of your burning questions! If not, please let me know so I can help!