Back in February my husband and I decided the time was right to take the family to Disney World. In reality, there is no perfect time, one or another child was always going to be too young or too old, and it was always going to be expensive, so I held my breath and took the leap into the world of Disney planning. This is my journey…
To preface this article I should tell you that I am notoriously known as a pre-planning, over-planning, perfectionist, who does not like surprises, and likes to feel in control of every situation I am put into. I know, I sound like a barrel of fun! For weeks I researched everything Disney, from resorts to dining plans, to magic bands, fast passes, parks, transportation, etc. You name it, I googled it! And Instagramed it, Pinterested it, Tweeted it, Facebooked it, and on and on. In the end I realized my kids were going to experience something very special, and this was a trip our family would remember for a lifetime.
First things first…Booking the Trip…EARLY. You might not need to book hotels and park tickets early, but if you plan on making reservations to eat with the characters, you need to book up to 6 months early, so this is where pre-planning comes in handy! For hotels – I knew I wanted to stay at a Disney Resort- if we were going to do this Disney Trip, we were going to go all in with the Disney experience. We have a family of 6 so a standard room was not an option for us. Disney Resorts are broken into categories by price, and each category has options for larger families. We chose a value priced resort with a family suite that had a separate bedroom (prefect for the napping baby), a fridge and microwave. There really is a resort for every family! We booked our trip in February and were able to book the hotel and tickets together for a deal. Disney usually runs deals throughout the year, so you can always find something.
There’s an App for that…My Disney Experience. Once I booked, the very next thing I did was to get the My Disney Experience app. This app links up with all your reservations, tickets, dining, etc. You can use this app to check-in, make fast pass selections, see how long lines are for rides at the park, see where characters are, etc. It really is a priceless tool for a person like me, or for anyone! I would highly recommend getting this app!
To eat or not to eat…that is the question. Another option Disney offers is a Dining Plan. Basically you purchase the plan or add it to your reservation and depending on your plan, you receive a certain number of food credits per day. With 4 kids, and 3 of them really picky eaters we had a hard time deciding if it was worth it to buy into the Dining Plan. I would recommend crunching the numbers to see which option is best for you and your family. Using the app mentioned above you are able to see every restaurant at every park, their menus and prices!
Itineraries and More. Do any of you remember the show Full House and Danny Tanner’s ‘Clipboard of Fun’ ? Yep, thats me! I literally sat down with a pad of paper and a pencil, wrote down each day, which park we would go to, which attractions we wanted to see, and what time of day would be best for each attraction. Now, I have been to Disney World before, but things are so different now! For those unaware, Disney Parks now use what is called a Fast Pass. Fast Passes are a way for you and your family to skip the line and head right to the front at select attractions. Sounds great, right? I think the system works well from what I am told, but it does require a bit of pre-planning. You can choose which attractions you want to reserve Fast Passes for as early as 60 days before you arrive at the park, which is why I was scattering my legal pad with notes, all over the floor, figuring out the best itinerary for our family in the beginning of April for our trip in June. My children are all under the age of 9, so they didn’t care about many of the bigger more thrilling rides, which actually made things a little easier. Even so, I researched which days of the week were busiest for each park. I was able to plan to go to each park on the least crowded day of the week. After that was determined I then started going through all the attractions my kids wanted to see. I bought them a children’s guide to Disney World book and had them go through and circle the things they wanted to see. It was so much fun planning with them, and they felt empowered by having a say in the trip.
Road Trip..Disney or Bust. Two days of our trip will be spent in a mini-van with 4 kids!! This in itself is cause for pre-planning. Again, I sat down with my paper and pen to jot down a driving route, figure out gas stops, bathroom stops, food stops, etc. I used a road tripper app to help plan all of these things along with mileage and ETA’s. Our plan is to leave Madison in the evening so that (hopefully) the kids sleep through half of the driving hours. My husband is night owl, and I am an early bird, so he does not mind driving all night, and I don’t mind waking up at 4:00am to switch. I will be writing a follow-up article just on the Road Trip itself, and go into more detail with what I actually planned for the kids to do in the car, packing, etc. Stay tuned for that one!
Waiting. Now that the trip is all planned down to the minute, I can breath a sigh of relief, sort of. Of course the kids are excited, so I use a countdown app to what else, countdown to our trip. Every morning the kids check to see how many weeks, days, and hours until we leave. I am still preparing for the trip by planning packing lists, creating cute printable itineraries for the kids, and still researching random things. Every few weeks we get a little note in the mail from Disney about our trip, and will soon receive our Magic Bands. Magic Bands look like fit bits and are used to get into the parks, rides, hotel rooms, and even purchase things. Each member of your family gets a band, and with fun colors to choose from and the option to personalize your band with your name, its one more thing that makes Disney so much fun!
Our trip is in June, and I am beyond excited for it! I can’t wait to post a follow-up on our Road Trip, and of course our actual time in Disney!
A few of my online planning resources:
Mouse Magic Travel is a local, Madison-based specialty travel agency – their services are absolutely FREE. You can email Kristi@mousemagictravel.com or call 608.848.5288 to get started!
www.disneyworld.disney.go.com – Main Disney Vacation Planning Site
My Disney Experience – Mobile App, Free
www.undercovertourist.com – A great resource for crowd levels based on day/month, and also insider info on rides and attractions