Planning a Disney vacation can be EXTREMELY overwhelming. I know...I've done it.
As always, I recommend getting a travel professional to help because they know how to get the best deals and take the stress away from you. After all, it is their job to give you an unforgettable vacation!
If you insist on booking on your own, I highly recommend doing EXTENSIVE research. Disney World is very complex and you don't want to miss out on deals or experiences because you simply didn't know. (Hence another reason to use a travel professional)
I'll give you a baseline on how you need to structure your Disney vacation planning and hopefully make your travel a bit easier....
Step 1: Decide on Dates
Seems pretty easy, right? Wrong. Picking dates for Disney World is not like planning any other vacation. Prices fluctuate fairly significantly depending on what time of the year you decide to visit. You can usually judge pretty well based on the school schedules.
DON'T GO DURING SCHOOL BREAKS.
I know that is the only option for some people, but if at all possible, just don't do it. Spring breaks and holidays are going to be ridiculously expensive and crowded. You're going to pay a lot more to fight huge crowds and see less.
I recommend choosing January/February, late April or the early weeks of December if you want to see Christmas festivities. These are generally pretty fairly priced and experience lower crowds.
Also, plan EARLY! Usually you can book a year out (if not more). So, take advantage and start looking at dates as soon as possible.
Step 2: Pick a Comfortable Budget
It is important to decide just how much you're willing to spend on the magic. Disney can get VERY expensive, VERY quickly.
When deciding on a budget, factor in lodging, transportation, park tickets, food, souvenirs, experiences and incidentals. You see how it can really add up....
You might have to stay at an off-site hotel instead of in the park or downgrade your dining plan to fit within your budget. Know what you're willing to pay a stick to it.
Step 3: Book Accommodations
This is especially important when talking about budget trips because those value resorts book up FAST! So, make sure you get to it as soon as you have completed steps 1 and 2.
There is a good selection for every budget as far as hotels go. Disney even partners with off-site hotels for a better price without sacrificing (too much) magic. So, for my extra budget conscience travelers, that might be the best option for you.
You're not going to get any more magical then staying at an official Disney Resort, but it is obviously not for everyone and you can get a great deal if you are willing to forego some magic.
**For my military families...I recommend looking at Shades of Green. It is on the Disney Property and you get a lot of the same perks as staying at one of the other resorts. It's pretty reasonable and rates are based on your rank.**
Step 4: Get Park Tickets
There's almost as many ticket options as there are lodging options. So, which one is right for you?
To pick the right ticket, first decide on how many days you want to actually visit the park. Next you want to decide to add additional options to your tickets. Do you want the "park hopper" option? Or maybe you would like to visit the Disney water parks during your trip? All these are things to consider when purchasing tickets.
Keep in mind that in addition to the ticket price, there are costs associated with adding those options. It's going to cost you $65+ for those add-ons. If you can restrict yourself to a single park a day then you'll come out a little cheaper.
Step 5: Make a Plan
Map out a basic itinerary for your trip. Like I mentioned, Disney World can be extremely overwhelming and having a guideline can reduce your stress.
Lay out all of your "must-do" items and decide which parks to visit on which days. This will help you decide on dining and Fastpass reservations.
Use the My Disney Experience App to help you out. You can view the parks, your hotel reservations, link tickets, book dining, and reserve Fastpasses.
Prioritize your activities and make sure to come up with a "game plan" so you don't miss something!
Step 6: Book Dining Reservations
Dining reservations can be booked 180 days in advance. This applies even if you don't have park tickets yet.
This is very important when trying to get the coveted character dining and hot spots. Set a reminder to yourself to start booking these at the 180 day mark. DO NOT WAIT.
You'll miss out on some of your favorite dining experiences if you wait to reserve. Also, a lot of places require reservations. You can't just walk up on the day of and hope for a table.
Having that baseline itinerary allows you a road map for booking these dining reservations.
Step 7: Book Transportation
Seems like a little late to book how you're going to get there...BUT booking too early (especially for flights) can cost you.
There's a sweet spot when booking airfare and doing so too early in advance results in paying higher fares. Generally, you want to start looking about 120 days from the date of departure. This is historically when prices for airlines start to go down.
Don't wait too long though! After about the 90 day mark, you might experience a spike in prices. I can usually find deals up to about the 60 day mark. After that airfare skyrockets and you'll end up paying WAY more.
If you see a steal of a deal...BOOK IT! Don't wait around and see if it changes. I promise you it will, but it won't be in your favor.
Also, look into options for getting to the park after landing. Disney does offer the Magical Express for guests staying at a Walt Disney World Resort, but there are plenty of other (relatively cheap) options.
Step 8: Secure Fastpasses
You can start this at the 60-day mark. Once again, DON'T WAIT. The most popular rides are going to go quickly. Use your itinerary to decide which Fastpasses to reserve on which day of your vacation.
Keep in mind that this DOES require the purchase of park tickets. Dining can be made with a hotel reservation, but Fastpasses require an actual park ticket purchase.
Set a reminder to begin booking as soon as you reach 60 days from departure. You are allotted 3 advanced passes per day. Keep a watch on your app while in the park though. You might be able to snag an additional Fastpass on the day of!
Step 9: Pack
Seems easy enough! Just ensure you pack you some essentials like your magic bands, sunscreen, medications and plane tickets.
Comfortable walking shoes are a must, along with a raincoat or poncho. These can be expensive at the parks and Florida weather can be unpredictable. Make sure you are ready for whatever it throws your way!
Step 10: Have Fun!
After all your hard work and (literally) a year of planning, you can enjoy the benefits! Make sure to do all the planning and work out the details in advance so you can go through your vacation stress free.
Watch Disney vlogs (my favorite is the Disney Food Blog), get you some mouse ears, order those Etsy shirts, and prepare for the Magic!
For questions about your Disney vacation, never hesitate to contact me! I can plan for you or guide you along the way.