Every good first time Walt Disney World Resort trip begins with lots of research and lots of questions or the use of a travel agent. Overwhelming can be an understatement when it comes to planning your first trip. If you want to take on the task of planning your family’s first trip yourself, be prepared to research and research and research. If you use a travel agent BE SURE the agent specializes in and has been educated by Disney. An Un-Disney-Educated agent can make things much worse! There is a very specific timeline involved in planning your trip ~ 180 days prior you can make advanced dining reservations ~ 60 days prior you can make FastPass+ reservations, etc. Know your planning timeline or have a travel agent you trust. A good Disney travel agent will send you reminders and make certain reservations for you.
DON’T STRETCH YOUR BUDGET
Walt Disney World Resort offers over 25 resorts with one for every budget, from value to deluxe. Before you start planning your first WDW vacation know how much you are able to spend. Know your budget before you start planning so that you won’t be disappointed or surprised. There is a huge difference in costs between resorts. Know your budget and choose wisely. Unless you plan to spend a large amount of time in your room, don’t pay for a deluxe resort with all the bells and whistles. Each and every WDW resort has a pool and some sort of entertainment and food.
Although WDW resorts are a bit pricier than resorts off property, I think it’s important to stay on property your first visit. If you stay off site, you will not only have to navigate your way around, you will have to pay for parking/transportation as well as risk the park being closed due to capacity if you visit during a busy season. On site resorts guests have free park transportation as well as are guaranteed entry into the parks. Staying on-site makes it much easier to return to your resort at the end of your stay, use a Disney Dining Plan and it keeps “the magic” alive 24 hours a day.
DON’T OVER BUY YOUR PARK PASSES
This is a mistake many people make. If you will be arriving to the Orlando area mid to late day, do not purchase park passes for your day of arrival and for the day that you will be leaving to go home. Disney’s airport transportation takes you to the airport on your departure day 3 hours prior to your flight so even a 4 p.m. flight will have you leaving property at 1 p.m. Spend your arrival day exploring your resort or shopping at Disney Springs. You can do the same on the day you go home and check out as late as possible or request a late check-out. Right off the bat you will be saving two days cost on park passes. For a family of 2 adults with 2 children over 3 this is a $120 savings (before tax). If you can help it, don’t purchase the park hopper option unless you are 100% certain you will be moving from park to park during the day. Water park options are another add on that you shouldn’t invest in unless you are ABSOLUTELY sure you will use it. Why add the extra cost. Depending on the size of your family, these add-on costs can save you several hundred dollars. For a family with 2 adults and 2 children over 3 the additional cost of park hopper is close to $300 and the water parks and more add-on will add another $104+ to the tab. Only you know your child and your family ~ will moving from park to park be too tiring? Be sure you don’t add on additional costs that you won’t need. Combine the additional add on costs with the savings from not buying too many days and your savings will be quite substantial.
RESEARCH THE DINING PLAN
Don’t assume it’s a good deal. Menus with costs for all WDW restaurants can be found on-line. Take the time to research and look at each one your family is interested in eating at and then compare those costs to the cost of the dining plan for your family. I find the only time the Disney Dining Plan is worth the cost to purchase is if you plan to do multiple character meals or want to limit/know your exact food cost before traveling.
SIGN UP FOR A MY DISNEY EXPERIENCE ACCOUNT AND LEARN HOW TO USE IT
Along with this be sure to download the Disney APP for your phone. My Disney Experience is an excellent system. You can keep track of all of your reservations in one spot. You can change around FastPass+ reservations, find out parade and show times and also find your way around any of the parks while you are there. When you initially sign up for your My Disney Experience account, take the time to go through each area and learn what it does so that you can use the system to it’s fullest and to your advantage.
KNOW YOUR TIMELINES
Advanced Dining Reservations are bookable at 180 days. FastPass+ selections can be booked at 60 days. Final payment on a full package requires a $200 deposit with final full payment due 30 days prior to your trip. Room only reservations require a one nights cost deposit with full payment due at check-in.
PLAN YOUR TRIP AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE
This is important because you want to be able to plan your dining reservations as early as possible to be sure to be able to get a reservation at some of the most popular dining locations. You can begin making dining reservations 180 days in advance and many of the most popular reservations go quickly.
HAVE PROMOTIONS/SPECIALS APPLIED TO AN EXISTING RESERVATION
If you plan early and a promotion, such as free dining is released, you can call the Disney reservations center (or your travel agent) and have the promotion applied to your existing reservation. Some people save hundreds this way. If you use a travel agent to plan your visit, many will do this automatically when specials are released so for your first visit it may be wise to use a travel agent you trust.
DON’T TRY TO DO IT ALL
Walt Disney World Resort is enormous and can keep your family busy for quite a long time. Don’t try to fit too much into each day or even the entire trip. You will only frustrate yourself and overwhelm the kids. This is where some of that research comes in. Look at all that is offered. Only you know what your family likes or doesn’t like. Just because a friend’s child “absolutely loves” something doesn’t mean your child will. If your kids are older, have a family meeting and make a priority list of the most important “must do’s” for each family member and plan your days around that list.
Most importantly ~ Have a magical time!
And . . . Here are Some Money Saving Tips for Planning a Walt Disney World Vacation