1. Know What You Want Before You Go: I do not recall ever putting as much work into planning a family vacation as I did this one. We were blessed to have a travel agent who offered her services free of charge to help us plan the trip and I can definitely say that she was very helpful. When going to Disney, you have a laundry list of decisions to make. Will you stay at one of Disney’s resorts or somewhere else? How much money are you willing to budget for the trip? Will you add a meal plan or try to bring your own food? If eating at Disney, will you schedule character meals? If so, which ones will you schedule and when? Are you going to each park or just certain ones? If going to each park, will you purchase a Park Hopper? The questions go on and on and on. Do not plan to just show up in Orlando and figure it out because that just will not make for a very memorable or enjoyable experience. Also, Disney isn’t very close to Orlando when you figure in the traffic and toll roads. It’s pretty much become a city of its own, which makes going to Orlando somewhat of a misnomer. Start visiting Disney’s website and start talking to everyone you know who has visited Walt Disney World. The more information you can gather prior to the trip, the better. Learn your options, decide what you want to do and make your plan. This is one vacation requires much planning.
2. Think Ahead: Don’t wait until the last minute to plan your Disney vacation. Try making all your reservations as soon as possible. If you reserve things early, you can start making payments for the trip and have most of it paid before you even go. Not worrying about how you are going to pay for the trip you just went on is a good feeling. We paid almost our entire Disney trip prior to embarking on our journey. We also took $250 on a prepaid Disney card and some cash. We did not worry about money while there because we had already paid for the trip. This is very freeing and helps you enjoy the trip even more. Also, making your reservations early helps you assure you get the hotel you want, the character meals you want and frees up time to plan out your schedule when you arrive at Disney. One great website I found for gathering information is mousesavers.com. Check it out.
3. Do what is Best for You. We opted to stay at a Disney resort (Port Orleans Riverside – which I highly recommend) and took advantage of their meal plans. This worked well for us and I would not do the trip differently. There is something extra special about staying at Disney and we did not need to worry about our meals because they were already paid for. We were able to take full advantage of Disney transportation and also got extra perks for staying. This was not the least expensive route but we worked it into our budget. I will state this, the meals at Disney are astronomical, so if you don’t have the money to do a meal plan, don’t plan on eating at Disney because that will cost you even more. We also opted to visit every major park – Animal Kingdom, Epcot, The Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We did this all in four days. My one regret is not planning for 5 or 6 days. We did almost everything we wanted, but we exhausted ourselves. It would have been better to have more time and paced ourselves more slowly. Part of planning ahead is figuring out what works best for you.
4. Be Flexible: You will not be the only family at Disney and therefore will not be alone in having an agenda. Your agenda will at times compete with many other people’s agendas. Relax and enjoy your trip. Realize that you are not in a competition with everyone else to get on a ride or see a show. You are a part of a larger community. You may need to skip a ride due to the line and visit it later, or you just might need to sacrifice a ride or show altogether. Don’t let that ruin your trip, but go with a determination to be flexible. There were a couple rides we really wanted to go on but had to sacrifice. I was just thrilled that we were actually able to do about 95% of the things we planned, which was a surprise to me because I went with the expectation of only getting to do about half. Another advantage to flexibility is making the best of your situation. The longest line we waited in was for a ride called Soarin at Epcot. Instead of fuming, we spent our 90 minutes talking to the other patrons and joking around with them. I actually think I had more fun waiting in line than I did on the ride itself. I guess you could say my attitude shaped my altitude – pun intended. =)
If you plan on going to Disney, make sure you PLAN on going to Disney. It really is a great experience and I definitely recommend going, just make sure you take time to plan in advance so you are not frustrated throughout the trip.
-Tim (the adventure guy)