Disney Vacation Planning 101

My parents, like most couples, were complete opposites. My mom is a Type A planner, list-maker and agenda-keeper. Even before she settled into her 3rd career of selling cruises, I used to call her our family Cruise Director. My dad, on the other hand, was as laid back as they come. Typical Southern gentleman, he relied on spur-of-the-moment plans and taking things as they came. He eventually rubbed off on his prepared-for-anything Yankee wife.

A perfect example of how they combined their styles was when we were moving from Florida to Virginia. I’m hazy on the details, but all I know is that we ended up in the spot we did because after driving through several central Virginia towns, my mom found a Catholic school in the yellow pages and declared, “this is it!” Luckily, I ended up loving that school and the people I met there. My point is, sometimes you plan every detail to ensure the maximum worth and enjoyment possible, while other times, you pick a name out of a phone book and hope for the best. Really, this is the very essence of traveling: be prepared, but be willing to explore something new as well.

So that is the background from which I come (in addition to being a travel agent and former cast member in a past life). I’ve gone on vacations there where every second is timed to perfection for maximum ride, food, and entertainment enjoyment. I’ve gone on vacations where I decided the day-of that we were spending the weekend there, no reservations, no advance dining booked. Both types of trips were wonderful in their own right. It all comes down to what you are looking for in a family vacation.

If you are a planner – if you have budgeted and saved and marked the calendar and want the very most for every penny you intend to invest in a Disney vacation, then preparation is your key to victory. Now currently, there are about as many ways to research Disney vacation planning, as there are hotel rooms in the metro Orlando area. (that’s quite a lot!) So which books do you read? Which websites do you check out? How can you be sure you know everything you need to know? Overwhelming, isn’t it? That’s why I’m writing to you right now.

On the contrary, if you are a laid back, spontaneous, stop-and-smell-the-roses kind of planner, if the main goal of your Disney vacation is to see the look on your little one’s face as they spy Cinderella Castle for the first time, or get a hug from their favorite Princess or Mickey himself – if squeezing in every attraction, show and meal Disney has to offer is not your cup of tea – then there is still a way to plan for you as well. Let’s see if we can’t unite the best of both aspects to create a magical vacation for all the personalities in your home!

The Basics -(or Pre-planning Planning)

1. Head to DisneyWorld.com and order a Vacation Planning DVD. Look around the site if you want, it is beautiful and almost makes me cry with the swells of music and images, but then I am quite an emotional Disney person! Don’t get too weighed down with all the site has to offer, wait until the DVD comes so you can sit down and learn enough about each section to decide which areas you want to look into more.
Disney Vacation Planning DVD
2. Check out a few guidebooks. There are of course, many to choose from, but two of my favorites for the most unbiased information are
The Unofficial Guide Walt Disney World 2009 (Unofficial Guides) and
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Walt Disney World, 2009 Edition. These will give you the inside scoop about what time of year has the least amount of crowds, what each attraction and restaurant has to offer and more. Read these at your leisure, and don’t treat them as a bible for what you HAVE to accomplish on your first visit.

3. Check out some of the more in-depth websites devoted to the Disney experience. Of these, the mother of all sites is AllEars.net. This site grew out of an online discussion group, became a monthly newsletter and spawned perhaps the most comprehensive listing of each attraction, restaurant, hotel and event at the Walt Disney World Resort. One of the best parts of this site is its Dining section. Each and every menu – with prices – for every dining location within Disney property is listed on this site and frequently updated. The same goes for resorts: maps, best building locations, room amenities – it’s all there. As if that weren’t enough, there are also reviews from park-goers for pretty much every possible experience at the Parks. There is still a newsletter you can sign up to receive in your inbox, which keeps you apprised of special events or experiences you may not try your first visit, but will definitely want to come back again and again to try.

4. If you decide to book with a travel agent, one thing to ensure is that you are booking with a Disney Certified/Authorized Agent or Agency. If you have already completed steps 1-3 and go down to your local travel agent and they have no Disney Certified agents on staff, you are probably more knowledgeable than they are about all that Disney has to offer. You want to go into the booking portion with someone experienced and able to get you not only the best deals, but also make sure you aren’t missing out on any of the magic. You can also book directly with Walt Disney World online or through 1-407-W-Disney. It’s really just where your comfort level lies regarding booking vacations.
disney_authorized
5. Once you’ve accomplished all of the above, it’s a great time to seek out other Disney fans and further connect and prepare for your upcoming vacation of a lifetime. There are countless websites devoted to Disney World (*waves* hi, thanks for finding me!) in one way or another. This is really just the tip of the magical Disney iceberg. There are forums and discussion boards to ask questions – like the wonderfully popular Disney Moms Panel, now in its second year. These magical moms and dads are not employed by Disney(therefore unbiased!), but are educated to be able to answer any Disney related question under the sun. I’ve had a chance to meet many of them via Twitter, and they are the nicest experts around! I will explore more of these online Disney options in future entries in this Planning series. I don’t want to overwhelm anyone right now.

Those are the basics to get you started. Please stay tuned as my next topic in the series will be Disney Resorts – what each has to offer and if it really is worth it to stay on property. In the coming weeks will be Disney Vacation Planning 201, for the next level of planning and researching a Disney Vacation. There will also be special topics on what not to miss, what you can save for a second visit, Disney dining, and much, much more! Feel free to ask any questions in the meantime and I’ll be happy to cover the answer in a future entry or personally as a response.

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About Suzannah Otis

Boston girl living and blogging in Walt Disney World's backyard. Wife, Mom of 3, coffee addict, lover of travel and adventure.