After my first entry in my in preparation for the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration about visiting Walt Disney World solo with kids, I thought it’d be fun to highlight my personal top 5 experiences for first timers. Since there are 4 theme parks at Walt Disney World, I could be here all day giving you a top 5 for all of them, so this list will just cover The Magic Kingdom park.
As a Florida resident living within 10 minutes of the magic, I will admit to taking a day trip or two with the kids while my husband was at work, just because we could. Some of my favorite memories are of the times I was able to say “Guess what? We’re going to Magic Kingdom today!”. I’ll also admit that once we were about to walk through the gates, I was a bit worried about whether I’d actually be able to pull it off by myself or not. With the upcoming third annual Disney Social Media Moms Celebration in April, where bloggers AND their families are invited for an incredible 3 days of social media conferences, entertainment, and dining as only Disney can provide, I thought I’d share some tips and ideas for the non-blogging parents that might want to venture out in the parks with the kids.
- A good thing to keep in mind for the parent planning to “go it alone” is that sometimes the hardest part of being by yourself with the kids is just the getting TO the fun parts. It’s a lot more difficult to be the only one in charge of parking the stroller, getting kids in and out of a stroller, and keeping them entertained while waiting for an attraction, show, or their favorite character. You may not be able to stake out that perfect spot for the parade 30 minutes before it starts and keep the kids happy. As long as you are aware of that going in and have a plan to handle it, you should be fine.
- If your children aren’t stroller-aged and you are perhaps concerned about getting separated, there are things like Lost & Found Temporary Tattoos where you can write your cell phone number on, and I’ve even known parents to write their number in Sharpie on a child’s arm. Of course make sure you let them know a location to meet if you do get separated and explain that all cast members will be wearing name tags. When I was a cast member we were all hyper-vigilant about lost children and the few times I encountered one they were reunited almost instantly. There are few places I feel safer than Walt Disney World.
For those who may never have been to the Walt Disney World Resort, let me quickly sum up all there is to do. There are 4 theme parks, each chock full of attractions (rides), shows and character greetings as well as other special experiences like fireworks, parades and even just happenings on the streets.
The Magic Kingdom – this is what many people think when they think “Disney”. All of the classic rides, attractions and of course Cinderella Castle are here. What you won’t find is the park teeming with Characters ready to pounce on children that may not be ready for such an experience. You can find loads of your favorite characters here, but you go to them – or you can just watch them interact from afar. You’ll also find rides for all ages here, but the ones I’ll list below are geared more toward the pre-school & toddler set.
Now you are pretty much covered at Magic Kingdom because you walk in and the kids are already amazed by the ride into the park; either by Monorail or Ferry boat. If you decide you might as well see some attractions while you’re here, here are my picks for keeping the kids in check with only one parent:
It’s a Small World – never fails to deliver awe-inspired faces from little ones. I can’t tell you how many pictures I have of all three of my children looking up, mouth open, eyes wide – just taking it all in. Plus it’s a boat that you can all most likely fit into vs. some of the rides where parents with more than 2 kids may have to separate into two ride vehicles.
Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom – this all-new interactive card game can keep your big or little kids entertained for hours. You’ll travel around the lands of the Magic Kingdom defeating villains with spell cards and earning your way toward a Master Sorcerer ranking.
Mickey’s PhilharMagic – this is one of the most kid-friendly 3-D movies Walt Disney World has to offer. The sights and sounds come to life with scents and other surprises as Donald searches for Mickey’s famous sorcerer hat. Directly across from Philharmagic is another fun favorite, Cinderella’s Golden Carrousel. The line is never really too long here and it’s pretty easy for one parent to stand between a couple of royal riders and still get some great pictures in the process.
Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor – this relatively new attraction is always a riot for the kids. Corny jokes abound as well as some fun audience interaction. Guests can text their favorite jokes in as they wait in the pre-show area and their joke may appear during the show. I had one of mine picked once and my kids thought I was famous!
Epcot – Some of you may remember this as “EPCOT Center” in the 1980s. Epcot has kept up with the times and still offers a Disney twist on learning and the educational side of theme park rides and attractions. In addition, Epcot features the World Showcase with 11 countries offering unique peeks into their culture and dining.
Turtle Talk with Crush – this attraction is found within the Seas with Nemo and Friends pavilion at Epcot. After enjoying the adorable ride with Nemo and Friends through the 5.7million gallon salt water tanks full of tropical sea creatures, head over to Turtle Talk in the Sea Base area. This attraction is great for kids because they get to sit up front – no adults to try and see over! They get a front row seat as the adults sit behind them on benches. I’ve not met a child that wasn’t amazed that Crush was talking right to THEM, asking and answering questions.
Living With the Land – this boat ride through Epcot’s amazing experimental gardens and growing methods keeps kids on the edge of their seat as they spot the Mickey-shaped pumpkins and see tomato roots taller than they are. If your little ones are not quite at the height requirement for Soarin’ next door, this is a fun alternative in the same pavilion. Something to keep in mind, strollers are not allowed inside The Land pavilion so you will need to be able to take the kids out.
Kidcot Fun Stops – since you’re in Epcot, head over to the World Showcase for kids activities designed to help them learn a little something about each country they visit and take home their own souvenir mask that they helped decorate. Check out the park map or just ask a cast member where the Kid-cot activity is in each country.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios – (formerly known as the Disney MGM Studios) Here you will find a taste of the Hollywood that never was, and always will be. While the park features some fun movie-themed rides and attractions, you will also find the thrill rides Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster as well as the popular Disney Junior show.
Disney Junior–Live on Stage! – at Hollywood Studios, this show is sure to get your little ones feet moving to the music of their favorite Playhouse Disney characters come to life. Their favorites from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Handy Manny, Little Einsteins, and of course, Jake and the Never Land Pirates will be on hand for the fun.
Toy Story Midway Mania – this amazing addition to the Hollywood Studios is great fun for slightly older kids. Families can take part in a friendly competition in midway-style games that come to life with 3-D glasses and characters from the Toy Story movies. Things to note are that it is a VERY popular attraction, so unless you arrive early or get a Fast Pass you may have quite a long wait. The good part about this is the queue is chock full of toys and games that are sure to keep kids busy with a game of “I-Spy”. The other reason is that the way the ride vehicles are set up, you sit two in front and two in back, so if you have more than 2 little people and are alone, you might have to separate a bit. If you have older kids, it should be fine. Definitely be sure to check this out during your visit, just keep the popularity and set-up in mind.
Muppet*Vision 3-D – this hysterical 3-D movie always makes my kids laugh. All their favorite Muppet characters come to live and there are even some surprises which turn it into a 4-D experience.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom – This is a park of discovery. Not only can you ride a safari or trek through jungles to view animals, you can ride a roller coaster through Mt. Everest and celebrate with the Lion King and Nemo. This is one of my favorite parks and I think sorely underrated. Even just walking around there are so many things to observe and enjoy. I could spend a week in Pizzafari just looking at the decor. There are endless learning opportunities in Animal Kingdom.
Festival of the Lion King – Oh my goodness I could talk for days about this show. It is so fun, so interactive, so uplifting and enjoyable. Little ones are able to dance around in the middle of the show, which brought me to tears even before I had kids, so now I’m a mess when I see it. The show really is amazing and I urge you not to miss it!
Affection Station at Rafiki’s Planet Watch – take the Wilderness Train to Rafiki’s Planet watch to experience the park’s petting zoo as well as see some unique scenery on the way to and from the stop. It is a bit of a trek from the train station to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, but worth it for the experiences that await.
Finding Nemo The Musical – I have not yet seen this, but have heard nothing but praises for how great the show is. I’ve heard the music and performances are just amazing. It’s definitely on my list of things to see!
If you’d rather save the major attraction-riding for when the whole family’s together, perhaps some of Walt Disney World’s other activities would be fun to try. Right at the Polynesian Resort, where guests of the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration will be staying, guests can rent boats of many different sizes and zip around Seven Seas Lagoon enjoying the scenery.
Another fun idea is one of the two miniature golf locations Disney World offers. Fantasia Gardens, near the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin resorts is themed, as the name indicates, to the Disney animation masterpiece Fantasia. The other course is at the entrance to Disney’s Blizzard Beach water park but entrance to the park is not needed, just to the golf course. Winter Summerland takes the Blizzard Beach theme of winter-in-the-middle-of-Florida to a whole new level with two holiday-themed courses. A Winter Course with a snow theme and a Summer Course with a sand theme. Our family had a fabulous time when we went.
- Whatever you decide to do keep in mind that sometimes what you don’t do can make the trip. Don’t worry about trying to fit in every attraction or show. Sometimes the best Disney memories consist of hanging out in the resort, enjoying the pool and Florida sun (which hopefully will have returned by February 10th!) If you are relaxed, your children will be relaxed too.
- Take the planning time before your trip to explore the Disney World site, check out the attractions you feel are “must-do” for your family. It could be the favorites that you need to line up early or get a Fast Pass for, or maybe the wonderful shows and character greetings Disney World has to offer. What works for you is what matters. The purpose of this post was just to highlight some of the attractions I feel would be easiest to maneuver with only one parent – hopefully this list will serve as a stepping-off point as you discover the rest of the World.
Check out my other entry for the Disney Social Media Moms – Must-Do Disney Firsts. See you in April!
Disclosure: I am a former member of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel, but the post written here comes from my family’s personal experiences and opinions over the years. I am not a Disney employee and the opinions expressed here are my own, not those of the Walt Disney Company. I am attending the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration by my own means, and not as a Walt Disney World Moms Panelist. (I do, however, encourage you to visit the Panel for any Walt Disney World vacation planning questions. The moms are a wealth of Walt Disney World knowledge!)
This morning I woke up to a nice rainy day here in ZannaLand, and I thought I’d share my favorite things to do in Disney World when you experience some of Florida’s infamous “liquid sunshine”.
Of course, the first thing to remember is that you will not melt. Unless there are some hurricane-force winds going on or crazy lightning, Disney will remain open for your use. Certain rides with all or portions of the ride outside may temporarily shut down (especially if lightning is present) but the rest of the World will be there for those daring enough to get soaked and keep on walking.
One way to help those of stout-heart and spare shoes is the now-famous Disney rain poncho. While working at the Magic Kingdom’s merchandise shops I can assure you, when the rain starts, these ponchos are worth their weight in gold. Wait, they don’t really weigh that much, that’s a bad example. Um…they’re really really valuable!! The ponchos Disney originally sold were bright yellow with Mickey Mouse on the back. Of course wearing them made you look ridiculously silly, therefore some fun souvenir photos were to be had!
In 2003, Disney made the switch to clear ponchos, so you weren’t *quite* as funny-looking (and you could spot your family members easier!). I have noticed that the most recent ponchos we purchased [it is the law that if you buy ponchos, you must forget them on every subsequent visit so you need to buy more when it rains again] are much thinner than they used to be, and the hood is sort of useless in keeping the rain off your face. If you have a baseball cap, wear that under the hood. You can also of course buy other ponchos at discount stores ahead of time but again, the key is remembering to carry them with you.
If, however, you arrive to the Walt Disney World Resort and see on the local weather that there is a 99% chance of rain all day every day of your visit, there are some activities to make you forget all about the rain rain rain coming down down down. Here are my top 3:
3. Innoventions This area of Epcot’s Future World is chock-full of activities to keep the whole family entertained. These buildings are located to the east and west of Future World, as you walk in the main entrance beyond Spaceship Earth. They have undergone many facelifts since their Communicore days with SMRT-1 (a robot that answered your questions with the latest in 1980s voice recognition technology) and the EPCOT Poll (a census-like poll where guests answered questions and learned group results at the end). Innoventions East features environmental activities including The House of Innoventions and the Test the Limits Lab. Innoventions West offers more interactive exhibits such as the favorite The Great Piggy Bank Adventure. Also included as part of Innoventions West is Club Cool (formerly Ice Station Cool) where guests can enjoy free samples of popular soft drinks from around the world, sponsored by Coca-Cola. Be sure to try the Beverly from Italy – it’s delicious! 😉
2. Resort Hopping on the Monorail This is a favorite activity of our family any time, but it’s especially convenient during a storm, because you never have to get wet once you hop on the Resort Monorail from the Magic Kingdom or the Transportation and Ticket Center. There are some truly unique shops and restaurants you can explore and enjoy whether you’re a hotel guest or not. In addition to being a fun rainy day activity, our family makes sure to tour the resorts each holiday season. I will discuss more on that in upcoming entries, but it is truly a magical experience the way Disney decorates for the holidays.
- The loop from Magic Kingdom takes you first to the Contemporary Resort which always has some fun shopping to experience as well as the popular must-reserve dining spot Chef Mickeys, as well as the delightful culinary addition of The Wave on the first floor. Another treat on the ground floor (no pun intended) is the coffee and espresso bar Contemporary Grounds, which serves delicious lattes. Our family also loves the arcade at the Contemporary and has spent many hours there accumulating tickets to turn in for prizes.
- Next stop on the monorail is the Polynesian Resort. The decor alone is reason enough to spend some time here – the lush gardens and waterfalls will relax even the most frazzled park visitor. Here you’ll find shopping with a tropical flair and items not found in other locations. Delicious meals, desserts and coffee await at the Kona Cafe (one of my favorite restaurants on property). Here’s a secret – you can also get Dole Whip at Captain Cook’s Snack Co. inside the Polynesian! You don’t even have to be inside Magic Kingdom to enjoy this popular treat. Breakfast lunch and dinner are also served at Captain Cook’s, if you’d like more than dessert.
- The final stop on the monorail resort loop is the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, Disney’s flagship resort. While here you can enjoy the elegant atmosphere, shops and restaurants, listen to music or just explore the lobby. There is a Basin White location within the Grand Floridian which offers unique items not found in the Downtown Disney location, so it’s worth a visit if you love their soaps and bath bombs as much as I do.
1. Downtown Disney From World of Disney to the Lego Imagination Store to Once Upon a Toy to Days of Christmas, there is no end to the rainy-day shopping available in Downtown Disney. You will also not be short on dining options – Rainforest Cafe, T-Rex Cafe, Wolfgang Puck, Earl of Sandwich, Raglan Road…I could go on and on! Downtown Disney Marketplace also offers unique shops like Basin with soaps, lotions and more or the new TrenD shop offering boutique-style Disney clothing and accessories. Don’t forget Downtown Disney Westside and its new Princess Diana royal gown and artifact exhibit, Disney Quest for interactive gaming in addition to more restaurants and shops worthy of discovery. One word of caution, even on sunny days, parking and crowds at Downtown Disney are on the high side. It’s no secret that this is a great location for a rainy day change of pace, so plan accordingly.
However you choose to spend your rainy day at Disney, remember Mickey can’t control the weather (as much as I’ve been wishing for a clear dome with air conditioning placed over Disney World on the hottest of summer days there!). As frustrating as it might be to have your vacation interrupted by ride-stopping, shoe-soaking rain…you are still in the Happiest Place on Earth and it’s truly how you react and make the most of all Disney has to offer that sets the tone for the success or failure of your trip. Some of my happiest memories are of wearing cloth napkins on my soaking shoulders inside Germany’s Biergarten, laughing at how we’d just run through the rain and puddles to get there. A change of plans doesn’t have to mean a short-change in the memories.
As a child, my family discovered the wonder of Disney Resort properties after our 2nd or 3rd visit. I was still young enough at the time to be in complete awe when we arrived from the Orlando airport at the Lake Buena Vista check-in building (now the Amateur Athletics Association building near Downtown Disney) and were given the royal treatment. It’s no surprise, given Disney’s reputation, that 20 years later I still remember the kindness and attention we received from the cast member who’s name I’ve long since forgotten. That’s the Disney experience for you.
We stayed on two different occasions in the 1980’s at Disney’s Vacation Villas. These were townhouse-style villas over by the “new” Disney Marketplace. There were 3 different types of villas – The Club Lake Villas, the Fairway Villas, Vacation Villas and the Treehouse Villas. In the 1990’s, these resorts were turned into accommodations for the Disney Institute. When that didn’t quite take off as planned, Disney decided to completely tear down and rebuild the villas (except for the Treehouse Villas!) and created the Saratoga Springs Resort, part of the Disney Vacation Club ownership program.
Our experiences there were so wonderful that after that, we were hooked and became Disney Resort regulars. It’s kind of hard to go back to a motel off property once you’ve been spoiled by Disney. We stayed at Port Orleans French Quarter quite a bit, then moved on to Wilderness Lodge and Beach Club. When we stayed at Beach Club, we knew we’d found our home. We would also enjoy the wondrous Animal Kingdom Lodge, Boardwalk, the All-Star and Pop Century properties and Port Orleans Riverside. But like I said, we found our home at Beach Club. If you try out a few Disney resorts, you will find your home too, trust me. There will be one setting that just stands out and each time you walk in the front doors, you take a deep breath, relax, and think – we’re home. This is the type of guest experience that other hotels only dream of achieving.
So where should you start? The choices seem endless don’t they? Monorail access? Boat access? Close to which park? What about budget? Which is best for families with kids or those without? As explained in Disney Planning 101, there are countless places to find out in-depth information about Disney resort options. All Ears Net is my favorite – they have pictures and maps of every resort so you can even request which building you’d like to try to be in. You should start with that Disney Vacation Planning dvd you ordered (right?) and then check back with DisneyWorld.com to look at the different amenities and options that will best suit your family’s needs. You can even ask a specific question to the Disney Moms Panel (or call 407-W-Disney and as a Disney Reservation Specialist as well. What I will do here is explain the differences among the resorts and some things to think about when you are choosing your resort.
Disney divides its resort experiences into categories:
Disney Deluxe Villas
This category includes all the Disney Vacation Club properties, studio, one or two-bedroom home-away-from-home type accommodations. They also feature all the same amenities as Disney’s Deluxe resorts.
Disney Deluxe Resort Hotels
For these resorts you will be treated to the finest rooms Disney has to offer. Extra amenities, such as full-service dining and pool features, room details like in-room hair dryers and luxurious comforts await you here. These properties also feature valet parking for a fee.
Disney Moderate Resort Hotels
This category is a step up from the value resorts, offering more amenities and space without a huge jump in price. Here you will find pools with waterslides, more activities and most have full-service dining as well.
Disney Value Resort Hotels
For the budget conscious, these resorts feature typical motel room function with added Disney flair and fun. Food courts, huge pools, everything is bigger in this category, except the price.
Here you can pitch a tent under the stars, park your RV, or relax in a Disney-built wilderness cabin, all while enjoying the wonderful activities that Fort Wilderness has to offer.
Disney Accommodations for 5 or more guests
If you have a family that doesn’t fit in a typical one-room hotel, but don’t want to spread out into two separate hotel rooms, you can find what you need here.
Once you decide which resort category best fits your family, you can move on to the next option – location! Do you find yourself spending most of your time at the Magic Kingdom? Epcot? There’s no doubt a resort to keep you close-by your favorite park.
Magic Kingdom area Resorts:
Of course the most well-known are the “Big 3” of The Contemporary Resort and now the Bay Lake Tower villas at the Contemporary, The Polynesian Resort and The Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. All three of these are on the monorail loop leading to both the Magic Kingdom and the Transportation and Ticket Center, so you need only step out to the monorail platform to get to the magic. If you want to head to Epcot, a trip to the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC) will let you switch to the Epcot Monorail. From there you could take a boat from Epcot’s World Showcase to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, or get a bus directly there from the TTC. There are also buses directly from each resort to all the theme parks, water parks and Downtown Disney.
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and Wilderness Lodge Villas are also in the Magic Kingdom resort area, though not on the monorail loop. You can, however take a boat directly to the Magic Kingdom from the Wilderness Lodge property. If you want to head to the other parks and Downtown Disney, buses will take you there. Fort Wilderness Campground is also part of the Magic Kingdom resort area, with boat access directly to Magic Kingdom. Bus service is available to all other theme parks, as well as the TTC.
Epcot area Resorts:
Located a short walk (or boat ride) from the International Gateway entrance to Epcot’s World Showcase, are Disney’s Yacht Club and Disney’s Beach Club Resorts, Beach Club Villas, as well as Disney’s Boardwalk Inn and Boardwalk Villas. Also accessible here are the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotels, run by Sheraton. These resorts also offer the same boat service directly to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Pop Century and Caribbean Beach Resorts are also part of the Epcot resort area, though not accessible by boat or walking, only by bus.
Animal Kingdom area Resorts:
There is not direct boat or monorail service to Animal Kingdom, but there are still resorts very close to this park, including of course Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Jambo House and Kidani Village Villas. Also in this area are the All-Star Sports, All-Star Music and All-Star Movies resorts and Coronado Springs Resort and Convention Center. All of these resorts feature direct buses to the parks and Downtown Disney.
Downtown Disney area Resorts:
This area features the resorts of Old Key West, the original Disney Vacation Club property, Port Orleans French Quarter and Riverside (Riverside is formerly known as Dixie Landings), Saratoga Springs and the newly refurbished Treehouse Villas at Saratoga Springs. All of these properties feature boat access directly to Downtown Disney and bus service to the parks.
Those are the two main criteria when choosing which Disney Resort will fit you best. Once you decide your budget and the location you’d like to stay in, you can narrow the choices down based on which amenities will best fit your family. Things like which pool would you enjoy the most, which resort has water or other sports activities, full-service restaurants, which resort theming would you or your family enjoy the most.
It’s hard to recommend a specific resort here, because each family is different – which is precisely why Disney World has SO many options to stay in! A family with small children might love the larger-than-life decorations at an All-Star property or Pop Century, but they might be equally as entertained by seeing animals out their window in a savannah view room at Animal Kingdom Lodge. The choice is up to you! When I asked my Twitter followers to name their favorite resort, there were almost no two answers that were the same. Everyone has their favorite, for different reasons. Even among families, each person may have their own favorite resort – and that may even change over time. It’s great to resort-hop and check out what else is out there for a return visit.
In the coming weeks, I will be featuring blogs on individual resorts, to give you more of an idea of what each property has to offer. Enjoy the decision process – it’s quite exciting! I hope you find your ‘home’ at Disney World – I’d love to hear about your favorite resort, comment and tell me all about it.
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.
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.
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.