How To Book a Disney Vacation.

For many people, a trip to Walt Disney World is considered a trip of a lifetime; the most magical place on earth, and where dreams come true. I am writing this blog post with tears pricking my eyes because I am honoured to say that we have been asked to visit this most special place next year and share with you guys our experience. When I first received the email asking whether we would be interested in visiting Disney World I cried; happy tears of course, but I could not believe that my dreams of taking my little family over to Orlando were going to become a reality. It was time to start the planning!!

How to book a Disney vacation, The magic Kingdom princess castle Pin this image on Pinterest

Planning a trip to Disney World can feel quite daunting, there is so much to see there and so many options as to what the best way to do it is, so I wanted to start a little series on my blog sharing advice for how to book a Disney vacation, factoring in everything from whether to book a villa or a hotel, to how to book the details of your trip. Of course we have not been before, so everything I am sharing is from the indepth research I have done and the advice I have picked up from my fanatical friends who each had a wealth of experience to help me.

Characters at Magic Kingdom Pin this image on Pinterest

Disney Terms and what they mean.

Before I start, I wanted to share some of the Disney terminology I’ve picked up, to help get your head around the different processes you’ll need to get to know. It can feel overwhelming, but I promise you as soon as you start looking at everything it all falls into place! I thought I would break some of these down here to give you some information on how some things work.

Magic bands – Disney Hotel Guests receive a Magic Band & those staying off-site get a Card. Both have access to My Disney Experience functionality with Disney guests getting to book attractions and dining earlier than off-site guests – this is a link to your My Disney Experience account, they open up your hotel room, allow you to enter theme parks, allow you to charge food to your account, and they automatically add your Disney PhotoPass pictures to your account – basically everything you need available on your wrist! (The bands can even be customised, cute!)

Dining Plan – There are 3 kinds of meal plans – Quick Service Dining, Disney Dining Plan, and Deluxe Disney Dining Plan. I will be sharing an in depth post all about these! We are on the Disney Dining Plan which we got free in the Disney Free Dine & Drinks offer!! It’s such an amazing offer and will save us loads while we’re there.

Disney Dining Plan - eating at Disney world

Memory Maker  this is essentially your personal photographer who is there to capture all your special moments from around the park – no more having to ask passers-by for a photo and praying they won’t cut the tops of your heads off. This is a paid add on but we got it as part of our ticket price which is a dream for me, you know how much I love my photos!! Magically even your photos from rides appear in your account – how do they know where you are!??! (It’s magic!!)

Fast Pass Plus – This is a virtual queuing system which allows you to pre-book your space on attractions without having to physically queue for very long (ideal especially when you’re with children!) Best of all – it’s free! You get 3 FP’s per day, and the main trick people have told me is to book these attractions (rides, character meet and greets and shows) for the morning, and then if you have time you can add another to the day later on. Disney resort guests can book their passes 60 days in advance and off site guests can book 30 days in advance. Also look out for cast members giving extra passes out!

Extra Magic Hours – Disney Hotel guests can access select Parks before and after they are open to the rest of the public meaning less crowds and queue times!

Rider Switch – when both adults want to ride but the children aren’t able to, you can use this feature to swap adults without having to re-queue.

Hopper Ticket – this means you can go to more than one park in a day which is great if you want to pop back for a siesta at lunch time and head somewhere different in the afternoon, or you want to catch the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom but you didn’t need to spend the day there again. Again, this is included in our park tickets but you need to make sure this is the case for all tickets.

Rope Drop – The official opening of the theme park, however many parks will allow you in earlier, just not on the rides.

How to book a Disney vacation Parade in Front of the Castle

How To Book a Disney Vacation

So, with that all explained, onto the first post in my Disney series. It’s going to be all about how to actually book that trip of a lifetime, and I will be weighing up some pros and cons of all the different aspects of booking your trip and where some of the best places to look are.

When to go

If you are able to travel at any point during the year then check out this Disney World Crowd Calendar to find the best times of year to go. Obviously the holidays are the busiest times but the back end of August means that the US and Canadian schools have gone back to school. Depending on when spring break lands this will also be very busy. Likewise with Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. You may also wish to check rainfall and heat as this varies vastly – but remember even if it says high rainfall the storms are generally over quite quickly and it is still warm during them – you might actually be quite grateful for them cooling you down in the summer months.

Duration

Firstly, you need to decide on the duration of your trip. I would say 2 weeks is roughly the norm, I know lots of people who have been for just 1 week, and some who extend every time they are there because 2 weeks just isn’t long enough! We have booked for 10 days which allows us 2 days for travel and 8 full days in the parks. With your duration set, you can decide whether you want to stay solely in a hotel, or perhaps stay in a villa the whole time, alternatively you could stay 1 week in a hotel and 1 week in a villa. This was our initial plan, however once we had decided on staying for 10 days we decided that we wanted to be onsite the whole time, it actually worked out cheaper this way too because of the free Disney Dine offer which saved us loads of money and it means we can try so many of the restaurants out (and Character dining!) without having to worry about costs. I’ve heard the Disney food is INCREDIBLE, I can’t wait to try everything!

typhoon-lagoon-surf-pool How to book a Disney vacation

Villa or Hotel? Onsite or offsite?

I am going to do a whole post on the pros and cons of these options, so I wont get too much into it here, but each option offers a very different experience and both have their merits. Essentially you need to decide whether you want to stay in a hotel setting, or have your own space and distance in a villa. Don’t be put off by the higher cost of a Disney hotel though, because with a dining plan included this will save you a lot of money each day.

Where to book?

The first place I started to look was an independent high-street travel agent who specialised in Disney, this helped me get to grips with all my options as they talked me through everything I needed to know. When I first started looking into booking our holiday I had it in my mind we would stay 1 week onsite and 1 week in a villa, this made an online search very difficult because wherever I looked I couldn’t separate the flight dates with a separate accommodation for each week. I came away from the travel agent with most of my questions answered, but I wanted to make sure that I was getting the best cost, so I took to Expedia to input each section separately. This came out a lot more affordable, however as they are a broker they couldn’t give the flight confirmations over 11 months in advance, so it was back to the drawing board. Next I decided to speak to a few online travel agents like Thomson, Thomas Cook and Virgin as I knew they were the most likely to have good deals.

Rivers of Light at Animal Kingdom

The travel agent which stood out was Virgin because they just seemed to have the most extras and it was so easy to talk everything through on the phone with Nicola, my consultant. She was so thorough, patiently checking each date that we could potentially go, to make sure I was getting the very best price. As our dates were semi-flexible this meant she found us the very best price. Virgin offered the best deal for what I was looking for, and we decided to stay the entirety of our trip in a Disney hotel, which meant that we had a Disney dining plan, thus saving a lot of money on not paying for our food and beverages while we are there. We’ll also receive $100 to spend while we are there, which will be lovely for the boys to buy special souvenirs and help teach them the currency and get them involved with working out how much things cost. The $100 gift card can also be used on things like Spa treatments, food & drink or special experiences like Pirates League. Our booking also includes a memory maker, 14 day hopper park ticket (for the price of 7) and “Magical Express” airport transfer.

Doing this research before we booked saved a lot of money and it also taught me so much about booking a Disney vacation, as well as of course making me super excited for our trip ahead.

Tip – Download the My Disney Experience app as soon as you book – from here you can enter your ticket details and hotel info if staying onsite and access absolutely everything for your trip from booking fast passes to character dining meets. You can even view friends and family bookings and view your photos taken around the park. It also shows wait times for rides, how far away from you things like rest rooms are and you can even buy souvenirs AND send them to your room!

board-walk-inn How to book a Disney vacation pin this image

Flights

Personally there was no way I wanted an indirect flight. I didn’t want the hassle of changing flights with children and as it’s an 8 hour flight the hope is they can at least get some sleep if you’re not changing planes. I also wanted to fly into Orlando International airport and not Sanford as it was closer, bigger and more convenient for us. For the outbound flight these are usually day time hours, you leave in the morning and get there in the afternoon, although 8 hours have passed! But this means you get there, settle in, have some dinner and can hopefully keep the children awake until a “normal” bedtime hour, then hopefully have a full nights sleep and not be too effected by the time difference by the time you wake up. As we are only going for 10 days it’s not a great deal of time to adjust, so if they are getting up early each day then it just means we hit the parks for rope drop and then you can always come back for a little nap to refresh before heading back out for dinner and fireworks.

I realise as I have not been before my experience about some of the things I have spoken about may differ after our holiday, but I have researched at length with holiday companies, and have a wealth of knowledge within a close group of friends who between them have been countless times and love nothing more than talking about Disney!! I just can’t believe I’m going to be going and sharing our memories with them too!!

Characters in Flight How to book a Disney vacation

I hope this post has been helpful, my next post is all about the pros and cons of booking a Villa or a Disney Hotel, I hope to see you there!

 

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How to book a Disney World vacation all the tips & tricks you need to book a holiday to the most magical place on earth.

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13 Comments

  1. Louise Riedl
    October 9, 2017 / 10:49 pm

    We’ve been to Orlando a couple of times in 2014 and 2015. We found a good plan was to go into one of the parks as soon as they open stay until 1pm leave get some lunch and spend time by the pool and then return to the park about 4pm. This way you avoid the parks at the busiest time and during the afternoon thunderstorm plus get a chance to recharge. I would suggest getting fast passes for anything between 11am and 1pm and 4-7pm. You don’t need them first thing or into the evening. Definitely get a park hopper ticket so you can mix it up. Water parks best first thing in the morning.
    Also wouldn’t rule out indirect flights if they’re significantly cheaper just make sure you allow sufficient transit time.
    You’ll be awake very early the first few days so good idea to have some snacks in the room for an early breakfast and plan to be in the park first thing.
    Excellent blog look forward to reading more!

  2. October 9, 2017 / 3:40 pm

    Hi just returned from our 6th visit….. the rides that are causing the longest wait times at present some 3 hours on occasions are the new pandora rides at AK and 7 Dwarfs mine train at MK … Fast pass as soon as you receive your tickets. Frozen at Epcot also has large wait times about 50 minutes if you go first thing to this ride everbody is equal and it moves really quickly as there are no fast passes on here before 11am . Other top tip water is between 3 or 4 dollars a bottle, if you go into any inside refrestment places or eateries thete is free purified iced water available ….

  3. M Simpson
    October 9, 2017 / 1:25 am

    You will wake up very early for the first day or two so have some breakfast ready in your room i.e. Pastries and a drink. Plan on going to the park with the extra magic hours for that day. Usually an hour before normal opening time. There is now a blow up bed you can buy for infants that go from the seat to the one in front. My son has one. It was very successful.

  4. Michelle Cook
    October 8, 2017 / 3:22 pm

    What a brilliant post. Thank you for all your tips. I also shopped around before we booked our Disney holiday for 2018. We are also staying in resort. We are excited. Thanks again for sharing your tips on Disney.

  5. Anne McCartney
    October 8, 2017 / 7:47 am

    i’ve booked with Disney direct and believe i have got a great deal, our flights are direct with Norwegian and we will be staying at the caribbean beach resort. as i booked earlier than you i got a $200 gift card and all the other perks you mention.

  6. October 7, 2017 / 9:13 pm

    Hi we went to Disney 2 years ago and the bands you say you get if you stay in a Disney resort or hotel can actually be purchased by anyone for a small charge 😊

  7. Den
    October 7, 2017 / 8:04 pm

    I have been a few times and now always stop on site, the dining plans are great if you get them free (as we have done) but I wouldn’t pay for them especially if you are going to other parks whilst over there (and most will)

    Of late I have found virgin did have great sales patter but they were far from the cheapes especially on park passes.

    Also look to rent a hire car independently, often an upgraded hire car can be hired and fully insured for less than the insurance on the ‘free’ hire ar included in the package (sky scanner is great for checking out and booking hire cars. Remember you will need a credit card when hiring a car where ever you get it from.

    For tickets American attractions are decent value with their combi packages (however to get and the free dining plan you need to book you Disney park passes at the same time the rest of your holiday.

    Finally re airport, yes Sanford is smaller but that is a possitive when you are trying to get in to the us, you can be waiting hours at Orlando int. Also the I megaton officers are much nicer/polite

    When picking up your cars don’t pay for the toll pass or the sat Nav, they charge you a fortune (you can buy a sat nav while there and give it away and it will still be cheaper than paying for the one from the hire car.

  8. Keeley
    October 7, 2017 / 6:20 pm

    Great post – we have been lucky and managed to take our 8 year old a few times . One thing I would like to add about being on the dining plan – it is anaxing and brilliant but after each meal the American system of tipping means you get to add a tip of 15%. 18% or 20%. – the service is generally excellent. So we have learnt to budget in tip money – especially important if you dining plan contains one restaurant waiter meal.

  9. Donna
    October 7, 2017 / 12:56 pm

    We are in Disney at the moment. Top tip over anything else – book the fast pass to both Pandora rides early to avoid disappointment!!! You’ll find those rides at Animal Kingdom. They are by far the best rides ever. I agree with you about Virgin – I will only ever do it with them!!

  10. Gemma
    October 7, 2017 / 9:41 am

    Some great tips. I would say to others not to be put off by flying into Sanford. We have flown there many times and greatly prefer it to Orlando International. It’s smaller so it’s much quieter. Immigration is much quicker and it takes less time for luggage to come through. We were in our accommodation less than 2hrs after landing last time we went and that included picking up our hire car. It’s not uncommon to be waiting in inmigration queues for that long at MCO.

    • Fiona Wise
      October 9, 2017 / 8:07 pm

      Agree, we flew into Sanford once too and found it easier to get threw the terminal and probably only 20mins on from Orlando International.

  11. Angela
    October 7, 2017 / 9:31 am

    I have been before although last time was 2000. Just booked my trip staying at the Caribbean Beach. I to researched it a lot and eventually I booked with Thomas Cook. I received a much better deal which included a gift card for $200 plus premium seats on the plane. Didn’t like the Virgin seat plan. Not many 2 seaters. I suppose it all depends when you book and what deal you get at that time. Can’t wait to go back next April. Not long to wait either😎

  12. September 26, 2017 / 1:19 pm

    Such a great post and so many good tips! Enjoy your holiday lovely lady.

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