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!!
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!!
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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