Ahhhh Spring! The flowers are in bloom, the bees are buzzin’ and summer will be here before you know it! Sadly, I can’t help you to fit back into your swim suit – uggghhh, I don’t even want to think about that yet… The good news is that I CAN help you plan your family’s first Walt Disney World vacation to the most magical place on Earth! Don’t worry, no leg lifts or squats required. The only thing that we will be flexing will be your planning muscles!
So let’s begin by taking a deep breath in…now exhale. Let all the stress evaporate from your body and let’s focus on making dreams come true! Whether this is your first trip to Walt Disney World or your thirty-first, a little planning will go a long way. No matter what you hear, there is no “right” way to experience Walt Disney World. What might be perfect for one family may not fit yours. I’ve come up with some suggestions that will help to create a completely custom vacation that will fit your family like, well, a glass slipper!
1. OK, so when do I go? Honestly there is no bad time to visit, it is Disney after all! Just bear in mind that the busiest times of the year are those days when the kiddos are out of school. If your kids are on vacation, there is a good chance that the rest of the country will be on vacation too. The good news is that Disney prepares for this by staffing more Cast Members (Disney Speak for employees), stays open for extended hours and offers multiple show and parade times. This can also be the most festive, energy packed time to visit!
On the other hand, if your travel dates are flexible, there are some times that are indeed less crowded than others. September and January are typically the two months of the year with the lowest attendance and often the lowest prices! Of course, due to recent attempts by Disney to lure folks in during these slower times, the attendance can pick up a good bit. I can’t guarantee that Disney will offer any promotions or discounts during your visit, but the slower months are usually those that see the deals. Regardless of when you go, your vacation is certain to be magical if you plan ahead!
2. Can I stay in the castle? Well, yes and no. If you are one of the VERY lucky folks who are randomly selected to spend the night in Cinderella’s Castle, then yes. Trust me, I have begged and pleaded and unless you are one of the random chosen guests, you are out of luck. Here’s how it works: Every morning at a randomly selected location somewhere within one of the parks, Disney selects one lucky guest and their companions for a very special night including a overnight stay in Cinderella’s castle. The selection is made completely at random so it could be the 2,041st guest to ride ‘The Jungle Cruise’ or any other computer generated location within the parks. If you are not chosen, no need to fear, with over 20 resorts and thousands of rooms within Walt Disney World, the choices of accommodation are limitless!
I have stayed in nearly all of the resorts and have never been disappointed. The key is to educate yourself on what to expect out of your room or villa. For example, the Pop Century Resort falls into the least expensive option. Is it luxurious? No. Is it within walking distance to any parks? No. Is it clean? Absolutely! Is it magical? You bet! It offers all of the same benefits of staying on Disney property as the others and the pools and food courts are wonderful. If you are of the mindset that “you only sleep in your room,” or if you are looking for the most bang for your buck, this type of resort can be fantastic. In fact, if you ask which resort my sons would most like to visit, they would all three shout “Pop Century!”
While I love Pop Century too, this Mamma would rather relax in more luxurious digs, such as Disney’s Beach Club Resort! All Deluxe level hotels feature on site restaurants, larger rooms and more upscale décor. Of course, with these added amenities come higher price tags as well. For an affordable alternative to the pricier Deluxe Hotels, check out the middle of the price range resorts, such as Port Orleans French Quarter, they are the perfect blend of affordability and comfort. These mid-range hotels also offer an onsite restaurant, in addition to a food court. After all, as much as I would love to linger over every meal, a quick bite is often the most convenient. Who am I kidding? My kids would pick pizza over fine dining any day!!! At the end of the day, I have no qualms recommending any type of resort to anyone looking to spend their first vacation at Walt Disney World!
3. Wait, what is this I hear about multiple theme parks? When Disney World opened way back when, the Magic Kingdom was the only theme park. Today, four distinct parks make up the Walt Disney World Resort – Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Each is completely unique and I honestly feel that no trip is complete without visiting each one! Picking out the ticket that is just right for your family can be a little intimidating, but it is actually easy as pie! (You know I’m wondering who coined that phrase – I can’t bake a pie to save my life!)
The most popular option to add onto a base ticket is the Park Hopper. While you can’t technically “hop” or even walk from one park to another, this option allows you to visit more than one park on one day. For instance, you can go screaming through the air on Expedition Everest in the morning at Animal Kingdom and then watch the fireworks explode above Cinderella’s Castle in the evening at the Magic Kingdom. If you do not add this option, you will only be able to visit one park per day. However, you can exit and re-enter the SAME park as many times during the day as you would like with a base ticket. For first timers, this may be your best bet, as you will likely spend all day in one park anyway. Finally, you are also able to add on the Water Park Fun n’ More Option. This allows you to visit all four theme parks, as well as Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park, Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park, Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course, DisneyQuest Indoor Interactive Theme Park and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Whew!
4. Do I have to eat hot dogs for every meal? While I know quite a few people who would love to do just this, Disney World is actually home to hundreds of fabulous restaurants! Great sushi, steaks and even fine wine are all available to tempt you. I would honestly recommend adding on a dining plan to your package – I’ve done the math and you really do save money.
Depending on the plan that you purchase, you are given a certain number of credits to use on your dining based on the number of nights that you stay on property. Regardless of whether or not you purchase the plan or pay out of pocket, YOU MUST MAKE ADVANCED DINING RESERVATIONS ASAP! If you plan on securing a seat at one of the sit down, or table service restaurants, you must call or book your reservation online as soon as you possibly can. Most meals are open to book 180 days in advance. If you have hopes of seeing your little princess dine with Cinderella in the castle – you absolutely must make that call as soon as the reservations lines open at exactly 180 days prior to your vacation. It breaks my heart when families aren’t able to get the reservations that they want, simply because they don’t know that you MUST make those advanced dining reservations. A few clicks of the keyboard or a simple phone call are all it takes to make your dining dreams a reality!
5. Where do I start? While I have merely glossed over the planning process, I hope that I have inspired you to take the plunge, stop dreaming and book your family’s first Disney Vacation! There are so many fantastic resources, both online and in print, that cover everything from restaurant menus to pics of individual hotel rooms. I can’t stress enough how much fun this process can be – enjoy every second! Oh, and if you ever need a travel guide, my bag is packed and ready to go!