****Disclaimer: I am going to do a series of blog posts for those like myself that are new to Disney planning. I am in NO WAY shape or form a Disney expert, considering I haven't been to the Magic Kingdom in almost 25 years, but this is how I have prepared for our trip as a novice that knew nothing about Disney 8 months ago!****
In January we decided we were ready to attempt a Disney vacation with Nicholas and I had no clue where to begin. I had not been to the Magic Kingdom in 24 years and it has been almost 20 years since I was at Epcot and MGM (which isn't even called that now!). I knew a LOT had changed, but I had no clue just how much! Within a day I had read enough to know that it was a whole new world now! You no longer just walked up to the ticket booth, bought a ticket went in, rode some rides, maybe caught dinner at Cinderella's castle, watched a parade, then went home. Oh no! Now you planned months or even years in advanced, made advanced dining reservations (ADRs in Disney speak) at 180 DAYS in advance, and if you really wanted the full experience, you stayed on property at one of several resorts. I was in Disney overload and had only been planning a trip for less than 24 hours!
Luckily for me, one of my closest friends has been a Disney Cast Member for 15 years and knows absolutely everything there is to know about a Disney vacation. She quickly became my travel agent (although not officially, just by giving advice) and walked me through the entire vacation. So, what all did I learn and how did I go about planning you may ask? Well that is what I am going to share with you.
How Did I Get Started Planning
1. READ, READ, READ! I started with 2 books and joined a couple of online communities and learned so much! You can also read endless Disney advice on blogs found on Pinterest. I have a Disney Vacation board with several good blog posts pinned here. I highly recommend two books that helped me a lot and I plan to reread several parts of them while riding to Orlando. I was stuck at home with pneumonia about a week after they arrived and they were great reading!
2. Set a Budget. We knew we didn't want to spend a large sum equivalent to Nicholas' college fund, but also wanted his 1st trip to be awesome. We decided how much we could spend and stuck to that amount while planning and I actually finished up under budget! We shopped around for discounts and spent a lot of time trying to decide what were the best dates, package, and discounts for our family. Not every family fits every discount.
3. Pick Your Dates. We selected our dates based upon my work schedule and when a conference was I knew my bosses would be attending. However, this worked out great because apparently this is one of the lowest crowd weeks of the year! This will also fall into the budget category. Different times of the year have different prices. We are going during a value season and will save on room and dining because of that. Also, if you plan a trip during certain times of the year, you can get free dining! It is offered while we are there, but we were able to get another discount that helped our budget better than free dining. More on that next...
4. Stay on Property or Not. It was never a question as to if we would stay on Disney property or not. We wanted the full experience, but staying on property isn't for everyone. We also liked the idea of a meal plan that you can only get if you stay on property. There are 3 levels of resorts on property based on how elaborate and close to the parks you want to get. We originally selected a value (lowest level) resort but due to the discount we were able to get on a moderate resort, we ended up changing our reservation in August and I can't wait to see our resort! Everything I've read about it sounds amazing! If we didn't have a budget I would have LOVED to stay in a deluxe, monorail resort, but there is always next time! It is always good to check out mousesavers.com and Disney's website to see all of the discounts available and which one will help your budget best.
5. Plan Your Park Days and Activities. After you have nailed down your dates, start thinking about what days you want to visit what parks and where you want to eat. I laughed out loud when I was told to make my dining reservations 180 DAYS OUT! I mean, seriously, I remember walking up to one of the most popular restaurants in Epcot 19 years ago and getting a seat without a wait...in JULY! Well, times have changed! My biggest piece of advice is to get up at 6am EST and log on to Disney and make your reservations at the 180 day mark for each date. I did this for a week! It paid off because we got every ADR we wanted at the time we wanted. You can also call 407-W-Disney. They are great and very helpful.
6. Start a money jar for your kids. I do not want to spend another small fortune buying trinkets and such once I am in Orlando, so starting a week after we decided to go to "Mickey's house" we have been collecting loose change in a jar for Nicholas. He LOVES doing this and he has actually earned close to $75 since January! I am going to take this within the next couple of weeks and have it turned to cash where I will exchange again at the resort to "Mickey Dollars" (think dollar bills, but with Mickey on them for use in Disney).
I'm hoping to blog while I am there, but I can't promise I will. I want to be in the moment and not a slave to my computer, but I also want to blog it while it is all fresh in my memory. I'll definitely continue this series when we get back with how to pack, how to prepare your preschooler, and tips AFTER the trip!