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Where the Magic Begins: Disney World Part 1

Frankly, I am quite curious who is interested in this information all together. This post will be brief, it’s a guide to all the steps I am going to take to plan a trip to Disney World (DW). I mentioned in a recent post that I finally bit the bullet and optimistically booked a trip for August. As a result, planning April’s trip to Scotland is going on hold because I need to get going on this one, because there are a lot of moving pieces. I’m going to talk about what I need to do step by step to plan a DW trip. I won’t go into crazy detail, you’ll have to keep reading the series to get all the nitty gritty details. Ultimately the goal is to create a simple course that walks you through all the steps as painlessly as possible. Here we go…

1. Get a travel agent (TA). I highly recommend my Christina Lepre. Even if you are a trip planning control freak or expert, it costs you nothing to use her services. Plus she waits on hold with Disney when you’re too busy to do so. She’s also constantly on the hunt for good deals.

2. Pick a date range. Can you only go during school breaks? Do you absolutely hate humidity? Do you want to risk hurricanes or cold? Do you despise crows and want to TRY to avoid them if possible. Do you want to attend a festival like Food and Wine or Flower and Garden? Do you want to see the Halloween or Christmas decorations?

3. Decide on a budget. Most people would say this needs to come first, but I disagree. If you’re going to Disney, you need to know when and what’s important to you. Budget’s are more dynamic than just this is what I am willing to spend. Different times of year have different costs. The less desirable the time the cheaper it is. If you can only go over Christmas or summer break then your budget needs to reflect that.

Your budget should also be categorized by value proposition. What matters most. Where do you want to stay? Staying on property is more expensive but it has perks. Right now with the craziness the only two benefits are internal transportation, the ability to hop on a bus and be back in your room. They’ve taken away stuff and added some new stuff, but I don’t think they’re finished with changes so for now let's say the things you get are transportation, proximity, and theming.

What are you looking for in a hotel? Do you want a kitchen? That will cost extra at DW. Do you need a room for more than 4 people? That limits hotels. Do you want extreme or moderate Disney theming? Can you do a motel style building with no balconies or do you need a more spacious, traditional hotel room. Do you need some level of luxury to consider it a vacation?

These things shape your budget. If you have $5,000 to spend, are you saying 5 days, limiting spending on food and housing and throwing it all at park tickets? Or are you doing three nights at a luxury hotel and skipping out on some attractions and food? Do you have to go at the most expensive time of the year or can you handle hurricane season? The options are endless. You need to know what you value and how that goes into your budget before you start planning.

4. Making decisions about your room. Let’s say you have a family of five, two parents, one grandparent and two kids over the age of 3. You are limited to suites at deluxe resorts, Art of Animation suites at one of the value hotels, the Cabins at Fort Wilderness or Caribbean Beach and Port Orleans both have 5 person sleepers. These are your only options on property. They have different floor plans and room sizes so there are a lot of decisions to make there. This is a great time to bring in your TA to discuss the pros and cons of each. Christina will never push you but help you with the specifics. This is then where you should at least put a hold on a room. You may not have the specific days or even resort yet if your budget changes but it's good to have something on the books.

5. Making decisions about food and souvenirs. Yes that’s correct that comes before picking parks and itineraries. How many snacks a day are you consuming? How many meals are you sharing and how many prefix sit down dinners that are up charged if there are characters. If having dinner with Mickey really matters that needs to be at the front of your budget. What about souvenirs? Are you making a droid? That’s $100, are you buying a $40 bubble wand? If you are willing to bring food in from out of the parks and limit souvenirs this isn’t as big of a deal, but if it’s adding value to your vacation, figure out how much comes from your budget. There’s also those matching shirts and ears. How much are you spending on those? It all adds up.

6. Spreadsheet time! This is my patented (no not really) three things list. I tell each member of my party to pick the three most important things to them. Something to ride, something to eat, something to do. Here’s an example: my daughter wants to ride Flights of Passage, eat at the Ohana character breakfast, and she wants to make a droid. Everyone in my party must do this. Then I usually give people a bonus request, a thing that would be fun if we got to it but it won’t make or break my trip. Make a spreadsheet with all the information you have collected so far. I really should pay for access to my master spreadsheets, but if you ask nicely I'll show you.

7. Touring Plans (TP) for the win. TP is a site that will help you plan your trip. It has scary amounts of information and you need to play with it. Currently, they let you plan for the existing situation but you can adjust as things change. You tell them when you’re going. If you want to get really picky, TP will help you pick and request the perfect room once your resort is confirmed. But if TP is overwhelming you can get a pre-made touring plan from Undercover Tourist for free.

This brings us to picking our parks and dates. How much money is left in your budget? Can you do all four parks? I will not get into a discussion about what park you should cut out if you have to. We once only had three days and we got a park hopper and split between Epcot and MK and then HS and Epcot the next day, pre-Galaxy's Edge. Cross reference your wish list spreadsheet with TP. It will help you pick the days with the least crowds predicted. I will skip over fast pass strategy for the most part. I will say that the further out you pick, the more will be available. Why? Because your first day is someone’s last day. The further you go out the less people have that date too. But currently Fast Passes are suspended.

Once you tell touring plans what you want it's ready to work it’s magic, meaning you’ve put in your wish list. It will ask you things like when you are entering the park, from which entrance, how long are you staying, how long does it take you to eat lunch, are you slow walkers. And on and on and on. Then you click the computer overlords button and it gives you optimal schedules. You can tinker around with them to get your ideal trip. Maybe you find there is time for everyone’s bonus picks and maybe something has to be cut. I’ll mention that at present you must have a park reservation to enter any park to ride, play or eat. Park hoping exists only after 2 pm and there is room in your second park choice. This makes planning harder, but flying by the seat of your pants easier. But hopefully either way, Touring Plans made your decisions about which park when easier.

8. Start booking. You NEED to have reservations at any sit down dinner. This used to be one at 180 days and now is at 60. Fast passes used to be 60 on site and 30 off site. I am not sure what I’ll do about fast passes, or even if they'll come back in their original format. They certainly aren't removing the lines or machines. If you want to make a droid, do a private fireworks cruise, etc, book those now.

9. Time to plan the details. Are you ordering groceries? Get on Garden Grocery more than 60 days out and you’ll get a discount. You can also do instacart or Amazon prime but you have to be there to receive the later two. What are you wearing (our shirts come from the sensational Jess)? What do you need? Ponchos, pool towel clips, ears, hats, etc. Get a hard copy of that packing list and get everything ready.

10. Go to Disney and have fun. Take your spreadsheet. The work you did leading up to this will optimize fun. Think about these things beforehand so you just know what to do. Which snacks you budgeted for. Where you’re reading. What ride is next. It’s all already planned so you can just enjoy it.

Yes, it’s a lot of steps. It seems complicated and not fun. For some people that’s true. Pat’s rule is we can go to DW as long as he doesn’t have to talk about it for 6 months. Inevitably at the last min he’ll ask for something and it’s annoying, but hey I get to go so...If you follow my steps you’ll be less stressed when you get there and I promise you that’s a good thing. You’ve got this!

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