Disney Vacation Planning According to Me

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train SignThere are as many schools of though on Disney vacation planning as there are attractions at Walt Disney World!  If you like the excitement and anticipation of looking forward to a Disney vacation – if the planning is nearly as much fun as the vacation itself, this post is for you!  Let’s talk planning timeline, want to?

Note:  Today’s post strictly covers my tips and suggestions for planning a trip to Walt Disney World.  In a separate article, I’ll compile my tips and tricks for planning a cruise aboard Disney Cruise Line – stay tuned.

Getting Started

Not long ago, I offered a tutorial called, “5 Ways to Ruin Your Own Disney Vacation“.  There are perils involved with both over- and under-planning!  The key is to plan just the right amount!  Epcot's Iconic Spaceship EarthFor me, 12 months (or a little longer) is the perfect planning timeframe for a Walt Disney World Vacation.  It allows me to strategize and choose my vacation options in phases – Advance planning to this degree ensures me the maximum number of options to choose from (I make selections as soon as Disney lets me!) and at the same time, I get to have fun researching, dreaming, scheming…you get the idea.

Step 1 – Decide when you can go and how you’ll get there.  Driving?  Flying?  By Train?  If you’re driving a long way, this may eat up a chunk of your vacation time.  Flying may take a big bite out of your vacation budget.  Will you want to go during the absolute busiest times?  Spring Break, Thanksgiving week, Christmas time – will all be more crowded and expensive.  Best practice – select a couple of weeks, if possible, and price them out using the rest of the steps in this plan.

Building at Disney's Old Key West ResortStep 2. Do a little resort recon.  There are a LOT of resources available – Books and websites both offer excellent information on choosing a location on Walt Disney World property that works for your travel party.  I strongly recommend staying on property (because of the Disney Bubble).  Please consider the number of people traveling with you, your budget, and what’s most important to you with regards to amenities, location, and dining options.  Be mindful of how you think you’ll spend most days – away from the resort enjoying as many rides and attractions as possible? Soaking up the sun poolside?  A little of both?  Compare staying a couple of days longer at a Value or Moderate resort versus a shorter stay at a Deluxe.  Not all resorts are created equal – pick one that works best for your needs.  Choose your resort as far out as possible and book it!

Step 3.  Think about FOOD!  Will you want to bring some of your own?  (We do that – checkOlivia's Tomato-Mozzarella Salad here for details.)  Will you be happy eating mostly quick/counter service foods?  Do you want some sit-down meals or dinner shows?  Fine dining perhaps?  Go back to those books and websites – look at menus, read reviews, make a plan and a budget.  You can find my tips on dining plans here and here.  Lots of people purchase a Disney Dining Plan – it may not always be the most economical way to buy food at Walt Disney World, but for many people, knowing they’ve budgeted and pre-paid for their food expense is a huge convenience, worth the price.

The Flying Fish Cafe / Walt Disney World BoardwalkStep 4. At the 180-day mark, book all the table service meals you’ve planned in Step 2.  That’s right!  Six months before you go to Walt Disney World, you will need to book your Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs).  This may sound ridiculous, but a nice dinner or dinner show in a very popular restaurant needs to be booked 6 months in advance.  If you don’t want to do this, that’s okay – just know that, depending on what time of year you’re traveling, your dining options may be extremely narrow if you wait until right before you go or – gasp! – after you’ve arrived at Walt Disney World to try to snag an ADR.  Even if you only have your heart set on 2 or 3 places, get them booked!

Step 5 – Exactly 60 days out, book your FastPass+ selections via the My Disney Experience Peter Pan's Flight / Fantasyland / Magic Kingdomwebsite.  It’s important to link up all members of your group first, so don’t wait until the last minute to link.  Some rookies tend to make this harder than it has to be by over thinking choices.  You will want to know height requirements for different rides and also which rides are super thrilling versus the milder attractions.  Since FastPasses do not cost extra, this is a great time to get the entire family / travel party involved in picking which rides, shows, parades, or nighttime shows are most important to the group.  All you really need to keep in mind is where and when you’ve booked any Advance Dining Reservations and make sure your FastPass+ selections won’t interfere with dining plans (and the travel time needed to get to restaurants).  There are a LOT of resources available to help you – take advantage of them, this step can be confusing!

Walt Disney World MagicBandRight now, once you book your trip, Walt Disney World sends you reminders of the important booking windows I’ve mentioned.  You’ll get customizable Disney MagicBands to wear during your vacation that serve as your park ticket, resort room key, and, if you like, a way to touch-to-pay for any and everything in stores and restaurant.  You can also pre-purchase the MemoryMaker photo package before you go (another budgeting tool!).

In between all the steps detailed above, research things like typical Orlando weather for the time of year you’ll be visiting, what shoes you’ll need (you’ll be walking a LOT), if any restaurants you’ve booked have dress codes, etc.  Make packing lists, use a fun countdown calendar, heck – get your group some matching tee-shirts if that’s your thing.  With my plan, you have plenty of time for all of that!

Planning not your thing?  Use a travel agent – there’s absolutely no extra expense to you AND they’ll take care of all the steps I mentioned for you!

Your turn!  How long do you need to plan a Disney vacation?  Do you have any steps to add to my plan?  What planning information would help you most in future posts?  C’mon, don’t be shy – leave a comment, please.



Disney Vacation Planning – Using a Travel Agent

IMG_3280Hello Fellow Disney Vacation Fans!  Recently I was talking about our upcoming Disney vacation plans with some coworkers – In my excitement I was passionately describing our ADR’s (Advance Dining Reservations) and how we were going to decide what park(s) to visit each day and what rides would receive our precious allotment of FastPass+ choices.  I was enthusiastically weighing the pros and cons of crowd levels based on Extra Magic Hours….when I noticed my friends’ expressions!  The emotions clearly on their faces ranged from confusion to horror – finally one spoke what they’d all been thinking – How on Earth would anyone vacation at Disney World successfully if they didn’t know what all that “stuff” was and how to use it?

I’m a veteran of many, many Disney vacations…plus I love (madly, passionately) vacation planning, researching, studying, debating; you get the idea.  Not everyone has the desire or the time to devote to squeezing every drop of potential vacation fun into the weeks, months, and yes, even years of planning leading up to a vacation to the Happiest Place on Earth.  This DSCN3118realization prompted me to invite a very special guest contributor to my blog today.

Please welcome my dear friend Rebecca Kelly.  Rebecca is a Disney travel expert – a travel agent with an Earmarked agency, Fairytale Journeys – who is here today to share with you the advantages of booking your Disney vacation through an agent.  Travel agents do not make money directly from their clients – they make money by booking travel.  Their services are absolutely free to their clients – yes that means it costs you nothing extra to use an agent.  It’s in your travel agent’s best interest to book you the best vacation you can have within your vacation budget – they thrive on repeat business and pour their hearts into making sure your vacation dollars and time give you the very best possible return on your investment.  You can find Rebecca on Twitter @rkellyWDW and on Facebook at Fairytale Journeys by Rebecca Kelly (be sure to “Like” her page – she shares great info!).  Rebecca also has a great Disney blog of her own called Disney With Me – You’ll want to check that out, too.

Advice on Using a Disney Travel Expert – by Rebecca Kelly

Prior to becoming a travel agent myself, I booked two smaller trips on my own and two bigger trips with an agent (alternating each). I actually enjoyed it both ways, but there was something really genuinely neat, an extra element of fun, that went into the two trips with the agents… A shared sense of enjoyment, and an added peace of mind.

Booking a trip through a travel agent may not be right for everyone, but if you’ve ever wondered about it, or been curious as to the benefits of using a travel agent, here are a few of the pro-sides – as someone who has been on both sides of the experience. 🙂

1. First of all, travel agents who work with Earmarked agencies specialize in Disney – meaningIMG_2532 that they take an extensive training course from Disney, which they are expected to stay up to date on, and they get frequent emails about new services, changes, events and more. (We even get trained on MyMagic+!) Plus, very often we’re coming from a background of vested interest – most Disney specialists in travel planning are doing it because they LOVE Disney. So we keep up to date with news and things even beyond what Disney officially sends out, because we want to!

2. This training and self-motivated research means that if you’ve got a question, there’s a good chance your travel agent has an answer. And if not, we know where to look. 🙂 So you can go to your TA for questions about pretty much anything related to your trip, instead of having to Google for your answers.

3. A step up from dealing directly with Disney when you have questions or needs is that you’ve got one person you’re working with the whole time. Your travel agent knows your background, your needs, and what’s most important to you – so you won’t be answering the “And are you going to be celebrating anything on this visit?” question every time you call or email. You can develop a good rapport with agents too – I’ve become good friends with quite a lot of my clients!

4. A good way to think of your travel agent service is as “concierge service without paying for the concierge upgrade.” If you need something done last-minute, we’ve got you.  We’ll wait on hold while you drink Diet Coke and eat peanuts in the lounge, as one friend of mine put it. 🙂  We can call the resort directly with a last-minute request while you’re flying in, or extend a reservation by a day, or whatever needs doing. All of this is free, because travel agents work on commission. There’s no markup, no fees to the client.

5. In the same vein, when you use a TA, you don’t have to worry that a better rate has comeMM+ADRs out for your trip – your travel agent keeps track of that.  Once promos are announced, we figure out what option will save you the most money and jump on it. This means you can book as soon as you’ve got the deposit ready and you know your dates – you don’t have to wait for a promotion to come out in order to be able to apply it later.

6. Your travel agent can put together the entire trip for you. Are you going someplace other than Disney? You don’t have to make multiple phone calls to get it all lined up; unlike when you work directly with the destination you’re visiting, a TA can book multiple destinations and get the whole thing lined up. Rental car, shuttle pick-up, tours, off-site hotels, dining reservations, your travel agent can put all those things together.  We can even recommend best parks for a particular day, book FastPass+, or make up a customized itinerary for you!

7. But we don’t have to. Anything that you love doing, you still get to do! If making dining reservations is your thing, but you want someone to just line up all your hotel and car reservations, not a problem. The only thing a travel agent HAS to do is be the one to put the booking through and make the subsequent payments. The TA will also be the one to call in any changes to the booking.

IMG_25318. MyMagic+ and the MyDisneyExperience.com site make it a lot easier for you and your travel agent to keep track of your planning. Once your reservation is linked in the system, you can make your own ADRs online – or your TA can. You can schedule your FastPass+ selections – or your TA can.  These are things that you have complete access to at all times, plus an informational backup (in the form of your agent) to rely on if it gets too confusing.

9. An additional little bonus about booking with a Disney specialist is that you are usually booking with a Disney fan.  This means that you’ve got someone to bounce ideas and comparisons off of, and also just someone else to get excited with over the little details of your trip! Sometimes it’s just fun to share that excitement of your upcoming trip, or the things you’ve booked, with someone else in the moment.

10. Finally, it may not seem important to you, but I can promise you it is to us: remember that with every booking, you’re helping out a Disney fan do one of their favourite things. If I can’t be planning my trips every single day, helping you plan yours is the next best thing!


Favorite Ride at Disney World? Rock’n’ Roller Coaster


I Recently polled The Fam and asked them about their favorite ride at Disney World.

Raymond didn’t actually have to respond to the poll.  You can’t be married to the same person for 24 years and not know their favorite Disney World ride – Rock’n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith has been Raymond’s favorite ride since he first rode it in 2004 (the ride originally opened in 1999).

I did ask him what specifically about the ride made it his favorite…is it the introduction?  The dark?  The speed?  The loops?  The music?

Raymond’s answer?  “Yes.”  (Know what?  You just can’t get him to quit rambling on about stuff!)

What’s not to love about this ride?  If you are a thrill ride junky – this is as thrilling, as extreme a ride, as you will find at Disney World.  Here are the deets (Spoiler Alert):

Rock’n’ Roller Coaster is located in Disney’s Hollywood Studios at the end of Sunset Blvd.  Since it is right next to Tower of Terror, best to hit them both first thing in the morning and/OR score some fast passes for at least one of these if you love them.  Just FYI:  Toy Story Midway Mania (which I’ll talk about in detail at another time) is located very far away from these two rides (Pixar Place) and is also a headline attraction.  To tour successfully at the Studios, have a good plan for how you will accomplish all three with a minimum of wait time.  Use fast passes and early arrival (extra magic hour if available) to your best advantage.

Now back to R’n’R…


The Studio at G-Force Records

Pre-Ride:  Enter the recording studio for G-Force Records where Aerosmith is busily working when their manager informs them they’re going to be late for their own concert.  Luckily you score back-stage passes and a ride to the concert in a super-stretch limo – head out into the alley to wait for your ride and get ready to blast off onto the LA freeways.


Cheesy Ride Photo!

Brace yourself – this is no ordinary limo!  This ride hurls you from 0-60 miles-per-hour in 2.8 seconds!  Then you’re flying through banks, turns, dips, and corkscrews (yes, upside down!) before reaching your final destination.


In the Alley Waiting for a Ride





Look for:  The limo’s licence plates!  There are five different limos, each sporting it’s own vanity plate.  (1QKLIMO for example) – while you’re looking at the plates, see if you can spot any Hidden Mickeys!  There are MANY both in the queue and on/around the ride.  For the most part, each limo plays different Aerosmith songs.  Listen carefully if you hear “Love in an Elevator” – the words are a bit different, recorded just for this ride!


Safe and Sound Post-Limo Ride

You must be 48″ tall to ride.  There are health warnings for this ride and if you’re prone to motion sickness or have claustrophobia, I’d sit this one out.  Due to the nature of the ride, the harnesses that hold you in the limo are big and restrictive.  If you’re brave enough and get a kick out of a major adrenaline rush, you’ll love it just as much as Raymond does.

What’s your favorite ride at Disney World?


Hidden Mickeys – Another Disney Addiction

IMG_2918About 10 years ago, while planning for an upcoming Disney World vacation, I found and purchased, Hidden Mickeys a Field Guide to Walt Disney World’s Best Kept Secrets by Steven M. Barrett.  If you aren’t sure what Hidden Mickeys are, Mr. Barrett defines them as “a partial or complete image of Mickey Mouse that has been hidden by Disney Imagineers and artists….”

I thought the book would be a lot of fun to take along with us to Disney World where there are literally hundreds of Hiddey Mickeys to be found.  I explained to The Fam about Hidden Mickeys while we were driving to and waiting at the airport for our flight to Orlando.  Then I managed to locate and point out a couple of Hidden Mickeys right after we arrived at Disney World.  Joseph had always been a champion at finding things (money on the ground, Easter eggs, bugs, lizards, etc.), so he was quick to join the fun and soon everyone was caught up in the excitement of hunting the elusive Mickeys.  This was and still is a GREAT way to kill time while waiting in line for attractions!

DSCN2584Turns out, once you start looking for and discovering real, “official” Hidden Mickeys, it’s hard to turn off your Hidden Mickey “eyes”.  Ever since that first trip when we learned about those cleverly incorporated Mickeys and discovered our love for finding them, we all see Hidden Mickeys in our everyday lives.  It’s a very fun way to keep the Disney magic alive between vacations.

Soap bubbles in the sink forming a familiar image?  “Hidden Mickey!”  That shout-out, heard from time to time at our house, always answered with, “where? lemme see!” is a great reminder to me that not only have I done my job prepping the next generation of Disney fans, but also that our vacations to The Happiest Place on Earth make magical memories that last long after we’ve come home.

Yesterday when I was leaving for work, I passed a catch-all container in the garage and guess what I saw?  YUP!  You betcha!Med Cruise 2013 iphone 002