To me, it's become the only answer to the question, "where do you want to go?" It's become my wife's great challenge, concerned that I'd want to use every penny of our travel budget for the foreseeable future on childhood dreams. In my defense, it's also the answer given by most every Super Bowl MVP of the past 33 years when asked "What's next?" The answer, which the Disney company paid $75,000 to get in 1987 and which is estimated to produce an extra $1 billion in sales for the company this year is, "I"m going to Disney World." I'm of the persuasion that it should be your answer, too, and if it is we're here to help.
Now, let me start by admitting that I am, in no way, an expert on Disney World. Then again, Abigail and I do not claim to be experts on family, faith or travel either. This blog is a way for us to show our gratitude to God for all He's allowed us both to do and learn by giving what we have to those who'll listen. I will make reference to many people and resources who are and would encourage you to make note. Abby and I may not be the foremost experts, but we have logged countless hours watching, listening to, and reading those who are. Let's start from the beginning.
If I am right, which I am, the year must have been 2014. Abigail and I were on our way back from a Wednesday night service and Abby was lamenting her current situation of being a young woman in love who would soon be visiting New York City without her handsome man. She turned and said to me, "I want so badly to go back with you one day." As any good man would, I replied with confidence that I'd gladly take her when the time came. She quickly replied, "Well, where will I take you?" I didn't need to think. I'm not dumb. I've been blessed to be rather sharp. As the last words left her lips, my mouth was primed and ready with my response. You guessed it. "That's easy," I said. "Disney World."
By 9am the next morning, I'd prepared a rough estimate of my first trip on the Disney World website and ordered the Disney Vacation Planning DVD. It had begun. It would take another 3 years for Abby to realize what she'd begun, and we now know that it will be decades before we see the full impact of that question on that November night. Our first trip officially came in December 2017 after 10-months or so of research and planning. Now 2 trips in (and planning another next year for the 50th Anniversary of the Magic Kingdom), here are a few things we've learned which help on the road to "the most magical place on earth."
For today, we'll focus on decisions you should make that will narrow the rest of your decisions and make the process a bit smoother. These choices center around the type of vacation you want and the things which are important to you. We'll give more planning tips in a blog to follow down the road.
1. Do you want a Disney World vacation?
The answer is, of course, yes, but having confidence that this is the direction you'd like to go will make the planning that much more exciting. You WILL be spending money, and price increases continue to happen on everything from park tickets to popcorn. Be sure that you and yours are well aware of the fact the some moola will be invested in the magic. In the following paragraphs, we'll show that there are many ways to trim that budget or grow it depending on what you value, but this will most likely not be your most cost-effective travel option.
2. Who is planning this thing?
If you're like us, the planning is a large part of the fun of any vacation, but especially with Disney World. It really just depends how far down the wormhole you'd like to go. There are myriad options from giving 8-months to planning, waking up at 6am to get the correct FastPass+ selections, and rehearsing your itinerary to maximize every second to simply choosing a Disney Travel Planner and letting them do the leg work. We've done both and enjoyed parts of both options. If you decide to go with a planner, Small World Vacations and Travel With the Magic (Ask for Lizeth) are great options. The best part: it's free to use their services and they're THE BEST at knowing the ins and outs.
3. What time is right for us?
Now! Always! Today! If those aren't options, you'll need to select the time that works best for your family. The alternative is always to simply go it alone and leave your family and their complex schedules behind. Alas, this method isn't usually met with much joy. We all have jobs, sports leagues, school, and vacation time to think through, but IF you are at a place where you can select specific dates for your trip, keep these things in mind.
Peak season means peak crowds. If you want to avoid them, think ahead. Booking during Spring break, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's week, on a 3-day weekend, or during the middle of summer are all sure to drop you smack-dab in the middle of a sweaty mob with extended wait times. There are still ways to enjoy, but if the bustle isn't your thing, avoid these times.
Festivals are FUN! Unless you purposely plan around it, the odds are good that you'll end up visiting Disney World during an Epcot festival. Disney World's Epcot boasts 4 festivals per year: Festival of the Arts in the late Winter, Flower & Garden Festival in the Spring, Food & Wine Festival running from late Summer into the Fall, and Festival of the Holidays starting in November and finishing with the New Year. You can also expect all parks to join in the fall and Holiday season with beautiful decorations and seasonal snack treats. If you can find a bit of a slow week in November or December, it's hard to beat it.
Do I like walls? Currently, Disney World is under massive construction in many areas. Some of this is due to regularly scheduled upkeep to continue in excellence, but much of it is a large overhaul of many areas, including multiple new attractions in multiple parks heading into the 50th Anniversary celebration in 2021. What does this mean? If you choose 2020 for your first ever Disney World trip, your experience may include the sound of jackhammers and a skewed idea of what the most magical place on earth should look like. This also means that ticket pricing is down and extra discounts abound, but be sure to check out the Disney World site to check for any rides that would be under maintenance during your visit. You can also stay tuned to DisneyFoodBlog and MickeyViews to stay up-to-date on all of the new coming to Orlando.
Florida is hot. Newsflash: this is not the vacation to enjoy a nice, cool day of relaxation. What's worse is that July and August in Orlando actually exist. If at all possible, especially if one or more of your party do not enjoy the heat, avoid the summer season. There are still ways to relax and try to cool off, but 80-degrees in December is tough enough.
4. Should I sleep at The Mouse House?
I was dedicated to the full experience for my first trip, so I wanted to be sure that I stayed on property. Now that I've gone twice, I don't think that I'd ever want to change that. Sure, there are plenty of hotel and vacation rental options in the area and, for the most part, they'll offer some sort of transportation service knowing that Disney World is their biggest reason for sales, but riding Disney's Magical Express from the Orlando Airport and designated bus transportation for your WDW resort hotel are so convenient. It's close to curbside service for the most part and runs for almost all of the times you'd ever want to go anywhere. What's more, you'll have a way to get to any resort, park or even to Disney Springs, a shopping and restaurant center.
The most surprising part of all? There are some affordable options. Disney offers Value, Moderate, and Deluxe accommodations, and some of the value resorts can be had for right around $100 per night in the right season. Add to that resort delivery for merchandise purchases and Disney Castmember customer service and you're set. To us, the benefits far outweigh any drawbacks.
5. Will I have to fast to afford this trip?
This is where you will be able to spend or save the most money. Ticket pricing varies based on season, but you'll have to have a ticket. Lodging can be reasonable or astronomical depending on your preference. Food, on the other hand, is a whole world of opportunity and you get to make the call.
I enjoy the feeling of prepaying whenever possible, so we've gone with the Disney Dining Plan (DDP) for our first two trips. The DDP is a way to prepay for meals and snacks so you don't have to crunch the numbers while your in the middle of a fun-filled day at the parks. I enjoy the convenience, but also understand that this is a great way to pay for more than you actually eat. Depending on what items you choose and whether you use all of your credits, you could be wasting hundreds of dollars. On the contrary, if you go without the plan and don't get a good idea of what you want to spend, you could end up overshooting your budget by hundreds out of ignorance...or hunger.
You'll need to decide if the Disney food experience is even important to you and, if so, what place it holds. You can bring sandwiches and pretzels for the kids every day, grab theme park corn dogs on the go, or do a little fine dining feet away from a roller coaster. The decision is yours (Might I suggest doing all 3?). There are some amazing deals and some truly creative spaces to enjoy food while in the parks or at the resorts. I mean, this IS Disney we're talking about. Whatever you decide, at least make a decision. If you end up falling in love with a dining option, you may need to make a reservation as early as 180-days in advance to be sure you have a seat. No worries, though, as there are a plethora of tasty options, and some are quite a bargain (for Disney standards).
Your greatest resource in this part of the journey, in my opinion, would be DisneyFoodBlog. Here, you can learn general updates about the parks, read about the best snacks for your money, wrap your head around the Dining Plan, and learn about literally every menu item on property. You can also learn on the go with their YouTube channel: DFBGuide. Beware: if you are like me, you'll end up lost here for a while, but if you stay the course, you'll come out as an advanced Disney World planner.
Disney World can be done. It can be enjoyed. Even with a lifetime, it cannot be conquered. Find those things which are important to you and start there. If you need help, use the resources provided or come our way. We LOVE to help with Disney World questions. Do all you can to plan, and then throw your expectations out the window and have a good time. For any age, I truly believe it's an incredible experience. You'll find yourself tearing up, having a great time with adults in mouse costumes, wowing over fireworks, and saying "Oh, boy!" and "Hot dog!" in no time.
References and Resources: