Y’all know I LOVE me some Disney! I’m always reading up on the latest news and Disney World planning tips and had a blog friend and fellow Disney lover reach out to me with the offer to share up her knowledge as a Disney Travel Agent!
So excited to learn some new tricks and tips from someone who lives and breaths Disney 😉 Thanks to Allison from Key to the World Travel for contributing to the blog (be sure to read the whole post for a special offer just for blog readers whoop whoop #dealz)!
Introduction to Disney World Vacation Planning
A lot of people want to take their family on a trip to “The Most Magical Place on Earth” (a.k.a. Disney World) but feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start.
And really, who can blame them when there are so many moving pieces, details, and acronyms? There’s where to stay, which parks to visit, dining plans, FastPass+, BBB, PPO ADRs, CRT, DS… the list goes on!
Well, have no fear because your travel agent is here! My name is Allison DeYoung, and I am a travel planner specializing in Disney destinations. I work for a company called Key to the World Travel, and our agency is an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner (otherwise known as an “Earmarked” agency.)
I spend a lot of time planning Disney World trips for my clients, handling all the details like helping them decide where to stay, snagging hard-to-get character breakfast reservations, and creating touring plans to maximize their fun.
(That’s me with my kiddo at Disney World last year!)
Today, I’m here to share with you my Top Five Tips for planning the ultimate Disney dream vacation.
Hopefully, after reading this blog post, you’ll feel excited and confident enough to begin planning your own trip!
Tip #1: Know When to Go!
In my opinion, any time is a great time to be at Disney World. That said, if you have a variety of trip dates to choose from, there are some ways to narrow it down.
First, check out crowd calendars to get an idea of which seasons are busiest. I like the calendar from WDW Prep School because it follows the school year calendar, which many of us are bound by!
Also, check out the weather for various times of year. This is super easy to do
by looking at monthly calendars on AccuWeather.
Central Florida is warm year-round, but gets extra hot and rainy in the summer. If you don’t care for heat, try to visit during the winter months.
There are some special events at Disney that might make a difference in your planning. Here’s a non-exhaustive list:
- WDW Marathon Weekend (early January) and
- Princess Half Marathon Weekend (late February) are great for runners who want to do one of these events!
- Epcot has a beautiful Flower and Garden Festival in the spring
- Epcot Food and Wine Festival runs late August through mid-November and is fun for foodies
- In the fall, you can go to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party…
- …and during the Christmas season, you might want to check out Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
While it’s true that these events can sometimes cause higher crowds, they might also be really fun events for your family to participate in!
(Candlelight Processional is one example of a special holiday event at Disney World).
Finally, consider your family’s special needs. Is it okay for your kids to miss school? Can you visit during a holiday, or would you miss family traditions too much?
Would you wilt in the summer heat, or, conversely, be disappointed if a winter visit made it too chilly to swim?
Is there a time of year when it is easier for you or your partner to take vacation days?
Thinking about your family’s schedule and needs when planning can make for a more successful trip!
Tip #2: Stay In a Disney Resort Hotel… or Don’t!
Did you know that there are 20 different Walt Disney World resorts? These include
different price ranges (value, moderate, and deluxe), kid-friendly hotels, upscale resorts, and even a campground with cabins for rent!
There are some benefits to staying on property, including being able to make your FastPass+ reservations early, add the Disney Dining Plan to your package, and use Disney’s free transportation. When you stay on site, you also get Disney Magic Bands, which are convenient bracelets that serve as access to your room, transportation, park tickets, dining plan credits, and more.
For many families, staying onsite is fun, convenient, cost-effective, and easy!
(My favorite resort at Disney World is Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside.)
However, it’s not for everyone! The good news is, if you have a large family or are traveling in a multi-generational group, it’s also fun and convenient to rent a vacation home near Disney World. This can be cost-effective, too, especially for a longer trip (many vacation homes rent Saturday-Saturday only, making them impractical for short trips.
Renting a vacation home is great if your family likes to spread out or if you prefer to do some cooking on your trip and have the convenience of throwing in a load of laundry during your afternoon break.
This can also be convenient if your family is driving to Orlando or plans to rent a car, since you’ll have your own transportation.
When planning your trip, sit down and ask yourself a few key questions in order to make the on-site versus off-site choice:
- What is the size of our travel group? Most Disney resorts accommodate four- or five-people per room; if you have more, you may want to look at a vacation home!
- Will we have a car available? If not, you will want to take advantage of on-site transportation. If yes, make
sure you factor parking costs ($20 per day at Disney parks) into your budget.
- Do we want to mostly eat in restaurant or cook some of our own meals?
Working with a travel agent who specializes in Disney Destinations can also help you make an informed choice!
Tip #3: Avoid the Lines with FastPass+
FastPass+ is an attraction reservation system that is absolutely FREE to everyone
who visits Disney World! Here’s how it works:
- Guests create a My Disney Experience
account & down the smartphone app
- Using the app, you’ll pick three attractions for each day of your trip and a time for that experience. Most are one-hour windows.
- When it’s time to use your FastPass, approach the ride, enter the FastPass line, and scan your Magic Band. Then jump on and enjoy!
- After using your three FastPass+ reservations, use your app or an in-park kiosk to schedule more!
(The teacups are a favorite ride around our house.)
I am not kidding when I say that my family does not wait in lines at Disney World. We arrive at the parks early and enjoy some attractions before the crowds build. Then, we use all our FastPass+ reservations – I always pick rides that I know build the longest lines!
After that, I just start scheduling more FP+ as we go. A typical conversation for my family in the parks goes like this:
Me: What else do you guys want to ride?
Husband: Haunted Mansion!
Me, looking at the app: Okay, there’s only a 15 minute wait at the Haunted Mansion, so we’ll go there next. And we can get a FastPass for Dumbo at 4:00, so we will go there after.
It can seem overwhelming, but once you know the system, FastPass+ makes park touring much easier and can help you avoid the dreaded theme park lines!
(That’s the face of someone who rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad three times without standing in line.)
Tip #4: Add Some Extra Magic to Your Vacation!
Of course, a trip to Disney World is a magical experience in and of itself, but who can resist the urge to plan some special moments and watch their children’s eyes light up with wonder? There are lots of opportunities to spread pixie dust during your vacation!
Here are three of my favorite ways to add extra magic:
- Character Meals: Enjoy a breakfast, lunch, or dinner where favorite characters like Mickey and Minnie or the Disney princesses visit your table for photos and autographs.
(This is actually at Disneyland because my family defected to the West this year, but I can tell you where to eat with Chip and Dale at Disney World, too!)
- Special Makeovers: Schedule a princess makeover at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique for your little girl, or pirate or mermaid makeovers at the Pirates League inside Magic Kingdom.
(Tip: the Ivy Trellis Salon at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort also offers princess makeovers as well as special occasion hair and makeup for more, ahem, mature princesses.)
(Look at that smile!)
- Dessert Parties: These are special events that allow your family to enjoy a buffet of delicious desserts plus reserved seating for a nighttime show such as the Wishes fireworks at Magic Kingdom or the Star Wars Galactic Spectacular at Hollywood Studios.
Of course, there are also FREE ways of adding extra magic, several of which Emily has highlighted in her trip reports!
Search for Hidden Mickeys across the parks and resorts, sign up your young padawans to participate in the Jedi Training Academy, or pick up buttons to advertise that you are celebrating a birthday or other special occasion.
(Sometimes, Disney magic happens spontaneously with Grandpa. Have that camera ready!)
I also love this 15 Unique Things to Do at Disney World from WDW Prep School for more ideas on how to make your trip extra special. It includes everything from where to ride a horse to how you can mail a coconut from Disney World!
Tip #5: Use a Travel Agent!
Travel agents may not seem necessary in the modern world of online travel planning, but we can add huge value with our specialized knowledge and inside information!
It is literally our job to know everything about Disney, and we do! Travel planners who work for Authorized
Disney Vacation Planners (such as Key to the World Travel) are graduates of the College of Disney Knowledge, an intense training program designed to keep agents current on Disney destinations around the world.
Here are the top five reasons to use an agent from an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner (also known as an “Earmarked Agency”):
- Your agent works to save you money by calling to apply promotions and deals to your package. If Disney releases a discount like free dining or a 25% off rooms offer, your travel agent will automatically apply
this discount to your package! (When summer discounts were released a couple weeks ago, I saved a family $900 by calling to update their package!)
- Your agent gets up early to book your dining reservations 180 days before arrival and FastPass+ 60 days before arrival. Most people do not have time in the early morning to sit on the computer and schedule these reservations, but your travel agent does!
- Your agent can book ANY other experiences during your trip, too! Need to rent a stroller? Want to schedule a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique makeover for your princess? How about a golf tee time or a side trip to Universal Orlando? Your travel agent takes care of all this and more!
- Your travel agent will prepare a customized itinerary and touring plans so that information like park hours,
FastPass+ times, dining reservations, and more are at your fingertips and optimized for the best experience for your family.
- This one is the best: our services are 100% FREE! We are paid by Disney, NOT by the client! Booking your package with a travel planner will cost you no more than the prices you see on the Disney website – and sometimes less because we know where to find discounts and promotions!
Whether you’re overwhelmed by the details of planning a Walt Disney World vacation or just want to take advantage of the personalized service offered by a travel agent, Authorized Disney Travel Planners add value to your vacation!
(Sometimes I sneak away from my family and take selfies with the castle. Don’t judge me.)
Disney World Planning Tips: Conclusion
If Emily’s magical family vacations at Disney World (or even her recent solo trip!) have inspired you to consider a Disney vacation of your own, I hope these tips will help you get started on the
I’m also offering a special deal for blog readers: mention that you heard about my planning services through Journey of Parenthood and you’ll receive up to a $50 Disney gift card when you book a Disney vacation with me!
You can contact me for a quote via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by completing my Getting to Know You Google Form. I’ll get right back to you with some vacation quotes and then we can begin planning your own magical vacation!