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Good morning fellow friends!
I hope you all had a great weekend and are having a fabulous start to your week! Jordan and I took a weekend trip up to Austin this weekend to visit my family and get some planning done. We are all taking a big, family trip to Disney World at the end of this year over New Year’s, and I am SO excited!! Not only do I love getting to spend time with my whole family together, but I. LOVE. Disney World. 😍
I am a Disney World fanatic, let me tell you. We used to take a big, family trip with all of us (all 14, we like a big group!) every 2 years, but as us kiddos got into high school and later on, college, our schedules became increasingly busier and it became nearly impossible to plan a trip with everyone together. We’ve been back since then in smaller groups, 3 or 4 of us one year, a few others another year, but this is the first time we will be going all together again, in nearly 10 years!
Ahhhh, so excited! But as you can probably imagine, putting a trip together to Disney World with 14 people takes a LOT of planning. Luckily, Disney takes away a lot of the headache with sending you reminders via mail and email to alert you of any upcoming dates you have. (They’re so great!) But in addition to this, there are a few other things you need to know and keep in mind when planning a trip to Disney World. So I’ve put together this post on the 8 things you need to know when planning your dream vacation to Disney World in order to ensure you have a completely magical time.
Pick Your Dates Ahead of Time
To me, this one was the most crucial. Unless you’re planning on paying for your entire Disney trip upfront, it’s essential to plan ahead of time and pick the dates you will want to take your Disney vacation. This will allow you to budget out how long you have to pay off your vacation and will allow Disney to provide you an accurate timeline so that they can calculate your deadlines and when you need to have everything paid off. My family and I started planning back in April and booked our trip for December/January 8 months ahead of time to allow us all time to pay off our trips and get everything set up.
I would recommend booking no later than 6 months in advance to allow yourself time to a) pay off the trip if you will be making monthly payments, b) make restaurant reservations and schedule fastpasses (both of which I talk about below) and c) customize and order your magic bands.
Decide Where You’re Going to Stay
Disney has a ton of properties from which you can choose to spend your magical Disney vacation! There are really a ton of properties around the Disney area in general, even if they aren’t necessarily “Disney properties.” I’ve stayed at resorts and other hotels that were not owned by Disney, but that were cheaper and more affordable for me at the time and still super nice! Most of them still offer a shuttle that runs to and from the Disney parks, however there are some perks you can not receive if you do not stay at a Disney Resort Hotel.
- Extra Magic Hours – This is the biggest reason (to me) to stay at the Disney Resort Hotels. When you stay at a DRH, you are automatically allowed into the park for extra time on certain days. Only DRH visitors will be allowed into the parks for these extra hours (either before the park opens or after the park closes). This is great because the parks aren’t near as crowded at these times since they are not technically “open to the public” so the lines for rides are way shorter and the park itself is just much more enjoyable when you don’t have to deal with as many crowds.
- Disney Dining Plan – Now you certainly don’t have to choose a dining plan, even if you do stay at a DRH, but I would always recommend doing so. As I mentioned before, I’ve stayed at Disney Resort Hotels and I’ve stayed off-property and while the resort itself didn’t make much of a difference (besides the fact I didn’t get extra magic hours), I think it’s much easier when you have the dining plan because you aren’t constantly worried about food costs, snack costs, finding a restaurant and trying to make reservations when you get there, etc. With the Disney Dining Plan, the cost for your food is included in the initial cost when you are paying for your vacation (or paying it off monthly) so you don’t have to worry about it when you are actually there at the park. There are different levels of dining plans you can choose from as well, so you aren’t stuck paying for food that you don’t think you will actually eat.
- Early Access to FastPass and Restaurant Reservations – Okay, this is another huge reason I like staying at Disney Resort Hotels. When you stay at a DRH, you are able to book your fastpasses and make restaurant reservations 60 days in advance to your check-in date, rather than 30 days in advance. This doesn’t seem like a huge deal I know, but it actually does make a difference when making reservations if you’re going at a popular time. Sometimes even waiting a week after the “60 days in advance” mark is a risky choice and people aren’t able to book the more popular restaurants if they wait. It really makes a difference being able to book the reservations as soon as possible! *For example, we are going over New Year’s, which is a SUPER popular time. We booked our restaurant reservations the day it opened for us at the 60-day out mark at 5 in the morning to ensure we were able to get the restaurants we wanted!*
So bottom line, whether you are going to stay on-site at a DRH or off-site at a different property, decide ahead of time so that you have plenty of time to plan and to ensure places don’t book up, because they really do! (Our DRH was almost booked up 8 months in advance! We barely got everyone booked before it sold out!)
Plan Your Park Days
By this, I mean plan ahead of time which days you will do which parks. We planned which park we want to go to each day based on two things: Extra Magic Hours and dining reservations. I would check the Disney site/app or view the Park & Extra Magic Hours Schedule and coordinate the days you plan which parks with the Extra Magic Hours for each day. For example, if Magic Kingdom has Extra Magic Hours from 9:00 pm-11:00 pm on Tuesdays, you will probably want to plan to go to Magic Kingdom on Tuesday, unless you’re getting the Park Hopper option, in which case you can just hop over to whichever park has Extra Magic Hours that day.
As far as dining reservations go, some of the reservations we made were for parks that did character dining shows or dinner shows only on certain days, so we checked and made sure we coincided our dinner reservations with the park we would be at for that day. Again, if you have the Park Hopper option, you don’t really have to worry about this as you can go to as many parks as you want so you can just “hop” over to one for a dinner reservation if you were at a different park during the day.
As I previously touched on in one of the above sections, it is extremely important to make your dining and restaurant reservations ahead of time, especially if you are wanting to go to a sit-down restaurant for dinner. The restaurants really fill up fast, and if you have a large party (like us!) you want to be extra sure you get the reservations made to ensure the whole group can sit together. Disney has so many restaurants to choose from at each park! We usually don’t worry about making reservations for lunch unless there is a specific restaurant that will be having a character or dining show. For the most part, we focus on making reservations for dinner, that way if the group happens to break apart and do something different in smaller packs during the day, we know we all have a plan to meet back up for dinner at a specific time and place.
*Disney also has a Luau that is SUPER fun and I would definitely recommend checking out if you and your crew are looking for a unique and fun dining experience! We used to do it every single time we went to Disney World and we will be doing it again this year when we go!*
As I also previously mentioned, booking your Fastpasses early and making sure you have them scheduled is super important for your Disney World vacation. FastPasses are kind of like a “golden ticket” at Disney World for rides. They allow you to by-pass most of the line by going to a “fast-lane” line that is significantly shorter so you don’t have to wait as long for the more popular rides. The catch? You have to book them and reserve a time for your FastPass months in advance.
This is something new and different that I didn’t previously know and just found out this year when we were booking our vacation. FastPasses USED to be where you walked up to a machine outside of a ride, clicked a button for a FastPass ticket with the time you were to arrive later, and then you gave the ticket to the FastPass Scanner when you arrived later and got to go on a “fast lane” to the ride (aka… a shorter line than the regular one, which was usually around a 1-2 hour wait for a FastPass ride).
NOW, you book your Fastpasses and schedule them for each park about 6 months in advance to ensure you get a Fastpass for the ride you want! It’s actually a good system, since it keeps the lines from backing up and really keeps the Fastpass line fast! You can book up to 3 Fastpasses per park each day, so make sure you mark it on your calendars to book those ahead of time as well!
MagicBands are basically your all-access pass to Disney World. It’s your room key, admission ticket, FastPass holder, PhotoPass, and credit card to purchase food or merchandise and have it charged to your hotel room card on file.
Yeah. These babies do A LOT. Not to mention, they are also super adorable! You can customize them and choose from 8 different colors for free, or shop around and find a custom band.
The MagicBands come included if you’re staying at a Disney Resort Hotel, but if you aren’t, the admission tickets still come with a card that you can use interchangeably with the MagicBand.
Download the “My Disney Experience” App
This app is super handy to have both before your Disney World trip, as well as during! You can sign in and pay on your trip ahead of time, view the list of restaurants and make reservations, and also view the park hours all from the app!! One of my favorite things though, that I’m sure I’m going to be using QUITE often when we get to Disney, is the real-time map with wait times.
This map is so fricking cool! You choose which park you want to view, and the map of the park pulls up along with all of the ride wait-times you would see posted outside the ride if you were to walk there! So basically it saves you a ton of walking trying to find what the shortest wait-time are for rides if you don’t have a FastPass at the time. You can also view Show Times and Schedules from the app as well! The app is free to get and [from what I can personally tell so far] works really well and isn’t glitchy at all. I would definitely recommend this for any Disney-goers!
Budget Ahead of Time
Aaaaaand finally, make SURE you make out a budget ahead of time before even booking the vacation so you know how much it will cost total. Disney isn’t cheap, and while it is one of my favorite vacations, it still costs a pretty penny if you want all the bells and whistles. So just make sure to include everything when you’re looking at the cost for the trip. Tickets (w/park hopper or without?), hotel (DRH or off-site?), air-fare (if you’re flying in)… It definitely can add up, but Disney World is one of the greatest vacation experiences in the world, if you ask me and going with family and friends makes it that much better.
I hope this list of tips helps you guys when planning your own trip to Disney World and I hope you have a fabulous and magical time! ♡
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