Planning your WDW trip...without losing your mind or breaking the bank.
Let's tackle this in a few easy steps, shall we?
1. Don't panic. It's just Disney.
2. Start your planning early. And by early, I mean at least six months in advance.
3. Don't panic.
OK, now that we have that out of the way, let me give you some of my tips on planning your vacation to the happiest place on earth. (And let me repeat...these are just MY tips -- things I've done while planning two Disney vacations in the past 1 1/2 years).
At least six months before your trip:
First and foremost -- buy some travel planning books/guides. You cannot travel down the Disney planning path without some help. You will get lost and frustrated. A few of my favorite books include: The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, Passporter's Walt Disney World, and Birnbaum's Walt Disney World. (For your kids, I would buy the Birnbaum's Walt Disney World for Kids book -- my daughter loves hers!)
Read these books. They are full of useful and helpful information that will help you plan a great Disney trip. While I recommend those three books...there are others out there. Your local bookstore should have a good section on Disney planning guides.
In addition to the books, you should also look at some of the unofficial Disney Web sites. I am a regular visitor to allears.net, TouringPlans.com, and MousePlanet, and others! These sites are full of information, tips and resources for planning your trip. You can find reviews of resort hotels, menus from the WDW restuarants and calendars.
Visit the Walt Disney World site and spend some time looking around. Check out the resorts, the monthly calendars for the parks, the special vacation packages, etc. Specifically, check this out.
When do you want to visit?
If you have school age kids, this is a serious consideration - do you want to take the kids out of school or visit during the summer months? When I was a child, we would visit my grandparents in Tampa just about every summer and we usually made a trek over to the Magic Kingdom for a day (at that time, it was JUST the Magic Kingdom -- now you have FOUR parks to contend with in addition to two water parks!). I don't remember the crowds...but then again, I wasn't really too concerned about crowd levels.
As an adult, I think about crowd levels a lot. This site has a great tool if you're worried about crowds. I can tell you this, the crowds last week (the week before Easter) were OUTRAGEOUS. See here. In 2007, we took our daughters to WDW for a week at the end of September. It was lovely. The crowds OK, the waits weren't long at all (we walked on 'it's a small world' over and over and over again...and then some). The bonus for that trip? It was also during the time the MK presents "Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party."
This year, we're going next week (April 25th-May 2nd). I'm expecting crowds to be 'average'....but then again, WDW has been offering their 'buy 4, get 3 free' deal so they might be a bit bigger than normal. I'll report back on the actual crowd levels after May 3rd.
Speaking of DEALS...thanks to the recession (thank you, recession!), WDW has been offering some sweet deals lately. Right now, the special offer is "Free Dining" -- with a 5-night/6-day package at select resorts you get Disney Dining FREE! In my humble opinion...this is a GREAT offer. We did this in 2007 and saved enough money that we were able to go for 7 days with a park hopper option on our ticket. Go here for more info. And don't forget, you can get into the parks FREE this year on your birthday.
Also consider these special events: Epcot® International Food & Wine Festival, Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, and going on right now, the Epcot® International Flower & Garden Festival. For info, go here.
How much do you want to spend?
Being budget-conscious (no, really...I am!), I would recommend looking at the value resorts first. They are just enough room for a family of 4 (although there are some family suites now too), and are reasonably priced. We have stayed at the All-Star Movies resort twice and I'd go back there in a heartbeat. The All-Star resorts are themed after movies, music and sports (and don't forget the Pop Century resort too).
This time around...we're staying at the Wilderness Lodge -- a deluxe resort. I fear that I may get spoiled and will never look back! In addition, WDW has moderate priced resorts. I've heard good things about several of these resorts, but have not been lucky enough to stay at one. A friend of mine swears by the Port Orleans resort -- she and her family stay there every time.
And, if you stay on property, I would recommend adding the Disney Dining Plan into your package. I could go on and on about this...but instead, visit here.
So, now what!?!
OK....so, you've read the books and surfed the Web sites and decided when you want to visit. Now what? Well, book that trip. I won't tell you who to book through -- there are sites listed in my travel resources, you could book through WDW, or AAA, or your own travel agent. There are perks to each, I'm sure.
Should you fly or drive? Again...that's up to you. We're flying. The nice thing about flying...well, aside from it only takes 2 1/2 hours from Detroit Metro airport (instead of 2 days of car travel from Ohio!)...you can utilize the Magical Express! What's that, you ask? Simply put: once you arrive at Orlando International Airport, you go downstairs to the Disney desk, do a preliminary check-in, catch a bus to your resort and (here's the magical part) -- your luggage arrives a couple hours later! You don't have to get your bags at the airport! Genius!!! That Mouse thinks of everything!
And now, you have you've booked your room, your tickets (I prefer to add a Park Hopper to mine), your dining plan, your flight...what to do now?
1. Figure out what character meals you want to reserve.
2. Decide what to pack and what to ship.
3. Start your countdown!
Next up...character dining...