The very first question most first timers to Walt Disney World (WDW) ask is: “Do I really need to PLAN this vacation. Can’t I just be spontaneous?” My answer is an emphatic yes, you ought to do some planning, but there is plenty of room for spontaneity as well. While you can always have a great vacation at WDW without planning. You will find that doing some ground work will add immensely to you enjoyment before, while there and afterwards as well as avoiding disappointments.
In this series of articles, we will look at all aspects of planning a winning WDW vacation. We’ll provide you with a step by step guide to the planning and even include Disney Dragon’s ( that would be me) own planning tools to assist you along the way.
The topics we will cover consist of:
- Planning timeline
- Travel options to get there
- When to go
- Where to stay
- Where to dine
- Disney Dining Plans
- Making dining reservations
- Park tickets and options
- How much will it cost and sample budget
- How much time to spend there
- Disney without kids
- Disney with kids
- Disney with tweens and teens
- Disney with Special Needs guests
- Disney as a solo traveller
- Touring plans
- Disney FastPass system
- Disney’s PhotoPass system
- Disney beyond the parks
- Special activities
- Holiday time at Disney
- Celebrating special events at Disney
- Utilizing a professional Disney Planner/Travel Agent
- Disney beyond WDW
If you have a Disney vacation in your future and you don’t see a particular area covered that you would like to have information on, please send me a comment on this post and I will try to address that as well.
Hopefully, the above list hasn’t either terrified you or made you feel overwhelmed. We’ll lay out a simple to follow process for you to plan your vacation and before long you’ll be looking forward to your upcoming Disney vacation.
The reason that Disney requires so much planning is that it is HUGE. Imagine going to New York City without hotel reservations, no dining reservations and no show tickets, etc. You get the idea. Well, Disney World is twice the size of Manhattan and covers about 47 square miles of which about 25% is developed and about 15% is set aside as a wildlife sanctuary. In addition to the resorts themselves, there are four major theme parks, two water parks, a large entertainment district called Downtown Disney as well as numerous other venues. These include several golf courses, miniature golf courses, a sports complex where the Atlanta Braves hold spring training, a race track which hosts the Richard Petty Driving experiences well as hot air ballooning, waterskiing, fishing and small boat rentals.
How long in advance do you need to start planning a trip to WDW. For us it’s right after we return from the last one…or even before. At a minimum you should start 8-9 months prior to when you plan to go. Why so early? There are several “windows” that open up as a given date approaches and in order to be sure you are able to stay where you would like, attend a special event, book a dining reservation, etc, you will need to do so within a short time after the window opens. More on that later, for now just take a look at the spreadsheet below to familiarize yourself with it. We’ll be covering each of the terms and areas as we proceed . The main take-away for now is that you need to start planning early and consistently.
Doing the planning can be a family affair and serves to get everyone’s wants included and also ramps up the anticipation as each milestone on the planning timeline is accomplished. This brings up an often asked question: Should I make a WDW vacation a surprise for my spouse? What about the kids? Let’s talk about the kids first. If yours are young they may just be delighted to know that a Disney vacation is in their future. In this case a surprise is perfectly in order. For older kids, they will develop ownership if they are allowed to express their desires. For your spouse, I would say it depends. I have surprised my wife with a WDW vacation and Disney Cruise. She likes surprises and she loved it. We have also done the planning together as well. We have fond memories of sitting by the fire in the dead of winter looking at books, passing the iPad back and forth looking up info while having a hot chocolate. Just planning for WDW seems to warm up a cold winter’s evening. So, that said, you know your spouse best but I suggest involving them in the planning if this is your first time going. You can always keep the surprise for next time.
More resources are available for WDW Travel than probably anywhere else on earth. My personal recommendations are listed here.
- You have a great start here at WDW FanZone. One of the great things about this site is that it is not scripted and so you get the personal observations of a great group of people who are first and foremost, Disney Fans on a wide range of topics. http://www.wdwfanzone.com
- The WDW official website is a good place to discover what is currently going on at WDW. Here you can get general info on the resorts, attractions, Park hours and much more. You can order a free Vacation Planning DVD that gives you a tour of WDW. You can also order free personalized park maps. http://disneyworld.disney.go.com
- The absolute best podcast on the planet (at least for WDW ) is Lou Mongello’s WDW Radio show. http://www.wdwradio.com
- The WDW Food Blog is a great place to discover the wonders of WDW dining spots and food and snacks .http://www.disneyfoodblog.com/
- Deb Will’s AllEars.net is a terrific source for Disney info. http://allears.net/index.html
- Subscribe to Tim “Bananas” Foster’s Celebrations Magazine to have a little bit of Disney magic in your mailbox (or inbox for the digital edition). http://celebrationspress.com/
- If you like resource books to read, Birnbaum’s Official guide to WDW is good for general info. Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc
- A much more comprehensive source is the “Unofficial Guide to WDW” http://touringplans.com
- I also recommend joining Len Testa and the crew at Touring Plans. For a modest fee, you get access to park calendar info, crowd levels at each park attraction wait times and much more. Your subscription also includes an app called Lines that has a wealth of info right on your smartphone. It’s available for both iOS devices and Android. Don’t leave home without it. http://touringplans.com
Next time we will look at travel options and when to go.Share