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11 Steps for Families Planning a Walt Disney World Vacation

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From the moment I stepped foot onto Disney property as  a Walt Disney World College  Program participant, I dreamt of the day I would return with my family to the "happiest place on earth". I was only a teenager at the time. However, I envisioned myself hand in hand with my husband and five children, parading around the Magic Kingdom with wide eyes, brushing excess pixie dust from our shoulders. So, imagine my excitement years down the road when I married my husband, bore three children, and the  manifestation of that family Disney vacation was finally within reach. I, like you, scoured the internet for helpful tips to aid me in my planning adventure. While threading through Disney's endless entertainment and magical experience opportunities, I acquired many tips that helped make our vacation all I had hoped for and more.

  #1 Give Yourself Time to Plan

Walt Disney World is one of the top vacation spots in the world offering guests a colorful buffet of endless activities, entertainment, and unforgettable family moments.  Therefore, many families plan their Disney vacation 6-18 months or more in advance to get the most out of their vacation. Planning your Disney vacation can be as exciting as the actual vacation. However, if you do not allow yourself adequate planning time, it can be overwhelming. Determine the time you will need to plan the vacation your family wants.

#2 Research

Planning a Walt Disney World vacation is fun. It's exciting and even magical. But, before any major plans are set into stone, do your due diligence and research your options. While some have a disdain for research, your investigation into the World of Disney could significantly impact the quality of your vacation. While I highly recommend websites such as www.wdwprepschool.com and www.wdwinfo.com,  it's advisable to begin your research with the Disney Planning DVD available through the Walt Disney World website. This FREE DVD provides an exciting overview of  the Disney Resort from its theme parks, dining options, budget friendly to luxury accommodations, and much more. 

#3 Decide What Type of Disney Vacation Best Suits Your Family


While Walt Disney World is a massive resort rich with day to night fun and excitement, it's host city, Orlando,  offers an abundance of entertainment, resort living, and dining options for visitors as well. With that said, what vacation best suits your family? Do you envision being engulfed in 24/7 Disney themes? Would you like to take advantage of other Orlando theme parks? Would you like to visit the beach? Do you enjoy spending hours by the pool or pounding it out at the parks? Do you prefer quick service or sit down meals? Ultimately, these decisions will drive your vacation planning and potentially save you from feeling overwhelmed by the number of available options awaiting you. Begin with these three questions 1. In what season will you visit? 2. How long will you stay? 3. Will you stay on or off Disney property? The answers to these questions should steer you from general research to actively planning your personalized Disney vacation.  

#4 Budget

After researching your options, and deciding what type of Disney vacation best suits you and your family, it is a good idea to also decide on a budget.  You want to enjoy your vacation without looming financial concerns clouding your clear skies. Therefore, whether you choose to settle on a specific dollar amount or a range to remain within, determine how much money you will comfortably spend on your vacation. How much of your budget will be spent on purchases prior to you  departure (i.e deposits, park tickets, transportation, clothing)? Will you pay for your resort or hotel stay in full prior to arrival? Will you utilize Disney's Dining Plan? Consider items such as food, groceries, park treats, souvenirs, parking fees, toll fees, and dining as part of your overall budget. Will you pay with cash, credit, or debit card? 

Once you have set your budget, devise a savings plan to ensure that you have the money needed to pay for your vacation. Small purchases add up quickly at Disney. This tip made purchasing souvenirs, participating in extra activities, and eating out to the extent that we enjoyed, completely stress free. 

#5 Surprise or no surprise?


At one time or another I think most of us have seen some variation of the big, "We're going to Disney!" reveal. We've seen unsuspecting kids dressed in pajamas munching on cereal only to discover that they will be headed to The Castle within hours. Some children scream in excitement while others stagger around in shock. As exciting as the surprise can be, allowing your children to plan the trip with you can be equally as exhilarating. Here are two pros and cons for both:

Surprise Pros:

For kids who dream of Disney, a surprise trip is a memorable moment that you nor they will most likely never forget. It's a unique childhood memory that could arguably never be recreated. 

A surprise trip allows you to plan without interruption and the inevitable, "Is it time yet?" questions leading up to the trip.

Surprise Cons:

Depending on the age of your children, it may be a challenge to keep the surprise. You will have to hide bags and any paper or electronic information related to your vacation. Also, you will have to be mindful of family members who may spoil the surprise by referencing your trip around the children.

A surprise trip does not allow the children to plan with you. Allowing the babes to act as co planners can build the anticipation for the trip and allows you to include their interests without guessing what they might like to do.

Of course there are ways to mix the two to get the surprise and their opinions as well. A simple internet search should provide you with ample ideas.

#6 Set Your Itinerary

This may be a bit of a downer for those who thrive on spontaneity. However, when it comes to Disney planning, it helps to at a minimum know  where you will be each day.  Disney offers guests a variety of dining options but seating is often unavailable for walk up guests without a wait if you are able to get in at all. If the family is hot and hungry, you don't want to find yourselves waiting an hour to eat everyday. To remedy this potential problem, Disney allows guests to make all on property dining reservations 180 days in advance. 

Because long wait times for popular attractions is also a less than desirable activity for families, Disney  also allows guests to reserve fast passes prior to arrival. After purchasing park tickets, you may go online and reserve a designated time frame for members of your party to experience their favorite attractions without waiting in line. It's fabulous! 

Knowing where you will be each day allows you to utilize these options, and free you from some long lines and avoidable wait times, allowing time for spontaneity in other areas of your trip. 

#7 Prepare for the Parks

While there are many helpful tips for Walt Disney World planners, one of the most essential tips for traveling families, is being prepared for the hours you will spend at the park. Mentally prepare your children for a lot of walking (wear good walking shoes). Depending on the time of year, prepare for heat and/or rain. And prepare them for early mornings and long days. 

You will find that many families carry with them a backpack of essentials. Some things we carried  in our backpack are as follows: moleskin pads, water, a mist bottle, change of clothes, sunscreen, ponchos, hand sanitizer, face wipes, band aids, cameras, glow sticks, and autograph books with stickers and markers. 

Our backpack was relatively large but still fit into the bag compartment on most rides. And  with the exception of the moleskin pads, we used everything in our backpack while at the parks. 

#8 Become Familiar with Available Resources and Services

Because Walt Disney World attracts a massive amount of guests each year, there are many outstanding resources and services available through both Disney and other outside companies to make your stay even more magical. From stroller rentals, ticket add ons, to grocery delivery, take advantage of some of the services that may fit your families needs. While some may save you money, some services provide added convenience to make your stay as enjoyable as possible. Some services and resources we utilized were: memory maker, grocery delivery through www.gardengrocer.com, and three fast pass selections each day at the parks. 

#9 Know What to Pack

As the time draws closer to your departure, make sure you know what to pack. How many outfits will you need? Will you be bringing food, pool supplies, or other items from home? Take inventory of what you have and list what you need. Start the process well ahead to alleviate stressful packing and potentially forgetting something. Give yourself time to pack as efficiently as possible. I chose to have our family packed 2 weeks in advance. Doing so helped me to  ensure that we had all our essentials.

#10 Plan for Your Return


In the midst of planning to leave for vacation, we often times overlook planning for a smooth return. After my Disney vacation, I wanted to return with a smile on my face. This required some forethought. Any routine appointments scheduled during your vacation such as Dr. appointments or home cleaning services should be rescheduled. Any financial obligations should be met before hand to avoid, "Oh no! That was due!" Fill prescriptions ahead of time and remember to tidy your home just prior to leaving. These simple steps will give you a moment at least of extra time to relax mentally as you transition back into your daily schedule after vacation.

#11 Magical Moments

After you think you have turned every stone and planned as much of your vacation as you would like, return to your resources with fresh eyes. I added some of the most memorable aspects of our vacation just weeks before traveling. After months of planning, I was shocked by the amount of activities and experiences I had overlooked. Just prior to leaving, we added a Polynesian themed character breakfast and Pirate Cruise that my boys absolutely loved. 

Whether it's your first or fifth visit to Walt Disney World, planning your Disney Vacation is always exciting. It is impossible to do everything in one visit. With each visit you will simultaneously take note of all the things you want to do on your next visit.  Use these 11 tips to make planning your Disney adventure as exciting as the adventure itself. Congratulations and enjoy your experience at The Magical World of Disney.

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