Posted by: Genny Colby | January 21, 2014

10 Things I Learned…

…planning a magical Disney World Vacation.  After a year of planning, we had the most magical Walt Disney World Vacation!  I can’t believe we pulled it off!  Now I find myself wanting to plan another one…but the next big vacation like that is a few years away…

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Until then, I thought I would share with you, in no particular order, the top 10 things I learned while planning and enjoying this vacation.

#1-…work with a good Disney travel agent.  I know that people plan their own Disney vacations every year, but working with an agent made everything SO easy.  I used Glass Slipper Concierge.  I was randomly assigned an agent, Trish Mitchell, who turned out to be AMAZING!  I had a pretty good idea when I made contact of the basics that I wanted, she was able to take my thoughts and put together options for me.  She showed me a variety of hotel options, discussing the pros/cons of each.  She had wonderful suggestions about dinning options, how to get the most of our time, special events (like Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party) and other hidden secrets.  She was available for questions and help from our first contact, through our trip.  And it turned out she was on vacation at Disney at the same time, yet she answered every message I sent, helped us make changes as needed, and just checked in to be sure that we were having a great time.  She also went above and beyond…making sure my daughter got a birthday call from Mickey and Minnie, noting on one of our dining reservations it was a birthday trip so my daughter got a special birthday cupcake.  But beyond that, it took so much of the details out of my hands.  With Disney, you can make (and really SHOULD) make any dining and special event reservations 180 days prior to your trip.  I didn’t have to make sure I was ready, on the date, to call.  She took care of all of it, was able to make adjustments as necessary, and made sure we had everything we wanted, there was no overlap or tight time frames.  Our next Disney trip…and yes I am already starting to think about that one…I will go back to Trish!

#2-Character Meals.  Do these, as many as you can.  Not only is the food AMAZING, but it is great way to meet the characters and not have to stand in LONG LONG LONG lines in the park, taking away from your time to ride the rides and see the shows.  Character meals are great as each character comes to your table, will sign autographs, and pose for pictures.  It is a more intimate time then you get when you see characters in the park  since they are at your table, and there are not 100+ people pushing behind you for their turn.

#3-Stay on property.  I have never stayed on property before and I don’t think I will ever stay OFF property again!  It is so convenient!  By staying on site, you get the daily “Magic Hours” where the park is open early or late for resort guests.  You can just hop on the monorail or bus and go to what ever park you want.  If you need a break in the middle of the day  you can head back to your hotel, take a rest, hit the pool, go for a walk, go to the arcade, and then head back to the park later in the day.

#4-Fast Passes-USE them!  We were part of a test group this time with the new “Magic Bands” program (wrist band that you use for your hotel key, dining plan, you can use to shop, and it is used for your park tickets and fast passes too).  With the new Magic Bands, you can access your Magic Band online and set up your fast passes before you even arrive in the park.  This was nice as I was able to set up some of the “must dos” for our young kids.  But you can also add/change things once you are in the park.  And be sure to check some of the more popular rides like Splash Mountain and Space Mountain early in the morning or later in the evening.  Then you can either set up a later Fast Pass to go again, or use your Fast Pass for another ride later in the day.  BUT you only get 3 Fast Passes per day and they are only good in 1 park per day.   I am hoping that Disney reconsiders this…as they promote the park hoppper pass and if you can only use Fast Passes at one park per day…kind of discourages that a bit.  But it is so nice to go through the Fast Pass line and skip the 40+ min wait on a ride you and your kiddos really want to do!

#5-Park Hopper Pass-pay the extra and upgrade your tickets to the park hopper.  Really.  While you may plan one park per day (we did) we also liked the idea we could go to any park any day we wanted.  We stayed at the Contemporary…a walk or short monorail ride to the Magic Kingdom and we went there every day but one, even for a couple of hours at the end of the day.  Next trip when our youngest is a bit older, I think we would use this even more as we didn’t focus on any of the shows or parades or light displays this time and  I think we will next time.

#6-Dining Plan-this one is a little more by personal choice.  Personally, I liked that we had already paid for all our food (we went with the Deluxe Plan that gave us 3 meals and 2 snacks per day per person).  It provided us the chance to not worry about where we were eating, what we wanted to eat, and it was already budgeted and paid for in our package.  And with the Magic Band, we just scanned it and added the tip when we did a sit down meal.  Since we had at least one character experience meal 6 out of the 8 days we were there…I think it was worth it.  You may also score a “free dining plan” if your trip dates fall into one of their specials.  BUT that said, there is some thought about the cost of the plan(s) vs how much you are likely to spend if you paid a la cart for meals.  We just found the convenience worth the price.

#7-Plan an “extra” day for some down time.  This was a tip I read on a number of different Disney planning blogs (and recommended by our agent when I asked her about it).  It allows you to slow down and enjoy some of the other extras that Disney offers when staying on site.  You can swim in the pools, play in the arcades, checkout Downtown Disney, walk along the beach, take a nap, and just recharge your batteries.  It also provided us the comfort to know we really did have time to do everything we wanted to do this trip and not feel like we were rushing all the time.

#8-Pick an “off time” to travel.  If you can, try not to go during the big “school break” times like the two weeks at Christmas, or Spring Break.  We went in early December and while there were still tons of people, it was not as crazy as when we’ve gone during the Christmas break or even early summer.

#9-Get to your reservations a few minutes early.  You will still wait…but they won’t seat you until your whole party is present and if you check in 5-10 min prior to your reservation, your wait time will bring you pretty close to your reservation time.  And if you want one of the character experience meals, make a reservation!  All the restaurants will take walk ins, but you will wait.  One wait I heard was almost 90 min…and your whole party has to be there…so you’re trying to keep your excited kids contained just for a meal…the shorter you to wait the better in my opinion.

#10-Let it all go and have fun!  Don’t worry about who is eating what, how late everyone stays up, try to say “yes” to yourself and your family as much as possible (and staying within your budget!)   For most of us, this is a once or twice in a lifetime trip.  Make the most of it, focus on making memories and just taking the time to enjoy being with your family.  Let the phone calls go to voice mail and the emails wait until you have a few minutes back in your room at the end of the day.  Take a million pictures, laugh and smile and enjoy those moments with your family.  Take a million pictures, be silly, hold hands, and look at the world through eyes of your kids.

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Now to start saving our pennies for the next Disney Vacation!

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