Ultimate Walt Disney World Vacation Checklist
So, you’ve decided to visit Walt Disney World. Wonderful! You’ll have the time of your life while you’re visiting Orlando. You’ll create memories that you’ll fondly remember many years from now. You’ll even get a few pictures to frame and decorate the walls of your home.
Before all of that can happen, however, you have to set up your trip. That’s okay! I’m here to help! Today, I will offer a few suggestions on the best ways to schedule your Disney vacation. Here’s a Walt Disney World trip-planning checklist.
Booking Your Trip
The first step is to book your trip. Yes, that sounds basic, but there’s a lot involved. You have to decide how long you’ll stay, how you’ll travel, and which hotel you’ll book. The length of stay is an individual consideration.
When my family goes to Disney, we stay 10 days or more. When friends ask how long they need to “do everything”, my general answer is five or six nights. I always emphasize that longer is better, though. We go hard in the parks, but we also schedule a couple of “take it easy” days.
As for travel, you need a car less than ever at Walt Disney World. In addition to the buses, boats, and monorails, ride-sharing is also a massive industry in Orlando. You can easily get to Point A to Point B free of charge, or you can spend a bit of money to get there faster. The Minnie Van is a particularly stylish option for those who don’t mind spending $25 for a one-way car ride.
Don’t get me wrong. Driving is still a valid option. Everyone loves a road trip, right? You should understand that Disney recently implemented parking fees at their various resorts, though. Bringing your car costs an additional $13-$24 a night, which is $65-$120 over five nights. I strongly recommend flying, especially since many major airports have direct flights to Orlando.
Picking the right resort depends entirely on your traveling party’s needs. I strongly recommend that you contact a skilled professional from MickeyTravels to discuss hotel options. Their service is free, and they have tremendous working knowledge of not just the official Disney resorts but also traveler tendencies. Think of them as your personal assistant for travel needs. They’ll get all your needs sorted out and your trip booked efficiently. They’ll also aid you in buying theme park admission, an assumed step in this guide.
180 Days Out
With your major needs addressed, your next major decision is where to eat. What you may not realize is that many Disney restaurants are in high demand. These eateries take a certain number of reservations ahead of time. Then, they list as totally booked.
At that point, you’re left hoping for a cancellation or an in-person waiting list. Speaking from experience, those aren’t things you should count on. My wife was once rejected for a table at Chef Mickey’s while she was wearing a Happy Birthday! button. When a restaurant is full, it’s out of Disney’s hands.
The way to avoid this fiasco is to book Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs). Disney accepts ADRs 180 days ahead of your hotel stay, and there’s even a small window beyond that. A guest staying for six nights can book ADRs up to 185 days in advance, as an example.
MickeyBlog has written tons of articles about the best Table Service restaurants at the various theme parks. Take a few moments to read these lists, and you should have a strong idea of eight to ten places where you want to eat. You can also take advantage of Mobile Ordering to eat a few quick counter service meals while you’re at Walt Disney World. You’ll want a nice mix of Table Service and Quick Service meals. And that brings us to…
60 Days Out
You’ll want to take care of a couple of key trip items when you’re two months out. One is up for debate, but I strongly suggest it. I’m talking about signing up for the Disney Dining Plan (DDP). When you purchase the primary plan (or get it for free), you get one Table Service and one Quick Service meal per day.
What I love about the offer is that can pre-pay part of my vacation. Once I’ve ordered the DDP, my meals are “free” during the trip, save for server tips. It allows me to subdivide my vacation expenses, effectively stretching payments over a longer period. It saves me the stress of that terrifying credit card bill the week after I get back from vacation.
As an FYI, you can purchase the DDP all the way up until 72 hours prior to your trip. I’m listing it two months out, because that timeframe gives Mickey Travelers a chance to pay off their food expenses several weeks before they arrive at Walt Disney World.
Even if you pass on the DDP, you’ll still have something that you need to do when you’re 60 days out. FastPass windows are critical to your satisfaction with your Disney vacation. Some of the most popular attractions like Avatar Flight of Passage and Frozen Ever After have FastPass allotments that go quickly.
When you procrastinate with your FastPass booking, you run the risk of missing out on the hottest and best rides at Walt Disney World. Nobody wants that, right?! MickeyBlog has compiled our suggestions for best FastPasses at each park. The one update is that Hollywood Studios will change with the introduction of Toy Story Land in a few weeks. When it arrives, you should book Slinky Dog Dash as your Tier A FastPass.
Six Weeks Out
With your ADRs and FastPasses booked, you’ve done most of the heavy lifting with your vacation planning. The one thing you haven’t done yet is schedule Magical Express. While you could feasibly book it sooner, most travel experts understand that roughly six weeks out is when plane tickets are the cheapest. As such, you may not have flight information until roughly this timeframe.
As soon as you have booked plane tickets, contact Disney and request your Magical Express tags. The one suggestion I have is that you ask for more tags than you expect to use. They’re easy to misplace, and you also might pack more luggage than you had initially expected.
Keep an eye out for the tags in the mail. On a couple of occasions, I haven’t received my Magical Express information. When that happens, I’ve simply contacted Disney customer service and requested new ones.
Should you wait too long, however, you’ll have to do Magical Express at Orlando International Airport. It’s certainly not hard to do (we’ve done it a couple of times), but it takes extra time. Once you’ve set foot in Orlando, your primary thought will be to get to Walt Disney World as soon as possible.
Requiring help with Magical Express is something that will slow you down by a few minutes, possibly causing you to miss a bus and thereby wait another 20-30 minutes. It’s maddening when that happens, as Disney is so close that you can taste it, but you’re not there. Trust me. It’s a frustrating feeling…and one that you can easily avoid by getting your Magical Express luggage tags well ahead of your travel date.
Okay, those are the major advance steps for your Disney vacation. In a future article, we’ll discuss the things that you need to remember in the days leading up to your trip.
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