Top 10 Disney Vacation Planning Tips (Part One)

As many of you know, we recently got home for a family vacation to Walt Disney World.  It is my all-time favorite vacation destination and for me, the happiest place on earth!   I have been to Disney World numerous time, although only the last two trips have been with my young kids.  What a treat to experience the magic through the eyes of your child as they watch their beloved characters come to life.

If you are considering a trip to Disney World with or without small children, there are lots of things to think about.  Here are the first five of my Top 10 Disney Vacation Planning Tips.

1.  Stay on Disney Property and at a Disney Hotel. 

The Streets of our Favorite Disney Hotel,
Port Orleans French Quarter


When traveling, I always look for the cheapest option or the best deal.  To stay on property and at a Disney hotel is not the cheapest option, but it is the best deal.  You gain so much by staying at a Disney hotel.  And isn’t part of the treat of vacation about convenience?

By staying at a Disney hotel, you get free and direct transportation (by bus, ferry or monorail) to each of the parks.  We mainly use the bus system and while you may have to stop to pick up other guests at another hotel, you never have to make another connection and switch buses.  Did I mention you avoid parking fees and also receive complimentary airport transfers?

Two years ago, we stayed at a non-Disney hotel on Disney property for a short visit.  While it was incredibly cheap, it was inconvenient with small children.  Our hotel provided bus transportation to the Disney Transportation Center and from there, we had to take a bus to get to our destination park.  No easy trips back to the hotel for a nap!  For Disney Resort information, go here.

2.  Book Your Vacation when a Free Dining Plan is being offered.

This meal only cost us gratuity!  Narcoossee’s at the Grand Floridian

My husband loves to eat!  If I have any hopes of going to Walt Disney World every other year, it is because of this Free Dining Plan.  You can find out when it is being offered by contacting your travel agent or calling our regular sponsor, Beaches & Dreams Travel Company, at 1(877) R-Dreams.  Incidentally, you don’t pay anything to have a travel agent book your Disney vacation.  They earn commission from Walt Disney World.  You only pay a fee to most travel agents when they book your airfare.

Back to the Dining Plan!  Which free dining plan you are entitled to depends on which level hotel you book:  Value, Moderate, etc.  Our favorite hotel is Port Orleans French Quarters which is a moderate level hotel.  (We love it for location, look and feel…and we’ve been there so many times that it feels like coming home.)

The Free Dining Plan at a moderate hotel includes a Quick Service Meal of entree, drink and dessert, a Snack, and a Table Service Meal of entree, drink and dessert.  Tax is included, but gratuity is usually not.  The plan typically costs over $55 per adult, per day.  Great savings here and you will never feel hungry!  For more info, check here.

For additional savings, I usually pack instant oatmeal and bagels for breakfast, then just purchase fruit.  Kids can get milk as their lunch/dinner beverage.

3.  Make Restaurant Reservations 180 Days in Advance if Possible.

Character Dining at the Crystal Palace,
Magic Kingdom

If you want the favorite restaurants and at desirable times, make your reservations 180 days prior to your trip.  I got online at 6am and got all the restaurants I wanted, but not all the exact times I was hoping for.  You are allowed to make reservations for the length of your stay, up to 10 days.

If you have young children (or not, as a friend and I without children still went), be sure to book a character meal.  These are usually all-you-can-eat buffets where the characters make their way around to each table for greetings and photo opp’s.

This is where I suck my husband into the planning!  I chose a couple favorite restaurants and then he scanned all the restaurants and menus and made our other selections.

4.  Have Enough Time

Make sure you have plenty of time at Disney World so as not to feel rushed.  To me, an ideal trip is 6-8 days (although my husband has his fill after 5 days!).  There are four parks:  the Magic KingdomEpcotHollywood Studios and the Animal Kingdom.  Even with small children, we went to all four parks, spending most of our time at the Magic Kingdom and Epcot.

The key for our family is to stop back at the hotel in the afternoon for daily naps (yes, we napped too!).  By scheduling a long enough trip, rushing through the week to get everywhere and do everything isn’t an issue.  Well rested kids and parents are great for the long days in the sun.

5.  Purchase Park Hopper Tickets with Your Package

The Opening of the Magic Kingdom

A Park Hopper ticket is simply that.  You are able to ‘park hop’ from park to park in the course of the day as opposed to having admission to only one park.  Every day of our trip, we park hopped.  We started at one park, say the Magic Kingdom, then after lunch went back to the hotel.  After napping, we headed to Epcot or elsewhere for our dinner reservations and spent the evening there.

Next week, I’ll have the other five planning tips for you.  Don’t miss making your next trip to Disney the best ever!

Top 10 Disney Vacation Planning Tips (Part Two)
Make it Magical:  10 Tips for Getting the Most of Your Disney Vacation

20 Not-To-Miss Moments at Walt Disney World



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