Jolene goes to Walt Disney World - Planning!
Disclaimer: This is NOT a Disney Park review - it is a REVIEW OF HOW I APPROACHED PLANNING MY TRIP.
After probably 20 years of faithful hoping, wishing and waiting, I finally got to visit Walt Disney World for the first time. My trip did not disappoint - four parks in six and half days, full of pixie dust, imagination and Disney Magic.
Before I delve into the details of the parks in my other posts, I'd like to give you an overview of the planning I did. I'm used to being told I am "too much" in the planning department, that I need to "relax" and I can just "wing it." However, I disagree, and my planning is a huge reason my trip was so successful. By successful I mean I saved money, rode all of the rides I wanted to (some even multiple times), saw almost every show I wanted to, and made the most of my time.
For your reference, here is my Disney World Pinterest board, so you can see what kind of resources I was looking at.
First, let's address something that often gets overlooked: Disney World is in Orlando, Florida. The weather in Florida is not mild, and not being prepared can really put a damper on the Disney Magic. Even though I am from California, I've had my share of thunderstorm and downpour experiences. Humidity is high in Orlando, and I highly recommend packing smart. Consider bringing
- An umbrella
- A change of clothes to the parks
- Extra socks
- Waterproof shoes (or in my case, I brought flip flops in my backpack. When it began to pour, I changed shoes.)
- A lightweight raincoat/jacket
Orlando is known as the lightning capital of the United States, so lightning is a regular occurrence. It was a little scary for me at first, despite my previous experience, mostly because we were outside all day every day. However, after a couple days, we started to recognize the signs of an impending downpour. The wind began to blow strongly, clouds got darker, and the air was filled with moisture. We learned to seek cover or change into our rain gear, and we were spared.
Also be aware that many attractions will shut down because of rain and/or lightning. Expedition Everest will run in the rain (we rode it in a mild downpour), the Indiana Jones Stunt Show will shorten (sadly the more exciting parts are skipped when there is lightning), and several other rides will not run.
For us, the rain was not intense until the afternoon, so we tried our best to do the more popular rides earlier in the day, in case they closed later.
First, I had to decide whether or not I wanted to stay on Disney property, then I had to pick a resort. This decision actually took me the longest. After much consideration, I chose a resort based on what was important to me, not necessarily where all of the reviews recommended. I am not a pool person, so I did not need to book a resort with elaborate pools, etc. I recommend making a list of what is important to you (pricing, quiet, spacious rooms, views, distance from parks, etc.) and eliminating resorts that do not match your list.
Pro tip: Don't just choose the cheapest resort. Choose based on your preferences and what is actually important to you. CHOOSING CHEAPLY MAY HURT YOU LATER, ESPECIALLY IN DISTANCE AND/OR TIME LOST.
If you're on the fence about staying on Disney property, please take the following into consideration:
- Deluxe, moderate, or budget resort?
- There is free transportation to and from Disney parks and Disney Resorts
- The Magical Express will take you to and from the Orlando Airport and your resort
- There is Disney Magic on property
- By staying on property, you get even more time in advance to book FastPass+ and reserve dining
- Resort guests get free Magic Bands
- Resort guests get access to Extra Magic Hours when they are offered
I ended up choosing Port Orleans Riverside, and you can read my full review here. One blog that really helped me in choosing a resort is Disney Tourist Blog. They are open and honest that what they post are their opinions, not necessarily shared by everyone, but their honesty stopped me from spending more money than I needed to.
Next, I had to choose what parks to pick on which day. This sounds unnecessary, but some parks offer Extra Magic Hours for resort guests only, and it is smart to plan on utilizing those hours. Please note that I had already checked on flights and prices, so I already knew what days we'd potentially be going. Our schedule ended up as follows:
Saturday: LAX to MCO
Sunday: Disney Springs
Monday: Animal Kingdom (with morning Extra Magic Hour)
Tuesday: Magic Kingdom (with extra ticketed event, Extra Morning Magic)
Wednesday: Magic Kingdom (with evening Extra Magic Hours)
Thursday: Epcot (with morning Extra Magic Hour)
Friday: Hollywood Studios
Saturday: MCO to LAX
Pro tip: Check on those extra magic hours! ALSO BE AWARE THAT MAGIC KINGDOM IS OFTEN MOST CROWDED ON MONDAYS AND FRIDAYS.
Next, I committed and purchased a resort + 5-day park ticket package through the official Disney website.
FASTPASS+ and dining reservations
FastPass+ is a system that allows Disney guests to reserve attraction spots ahead of time, during a particular time slot. For resort guests, FastPass+ can be booked up to 180 days in advance, and depending on availability. This means you need to have a good idea of what rides you want to do before you even get to Orlando. Guests may book up to 3 FastPass+ per person per park. Once those are used up, an additional FastPass+ may be booked.
I did a ton of research via Pinterest and many, many Disney blogs. I familiarized myself with the popular rides (such as Flight of Passage, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) and read about how other were able to ride these rides without a FastPass+ and without waiting for literal hours.
MY DISNEY EXPERIENCE APP
More and more, I am trying to limit my phone use, so the idea of another app is not appealing to me. However, the My Disney Experience app will be your best friend on your Disney World trip. By downloading the app and logging into your Disney account, you will see all of your reservations, tickets, FastPass+, photos, and more. You can even use it with your phone to open your hotel room.
PRO TIP: MAKE SURE YOU USE THE DISNEY APP. YOU WILL BE ABLE TO SEE WAIT TIMES, YOUR RESERVATIONS, FASTPASS+, PHOTOS, AND MORE. IT IS FREE TO DOWNLOAD, AND FREE TO MAKE AN ACCOUNT.
I had to call customer service to pass on my flight information for the Magical Express, and on my call, the cast member introduced me to "Extra Magic Mornings." EMMs are separately-ticketed events, and at Magic Kingdom, guests can go on particular rides in Fantasyland and have a hearty buffet breakfast. Even though the ticket is pricey, I weighed the pros and cons, including being able to ride the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train multiple times. It ended up being worth it for us.
PRO TIP: LOOK BEYOND THE PRICE TAG FOR OPTIONS LIKE EXTRA MORNING MAGIC. IF YOU ARE ON A TIGHT BUDGET, TRY TO CUT SOME CORNERS ELSEWHERE AND INVEST IN THIS EXTRA TICKET. IT COULD POTENTIALLY SAVE YOU TIME LATER.
Another fairly pricey service I used is the Memory Maker. While its price is in the triple digits, the Memory Maker is worth it for photophiles and guests who are looking to collect extra memories. Basically, for a flat rate, you have access to all photos taken by Disney photographers, magic shots, and all ride photos/videos. There is a flat rate for a one-day visit, and another flat rate for anything more than one day. If you are going for a week like we did, the Memory Maker is totally worth it. We ended up with close to 200 photos! Above you'll see some examples of what kind of shots you'll get - character meet and greets, prime photo spots, ride photos, and magic shots.
I saw a cute idea on Pinterest that I adopted, and it proved itself very useful on our trip. I bought a small binder on Amazon, printed out my itineraries for each park, flight information, maps, and any other useful information and put it all in the binder. I didn't bring it with me to the parks, but it stayed in our hotel room as a resource. We didn't have to try to remember everything, between the My Disney Experience app and the binder. I don't necessarily recommend this to everyone, but having print-outs of your schedules, etc. can be very helpful and relieve the burden of trying to remember everything. In addition, I will be using the binder as a scrapbook!
Below is a quick video flipping through some of my binder:
Below you will also find one of my itineraries that I drew out (by hand) for Magic Kingdom. I saved a digital copy on my phone, in addition to having a copy in the binder, so when we were in the park, I could pull it up and check attractions off as we did them.
So there you have it! I spent a lot of time and effort to make the best of my first trip to Disney World. I utilized as many resources as possible, including the Minnie Van, the Disney transportation buses, Memory Maker, and advanced dining reservations. I do NOT recommend "winging it" when it comes to Disney World, mostly because you are more likely to waste time and money.
If you have any detailed questions about my planning or resources, please feel free to contact me!
Until next time,