Planning a trip to Walt Disney World

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As my blog grows, you will discover many things about my personality, I’m sure. One of the most overpowering trait that I possess is my desire, my obsession, with being organized. Now obviously I’m not the only person in the blogging world, as is obvious by the sheer number of pins on Pinterest about life hacks and how to organize everything from your junk drawer and email to your wrapping station (who has one of these?!…and how do I get one…) and the mansion we all dream of living in.

Now I may not have a wrapping station or a clean junk drawer, but I am actually going to school to study organizing, well sort of. I am attending a Masters Program at the Simmons School of Library Science and my particular track focuses on Archives Management. Super nerdy, I know. I love it!

Now, on to the actual heart of this post: How I properly organize my future trips to Disney.

My husband and I decided we wanted to do another vacation at Disney World while we were there last November. However, due to the craziness that is our lives, we did not sit down to plan it until April of 2016. And when I say “we”, I really mean “me” with updates given to my husband along the way, to a chorus of “awesome!” and “sounds great!”

This is the general format the trip planning takes, with templates of my spreadsheets (told you: total organizing nerd) attached:

  • The first step is to figure out when to go. There are a number of crowd calendars out there, but my favorite can be found on the EasyWDW website. They have the calendars available months in advance, and for estimates, they are usually pretty accurate.  There is also other information on each day, and I find them to be user friendly and fairly readable. (I print out the month we plan our trip for, and keep it in my Disney binder, as well as in my Disney folder on my computer/onedrive)
  • Other than crowd levels, obviously I take into consideration work and school schedules, as well as other important dates. And, since Disney is not a small expense, the date needs to be far enough in the future to allow for budgeting a payment amount each month. Finally, you want to also be aware of the events that will be taking place at Disney at that time. For example, we love the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot, so we always try to go in the fall to make sure we can attend that. This year will be the first we will also be going to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.
  • After picking our dates, I use the website to see which resorts have a room available in our price range for the week we will be going. We usually stay at a moderate hotel, and this year we decided to try out Caribbean Beach Resort, as we have never stayed there before. My husband’s reaction? “Pirates! Cool!” The reviews since the refurbishment have been overwhelmingly great, with some people saying that this is the best Moderate Hotel option right now. (I will do a post later with my reviews of the resorts we have stayed at thus far)

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  • Once we have decided on the dates and resort, we had to decide if we wanted any of the extras. (It’s at this point that we would also select our tickets, but we actually have annual passes this year as a present from my parents.) Extras for this trip included a Disney Deluxe Dining Plan. We have used the Disney Standard Dining Plan before and we really liked it. The only issue we found with the Standard Dining Plan is that we are total foodies, and prefer more table service, and less quick service restaurants. We also LOVE appetizers (cheese plate, anyone?), so the Deluxe Dining Plan was a no-brainer for us. Now, I should specify three things: 1. We have no children, 2. We were okay with spending the money because we didn’t have to buy our tickets this trip, and 3. We know that going into this trip, we will be spending less time at rides and shows and more time revolving around our meals. I did a lot of research before we added the dining plan and even more time was spent on planning our credits out so we don’t lose any money. If you want to read more about these plans, check out what Tom Bricker has to say on the Disney Tourist Blog.
  • At this point, we have selected our dates, our resort, and all extras. We put down our deposit and planned out when we would make our payments, deciding on twice a month (it’s completely up to you, up to the final day that you can make reservations). In the future, I want to check out the Disney Vacation Account. Please let me know in the comments, if you have used this in the past and how you liked it.
  • Now that we have the dates, and we are getting close to being allowed to make Dining Reservations, I needed to plan out which parks to go to each day. It should be noted, we will always choose a park hopper option if it is available. We will have annual passes, so that also works. I think that we rarely stay at one park all day. From past history, for example, I know that a park with Extra Magic Hours will be way busier during the day, when everyone is there. It makes more sense to do a different, less crowded park during the day and return for the Extra Magic Hours, or leave after the Extra Magic Hours in the morning. While this cuts down on actual time spent in the park, since you will be traveling from one to the other, it is worth it to us to be able to do more rides in a smaller amount of time. The other consideration for where to go each day involves which night time entertainment is available and when. Finally, you need to be flexible! If you make your schedule and a dining reservation is only available on a different day, be willing to move things around. I should reiterate, and not for the last time, this is what works for my husband and me. All planning will shift accordingly when you add more people, especially children.

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  • Once we hit the 180 day mark, I woke up at 4 AM Central Time (no joke) to make Advance Dining Reservations. Like I said, in order to get the most out of our Deluxe Dining Plan, we had to have a plan of attack. I would not suggest the plan for first timers or those that don’t want to lose large parts of their day to sitting down and eating. My husband and I have been to Disney quite a lot and this is a celebratory trip for our 4th anniversary. We wanted to try out restaurants we had never been to and get dressed up for signature experiences we had never tried. These are the ADRs I was able to get that early April morning. (I should also say that many of these have changed since then and probably will up to and while we are there!):
  • A few things to highlight about these: 1. We are not breakfast people, and since breakfast is not a good value for your credits, we are going to go with a granola bar (from home) and Starbucks each morning (using a snack credit). 2. We are night owls, so to make the most of our credits we are doing a “late lunch” (dinner menu, which is usually more expensive, and often has larger servings) and a “late dinner” often after the parks close. 3. We are big eaters and more importantly, we are vacation eaters, so we want to eat everything we want on vacation without guilt, so a dining plan that includes appetizer, entree, and dessert allows us to not suffer from sticker shock. 4. Other than Starbucks in the morning, we will use our snack credits at the kiosks at the Food & Wine Fest, so we will get our money’s worth there as well.
  • Until the 60 day mark, I tweak and alter our schedule and reservations as I see fit. I read reviews about restaurants and keep track of refurbishments and new openings. For example, I knew that we wanted to try the new Tiffins, as well as the refurbished Flying Fish, but in April neither were available for ADRs. I checked back every week or so, until they “opened up”. We now have reservations at both. If you don’t find a reservation for a restaurant you really want, don’t give up!
  • At the 60 day mark, I did not wake up at 4 AM, but at 8 AM that morning I chose our fast passes for the week. I had My Disney Experience Itinerary, as well as my spreadsheet, open and tried to allow for time in between each event (meal, fast pass, show, etc.) so we would never feel rushed. I had warned my husband early on in the planning process that we would be taking a more leisurely pace this trip than some of the ones in the past.

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  • We are less than 2 months out and now all that’s left to do is tweak (I’m never done tweaking) and begin the packing. We have decided to do a few days of Disney Bounding (post to come soon) and we have to plan our costumes for the Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.

Spreadsheet Template:

This might seem like overkill to many people, but a large part of how I handle and add to my excitement for a trip is in the planning. I hope you enjoy my walkthrough and please comment with how you plan for your trips to Disney!

~Until~

Bethany

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