Background Information... Here are the things I think it's important to note before you read my take on planning a trip to Disney. This will help you gain perspective on why we made the decisions we did.
- Kids Ages: Henry 5, Eleanor "Nellie" 2.5
- Previous Disney Trips: James 0, Me 8, Henry 1, Nellie 0
- Things that were important to us... character encounters, children's rides and FOOD.
- Time of the Year of our Visit: Jan 11-20
Part 1 - Timeline!
I'm not good at reliably loading the dishwasher, I have no clue what to use to remove stains from clothing and I can't cook to save my life... BUT I am a planner! I can tab and sort the heck out of some stuff... Here are my steps to planning for Disney...
Step ONE... Set a budget.
Here's the deal... I knew that Disney is not a budget friendly vacation so I planned ours nearly a year in advance. I wanted to be able to prepare, financially, to make this the trip I wanted it to be. I'll break down our costs along the way in a transparent way so you can be realistic in your own planning. So create a budget, decide what you want to spend, and mentally prioritize the things that are most important to you.
Our budget, including tickets, accommodations, plane tickets and food was set around $6,000. I'll break that down further as we continue...
Step TWO... Set a date.
My children are not yet school age so I didn't have to worry about school breaks, this really helped me pick a time that was lighter on crowds. I did the research and found these are the best times to visit Disney... mid-late January, mid-late February, end of August, most of September, most of October and weekdays in November/December excluding holiday weeks. Beyond that I wanted to pick days where the weather was tolerable... the Florida sunshine can be ruthless. The average temp on our trip was 60s/70s which allowed us to comfortably stand in lines, wait for the parade, etc.
Step THREE... Book your accommodations...
DISCLAIMER: Holy hot button issue, Batman. I accept that everyone may not agree with my take on this section so please feel free to make your own decisions about what is right for your family.
We chose to stay OFF Disney property and I wrote a separate blog post on why, HERE. I won't go into detail, but staying off property was right for our family, and booking your accommodations should definitely be done prior to purchasing your tickets.
Disney does have a great tool for evaluating the cost of each resort and offering discounted vacation packages, so be sure to check on that if you're considering staying on property.
Step FOUR... Purchase tickets.
In order to make the most of Disney's planning services, you'll need to purchase your tickets and create a Disney account. We chose to purchase Park Hopper tickets... because I'm ambitious. Honestly, we only utilized this extra (the ability to visit two parks in one day) once on the entire trip. So if I did it again, I'd probably skip that extra.
Tickets for our family, two adults and one child (kids under 3 are FREE) were $1500... that was 7 Days of ParkHopper... I specifically left one NON Disney day on our agenda to allow for surrounding attractions... Kennedy Space Center, Sea World, Universal Studios, Etc.
Step FIVE... Make a Timeline.
Disney allows you to make dining reservations 180 days prior to your trip. You should have a list of the restaurants important to you prior to this deadline so you'll be ready to book right away. Here's an article to help with that! Disney dining experiences have a very wide range... everything from grab and go style fast food to white table cloth dining. The most popular style of Disney dining is Character Dining where the characters come around to each table to spend one on one time with your child, sign autographs and take photos. I feel like character dining has PROS and CONS, more on that in an upcoming blog post.
They also allow you to make FastPass+ reservations 30 days in advance if you're staying off property and 60 days in advance if you're staying on property. This service allows you to skip the line to an attraction (rides, character experiences etc) up to three times per day in a single park.
Step SIX... Shop around!
Once you've created your timeline and you have your dining experiences, time of year, etc nailed down, you can start shopping for the fun things for your trip. I'll be creating a separate blog post on our favorite small shops, outfits, etc soon, but the bulk of my shopping was done on Etsy and Kidizen.
If you haven't heard of Kidizen, you're missing out! Download the app from the app store to shop thousands of listings of new and gently used childrens clothing. The prices are very reasonable, most include shipping, and it's a great way to build your child's Disney wardrobe (or any wardrobe) on a budget. Use our referral code, obv6s, to get $5 off your first purchase.
The bulk of this post is to introduce you to the idea of planning a trip to Disney. There are hundreds of articles out there to help you plan the perfect trip, and I look forward to sharing more posts on things like what we wore, how we traveled and how we saved money on our trip in the coming days!
Thanks for reading!