Aug 3, 2009

Disney Vacation Tips

Between our family and the Edwards family, we've gotten lots of questions from people about our Disney trip since we got back: what kind of trip we planned, cost, whether or not we think someone's kids are old enough to go, what we think someone's kids would enjoy ... So, I decided to put together a Disney tips post to help anyone thinking about or actively planning a trip to Disney World! I know there are lots of you who read this blog who are seasoned Disney go-ers and some of you who have been pretty recently, so feel free to add your words of wisdom in the comments as well!

1. My first and biggest piece of advice is to PLAN and SAVE! Our Disney vacation was July 19 - 25, 2009, but we first planned the trip in August 2008. That means we took the entire year to save for the trip, research, plan how we wanted to make it happen, and work with our travel agent. By the time we pulled out of the driveway on July 19, our entire trip was paid for, we had every penny of spending money we planned to use in our pocket, and we had money in the bank account for gas and meals while we traveled. I don't think I would have enjoyed our trip as much if I knew we had to come back with a huge credit card bill hanging over our heads from the trip. So, research how much money it will cost you to have the vacation you want (because it will vary greatly depending on where you stay, what you do, and how you eat), then be realistic about the spending money you need (because it's Disney, folks - your kids will want it all, you'll want them to have it all, and it ain't cheap!) and any other money you will need for rental cars, gas, food, etc. Then save, save, save to make it happen!

2. Know what you and your kids can handle. I don't think there's any magic age when your kids are ready to go. You just have to know what each of you can handle. I, for instance, would never take a child who wasn't potty trained. Others of you may not find that to be a big deal, but that would personally make me miserable. Are your kids go-all-day kind of kids or will they need a break? You may have to plan time in the middle of the day to take your kids back to the hotel for a nap. Again, that would have driven me crazy, because I would have felt like I was missing out on a lot of my day that way. There were a couple of times Camryn fell asleep in her stroller - once at Epcot when we were walking through the World Showcase, so we just kept barreling through while she slept and then another day that she slept while we were doing a lot of monorail and bus riding. Those were perfect times for her to sleep. There was another day, however, when she fell asleep right as we were about to get in line for a ride at Hollywood Studios. I didn't have the heart to wake her right back up, so I sent the other three adults to ride while I took a break on one of the benches, people watched, and let her sleep for a while. If you have to go during the summer, which most families do, are your kids going to melt down because of the heat, will they be impatient and whiny in long lines? You know your child, so you know whether or not they are old enough, mature enough, etc. to handle such a big trip.

3. Get some help from the experts! Each year Birnbaum's put out a new Disney World guide. We bought ours in 2008, and it was basically our Disney bible for the year! It's filled with tips, information on each park, hotel information, prices, etc. There's even a specific Birnbaum's book for planning a Disney World trip with kids. Additionally, is a great resource. It's like Birnbaum's in internet form, in that it offers tons of information on everything Disney! We used it mainly when we were planning the restaurants where we wanted to eat. It has pretty up-to-date information on menu items and pricing. Awesome way to help you make some decisions beforehand so you aren't standing around each day once you get there wasting time trying to figure out where to eat.

4. Which brings me to my next tip - the Disney Dining Plan. Here's how this works. As part of your vacation package, Disney gives you the option of paying one flat rate for a dining plan. When you check in, you are given a card that functions as your room key, park admission, and dining ticket. Depending on the number of nights you are staying, you have a certain number of meals loaded onto that card. For example, we had a 6 night stay, so based on the dining plan we chose, we had 6 quick service meals, 6 snacks, and 6 table service meals per person in our party. You can use these anyway you want to - if you want to use every single one of them in one day, feel free to. If you'd like to skip a snack one day and have two at a later date, you can. So, each day we would go to lunch at a quick service place (think hamburger, hot dogs, chicken fingers) and each get one drink, one meal combo, and one dessert. We handed the cashier our room/admission/dining card and voila - no matter what the price, as long we stayed within the confines of what Disney considers one quick service meal, our card was swiped and we paid nothing there on the spot because it was already covered in the dining plan we paid for as part of our package. Snacks include anything from a bottle of water, to a frozen lemonade, to a piece of fruit, to a Mickey ice cream. To me, dinners are the best part of the dining plan, because it allows you to experience some of the neater restaurants that you may not typically have gone to if you had to pay out of pocket. At dinner, our table service included one drink, one meal, and one dessert (same as lunch, just nicer food since it was actually a sit down restaurant). Our bill at the 50's Prime Time Cafe was close to $60 for the 3 of us. Le Cellier was $80 or more, and for 4 adults and one child to attend the Hoop Dee Doo Revue, it was close to $250. However, not a bit of that was paid out of pocket, because we handed them our card, one meal was subtracted from our total, and all was covered through our dining plan.

If you plan to go this route, you have to pay attention to the in's and out's of the dining plan ... some restaurants in the park participate, some don't (don't worry, though, most do!). Some of the bigger restaurants like the character dinners or Hoop Dee Doo Revue require you to use 2 table services for that meal instead of one. For any meal, you can switch out your dessert for an extra drink (really nice to have in the hotter seasons!) If you are interested in the dining plan, a travel agent can give you all of the specific info, or even the Birnbaum's book.

WOW! I didn't realize this post was going to be so long! I still have about 10 other tips including info on Park Hoppers, picking the time of year, strollers, having a daily plan, taking a backpack, etc., which I think I'll save for another day! Otherwise, you'll be reading forever!


Mary Ann said...

When we used to go before we started our adoption we went every year sometimes twice (we went for Christmas one year). We never did the plans but with the research plus I did plus by the time I had been once or twice I new all the ends and outs. We would go once our income tax money came so we never had any left over expenses either. For a family of 5 we would go 4 days to Disney and 3 days around FL. for under $2,000 and had a blast. The one key thing we did was stay outside the park. We always stayed one mile from the entrance at a (then) brand new Nice, Clean Hampton Inn for Always under $60 a night, plus we had a free breakfast and free transportation to the park if we wanted but we never did. We would always take all our snacks and drink in for the day. That way we only had to pay very little for our lunches and then we ate nice for dinner with the characters or ect.... I always mapped out all the shows and times so I knew what rides we could ride inbetween time. That way we could ride as many rides as possible. The other thing is as soon as we got into the park we would go get fast passes that way we never had to wait in line and we always walked right in on a ride. Saved so much time and did not cost a dime. We would go to all the parks and we would open them and close them everyday. Karlton said he does not know where all my energy comes from when I am there. Ha! Glad you all had a great time and I know you will be going back again! My boys are ready to go back now, but with 7 of us it will cost us alot more then $2,000 to go for a week now since we will have to buy 2 rooms or a suite. ;0)

The Cassidys said...

wow! so informational - i love it! you should be a travel guide for disney. we've got a couple of years to go before we plan a trip - e is just too young. my only concern is that we may have another one eitehr on the way (not a happy mommy toting a big belly around) or will have a newborn. we'll see - it's up to God not me! which btw - do you think christmas is the worst time to go? that's when e's bday is and i know kids get in free for their birthday but i don't know if it's worth it

Heather said...


I think someone told me the week of Christmas is pretty bad since they do the big televised parade from there. However, the week after Christmas is supposed to be a great time to go!

tug-tugandnor-nor's mommy said...

Thanks for sharing the tips, can't wait to hear more.