Once you and your family decided to make Walt Disney World your vacation destination, the excitement begins, the anticipation builds, and suddenly you're faced with having to book the actual trip.
With four parks, two water parks, over 20 resort hotels, numerous restaurants, transportation options, and especially the cost to consider, planning and booking a Disney World vacation can seem intimidating to those planning their first trip. Even those who have gone before may have experienced a stressful or costly vacation due to improper planning. These experiences can all be avoided by following these simple steps.
- Become familiar with the Walt Disney World website: You've probably been there numerous times already, but before you do anything, check out www.disneyworld.com and take a look at all the options available to you. Don't pay so much attention to the parks at this point, but rather take a look at the different resorts that are available, their costs, and where they are located in the resort.
- Look at the Special Offers page: Now that you're familiar with the website and where everything is, take a look at the Special Offers page. The link can be found at the very bottom of the Disney World website in the lower left hand corner. This link takes you to an updated list of discounts that are currently being offered at the parks, hotels, or restaurants. Some offers, like the military discount or Florida resident discount are year round. But most are only offered during select dates. Knowing when these offers are good for can help you determine when you plan to go on your trip.
- Select a time to travel: Maybe you're going to celebrate a family member's birthday. Maybe an anniversary or graduation. Maybe you want to celebrate Christmas or Halloween at the parks. Again, using the website, be sure to look at the cost of theme park tickets and hotels throughout the year. With peak and off-peak times, the prices vary and can become a big influence as to when you plan to travel. If you have no particular date in mind. Use the Special Offers as your guide and save some money in the process.
- Choose the hotel: There are several categories for Disney Resort Hotels that are aimed at fitting every budget out there. Value resorts like the All-Star Movies Resort are the most affordable while Deluxe resorts like the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa are most costly. Consider the size of the room compared to the size of your party. Families of five can often have a cot brought in so that only one room need be booked, but some rooms are larger than others and can more comfortably fit a cot.
- Choose your transportation: Those traveling from New York have two main options. Fly or drive. Driving can take over a day, maybe two, while flying down can be accomplished in approximately two and a half hours. Keep in mind that if you choose to fly, there's no need to rent a car if you plan on staying on Disney property. Disney's Magical Express motor coach provides free transportation from the Orlando International Airport to any Disney Resort hotel. Your checked bags will even be brought directly to your room so there's no need to pick them up upon arrival. This same service can bring you back to the airport at the end of your trip. And of course, buses are provided throughout your stay to transport you and your family from your resort to any Disney World destination on property. Be sure to mention Disney's Magical Express when booking to sign up for this free service.
- Decided whether to book yourself or use help: With the way the Disney World website works, booking your trip online by yourself is so easy. However, if you are taking advantage of one of the Special Offers, you MUST click on the link on this page to be brought to your booking options first. Bypassing this link will just get you the regular price and not the discounted offer. However, booking through a Disney-approved travel agent will not only save you the hassle of having to book yourself, but can allow you to get extra discounts and some inside knowledge. Travel agencies like Top Shelf Travel in Rockville Centre, NY or websites like MouseSavers.com, Small World Vacations, or Chip and Co have great insider tips and can sometimes get you discounts even after you have booked your trip. You can also book your trip over the phone using the number provided on the Disney World website and speak with a Cast Member who can give you advice on which hotels to stay at and provide quotes for you.
- Book it!: Once you decided the when, where, and how, particularly the how much, you're all set to book! Whether doing it by yourself or with help, getting your trip booked as soon as possible is key. Once you finish and get your confirmation number, you can begin making dining reservations so long as it is at least 180 days in advance or less. Popular restaurants like Cinderella's Royal Table and Be Our Guest Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom fill up quickly, so having reservations is a must. Most table service restaurants require a reservation so booking these as soon as possible will save you time and stress later on when it comes time to eat.
Just because you're staying at one resort doesn't mean you can't visit the rest. Bus transportation can bring you to any Disney hotel you'd like to visit to allow you to dine in their restaurants and view the grounds. Keep in mind you cannot use the pools at any hotel. Just your own. However this does give you the opportunity to start planning your next vacation.
Consider purchasing one of Disney's Meal Plan options. They allow you to essentially purchase tickets (snack, quick service, table service) that can be used at any time during your stay. This allows you the option of choosing anything on the menu covered by the dining plan without having to worry about how much each dish costs. Some restaurants require the use of two table service tickets, but this still saves you money in the long run.