For those of you who don’t know, I am a Disney freak. We go to Walt Disney World every year for our family vacation and we stay for a while. My son has a few shirts with Mickey on them, we have at least two Disney themed dishes, a pair of ears and at least one biggish Mickey stuffed animal. Okay, okay maybe we aren’t quite to the level of Disney freak just yet.
Disney is our favorite vacation spot though and I am a freak about planning vacation. To me, the planning stage of any vacation is the most fun. I enjoy spending hours reading reviews, scoping out the perfect place to stay, eat and play. And of course, I love finding ways to have a five star vacation at a three star price (or better).
For Walt Disney World, I have found that information is both bountiful and of good quality. There are a few websites that I must point out. First and most obvious, the Walt Disney Official Site . This site gives quite a bit of information about the various parks, hotels, and restaurants available on Disney property.
One thing I should say upfront, is that I am a purist. Meaning, when I go to Disney, I stay onsite, I eat onsite and I don’t stray from WDW until I am homeward bound. No, it isn’t because I don’t know that there are many other wonderful things outside the Magical world of Disney. It’s because I’m lazy. It’s a 15 hour drive from home, I have a preschooler in tow and I get one good vacation a year. I like to relax once I arrive and not have to drive anywhere or work too hard for anything. Thankfully, Disney makes it easy for me to do all of the above. The experiences at Disney are amazing and (if planned well) not that expensive, so there really is little incentive for me to stray.
So, after checking out the information available on the official site, I venture to Touring Plans to check out the crowd calendar. This site is amazing for quit a few things, not the least of which is the crowd calendar. The crowd calendar is important for picking a good time to visit Disney. I for one, hate the large crowds which pack in like sardines to every corner of the park at peak season. It is more important for me to avoid high crowds than high prices, so I start by looking at dates. The calendar provides a rating (1 to 10, 1 being the lowest crowds 10 the highest) for each park, each day of the year. For instance, a friend I know is going to WDW on March 23 and, based on her toddler, I’d say Magic Kingdom. A quick look at the calendar tells me that MK’s anticipated crowd level for that day is a 7.8. Ouch! I couldn’t do it.
Touring Plans has a few extra features I’d like to point out. My favorite, the lines app. Lines works on Android or Apple devices and provides up to the minute accurate wait times for every attraction, show and even restaurants in the park. This is especially helpful for those last ride of the day situations where your hopeful is on the other side of the park. There is nothing worse than running clear across the park only to find that the wait is too long for you and you wasted your time and energy. Another helpful feature for those who travel at busier times of the year (which I won’t), are the touring plans. If you use them religiously, they will take you to each ride on your list in the order necessary to spend the least time waiting in long lines. A definite plus when its 100+ degrees and 500 million people have joined you on vacation. Touring also has a blog where they review all of the new features available in Disney, as well as follow up on the old ones. Great for understanding how new things, like NextGen will change how my family does Disney. If you don’t know about NextGen, check it out Here or Here. These are two more amazing sites for all things Disney.
Next, it’s All Ears for the really fun part. All Ears has a lot, and I mean a lot, of pictures. This is especially helpful if you want to try a new resort or restaurant and you just aren’t sure if it is a good fit for your family. This site is very detailed and has a review on anything you can think of. For me, the pictures are great, since Disney can make anything look amazing on their site. I like the more balanced review I get from Touring and Ears.
After all of this time spent reading, researching and reviewing, its time to make reservations. Many people like Mousesavers because of the many reviews on how to get the best value and what discounts are available. Its a great place to look, but I prefer All Ears and they push much less for a travel agent which I believe is just absurdly unnecessary for a Disney vacation unless you are coming from overseas or just simply can’t work a computer. I typically make my reservations through Disney directly as I book room, tickets and a dining package. You can see above about my preference for ease of use vacations. As such, I like the comfort of the dining plan and since I usually get it for free (thanks to my travel dates), its a win-win. After booking my package, I go straight to ADRs (advanced dining reservations). This for me is the most fun as my family always does some type of character meal, and usually more than a couple. Thanks to the dining plan, it doesn’t cost anything extra and my son loves them. I usually plan for a sit down lunch as it gives a respite from the heat and walking at the hottest part of the day. With a young child such as mine, that rest gives us just what we need to party late into the night at Stitches 626 dance party (a favorite of my 5 year old). Be prepared however, reservations book quickly (even in the off season) so I make my reservations right at the 180 day mark (the earliest possible).
While all of this may seem really intense for a vacation and way too structured for many, I find that it provides the exact opposite for me. I get excited about the trip very early thanks to all the blog following and review reading. And once my family arrives, all the hard work pays off and we can relax and really enjoy our trip. Food, paid for and arranged. Bed, check. Fun, let’s do it! My vacations are stress and worry free and my five year old sees nothing but the Magic!