At first, my husband couldn’t understand why I was so passionate about this huge undertaking. He had visions of the triplet part of the equation – our son’s kids are 11 going on 30 – scattering and slipping out of his sight, causing him great distress. I first had to convince him that the triplets would be just fine and then I explained to him the childlike excitement I experience every time I step foot on Disney property; that joyous feeling that tugs at my very soul.
My friends often refer to me as a Walt Disney World fanatic, a reference I accept proudly. I grew up watching Walt Disney every Sunday, believing in not only the magic, but also that dreams really do come true. The Resort is often referred to as a magical place where memories are made and that’s exactly what it is, especially for me.
I wear my “mouse” badge of honor proudly and love to share tips and suggestions for first-timers who are planning their inaugural visit to my happy place – Walt Disney World Resort.
Marc Seccia of Richmond shares my enthusiasm for the Resort. “Many try to copy Disney but none succeed,” he says. “There is so much to do and so many ways to enjoy yourself. [Disney] has a level of guest service that is unparalleled by any other company, period. I can tell you stories about my son who has dietary needs being treated like a member of the royal family instead of a second-rate citizen. I can go on and on but that is just how Disney works.”
If you’re a Disney first-timer who is preparing to go into uncharted territory, the planning process can be overwhelming, considering that Walt Disney World Resort covers about 25,000 acres and consists of 24 on-property resorts, four theme parks, and two water parks. Albeit a large task, planning your trip to Disney can be fun, especially if you sprinkle in a little Pixie-dust for good luck.
Step one: Start the process, the earlier, the better. If you are not looking for any type of special offer and you want to ensure that you get the hotel and dining options of your choice, start booking your reservations anywhere from six months to a year before your vacation date.
If on the other hand you do want to tap into one of Disney’s special offers, you can download the new, free Disney Vacation Connection widget to your desktop that has everything from special offers and events to theme park hours and planning information. You’ll also find specials advertised on the official Walt Disney World site, disneyworld.com and during various television shows, especially if you watch Disney-owned ABC.
If you prefer some hands-on guidance when planning your vacation, consider contacting a travel agent, many of which have agents who specialize in Disney. If you’re a AAA member, you may want to contact your local office to see if there are any Disney specials available. Steve Baker is an independent contractor for themagicforless.com, a virtual travel agency. This father of three who lives in Richmond, is another Disney fanatic. “Disney has always been a big part of my life,” he says. “We go to Disneyland once or twice a year, to Disney World up to five times a year and we go on a Disney Cruise at least once a year.”
When Baker talks to clients about their impending trip, he points out several key things to consider:
• When are you thinking about going?
• Do you have young children or will you be taking your children out of school?
• What is your budget?
• What do you want to see and do while you’re there?
• What are your dining habits?
• What accommodations will suit your needs?
The answers to these questions will help you determine the best time to visit the Resort as well as the best type of ticket, accommodations, and dining options for your family.
Baker always suggests staying on Disney property. “It’s the only way to go,” he says.
By doing so, you will have access to free Disney transportation between the parks and also to Downtown Disney as well as opportunities for Extra Magic Hours before and after the parks are open to the public. Guests of the hotels on property can also use Disney’s Magical Express, a free service that includes bypassing baggage claim at Orlando International Airport and access to motor coaches for complimentary transportation to the Vacation Kingdom, where your bags magically appear in your guest room. Complimentary transportation back to the airport is also provided.
If your travel dates are flexible, plan your trip during a time when the parks are not as crowded. Busy seasons at Disney include spring break (varying weeks in February and March), summer, Thanksgiving and the weeks leading up to Christmas. You’ll also find a flurry of action during special events such as the Epcot International Garden and Flower Festival (March through May) and the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival (the end of September through mid-November).
After you have your dates set, you can concentrate on your length of stay and what you want to accomplish. This will determine the type of Magic Your Way ticket that works best for your plans. “A lot of people think they can do four parks in four days but that is so tiring,” Baker says. “You want to try and plan a down day. You want to have a minimum stay of five nights.”
Seccia believes it’s important to decide on the five top things you want to do and see, and then allow yourself come spontaneity and flexibility to do the unexpected while you’re in Disney. “Above all else, don’t take anything too seriously and allow yourself to act ‘Goofy.’ Where else on earth can you do that?”
When it comes to tickets, your best value is a park hopper pass that allows you access to all four theme parks. You can also opt for a Water Park Fun and More option that gives you admission to Disney water parks, DisneyQuest, Disney’s Oak Trail golf course and ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Note that per-day ticket costs decrease for longer stays. In other words, your per-day cost for seven days will be less than for four days. If you have young children, you’ll be pleased to know that children under 3 are provided free admission to all Walt Disney World theme parks.
Now that you know the amount of days you will be at the Resort, start planning your dining options. Most table-service restaurants throughout the Resort offer children’s menus, with the traditional choices. Disney also has a variety of all-you-can-eat meals that include more than two dozen Disney mealtime experiences, everything from character dining to dinner shows. Dinner reservations for sit-down restaurants are recommended and can be made up to 180 days in advance by calling 407-WDW-DINE.
Baker recommends purchasing one of Disney’s dining plans with credits that can be used at restaurants and for snacks. “They will save you about 20 percent,” he says. “You can use the credits toward dinner, breakfast and lunch.”
Hopefully by now you are starting to get excited about visiting the Resort. Part two of this series will focus on the four theme parks, and providing tips and suggestions that will make your stay hassle-free and fun-filled.
This article is part of a two part series. Read Part Two: Magic Time!