6 Things You Need to Know About Planning That First Disney Vacation
by Leah Campbell
Photograph by Twenty20
I’ve never met a mom who didn’t
hope to take her child to Disneyland or Disney World at least once. I’m sure
they exist—and I’d love to high five them for refusing to cave to the
pressure—but in my experience, this is the family vacation most parents have
on their to-do list from the moment their child is born.
For us, that trip is happening
in February. My daughter will be turning 5, which to me feels like the
perfect age for a Disney vacation: young enough to still get fully wrapped up
in the magic, but also old enough to enjoy the rides and hopefully retain a few
memories. The two of us will be flying out from Alaska to Florida with one of
my best friends and her son. It’s possible the adults are
just as excited as the kids.
What I wasn’t prepared for when
we first started planning this trip a little over a year ago was just how
intense that planning would get. I have done a ton of traveling in my life, and
I know all about booking and scheduling the perfect trip, but Disney is next-level.
Just in case you haven’t
started planning your own trip just yet, here’s what you should prepare
1. This Will Be the Most Expensive Vacation You Will
Now, obviously this depends on where you live and how long
you plan on being at Disney. For those who live in or nearby Florida or California,
quick trips can probably be done to Disney on the fly. But we’ll be
spending 12+ hours just getting there, so we are planning on staying at a Disney
Resort for a total of 8 nights, with 6 days spent at the parks. I am spending
more money on this vacation than I did on weeks of backpacking around Australia.
2. You Need a Travel Agent
Sure, you could
handle most of this on your own, but why would you want to? A Disney-approved
travel agent is free to you, and a key tool to helping you get the best deals
and making sure you don’t miss any of the big deadlines.
3. Because, Yes, There Will Be Deadlines
And you need to be
ready to hop on them. Meal reservations open up 180 days before your trip at
6 a.m. Eastern time. If you have your sights set on character meals or dining at
Cinderella’s castle, you had better plan on being at your computer right when
they open. For me, that meant being up at 2 a.m. Alaska time. I had multiple
browsers open on my computer and a pre-planned schedule mapped out on a
spreadsheet so I knew exactly when and where to make reservations, based on those
that would likely fill up the quickest. I got every reservation I hoped for,
but none of them during the times I'd planned for. By
mid-morning, all the places I wanted us to dine during our trip were completely booked. This is no joke—Disney dining reservations are about as competitive
as it gets.
Our trip is just a few months
away, and I still have a list a mile long of things I need to do.
4. You Need a Plan
I’m a planner by nature. My
life is ruled by spreadsheets and lists. Which I know makes me sound
super nerdy, but it’s an aspect of my personality that has come in extremely
handy while planning this vacation. Yes, you could just show up to Disney World and
wing it. But everything from dining reservations to Fast Passes are booked well
in advance. Which means that without loads of advanced planning, you probably
won’t get to do or see everything you want while there. Even choosing a hotel
required days of research on my end. Setting those dining reservations and
Fast Passes up meant knowing which parks we were going to be on which days—so I devoured everything I could read about where to eat and which rides to
5. Plan for Meltdowns
This is one thing
everyone I’ve talked to has mentioned: Plan "down days," where you don’t go to
any of the parks at all. Leave some flexibility in your days, in case the
kids need to head back to the hotel to rest midday. Get a stroller, even for
kids who are 5, 6 or 7 years old. Because you know what? Disney World and Disneyland may be the
most magical places on earth, but they're also the most crowded and days can be
long, hot and overstimulating. Giving yourself some buffers is the best way
to ensure everyone has a good time.
6. Oh, The Extras!
Spend any time on a Disney planning forum or
reading Disney blogs, and you’re bound to see mentions of the extras you should
bring along. Kids who dress up get attention showered on them by Disney cast
members, for example. You can get those costumes for much cheaper online than you will
ever find them in a Disney park. Lanyards can also be purchased online, with
special trading pins that kids can then trade with their favorite characters.
Also, a good autograph book can go a long way. I’ve even gotten suckered into
buying a pressed penny book that we can house our pennies and quarters in, so my
kiddo can build her own collection throughout the parks. And, oh yeah, I bought
myself a fanny pack. I don’t want to talk about it.
Our trip is just a few months
away and I still have a list a mile long of things I need to do. So, my advice
to anyone planning a Disney vacation is this: Start early and read everything
you can get your hands on. Because I guarantee this will be the most intense
vacation you ever plan.
Fingers crossed, it will also
be the most magical.