I am the planner of this party of three. I even have a theme song. It’s I Am the Walrus by the Beatles. No, I’m not an eggman sitting on a cornflake. The song just has a strange way of motivating me. Motivating me to be a vacation planner for my family or vacation lackey, as I like to call it.
The non-planners have no idea how much work we put into this stuff. I started planning our trip to Disney World in February. We leave next week and I need a damn vacation from my vacation planning. For those of you stuck in the same boat, I’ve bulleted any Disney World planning tips at the bottom, so you can save yourself the hassle of learning the hard way.
First, there is the flight. We have a United credit card, so I always try to use our miles first. Only 75k miles, so I booked the 25k super saver award seats. If you book early enough and you get lucky, you don’t have to take a redeye with four stopovers and sit next to the lavatory.
I planned ahead, so I got lucky; a non-stop flight from SFO to Orlando, during non-child meltdown hours and only two rows behind the exit row. Of course, we have to fly out on a Monday and stay for 10 days, but we’re saving over $1k.
I have my rainbow, but there’s no gold pot yet. If you book months in advance, your seats will be switched at least once, with the explanation that they changed aircrafts. As Barney Stinson says, “Wait for it…” Make sure to check back with the airline closer to the trip to assure they haven’t moved your kid to another row (But that’s a different story, so I’ll save it for another day).
Then, there’s the question of a Disney or a non-Disney resort. Unless you’re in a Disney resort hotel, the Westin Swan or the Westin Dolphin, you’ll need a car because the Disney shuttle won’t stop for you, even if you throw yourself in front of the bus. With the Disney Resort, you get the shuttle, the Disney toiletries, décor and greeting (whatever) and convenience, convenience, convenience.
The food will be more expensive because you’ll have to go with the Disney-only options or take a cab to the cheaper joints. People say the Disney Dining plan will save you up to 20%, but we’re just not a family of eaters, so I don’t think we’d get our money’s worth. It’s like going to a Vegas Buffet for me. I spend $35, but only eat $10 worth of food. Just not worth it. I’d be fine eating the same sandwich every meal, to save a little money. If you are an eater though and need three, full meals, then I recommend a Dining Plan.
Restaurants in the Magic Kingdom do not serve alcohol, but Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, the water parks and Disney Downtown do. With the Disney Resorts, you won’t get a DUI. You can take the shuttle or even walk to certain parks, depending on which resort you’re in.
If you go with a Disney resort, there’s the question of Deluxe, Moderate or Budget. This is pretty self-explanatory, but there are a few factors to consider here. With the Budget hotels, you can save money for souvenirs and food. If you’re ok with cardboard for a mattress and you have a big family, then this is the way to go.
You can still take the shuttle, but it may take you longer to reach each destination. The Budget resorts are set out farther than the others. You may still want to rent a car to save time. There is usually a food court-type restaurant, they describe as “quick dining”. I started out booking one of these and slowly made my way up. Now, we’re at a Deluxe resort, of course. Somewhere, my husband is nodding his head saying, “I told you so.”
Then, there is the Moderate resort. The beds are a bit better, Queen-sized. The rooms are a bit bigger. You’re closer to the main attractions. It takes longer for the shuttle to get to you, but the savings are probably worth it. There’s usually one sit-down restaurant and a food court.
Finally, there are the Deluxe resorts. This is where we ended up, after months of changing my mind. I booked the Beach Club Resort. There were three key points that made me upgrade: convenience, bed comfort and pool. We’re staying for nine nights and I have a bad back. We can walk to Epcot for quality, quick dining. The pool is huge and sand bottom. And, we’re smack dab in the center of Disney World. We’ll be there for the 4th of July, so I think this will be a blessing. Babyface also still needs an afternoon nap, so we’ll be able to go back and forth more easily. There is also FREE wireless Internet.
If you go with a Disney resort, you can use the Disney Magical Express. You give them your airline and flight number, they send you luggage tags and you don’t even have to pick up your bags from the baggage carousel. You just hop on the bus and head to your hotel. I am a bit skeptical about this process, so I’ll update you on this one AFTER we follow it. This may be a way of getting us to buy more Disney clothing.
I made dinner reservations for every night of the trip, just in case. I can cancel 24 hours in advance. If you’d like to eat at any restaurants within Disney World and you are traveling during a peak season, make sure you reserve ahead of time. These restaurants book up quickly. You may be stuck with quick service dining the entire time, if you don’t plan ahead. Peak season includes holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving and Halloween), spring break and early summer.
Most Disney resort hotels have a refrigerator in the room (check ahead for your particular resort). Since alcohol and snacks can be expensive, buy them at the airport or a local store to save money. Bring a lock for your luggage, if you have a laptop and want to leave it in the room. There is only a small safe.
There are several non-Disney resorts around the parks, as well. After the amount of money we are spending on this trip, we’ll be staying in a Holiday Inn, 50 miles out, next time. This is the ultimate saver option because everything is more a la carte: food, transportation and lodging. You’ll have to take a taxi or a non-Disney shuttle from the airport, unless you rent a car.
Once you’ve selected your hotel and transportation, you have to buy the park tickets. This is what put us over the edge of reasonably priced to possibly taking out a second mortgage. Tickets for adults range from $200-400 dollars, depending on whether you just get the base tickets for X number of days, add the park hopper option or go even further and add the water park and more option. You can add the water park option after you get to the resort. I recommend this; just to be sure the weather is suitable.
The base ticket only allows you to enter one park on each given day. The park hopper option allows you to enter and re-enter any of the parks on any given day. You can spend the day at the Magic Kingdom and still eat at Epcot that night. We chose the park hopper option. I have a feeling we’ll only last half a day at places like Hollywood Studios, but we shall see.
So, there you have it. The skinny on Disney lodging, food and transportation. I will provide a much more detailed account next week.
My other two musketeers think this trip just magically appeared on Disney’s Magic Express. Mickey Mouse waved his magic wand, like in Fantasia. But, you, my fellow planners, get the real deal.
- Book your flight early, if you are using miles.
- Don’t assume your seat assignments are set in stone. Check back with the airline closer to the flight to avoid sitting in different rows.
- Take advantage of the Disney Dining Plan, if you know you’ll be eating three meals a day. You can save up to 20%. (Does not include alcohol)
- There are three types of Disney resorts: Budget (money-saving, but not a great location), Moderate (money-saving, better location, but somewhat smaller) and Deluxe (expensive, but comfortable and convenient).
- Take advantage of Disney’s Magic Express, if you’re staying at the Disney resort. You check your bags at your home airport; they will pick them up and deliver them to your hotel room.
- Make dinner reservations ahead of time, if you are traveling during a peak season.
- Take advantage of non-Disney hotels, if you are on a tight budget, but make sure to rent a car.
- You can add the water park option to your park tickets after you get to the resort. Wait until you get there to figure out if the hotel pool is sufficient.
- Buy alcohol and snacks at the airport or a local store (if you have a car). They can be expensive, if you are staying at a Disney resort. There is a refrigerator in most rooms (check ahead).