3.5 Ways to Plan a Disney World Vacation

I have total Disney fever. Ever since we went on Z’s first trip to Disney World for her birthday, I have been planning to go back. I have gained a ton of knowledge about different ins and outs of planning a DW vacation, and figured it was time to share it! Planning a DW vacation can be extremely overwhelming, but it is not impossible. Here’s a few ways you can plan:

3.5 Ways to Plan a Disney World Vacation

  • Plan the conventional way. You can go through a a Disney travel planner (Small World Vacations is fantastic! We had Beth as our planner) or through Disney World’s website. This way you will stay on Disney property, be able to choose to have a dining plan (or not), and have access to things like Extra Magic Hours, Advance Dining Reservations (you can make them 6 months in advance), and Disney transportation. I really like going this route because I love for my vacations to feel all-inclusive. However, if you’re on a tight budget and don’t want to build up a savings for it (which is what I had to do), this won’t be the most cost-effective way to do it. However, you can put a $200 deposit down on it (the minimum required) and then just pay throughout the year up to 45 days before your vacation, which is when it must be paid in full.
  • Rent through a DVC rental site. This is a great way to get villas and high-priced rooms on Disney property at nearly half the price (sometimes even more). DVC stands for Disney Vacation Club. It’s basically a time-share type opportunity for members who can afford that sort of thing. DVC members will then rent their rooms out during the year at various rates (depending on season). They use a point system, and the DVC Rental Store offers a great point calculator which helps see how much it will cost for the time you’re wanting to visit. Another awesome part is you can still get all the benefits of staying on Disney property: Extra Magic Hours, ADRs, Dining Plan, and Disney transportation. If you decide to go this route, I suggest you go through the aforementioned DVC Rental Store. They are the only site I’ve found that doesn’t charge you for checking availability. Every other site I’ve seen charges up to $98 just to check availability (Crazy, I know…) Once they check availability, they have a representative contact you with cost, deposit requirements, and availability. The deposit is higher for these rentals (usually 50% of the total cost of the room), but again, you can usually get into great hotels like the Contemporary, Polynesian, Animal Kingdom Villas, and The Grand Floridian for HALF the price you would pay if booking the “conventional” way.
  • Rent a hotel/vacation rental off property. So, I’ve gotten to Disney World 3 times in my life. Twice I stayed on property, and once I stayed off in a rented condo. And it was great. The perks of staying off property are price (of course), you usually get a full kitchen so you can prepare your own food, and they are more spacious. You can also find Disney/Universal themed vacation rentals, which is the best of both worlds! Not having to pay the Disney price tag, but still getting some of the magic. This also gives you the opportunity to split costs with vacation buddies or another family, making it even cheaper. And while you don’t have access to the perks of staying on property, the amount of money you can save could be well worth it. Here’s a few links to get you started: Story Time Orlando RentalAll Star Vacation HomesVRBOMagical MemoriesLuxury Disney Vacation Homes.
  • And here’s .5, Shades of GreenThe reason I consider this a “.5” is because Shades of Green is only available to Active Duty Military, Military Retirees, and some DoD employees. They offer standard rooms and suites at very reasonable rates, and even can get you discounted theme park tickets. I’m still unsure if you can get the dining plan when staying here, Anyone know the answer to that? I’ll update when I confirm. Also, here’s the eligibility requirements. You will have to provide proof of your (or your spouses/relatives) service.

There are a TON of resources out there to help you plan your vacation. Even if you save change for 6 years before you go, it’s something that, for my family at least, was so worth it. Anyone have any other ways to planning a great Disney vacation?

The BEST things to have on hand at Disney World

I’ll admit, this past trip to Disney World has given the full-on Disney bug. I have always loved Disney World (And Land), but it wasn’t until this most recent trip with E & Z that I have become full-on WDW obsessed. My (currently non-existent) savings is almost solely dedicated to getting us back to Disney…no joke. I was a researching madwoman before our trip, and let me tell you, when you first start researching WDW on Pinterest, it is nothing less than overwhelming. You can check out my Disney World Pinterest board here:  Disney World. As you can see, I should probably start breaking down that board into smaller, more specific boards (Yes, I’m a freak…just look at the rest of Pinterest…and yes, this is legitimately on my to-do list) because THERE’S SO MUCH INFORMATION. So, my little list below might just be sucked into the inundated world of Disney Advice, but hopefully, it’s useful to you!

OnHandDW

10. A lightweight backpack, like this one: Packable Handy Lightweight Travel Backpack Daypack-Black
This is the exact backpack I bought, and it was perfect. Plenty of compartments (but not too many for the bag-checkers at every park). I was able to tote around everything I needed (and a few things I didn’t) without it being bulky or uncomfortable.

9. An external battery pack, like this one: Dual USB Portable External Extended Battery Pack
I ended up not needing this as much as I thought I would, but when we were in a pinch, it was super helpful! I think the only reason it ended up not being as much of a necessity is because we left the parks every afternoon to rest at our hotel for a bit (See: 10 Tips for a Laid-Back Disney Vacation), so we were able to charge our phones during the afternoon before heading back to the parks. Either way, I think it’s an extremely valuable purchase, not only for Disney World, but life in general.

8. Ponchos, like these: Emergency Clear Rain Poncho 3mil PVC : ( Pack of 4 Pcs )
Again, we ended up not using these, even though there were several rain showers that happened while we were at Disney World. Fortunately, the showers happened while we were eating or resting at the hotel, but I like being safe rather than sorry. It rains a lot and sometimes very hard in Florida, so they’re useful.

7. Disney Junior Encyclopedia of Animated Characters: Junior Encyclopedia of Animated Characters
This is, by far, one of the best things I did. I found a tutorial via Pinterest, from Little Miss Save where she had the binding cut, had it rebound as a spiral book, and used it as the autograph book. Welp, I went with this idea and it was the best (and super cheap too!) Plenty of the characters took notice of the fun facts mentioned about them (Lady Tremaine even edited hers as it was not accurate in her eyes 😉 ). Plus, it helped us figure out who we still wanted autographs from!

6. Tip money. This was a big learning curve for me. Even if you have the dining plan, you still need to account for the tip, so PUT THAT IN YOUR BUDGET, so it’s not a shocker when you get the check. I’m pretty sure the Dinner Shows and Cinderella’s Royal Table are the only Table Service restaurants that include gratuity in their price.

5. Snacks. While we had a dining plan, and had plenty of snacks to last the 3 of us, it was nice to have some snacks on hand in case we were stuck in a line (which was rare because of the amazing FastPass system) or if we were waiting for the monorail/bus/etc. Don’t allow yourself to get to the hangry stage, it’s not a pretty sight!

4. Plenty of water. Seriously…keep yourselves hydrated. Majority of us aren’t prepared for the heat or the amount of walking you do at WDW. If you have the dining plan, you get refillable mugs (which I was a dufus and didn’t get until we were leaving -face palm-), but even if I had the refillable mugs during the trip, I’m not sure I would’ve used them in the parks. They had handles, which is great, except it’s hard to fit them into the side water bottle compartments of our backpack. So, I have a feeling, we would have still provided our own water bottles and refilled them at water fountains and such. Whichever way you do it, just HYDRATE (I feel like I’m in the military again…)

3. Band-Aids/Blister Care. We didn’t have any problems with blisters and I think it’s because we all had shoes that were well-broken in, and I applied this: Band-Aid Friction Blister Block Stick before we went out for the day in any “blister-problem” areas. But keep that stuff on hand because you never know.

2. Sunscreen. This should really go without saying, but I think some people forget how powerful the Florida sun is and that you should re-apply sunscreen every few hours (or more often, if you get wet…EVEN IF IT’S WATERPROOF!) E is a bit overboard when it comes to sunscreen, but I’d rather have it that way than to be burnt to a crisp on my vacation. And bring plenty of it too because I paid $15 for one little can in Magic Kingdom, when we finally ran out.

1. Good Walking Shoes. I cannot stress this enough….have great walking shoes…ones that offer support, are comfortable, and are broken-in. You will already be sore enough from walking, standing, getting jerked around on rides, so don’t add to it by not taking care of those feet. I bought these tennis shoes: New Balance Women’s W690 Neutral Cushioning Running Shoe,Blue/Pink,5 D US a few months before we left and I LOVE THEM. Easily the most comfortable shoes I’ve had…ever! And what’s better is they were only $40!

The best thing you can do when planning for a big trip like Disney World is to set yourself up for success before you even get there! What are some things you like to keep on hand while vacationing?

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10 Tips for a Laid-Back (and insanely fun) Disney World Vacation!

LaidbackDW

It’s no joke when I say that my little family unit is extremely laid-back (E & Z are high energy, but still very laid-back…believe me, it’s possible). We recently came back from a Disney World vacation which was an epic, incredible, magical time. I’m not exaggerating when I say I have been planning and saving for this for years, so to finally be able to do it was a huge reward. Plus, we celebrated Z’s 6th birthday down there which is just an event in itself. Anyway, I saw tons of families that looked…well, they looked miserable. And I just kept thinking, “Why the hell are you spending so much money to come and be miserable?” Some people looked like they were practically being tortured, and that just seemed so….avoidable to me.

So, here are some tips from my laid-back family to yours:

10. If you can save for/afford it, get a dining plan. I did tons of research before our trip, and there was a pretty big debate on whether or not the dining plan was worth it. For me, a person that is constantly thinking and planning, I can easily get overwhelmed with numbers and plans. So, the more “all-inclusive” my vacation is, the better. To just have to worry about the tip, and picking the restaurants, was pure gold for me and my over-thinking brain. And to really maximize our plan, we tried to get the priciest stuff on the menus. Don’t get me wrong, Disney can still be phenomenal without the dining plan, but for me, it’s a little extra luxury that I will always try and attach to our trips.

9. Chill the hell out. I mean this in more ways than one. If you feel your family getting irritable or tired, take a break. Whether it’s getting some lunch, a snack, going through Haunted Mansion or Pirates of the Caribbean (which usually have a fairly short wait time compared to the rest of the rides), allow yourself to just relax. I can’t tell you how many breakdowns I saw…overly exhausted kids (and parents) trying to push through to try and do everything. It’s not worth it. Every afternoon, we’d go back to our hotel room, rest, go to the pool, take a nap, and head back to the parks at night. Some people might see this as a waste of money since we’re not in the parks every second of our trip, but I would much rather be rested and enjoy myself, then to be exhausted and overly emotional so I end up hating my life by the end of the day.  Plus, I saw way too many people being grumpy and know that if they would have just gotten a cat-nap in, they would have been in much better spirits. I feel like I fully maximized my Disney experience because I genuinely enjoyed every second of it.

8. Be kind. This goes along with #9, but you wouldn’t believe how many rude people I saw. At one point, they were closing off access to Cinderella’s castle for a parade, and a lady with a walker was furious and started yelling at the Cast Member and ramming her walker into the rope (no joke). These Cast Members have to deal with extreme weather, tons of people, crazy happenings, while having to maintain an absolute perfect attitude, BE NICE TO THEM. Also, be kind to other guests: move out of the way if you need to stop, teach your kids to be kind and thoughtful of the other people in line (show by example), be thoughtful about where you sit/stand during parades and such. It should go without saying, but just be nice and courteous.

7. Stop trying to do everything. You will NEVER fit in absolutely everything you want to do in one trip…well, unless you get to have a 3 week trip…which would be AH-MAZING! But if you’re like us lowly poor folk, you usually only have 5-10 days (at most) to fit everything in. Again, you will never be able to do it all, so stop trying. When we go back for our second family trip, I definitely want to spend a little more time in Epcot and Animal Kingdom, but we all were so enthralled with Magic Kingdom that we left every other park early to go back to it, and I don’t regret a single second of it. Have something planned, but then go with the flow.

6. Learn the FastPass game. The longest I remember waiting is 15 minutes. At the beginning of June. In Disney World. All because we figured out how to play the FastPass game. And you can reserve passes 30-60 days out (depending on whether you’re staying on property or not), so DO IT. Completely worth it. (Here’s a definition of what FastPasses are).

5. FOOD! Try a pork shank from Gaston’s Tavern or an Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich from Sleepy Hollow Inn (both in Magic Kingdom). Also, we really loved Columbia Harbour House because it had tons of seating (sometimes hard to come by at QS restaurants). I was dying to go to Be Our Guest, but unfortunately couldn’t get in for dinner, but they opened up for breakfast a couple of months before our trip. Let’s just say, they haven’t mastered breakfast, but the atmosphere is incredible, and made this HUGE Beauty and the Beast fan’s heart jump with joy.

4. Find your family’s rhythm. This kind of goes along with #7. In all my pre-trip research, I read things like “Always get to the park at least 2 hours before opening.” And believe me, my family tried, but I quickly found that we just needed to find our own rhythm. I’m an early riser (like up by 6am most days), but E & Z are night owls and need a solid 20 minutes to wake up (and be pleasant…okay, E is almost always pleasant…Z is a different story). Needless to say, we only made it to MK before park opening once, and it was because we had breakfast reservations at Cinderella’s Castle. I will say, walking through the park with no one around is incredible, so I’m glad it happened, but for our family, it’s not necessary every day. To each their own.

3. Get your kids to start a DW savings (if you don’t have kids, you start one). One of my favorite parts of leading up to Disney World was seeing Z so excited about saving. She saved a whopping $41 (I know, it didn’t get her much of anything, but she was 5 at the time, so $40 was a big deal). She shocked me quite a bit with how much focus she placed on saving and then how careful she was with her money once we were down there. It was a big learning experience, and I loved watching her mature in that way.

2. Be flexible. It feels like I’ve said this a few times in different ways, but it’s really one of the key pieces to why my family never fought, we always enjoyed each other, and we got the most of the trip for us. The day we went to Hollywood Studios, it was a Star Wars Weekend, so it was insanely crowded, and we weren’t huge fans of the park to begin with. We were supposed to have lunch at Hollywood & Vine, but realized pretty quickly that we just wanted to go back to MK. So, I called, switched our reservation (and they were gracious enough to not charge me the cancellation fees since we were celebrating Zo’s birthday. Little disclaimer: don’t expect them to do this for you. Just be appreciative if they do)! There were a few other times I needed to have a flexible attitude (Particularly with Bibbiti Bobbiti Boutique…sigh…), but by being flexible, we all were just able to enjoy moment to moment.

1. Just buy into it. Disney World is going to be super lame if you don’t just invest in the magical nature of things. Yes, things are over the top…yes, the Cast Members and Characters have to practically be perfect, but just allow it to be magical. E & I were just as much kids during this as Z was. When Z got to meet Princess Jasmine, you better believe E jumped in for a picture with her (I’m still kicking myself for not getting a picture with Belle…) And there was actually a point, while watching the Festival of Fantasy parade that I looked over at Z, and her eyes lit up with pure joy, and I just cried (I’m really glad I had sunglasses on). You will enjoy yourself so much more if you just allow yourself to give in to the experience and take it all in.

What tips do you all have?!