Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Planning: 10 Steps to a Great Disney Trip

By: Melissa

When you’re planning a Disney trip, the details can get overwhelming. There are a lot of details, but you don’t have to let them make you crazy. Here are 10 basic steps to help you have a great trip. And great news – you don’t have to do them all at once! Some of them you will work on simultaneously, but others are more spread out. Take a deep breath and dive in!


1. Set a budget and start saving. Costs vary widely depending on season. So once you have a date and decide on your transportation method, you can nail down some numbers. Check out prices on the Disney World website to get a good idea of what you will need to save for your trip. Decide a strategy (or three) and start saving! And keep your eyes open for deals and discounts. It might make a big difference to your trip!

Best time to do this: NOW! It’s never too early to start saving for your Disney trip. Check out some of our budgeting posts to see how the Real Moms like to save for our trips.


2. Decide when you want to go. Check out crowd calendars, consult work and school schedules, and pick a date! You’ll need to figure out how many park days you will have during your trip so you can finalize your budget, make reservations, purchase tickets, and make a touring plan later. Don’t underestimate the change in prices by season. Adjusting your trip dates by a week or two can make a huge difference in price. You can find some interesting information on pricing for 2015 here, here, and here. If you’re planning for 2016, check out this page at MouseSavers. It lists each resort and their prices per "season".

Best time to do this: 180+ days from your trip; or honestly, as soon as you are ready to tackle it! Check out what Lindsey says about when to go to Disney.

3.  Determine if you want to pay out of pocket for food, or if a Dining Plan is right for you.  You can find information on Disney’s dining plans, and to individually compare dining plan vs. paying out of pocket, my favorite tool is distripplanner.com. Keep in mind that most resort rooms have a mini fridge, and you can have grocery items delivered to your resort from somewhere like Garden Grocer. Jenna recently wrote about their first experience with the Dining Plan here, and here’s what we thought about the Quick Service Dining Plan.

Best time to do this: 180+ days from your trip, or when you’re looking at your budget.

4. Decide if you want to stay onsite or offsite, and how you’ll get to Disney. Cruise around the Disney World website and choose a place that accommodates your family and budget. Driving and flying can make a huge difference in how many days you get to spend in the parks and in your budget. Decide what works best for your family.

Best time to do this: 180+ days from your trip.

5. Book your reservation and flights (if you’re flying)! You can book your Disney reservations online through the Disney World website, by calling, or even through a certified Disney Vacation Planner. Disney typically requires a $200 deposit to hold your package reservation, and your balance must be paid 45 days before your trip. (Now 30 days for 2016 packages!) (Room only reservations are required to pay a deposit on a different calculation.) Disney doesn’t book flights, but you can book through the airlines’ website, or a DVP can do it for you. If you decide not to book a room & ticket package through Disney, look for discounts on park tickets at places like Undercover Tourist, through AAA, or ask for a military discount if that applies to you.

Best time to do this: At least 180 days before your trip for Disney reservations, though they can actually be made up to 500 days ahead of time, or much closer to the trip, depending on availability. Flights vary depending on your needs & location.

If you need a planning calendar to help you keep your details together, check out our free printable calendar!

Parts of #6 & #7 have to happen together…

6. After you decide which parks you’ll be in on which day {#7}, choose where you want to eat and make your ADRs. (A little more on that here.) I know, it sounds a little crazy to pick your restaurants up to 180 days before your vacation, but you will be glad you did. ADRs are not necessary for Quick Service locations (except for Be Our Guest), but are recommended for Table Service restaurants. At the 180-day mark, make your reservations and get ready for some yummy food! Of course, these can be made later depending on availability, but your best bet is to make them as soon as possible. Take advantage of our free printable ADR Planner to help you keep the details in order.

Best time to do this: 200+ days from your trip, so you’re ready to book your ADRs 180 days from your trip.

7. Determine your touring plan and what rides you’ll want to FP+. Go back to your crowd calendars and decide which day you’ll go to which park. Then, check out some touring plans for each park here, here, and here. {Insert #6 here!} Choose the three most important attractions for your family as your FP+ attractions. Be ready to make those selections 60 days from your trip. Also, now’s a good time to decide if you’ll need to rent a stroller. There’s a lot of walking at Disney, and little legs tire more quickly than you think. Check out Simple Stroller Rental – they’ll deliver to the resort for you!

Best time to do this: 80+ days from your trip – ready to book FP+ 60 days from your trip.

8. Customize your Magic Bands (if you’re staying on site). You have until 10 days before your trip to customize your Magic Bands in My Disney Experience and have them arrive at your home before you leave. If you customize them up to 3 days from your trip, you can pick them up at your resort.

Best time to do this: 10+ days from your trip.

9. Pack your stuff. As fun as Disney is, you still have to have stuff. We each pack differently, so check out some of our best packing advice here and here.

Best time to do this: 1 week up to 1 month from your trip, depending on what you’re packing and your family’s needs. We have a great last minute packing list printable to help you get out the door with everything on your departure day.

10. Go have fun! You’ve done the hard part – making all the decisions and plans. Now, just work your plan and enjoy the trip!


There are all kinds of other details you can add – like autograph books, daily surprises, earning Disney Dollars for souvenirs, and movie nights. All of those things are fun extras to add, and should not be something that overwhelms you. Do what works best for you and your family and have fun!

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