Planning our very first Disney vacation with our kids was almost as much fun for me as taking the actual trip. I do love to plan. Just ask anyone who knows me well. My friends used to call me “cruise director Julie.” 🙂 And planning is key when you want to tackled the Mouse House with wee ones in tow. I started researching everything about 6 months prior to our trip and I learned several key things. First, there is a wealth of information available all over the net. Seriously. It will make your head feel like it’s going to explode. Second, only about 1/3 of what you plan will actually come to fruition. First, I will give you my top 10 resources on the internet for planning. (there are a zillion out there. These are just the ones I found.) Also, I’m not being compensated in any way by any of these vendors or sites. They are just the ones that I think work the best.
10. Mouse Made Simple – This is one of many “authorized” Disney Travel Planners. Their services are totally FREE and if you’d like to leave most of the planning to someone else, then this site is for you. There are many out there like this, but make sure you are dealing with an “authorized” site or you may be in for headaches down the road. This one has been around for 10 years and is very reputable. Again, these types of sites are great if you want to let someone else do the planning.
9. The Ultimate Disney World Savings Guide by Beth Haworth We didn’t end of buying this b/c I learned about it towards the end of my planning. But I am seriously thinking of getting it in the coming weeks to help us plan for our next big trip in November. It has some great reviews and feedback and is featured on my #8 website by a couple who used it and had great success. It’s $29.95, which isn’t too bad and it comes with a satisfaction guarantee that offers a full refund. It’s also an e-book, so as soon as the payment is complete, you can download it right away.
8. Our Cheap Disney Vacation– This is a great site if you are on a budget, (and let’s face it, who isn’t?) and she offers some great tips for saving money on food and lodging. I just signed up for MyPoints to try and earn gift cards for meals. I researched MyPoints pretty well and it is legit and a neat way to earn freebies, especially if you shop online. (but you can earn points even if you don’t shop) This website is also where I learned about….
7. Tour Guide Mike– Because I learned about this site very close to our departure, I didn’t look into it until we returned. In the meantime, a good friend of mine from HS used him to plan a big family trip to Disney AT CHRISTMAS. (Wild horses could not drag me to Disney during Christmas OR the dead of summer.) But she LOVED him and swears that they only stood in line for 15 minutes at the most. To give you an idea of how crowded it is during Christmas, they CLOSE the parks because they are at capacity. That’s crowded. (shudder) The gal with my #8 pick also raves about using him and how little they waited in line for all the rides. I highly recommend some kind of plan…but depending on the age of your kiddos, you will need to be a bit more flexible if they are little. More on that later.
6. The “DIS” boards– This is the largest online community of folks who love Disney. It’s a menagerie of message boards, resources and discussion groups on everything from taking toddlers to Disney to what your favorite thrill ride is. If it takes place in or around anything Disney, you can probably find it on here. I gathered a lot of great information from this site by searching for what I wanted and finding a thread. I didn’t really post much…they are a pretty tight knit group and are known for taking their Disney VERY seriously. 🙂 One of the coolest things I found on there is my #5 pick…
5. A facebook group- I can’t post a link to this page, b/c the one I belong to is private, but I found it by searching the disboards and finding a group of folks that were all headed to Disney in November of last year. Before we had to move out trip back due to my part in the P’cola Opera Chorus, we were going in October and I had found a fb group for that month as well. Just type in the month and year and “meet up” and you should be able to find a thread. Then you can ask if they have a fb page and tell them you’d like to be added. It’s a fun way to meet folks and exchange ideas and tips, as well as forge some great friendships. You can meet in person if you like, but if that isn’t your thing, then it’s no big deal. It’s still a great community and I learned a lot from other’s personal experiences.
4. Disney’s own website– You will need this site for basic info like park hours, EMH (extra magic hours) showtimes and ride info. I also used it to purchase our FL resident season passes and to make our ADRs. (Advance Dining Reservations) **sidebar- Disney is a plethora of acronyms! It took me a while to figure them out and disboards even has a chart to decipher them. It’s pretty funny. (and long!) end sidebar** The best thing I discovered on this website was one of my favorite tools as a Mom and it gets my #3 spot.
3. The Disney World Moms Panel – This is one of the best things that Disney has put together for us Moms (and Dads) that have questions specifically about taking our kids to Disney. It is “manned” (or “mommed”, I should say) by very experienced, friendly and fabulous Moms just like us, who will answer just about any question regarding Disney and kids. I actually submitted 3 different questions during my planning process and got an answer within the day. They do tell you that an answer is not guaranteed, based on the question, I suppose. You can search for just about anything and get multiple threads that match your query. Love. This. Site.
2. All Ears– It’s a toss up between this site and my #1 pick, b/c I used them both so much! I love allears.net b/c it has so many “team members” that go out and get the info and bring it back to readers in an easy to follow format with TONS of insight. Since we were going during Food&Wine Fest @ Epcot and it was my first time, I had a ton of questions and loved reading all of the blogs about that year’s Fest. I also used the heck out of their extensive menu lists complete with prices! We were on a specific budget and it was so cool to be able to look at each eatery, check the menu and see what we would order and how much it would cost. I was even able to figure the tips and taxes and we came in almost exactly at our food budget for eating out. They also offer deatiled reviews and info about all of the Disney resorts, which helps a lot when trying to pick a property that will work for your family and your budget. They also offer an outstanding “planning your trip” section that I’d have used more if I hadn’t already subscribed to….
1. Touring Plans– I loved this site and IMHO, it should be your first stop before you plan anything except when you are going. Their crowd calendar is awesome and has been right on everytime we have visited. (we have been back for several short trips since our BIG trip last Nov) It costs $11.95 for a one year subscription. You can get a discount for purchasing 2 or 3 years. We did just the one year to see if we liked it. It’s in my top spot b/c I used it the most, but I would recommend any of the planning sites I’ve mentioned. The most important part is the crowd calculator and that part is free for the next 30 days. Beyond that you must be a subscriber. It tells you which parks are the best parks (least crowded) and which are the parks to avoid, using a # system of 1-10. (10 is maxed out crowds) I used this to plan our whole trip and it was the one thing we stuck to and it worked. The “touring plans” are part of the subscription and I must say it is pretty neat. (I also really love and use the line app. It gives you real time waits for everything in all the parks.) You pick the park and your group type…ie. family with older kids, little kids, no kids, etc. And it will spit out a plan that ensure the least wait times for each ride and the best use of your time at each park. Cool, no? Then you can edit it to include breaks, meals and even leaving the parks mid-day for naps. (which I highly recommend if you have toddlers. And Dads. My husband loved nap time.)
Listen, I slaved over our touring plans…plotting out each meal and ride and in what order. I am fairly certain my touring plans were works of art!!! But here’s what I discovered….when your kids are 14, 3 and 2, would you like to know what the best “touring plan” is? Let them lead the way!!! I quickly learned that while having a “plan” helped us in some ways, we really were best served by letting the kids decide what we did next. Since we went during a time of year when it was not very crowded, we still never waited long. Because, when your little ones see the live show with all the Disney Princesses going on in front of Cinderella’s castle while you are on your way to get a Fast Pass for Splash Mountain so you can beat the line, do you know what you do? You stop. And watch the show. And get teary eyed watching all 3 of your kids get wide eyed with amazement at their favorite Disney characters singing and dancing just for them. 🙂 Up next time….my top 10 tips and tricks that worked for us. Here’s to “Magical Planning!” xoxo Jules