Thursday, July 9, 2015

Disney: Planning

So, you all know that we recently got back from another great Disney vacation (well it's been 3 months now, I have 3 kids now and hardly have time to blog). I am going to break the posts up, because there is just too much to cover in one post.

I will start with our planning process....

And when I say "our" I use that term loosely, Chris isn't really into the planning like I am, but of course I need him to bounce things off of and his opinion on things {sometimes}.

Before we get started let me just say this: I love Disney World. I love the magic that happens there, I love watching my kids there and I love how I feel when I am there. So you can all understand why I also love the planning process, for me it is half the fun!

But the main reason I think some planning is sort of important....Disney is not cheap, so if you can spend a little time planning ahead of time, you can really maximize your time and money, as well as avoid crowds and long waits in lines (which also means avoiding wearing out little kids and yourself), with just a little planning in advance.

When should we go?

We were last in Disney in June 2012 (and before that in October 2009), and since then we had talked about going back. We knew for sure once we had another baby and that baby was over a year old, we were definitely going back.

What we weren't sure of was, if we would go during Spring Break or summer again (our last trip we visited during the last week of June 2012).

After we had Lydia in November of 2013, we sort of started to talk about when we would go. We had taken both Lily (at 17 months) and Liam (at 21 months) and thought it was a good age (at that age they can go on a lot, and aren't really whining or complaining about anything and they are still FREE). With that in mind that would put us at a vacation in 2015, we just needed to decide if we wanted to go during spring break or summer (I work in a school, so the dates I can travel are limited).

It came down to one question that I asked Chris:
  • What bothered him more about our last trip, the crowds or the heat?
His answer was the HEAT, the crowds didn't bother him as much. I was glad that was his answer because the heat was almost unbearable for us when we went the last week in June 2012, we were hot and miserable and so were the kids. Also, there are ways to avoid the crowds, unlike the heat. So, spring it was!

How does the new Fastpass+ System work?

Another thing that was different since our last trip in 2012 was the new Fastpass+ system and Magic Bands. The last time we went in 2012 I read pretty much the entire Birnbaum's Official Guide and that's how I figured out which Fastpasses we would get and what rides would be good for the kids. However, the entire Fastpass+ system had changed, so you no longer showed up to the park and picked your Fastpasses once you got there, you had to pick them 60 days in advance. This was confusing to me and I found it to be stressful at first...

Maybe I should back up a you know what a Fastpass (FP) is? It is a pass that will get you on a ride without waiting, or a minimal wait. Fastpasses are your need them to have an excellent trip and you should plan for them well. You can get 3 Fastpasses for one park. Once you use those, you can pick up more at the park at the kiosks. Fastpasses used to be paper and you used to get them once you arrived at the park, now they are loaded on your Magic Band and you just scan it once you get to the ride.

When I started to do some research on the new Fastpass+ system to try and educate myself (because I had no clue how to "work" the new system), I stumbled upon Shannon Albert and her website .....and I was hooked.

If you have not been to her website and you are planning a Disney Trip, I recommend reading her posts and listening to her podcasts. Last summer I started listening to her podcasts and couldn't stop, they were great for me because I could be cooking dinner or on the treadmill and listening to them. They are awesome. Also, I would highly recommend purchasing her eBook, the maps that come with it are worth the $12 alone (she has the parks broken down by which hours you should do which rides, I may have laminated mine), but you also get sample touring plans, a handy dandy excel spreadsheet to fill in (I had made my own for our last trip, so really loved this, I also color coded mine), and you can scan some QR codes in her eBook to get touring plans for each park on your phone, or for me, my iPod. Also, if you have never been to Disney before and the whole process seems totally overwhelming, she breaks the planning process down into 6 steps, you can read about it here or watch a video about it here.

Should we use a travel agent or not?

After reading her site for a while, I felt like I understood the Fastpass+ system better, but was still nervous about reserving my Advanced Dining Reservations and Fastpasses online ahead of time, so I decided to go with a travel agent this time around.

In 2009 and 2012 we had booked everything our self online through Disney's site (which is very easy) and then just had touring plans in mind. I was actually sort of annoyed with the new Fastpass+ system and picking Fastpasses so far in advance (in another post I will get into how I feel about it now after doing it), so I felt like I was going to need help with what to choose. We went with a travel agent that was recommended to us by a friend, Mickie's Glass Slipper Concierge, she can be as involved as you need her to be, she handled all of our reservations, room requests, Advanced Dining Reservations, park tickets, Magic Bands, Fastpasses, Lydia's egg allergy for dining, etc.

In August of last year I got in touch with her and she had me fill out a questionnaire of things I knew we wanted to do.

What I knew we wanted:
  • To travel during Spring Break, April 2-10, 2015
  • We knew we wanted to stay on Disney Property and at Caribbean Beach Resort (we had stayed there in 2009 and 2012 and we like it), there are benefits to staying on Disney property
  • We knew we would be driving down to Florida
  • We wanted to start and end our vacation with Magic Kingdom Days
  • We wanted to visit Magic Kingdom (two days), Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom
  • We knew we wanted a "break day" to hang out at the pool
  • We wanted to check out Downtown Disney (we were only there once in 2009)
  • We knew we wanted to do the Dining Plan that included one sit-down meal per day (in 2009 we didn't do a dining plan and in 2012 we did the Quick Service Dining plan and got really sick of the same food at pretty much every Quick Service place)
  • We knew we wanted to do more Character Dining Experiences
  • I knew we wanted to use the Disney Memory Maker Photo Package (otherwise I am never in any photos)
  • As far as Fastpasses, I pretty much knew which rides/attractions we wanted to get Fastpasses for, but definitely wanted to talk to a Travel Agent about my thoughts (because Chris gave little-to-no feedback).

Touring Plans | Fastpasses | Advanced Dining Reservations

I am not a believer in completely planning out your entire trip. If you do, you will be disappointed and stressed-out your entire trip. But you should have a rough idea about what you are doing. At the very least, if you are getting Fastpasses, you need to know which days you are going to do which parks. I will get more into our touring plans for this trip in another post.

If you are doing any Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs), then you will need to decide on which places you will be eating (should usually be at the same park you are at for the day), and roughly the times you want to eat. Because our kids are little (6, 4 and 1 at the time of our trip), we opted to do our Advanced Dining Reservations for breakfast or lunch, knowing that we would probably leave the park for the day or at least a break around dinner time.

Go to Disney's website and create an account. Under the My Disney Experience you will be able to make your dining reservations and select your Fastpasses once your window opens up. Dining reservations can be made 180 days in advance and Fastpasses can be selected 60 days in advance for guests that are staying on Disney property and 30 days in advance for guests that are staying off-site.

If you have a smart phone (I use my iPod), you should download the My Disney Experience app, all of your Fastpasses and Dining Reservations will be in the app, as well as wait times, parade times and park maps.

Talk to Disney "Experts"

Or what I like to call "Disney Princesses at Heart". I know a lot of these Disney princesses. I have a lot of co-workers that I turned to for advice, as well as my sister (who had last been there in February 2013), and my biggest "expert" is my cousin Val, who lives in Florida and is an annual seasonal pass holder, she has given me advice for every trip I have taken and has helped answer a lot of questions for me. If you decide to go with a travel agent, they can help you with a lot of decisions too, they just might not know you as well as some of your friends do. Almost everyone I know that is a "Disney Princess at Heart" loves to talk about Disney, use them, they love to answer questions.

Planning shouldn't be stressful, it should be fun and add to the excitement of your vacation!!

As part of the planning process, I suggest:
  • The mydisneyexperience app is essential, so make sure you have it on your phone or iPod
  • - tons of info on this website, order her eBook, it's great
  • Watch youtube videos before your vacation to get ideas about rides and to get your kids excited
  • There is tons of information on the Internet, but I still love having Birnbaum's Official Guide  to read and look at
  • Order a free copy of the Disney planning DVD, it shows a lot of the rides and the parks and gives you a great sense of what Disney is all about
  • Make yourself a Disney planning binder, one place where you have all your Disney info
  • Make sure to book your dining reservations and Fastpass+ reservations the minute the system opens, you can always change/modify things later
  • Talk to people and get advice from anyone who has been there before
  • Book online directly through the Disney website or get a travel agent that works directly for Disney, they will be the most knowledgeable about all things Disney

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