Sunday, 15 January 2023

9 Tips For Planning A Walt Disney World Holiday

Planning a trip to Walt Disney World is no easy feat - with such an array of choices available for accommodation and dining, so many attractions to visit and such large amounts of money involved - it's fair to say that it can get more than a little overwhelming!

I booked our upcoming trip to Disney World back in 2018 and have been working on fine tuning our plans ever since, so I'd like to share with you some of my tips for getting the most bang for your buck as well as ways to make your holiday as stress-free and enjoyable as possible.

1. Pick The Right Date For Your Family

There are lots of things to consider when deciding on when to visit Orlando. The weather being one of the most important factors to consider -  from June through to September it can be extremely hot and humid which younger children might struggle to deal with, whereas January is usually cooler but this can mean that some attractions such as water parks are not available. The weather in other months can be unpredictable and there's also hurricane season to take into account too. This  weather calendar can be really useful to help you settle on a preferred month.

It's worth checking to see if your dates clash with any US holidays such as Thanksgiving, Memorial day or Labor day as this can have a dramatic effect on crowd levels in the park as well as resulting in higher prices.

You might also want to consider the different themed seasons and festivals that Disney hosts throughout the year such as Halloween and Christmas - there are special parties held during these times of year which, although are charged at an additional cost, can be really fun to attend.

Take some time to research the various Epcot festivals on offer throughout the year too, such as Festival Of The Arts and Festival Of The Holidays as this may influence when you'd prefer to visit.

2. Get The Best Flight Deals

Prior to the pandemic, there were lots of helpful tips to be found online detailing how to find the best flight prices but post-Covid these things are much harder to predict.

However there are still various ways to reduce the cost of your flight - such as opting for an indirect flight or choosing to fly into Florida's  Melbourne airport which is around an hours drive away from Orlando.

Flights are usually released 11 months prior to travel, and you can often find the best deal when the flights first go live. Remember to clear the cookies on your internet browser each time you search for prices though as stored search history can drive up prices. 

We found our flights were at the best price during the New Years Day sales, so that's an option worth considering. It's also well worth using Sky Scanner to find the best deals.

3.  Choosing Your Accommodation

There are a few options to consider when it comes to your Orlando accomodation - staying on-site at Disney, choosing an off-site hotel or choosing a villa.

All of these come with their own pros and cons, so let's take a look at some:

Pros Of Staying On Site At Disney:

*Free and regular transport between the hotel and Disney parks, Disney Springs and other Disney resorts
*Great on site amenities such as restaurants, quick service dining locations and themed pools
*Early hours entry into Disney Parks on certain days (Some deluxe resorts also offer late entry perks)
*Earlier access to Disney World dining reservations than off-site guests which can make all the difference when it comes to securing availability at sought-after restaurants
*Extra evening activities available at many resorts such as campfire s'mores and movies under the stars
*The perks of having room attendants to keep your living space clean and fresh

Cons Of Staying On Site At Disney:

*Cost - it is undoubtedly the most expensive option, and usually by quite a long shot

Pros Of Staying In An Off-Site Hotel

*Many offer some transport to Disney World and other theme parks, although perhaps for a small charge or not as regularly as Disney's own transport
*You can still benefit from room cleaning without needing to do your own chores on holiday
*Will often have on-site dining options available for convenience
*Usually have good pools
*Often available at very competitive pricing

Cons Of Staying In An Off-Site Hotel

*Transport can be more tricky, particularly for late night visits to the parks - you may need to hire a car hire which can be a significant additional cost - not only for the hire itself but for fuel and parking too
*Can make it harder to snag Disney dining reservations for sought after restaurants

Pros Of Staying In A Villa

*Your own personal space for your trip - more privacy
*Full facilities to allow you to cook meals and reduce dining costs, do laundry, etc
*Usually have private pools and parking
*Can be competitively priced

Cons Of Staying In A Villa

*Pools can often be quite small and not as entertaining as on-site 
*Will usually need to hire a car which will cost substantially more
*Less access to Disney Dining reservations making it difficult to snag sought after restaurants
*Can mean household chores still need to be kept up with somewhat which may be unappealing on holiday
*Standards can vary and pricing can sometimes be surprisingly high, so need to be conscious of this

We decided that for our first trip, we wanted the full immersive Disney Bubble and so we booked an on-site stay - the advantages of extra magic hours as well as free and easy park to park transport seemed worth it to us when travelling with young children, but every family will have different preferences and priorities.

4.  Buying Your Attraction Tickets

Finding the best price for theme park entry can be difficult as they are far from cheap. 

If you're booking an on-site stay then your park tickets for Disney will usually be included along with some special offers - it's a good idea to keep an eye on these as often Disney will offer booking incentives such as dining credits and Disney gift cards.

It's also worth looking at websites such as  Attraction Tickets  and FloridaTix as they often run the same deals and incentives as Disney but with a lower deposit required, as well as often offering the best prices on tickets for other attractions such as Universal, Seaworld, Discovery Cove, Busch Gardens and Kennedy Space Centre.
The Black Friday sales in November are a particularly good time to book, I managed to save over £600 by booking during those sales so it's well worth holding out for that sale if you can!

5. Booking Your Dining Options

Dining is a big part of a trip to Disney World as there are so many immersive themed restaurants and character dining experiences to choose from, but the choice is so vast that it can be overwhelming to narrow your choices down - and that's if you can even find availability!

Your options for dining within the Disney World theme parks and resorts are:

*Quick Service Restaurants - these are counter-service restaurants which serve fast food style options.

*Table Service Restaurants - these are sit-down restaurants with either waiter service or buffet style offerings. Remember that table service restaurants will require a tip of around 18-20%, this is expected in the USA.

To book at any of Disney's table service restaurants, you can make reservations from 60 days prior to your holiday start date via the My Disney Experience App. For guests staying on site, you can make 10 days worth of reservations at once which gives you an advantage over off-site guests and can make a huge difference when it comes to securing tables at some of the more popular restaurants such as Space 220 and Toppolinos Terrace.

You can take a look at the restaurants we settled on for our trip here.

I highly recommend taking a look at the menus on the Walt Disney World  app, and estimating what your total spend is likely to be in the restaurants as they are really not cheap - doing some research into pricing is essential if you're on a budget, as some meals can be upwards of $300 for a family of five.

It's worth pointing out that you don't have to dine in the parks during your trip. There are hundreds of good value, high quality restaurants in the Orlando area to choose from or you can make use of UberEats and Deliveroo too.

6. Transfers Vs Car Hire

You'll need to think about how to get to and from the airport. If you're hiring a car, you can arrange to do this from one of the rental services inside the airport.

Unfortunately Disney no longer offer their Magical Express service, this has now been replaced by Mears Connect which is a chargeable coach service running from the airport to the various Disney World Resort hotels.  There are other coach transfer services available from the airport too, we have booked with Sunshine Flyer as we found their prices very reasonable - we've paid just $31 for our transfers thanks to their current Kids Go Free offer.

7. Accessibility Extras

If you are travelling with your family, there are some extras that you want to consider in order to make the experience enjoyable and accessible for everyone in your party.

If travelling with young children, you might want to consider stroller hire - you can hire pushchairs from Disney for around £30 per day, but it's usually more cost-effective to either hire through a third party company for the duration of your trip or buy a $40 stroller from Walmart to use for your trip. We have hired a double stroller for the duration of our trip for just $140 from Strollerfy, which is a big saving on Disney's daily hire charge.

If you're travelling with people who have reduced mobility, you can hire an EVC from Disney for $50 per day, but again it's much cheaper to hire for the duration of your trip from a third party company such as Scooterbug.

If you're travelling with someone who has mental or sensory processing needs, then you should also be aware that Disney also operates a Disability Access Service. This is not usually given to guests with mobility issues that can be solved by use of a wheelchair or scooter as the queues are accessible to mobility aids, but the pass can be utilised by those who struggle with queues for reasons that will not be alleviated by a mobility aid. 

The DAS pass allows guests to queue for rides virtually, rather than physically and can be a great help for guests with sensory processing issues. 

To apply for the pass, simply go to Guest Services at any of the parks upon arrival.

8. Sorting Out Your Spending Budget

This is without doubt the part I've found the hardest of all, as there is no real guidance available for first timers.

I established our budget by using the menus on the Disney World app to give me an estimated cost of  food (not forgetting to include tax and gratuities as these can really add up!), drinks and snacks during our stay.

I also plan to give my children a set amount of spending money each, so that they know their budget for spending and can make their own choices on how to spend it. I also allowed an additional amount of money for myself and my partner for gift shops and shopping mall spends - these amounts combined along with some extra cash for tips were then added together to give me our budget.

I hope that these tips are helpful in planning your Walt Disney World trip, I'll be doing lots more content around visiting Disney World over the coming months so don't forget to sign up to my newsletter to be kept in the loop!

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